All posts with more than 3000 Hits, prior to 2008

A Complete Body of work

Fri Feb 24, 2006 1:42 pm

This is kind of a sequel to my "career star" thread which kind of took a turn I didn't want it necessarily to take in that it turned into a defense of Elvis' '60s work. Of course though outside of the '50s classics and in some cases just the Sun Sessions, it seems the Elvis fan is always on the defensive in addressing Elvis' catalogue. One critic even argued that Elvis' entire legend was based on about 20 minutes of great music. To me, the very idea that you would have to be on the defensive when discussing Elvis' work is like something out of the Bizarro world. As Pete Dube and I and others have argued this is most probably the deepest catalogue in all rock and soul. When people go on about Elvis' wasted potential, it makes some sense in terms of the movies but in terms of sheer music this catalogue leaves nothing to be desired.

The sheer depth of the quality is quite astounding. Just taking fairly accepted standards you have- The Sun Sessions, the early RCA singles, three of the first four RCA albums including "Elvis Christmas Album" which is generally considered along with Spector's album the definitive statement in rock Christmas albums and probably the biggest selling rock Christmas album of all-time, then you have the assorted gems from the other early RCA records including "Trouble", "Mean Woman Blues", "Baby I Don't Care" etc., moving into the 1960s you have "Elvis is Back" and "His Hand In Mine" from 1960, you have those classic early 60s singles that form the backbone of many oldies radio stations, you have the Jerry Reed sessions which midwifed country rock, you have the "How Great Thou Art" album a record that is one of the top selling gospel albums of all-time almost strictly through word of mouth, you have the recordings from the '68 TV show, "From Elvis in Memphis", the Memphis singles, and you have bits and pieces that don't necessarily fit in anywhere else like great album tracks like "Tomorrow is a Long Time" and "Stranger in My Own Home Town" and B-sides like "It Hurts Me". In the 1970s you have "Elvis-That's the Way it Is" an album that Entertainment Weekly gave an "A" rating to in 2000 and has generally received positive reviews since its original negative reception, you have the concept album "Elvis Country", you have the respected gospel album "He Touched Me". Then later you have individual highlights like "Burning Love", "Separate Ways" called by Carr and Farren a classic of its kind, "Hurt", "Promised Land" etc. Then you have Elvis' live documents including his explosive early TV stuff and the Mississippi/Alabama Fair performances. The triumphant return to Vegas and the largely excellent "Feb 1970 On Stage" live album. There is nothing here really that you have to argue about.

This is more great music than the Beatles did or the Beach Boys or Michael Jackson or Bo Diddley or Chuck Berry. The only artists to come close to matching it in terms of depth are Ray Charles, Bob Dylan and maybe James Brown. Maybe Bo Diddley or Michael Jackson didn't release as many bad tracks as Elvs did but that is outweighed by the fact that they didn't release nearly so many good ones.

The breadth of what's here is also astounding. We all know rock, blues, country, gospel and pop. Many consider "From Elvis in Memphis" the definitive blue eyed soul record. There's also Hawaiian and latin based music, attempts at mock opera, folk. About the only thing that's missing is a serious stab at jazz and pop standards. However, it's pretty clear that this was result of a lack of interests in those areas as opposed to any frustrated ambition.

Within the genres he cast a wide net as well. He didn't just record gospel. On the first album he recorded in the group jubilee tradition. On the second album he explored a more traditional hymn sound with a larger lineup musically than he had ever incorporated. On the third album, he explored the sounds of contemporary gospel.

In blues, he recorded acoustic Mississippi delta type stuff but also recorded hard urban blues. A ballad could be the ultimate in delicacy as in "Starting Today" or a display of bombast or sometimes both in the same song as on "There's Always Me."

Or he would change the stylistic emphasis of his sound. In the 1950s the driving force behind his sound was guitar in the 1960s it was usually saxophone.

His stylistic synthesis on many tracks was one of kind and defied genre. Charles and Bobby Darin could keep in terms of the broadness of vision but in terms of a genuine synthesis even they fall a tad short.

He also used the ground other perfomers opened to enhance his artistry. He incorporated autobiographical elements into his music. He recorded a concept album when the gauntlet was thrown down and it was perhaps his most potent album and certainly one of the highlights of the country rock era. He recorded protest music.

There are also many one off performances in the canon that sound like nothing else he recorded- these range from "Heartbreak Hotel" to "Softly as I Leave You" or "City By Night" to "I'm Leavin'".

