While I buy much of my music online these days, the overwhelming majority of my Elvis Presley purchases continue to be in the form of CDs.
The times I tend to download Elvis are when I only need a few tracks from a new album or set. For instance, I purchased a December 15, 1956, concert and various non-music tracks as online downloads from the Young Man with the Big Beat: The Complete ’56 Elvis Presley Masters set a few years back, as I already owned all of the other content.
However, iTunes and other online music stores certainly present great oppotunities to find jumping-on places for many artists, including Elvis. With that in mind, I thought I would take a look at the current iTunes offerings and suggest various starting points for exploring the music of Elvis Presley.
There are many possible paths when first listening to Elvis. The below starter albums represent only a few of those possibilities, focusing on different aspects of his career, avoiding duplication, and keeping a maximum $10 US budget in mind.
This is the soundtrack of the 1968 television special that marked a turning point for Elvis. As he finally began to break away from repetitive movies that dominated so much of his 1960s career, he adopted a new, mature sound on songs like “If I Can Dream” and reinterpreted many of his older hits, such as a pounding version of “Heartbreak Hotel.”
The ELVIS-TV Special album thus serves both as an overview of his career to that point as well as a navigation beacon for the direction of his future, reinvigorated work.
The first ten tracks of this release represent the original Promised Land album proper. Recorded in 1973 at Stax Studios in Memphis, Promised Land features a perfect blend of rock ‘n’ roll (the title track), country (“It’s Midnight”), and inspirational (“Help Me”).
This 2000 expanded edition includes several tracks from the inferior Good Times album, recorded at the same sessions. While this has the benefit of adding choice cuts “Good Time Charlie’s Got The Blues,” “Lovin’ Arms,” and “My Boy,” it also detracts by including clunkers “She Wears My Ring,” “If That Isn’t Love,” and “I Got A Feelin’ In My Body.”
#3 Elvis At Sun
Whoever decided to lead off this collection of Elvis’s earliest professional recordings with the lightweight “Harbor Lights” and nearly unlistenable “I Love You Because” allowed recording order to dictate over common sense and entertainment value. Producer and SUN founder Sam Phillips wisely rejected both of these cuts. Had they become Elvis’s first record, there might not have been a second.
Elvis then “stumbled upon” what became his first single, “That’s All Right” b/w “Blue Moon of Kentucky,” which should have started this collection of 1954-1955 recordings. Despite the sequencing issues, Elvis At Sun is a stellar release, with career highlights including “Mystery Train,” “Baby, Let’s Play House,” “Good Rockin’ Tonight,” “That’s All Right,” “Blue Moon,” and “Tryin’ To Get To You.”
There is a certain appeal to starting an Elvis musical journey at the literal beginning, and this 2004 release does a fine job without delving too far into outtakes and alternates best left for more seasoned fans.
Essentially picking up where Elvis At Sun left off, Elvis’ Golden Records captures the singer in his early years at RCA Records. These 1956-1957 recordings include many of his best known hits.
Along with his SUN records, these cuts represent some of his most influential work. Every song here is a classic, but “Jailhouse Rock” and “Love Me” manage to shine even among the top-notch competition.
After the success of the ELVIS television special in 1968, Elvis recorded for the first time in Memphis since his SUN days. His 1969 recordings at American studios eventually produced two albums and several singles.
From Elvis In Memphis was easily the strongest of the two albums and certainly one of the best of his career. Stand-outs include “Power Of My Love,” “Wearin’ That Loved-On Look,” “After Loving You,” “Any Day Now,” and “Long Black Limousine.”