Ten Essential Elvis Presley Recordings
by Tommy Burton

So you went out and bought the Elvis #1 disc earlier this year and discovered that Elvis Presley was actually a singer instead of this icon. Judging by the sales of that album, it looks like millions of people are discovering (or rediscovering) the King. It is an excellent compilation among a catalogue where finding a decent Elvis hits-only collection is a matter of picking a favorite cover. The sound quality is superb, too. But Elvis was way more than just a hitmaker. He actually made some really great albums. This is to perhaps provide an overview of other Presley gems that are worth seeking out for the serious collection. There are a ton of Elvis discs out there and simply glancing through his section at your local record shop can be overwhelming. I've purposely left off box sets and made sure that the discs I mention are no more than two-disc collections. I've also left off any other greatest hits packages. These recordings are either the reissued albums or collections. I have also listed them in chronological order to give a sense of the advance of his career. There's a ton of Elvis out there, but these are ten that I think any fan of pop music should definitely have. Happy hunting.

1. Sunrise This two-disc set chronicles the recording career that Presley enjoyed at Sun Records before he signed to the majors with RCA. This is the cornerstone of popular music as we know it. It's a perfect melding of every style that influenced Presley. It would be very hard to try to reference this set in a modern record store. Country, rockabilly, blues... it's all here. The arrangements are sparse, but they truck along like a Chevy. I defy anyone who can find a more perfect example of early rock and roll.

2. Elvis Presley This is the first album. The reissue also features those early RCA singles like "Heartbreak Hotel." It's the perfect companion to Sunrise as it presents the revolution in full force. There is some repetition as this album was culled from several recordings – there is some Sun stuff on here – but it's still perfectly-compiled and makes for a varied listen. It's certainly the very first album that can be classified as rock and roll.

3. Elvis Pretty much all of Elvis's 50s material can be classified as "essential." This is his second long player for RCA. It was actually conceived as a proper LP as opposed to the first one, which was a compilation. The reissue adds the single hits like "Hound Dog" and "Don't Be Cruel." You can hear inklings of branching out and experimenting in the arrangements and that he took his career very seriously.

4. Elvis Is Back! This was the first album Elvis recorded after leaving the Army. He was unsure of where his career was headed and if the fans would still remember him. This may be the very reason he put his heart and soul into this recording. He felt the drive to deliver a stellar performance. He succeeded in this. The reissue adds all the hits of the time, but the album itself has some real moments of greatness. It's certainly one of the essential early 60s recordings, to be sure.

5. Memories: The '68 Comeback Special After several years of spitting out bad Hollywood films, Elvis returned with a gritty television special. For the first time in about seven years, he genuinely cared again. He threw himself into this special and was determined to say that he was still somebody. It's a classic tale. This two-disc set features all the music for that special, including the famous "sit-down" jam with original sidemen Scotty Moore and D.J. Fontana. You've seen the footage a thousand times, with Elvis in that black leather. His voice was somewhere between youthful exuberance and that deep sound he produced during the 70s. He's raw and unbridled. If you're a fan of those sit down jams, then also check out Tiger Man, on which the eight o' clock show (the six o' clock is featured on Memories) is featured.

6. Suspicious Minds: The 1969 Memphis Anthology There was something magic about these sessions. Fresh from the Comeback Special, Elvis was determined to regain control of his career. He practically gave himself over to Chips Moman over at the American Studios in Memphis and turned out one of the most soulful performances in his life. The arrangements are big and ballsy, like so many Memphis sounds of the day. And Elvis is singing like never before. All of it is impressive. The resulting album, From Elvis In Memphis, is generally regarded as a high mark in his career. This two-disc set features all of the material and a few outtakes from these sessions. This is my personal Elvis "desert island disc."

7. Elvis Country (I'm 10,000 Years Old) Elvis Presley didn't do concept albums. It was a snobbish practice among rock's elite. He was simple man with simple tastes. I'm sure it was a bit surprising when he released this, a country concept album. I suppose the only real concept was a linking track called "I Was Born About Ten Thousand Years Ago." Elvis had a genuine love for country music. It shows with this album. His singing is sincere and the performances are all clean as a whistle. For a man that had some spotty records at this point in his career, this was proof that he still had it when he applied himself. Perhaps it was the concept that drove him to rise to the occasion.

8. Aloha From Hawaii Via Satellite If you must have a set featuring the Elvis live showcases of the 70s, then this will do. The performance is fine and the sound quality on this disc is among the best. He gave better shows in his life that are seen elsewhere, but you get a real sense of when he turned it on. He knew this was going to be seen by lots of people. He lost weight and made sure that gave a solid performance. The set list is pretty standard 70s fare, but it's varied. He sings his recent hits with a sprinkling of those 50s standards.

9. Amazing Grace: His Greatest Sacred Performances This two-disc set features the most essential of Elvis's gospel output. Elvis won three Grammies in his lifetime. They were all for gospel. Gospel music was very dear to his heart and when he sang those classics, he always turned in a fine performance. He was very close to the material and it remained one of his most favorite styles of music. There are several compilations of this stuff out there, but this one more than covers the bases.

10. If Every Day Was Like Christmas Elvis made some the essential Christmas pop albums. Like gospel, he always seemed drawn to this material and his singing of it was above average. This particular set features all of his Christmas material and buying it will serve your collection perfectly. It will save from buying three or four separate discs of holiday tunes from Elvis.

There you have it. There is a lot more Elvis out there, and much of it is quite good. Follow That Dream Records is a collector's label out of Denmark that has been serving up excellent samplings of live shows and outtakes. The three decade box sets have great material. Better live material can be found on the Live In Vegas and That's The Way It Is box sets. I did not include any soundtrack stuff on this list as there are some gems among filler, but it's mostly filler. Overall, I was trying to give a general, simple overview. If you got these ten releases, I'm confident that they will be enjoyed time and time again.

Copyright 12 Dec 2002 We Like Media.
You may email Tommy Burton.

Click here for Elvis.