Elvis for Everyone!

Elvis for Everyone! With Nipper the pup! Released on August 10, 1965

Track Listing:

  1. Your Cheatin’ Heart
  2. Summer Kisses, Winter Tears
  3. Finders Keepers, Losers Weepers
  4. In My Way
  5. Tomorrow Night
  6. Memphis, Tennessee
  7. For the Millionth and the Last Time
  8. Forget Me Never
  9. Sound Advice
  10. Santa Lucia
  11. I Met Her Today
  12. When It Rains, It Really Pours

The puppy was the first thing I noticed on the cover of Elvis’ 8th studio album, Elvis for Everyone!. The dog’s name is Nipper, he is the RCA trademark for all of their advertising and he is a gem. He has an entire Wikipedia page devoted to him and seems like a very precious doggo who to this very day has a plaque devoted to him in a bank in London. How awesome is that??

Now onto the album. This album, released on August 10, 1965 was quite literally scrapped together from studio outtakes dating back 10 years. Intended by RCA to be an “anniversary album” of sorts, implied by the collage of his previous studio albums on the cover, these songs were all intended for other albums but removed for whatever reason. One of these songs (“Tomorrow Night”), even dated back to Elvis’ time at Sun Records in the early 1950s. Possibly due to the very setup of this album, it did not do well by Elvis’ standards, peaking at 10 on the pop albums chart, but not generating any hit singles.

  1. Your Cheatin’ Heart

I knew this song because of Patsy Cline’s far superior rendition. The arrangement on Elvis’ version is very bouncy, and while it isn’t horrible, it removes the inherent heartbreak of the song. Tangent time: did you know that Elvis and Patsy Cline were supposed to do a duet?? They both shared The Jordanaires as backup singers and both had the Nashville sound starting in the early 1960s. It was in the works before Patsy’s untimely death in 1963. I just can’t even imagine the power that would have, with two such distinctive, emotive, silky voices on the same track??? It would have been epic.

2. Summer Kisses, Winter Tears

This song is a silky smooth delight. Recorded 5 years earlier, in 1960, Elvis sounds a bit like Johnny Mathis here, which would make sense as this was the beginning of his pivot to a more adult contemporary sound. Whatever the reasonings were, he sounds fabulous and the song is a perfect fit for him.

3. Finders Keepers, Losers Weepers

This novelty song, recorded in 1963 is just a fun little ditty.

4. In My Way

A beautiful little lullaby. The delicate arrangement really allows Elvis to stand center stage here, with his sincere, lovely vocals shining through.

5. Tomorrow Night

Easily the oldest song on the album, “Tomorrow Night” was recorded in 1954, back in the Sun Records days. It is definitely in its rough form here, but omg does the power of young Elvis’ voice almost knock you backwards. I had almost forgotten how raw he could sound, and, despite the arrangement being halfway finished and Elvis sometimes getting buried in the mix, it almost doesn’t matter because you are hearing that intensity again. Believe it or not, despite those details this song is, in fact, a ballad. While it is very pleasant and soothing, I can see why it was ultimately not picked for an album. However, it was a nice reminder of the Elvis of yore.

6. Memphis, Tennessee

A complete change of pace, this song revs it up real quick. Scotty Moore powers through this song.

7. For the Millionth and the Last Time

Recorded in 1961, this song unsurprisingly has a muzak sound to it, sounding a bit too saccharine for my personal tastes. However, Elvis sounds delightful. His voice is front and center which is unusual for song mixes of this period.

8. Forget Me Never

This song is a sound-a-like to the much better “Love Me Tender.” However, it’s simple, short, and very pretty.

9. Sound Advice

The ninth track, about not liking how someone is giving us advice and being stubborn during the whole ordeal is a very relatable feeling indeed. I have to say I agree with Elvis here: “They insist that they’re givin’ sound advice, But as sure as you’re livin’, It ain’t sound, it ain’t nice, It just doesn’t sound like sound advice.”

10. Santa Lucia

Very short song (1:14!) that sounds like it could be a wedding march? It’s very church-y but despite it’s length it shows off the versatility of Elvis’s vocal range.

11. I Met Her Today

The beautiful piano throughout this number is so soothing it could almost put you to sleep. I am not entirely sure that’s a good thing, but it is very nice to listen to.

12. When It Rains, It Really Pours

Bluesy number that made me go “oh hi!”. Much needed after some sleeper tracks. Another one recorded in the ’50s (1957 this time), the rough vocals are back and they are pure gritty, sexy Elvis. This song is absolutely half-finished but because of the raw power of his vocals it doesn’t matter too much.

Overall, you can tell this album is a collection of outtakes. It has its moments where it shines but ultimately, it is easy to see why these songs were left off of their respective albums.

Listen to Elvis for Everyone! here

Pot Luck – Elvis Presley

Pot Luck released on May 18, 1962

Track Listing

  1. Kiss Me Quick
  2. Just for Old Time Sake
  3. Gonna Get Back Home Somehow
  4. (Such an) Easy Question
  5. Steppin’ Out of Line
  6. I’m Yours
  7. Something Blue
  8. Suspicion
  9. I Feel That I’ve Known You Forever
  10. Night Rider
  11. Fountain of Love
  12. That’s Someone You Never Forget

Pot Luck, released on May 18, 1962 is Elvis’ 7th studio album. Recorded in 6 days spanning a year, the album was primarily recorded in Nashville and Hollywood. The primary songwriters on Pot Luck were Doc Pomus and Mort Shuman, who also wrote the album’s most well known song, “Suspicion”.

