This is the final installment of a countdown of Elvis Presley’s best albums. Read Part 4.
To be eligible for consideration, 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).
Albums were judged solely on their new material and not on any of the reissued content they might have contained. Recording information noted below is also only for an album’s new content.
Though cultural impact was taken into account in various ways, that was not the lone consideration. Ultimately, personal impact — how much I love a particular album — was the most important factor.
Tomorrow marks the 39th anniversary of the death of Elvis at the age of 42. I am 41, so that 42 age seems younger and younger to me with each passing year. Though gone too soon, he accomplished much in that short time – as attested by the 50 incredible albums covered in this series of posts.
Elvis has been dead the majority of my life, yet has had a profound influence on it. His music has gotten me through some tough times … and has been there for many more good times as well.
And now, ladies and gentlemen, the ten greatest Elvis albums of all time.
#10 Promised Land
Recorded: 1973 | Memphis
Released: 1975 (RCA)
Essential Song: “Promised Land”
“Aw, get on it! I left my home in Norfolk, Virginia; California on my mind. I straddled that Greyhound and rode him into Raleigh and on across Caroline.”
What Makes It Great: Recorded at Stax studios, Promised Land is, in many ways, a perfect Elvis album – a mixture of rock ‘n’ roll, country, inspirational, and adult contemporary. It is a testament to the power of the remaining albums on this list that I was not able to nudge this one farther up in the rankings.
#9 Elvis’ Golden Records, Volume 3
Recorded: 1960-1962 | Nashville
Released: 1963 (RCA)
Essential Song: “Are You Lonesome Tonight”
“You know, someone said that the world’s a stage, and each must play a part. Fate had me playing in love, with you as my sweetheart.”
What Makes It Great: This collection of top-selling singles makes a strong argument against those who claim that, musically, “Elvis died in the Army.” There are so many treats here, like “Little Sister” and “His Latest Flame.”
#8 Almost In Love
Recorded: 1967-1969 | Hollywood; Nashville; Memphis
Released: 1970 (Camden)
Essential Song: “Rubberneckin’”
“People say I’m wastin’ time, yeah, but I don’t really care.”
What Makes It Great: Almost In Love is a hodge-podge of songs, including some movie tunes, that manage not only to work, but combine into what is, obviously, one of his best albums ever. This was a “budget” album on RCA’s Camden label. Unfortunately, most of Elvis’ Camden releases were of far lower quality.
#7 Moody Blue
Recorded: 1976-1977 | Memphis; Ann Arbor; Kalamazoo
Released: 1977 (RCA)
Essential Song: “Pledging My Love”
“Always and forever, I’ll love only you.”
What Makes It Great: Recorded at his home and on the road in front of his fans, Moody Blue ends Elvis’ career in style. Elvis’ last album is released on July 19, 1977, less than a month before his death. In the subsequent record store rush, many folks pick up this stellar album – pressed on blue vinyl. The album includes “He’ll Have To Go,” the last song Elvis ever recorded in a “studio” setting (actually, his den at Graceland).
#6 From Elvis In Memphis
Recorded: 1969 | Memphis
Released: 1969 (RCA)
Essential Song: “Power Of My Love”
“My love will haunt you, yes, haunt you night and day.”
What Makes It Great: From Elvis In Memphis capitalizes on the success of the ELVIS special and propels him forward in a new, adult style unlike anything he has recorded before.
#5 On Stage – February, 1970
Recorded: 1969-1970 | Las Vegas
Released: 1970 (RCA)
Essential Song: “Polk Salad Annie” (February 18, 1970, Midnight Show)
“Everybody calls it polk salad. Now that’s polk… [boom]… salad… [boom-boom]. Lord, have mercy.”
What Makes It Great: Primarily recorded in February 1970, with a couple of related highlights from August 1969 thrown in for good measure, On Stage illustrates the power of Elvis as a live performer in this time period. This album pairs well with Elvis In Person (August 1969). In fact, a 2010 “Legacy Edition” of On Stage does just that.
