Thursday, July 10, 2008
Elvis On Vinyl: The 1959 LPs
Typically ignored in serious discussion of Elvis Presley’s albums, the compilation LPs from 1959 For Lp Fans Only and A Date With Elvis are of importance due to the idea that they were designed to help keep Elvis’ music in the public eye during his stint in the Army, and for the fact that they are both solid if rather haphazard collections featuring an intriguing mixture of Sun and RCA recordings.
For LP Fans Only, the bigger hit of the two, hit stores in February of 59 and soon became a top twenty LP, a not at all a bad feat for a non best-of compilation LP. Made up of four Sun Tracks, a smattering of b-sides and oddly some tracks from his first LP, For LP Fans Only is a solid if inconsistent collection perhaps most noteworthy for giving the legendary “That’s All Right” its debut on an album.
The album does indeed kick start with the electrifying “That’s All Right” which is followed by the extraordinary early RCA cut “Lawdy Miss Claudy”. Another Sun track, the thrilling and haunting “Mystery Train” leads into the gorgeous “Playing For Keeps”, which had just missed the top twenty a few years before. Side one closes with a slight anomaly, Love Me Tender’s “Poor Boy”, a fun song but frankly out its league alongside the above giants.
Side Two is not as consistent but it does least open with the incredible “My Baby Left Me”. “I Was The One”, another solid hit from 56 follows before the side gives way to the frenetic “Shake Rattle and Roll”. The album closes with two more countrified Sun tracks, “I’m Left Your Right She’s Gone” and “You’re a Heartbreaker”, bringing the album to a bit of an anti-climatic end.
For LP Fans Only doesn’t have a bad moment on it but it isn’t very cohesive and finally feels more than a little undercooked. It would mark the beginning of a career that would see hundreds upon hundreds of similar collections released by RCA that continue to this day.
A Date With Elvis premiered in late July of 59 and it didn’t sell as well, even though at least visually it was a much more pleasing product. Featuring an iconic photo of Elvis in Uniform on the front cover, A Date With Elvis is a glorious looking album but is unfortunately a bit more hit and miss than For LP Fans Only.
Both Side A is made up of two Sun Tracks and three RCA tracks and it features two hit tracks from the still fairly fresh Jailhouse Rock EP, “Young and Beautiful” and “You’re So Square”. The remaining Sun sides are an odd grab bag of undeniable goodies, including the opener “Blue Moon Of Kentucky” and the closing tracks “Milkcow Blues Boogie” and “Baby Let’s Play House”. The smooth Jailhouse Rock cuts sound like they are from a different planet to the raw Sun cuts, which gives the side a disjointed feel at best.
Side B is equally strangely chosen with two Sun tracks this time, “Good Rockin Tonight” and “I Forgot To Remember To Forget”, opening and closing while another Jailhouse Rock tune (“I Want To Be Free”) and a Love Me Tender track (“We’re Gonna Move”) sit in the middle. Also included for good measure is the astounding “Is It So Strange”, a brilliant song that didn’t get enough credit then or now.
The odd thing about A Date With Elvis is that a slight mixing up of the track listing with the same songs could have been a much more rewarding listening experience. As it is though, it remains a disorganized but pleasing collection made up of some dynamic songs that don’t necessarily sit well together.
The two albums remain fascinating as portraits of how Elvis’ career was being handled and where it would lead to as far as compilations go and the idea of flooding the market often at the expense of the music.
Elvis next proper LP, marking his return from the Army, would be among the most masterful and smashing in his whole catalogue…a well thought out reaction to the fact that it would be the album and not the single that would come to dominate the sixties and beyond.