My lukewarm reaction to the last album and the increasing watering down of Elvis Presley made me hesitant to listen to this album. At first, it felt like my fears were justified, and I found myself dreading the fact that I had to continue listening to Elvis’ discography. However, after just two songs the album picked up the pace for me, opening up the possibilities of a new, still affecting sound from Elvis. Here’s hoping. This album has many enjoyable bops.

The album gets right into it with “Kiss Me Quick”, but it still spends much of the running time trying to find its groove. Elvis’ voice does sound good, and he is not holding back too much. But therein lies my problem with Elvis’ offerings from this period, he sounds 50s-lite, a cheap imitation of the power he used to bring on his earlier hits. “Just For Old Time Sake” is gospel hymn like and understated. However, the piano in the second verse is very distracting and unfortunately, my biggest takeaway from this song.

“Gonna Get Back Home Somehow” is where this album began to pick up for me. The song is very influenced by the surf rock genre that was beginning to be in vogue at this time. And while the guitar and Elvis’ voice are on the verge of sounding edgy and cool, the lush arrangement keeps the song from going anywhere approaching dangerous or forbidden. The ending does try to salvage it though! Elvis comes in strong, his voice and the instruments building together in frantic desperation.

For cool, breezy vibes turn to the 4th track, “(Such an) Easy Question”. I have the most vivid picture of this song in my head. I picture Elvis standing outside, nonchalantly leaning against a telephone pole, and being coy (and maybe smoking a cigarette?). There is such a knowing smirk to this song that it made me blush and feel all flustered. Elvis: 1, Maria: 0.

Elvis in 1962

Elvis goes rockabilly on “Steppin’ Out of Line”. The baritone backing vocals are great on this short song, but the true star of this song is the sax solo, by legendary player Boots Randolph. I could spend days talking about this sax solo, but to spare you, I will not. Let’s just say that the sax brings the dance party to this one and I am forever grateful. With the ballad “I’m Yours”, Elvis brings softness. Much like the ballads on his early records, particularly his cover of “Blue Moon”, this ballad is very soft and loopy, serving as a casual declaration of his love. If you rearranged this song ever so slightly, it could easily be performed by a barbershop quartet, this is especially true considering the wonderful and ridiculous speaking part by Elvis that functions as the bridge of this song…ahh the early ’60s and their spoken bridges.

My favorite song on the album is the heartbreaking track 7, “Something Blue”. The piano part greets you first, and it is so beautiful and melancholy, setting the tone for the rest of this very sad song. The vocal melody here is pretty and there are some surprising melodic fluctuations throughout. The song is a play on the wedding saying “something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue”. While this extended metaphor could have easily turned corny, the lyrics evolve during the song, telling more and more of this story of sadness and separation. The last time Elvis sings “his wedding band” sounds like he has legit tears in his eyes. This is made even more palpable by the fact that he tries to recover on the next line, “something borrowed” but quickly gives up, resigning himself to the fact that he is to remain broken hearted. Amazing vocal performance that choked me up.

The most well known track on the album is the aforementioned “Suspicion”. Like the first track, this song kicks right into gear, which is probably not a coincidence as they were written by the same songwriting team, Pomus/Shuman. Elvis’ incredible vocal streak continues here, as he portrays a sense of onomatopoeia, sound a little sketched out every beat of the way. This song has a really fun groove to it, and I love the line, “maybe I’m suspicious because love is hard to find”. Ain’t that the truth.

The way Elvis sings “forever” on the ninth track, “I Feel I’ve Known You Forever”, is why people still talk about Elvis. He can instill a book’s worth of meaning in just one word, and it feels so sincere. While the backing vocals are a little overpowering on this one, they sound so heavenly and reminiscent of a church choir that is is hard to complain about it. Lovely song. The surf rock influence emerges again on “Night Rider”. “Oh my!”, was my reaction when this song started. This is a fun one. While I am not exactly sure what a night rider is, it sounds like he is a bit of a party animal, which, after being stuck inside for almost 8 months, sounds like a blast and a half.

“Fountain of Love” is very busy right away. There’s a lot going on, which is not my favorite sonic landscape for Elvis, simply because his voice is powerful enough on its own. There is a warm, velvety guitar part that stands out here, which suits Elvis’ warm, velvety vocals just fine. In the middle of the song all the elements that were previously doing their own thing come together. It’s nice, but I just wish it had happened sooner.

The album ends on a very sad note. Rumored to be about Elvis’ recently deceased mother, “That’s Someone You Never Forget” is different in tone, conveyed by the backing vocals which are seeped in minor chords that permeate the entire song with a mournful undercurrent. Elvis even sounds vulnerable here, his fragile vocals emphasizing this song is about a tough loss. Such a sad, emotional, beautiful way to end this album.

