The Memphis Album - Elvis Presley
"My home town won't accept me
I just don't feel welcome here no more"
Elvis is such a colossus that he can lie hidden in his own shadow. We all know 'Elvis', but sometimes it feels like the music is consumed by the jumpsuits, the musicals, the resurrections (I read somewhere that the resurrected Elvis has been seen more times than that other resurrected messiah), the manager, the hips, the sneer, the burgers, the movies, the city in the sand, the sweaty towels, the grubby flood of money and on and on.....
In the crunching darkness of that shadow are his many achievements. Even those known to all like The Sun Sessions or Heartbreak Hotel are often discounted somehow as if they existed like some natural occurrence. It's as if Elvis was inevitable, his importance more the intersection of socio-cultural events than an artistic creation. He is buried under the mountains of tat like my Elvis clock, the pendulum of which is a cutout of those forbidden legs.
Of course these shadows are general and there are many, many examples of people to whom his talents are an open secret, and people who insist on seeing the man and his talent rather than the myth that can swallow it up. And to be fair to the cliched image of a man who let his talent get away from him has some substance. There is a lot of substandard Elvis material, mostly churned out in the stream of average, bad and then worse movies that he headed.
However, there is also a huge amount of good and great material too. The Sun Sessions are one of those essential records. It changed music. It blew the mind of everyone from Bob Dylan to Iggy Pop. I can't mention it without posting a youtube link or two. Every record collection should have it..
"lets get real, real gone"
|It's better with chips.|
Here is a snippet from Wikipedia "During one week span 25% of Billboards top 100 not only came from the same studio but featured the same band backing a variety of artists. It was further noted that the Memphis Boys recorded 122 Top 10 records using the same rhythm team, and were also known as the 827 Thomas Street Band after the address of the studio."
It includes quite a few of my favourite Elvis moments, the aforementioned Stranger in my Own Home Town; Suspicious Minds; Long Black Limousine and my childhood favourite In the Ghetto which can still make this grown man cry. But the well is deep and there are buckets of everything from country through soul to Rockabilly and R'n'B.
Being produced by musical genius Chips Moman rather than huckster supreme Colonel Parker was one of the key elements that made this album great. Elvis got to hear songs himself before they were filtered by the Colonel's demands for songwriting credits and/or royalty deals slanted heavily in his favour. Elvis sounds like a man with something to prove and he has the ammunition with which to do so.
He brings an almost breathless intensity to the best of these tracks which can invest the most trite material with passion, making sweeping melodrama from a repeated phrase. The musicians are simply as good as they get, with the American Studio band defining smoking. There is a pulsing dance beat running through even the ballads. And as you move your feet your heart will follow. As Elvis says "You can't keep a good man down."
The 70's are often regarded as a wilderness but it's well worth getting the collection Walk a Mile in These Shoes, if only for his version of Bob Dylan's Don't Think Twice. It's Alright. There's a lot more to show that the decline was not as steep as the myths would have it.
My appreciation for Nick Cave was cemented when he chose to start his post Birthday Party career with this cover of In the Ghetto.