Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Elvis 101: The 101 Essential Recordings.

Elvis Presley released over 700 songs while he was alive, across over 70 albums & nearly a quarter-century of time.

But what are the most essential?

This list, Elvis 101: The 101 Essential Recordings, whittles the artist down to his essence, 4 chronological playlists that are each around 70 minutes in length.

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

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 2 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 the songs from each time there has been an attempt to make a definitive single-disc anthology of Elvis's music: 1994's The Essential Collection, 1999's Best Of Artist Of The Century, & 2009's Elvis 75. & then I added another half-dozen of my own choices, which should've made the above collections.

Finally, I made sure that all of Elvis's US Pop, Country, & R&B #1 hits were included, all of his US Top 10 Hits, platinum-selling singles, as well as every UK #1 hit.
From his first release in 1954 to the last single he would release in his lifetime in 1977--& at least 1 release from every year in between--here is Elvis 101: The Essential 101 Recordings.

Volume 1: King (1954-1957).

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, & it's own way, every bit as rocking & revolutionary. [single B-side, 1954] %

3. Good Rockin' Tonight: A manifesto for all that would follow. [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. Trying To Get To You: What would have been his 6th Sun single & evidence the kid was ready for the big-time. [projected single A-side, 1955; LP Elvis Presley, 1956] @

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

9. I Was The One: Already on the flipside of his first major single, all of Elvis's stylistics are present--a portrait of the artist as young man, in complete control. [single B-side, 1956; #19 US] +%

10. Blue Suede Shoes: One of his finest rockers that would've been a bigger hit, but he didn't want to overshadow his old Sun label-mate, Carl Perkins, who Elvis always believed cut the better version. [LP Elvis Presley & single A-side, 1956; #20 US, #9 UK] #+@% 

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

12. My Baby Left Me: One of the hardest records of the 1950s, buried on a B-side, waiting for thrilling rediscovery. [single B-side, 1956; #31 US] @% 

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

14. Don't Be Cruel: The above single's smooth pop half; when Sam Phillips first heard it, he pulled his car off the road--this was the sound he always knew was out there. [single A-side, 1956; #1 US, #2 UK] *#+@%

15. Lawdy Miss Clawdy: Elvis's finest R&B cover, shrewdly revived in his comeback era. [single A-side, 1956] @% 

16. 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, & his signature love song for years to come. [single A-side, 1956; #1 US, #11 UK] *#+@%

17. Love Me: An EP track that was so big, it was the first to chart as a single in US history. [LP Elvis & EP lead track; #2 US] *#@% 

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

19. 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] *#+@% 

20. (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] +% 

21. (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] *#+@%

22. 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; #20 US] #

23. Mean Woman Blues: An instant classic that was often covered but never bettered. [LP Loving You, 1957] #%

24. Got A Lot O' Livin' To Do!: The irresistible opening song to first starring film & a knockout upbeat rocker. [LP Loving You, 1957] @

25. 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] *#+@% 

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

27. (You're So Square) Baby I Don't Care: Elvis's finest deep cut of 1950s, covered by none other than Buddy Holly in his brief career. [EP Jailhouse Rock, 1957] @

28. Blue Christmas: His finest Christmas recording, & in time, a rare platinum-seller that never made the mainstream pop charts. [LP Elvis' Christmas Album, 1957] % 

29. 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] *#@% 

30. I Beg Of You: The underrated Top 10 B-side to "Don't," which like its flip, was recorded the previous year. [single B-side, 1958; #8 US] *

Volume 2: Soldier (1958-1962).

31. 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] *#% 

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

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

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

35. 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] *#@%

36. I Got Stung: A Top 10 hit (thanks in part to its risque flip, "One Night") about love as an allergic reaction [single B-side; US #8] *#

37. (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] *#@%

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

39. 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] *#@%

40. 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] *#@%

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

42. Girl Of My Best Friend: A fine, effortless vocal on a song that could've been a hit single in it's own right--& in the UK it was. [LP Elvis Is Back!, 1960; UK single A-side, 1960; #2 UK] @

43. 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; #16 US, #13 UK] +@%

44. 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's saxophone steal the show. [LP Elvis Is Back!, 1960] +@%

45. 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] *#+@% 

46. 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] #@%

47. 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] #

48. Are You Lonesome Tonight?: The final third of his comeback trilogy (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] *#+@%

49. Surrender: Picking up where "It's Now Or Never" left off, Elvis exercises his operatic tendencies a decade before they became a caricature. [single A-side, 1961; #1 US, #1 UK] *#@%

50. I Feel So Bad: As the first major 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] *#+%

51. (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] *#@%

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

53. 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] *#+@%

54. 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] # 

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

56. Follow That Dream: The theme song to Elvis's life. [EP lead track, 1962; #15 US] +

57. 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] *#@% 

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

Volume 3: Phoenix (1963-1969).