Listen to Pot Luck here

Personnel:

  • Scotty Moore – rhythm guitar
  • Jerry Kennedy – lead guitar on “Night Rider”
  • Hank Garland – lead guitar on “Kiss Me Quick,” “I’m Yours,” and “That’s Someone You Never Forget”
  • Tiny Timbrell – rhythm guitar on “Steppin’ Out of Line”
  • Harold Bradley – guitar
  • Grady Martin – guitar, vibes
  • Floyd Cramer – piano, organ
  • Dudley Brooks – piano
  • Gordon Stoker – piano
  • Bob Moore – double bass
  • D.J. Fontana – drums
  • Buddy Harman – drums
  • Millie Kirkham – backing vocals
  • The Jordanaires – backing vocals
  • Boots Randolph – saxophone

Something For Everybody

Something for Everybody released on June 17, 1961

Track List:

  1. There’s Always Me
  2. Give Me the Right
  3. It’s a Sin
  4. Sentimental Me
  5. Starting Today
  6. Gently
  7. I’m Coming Home
  8. In Your Arms
  9. Put the Blame on Me
  10. Judy
  11. I Want You With Me
  12. I Slipped, I Stumbled, I Fell

Elvis’ album Something for Everybody, released on June 17, 1961, had a unique sequencing. The album, recorded at Studio B in Nashville, was sequenced so the first half of the album consisted of all ballads, while the second half of the album was made up of upbeat rock n’ roll numbers. Initially, this format piqued my interest, as I am always down for some interesting sequencing. But listening to it made clear how much better it is for songs of different tempos and genres to be interwoven together. In fact, this album could serve as the argument as for why that is absolutely the best way to go. Although managing to reach number 1 on the Billboard Pop Albums chart, it is by no means his best collection, or sequence(!), of songs.

Possibly the strongest, and definitely most popular song here is “There is Always Me”. The lush piano immediately sets the sonic tone of the album. Elvis displays wonderfully nuanced vocals here, starting out timid and shy, but building into a stronger, more confident voice that reaches a crescendo at the end, all guided by powerful backing vocals courtesy of Elvis’ vocal sidekicks, The Jordanaires. This song is also notable for it’s slightly stage musical feeling, as other songs on this album also have the same vibe. It works here, but there are other songs where the feeling will be overwrought. From the first brazen vocal note, “Give Me the Right”, the second song on the album, has a sensual tint to it, despite residing on the ballad side. This is especially evident in the lyric, “why make me plead for something you need”. The raunchy sax, courtesy of Boots Randolph, really plays that point home.

“It’s a Sin” sounds like a cross over between a country ballad and a lullaby. Elvis sounds beautiful and understated here. Particularly on the word ‘of’ in “to keep this memory of you”, and again on the word ‘love’ in “again in how I love you”. The next track, “Sentimental Me”, features a bluesy shuffle that sounds like a callback to his 50s music. While this track is perfectly nice, with some intriguing baritone backing vocals, it was here where I already started getting a little bored with all the ballads. It was hard for me to judge this song on its own merits, as I was ready for something musically different.

“Starting Today” is a very soft ballad about resolving to get over someone and setting an expiration date in which to do so. This sentiment will be sung about until the end of time, but what I really loved was hearing it in ballad form. In today’s music, these songs are frequently upbeat and have an “in-your-face” attitude to them. But in this song, Elvis is resigning himself to getting over someone, not because he wants to but because he feels like he has to. The last song on the ballad side, “Gently”, is led by guitar hero Scotty Moore, in a part that is the personification of the song’s title. The melody and music sound like it could be placed at the end of a movie, with the two main characters in love and riding off into the sunset together. I truly cannot say enough about the looping guitar, which really ups the ante on this song, keeping it from becoming a dull tune and turning it into a really pretty ballad.

Finally we are into the rock n’ roll songs! This was my thought when “I’m Coming Home” began to play, a fun bop that is absolutely perfect for doing the twist. The bass and piano work really well together on this one, especially during the extended dance break in the middle of the song, with Elvis’ voice literally ‘bringing it home’ in the end (pun absolutely intended). The next number, “In Your Arms”, has an Elvis Sultry Warning! This song wins the award for best simile on the album with, “like a kitten with a ball of twine”. And also features a sexy saxophone part that will ring all the sultry alarms.

“Put the Blame on Me” is yet another sassy song in Elvis’ catalogue. There is not much that standout on this tune but musically it does function as a brief preview of Elvis’ Las Vegas era. However, on this song, it is not too schmaltzy and the showbiz effect does work. The way Elvis sings the name Judy in the next track of the same name is so fluid and smooth, and flows so well. It is yet more proof of how Elvis can sing one just one word of a song and completely up the quality of it. There is a different sound to the piano here, as it almost sounds more keyboard like.

“I Want You With Me” begins with Elvis singing in a style so reminiscent of his 1950s vocals that it makes you miss that time period so much. Because this ain’t the 50s anymore, folks, and that is my big problem with some of the musical choices on this album. Despite the song’s lyrics begging for it, the arrangement is much too lush for Elvis to really let loose vocally. His voice is buried so far back in the mix that everything else (instruments, backing vocals) overpowers him. The problem continues into the final song of the album, “I Slipped, I Stumbled, I Fell”, which features some interesting, very early ’60s gimmicky backing vocals. But, yet again the glaring problem here is why are Elvis freaking Presley’s vocals not the focal point? It is very frustrating to listen to, knowing that the song could be radically different by just changing that one thing.

There are some very enjoyable songs on this album, most of them falling on the ballad side (“There’s Always Me”, “Give Me the Right”, and “Gently”). However, because you are so bogged down with the ballads or uptempo tunes of each respective side, it can be hard to see the song as individual. Let’s hope Elvis decides to forgo this format on future albums.