There is also a level of consistent innovation. From the Sun sessions that invented rockabilly, to the RCA singles that redefined rock and roll, to the 60s singles that took his synthesis to its apothesis, to the Jerry Reed sessions and the early country rock experiments. He was often breaking either new musical ground either for music as a whole or for himself.

He did songs that challenged his vocal mettle. In an uncelebrated episode in the early 1960s he even tried his hand unsuccessfully at songwriting. With no one to encourage him in this pursuit, he felt as if he were overstepping his bounds and that's fair enough.

The nerve rattling power of the very peak stuff- "Heartbreak Hotel", "Mystery Train", "Suspicious Minds", "Trying to Get to You" (1968) is unique and undeniable.

Dying relatively young there were undoubtedly areas yet to explore. And as in every career there were interesting missed opportunities. And yes, he was frustrated but part of that frustration came from a lack of legitimate challenge, of having covered so much ground in so short a time. Looking over the innovation, the quality, range and depth of the best music you could safely say that Elvis went to his grave as a MUSICIAN with his mission accomplished.

Fri Feb 24, 2006 3:01 pm

LTB -

Nice post.

He was quite a performer, wasn't he ?

Fri Feb 24, 2006 3:23 pm

ColinB: Not that I disagree. But more great music than the Beatles?
Beatle fans will burn you in effigy(sp)?

Fri Feb 24, 2006 3:28 pm

JerryNodak wrote:ColinB: Not that I disagree.
But more great music than the Beatles?
Beatle fans will burn you in effigy(sp)?


Well, I didn't actually say that [not this time anyway] !

Fri Feb 24, 2006 3:32 pm

Sorry, Colin. I misread. Eyes are getting old you know. They'll have to burn LTB.

Fri Feb 24, 2006 9:33 pm

The Beatles only made 14 albums during their time together and not all the work was great. About half the White Album is generally disposable and I don't think anyone thinks their Motown remakes except "Money" are successful. And though "Rock and Roll Music", "Twist and Shout" and the Larry Williams' remakes rival or surpass the originals many of their R&B remakes come up short as well. Then there's Ringo toss offs in there. It's still a breathtaking body of work but it's not as deep as artists with longer careers.

Fri Feb 24, 2006 10:00 pm

Great post, LTB! I believe Paul Simpson, author of "The Rough Guide to Elvis Presley" is similiar in his approach.

It's funny how much of an aura has built up around the Beatles in which all of it assumed to stand up. The Rollling Stones , too, also have their stinkers - with more to come.

Even I'm somewhat taken aback to hear the Beatles taken down a peg. I've become so accustomed to the "all hail the Beatles (fill in the blank)...

Somehow, their catalog is seen as uniformly above the fray, while Elvis' is seen as one of "great promise and ultimately failure."
Last edited by Gregory Nolan Jr. on Sun Mar 25, 2007 8:24 am, edited 1 time in total.

Fri Feb 24, 2006 10:53 pm

Gregory Nolan Jr. wrote:Even I'm somewhat taken aback to here the Beatles taken down a peg. I've become so accustomed to the "all hail the Beatles (fill in the blank)...

Somehow, their catalog is seen as uniformly above the fray, while Elvis' is seen as one of "great promise and ultimately failure."


Ahh, we're singing from the same hymn-sheet now !

Suffice to say that Elvis at his best wiped the floor with the mop-heads [and everyone else, come to that] !

Re: A Complete Body of work

Tue Feb 28, 2006 7:59 pm

likethebike wrote:The breadth of what's here (in Elvis' body of work) is also astounding. We all know rock, blues, country, gospel and pop.


Many consider "From Elvis in Memphis" the definitive blue eyed soul record. There's also Hawaiian and latin based music, attempts at mock opera, folk. About the only thing that's missing is a serious stab at jazz and pop standards. However, it's pretty clear that this was result of a lack of interests in those areas as opposed to any frustrated ambition.

Within the genres he cast a wide net as well. He didn't just record gospel. On the first album he recorded in the group jubilee tradition. On the second album he explored a more traditional hymn sound with a larger lineup musically than he had ever incorporated. On the third album, he explored the sounds of contemporary gospel.

In blues, he recorded acoustic Mississippi delta type stuff but also recorded hard urban blues. A ballad could be the ultimate in delicacy as in "Starting Today" or a display of bombast or sometimes both in the same song as on "There's Always Me."


