Review of 'From Elvis in Memphis' by Rolling Stone Magazine
Source: Rolling Stone Magazine
May 25, 2008 - 3:10:00 PM
Elvis Reviews, Elvis CD Reviews
Review of 'From Elvis in Memphis' by Rolling Stone Magazine:
When Elvis first recorded fifteen years ago there was no name for the kind of music he was playing. It was just the sort of thing you heard at roadhouses and country fairs all through Mississippi, Arkansas and Tennessee. Country singers like Sonny Burgess were known for raucous blues like 'Red Headed Woman' and Harmonica Frank, The Great Medical Menagerist recorded by Phillips, was popular for his blues and novelty numbers. All of this was at Elvis' fingertips, and he could sing Arthur Crudup's 'That's All Right' as naturally as 'Isle of broken Dreams' or 'My Happiness' (the song he originally paid to record for his mother's birthday).
Elvis' first commercial release, Crudup's blues backed by Bill Monroe bluegrass tune, changes everything. For one thing, it changed Sun Records. From a white-owned Blues label which might have given the Chess brothers (to whom much of Phillips' material was leased) stiff competition Sun became first the harbinger and then the king of the new rockabilly sound. It's generally been assumed that the phenomenal commercial success of this music reflected a correspondent deterioration in quality, but I think that it in reality no such decline took place. In just three years Phillips put together a list that could rival that of another recording company in any other field. There was room for the talents of artists as diverse as Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins, Roy Orbison, Charlie Rich, Billy Riley, Warren Smith, Johnny Cash, and Elvis himself, and really the only conclusion to which we are led is that Phillips was a man of exceptional and wide-ranging musical taste who possessed extraordinary abilities as a producer.
Elvis Presley, Billl Black, and Scotty Moore with Sam Phillips
Dewey Phillips, a popular Memphis DJ with a big rhythm and blues following, broke Elvis' song on the radio, and according to legend the station was flooded with calls demanding that song to be played over and over again. Elvis himself hid out in a movie theatre and at last appeared at Dewy Phillips' radio show to quiet the public uproar, and, at Phillips' prodding, to give assurance (in order to authenticate his color) that it was indeed all-white Humes High School that he had attended. We listen to these accounts not with disbelief but with a kind of in comprehension, unable to imagine so electrifying a triumph, unable to recapture so revolutionary a moment. In those days Sonny Boy Williamson was on the radio broadcasting from West Helena, Arkansas with his King Biscuit Boys, who sometimes included Elmore James and B.B. King. Rufus 'Bear Cat' Thomas, the novelty blues singer, was a regular DJ on WDIA - as he remains today - and it was just a couple of years before that Howlin' Wolf left his job at KWEM and went north to Chicago after five years of spinning records and selling fertilizer. It seems in retrospect like such a fabulous time - yet many of these same singers are still around, and Elvis is still on top.
The new album is great. I think it is flatly and unequivocally the equal of anything he has ever done. If it were made up only of its weakest elements it would still be a good record and one that would fulfill in many ways all the expectations we might have of Elvis.
'In the Ghetto', a hit big enough to substantiate Elvis' continued popularity, is for all its lush orchestration convincingly sung and phrased with sensitivity. It substantiates as well the whole liberal complex we grafted onto Elvis in adopting him for our hero, and despite a message fuzzy enough to allow the song considerable C&W popularity it gives us a statement as explicit as any we are ever likely to get. 'Only The Strong Survive', while a little stiff and tightly sung, is a creditable soul offering, and even 'Any Day Now' is palatable enough in this vein. Finally 'Gentle On My Mind' offers us Elvis in the new mod buckskin image of country music, as he triumphs forcefully over the banality of the lyrics with the willingness to use dramatics, even at the risk of seeming melodramatic, and all this on a song that has previously been the property of singers like Glen Campbell and Bobby Goldsboro.