Personnel:

  • Elvis Presley – vocals, acoustic rhythm guitar
  • Millie Kirkham – backing vocals
  • The Jordanaires – backing vocals
  • Boots Randolph – saxophone
  • Scotty Moore – electric guitar
  • Hank Garland – electric guitar
  • Floyd Cramer – piano
  • Bob Moore – double bass
  • D.J. Fontana – drums
  • Buddy Harman – drums
  • Tiny Timbrell – lead guitar
  • Dudley Brooks –piano
  • Meyer Rubin – double bass

Listen to Something for Everybody here

His Hand in Mine

His Hand in Mine released on November 23, 1960

Personnel:

  • Elvis Presley – vocals, acoustic guitar
  • The Jordanaires – backing vocals
  • Boots Randolph – saxophone
  • Scotty Moore – electric guitar
  • Hank Garland – acoustic guitar
  • Floyd Cramer – piano
  • Bob Moore – double bass
  • D.J. Fontana, Buddy Harman – drums

When I saw that the next studio album Elvis released was a Gospel album I internally groaned. When recording artists abruptly transition to another genre it can be a cringe-inducing listening party full of contrived creative choices. However, I shouldn’t have been concerned. Elvis had a great love for Gospel music, often warming up with Gospel music before going onstage. Also, the 1960s saw an attempt to reclassify Elvis as a more family-friendly artist, and this album was seen as a stepping stones to achieve that.

What resulted was, His Hand in Mine, Elvis’ 4th studio album. Featuring his usual band of players, and backing vocalists The Jordanaires, the album was recorded in a single 14 hour session. Despite my initial skepticism, the consistency of the band and Elvis’ love of Gospel music make for a beautiful collection of songs.

His Hand in Mine starts off with the titular track, where the vocal formula for the album is immediately established, with Elvis opting for a softer vocal, allowing his voice to fully mesh with The Jordanaires. About 1/3 of the way through the song he transitions back into his famous, deep, velvety voice, which makes the song function as a duet between Elvis and himself. The song is sweet and simple with a lovely sentiment and the last note of the song, with all the voices in harmony, is gorgeous. “I’m Gonna Walk Dem Golden Stairs” is, dare I say, a Gospel bop?? Ironically, it is the most rock n’ roll Elvis has sounded since he got back from the military. Again this features some intricate harmony singing with The Jordanaires, almost like Elvis is singing with them, rather than in front of them.

Choir-esque harmonies are the centerpiece of “In My Father’s House” a somber song that is kept from the doldrums by a light piano part courtesy of Floyd Cramer. I could not find the credits here, but there is a deeper, baritone voice in this song that I believe is meant to function as the preacher, who sings in stark contrast to Elvis. The most beautiful singing on the album is on “Milky White Way”. This song, about going to heaven (a common theme on this album), features a blues shuffle and some rock n’ roll swagger, all the while still keeping the religious spirit sincere.

Starting with “Known Only to Him” the album enters a slightly lacking middle section, nothing too horrible, but nothing too memorable either. “Known Only to Him” has Elvis singing in a high voice that sounds almost weak (which does not suit either Elvis or the song). The piano and backing vocals are nice, but that’s about it. There’s an acapella beginning to “I Believe in the Man in the Sky”, that then opens up into a rollicking Gospel tune, the transition making this song really enjoyable to listen to.

Jaunty “Joshua Fit the Battle” is the one where Elvis’ softer singing style finally clicks. This song is styled in a fashion very reminiscent of his early ’50s hits, which works surprisingly well for the Gospel genre. “He Knows Just What I Need” was not what I needed on this album. It is arranged much like a traditional church song and nothing special.

Luckily, “Swing Down Sweet Chariot” is up next and is so celebratory and joyous you just have to dance. The counterpoint singing wherein The Jordanaires literally “swing” Elvis’ voice back and forth make this song about facing death into an absolute party! The most beautiful song musically goes to the 10th track on the album, “Mansion Over the Hilltop”. This soothing song is the one true song on the album that spotlights Elvis’ softer singing voice in a very flattering way. The piano flourishes sprinkled throughout give the potentially dragging melody some shine.

“If We Never Meet Again” is my favorite song on the album. The narrator is singing to a loved one, saying goodbye and hoping they will meet again. The lyrics are so peaceful and serene, it is the perfect musical epitome of the acceptance stage of grief. The album ends on an upbeat note with “Working on the Building”. This song is rejuvenating after the solemnity of the last track. And, although a religious song, it could be taken as a metaphor about improving one’s own self. This song again features counterpoint vocals which infuse the song with an energy that might not have been there otherwise.

All in all this album is a great Gospel album and a solid offering in the Elvis catalogue. His band sounds great, the backing vocalists are on fire, and Elvis himself is not too shabby. The key here is the obvious passion Elvis had for these songs, not for one second did I think he was phoning it in. If you are into Gospel or even just great early rock n’ roll, I can definitely recommend this to you.

Recommended songs: “His Hand in Mine”, “Milky White Way”, “Swing Down Sweet Chariot”, “Mansion on the Hilltop”, and, “If We Never Meet Again”

Listen to His Hand in Mine here

Elvis is Back!

