Saturday, December 13, 2014

Elvis At 80: The 80 Essential Recordings.

This January 8, 2015 will be Elvis's 80th birthday, wherever he is.

But so far, I shockingly haven't seen any fanfare from the RCA/Columbia/BMG/Whatever conglomerate that will use any excuse but Arbor Day to release a new collection of the King (though now that I've put it out there, expect Itching Like A Man On A Fuzzy Tree: Elvis Sings Arbor Day, featuring "Singing Tree," "Holly Leaves & Christmas Trees," & God knows what else).

To try to beat them at their own game, I decided to propose an "Elvis At 80" boxed set of his 80 most essential recordings. 

To get an accurate cross-section of his best & most influential material, I made an inventory of his 5 most recent major multi-disc collections:  

1. The Top Ten Hits [2 discs, 1987] *
2. ELV1S & 2nd To None [2 discs, 2002 & 2003] #
3. The Essential Elvis Presley: 3.0 [3 discs, 2007] +
4. Artist Of The Century [3 discs, 1999] @
5. Elvis 75: Good Rockin' Tonight [4 discs, 2009] %

Any song that appeared on at least 3 or more of the above compilations automatically made my list. (For the record, there are 17 that appear on all 5.) I also included all of his US Top 5 Hits & all of his platinum-selling singles.

Finally, I made sure that the list contained all of Elvis's US #1 Pop, Country, & R&B Hits, as well as his UK #1 Hits.

All sides of The King are represented--trailblazing rockabilly, hard blues, country tunes, tender ballads, slick pop, movie junk, heartfelt gospel, blue-eyed soul, live showstoppers, Vegas schmaltz, revival rock, & more--for a complete musical portrait.

From his first release in 1954 to the last single he would release in his lifetime in 1977, here is Elvis At 80: The 80 Essential Recordings.

Volume 1: Rise.

1. That's All Right: His first single, & as some like to tell it, the first rock & roll record, period. [single A-side, 1954] #+@%

2. Blue Moon Of Kentucky: The flipside of his first single, & in its own way, just as revolutionary. [single B-side, 1954] %

3. Good Rockin' Tonight: A manifesto for all that would come. [single A-side, 1954] +@%

4. Baby, Let's Play House: His first nationally charting record, making #5 on the US country charts. [single A-side, 1955] +@%

5. Mystery Train: A country song hidden in a blues song hidden in a love song to a corpse, & for some, the finest recording of his life. [single A-side, 1955] +@%

6. I Forgot To Remember To Forget: His first national #1 single (on the Country charts) & the song that facilitated his jump from regional star to national sensation. [single B-side, 1955] #%

7. Heartbreak Hotel: The song that put him over--#1 for 7 weeks in the US. [single A-side, 1956; #1 US, #2 UK] *#+@%

8. I Was The One: A ballad, already oozing with his signature vocal mannerisms. [single B-side, 1956; #19 US] +%

9. Blue Suede Shoes: One of his finest rockers. [LP Elvis Presley & single A-side, 1956; #20 US, #9 UK] #+@% 

10. I Want You, I Need You, I Love You: A criminally neglected US #1 best-seller, despite what the ELV1S: 30 #1 Hits CD may lead you to believe. [single A-side, 1956; #1 US, #14 UK] *#% 

11. My Baby Left Me: One of the hardest-rocking recordings of the 1950s, buried on a B-side. [single B-side, 1956; #31 US] @%

12. Hound Dog: The hard rock half of his most famous single, a stateside #1 for a then record-breaking 11 weeks. [single A-side, 1956; #1 US, #2 UK] *#+@% 

13. Don't Be Cruel: The above single's smooth pop half. [single A-side, 1956; #1 US, #2 UK] *#+@%

14. Love Me Tender: A rewrite of a Civil War ballad that was the title track of his first film--& the first single to go gold based on advance orders alone. [single A-side, 1956; #1 US, #11 UK] *#+@% 

