Wednesday 26 June 2013

Top 102 Albums⁺ Minus 4 The Memphis Album

Top 102 Albums⁺ Minus 4 
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.
Sun Records was, of course, in Memphis and perhaps the magic of his home town inspired Elvis to recover his mojo when he returned there in 1969, more than a decade after those mighty Sun recordings. There certainly seems to have been some magic in the American Recordings studio in the late sixties, with house band The Memphis Boys and producer Chips Moman feted by the discerning listener. In the twelve months surrounding this session they recorded the great Dusty in Memphis and midwifed Alex Chilton's career with The Box Tops, a band created by the studio owners themselves.

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."

The Gothfather

The album I have chosen wasn't released until 1987 and features liner notes by Peter Guralnick who wrote a magisterial two volume biography of Presley. It is a selection from sessions that gave rise to both From Elvis in Memphis and Back in Memphis. It's the album which I bought and listened to and I love it, schmaltz and all.

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.


  1. I've never been a fan of elvis , but do have a soft spot for the 70s stuff. On a trip to Vegas Judi and I went to the Elvis experience (which along with the Liberace museum is a must!) which ends with a short "performance" by an elvis impersonator. It was all truly odd as at the end a the audience (about 20 people) rush forward to grab a scarf or get an autograph as if it was Elvis himself back from the moon for his final performance. It was about 2 weeks after 9/11 and the simple fact that we had got on a plane for a holiday seemed to bestow us with hero brit status. Elvis stopped proceedings and announced that he believed "we have 2 good friends from London in the audience who have braved all to visit us in the US) Judi and I sheepishly put our hands up. At which point Elvis invited us past the queuing and now slightly resentful fans to the stage to get a kiss and a handshake (I'm still so bemused by the whole thing that I can't remember which one judi got and which one I did). Maybe it was the real elvis after all

    1. Well, I remember reading a book which discussed the similarities of the cult of Elvis with a religion, with many tales of his resurrection and 'impersonators" as the priests. You clearly received communion.... and perhaps can now consider yourselves 'baptised'.

  2. Snap, my favourite Elvis album too Seamus.
    We are as one...