Elvis is Back! released on April 8, 1960

Personnel:

  • Elvis Presley – vocals, acoustic guitar
  • Scotty Moore – electric guitar
  • Hank Garland – electric guitar, electric bass
  • Floyd Cramer – piano
  • Bob Moore – double bass
  • D.J. Fontana – drums
  • Buddy Harman – drums
  • The Jordanaires – backing vocals
  • Boots Randolph – saxophone
  • Charlie Hodge – backing vocals (on “I Will Be Home Again”)

Well, Elvis joined the army. Elvis Presley returned to the United States in 1960 to record his first full length album in almost 3 years. During his two year army stint, he’d released a string of successful singles (“Wear My Ring Around Your Neck”, “Hard Headed Woman”among them). When he returned from Germany on March 2, 1960, he recorded Elvis is Back! in just two recording sessions. What resulted from those sessions is an album much glossier than his first 3, utilizing new sounds and some new players to experiment in the sonic landscape of the new decade.

The first track, “Make Me Know It”, starts the album in a rush. Immediately, you can tell three years have lapsed since his last full length album. The most obvious change at first are the backing vocalists, The Jordanaires; the backing vocals are different, more polished and brought to the foreground in the arrangement. The fast pace and Elvis’ voice are of course familiar, and yet he’s grown as a singer, and not always in a good way. “Fever” the second song is a vastly different than anything Elvis did before. It has a sultry start but rather than the sultry vibes of the 1950s this song is firmly in the 1960s. It has elements of surf rock and the blues. The rhythm section is what makes this song sound dangerous and alluring.

“The Girl of my Best Friend” is the next song, also sounding very much out of the 1960s. It feels like Elvis is doing Roy Orbison cosplay on this one, as this song is very much in the vein of Orbison’s “Pretty Woman”, especially with those backing vocals! If the previous song was sound-a-like to Roy Orbison, “I Will Be Home again” would be a fitting tribute to the Everly Brothers. The intricate two-part harmonies are very pretty; unfortunately the rest of the song is pretty bland.

“Dirty, Dirty Feeling” feels like the Nashville Sound version of Elvis’ 50s hits. Elvis also seems to be feeling the country sound as, despite the title inferring something a little sleazy, the song is missing all of Elvis’ raw vocals from his previous hits. What follows this is “Thrill of Your Love”, a Gospel-lite tune featuring pretty piano and that’s about it. The first minute or so is enjoyable but sitting through the rest is a snooze fest.

Elvis takes us back to his doo wop roots on “Soldier Boy”. The lyrics and Elvis’ vocals are the stars of this song; Elvis adds nuance and composure when singing, keeping it soft yet powerful. The next song is a certified BOP. “Such a Night” has a wonderfully jaunty beat that carries the song from start to finish. The melody is quirky and unusual and you can tell Elvis is having fun with it. It must be contagious as this is the first track on this album that made me want to get up and dance.

“It Feels So Right” features the return (but not the peak…see below for that) of raunchy Elvis! The sauntering melody is perfect to get down to, with guitarist Scotty Moore shining throughout. The slow pace of this song counteracts with the intense wanting of the lyrics to create a perfect hymn to lust. If you were ever in the market for a perfect shoulder shimmy song? “The Girl Next Door Went a’Walking” should fit your bill. It’s a fun song where all the elements in the recording studio (band, singer, backing vocalists) synchronize to create a great tune.

The last two tracks were my favorites. They are both blues numbers featuring a purring saxophone courtesy of Boots Randolph that is the absolute highlight of these two tracks. The first, “Like a Baby” features SMOOTH vocals from Elvis that will make anyone swoon; it is the most blatantly sexual song on this album. The second, “Reconsider Baby” feels like a sequel to the previous song but rougher and bluesier. Elvis is pining here, yes, but ultimately you can tell he is in control. I picture him begging his baby to come back to him with a smirk on his face. The blues jam at the end feels so improvisational, you can imagine watching them play it live. These two songs ended the somewhat iffy Elvis is Back! on a strong note.

Listen to Elvis is Back! here

Elvis’ Christmas Album

Elvis’ Christmas Album released on October 15, 1957

Personnel:

  • Elvis Presley – lead vocals, acoustic rhythm guitar
  • Scotty Moore – electric lead guitar
  • Dudley Brooks – piano
  • Bill Black – double bass
  • D.J. Fontana – drums
  • The Jordanaires – backing vocals

Christmas albums by popular music artists can always be a mixed bag (Carpenters, brilliant; Taylor Swift, meh). Elvis’ Christmas Album, his third record overall, falls in the brilliant camp. Consisting of 12 songs, the album is split into two parts, secular Christmas music makes up the first half, and religious Christmas carols make up the second. Despite being his third album in just a two year period, Elvis, his band, and his background singers the Jordanaires were confident in their sound by this point, and able to translate that into a great early rock n’ roll Christmas album.

The album starts off with “Santa Claus is Back in Town”, a raunchy beginning to Elvis’ Christmas Album. The choral opening courtesy of The Jordanaires is ear grabbing and pretty in a traditionally Christmas-like way, but then the salacious drums and vocals kick in and the song becomes a sexy Christmas song…if there was ever such a thing in 1957. Well, if anyone was gonna do it, might as well be Elvis, right? Up next is the perennial holiday standard, “White Christmas”. They chose to arrange this song as a rock n’ roll ballad. Not quite Bing Crosby here, but not totally rock n roll-ified either. The arrangement is quiet, almost subdued on this track, particularly the hypnotic guitar loop played by the always delightful Scotty Moore, allowing Elvis’ vocals to shine.