15. Love Me: The first EP to chart as a single in US history. [LP Elvis & EP lead track; #2 US] *#@% 

16. Too Much: Gluttony as lust, lifted by internal rhymes. [single A-side, 1957; #1 US, #6 UK] *#% 

17. All Shook Up: A signature hit that invoked his recent performance on The Ed Sullivan Show (from the waist up) & #1 in the US for 9 weeks. [single A-side, 1957; #1 US, #1 UK] *#+@% 

18. (There'll Be) Peace In The Valley (For Me): His first gospel release, & as some like to tell it, his finest. [EP lead track, 1957; #25 US] +% 

19. (Let Me Be Your) Teddy Bear: The most subtle song about sleeping with girls EVER--& #1 in the US for 7 weeks. [single A-side, 1957; #1 US, #3 UK] *#+@%

20. Loving You: The title track of Elvis's 2nd film & 3rd LP; immortalized between "Hound Dog" & "All Shook Up" at the top of the original Elvis' Golden Records, still his finest compilation. [single B-side, 1957; #28 US] #

21. Jailhouse Rock: Springsteen said that hearing Elvis for the first time was like busting out of jail; this song takes the Boss at his word--& a US #1 for 7 weeks. [single A-side, 1957; #1 US, #1 UK] *#+@%

22. Treat Me Nice: A plea to the ladies & a study in atmosphere. [single B-side, 1957; US #27] #@% 

23. Blue Christmas: His finest Christmas recording, & in time, a rare non-charting platinum-seller. [LP Elvis' Christmas Album, 1957] % 

24. Don't: The last hit before he went into the Army--& in a quiet way, the end of an era. [single A-side, 1958; #1 US, #2 UK] *#@%

25. Wear My Ring Around Your Neck: The first major single not to hit #1 in the US or UK--although it would top the charts in Canada; an early harbinger of the shlock that was to come? [single A-side, 1958; #3 US, #3 UK] *#% 

26. Hard Headed Woman: The history of sexism as hard rock. [single A-side, 1958; #1 US, #2 UK] *#% 

27. King Creole: The title track of his finest film. [LP King Creole, 1958] #+% 

28. Trouble: A raison d'etre for every role he would ever play--on camera & off.  [LP King Creole, 1958] #+@%

29. One Night: An answer record to The Shirelles' "Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow," even though it came first. [single A-side, 1958; US #4, UK #1] *#@% 

30. (Now & Then There's) A Fool Such As I: The point at which style became the substance. [single A-side, 1959; #2 US, #1 UK] *#@%

31. I Need Your Love Tonight: A perfectly fine flipside that would've been any other singer's biggest hit. [single B-side, 1959; #4 US] *#%

32. A Big Hunk O' Love: One final blast of rock for the decade, & the song that would first associate "hunka" & "love" in the Elvis lexicon. [single A-side, 1959; #1 US, #4 UK] *#@%

Volume 2: Fall.

33. Stuck On You: Back from the Army & ready to reconquer the world, one hit single at a time. [single A-side, 1960; #1 US, #3 UK] *#@%

34. Fame & Fortune: A solid ballad with a stunning vocal--made all the more bittersweet now that we know how the story will turn out. [single B-side, 1960; #17 US]

35. Such A Night: A track so irresistible, it was carted out as a single during the doldrums of Beatlemania, where it made the Top 20 in both the US & UK. [LP Elvis Is Back!, 1960] +@%

36. Reconsider Baby: Another way his post-Army music could've gone--hard blues full of conviction, with Elvis driving the band like a runaway train; one of his greatest performances, even though he lets "Boots" Randolph steal the show. [LP Elvis Is Back!, 1960] +@%

37. It's Now Or Never: A rewrite of an Italian standard that became his best-selling single this side of "Hound Dog"/"Don't Be Cruel." [single A-side, 1960; #1 US, #1 UK] *#+@% 

38. A Mess Of Blues: The above single's flipside, which could've (& should've) been a bigger hit in its own right. [single B-side, 1960; #32 US] #@%

39. Are You Lonesome Tonight?: The final third of his comeback trinity (along with "Stuck On You" & "It's Now Or Never"), & in the speaking part, the best acting of his life. [single A-side, 1960; #1 US, #1 UK] *#+@%

