Many people believe that the rock ‘n’ roll era began May 5, 1956 when the album, Elvis Presley, reached Number One on the National charts for the first of ten weeks. It was a far different sound than the other best selling albums of the day which included Belafonte by Harry Belafonte, The Man With The Golden Arm soundtrack, and Songs For Swingin’ Lovers by Frank Sinatra.
Realistically Elvis did not invent rock ‘n’ roll. Bill Haley recorded “Rock Around The Clock” as the B side of a single in 1954. Haley came out of the country swing side of music and added a sax and guitar to that sound. In 1955 “Rock Around The Clock” was added to the opening credits of the movie Blackboard Jungle. The record quickly became the most popular single in the country staying at number one for 8 weeks. Chuck Berry was also in the studio adding his unique guitar sound to his rhythm and blues roots. Elvis’ musical legacy can be found in the rockabilly side of country music. Elvis, however, had something that no other artist of the time had and that was a charisma that would give him mass commercial appeal and quickly make him a lasting cultural icon.
Elvis Presley was a popular southern country artist when his contract was bought by the RCA label for the unheard of sum of $35,000. Elvis quickly went into the studio to record in early 1956. The results were several single releases and his first long playing album. Seven songs from these sessions and five unreleased tracks from his Sun label days were combined to create Elvis Presley. Interestingly the number one single, “Heartbreak Hotel,” was left off the album because RCA did not want the LP to interfere with its sales.
Elvis Presley is essential to rock ‘n’ roll history and in a wider context to the understanding of the youth culture of the late 1950s. In many ways Elvis went far beyond just being a popular artist. He was worshiped by millions of teenagers. Very few artists ever attain that status. Only Frank Sinatra in the 1940’s and The Beatles in the 1960’s would equal Elvis in popularity.
Elvis’ first album reached into many types of music for its songs but all were interpreted and transferred to a rock setting. My favorites are the R&B hits “I Got A Woman” and “Money Honey” which are removed from their roots and become all out rockers. “Blue Suede Shoes” and “Tutti Frutti” were hits of the day and Elvis mainly copied what was popular. I tend to prefer the Little Richard version but feel sorry for Carl Perkins as Elvis gives a classic performance of his biggest hit. “I Love You Because” and “Just Because” find Elvis secure in a country setting. “One Sided Love Affair” was written for this album and eventually all his records would feature many newly created songs.
I usually just review the original release of an album but in this case I am going to recommend the CD reissue. While it will take you away from the intent and impact of the original album, included are six additions that are classic Elvis. The single releases “Heartbreak Hotel” and “I Want You, I Need You, I Love You” only add to the quality of the listening experience. Also added are “I Was The One,” “Lawdy Miss Clawdy,” “Shake, Rattle And Roll” and “My Baby Left Me” which take Elvis back to his raw rockabilly roots.
The music of Elvis Presley has been released in many forms over the years and has been re-packaged in a hundred or so different ways but if you really want to understand him and his musical legacy, this is the place to start.