And it seems that ignorance of these genres and sub-genres is often to blame when placed next to the holy shrines that the rock world worships at.

Not a little of this musical diversity came though the too-often dismissed outright movie soundtracks.

Tue Feb 28, 2006 8:04 pm

Elvis latin based music must be a the top of the mountain of #$@$#! :wink:

Tue Feb 28, 2006 8:06 pm

Well, at least your admitting your bias against the Latin-flavored genre. Quite a bit of works for some people, and some of it did not. Personally, I like it on occasion and I'm glad he tackled it.

This is an artist who admitted to a NY Times reporter in 1960 that he was blown away by a (non-TV) show by Milton Berle that boasted several opera singers.

I love that Elvis (unlike some of his fans) had a voracious appetite for all types of music.

Tue Feb 28, 2006 8:09 pm

Not a bias just not done well by him or Nat King Cole.

Tue Feb 28, 2006 8:11 pm

Not at all?

I find that hard to believe, not with that voice.

Tue Feb 28, 2006 8:13 pm

It is like Julio Iglesias singing in english. Terrible.

Tue Feb 28, 2006 8:13 pm

Gregory Nolan Jr. wrote:I love that Elvis (unlike some of his fans) had a voracious appetite for all types of music.


I seem to recall an early interview where he stated that the only kinds of music he didn't understand were jazz and opera.

Judging by his record collection he apparently learned to appreciate both later on? (Well, if not opera then at least opera singers...)

Tue Feb 28, 2006 8:16 pm

Pat Boone could not sing the blues even if he was faced with a firing squad(imo). That is my point. Feeling. On another matter, Elvis loved Mexican music, but like a lot of people at the time was confused with the different types of latin music. Bossa Nova Baby should not have mexican horns(and Mariachi) and neither should Italian(latin) adding mexican horns to It's Now Or Never in the 70's. Not a fusion but a disfusion if that word even exists.

Tue Feb 28, 2006 8:46 pm

I take it you won't an extra copy of Elvis Latino, JLGB?

:lol: I think Elvis brought a lot of feeling to these songs. Some worked, some didn't but it's a fun ride.

Image
Image

Again, not coherent or even accurate in some cases, but I for one am glad the King stretched out in new directions, miscues included.

Mon Mar 05, 2007 12:16 pm

Y'know .... that really was an excellent starting post, LTB.

But, in being so general, you missed many chances to be specific:

- Dixieland rock (e.g. virtually all of "King Creole")

- One off numbers (missed off the potent example of "Edge Of Reality" and others like "Suppose")

- Soft jazz / lounge music (e.g. "I Need Somebody To Lean On")

- Faux Arabic/Persian ballads (e.g. "So Close")

- Western-politan / Wall Of Sound (don't know what else to call it -- e.g. "Stay Away", "Charro")

- California-style rock / gospel (e.g. Comeback Special songs -- "Saved", "Nothingville", "Let Yourself Go")

- Chic-urban (again, don't know what else to call it -- e.g. all of "Change Of Habit")

- Contemporary adult ballads (e.g. "Sylvia", "How The Web Was Woven", "We Can Make The Morning"; I know you kinda covered this one, but still...)

- Funk (e.g. "Just A Little Bit", "Find Out What's Happening", "If You Don't Come Back")

- Disco-inflected pop / rock / country (e.g. "Moody Blue", "Way Down")

If it was happening, chances are ... so was Elvis.

Mon Mar 05, 2007 9:09 pm

We can all retain our objectivity and say that Elvis had his faults. Insularity and laziness were two of them. But let's take a closer look at what you just said.

The 50's:
1954
1955
1956
1957
1958

Others:
1960
1969
1971

That already makes 8.

Now let's add in what you callously excluded:

1961
1966
1967
1968 (in this case, I'll include the Comeback Special, since it's practically a genre in its own right)
1970
1972 (I'm also counting live stuff here, since it was a big year, especially with the laying down of "Separate Ways" and "Always On My Mind")
1976

That takes us to 14.

In all those years that he recorded in a studio, he cut some great material, and was generally on top form (i.e. committed). In all the years excluded, while there may have been gems here and there, he was generally either less motivated or dealing with lesser material. It's the yin-yang symbol, you might say: in his great years, there was the occasional bit of mediocrity, and in his weak years, there was the occasional bit of greatness, but by and large, what's generally true of each holds.

Others are free to disagree, and might well do so.

