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.”
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 . . .
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.