Music

Elvis Presley: Elvis at Sun

Zeth Lundy

Elvis Presley

Elvis at Sun

Label: BMG
US Release Date: 2004-06-22
UK Release Date: 2004-07-05
Amazon
iTunes
"...if it came down to a choice between sound and feel, there was never any question which Sam Phillips, or Elvis Presley, would choose. Sam believed totally in the accidental, the unexpected, the unique; he placed his full faith in the spontaneity of the moment, whether or not it might include formal mistakes. And that is exactly how Elvis Presley's records were made."
-- Peter Guralnick, in his liner notes to The King of Rock and Roll: The Complete 50's Masters

"WE RECORD ANYTHING -- ANYWHERE -- ANYTIME"
-- Motto of Sam Phillips' Memphis Recording Service

As the legend has been told and re-told for 50 years now, "That's All Right", the seminal recording of Elvis Presley's Sun Records sessions, erupted serendipitously, seemingly out of nowhere. Elvis, along with bassist Bill Black and guitarist Scotty Moore, was engaged in his first rehearsal session on that Monday, July 5, 1954. The band had run through two ballads but nothing seemed to click; sparks would not take flight. It was during a break from rehearsing that Elvis began to fool around playing Arthur Crudup's old blues song. Black and Moore jumped in on the shenanigans, prompting Memphis Recording Service and Sun Records owner/engineer Sam Phillips to stick his head into the room, exclaiming: "What are you doing?" "We don't know," the band responded, to which Phillips insisted they take it from the top and set the tape in motion.

It's this shared sense of spontaneity, abandon, and excitement that characterized Elvis' Sun sessions, a year's worth of recordings that fused blues, country, and pop, single-handedly created the rockabilly sound and brought rock and roll to the unsuspecting masses. It's impossible to describe within a few paragraphs the widespread, rippling effect these sessions had (and still have) on pop music as we now know it. Elvis would soon go on to become one of this century's most massive pop culture icons, riding a wave of international stardom that saw its own highs and lows, creative genius preceding pompous slumps, artistic resurgences peppering a slow burning decline. Elvis begat the Beatles, and well, as they often say, the rest is history. It can be all too simple for one to forget the 19-year old Elvis Aaron Presley of Tupelo, Mississippi, an oily slick-coiffed heartthrob who launched a thousand hips, in favor of the bejeweled, parodied incarnation of his later years (all of which is documented, incidentally, in Peter Guralnick's compulsively readable books Last Train to Memphis and Careless Love). But despite what he became, despite a trajectory of self-destruction and wildly inconsistent releases, we'll always have the Sun sessions to stand as one of the definitive documents of rock and roll in the 20th century.

Elvis at Sun is RCA's 50th anniversary edition of the Sun sessions, marking the fourth time they have been issued on CD (previously released on 1987's The Complete Sun Sessions, 1992's The King of Rock and Roll: The Complete 50's Masters boxed set, and 1999's two-disc Sunrise). Once again the tracks have been remastered from their original master tapes. Although it may not be apparent to indiscriminate ears, the sound has been rendered with an increased clarity, courtesy of new advances in technology; as a result, Elvis at Sun offers a more immediate punch in presentation than previous releases. RCA is touting this collection as "the definitive single disc edition" of the landmark sessions, which is probably true. Sunrise still remains the definitive edition, but if you don't feel like paying extra for a second disc of alternate takes and live performances, Elvis at Sun is a good way to go, as it contains all of the tracks on Sunrise's first disc. One small annoyance is the new compilation's sequencing: in trying to stay true to the sessions' chronological order, two slow ballads ("Harbor Lights" and "I Love You Because") open the disc before diving head-first into "That's All Right". To begin the collection with one of the upbeat tunes would have made for a smoother listening experience.