40. Wooden Heart: A rarity: A #1 UK single (for 6 weeks!) that was never issued as an A-side in the US. [LP G.I. Blues, 1960; #1 UK] #

41. Surrender: Picking up where "It's Now Or Never" left off, Elvis exercises his operatic tendencies that would become a caricature the following decade. [single A-side, 1961; #1 US, #1 UK] *#@%

42. I Feel So Bad: As the first non-Hollywood A-side not to hit #1 in either the US or UK, a sign of the coming trouble in paradise? [single A-side, 1961; #5 US, #4 UK] *#+%

43. (Marie's The Name) His Latest Flame: Hot enough to be a hit in its own day, hip enough to be turned into a Smiths song in ours. [single A-side, 1961; #4 US, #1 UK] *#@%

44. Little Sister: Elvis tries to get the girl, despite being wary of her older sister. [single B-side, 1961; #5 US] *#+@%

45. Can't Help Falling In Love: The lead single of his best-selling album (Blue Hawaii) & rightfully the song with which he would close his sets in the later years--what else could ever follow it? [single A-side, 1961; #2 US, #1 UK] *#+@% 

46. Rock-A-Hula Baby: Along with its flipside, "Can't Help Falling In Love," a microcosm of Elvis in the '60s, pop beauty on one side, movie junk on the other; "Rock-A-Hula Baby" wasn't the worst song Elvis ever recorded, but it was the biggest hit of his infamous 1960s hackwork. [single B-side, 1961; #23 US] #

47. Good Luck Charm: Elvis tries to get the girl by invoking the superstitions of talismans. [single A-side, 1962; #1 US, #1 UK] *#@%

48. She's Not You: Elvis tries to get the girl by re-staging the plot of Vertigo. [single A-side, 1962; #5 US, #1 UK] *#@% 

49. Return To Sender: Elvis tries to get the girl by enlisting the U.S. Postal Service. [single A-side, 1962; #2 US, #1 UK] *#+@%

50. (You're The) Devil In Disguise: Elvis tries to get the girl by entering a Paradiso-enshrined Inferno. [single A-side, 1963; #3 US, #1 UK] *#+@%

51. Bossa Nova Baby: Elvis tries to get the girl but all she wants to do is dance--also the final single he released before JFK was shot & his last US Top 10 of new material until his comeback later in the decade--coincidence? [single A-side, 1963; #8 US, #13 UK] *#+%

52. It Hurts Me: When Elvis applied himself & the material was decent, the result could transcend itself; a minor gem. [single B-side, 1964; #29 US] @%

53. Viva Las Vegas: A telling celebration of the kitschy consumer culture that would consume him in a few short years. [single A-side, 1964; #29 US, #15 UK] #+%

54. Crying In The Chapel: Elvis's only pre-comeback US Top 10 once The Beatles arrived--& it was recorded in 1960. [single A-side, 1965; #3 US, #1 UK] *#%

55. Tomorrow Is A Long Time: Elvis's only real Dylan cover--& the cover that Dylan is said to have treasure the most--buried away as a bonus track on the flipside of a mediocre soundtrack. [LP Speedway, 1966] @%

56. How Great Thou Art: The greatest sacred performance of Elvis's life. [LP How Great Thou Art, 1967; #101 US] %

57. Big Boss Man: The first of Elvis's "pre-comeback" singles that signaled his quiet return to meaningful rock music, before an official comeback vehicle was formed. [single A-side, 1967; #38 US] +@%

58. Guitar Man: The finest of his "pre-comeback" singles; reissued to the country market in 1981, it topped the genre's charts. [single A-side, 1968; #43 US, #19 UK] +@% 

59. A Little Less Conversation: A forgotten flipside that was so hot it became a #1 single. In England. 30 years later. Through a remix. Yet I find the implied funk of the original all the more exciting. [single B-side, 1968; #69 US] +

Volume 3: Resurrection.