Most striking are the powerful evocations of an earlier style with 'Power of My Love', a tough blues with a popular bridge, and 'After Loving You', a stammered blues ballad very much like 'One Night'. Both have basic rock and roll accompaniment, both are marked by the boastful sexual swagger of the earlier days, and 'After Loving You' is highlighted by what sounds like Elvis' own lowdown guitar (with the same runs that brought cries of 'Play it dirty, play it dirty' on the TV special). 'True Love Travels On A Gravel Road' gives us a well-written love ballad, eerily updated with scarcely a hint of the anachronistic style of 'Love Me', 'Love Me Tender', and 'Loving You'. It's put across in Elvis' best genteel manner, offering a glimpse of real sophistication while ar the same time 'It Keeps Right on A-Hurtin' and 'Movin' On' are masterful reminders of country and western roots. 'It Keeps Right On A-Hurtin' showcases fine Jerry Lee Lewis-styled country piano, and 'Movin' On', Hank Snow' driving classic, complete with whining steel guitar, is nicely understated by Elvis' normally extravagant voice. Both cuts are marked by the same sensible arrangements which distinguish the greater part of the album, and both are vivid, highly successful performances.
All of this is merely confirmation of what we already knew about Elvis, through. What is new, and what is obvious from the first notes of the record, is the evident passion which Elvis has invested in this music and at the same time the risk he has taken in doing so. From the hoarse shout that opens the album to the hit song that closes it, it seems clear- as indeed it was clear on the TV special - that Elvis is trying, and trying very hard, to please us. he needs to have our attention, and it comes as something of a shock to discover that a hero whom we had set up to feel only existential scorn, a hero who was characterized by a frozen sneer and a look of sullen discontent should need us in the end. It is his involvement after all which comes as the surprise.
Many of the songs take their inspiration from gospel styling's. 'Wearin' That Loved On Look' is very much in the gospel idiom, for example, with its strained hoarse vocal, ethereal female chorus, and the almost classic piano break in the middle. Both 'Power of My Love' and 'After Loving You' are sung with unmistakable feeling, with 'After Loving You' in particular notable for its staggered gospel-type phrasing. Even the soul ballads, 'Only the Strong Survive' and 'Any Day Now', present an unashamed emotionalism that few of Elvis' golden hits would admit to achieve a kind of tension at least that is singularly absent from the earlier songs.
But it is 'Long Black Limousine' and 'I'll Hold You in My Heart' which mark the high point of standards as 'Old Shep' and 'Green, Green Grass of Home'. It tells the classic story of the country girl who goes to the city in search of riches, only to be corrupted by city ways:
When you left you know you told me
that someday you'd be returning
In a fancy car for all the town to see
Well now, everyone is watching you,
you've finally had your dream
And you're riding in a long black limousine
Ordinarily songs like this will be treated as a kind of grim cautionary tale, delivered in a flat unadorned voice with simple sentimental country backing. Here the accompaniment is ornamented with bells, horns, and female choir, but it is Elvis' voice upon which the words depend for their dramatic effect. In a departure quite uncharacteristic of country music, there is a fierce, almost shocked indignation in the voice, and the passionate intensity of Elvis' voice transforms a fairly ordinary song into a vehicle for savage social protest.
Elvis Presley at the gates of Graceland
'I'll Hold You In My Heart (Till I Can Hold In My Arms)', an Eddy Arnold composition, is a simpler kind of song and a simpler kind of message. Here Elvis dispenses with words almost altogether, the arrangement is just country-gospel piano, strong supporting guitar, organ, and rhythm, and the message consists only of one or two verses repeated hypnotically over and over. The effect is all enveloping, though, and nothing could better exemplify the absorbing character of Elvis' unique and moving style. At the same time nothing could more effectively defy description, for there is nothing to the song expect a haunting, almost painful emotionalism. It goes on and on , long past the point where you would think it might logically have stopped as Elvis himself is seemingly caught up in the mesmerizing effect of words and rhythm until he is lost in the song, using the dynamics of his voice to marvelous effect, calling up an aching vulnerability which he has never before exposed. He doesn't let go of the song until he has wrung every last ounce of feeling from it, and listening to this performance is an absorbing, emotionally riveting experience. Elvis has never sung better.
And yet it's still not the same. There is that unavoidable tightness in his voice. For a moment we lose sight in 'I'll Hold You In My Heart', but it's a function of knowledge as much as anything else. you can't recapture the innocent ease of those first sides, you can't recall the easy innocence of adulthood, whether for listener or for singer. What is so striking about the Sun sides, even today, fifteen years after their first release, is the freshness of style, their cleanness and enthusiasm. there is a total lack of pretentiousness in Scotty Moore's crisp lead guitar and in the easy swing of the combo. The sound is without affectation or clutter, and the songs - about equally divided between blues and country and mostly available on two RCA albums, A Date With Elvis (LPS 2011) and For LP Fans Only (LSP 1990) - are all of them timeless. most of all the voice, free of the mannerisms with which it has inevitably become infected, is joyously full of confidence and youthful vitality.
