This Rolling Stone review states that the new Complete Million Dollar Quartet session "contains less than half of the two and a half hours' worth of Million-Dollar tape Sam Phillips allegedly recorded that day."
Is this accurate?
http://www.rollingstone.com/artists/elv ... ar_session
The heavens did not open, and the earth did not move. In fact, it was business as usual that day at Sam Phillips's Sun Records studio, in Memphis. Carl Perkins and his trio were rehearsing new material with a recent Phillips discovery, Jerry Lee Lewis, sitting in on piano and Johnny Cash just hanging around for fun. Sun alumnus Elvis Presley popped in to say howdy, and as musicians are wont to do, Phillips's fab four gathered around the studio piano for an impromptu jam. A couple of hours later they went home, each to his respective destiny.
But the passage of time, the accumulated force of history and the awesome shadow Presley has cast over popular music have conspired to make December 4th, 1956, a holy day on the rock & roll calendar. The Sun gods were, for the first and last time, all together in Phillips's rockabilly laboratory with the tapes rolling. A Memphis newspaper, which ran a photo of the event the next day, dubbed the four hillbilly hotshots "the Million-Dollar Quartet," and what had really been nothing but a casual sing-along immediately became legend.
This double album is the legend incarnate – all that purportedly remains of the tapes Sam Phillips recorded for posterity that day – and it is worth its weight in either rock & roll gold or Monopoly money, depending on how hungry you are for ragged harmonizing, incomplete takes of old gospel and country chestnuts and idle chatter from the principal architects of the Fifties teenage revolution. What's more, the Million-Dollar Quartet is not even a quartet here; Johnny Cash does not appear on The Complete Million Dollar Session, having apparently gone home shortly after the newspaper photographer did. Or before Phillips turned the tape machine on.
So how good is what we've got? As cosmic accidents go, this Million-Dollar meeting of the minds was a bit of a dud. Of the forty tracks listed on the back cover, few are actually complete songs; many are tentative stabs at familiar hymns, barroom laments and bluegrass balladry ("As We Travel Along the Jericho Road," "Crazy Arms," "Little Cabin on the Hill"). "Summertime Has Passed and Gone" is barely long enough for somebody to call out the title and strum an intro chord. In spite of their shared roots in both the sacred and the secular music of the postwar South, the $750,000 trio appears to have had trouble establishing any lasting rapport.
As a result, the guest of honor tends to dominate, to an almost overbearing degree. Presley plays most of the piano here (compared with the fireball fists of Jerry Lee Lewis, his playing is serviceable though spirited). He also takes nearly all the lead vocals and appears to call most of the song shots, meaning we get showbiz sugar like Rodgers and Hammerstein's "There's No Place Like Home" (albeit at an energetic rockabilly clip) sprinkled amid the down-home grooves. Elvis, it seems, was already schlock-bound.
Yet there is still much to marvel at here. Far more intimate and revealing than any of those jive I-was-Elvis's-bridge-partner-and-closest-friend memoirs, The Complete Million Dollar Session provides a rare post-Sun glimpse of the King momentarily free of the golden shackles of stardom and the manipulative grasp of his manager, Colonel Tom Parker. His singing, especially on the gospel numbers, is natural and relaxed, minus some of the trademark mannerisms of his official RCA releases.
Obviously comfortable in the company of his then heirs apparent, Presley also speaks freely between numbers, dropping a few minor revelations in the process. "Ol' Faron Young wrote this song sent to me to record," he says wryly, introducing a brief but beautiful rendition of the weeper "Is It So Strange." "He didn't give me none of it – he wanted it all," no doubt meaning a piece of the publishing action.
Presley's description of "a colored guy" tearing up Las Vegas audiences with a house-on-fire rendition of "Don't Be Cruel" – in fact, a young Jackie Wilson, then with Billy Ward and the Dominoes – is alone worth the price of the album. "He tried so hard until he got much better, boy, much better than that record of mine.... I went back four nights straight and heard that guy do that," he says, imitating Wilson's bluesy smolder and big orgasmic finish.
"He sung the hell out of the song," Elvis says with admiration, adding with a laugh, "I was on the table lookin' at him, 'Get 'im off, get 'im off!'" Presley, on a roll, then rips into a slower, sassier version of his latest RCA single, "Paralyzed," revved up by Perkins and his trio.
Although he was Sun's biggest star at the time, thanks to "Blue Suede Shoes," Carl Perkins seemed content to keep the rhythm backfield in motion, stepping out with only occasional leadguitar breaks (most of the songs never get that far). Jerry Lee Lewis is not so easily cowed, though, boldly flashing his Killer instinct at every available opportunity. He sets up a competitive vocal pattern early on, echoing Presley's bassy swagger in gospel numbers like "Walk That Lonesome Valley" and "I Shall Not Be Moved" with his own hearty upper-register whoops and hollers. And halfway through side four, when Presley finally gets up to leave, Lewis swiftly commandeers the eighty-eights and – considering the leisurely pace of things so far – whips off five piano ravers in rapid succession, including a rousing "Crazy Arms" (his debut Sun single) and a soulful make-over of Gene Autry's "You're the Only Star in My Blue Heaven."
With that, the most famous Sun session of them all came to an end. The controversy and speculation surrounding it may not be over, however. This double album – attractively packaged and diligently annotated by Charly, the English label that has been systematically reviving the Sun catalog for the past decade – contains less than half of the two and a half hours' worth of Million-Dollar tape Sam Phillips allegedly recorded that day. Indeed, there was talk for a while in the late Seventies, until RCA squashed it, of a five-album set of Million-Dollar Quartet recordings. We may not have heard the last of this.
Frankly, another hour-plus of this goofing around would be too much of a good thing. For best results, listen to The Complete Million Dollar Session with lowered expectations, and revel in the little miracles, like Presley's gorgeous solo performance of "That's When the Heartaches Begin," the Ink Spots hit that he cut at Sun in 1953 as a birthday present for his mother and that led to his discovery by Sam Phillips. With his delicate acoustic strumming and velvety croon, it is quintessential Elvis. Then at the end, he says, "If they could get somebody to sing it right, have a guy with a real deep voice talkin' it off, I think it could sell." All he had to do was look in a mirror. (RS 520)