PopMatters is moving to WordPress in December. We will continue to publish on this site as we work on the move. We aim to make it a seamless experience for readers.

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.

Please Donate to Help Save PopMatters

PopMatters have been informed by our current technology provider that we have until December to move off their service. We are moving to WordPress and a new host, but we really need your help to fund the move and further development.


Music

Books

Film

Recent
Music

Jefferson Starship Soar Again with 'Mother of the Sun'

Rock goddess Cathy Richardson speaks out about honoring the legacy of Paul Kantner, songwriting with Grace Slick for the Jefferson Starship's new album, and rocking the vote to dump Trump.

Books

Black Diamond Queens: African American Women and Rock and Roll (excerpt)

Ikette Claudia Lennear, rumored to be the inspiration for Mick Jagger's "Brown Sugar", often felt disconnect between her identity as an African American woman and her engagement with rock. Enjoy this excerpt of cultural anthropologist Maureen Mahon's Black Diamond Queens, courtesy of Duke University Press.

Maureen Mahon
Music

Ane Brun's 'After the Great Storm' Features Some of Her Best Songs

The irresolution and unease that pervade Ane Brun's After the Great Storm perfectly mirror the anxiety and social isolation that have engulfed this post-pandemic era.

Music

'Long Hot Summers' Is a Lavish, Long-Overdue Boxed Set from the Style Council

Paul Weller's misunderstood, underappreciated '80s soul-pop outfit the Style Council are the subject of a multi-disc collection that's perfect for the uninitiated and a great nostalgia trip for those who heard it all the first time.

Music

ABBA's 'Super Trouper' at 40

ABBA's winning – if slightly uneven – seventh album Super Trouper is reissued on 45rpm vinyl for its birthday.

Music

The Mountain Goats Find New Sonic Inspiration on 'Getting Into Knives'

John Darnielle explores new sounds on his 19th studio album as the Mountain Goats—and creates his best record in years with Getting Into Knives.

Music

The 100 Best Albums of the 2000s: 60-41

PopMatters' coverage of the 2000s' best recordings continues with selections spanning Swedish progressive metal to minimalist electrosoul.

Books

Is Carl Neville's 'Eminent Domain' Worth the Effort?

In Carl Neville's latest novel, Eminent Domain, he creates complexities and then shatters them into tiny narrative bits arrayed along a non-linear timeline.

Film

Horrors in the Closet: Horrifying Heteronormative Scapegoating

The artificial connection between homosexuality and communism created the popular myth of evil and undetectable gay subversives living inside 1950s American society. Film both reflected and refracted the homophobia.

Music

Johnny Nash Refused to Remember His Place

Johnny Nash, part rock era crooner, part Motown, and part reggae, was too polite for the more militant wing of the Civil Rights movement, but he also suffered at the hands of a racist music industry that wouldn't market him as a Black heartthrob. Through it all he was himself, as he continuously refused to "remember his place".

Music

John Hollenbeck Completes a Trilogy with 'Songs You Like a Lot'

The third (and final?) collaboration between a brilliant jazz composer/arranger, the Frankfurt Radio Big Band, vocalists Kate McGarry and Theo Bleckman, and the post-1950 American pop song. So great that it shivers with joy.

Music

The Return of the Rentals After Six Years Away

The Rentals release a space-themed album, Q36, with one absolute gem of a song.

Music

Matthew Murphy's Post-Wombats Project Sounds a Lot Like the Wombats (And It's a Good Thing)

While UK anxiety-pop auteurs the Wombats are currently hibernating, frontman Matthew "Murph" Murphy goes it alone with a new band, a mess of deprecating new earworms, and revived energy.

Music

The 100 Best Albums of the 2000s: 80-61

In this next segment of PopMatters' look back on the music of the 2000s, we examine works by British electronic pioneers, Americana legends, and Armenian metal provocateurs.

Music

In the Tempest's Eye: An Interview with Surfer Blood

Surfer Blood's 2010 debut put them on the map, but their critical sizzle soon faded. After a 2017 comeback of sorts, the group's new record finds them expanding their sonic by revisiting their hometown with a surprising degree of reverence.

Music

Artemis Is the Latest Jazz Supergroup

A Blue Note supergroup happens to be made up of women, exclusively. Artemis is an inconsistent outing, but it dazzles just often enough.

Books

Horrors in the Closet: A Closet Full of Monsters

A closet full of monsters is a scary place where "straight people" can safely negotiate and articulate their fascination and/or dread of "difference" in sexuality.

Music

'Wildflowers & All the Rest' Is Tom Petty's Masterpiece

Wildflowers is a masterpiece because Tom Petty was a good enough songwriter by that point to communicate exactly what was on his mind in the most devastating way possible.


Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews



Features
Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.