59. (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] *#+@%

60. 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] *#+%

61. It Hurts Me: Elvis proves that a beautiful vocal & a solid bridge can go a long, long way. [single B-side, 1964; #29 US] @%

62. 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] #+%

63. 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] *#%

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

65. Down In The Alley: The first indication that Elvis was getting ready to take rock seriously again, & it was good. [LP Speedway, 1966] @

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

67. Big Boss Man: The single that marked Elvis's quiet return to meaningful rock music, before an official comeback vehicle was formed. [single A-side, 1967; #38 US] +@%

68. Guitar Man: The song that would become the theme of the official comeback vehicle. [single A-side, 1968; #43 US, #19 UK] +@%

69. U.S. Male: Along with "Big Boss Man" & "Guitar Man," the 3rd & weakest of his "pre-Comeback" singles--yet oddly, the biggest hit. [single A-side, 1968; #28 US, #15 UK]

70. A Little Less Conversation: A forgotten tune 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 A-side, 1968; #69 US] +

71. 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] #+@%

72. 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] #+%

73. Tiger Man: A standout track from sit-down set of "The '68 Comeback Special," where Elvis truly reclaimed his rock & roll crown. [LP Elvis Sings Flaming Star, 1968] @

74. 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] *#+@%

75. 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] +@%

76. Long Black Limousine: His greatest performance, period. (c/f my earlier Long Black Limousine post) [LP From Elvis In Memphis, 1969]

77. 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] *#+@%

78. 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; #6 US, #8 UK] *#+@%

79. Rubberneckin': One of the funkiest things Elvis ever cut--a worthy companion to the contemporary "A Little Less Conversation." [single B-side, 1969]

80. Stranger In My Own Home Town: Hard blues from a stranger in a strange land of the music he himself helped to create. [LP From Memphis To Vegas/From Vegas To Memphis, 1969] @%

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

Volume 4: Icon (1970-1977).

82. 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] *#+@

83. 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] +@%

84. I've Lost You: The first sign of the new, mature Elvis that would be revealed on his album That's The Way It Is later in the year, which featured dissolving marriages & babies crying at 6:00 AM; Elvis had grown up & his audience had too. [single A-side, 1970; #32 US, #9 UK] @

85. You Don't Have To Say You Love Me: Along with "I've Lost You," 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] #+@

86. I Really Don't Want To Know: The lead single of his last great album, Elvis Country: I'm 10,000 Years Old, which would be released early the following year, & it served as an apt preview--a heartfelt rendering of a country song that brought it just to the edge of soul. [single A-side, 1970; #21 US]

87. I Just Can't Help Believin': Like "Polk Salad Annie," another song that somehow makes nearly every major Elvis compilation; I've always found it solid, but a bit dull & about a minute too long. [LP That's The Way It Is, 1970; UK single A-side, 1971; #6 UK] +@%

88. Faded Love: The most underrated song from his most underrated LP; or: A country song sung like blue-eyed soul, coaxed by horn charts. [LP Elvis Country: I'm 10,000 Years Old, 1971]

 89. Funny How Time Slips Away: Another standout from the underrated Elvis Country--& a performance so natural that it serves as a reminder why Elvis always returned to country music: It feels like home. [LP Elvis Country: I'm 10,000 Years Old, 1971] %

90. I'm Leavin': Elvis loved this song & believed it would be a huge hit; it wasn't, but it remains one of his most committed--& naked--performances of the decade. [single A-side, 1971; #36 US, #23 UK] %

91. 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] #@%

92. 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] *#+@%

93. Separate Ways: As the first of several songs about a dissolved marriage with children in the middle ("You Gave Me A Mountain," "My Boy"), a rare peek into the elusive Elvis psyche as his marriage was crumbling; also the last gold single of his lifetime.  [single A-side, 1972; #20 US]

94. Always On My Mind: A stirring study in melody & regret that outdid its companion flip "Separate Ways"; released as the A-side in the UK, as it should've been here. [single B-side, 1972; #9 UK] #+@%

95. 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] +%

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

97. T-R-O-U-B-L-E: A revival-rocker that should've been bigger--it may not have gotten a lot of airplay at the time, but it's been getting it ever since. [single A-side, 1975; #35 US, #31 UK] %

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

99. For The Heart: One of Elvis's last great performances, which is to say, a rocker that he sang like he meant it. [single B-side, 1976] @%

100. 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] #+

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

* * *

So there you have it--the 101 most essential Elvis recordings, as vetted by his most significant collections. Long live The King Of Rock & Roll.

No comments:

Post a Comment