Elvis’ version of “Here Comes Santa Claus”, which is still a radio staple, is where all the sonic elements that make Elvis “Elvis” come together. Dudley Brook’s piano also gives the song a homey, sing a long feel, just you know, the best Christmas sing a long ever. “I’ll Be Home for Christmas” features a beautiful vocal from Elvis, and, in another shoutout to Dudley Brooks, some very delicate piano parts throughout. Going the ballad route ends up bringing out the poignancy of this song, rather than being too schmaltzy which will become a problem in some of Elvis’ later work.

Elvis Presley sings the definitive version of “Blue Christmas”. The vocal affectations of both Elvis and The Jordanaires make this song a perfect holiday confection. The mid-tempo pacing keeps the song from being burdened by melancholy, while still capturing the gloominess of being without your loved one during the holidays. “Santa Bring My Baby Back (To Me)” carries an everlasting theme of Christmas music, whether it be Mariah Carey or Wham, everybody wants a little romance at Christmastime. Like, “Blue Christmas”, the song has all the classic Elvis elements to it, and is a fitting end to the secular side of the album.

The religious side of Elvis’ Christmas Album gets off to a shaky start. “O Little Town of Bethlehem’s” arrangement is overwrought, and Elvis weirdly seems to be struggling with his vocal interpretation, singing mechanically at parts, almost like he was in fear of messing it up. It’s perfectly nice but instantly forgettable. Side 2 really begins with “Silent Night”. Much better than ” Bethlehem”, Elvis sings softer on this tune, and the arrangement is kept very simple and understated. There are elaborate backing vocals but they are kept in check in the back of the mix until the very end, building to a magical finish.

“(There’ll Be) Peace in the Valley (For Me)” is the first gospel hymn on the album. While it doesn’t start off strong, meandering too much in the beginning, it picks up about midway through. Thankfully The Jordanaire’s save this song from being a bore. Elvis sounds very passionate on the next song, “I Believe”. He sings softly on the verse, ramping it up for the chorus which gives this tune a slight (and necessary) bite.

“Take My Hand, Precious Lord” is Elvis’ standout vocal of the album. Elvis takes us to church on this one, and the arrangement of the backing vocals functions just like a church choir. Thankfully, they used an understated arrangement for this song, propelling Elvis’ magnificent voice forward. The bluesy piano riff on the last track of the album, “It Is No Secret (What God Can Do)” brings the vibe of the album back up a few levels. It’s a fine arrangement to a nice song, and a peaceful way to close out Elvis’ Christmas Album.

Listen to Elvis’ Christmas Album here

Elvis Presley – “Elvis” (1956)

“Elvis” released on October 19, 1956
  • Elvis Presley – vocals, acoustic guitar, piano on “Old Shep, “Paralyzed”, “First In Line”, and “How’s The World Treating You”.
  • Scotty Moore – electric guitar
  • Shorty Long – piano on January 30
  • Gordon Stoker – piano on September 1–3
  • Bill Black – double bass
  • D.J. Fontana – drums
  • The Jordanaires – backing vocals

Elvis did not come to play on his second album. While this album was released just 7 months after his debut, Elvis already seems surer of himself and his sound. While there are just as many genre samples on this one as there were on the first album, both his band and Elvis have found the “Elvis” sound, complete with showcasing Scotty Moore’s dexterous guitar solos, and making the genius decision of bringing on The Jordanaires as his backup singers.

The album begins with “Rip It Up” featuring a brilliant piano part that really shines during the musical interlude. This song sets an accurate tone for where the album is going to go from here. “Love Me”, the second song, is where The Jordanaires really stand out and showcase their vocals as a perfect frame for Elvis’ voice. Elvis on the other hand proves why parents were so nervous about him back in 1956. His vocals are downright sexy on this song, simmering with desire and pleading with the listener to love him. Sultry warning: the way his vocals come in on the last “just to feel” might just cause your heart to skip a beat.

The next track, “When My Blue Moon Turns to Gold” is not very memorable. The two standouts are Scotty Moore’s guitar solo and the gospel-tinged backing vocals. The album kicks back into gear again on track four with “Long Tall Sally” featuring rough, passionate vocals from Elvis had me at hello. The song is short and raucous and you can hear it being played in some dive bar with a band tearing through it on stage.

The overuse of reverb comes into play on the fifth song, “First In Line”. The effect works for the first part of the song but quickly grows tired. The chorus of the song does present some interesting melody lines, particularly on the lyric, “don’t refuse me, say you’ll choose me”. “Paralyzed” is my favorite Elvis song of all time, so I’m a bit biased here. The idea of Elvis in 1956, at the peak of his bad boy rock n’ roller persona, as a fumbling fool in love is oh so charming, and the melody works perfectly with the lyrics. The chorus soars and it makes you root for the very in love, if not a little awkward, singer.

“So Glad You’re Mine” is a sauntering bop. The musical interlude is the standout here. The next song, “Old Shep”, is SAD. It is the story of a man named Jim and his dog Shep, who in true “good boy” fashion had once saved him from drowning. Eventually, Shep grew old and there was nothing his doctor could do for the pup. Well, Jim, apparently, was ready to SHOOT HIM WITH HIS GUN. But saw Shep and couldn’t go through with it (thank god). Shep eventually died with his head lying on Jim’s lap, while Jim said if there were a doggy heaven, Shep would be there. So yea, after sobbing through this song, I was ready for a more upbeat track.