And, just to prove my last point, some perennial favourites -- like "Return To Sender", "Viva Las Vegas", the Aloha concert and the "Today" album -- don't come from any of those years listed. Elvis was very on and off -- especially on stage -- but his musical legacy is more "on" than "off".

Promocollector wrote:There was the odd fantastic song but no consistant sensational recordings that a man with Elvis' ability was capable of.


Inconsistency is the biggest blight. He definitely had intense patches of creativity, only to then linger and rest on his laurels. But he was nearly always doing something new or of interest, and the lulls generally led in to better things. There is more than enough material in his entire catalogue to allow for one to sit back in awe.

Sometimes, even I get a bit cynical about it, and feel as you do: that that bastard should have done more. Leaving us wanting more was Elvis' greatest achievement -- and his greatest crime. It really irks me when I remind myself that he didn't write any songs. He could have steamed through material (especially if he'd had the balls to override or fire Parker and take material from wherever). He could have easily DOUBLED his output and DOUBLED the quality. But what's done is done. There were many factors at play, including EP's own personality, and since it's a personality that gives rise to a human being and an artist, to begrudge too harshly is to actually wish the person had never existed. I could bring "Hamlet" into this discussion, but I won't. Let's appreciate what we have -- it's richer than you credit it for.

Mon Mar 05, 2007 9:40 pm

Promocollector wrote:I thought of 1968 but did not include it as it was not a recording session but a performance (an exceptional performance, but a performance none the less), so i disregarded it.


Fair enough. But he was very hungry then -- so much so that the performance is iconic. It practically merits inclusion all by itself.

Promocollector wrote:I don't see the relevance of you including live stuff as my whole post was about Elvis' atitude to recording, either he was up for it 110% or was less interested in the material or he had absolutly no interest in recording what he was about to record.


Live material was a big part of his makeup in the 70's, and 1972 may represent the apex (that or 1970, which I also included). There were even some songs he performed exclusively on stage.

Promocollector wrote:IMO and this is only my opinion, the music he recorded in the years i listed above stands head and shoulders above 95% of anything he recorded in all those other years. In that 5% the were some sensational gems i.e Always On My Mind, Love Letters, Promised Land and a number of others but the majority imo were not in Elvis' class.


At the very least, you should include 1970 -- two fantastic albums came out of that same year, one a riveting extension of his background and the closest he came to a concept album, and the other an entirely new style that would set the tone (for better and for worse) of everything to come.

Mon Mar 05, 2007 9:43 pm

Great post, ltb
Agreed on all fronts.

I would like to add that I think one of the reasons Elvis's catalogue is viewed with such contempt by rock critics is at least in part due to RCA's original careless packaging of the material. For instance, you mention the sublime "b-side" "It Hurts Me" as a highlight, and it is, but when you consider that the A-SIDE was "Kissin' Cousins" you understand why this song got overlooked.

I would suggest all of you look through a list of the original single couplings from the 60's, I guarantee you some will make you wince in pain.

Basically Elvis's movie output is a cancer on the rest of his catalogue that will unfortunately probably keep it from ever being viewed with the critical esteem given to the Beatles catalogue. It is a tragedy, and yet another reason the Colonel should be dug up and set on fire.

Mon Mar 05, 2007 9:59 pm

KingOfTheJungle wrote:Basically Elvis's movie output is a cancer on the rest of his catalogue that will unfortunately probably keep it from ever being viewed with the critical esteem given to the Beatles catalogue. It is a tragedy, and yet another reason the Colonel should be dug up and set on fire.


I agree with the general assessment (who wouldn't?), but if we cut out the 50's movies, since they have classic song after classic song, and just focus on the 60's movies, they probably average out to one classic song each (yes, average: some might have several, others might have none). That's approximately two dozen songs -- or two albums. Now, granted, Elvis might have made two or three albums of a much higher quality in this same time as a bare minimum, and if the energy was there, maybe twice that many, but we'll never know. Although the movie material generally wasn't up to snuff, with the greatest contributions usually coming from an outside source and being shoe-horned in (e.g. "Doin' The Best I Can", "You Don't Know Me"), it did give Elvis an opportunity to tackle different sounds and textures, and although that same material almost crushed his spirit, it also set up the circumstances for his dramatic comeback, perhaps coiling his musical spring that much tighter, giving him more energy and more drama when he finally shot back to prominence.