If you don't own any editions of the Sun sessions... well, no offense intended, but what's wrong with you? Lecturing you on such an oversight would be like a dentist reminding you to brush your teeth. No rock and roll collection can ever be considered complete without its inclusion. Put off buying the new Velvet Revolver for another week and go pick up Elvis at Sun. It includes all the essentials: the rambunctious "Just Because" and "Blue Moon of Kentucky"; the frenzied, pregnant vocal in "Milkcow Blues Boogie"; the hiccupped "Baby Let's Play House"; the churning velocity of "Mystery Train"; the rapturous, quivering luminosity of "Blue Moon". You can practically hear John Lennon teaching himself to sing along to "Good Rockin' Tonight" and "Trying to Get to You". All 19 tracks that appear on Elvis at Sun are indispensable, smothered in Black's galloping heartbeat bass rhythms, Moore's infectious guitar sparks (he plays rhythm and lead simultaneously like no one else), and Phillip's slap-back echo production.

Elvis' career spanned so many years and produced so many records (many of them thinly-veiled regurgitations as a way for record companies to make money), that one can be easily overwhelmed by where to start. The easy answer: start where it all began. It's safe to say that Elvis never again topped these flagship sessions at Sun. The spontaneity, the joy, the palpable thrill of doing something that had never been done before: nothing beats it.

The year in song reflected the state of the world around us. Here are the 70 songs that spoke to us this year.

70. The Horrors - "Machine"

On their fifth album V, the Horrors expand on the bright, psychedelic territory they explored with Luminous, anchoring the ten new tracks with retro synths and guitar fuzz freakouts. "Machine" is the delicious outlier and the most vitriolic cut on the record, with Faris Badwan belting out accusations to the song's subject, who may even be us. The concept of alienation is nothing new, but here the Brits incorporate a beautiful metaphor of an insect trapped in amber as an illustration of the human caught within modernity. Whether our trappings are technological, psychological, or something else entirely makes the statement all the more chilling. - Tristan Kneschke

Keep reading... Show less

Electronic music is one of the broadest-reaching genres by design, and 2017 highlights that as well as any other year on record. These are the 20 best albums.


20. Vitalic - Voyager (Citizen)

Pascal Arbez-Nicolas (a.k.a. Vitalic) made waves in the French Touch electro-house scene with his 2005 debut, OK Cowboy, which had a hard-hitting maximalist sound, but several albums later, Voyager finds him launching into realms beyond at his own speed. The quirky, wallflower vocals and guitar snippets employed throughout Voyager drop a funk that brings to mind WhoMadeWho or Matthew Dear if they had disco-pop injected between their toes. "Levitation" is as pure a slice of dance floor motivation as theoretically possible, a sci-fi gunfight with a cracking house beat sure to please his oldest fans, yet the album-as-form is equally effective in its more contemplative moments, like when Miss Kitten's vocals bring an ethereal dispassion to "Hans Is Driving" to balance out its somber vocoder or the heartfelt cover of "Don't Leave Me Now" by Supertramp. Voyager may infect you with a futuristic form of Saturday Night Fever, but afterwards, it gives you a hearty dose of aural acetaminophen to break it. - Alan Ranta



19. Antwood: Sponsored Content (Planet Mu)

Sponsored Content is a noisy, chaotic, occasionally beautiful work with a dark sense of humor that's frequently deployed to get Antwood's point across. For instance, throughout the aforementioned "Disable Ad Blocker", which sounds mostly like the creepy side of Tangerine Dream's early '80s experimental output, distorted slogans and recognizable themes worm their way into the mix. "I'm Loving It", we hear at one point, the Sony PlayStation startup music at another. And then there's a ten-second clip of what sounds like someone getting killed in a horror movie. What is there to make of the coexistence of those sorts of samples? Probably nothing explicit, just the uneasiness of benign and instantly-recognizable brand content in the midst of harsh, difficult art. Perhaps quality must to some extent be tied to sponsorship. That Antwood can make this point amidst blasts and washes of experimental electronic mayhem is quite the achievement. - Mike Schiller



