The 50 Greatest Elvis Presley Albums of All Time (Part 1)

Anyone who has entered my tiny corner of the universe over the last few years knows that I love over-analyzing and ranking stuff that I enjoy.

I’ve been listening to a lot of Elvis Presley lately, which in itself isn’t that unusual, I guess, but it started me thinking about what I would personally consider his greatest albums ever — including those released before and after his death.

For those of you who do not follow Elvis releases, there have actually been far more albums of “new” (i.e., previously unreleased) material issued since his death in 1977 than during his lifetime. I’m mostly talking about alternate studio takes and live recordings. Such releases continue to this day.

In addition to various boxed sets, I currently own in the neighborhood of 225 Elvis vinyl and/or CD albums containing unique material.

To be eligible for consideration on my list, a release had to consist of no more than two discs (CDs/records), contain at least one-third previously unreleased content (not including singles and Extended Plays), and be from an official label (no bootlegs).

I judged albums solely on their new material, not on any of the reissued content they might have contained as well. In some cases, this worked to the advantage of an album; in other cases, against it. Note that recording data in the listings below are also solely for an album’s new content.

I now begin a countdown of what I currently consider the 50 greatest Elvis albums of all time. Though I have tried to take cultural impact into account in various ways, that was not the sole consideration. Ultimately, personal impact — how much I love the contents of a particular album — was the most important factor.

This is, of course, just one fan’s perspective.

#50 The Million Dollar Quartet
Recorded: 1956 | Memphis
Released: 1990 (BMG)
Essential Song: Elvis imitating Jackie Wilson imitating Elvis on “Don’t Be Cruel”
“He tried so hard until he got much better, boy, much better than that record of mine.”–Elvis on watching Wilson perform “Don’t Be Cruel”
What Makes It Great: Hearing Elvis in an impromptu jam session with fellow rock ‘n’ roll pioneers Jerry Lee Lewis and Carl Perkins (the fourth member of the “quartet,” Johnny Cash, showed up for the photo-op but is not audible on recordings released to date).
What Holds It Back: While interesting as a historical record, the amount of talking during the jam session can make it tough for day-to-day listening. Many songs are also just short, half-remembered snippets. Still, there is undoubtedly something magical about this recording.

#49 Elvis At The International
Recorded: 1969 | Las Vegas
Released: 2003 (FTD)
Essential Song: A sizzling, 8-minute rendition of “Suspicious Minds”
What Makes It Great: The August 23, 1969, Midnight Show is one of twelve concerts recorded by RCA during Elvis’ month-long engagement at the International Hotel, which marked his return to live performances after almost a nine-year absence. With something to prove, Elvis gave some of the best concerts of his career.
What Holds It Back: Most songs have better performances in other shows from this engagement. Though not often a highlight, the “Yesterday/Hey Jude” medley is particularly bad, with a poor, joking version of “Yesterday” followed by nearly four minutes of, “Dah dah dah dah-dah-dah daah, dah dah dah daah, hey Jude” repeated ad-infinitum.

#48 So High
Recorded: 1966-1968 | Nashville
Released: 2004 (FTD)
Essential Song: Take 1 of “You’ll Never Walk Alone”
What Makes It Great: Alternates/outtakes of a variety of quality songs for different projects, including several featuring Jerry Reed on guitar.
What Holds It Back: Some of the weaker tracks, like Take 2 of “Love Letters.”

#47 Blue Hawaii
Recorded: 1961 | Hollywood
Released: 1961 (RCA)
Essential Song: “Can’t Help Falling In Love,” of course
What Makes It Great: It’s Elvis, Hawaiian style!
What Holds It Back: “Moonlight Swim.”

#46 Elvis On Tour: The Rehearsals
Recorded: 1972 | Hollywood
Released: 2005 (FTD)
Essential Song: Elvis rehearsing “Johnny B. Goode”
What Makes It Great: A behind-the-scenes listen to Elvis preparing for his April 1972 tour, also filmed for an MGM documentary.
What Holds It Back: As the title suggests, this is mostly rehearsals, so set expectations accordingly. Probably the biggest disappointment is “A Big Hunk O’ Love,” which is much stronger in the live shows of the time than as rehearsed here.

#45 Back In Memphis (Classic Album Edition)
Recorded: 1969 | Memphis
Released: 2012 (FTD)
Essential Song: Take 8 of “Suspicious Minds” (undubbed/unedited master)
What Makes It Great: Any album that contains every take of “Suspicious Minds” is, by definition, great.
What Holds It Back: Multiple takes of stinker “And The Grass Won’t Pay No Mind.”

#44 Today
Recorded: 1975 | Hollywood
Released: 1975 (RCA)
Essential Song: “Bringing It Back”
What Makes It Great: Recorded during his last session in a true recording studio, Today is one of the more cohesive albums of Elvis’ original catalog.
What Holds It Back: “Woman Without Love” and “Susan When She Tried.”

