For the record: The release features all the 19 SUN masters, outtakes of all songs where such outtakes exists including false starts and studio-talk, the four acetate sides, the two Lubbock recordings and six live recordings from 'The Louisiana Hayride'.
On the good things side: All tracks have been digitally remastered, and it actually shows as the sound quality of the SUN masters and outtakes is exceptionally good - very warm, very clear and with a sort of crispy quality to it. It should be noted that the outtake of 'Blue Moon' is a previously unreleased take which is, however, very similar to the master take and to the previously released outtakes from 'King of Rock'N'Roll' and 'Platinum'. It includes two false starts and judging from this and Elvis' apparent insecurity it appears to be an early take. Unfortunately, all information regarding take #'s is lacking. Otherwise the recordings are of course the same that we know and love, but in a very good quality. As far as I'm able to say, the included outtake of 'I Love You Because' is take #2 including as a false start take #1, and the outtake of 'I'm Left, You're Right, She's Gone (slow version)' is take #9, while the 'master' is take #12.
As for the remaining contents of the two CDs it is very nice to have the last acetate?side 'It Wouldn't be The Same Without You' made available to us. It turns out to be in a very similar vein to its a side; a slow country ballad - an old Jimmy Wakely hit - with both the performance and the sound quality just a notch below the '53 sides, but a beautiful song never the less. Also, it is good that all four acetate sides, which were previously available only on "Great Performances" ('My Happiness'), 'King of Rock'N'Roll' ('My Happiness' and 'That's when Your Heartaches Begin') and 'Platinum' ('I'll Never Stand in Your Way') and the two '55 Lubbock recordings of 'Fool, Fool, Fool' and 'Shake, Rattle & Roll', previously released on 'The King of Rock'N'Roll' are now placed in their proper chronological and typological context.
As of the six Hayride recordings, they are all listed as 'unreleased'. This is true in the sense that they are all previously unreleased by RCA. However, only the live versions of 'I'm Left, You're Right, She's Gone' (first live version ever!) and 'That's All Right', have not been available before. These two clearly come from another source than the other Hayride-recordings, as they do have a much better sound quality. The remaining four live tracks - 'Money Honey', 'Tweedle Dee', 'I Don't Care if The Sun Don't Shine' and 'Hearts of Stone' (the sets' second 'new' song) have all been available to us before in these versions on 'The Louisiana Hayride Archives vol. 1' and three of them also on "Cuttin' Loose". The songs are all taken from a very badly damaged acetate, which is also explicitly stated in the liner notes. Their quality on this release is a little better than on previous releases but not much. They are of very great historical importance, and it is a correct decision to include them here, but it is not a great pleasure to listen to them.
The packaging is almost faultless. On the cover is a nice if somewhat lame, sepia tainted picture of Elvis. However, my first thought after seeing it was that judging from Elvis clothes and hairstyle it appears to be from sometime later in the 50's - but surely (I hope) it must be I, who is mistaken! This picture is definitely Elvis The Nice Boy - why not a picture of Elvis The Rebel? The CDs themselves are printed with a minutious reproduction of the SUN-records label from the old 45's - a very nice detail. The cover is a fold out with a lot of nice pictures and an excellent essay from Peter Guralnick - amazing that he can still think of something intelligent to write as this is actually the fourth time, that he has written about these recordings and this particular phase of Elvis' career.
Strange then, that the essay deals only with the acetates and the SUN?studio recordings and that no mention whatsoever is made of the Lubbock?recordings or the Hayride - ditto. It would have been both revealing and interesting to have had some background information on these recordings: Why and during what circumstances were they made, how did they survive and when and how where they rediscovered?
These complaints are in a minor league, though, compared to the real faults of this release. These can basically all be described under one banner: Material not included.
First, however, the time factor: Disc one runs just 48 minutes and disc 2 a mere 45 minutes. Each would without any problems be able to hold somewhere between 30 and 35 minutes mere. Now, if there was no more material suited for inclusion with due respect to the above mentioned chronological and typological context, then that would be the way, it had to done, as not all the released material could have been fitted onto one disc. However, it is not so: There are three categories of material not included that I shall deal with in greater detail: 1. SUN outtakes, 2. Louisiana Hayride recordings and 3. Live recording from (supposedly) March 1955.
As to the SUN?outtakes, the fact that not all the known outtakes of 'I'm Left', 'You're Right', She's Gone' and 'I Love You Because' previously released on 'The Complete Sun Sessions' are included on this release means that a number of these recordings are still only (officially and legitimately!) available on a more than 10 year old out of print vinyl release! And with regard to the outtakes of 'Blue Moon', these are now scattered on three different releases The King of Rock'N'Roll, 'Platinum' and 'Sunrise'. As for the omission of these recording, I can find absolutely no explanation, whatsoever.
About all the other known and previously released recordings taken from Elvis' appearances at 'The Louisiana Hayride', it is to me obvious that they should have been included here. First they are of much better quality than most of the included Hayride recordings, and as such a more listenable presentation of Elvis as he appeared on radio. Second these omitted recordings include two songs not included in this release in any form: 'Maybellene' and 'I Got A Woman'. This means that actual songs from Elvis' SUN period are not included on this release, even though they do exist. It also means that important performances such as Elvis' first ever appearance at 'The Louisiana Hayride' including conversation between Elvis and Hayride-announcer Horace Logan. Third and in my opinion most important it would quite simply have been logical in regard to, again, the chronological and typological context of the release. The only explanation that I can find to this major fault to this release, is that RCA could be hoping to obtain access to more Hayride?recordings in the future ('Little Mama' and others) and could thus be planning to release a separate Hayride?disc at some time. This would also kind of explain the omission of mention of the 'Hayride' in the cover notes.
Last, the omission of the March 1955 live recording from Houston. This recording including 'Baby Let's Play House', 'Blue Moon of Kentucky', 'I Got A Woman', 'Good Rockin' Tonight' and 'That's All Right' in an above-average quality constitutes the earliest known recording of an actual concert with Elvis. As such it's historical importance cannot be underestimated. These recordings as well as most of the 'Hayride' recordings have never had a bona fide RCA?release. Why is a very good question. Again, a possible answer could be that RCA are planning a future 'Live In The 50's' release with this concert plus the Las Vegas, Little Rock and Tupelo recordings from 1956.
When you take into consideration the very short running time of each of the two CDs, it is indeed very, very strange why RCA have not chosen to fill them up with some of the above described, important, interesting and, in said chronological and typological context, logical material. One could be forgiven for letting the word 'greed' come to mind.
The problem is not, that this is a bad or superfluous release. It is certainly neither. The problem, or rather the tragedy, is that RCA have missed the opportunity of turning this project into what it could have been with just a little extra care and consideration, namely 'The complete SUN period recordings of Elvis Presley 1953 - 1955'. The one to beat everything else, the ultimate artifact of this period documenting the hits, the influences, the working process, the radio and the concerts - in short: The one that we were all hoping for. This is not that release, and it may now never see the light of day. What it is, is a very nice compilation with a nice packaging and enough interesting tracks both unreleased and otherwise scattered on many other releases to warrant inclusion in any serious record collection - and may I say: Not only that of the totally dedicated believer in Elvis.
This CD is now deleted. The replacment is Elvis At SUN which is vastly superiour.
Buy Elvis At SUN CD
Read, in incredible detail, all about the restoration of the audio for the Elvis At SUN CD