Elvis Presley in the fifties
What can one say? Roy Orbison, seeing a show in Odessa, Texas in February of
'55, is stunned; there is nothing in popular culture he can reference it to
- this is something brand new.
In less than four years, from his first session in July of 1954 to a final
June visit in 1958 while on a pass from the Army, Elvis makes music that
changes the world. Even today these songs, plus related TV and personal
appearances, are discussed and analyzed. As award-winning historian David
Halberstam acknowledges in 1993's The Fifties', "In cultural terms, his
(Presley's) coming was nothing less than the start of a revolution."
Welcome to a look back at that revolution
Even a sophisticated Presley scholar is going to be "totally stung" by these
recently discovered, first-generation source tapes. Background asides and
subtle nuances become apparent as one listens to the man and his music.
Presented in master tape quality for the very first time are prime examples
of Elvis' growing studio sophistication, taken from his final recording
session of the fifties, a one night stand in Nashville's Studio B on June
10, 1958, plus some bonus treats taped in the spring of 1956.
The goal of RCA executive Steve Sholes in 1958 is to cut as many hit sides
as possible before Presley goes overseas until 1960. It proves difficult.
With a Tuesday evening in June as the only visit management approves, Sholes
fills the studio with the cream of Nashville's session players, including
Buddy Harman on drums and percussion and the dynamic Hank "Sugarfoot"
Garland on lead guitar. This is the first Presley session for both musicians
and Harman's skill combined with the nimble-fingered magic of Garland result
in timeless rock and roll. The slate is set for cutting five up-tempo tunes;
the end result perhaps Elvis' most rockin' evening in the studio ever.
The first thing one notices about these alternate renditions is the energy
and great spirit in the room. Laughter abounds between takes as they get
down to business. Several performances are only a missed note or beat away
from perfection, such is the level of performance. Hard as it is to believe,
Presley ultimately rejects both the marvelous "mid-tempo" and stunning "punk
Rock" versions of "Ain't That Loving You Baby" and they remain in the can
for six and twenty-seven years, respectively!
This set begins with the superbly syncopated "I Got Stung," take 8. Again,
It's close to master take 24, though perhaps just a bit rushed. The next
fifteen minutes whisk the listener through alternate romps of Elvis' sly
cover of Hank Snow's 1953 country hit "A Fool Such Such As I," the
"mid-tempo" "Ainıt That Loving You Baby" and "I Need Your Love Tonight."
With take 2 of "A Big Hunk O' Love," one of Presley's greatest kick-ass
rockers, Floyd Cramerıs Jerry Lee Lewis-inspired piano solo practically
melts the microphone!
Backtracking to a New York studio on a Friday morning in February '56,
Elvis, Scotty, Bill, DJ and pianist Shorty Long tackle Lloyd Price's
infectious "Lawdy Miss Clawdy." Previously-unissued takes 4 and 5 show the
twenty-one year-old Presley singing with vigor, but both fall short because
of instrumental breakdowns. It's sure nice to hear them after forty-four
Scholar alert: on the pre-song countdown prior to master take 8 of
"One-Sided Love Affair" one may note Elvis playing the exact same bass
strings runs on his acoustic as heard preceding his 1970 recording of
"Little Cabin on the Hill"!
From the nearly-derailed-by-a-plane-crash Nashville session in April '56,
"I Want You, I Need You, I Love You" takes 14 (plus some pre-take 5 chatter)
and 16 check in. The former has only "escaped" on 1978's (A Legendary
Performer, Volume 2, but finds a much better home here. Although Presley
would apparently grow to hate his #3 pop hit, perhaps due to a humiliating
July '56 Steve Allen TV appearance (Elvis never again sings the tune after
that), he typically gives all of himself to the number in the studio.
The B-side to "Heartbreak Hotel," his fabulous "I Was The One," requires
seven passes, but both takes 2 and 3 heard here sound awfully close.
Returning to June 10th, Elvis and Nashville's "A-team" continue to "paw,
Paw" their way through the fluffy fun of "I Need Your Love Tonight."
Previously unheard takes 16 and 17 confirm that no one finds Presley's vocal
flubs more hilarious than he does.
On take 17 of "I Got Stung" Jordanaire Gordon Stoker frets about the group
unable to hear Presley's vocals, to which Elvis jokes "Well, here's where we
goof up!" Elvis halts the recording. Following a few choice Presley
expletives to end an otherwise rocking take 18, it gets real, real gone for
a change; with take 24, the final track of Elvis' stunning fifties career is
in the can.
Presley's amazing career will visit many more peaks and valleys in the next
nineteen years; with discs like this, one may begin to comprehend what all
the fuss was about. At ease!