Review : Elvis Presley: A Life In Music Book

By: David Neale
Source: Books In Print
January 3, 2005

Elvis Presley : A Life In Music - The Complete Recording Sessions.
Elvis Presley : A Life In Music - The Complete Recording Sessions.
A number of books have already examined Elvis' recording sessions, including Tunzi's 'Elvis Sessions', Peters' 'The Music Lives On" and Ernst Jorgensen's own 'Reconsider Baby'.

The question has to be asked, then, whether there is any need for yet another book examining thissomewhat specialised aspect of Elvis' career. The excellence of 'Reconsider Baby' and the intelligent and interesting fashion in which the making of Elvis' music is explored in 'The Music Lives On', using first-hand accounts from the musicians who were in the studio with him, make both books relevant and useful and most other books on thesubject redundant.

Under normal circumstances, a new volume must add significantly to the accumulated knowledge in order to have any relevance. I am not at all sure that 'A Life In Music' adds a great deal at all to what has already been published. Okay, there are a few recently discovered tracks ('I'll Never Stand In Your Way' and 'It Wouldn't Be The Same Without You', for example) mentioned and some rather more specific comments are made about a number of tracks about which there has been some controversy ('Good, Bad, But Beautiful', 'Color My Rainbow' and 'The Wonders You Perform' being good examples), but that's about it, really: I would have liked to have seen a lot more detail about the recording process, about the interaction between the players, and so on.

But my somewhat negative criticism probably stems from the fact that I have already read and have access to 'Reconsider Baby' and 'The Music Lives On'. Without these books I would probably be excitedly enthusiastic about 'A Life In Music'. Jorgensen presents every track known to have been recorded (and officially released) by Elvis in chronological order, grouped by recording session or concert, as the case may be. Note that the 'officially released' parenthesis is important and understandably allows Ernst Jorgensen to ignore non-released tracks and those available only on bootlegs. Each track is listed with its matrix number, its release date and the form of its original release (single, EP/LP/CD with name) along with some brief information about the session itself (purpose, date, venue, producer, engineer, musicians...). The list of tracks released from a particular session is followed by remarks pertaining to the session and the tracks recorded. Unfortunately, Jorgensen allows his own preferences to be clearly displayed in these comments and even fails to give any comments at all for what he considers to be the nadir of Elvis' career between 1962 and 1967. This is to be regretted for several reasons: firstly, not all of the numbers recorded during this period were as bad as Jorgensen seems to imply; secondly, there is no reason to deprive readers of anecdotes about these sessions - Elvis probably had a lot to say about the choice of much of the material and his comments should be reported; thirdly, whatever Jorgensen's personal opinions might be, this period was still a part of Elvis' career and should therefore be treated as such and not merely swept under the carpet, as it were. In doing this, Jorgensen has failed to present the reader with a full review of Elvis' recording career, which is what most readers will surely expect when purchasing the book.

In spite of this significant drawback, the book provides a fascinating insight into the process of selection and recording of Elvis' music. Elvis' early enthusiasm and his own involvement in the selection, recording and even release of his numbers wanes as the years go by, until it is clear that he is doing almost no more than fulfilling an obligation, only occasionally adding anything of himself. The energy and drive gave way all too soon to depression and frustration.

If you already have the other books mentioned above, 'A Life in Music' is probably not a must (although it is extremely well printed and contains some excellent photos). Otherwise, it is to be recommended.

Author: Ernst Jorgensen (foreword Peter Guralnick)
Published in hardback by St Martin's Press, ISBN 0-312-18572-3

Buy A life In Music - The Complete Recording Sessions
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