60. If I Can Dream: The closing song of the comeback special & one of the finest performances of his life. [single A-side, 1968; #12 US, #11 UK] #+@%

61. Memories: The sentimental theme of the comeback special, which means it's the sentimental theme of his entire career. [LP ELVIS: NBC-TV Special, 1968; single A-side, 1969; #35 US] #+%

62. In The Ghetto: Keeping with the times, Elvis wanted to do a "message" song; keeping with himself, he did one that spoke out against poverty; although it missed the top of the main US & UK charts, it was snuck onto ELV1S thanks to a #1 in Cashbox. [single A-side, 1969; #3 US, #2 UK] *#+@%

63. Only The Strong Survive: Some motherly wisdom that formed the most recognizable track from the finest studio album he would ever make. [LP From Elvis In Memphis, 1969] +@%

64. Long Black Limousine: Elvis's finest performance, period. (c/f my earlier American Wolf piece about it here.) [LP From Elvis In Memphis, 1969]

65. Suspicious Minds: His final US #1, driven by a love-fueled paranoia that wouldn't meet its match until Michael Jackson's "Billie Jean." [single A-side, 1969; #1 US, #2 UK] *#+@%

66. Don't Cry Daddy: A tender performance of a country weeper, just before the production values turned the material more maudlin than meaningful. [single A-side, 1969; US #6, #8 UK] *#+@%

67. Stranger In My Own Home Town: Elvis's hardest blues, in no small part because, as a '50s rocker finding his way in the '60s, he lived it out. [LP From Elvis From Vegas To Memphis/From Memphis To Vegas, 1969] @%

68. Kentucky Rain: His greatest single miss the Top 10 (except for in Canada & Australia). [single A-side, 1970; #16 US, #21 UK] #+%

69. The Wonder Of You: "Kentucky Rain" notwithstanding (it was a track from 1969 that wasn't released until early 1970), this was the beginning of Elvis's final decade--live, off-handed, passionate, overzealous, & powerful; many subsequent songs would try to meet this standard, but precious few would succeed. [single A-side, 1970; #9 US, #1 UK] *#+@

70. Polk Salad Annie: Never much of a hit or a radio staple, someone at RCA must love this one, as it makes not just every multi-disc anthology, but the one-disc summaries of them too; that said, it nicely captures Elvis on stage in his '70s prime, albeit without the focus or power of "The Wonder Of You." [LP On Stage, 1970; UK single A-side, 1973; #23 UK] +@%

71. You Don't Have To Say You Love Me: Both "The Wonder Of You" & "Polk Salad Annie" were live recordings; this song marks the beginning of the studio '70s--regal, overblown, & at its best (like here), a place where quality of songcraft is met by commitment of performance. [single A-side, 1970; #11 US, #9 UK] #+@

72. I Just Can't Help Believin': Another song that somehow makes nearly every major Elvis compilation; issued as a single a year later in the UK, it reached a more-than-respectable #6. [LP That's The Way It Is, 1970] +@%

73. An American Trilogy: The paradoxes of the Civil War resolved in a single medley: South ("Dixie"), North ("The Battle Hymn Of The Republic"), & slave ("All My Trials"). [single A-side, 1972; #66 US, #8 UK] #@%

74. Burning Love: His final truly signature hit; snuck onto the ELV1S CD because it reached #1 on Cashbox. [single A-side, 1972; #2 US, #7 UK] *#+@%

75. Always On My Mind: A stirring study in melody & regret. [single A-side, 1972; #9 UK] #+@%

76. Steamroller Blues: From his "Aloha From Hawaii" concert comes the most unlikely single of them all--a James Taylor cover that climaxes with the singer comparing his love to a napalm bomb. [LP Aloha From Hawaii Via Satellite, 1973; single A-side, #17 US, #15 UK] +%

77. Promised Land: His last great recording & his first successful Chuck Berry cover. [single A-side, 1974; #14 US, #9 UK] #@%

78. Hurt: The anguish of lost love met with an almost operatic delivery in his most celebrated late-period recording. [single A-side, 1976; #28 US, #37 UK] +%

79. Moody Blue: The title track of his final album & the final US #1 in his lifetime (on the country charts). [single A-side, 1976; #31 US, #6 UK] #+

80. Way Down: The last single Elvis released in his lifetime, sales (& significance) buttressed by his death. [single A-side, 1977; #18 US, #1 UK] #%

No comments:

Post a Comment