Trivia Interlude: Of those released in his lifetime in the United States, On Stage is one of only two Elvis albums that do not include his name on the front or back cover. The other is For LP Fans Only (#17 on this countdown).
#4 How Great Thou Art – As Sung By Elvis
Recorded: 1966; 1960 | Nashville
Released: 1967 (RCA)
Essential Song: “How Great Thou Art”
“I see the stars. I hear the rolling thunder. Thy power throughout the universe displayed.”
What Makes It Great: How Great Thou Art is Elvis’ masterpiece, which earns him his first Grammy Award. Out of all of the albums on this Top Ten list, it is undoubtedly the one he cared about most. The entire album is a must-listen when it comes to understanding his music.
#3 Elvis Country – I’m 10,000 Years Old
Recorded: 1970 | Nashville
Released: 1971 (RCA)
Essential Song: “I Really Don’t Want To Know”
“Just let it, let it remain your secret. Oh, for darlin’, darlin’ I love you so. No wonder, yeah, no wonder, I wonder, ’cause I really don’t want, I don’t want to know.”
What Makes It Great: Elvis Country is an album that rather haphazardly came together in the course of Elvis’ summer 1970 “marathon” session in Nashville. This, of course, makes it more perfect than any planned album would have been. Nashville was the ideal location for Elvis to delve into a definitive country album. Remember, it’s not just country, it’s Elvis country.
#2 Elvis’ Golden Records
Recorded: 1956-1957 | Hollywood; New York; Nashville
Released: 1958 (RCA)
Essential Song: “Jailhouse Rock”
“I wanna stick around awhile and get my kicks, let’s rock!”
What Makes It Great: The first of many volumes, Elvis’ Golden Records captures the songs that took him to international superstardom in 1956 and 1957. These classic songs have been compiled dozens and dozens of times since then, but Elvis’ Golden Records was the first and the best.
#1 That’s The Way It Is
Recorded: 1970 | Nashville; Las Vegas
Released: 1970 (RCA)
Essential Song: “How The Web Was Woven”
“At last I’m where you want me, don’t you know that’s where, where I wanna be.”
What Makes It Great: I have written about this album more than any other, so I am sure it landing at the top spot was no surprise to anyone who has followed my writing over the years. The That’s The Way It Is project – RCA album and MGM documentary – represents the culmination of the “comeback” that began with the How Great Thou Art sessions and caught fire with the ELVIS special. Elvis reached perfection in this time period as an artist. I cannot choose any album but this one as his absolute best.
Shopping Tip: If you buy the 2014 “Legacy Edition” of That’s The Way It Is (the previously unreleased material of which was already covered as #41 on this countdown), you will get the original album (#1 here), the associated singles, a few outtakes, and a complete live show on 2 CDs. Definitely a huge value, if you do not already have the material.
So, there you have them, the 50 Greatest Elvis Presley Albums of All Time – at least according to one fan on one day.
No doubt, your list will vary. Were you shocked by any inclusions or omissions? Make your case in the comments below.
Finally, I want to close out by saying how much fun this series of Elvis posts has been for me. By 2014, when I ended The Mystery Train Blog, I was burned out on writing about Elvis (not burned out on listening to his music, however).
I started Pastimescapes a year ago to continue writing about Elvis but also expand to other areas of interest. The flexibility of this “open topic” blog with the cumbersome name has been a tremendous help.
For Elvis fans, this is a special week – one that many of us use to celebrate his life, rather than dwell on his death. For me, that life was about music.
I don’t know about the rest of you, but I intend to crank up that music a little louder than usual tomorrow.
Thank you for reading.
2016 marks the 60th anniversary of millions of people around the world becoming Elvis fans. I dedicate this series of posts to those first generation fans. Without you, the rest of us might never have heard of The Memphis Flash.