The next song “Ready Teddy” is just what the heart needs after that sad excursion. This song makes you want to hit up the next sock hop in town. The instrumental break is a rock n roll jam session at its finest. Even though Elvis sometimes struggles to keep up with the pace of the song, the frenetic energy is so potent that it propels the song to a fever pitch. Number 10, “Any Place Is Paradise”, is a twin song of “So Glad You’re Mine”. Scotty Moore’s guitar again shines on this one.

“How’s The World Treating You” is a very sad bop about being in a post breakup funk. The lyrics are heartbreaking but Elvis’ voice and the Jordanaire’s backing vocals lend the track some nuance so it is not just a downer. Of note, the way Elvis sings the word “shattered” here shows you how much weight just one word can have in a song. Elvis’ lyrical translation has grown so much from his first to his second album. So as not to end the album on a depressing note, the final track, “How Do You Think I Feel” has a little bit of a sassy swagger to it. Once again, Scotty Moore proves why he is the hidden gem of Elvis’ band by carrying the melody line here. A perfect closer to a great, rocking album.

Listen to Elvis here

Elvis Presley – Elvis Presley (1956)

Elvis Presley’s first album. Released on March 23, 1956
  • Elvis Presley: vocals, acoustic guitar, and piano (on “Tryin’ to Get to You”)
  • Scotty Moore: electric guitar
  • Chet Atkins: acoustic guitar on “I’m Counting on You” and “Money Honey”
  • Floyd Cramer – piano on January 10–11
  • Shorty Long – piano on January 30–31
  • Bill Black: bass
  • D.J. Fontana: drums except “I Love You Because,” “Just Because,” “Tryin to Get to You” “I’ll Never Let You Go (Little Darlin’),” and “Blue Moon”
  • Johnny Bernero – drums (on “Tryin’ to Get to You”)

When first looking at the track list for Elvis Presley’s first album it could almost be a greatest hits collection. It’s not. Instead, Elvis Presley is a great first offering by the oft called “king of rock n’ roll”. The album spans several genres: r&B, doo wop, country, and of course early rock n’ roll. Recorded in just a few months, the album was released on March 23, 1956. This turned out to be perfect timing, as one of his biggest hits, and one of the most influential songs in rock history, “Heartbreak Hotel” had been climbing the charts since January. While “Heartbreak Hotel” is not on this album, it easily could have, and, I would argue, should have been included. They opted to leave it as a single but it would have meshed beautifully with the other songs on this album.

The album opens with “Blue Suede Shoes”. Originally made popular by Carl Perkins, Elvis’ version changes the country tune into a song that sounds a little more salacious, and playful. The piano is the standout here, adding a bluesy shuffle to the once standard country fare. The second track on the album is the ballad “I’m Counting on You”, a song that sounds awfully similar to the, in my opinion superior, “How’s the World Treating You”, which would be released later that year. Elvis’ vocals sound particularly young and nasal on this song. Chet Atkins, the founder of “the Nashville sound” played acoustic guitar on this track, and you can hear the foundation of that sound on this song.

“I Got a Woman” is up next and the guitar on this is so bluesy and wonderful; a perfect example of when the backing musicians and vocalist synchronize perfectly. The drumming by D.J. Fontana lends the song an urgency. Another classic follows this song, “One-Sided Love Affair”, which is jaunty and again the piano comes in with a nice blues shuffle. Elvis sounds moody and almost punk (??) on this song. He is making demands and he means it. This is the song on the album where you can almost understand why The Clash opted to imitate the cover for their classic “London Calling” album 23 years later.

Whistling?? Ok…well it certainly took me by surprise. The next two songs both have the word ‘because’ in their titles, which might be a record for any album. However, that’s about all these two songs have going for them, as they should have been left off the album because they are not that great. The first of the two, “I Love You Because”, is the aforementioned whistle song and it features some very nasal over-singing by Elvis. He sounds young here and it does not help this song. The twinkling piano is very busy, while Elvis sings frustratingly slow, causing his voice to drag behind the music. While the whole song has very cheesy lyrics, the last lyric is “I love you cause you’re you”….I just cannot. The second ‘because’ song is called “Just Because”, and features the opposite problem as the song before. Instead of singing too slow, Elvis sounds as though he is struggling to keep up with the fast pace of this song. It starts out ok, but when the second verse kicks in, Elvis is trying way too hard. He is affecting his signature “Elvis” affectation that he is so famous for, but because of the extra effort, it does not come across well.

Elvis’ version of “Tutti Frutti” is on this album, and while his version garnered some popularity, this song belongs to Little Richard. Unlike “Blue Suede Shoes”, Elvis brings the energy of this song down about 10 notches. The result is a song whose urgency is stripped from it, making it a fun, but not as raucous or flamboyant. The next song, “Trying to Get to You”, is SULTRY. Scotty Moore comes in with raunchy guitar work that suits Elvis perfectly. The slow romp of this song and the roughness of the vocals is a perfect encapsulation of why audiences were so scandalized and titillated by him back in 1956.

In the next song, “Cry Over You”, Elvis sounds like he aged about 3 years, and I mean that as a compliment. The lyrics are balladesque, but the rockabilly feel of this song give it an edge that it would not have if it were arranged as a straight up ballad. This time, the Elvis voice is effortless, and the longing comes through beautifully. The next song, “Little Darlin'”, has a great syncopated guitar opening that continues through the whole song and combined with the slight reverb to Elvis’ vocals, lends it a dreamlike, sedated quality. That is, until they decide it’s time for you to wake up! That’s right, 3/4 of the way through this song, the pace picks up turning the song from dreamy to playful and it works wonderfully.

