As fans we're always complaining about the huge amount of compilations. Here is a good view on how the "outside" world looks at them.
Has there ever been another performer whose work/image/story has been resurrected so many times over the years since his death?
There are a few contenders but they lack the perpetual devotion that Elvis Presley commands. In some instances, the persistent presence of Elvis product is annoying and confounding but we, the public, expect and accept it. Elvis the King has universal appeal either as icon or pop star, in some cases manifesting himself after death while flipping burgers at Wendy’s.
The story of Elvis is maybe as well known now as that of The Nativity (equal amounts of truth and distortion), so there’s no point of going into details here. However, did Elvis have a sweet tooth for fried peanut butter and banana with burnt bacon sandwiches?
As with the Presley saga, all of his music has been heard over and over again. Aside from bootlegs of live shows or the odd alternate tracks, it’s all been done in one form or another. So that brings us to the question of this latest of Elvis releases - The Essential Elvis Presley. Strong words indeed, considering the subject. What constitutes essential Presley music?
In this particular situation, it could be that what is left out is what matters and makes a difference. Because Elvis had so many hits of varying degrees of relevance there are some songs of his that should absolutely not, under any circumstances, be included on a compilation of greatest hits or on an album that claims to represent his legacy at its best.
The Essential scores major points in this important area with its exclusion of one such offender, the embarrassing schlock of Wooden Heart. This Teutonic silliness must’ve been a result of Presley’s army stint in Germany and without a doubt is the dumbest song in the Presley canon. The corniness is almost surreal. Also thankfully missing is questionable material like I’m a Roustabout and Flaming Star. On the other hand this release, with its energetic and diverse song selection, would have welcomed a rocker like Promised Land. Too bad, as it’s goosed up rockabilly drive sits fine with the groove and energy of the live version of Polk Salad Annie and the frenetic A Little Less Conversation.
The early Elvis oeuvre is here in its oft-heard glory with the eternally hypnotic Mystery Train and chestnuts like Little Sister and All Shook Up. A deep dark track from the early years, Fever, is a standout here.
Interestingly, the later years of Presley’s career are notable here for the quality of taste and passion that is inherent in Presley’s voice and the arrangements. In the Ghetto and Kentucky Rain are stirring statements of socially conscious pop and unique country soul, Presley style. The songs line up dramatically with the grind of Burning Love, which contains one of Presley’s greatest choruses.
An uncommon quantity in Elvis compilations is the presence of several live tracks, confirming the King of Rock ‘n’ Roll’s dynamics, control and power. All of those are alive in one of the live cuts, Steamroller Blues. A great send off in this surprising package is the ‘50s operatic-toned Hurt – the effortless grace of Presley’s voice is contained in a short package that pleads, howls and does the famous Elvis talk/rap.
These strong “declining years” inclusions shed some light on neglected material of Presley’s career. The Essential stands up strongly with a smart and creative set of songs, some of which are rarely heard in favour of the tried and true standbys.