Nothing is clear cut. But I challenge someone to be scrupulous and pull out the best cuts from his movies. What would be worthy? I think I named two: "Doin' The Best I Can" and "You Don't Know Me". But what about "Can't Help Falling In Love", "Return To Sender", "King Of The Whole Wide World", "I Need Somebody To Lean On", "Stay Away", "All I Needed Was The Rain" and others? That's eight. If his movies are suffficiently combed, you could easily double that number, and possibly triple it, meeting the assertion I made in the first paragraph. And there are plenty of guilty pleasures, with the emphasis more on "pleasure" than "guilty" (e.g. "No More", "Marguerita", "Night Life", "Wheels On My Heels" and on).

Mon Mar 05, 2007 10:17 pm

Promocollector wrote:"That's The Way It Is" is a good album but nowhere near as good as "Elvis Is Back" "Elvis Country" or "From Elvis In Memphis".
I presume the other is "On Stage" a great album but again not a studio recording. I am not debating Elvis' prowess on stage, not before 1972 anyway, after 72, well that's another topic.


The two albums I was referring to -- per your own criteria which you subsequently stated (i.e. no live material) -- were obviously "That's The Way It Is" and "Elvis Country". The material for both was cut in 1970. Although I agree that "That's The Way It Is" cannot fully stand its ground against "From Elvis In Memphis", it has a rich, mature sound, and demonstrates an Elvis at more or less his peak, in full, chocolatey, masculine voice (moreso than in the "Memphis" albums, IMO). I think the two albums represent a committed Elvis, also per your own criteria. And yes, if you do actually add in "On Stage", then you have a triumvirate of very good-great albums from 1970. Hardly your average Elvis Presley year.

Tue Mar 06, 2007 3:19 am

To try and get this thread back on track, and add something to Cryo's points I would submit that Elvis was committed at the December '73 Stax sessions.

Tue Mar 06, 2007 9:32 am

I'd written that so long ago I'd forgotten I'd written it.

Cryo- I disagree about Elvis doubling his output. He put out a hell of a lot of music in a relatively short time, just in title alone to fill out more than 60 albums. He had to slump some time.

As far as my original post, it wasn't my point to slight those songs. It's just when you're writing a lengthy essay on the not especially reader friendly internet, you have to cut something.

As far as being committed, I think the times when he didn't show commitment are in the minority. Listen to Gi Blues who else could have given so much to those songs?

From 1960 to 1962 every time Elvis was in a proper studio setting he charted some sort of new ground. You could make the argument for the entire decade. The January 1964 session was about as serious as a recording session gets. The sessions with Jerry Reed were an explosive mid-wifing of the country-rock genre.

The movies were a mixed blessing. In one way they were a bad choice by Elvis. He spent too much time on them and recorded too many songs for them and for business reasons allowed them to comprise too much of his public output. Plus because movies often require songs to fit very specific situations, some second rate material was virtually guaranteed.

On the other hand without Elvis' movies we'd have been deprived of songs like "Jailhouse Rock" and "Viva Las Vegas" classics specifically penned for those films. L&S have admitted they would have never thought about JHR without having to pen a song of that title for a movie.

Plus, they did broaden Elvis' horizons on occassion and provided publicity and a visual document for some of Elvis' most memorable tunes from "Return to Sender" to "Jailhouse Rock" to "Mean Woman Blues".

When they have been decried as a sellout etc. One very important fact has always been left out of the equation- Elvis very much wanted to be a movie star. By the time he found out that the movies he was making were not the key to his end of objective it was too late. If Elvis had not died at 42 and had another 10-15-20 years of recording left, we wouldn't be so fixated on it and would view them in their proper place.

I agree King on the promotion. Another good example is the fact that RCA slapped together a soundtrack for every pedestrian soundtrack Elvis made. Yet dropped the ball when they had one Viva Las Vegas that contained much interesting music.

I agree with the point that Cryo seemed to be hinting at. There's a completely forgotten leg of very strong songs from these movies- "In My Way" (A very underrated and moving piece that deserves a day in the sun), "King of the Whole Wide World", "Viva Las Vegas", "Cmon Everybody", "I Need Someone to Lean On", "Let Yourself Go", "Stop Look and Listen", "Little Egypt", "What'd I Say", "Can't Help Falling in Love", and "Return to Sender" among others plus a host of lesser songs that are just dazzlingly sung.

If Beatles' first fans can prop up a lame "Please Mr. Postman" than Elvis fans can claim "I Got Lucky" which is a better performance on a lesser piece of material.
Last edited by likethebike on Tue Mar 06, 2007 9:46 am, edited 1 time in total.