As someone who has loved all covers of the standard “Blue Moon”, I am very biased. But I genuinely think Elvis’ version made some points. The clip clop of the percussion grounds the very lyrically sentimental song, and it serves vocal showcase for Elvis on this album. He switches from alto to falsetto seamlessly and this song has an even dreamier vibe than “Little Darlin'”. The last song on the album, “Money Honey”, has a GREAT beginning. The piano (again) really shines on this track, playing a blues shuffle that is grounded by the rhythm section, giving the track an edge that is not dissimilar to “Jailhouse Rock”. Great ending song to the album.

Elvis Presley is a solid debut album. The great stuff on this album: Scotty Moore’s guitar, Elvis’ nuanced vocals, and the genre hopping all show the versatility of Elvis and the musicians. I even respect the parts of the album I didn’t like, because in listening, I can admire the strong choices that were made. This album is a sonic intersection of where music was at in 1956, showing how the music world was being taken by storm by this brand new thing called rock n’ roll.

Listen to Elvis Presley here

Let’s Start at the Very Beginning…

When I decided on the idea of venturing into artists’ discographies as the central theme for this blog, I pondered for quite some time about which discography I should delve into first. I debated starting with my favorite band, Fleetwood Mac, or perhaps delving into an artist I am currently curious about but whose music I am not deeply familiar with, The Go – Gos. However, earlier this summer, in a total coincidence, I had been thinking about who my 4 pillars of musical artists would be. It was fairly easy to trace back, as the following four artists were all my favorites before I turned 13, pivotal years for discovering and cementing your taste in music, and they each shaped my music preferences in very influential ways.

The first two artists were the first two CDs I bought for myself at Border’s book store when I was 7. The first was Elvis Presley’s “Hits 56” compilation which I had bought after having a helluva good time at the 2nd grade sock hop party, and I wanted to try to recapture the exhiliration. This album was my baby and I used to bring it to school everyday via my backpack on wheels. I had a major crush on the Elvis Presley of that cd cover. He was not the sequined jumpsuit, pompadoured Vegas guy from the 70s. In this picture, he was sitting cross legged on the floor of the studio, wearing a striped jacket, and had a very contemplative, almost stormy, look on his face. I was in love. To this day I have never fully outgrown either the crush or that music. In 1956 Elvis was at his prime: still rock n’ roll, a little rough around the edges, and making music that is so invigorating and infectious that 60 plus years later, you have no choice but to jam out.

The second pillar was all the rage amongst us 2nd grade girls at the time: Britney Spears’ “Oops…I Did It Again”. I was an only child with baby boomers for parents, but thanks to a series of cool babysitters, I had known and loved the bops of Britney Spears and other 90s pop stars since kindergarten. This album was mine and my friends favorite in 2nd grade, and through the years it has kept making a comeback in my life. The album is a take charge, fierce album from someone whose career was still in its halcyon glory days. In these songs, Spears takes control of the narrative with a strong independent streak; owning her mistakes, while resolving to move on for good, and being open to finding love again at the end. A fantastic breakup album for the ages.

On a December morning in 2003, I was sitting in my dad’s office listening to a compilation CD of Christmas songs, when I heard “Little Saint Nick” by this group called The Beach Boys. I was obsessed and played the song at top volume on repeat until my dad finally poked his head in the door and said, “you know they have other songs too”. I went rummaging through my mom’s large CD collection, found “Made in the U.S.A”, a greatest hits CD, and went to town. Thus, the third pillar was built. Of all the acts in this foursome, The Beach Boys are the ones who have grown with me the most. There is so much to discover and listen to; Brian Wilson’s creativity knows no bounds, and their sonic landscape goes way beyond their surf rock hits of the early 60s, although I adore those songs too.

Finally, we come to the fourth pillar, and the reason why I even made this list in the first place. This summer I rewatched “The O.C.” for the first time since middle school, and besides being blown away by how relevant, moving, and funny it still is, I was floored by the impact and luxury of how great the music choices were on that show. Soundtracked by California indie rock, the show introduced me to such bands as Modest Mouse, Death Cab for Cutie, Imogen Heap, and Patrick Park. While I loved the songs on top 40 radio, middle school is an angsty time for everyone, and I was desperate for something that had more depth. “The O.C’s” series of soundtracks, of which there were 6, were a godsend. Those soundtracks proved that certain sonic sensibilities that I had relished to the past, beautiful harmonies, soulful lyrics, and beautiful acoustic songs, could not only exist but thrive in the current musical landscape. You just might have to look a little harder for them. And the songs still slap.

So there you have it, folks. These are the discographies I have decided to start with:

  1. Elvis Presley
  2. Britney Spears
  3. The Beach Boys
  4. The Music from “The O.C.”

See ya next week!

Welcome!

Welcome to Musical Revue! On this blog I want to go through the discographies of different artists, and give an exploratory look at each album. Even just in the context of one artist there can be so much to explore, and both internal and external factors to discuss. I am so excited to begin talking about this, and talk about all the fun details (who was feuding with who??) and some of the more intricate stuff (how many takes did they do of one song?). I hope you will come along on my journey as we see how each artist changed or didn’t change on their sonic journeys. Play on…