When I decided to review an Elvis album for this blog it struck me how much expectation I bring to anything Elvis. Elvis is so ingrained in pop culture appearing in so many forms, accurate and parody, that I have a very specific image in my head of what to expect. To me, rightly or wrongly, this is the rhinestone spattered jumpsuit glad Vegas Elvis. It was because of that image that I actually decided to review this album, his debut album, 1956’s “Elvis Presley”.
I should quickly highlight that I am actually reviewing the 1999 reissue with a couple of bonus tracks. I thought this would give me a wider selection of songs from this period. Additional Elvis songs are always a good thing, right? Erm … no.
Of the 19 tracks on the album two thirds are pretty much standard 50’s fair. They feel and sound like they could be released by almost any of the similar country rock’n’roll stars of the period. Although Having Elvis sing them with his distinctive voice does make them more interesting. While they may be interesting they are not the kind of songs that would inspire a generation to scream and shout or for musicians to go and create something new. They feel safe, which when you realise that this is a debut album starts to make a little sense. Elvis may become the king of rock’n’roll but he is starting by introducing himself with something that people know. Of these there was one standout worth mentioning, “One sided love affair”.
Being safe is one thing but doing covers is one step further. This album contains several covers that I recognise from other artists “Blue Moon”, “tutti Frutti”, “Shake, Rattle and Roll” and “Blue Suede Shoes”. While the first group of songs were fine, two of these covers (“Blue Moon” and “tutti Frutti”) are awkward and feel incredibly out of place. These two songs are so clearly not designed for Elvis’s voice that I could not listened to them a second time. Shake, Rattle and Roll is an enjoyable step up, fitting the Elvis style but still does not completely feel like an Elvis song. The final cover however is great. Elvis’s version of “Blue Suede Shoes” is classic and does exactly what it is supposed to do. It introduces what Elvis can do with a recognisable song. As a song it is catchy and a lot of fun.
However, there is something amazing on this album, “Heart Break Hotel”. This is an incredible song and one of my favourite Elvis songs. This song alone stands out as a flash of brilliance and a glimpse of what Elvis would quickly produce on a regular basis.
As an album I found this disappointing. As a milestone for Elvis it is interesting but by no means essential. Throughout the album there are moments demonstrating what he could do but the majority of the songs feel like they are being held back, kept at a level that was already common for this kind of music. The standout is Heart Break Hotel which is the turning point, the siren call that Elvis is something different. I enjoy Elvis as an artist but listening to this album confirmed something for me. I am not an Elvis fan. I really enjoy the “best of Albums” but I don’t have a need to go beyond that. In some way’s this is a little sad, on the other it means I can enjoy that best of album, knowing that I really do think this is the best of this work.