18. Bonobo - Migration (Ninja Tune)

Although Bonobo, a.k.a. Simon Green, has been vocal in the past about not making personality driven music, Migration is, in many respects, a classic sounding Bonobo record. Green continues to build sonic collages out of chirping synths, jazz-influenced drums, sweeping strings and light touches of piano but on Migration sounds more confident than ever. He has an ability to tap into the emotions like few others such as on the gorgeous "Break Apart" and the more percussive "Surface". However, Bonobo also works to broaden his sound. The electro-classical instrumental "Second Sun" floats along wistfully, sounding like it could have fit snugly onto a Erased Tapes compilation, while the precise and intricate "Grains" shows the more intimate and reflective side of his work. On the flipside, the higher tempo, beat driven tracks such as "Outlier" and "Kerala" perfectly exhibit his understanding of what works on the dance floor while on "Bambro Koyo Ganda" he even weaves North African rhythms into the fabric. Migration is a multifaceted album full of personality and all the better for it. - Paul Carr


17. Kiasmos - Blurred EP (Erased Tapes)

The Icelandic duo of Olafur Arnalds and Janus Rasmussen, aka Kiasmos, is a perfect example of a pair of artists coming from two very different musical backgrounds, finding an unmistakable common ground to create something genuinely distinctive. Arnalds, more known for his minimal piano and string work, and Rasmussen, approaching from a more electropop direction, have successfully explored the middle ground between their different musical approaches and in doing so crafted affecting minimalist electronic music. Blurred is one of the most emotionally engaging electronic releases of the year. The duo is working from a refined and bright sonic palette as they consummately layer fine, measured sounds together. It is an intricate yet unforced and natural sounding set of songs with every song allowed room to bloom gradually. - Paul Carr



16. Ellen Allien - Nost (BPitch Control)

BPitch boss and longtime lynchpin of the DJ scene in Berlin, Ellen Allien's seven full-length releases show an artist constantly reinventing herself. Case in point, her 2013 offering, LISm, was a largely beat-less ambient work designed to accompany an artsy dance piece, while its follow-up, 2017's Nost, is a hardcore techno journey, spiritually born in the nightclubs and warehouses of the early '90s. It boasts nine straight techno bangers, beautifully minimalist arrangements with haunting vocals snippets and ever propulsive beats, all of which harken back to a hallowed, golden, mostly-imagined age when electronic music was still very much underground, and seemingly anything was possible. - Alan Ranta

It's just past noon on a Tuesday, somewhere in Massachusetts and Eric Earley sounds tired.

Since 2003, Earley's band, Blitzen Trapper, have combined folk, rock and whatever else is lying around to create music that manages to be both enigmatic and accessible. Since their breakthrough album Furr released in 2008 on Sub Pop, the band has achieved critical acclaim and moderate success, but they're still some distance away from enjoying the champagne lifestyle.

Keep reading... Show less

Aaron Sorkin's real-life twister about Molly Bloom, an Olympic skier turned high-stakes poker wrangler, is scorchingly fun but never takes its heroine as seriously as the men.

Chances are, we will never see a heartwarming Aaron Sorkin movie about somebody with a learning disability or severe handicap they had to overcome. This is for the best. The most caffeinated major American screenwriter, Sorkin only seems to find his voice when inhabiting a frantically energetic persona whose thoughts outrun their ability to verbalize and emote them. The start of his latest movie, Molly's Game, is so resolutely Sorkin-esque that it's almost a self-parody. Only this time, like most of his better work, it's based on a true story.

Keep reading... Show less
7

There's something characteristically English about the Royal Society, whereby strangers gather under the aegis of some shared interest to read, study, and form friendships and in which they are implicitly agreed to exist insulated and apart from political differences.

There is an amusing detail in The Curious World of Samuel Pepys and John Evelyn that is emblematic of the kind of intellectual passions that animated the educated elite of late 17th-century England. We learn that Henry Oldenburg, the first secretary of the Royal Society, had for many years carried on a bitter dispute with Robert Hooke, one of the great polymaths of the era whose name still appears to students of physics and biology. Was the root of their quarrel a personality clash, was it over money or property, over love, ego, values? Something simple and recognizable? The precise source of their conflict was none of the above exactly but is nevertheless revealing of a specific early modern English context: They were in dispute, Margaret Willes writes, "over the development of the balance-spring regulator watch mechanism."

Keep reading... Show less
8
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image