There's a reason that Elvis is called the “King of Rock and Roll” and it’s presented in 3-disc glory with A Boy From Tupelo: The Complete 1953-1955 Recordings, which was released by RCA/Legacy last week. While he certainly didn't invent rock 'n' roll, he became the first "modern" global pop star, as opposed to Bing Crosby and Frank Sinatra, who were considered traditional pop stars at the time. From the swivel hips to the curled lip, he performed with a sensuality which hadn’t been seen before on television or in concert by white audiences. What he was doing was associated with what was referred to as “negro” music back in the middle of the 20th century and was thought of as unseemly by most American parents. Teens ate it up, though. Within the broader context of the era’s racial dynamics and divisions, Presley put a white face on “forbidden” music, and as a result, white youth could feel cool and rebellious without actually having to directly associate with Black culture.
When he first caught people's attention, rockabilly, which combines rhythm and blues and country with a strong backbeat and fast tempo, was his swaggerific approach. All of that and then some is evident in this treasure trove of Elvis music, memorabilia and photos. With the expansive A Boy From Tupelo, the 85 Sun Records' masters allow us a glimpse into not only his nascent rock style, but his down-to-earth personality.
The 3-CD set includes a 120-page book of many hard-to-find photos, a comprehensive calendar and essays written by Ernst Mikael Jørgensen tracking Elvis from 1954-55. The music compendium not only contains outtakes, but some of his self-financed first acetates and previously unreleased songs.
From the opening track, "My Happiness," it's clear as day that Elvis was a star in the making. His voice is so pristine and "dreamy" on it, it’s almost like a lullaby. With "It Wouldn't Be the Same Without You," while maintaining country trimmings, he dips into a smooth pop sound, akin to The Platters. "That's All Right" is a firecracker and combines most of the musical elements that would become Elvis' sound. With echoes of Hank Williams, “I Forgot to Remember to Forget” was his first hit single, which ascended to #1 on the Country charts in February 1956. Overall, the compilation definitely exudes more of a cowboy feel, rather than an outlaw vibe akin to Presley’s peers like Johnny Cash. The only genre that molded his sound that’s missing from the collection is gospel, as it wasn’t until 1960 that he released his first gospel LP, Hand in Mine, which was certified Gold by 1969.
The collection doesn’t show Elvis’ evolution, but instead the birth of his sound. More obscure recordings like “KSIJ radio commercial with DJ Tom Perryman,” and the “Bob Neal Ratio Promotion Spot” also give a little slice of life, letting us hear his speaking voice while introducing us to his personality.
For anyone who’s a hardcore fan, or even if you’re a newbie, this is a must-have. The compilation contains track after track of Elvis’ pure voice, which is pure gold. The production quality of the songs is simple, which gives his voice even more space to shine. If you don’t know who the “King” is, you will by the end of this vital and resplendent musical journey.
Notable Tracks: “Blue Moon of Kentucky” | “Mystery Train” | “Shake, Rattle and Roll” | “That’s All Right”