Though incomplete, Elvis' No. 1 songs never sounded better.
30 #1 Hits, RCA Records
Everyone is ready to put 30 #1 Hits up against the Beatles' 1 in a weird sort of posthumous wrestling match - can The King beat the Moptops in modern sales?
There's one major problem with that, though, that makes it an uneven playing field. The Beatles were very careful about compilations and repackaging of their work, especially in the CD era. Until recent years, however, the Elvis Presley catalog was a free-for-all, with far more compilations, themed albums and repackagings than anyone warranted, even The King.
So in a commercial sense, 30 #1 Hits might be too little, too late, even if it's packed with nearly 80 minutes of music that changed history.
From a strictly musical standpoint, however, the new disc easily equals the Beatles disc in all ways - sound quality, performance, historical significance and flat-out rock.
From the wake-up-call breakthrough that is Heartbreak Hotel through this year's stunning remix of A Little Less Conversation (which is, incidentally, the 31st track), this is some of the best work of the rock era, all lumped in one place.
Yet it's annoyingly incomplete. Fans and historians will have some of the same gripes that fans did with the Beatles' release. By choosing only the No. 1 hits, you leave out some of the best stuff (and let's face it - a mediocre record can make the top of the charts just by virtue of having nothing but lousy songs out there to compete with. That's a lesson the '90s taught us well).
So yes, all of these songs hit No. 1, but the ones that didn't top the charts are even more essential. Thus the disposable The Wonder of You is included, yet the indispensable That's Alright Mama, Love Me and Mystery Train are not.
Still, it's an embarrassment of riches; when Presley was at his peak, his ability to locate great songs was topped only by his ability to infuse them with emotion. For most of what's here, you need to know only the titles: Are You Lonesome Tonight, Don't Be Cruel, Suspicious Minds, One Night, Burning Love, All Shook Up, In the Ghetto . . . .
Besides bad and repetitive packaging, the Presley estate's other grievous sin was messing with the music alternate takes, rechanneling it into fake stereo, adding echo and effects or other sonic tampering. In the past few years they've wisely done what most others have from the start - digging through the vaults for the master versions to present the music as clearly and cleanly as the day it was recorded. You can still hear the primitive '50s technology on some cuts, but the bass in Don't Be Cruel is bouncy and clear.
As the years go on the sound gets clearer and cleaner; Can't Help Falling In Love has never sounded better, and latter-day recordings such as Burnin' Love and Suspicious
Minds sound like they were recorded this morning.