#43 King Creole
Recorded: 1958 | Hollywood
Released: 1958 (RCA)
Essential Song: “As Long As I Have You”
What Makes It Great: This is the soundtrack to what many consider his best movie.
What Holds It Back: “Steadfast, Loyal, And True”

#42 The Nashville Marathon
Recorded: 1970 | Nashville
Released: 2002 (FTD)
Essential Song: Take 1 of “How The Web Was Woven”
What Makes It Great: Alternates and outtakes from the stellar recording sessions that produced albums That’s The Way It Is and Elvis Country.
What Holds It Back: “It Ain’t No Big Thing” (Take 6). It should be noted that this same comment applies to any album containing any take of this song.

#41 That’s The Way It Is (Legacy Edition)
Recorded: 1970 | Las Vegas
Released: 2014 (Sony)
Essential Song: “I Just Can’t Help Believin'” (August 12, 1970, Dinner Show)
What Makes It Great: Debut of the complete August 12, 1970, Dinner Show – one of six shows recorded by RCA during this engagement in conjunction with an MGM documentary.
What Holds It Back: A surprisingly poor version of “Polk Salad Annie.”

To Be Continued . . .

Read Part 2.

elvisTopAlbums41-50


2016 marks the 60th anniversary of my Mom and millions of other people around the world becoming Elvis fans. I dedicate this series of posts to her and other first generation Elvis fans. Without you, the rest of us might never have heard of The Memphis Flash.

9 thoughts on “The 50 Greatest Elvis Presley Albums of All Time (Part 1)

  1. I am a rabid ‘ranker’ myself: what albums/movies are better than others and why? Fun stuff. Some thoughts: I’ve always found EP covering the Beatles falls flat. Except for “Something” from “Aloha” it just doesn’t seem right. “Blue Hawaii” is my favourite film of all-time so I love every minute of the soundtrack – even “Moonlight Swim”! I recently bought “Back in Memhis” on vinyl and even though I’ve heard all the songs before, put together and sequenced like that is really good. I like that album and I’m ok with “And the Grass…” I always thought the biggest problem with the great soundtrack to “King Creole” is how short it is. Is it less than 30 minutes?! And why on earth is “That’s the Way It Is” so low on your list?!

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    • Re: That’s The Way It Is, the ranking at #41 is strictly for the “new” content that was on the 2014 Legacy Edition. The original album was considered separately. Mostly because I like to keep things as confusing as possible. ;)

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    • Hey Wellsy, thanks for the comments.

      Your note about the length of the King Creole album, of course, has sent me into another tailspin of analysis – though I’ll try to keep it (somewhat) brief this time….

      From a random sampling of albums that Elvis released during his lifetime, here are some comparisons of approximate times:

      King Creole: 22 minutes

      Roustabout: 21 minutes
      It Happened At The World’s Fair: 22 minutes
      50,000,000 Elvis Fans Can’t Be Wrong: 23 minutes
      Paradise, Hawaiian Style: 23 minutes
      For LP Fans Only: 24 minutes
      A Date With Elvis: 24 minutes
      Elvis (Fool): 27 minutes
      Loving You: 28 minutes
      G.I. Blues: 28 minutes
      Elvis Presley: 29 minutes
      Promised Land: 29 minutes
      Elvis: 31 minutes
      Elvis’ Christmas Album: 31 minutes
      Elvis Is Back!: 33 minutes
      Blue Hawaii: 33 minutes
      From Elvis Presley Boulevard: 36 minutes
      From Elvis In Memphis: 38 minutes

      While the relative shortness of King Creole has never bothered me, what has struck me about this record over the years is that it has an incredible Side A that is let down by a mediocre Side B.

      This is, though, Elvis’ first truly “dedicated” soundtrack album in the LP format – for Loving You had bonus cuts not recorded for the film.

      Bonus cuts on soundtrack albums would ultimately turn out not to be a bad thing for Elvis fans, though, since many of those bonuses in the 1960s helped bring some value to otherwise disappointing records.

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  2. Yeah, like “Guitar Man” on “Clambake”. And talking of short albums reminds me: was it Stax where he went and recorded a batch of good tunes and they turned it (milked it) into three albums of ten songs each? This is an example of, for me, one of the biggest ‘Elvis Frustrations’ for me: the way RCA handled him.

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    • Well, with the Stax sessions, that does seem to be the prevailing narrative among many fans – though I would tend mostly to disagree. He basically recorded the Raised On Rock album there that summer (1973), a relatively weak session – though not without some merit. He then came back that winter and essentially recorded the Promised Land and Good Times albums – both winners in my book.

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  3. Pingback: The 50 Greatest Elvis Presley Albums of All Time (Part 2) | Pastimescapes

  4. Re: KING CREOLE. To me, on most of the King Creole songs, Elvis has always sounded like he is suffering from a bad cold.

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