The first arrangement of 'That's All Right', it is said, was worked out during a coffee break between takes of a ballad called 'Without You'. Really, all the early songs sound like some kind of inspired accident. It's as if some musicians got together and fooled around to make music for themselves, and the result somehow found its way onto record. There's the unexpected falsetto and chuckle with which Little Junior Parker's 'Mystery Train' trails off, the bubbly beginning to 'Baby Let's Play House', and the too-perfect, beautiful slow take of Kokomo Arnold's 'Milkcow Blues' when Elvis says, 'Hold it, fellas. That don't move me. Let's get real, real gone for a change'.
Well, he got gone. Sun sold his contract to RCA for $ 35.000
Recording facts about 'From Elvis in Memphis' by Elvis Presley:
Recorded January - February 1969 at American Studios, Memphis Ten.
The Band: The Singers: Guitar: Reggie Young, Mary Greene, Donna Thatcher, Susan Pilkington, Bass: Mike Leech Sonja Montgomery, Mildred Kirkham, Dolores Edgin, Bass: Tom Cogbill, Joe Babcock, Hurschel Wiginton. Piano: Bobby Wood, Organ: Bobby Emmons, Drums: Gene Chrisman, Harmanica: Ed Hollis Steel Guitar: John Hughey Additional Musicians: Elvis Presley (piano on 'I'll Hold You In My Heart') Ronnie Milsap (piano on 'Gentle On My Mind') The Memphis Horns
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From Elvis In Memphis : 40th Anniversary Legacy Edition 2 CD Set
Disc 1: Elvis Is Back (1960)
Make Me Know It
The Girl Of My Best Friend
I Will Be Home Again
Dirty, Dirty Feeling
Thrill Of Your Love
Such A Night
It Feels So Right
The Girl Next Door Went A'Walking
Like A Baby
Stuck On You
Fame And Fortune
It's Now Or Never
A Mess Of Blues
Are You Lonesome Tonight?
I Gotta Know
Disc 2: Something For Everybody (1961)
There's Always Me
Give Me The Right
It's A Sin
I'm Coming Home
In Your Arms
Put The Blame On Me
I Want You With Me
I Slipped, I Stumbled, I Fell
I Feel So Bad
(Marie's The Name Of) His Latest Flame
Good Luck Charm
Anything That's Part Of You
Elvis Presley and the band - Studio B, Nashville, June 1970
Top, (left to right): David Brigs, Norbert Putman, Elvis Presley, Al Pachucki, Jerry Carrigan; bottom: Felton Jarvis, Chip Young, Charlie McCoy, James Burton (Early morning hours June 9, 1970)
Guitar: James Burton, Harold Bradley ('Snowbird' only)
Percussion: Jerry Carrigan
Percussion & Vibes: Farrell Morris
Organ: David Briggs
Steel guitar: Weldon Myrick
Banjo: Bobby Thompson ('Little Cabin On The Hill' only)
Fiddle: Buddy Spicher ('Little Cabin On The Hill' only)
Trumpet: Charlie McCoy, George Tidwell, Don Sheffield, Glenn Baxter
Sax: Wayne Butler, Norman Ray
Trombone: Gene Mullins
Flue and Trombone: William Puett
Flute, Sax And Clarinet: Skip Lane
Vocals: The Imperials, The Jordanaires, Millie Kirkham, Mary (Jeannie) Greene, Mary Holladay, Ginger Holladay, Temple Riser, June Page, Sonja Montgomery, Dolores Edgin
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Tupelo's Own Elvis Presley DVD + 16 page booklet. Never before have we seen an Elvis concert from the 50's with sound. Until Now! The DVD Contains recently discovered Unreleased Film of Elvis performing 6 songs, including Heartbreak Hotel and Don’t Be Cruel, live in Tupelo Mississippi 1956. Included we see a live performance of the elusive Long Tall Sally seen here for the first time ever. This is an excellent release no fan should be without it. The 'parade' footage is good to see as it puts you in the right context with color and b&w footage. The interviews of Elvis' Parents are well worth hearing too. The afternoon show footage is wonderful and electrifying : Here is Elvis in his prime rocking and rolling in front of 11.000 people.
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