A journey through Elvis Presley’s back catlogue is one long walk through a minefield of bad albums. In addition to his nearly unlistenable musical soundtracks from the 60’s and hit-or-mostly-miss string of 70’s albums, he is perhaps the most over-anthologized artist in the history of music. All of this makes selecting an Elvis record at best a crap shoot. Here are ten Elvis records that any fan of music can own and enjoy without shame:
Elvis Presley (1956)
This is where the legend began. Elvis’ first album for RCA provided ample evidence of his greatness. ‘Blue Suede Shoes’ and ‘Blue Moon’ are among his finest moments, and of course, the lettering on the front eventually inspired the cover of The Clash’s London Calling.
Every facet of Elvis’ influences are on display here – from Gospel to R&B to Pop to Country. But it’s all Elvis – confident, playful, but masterly. Tracks like ‘Rip It Up’, ‘Love Me’ and ‘Paralyzed’ are as good as his best work but much less well known.
From Elvis In Memphis (1969)
A pure blue-eyed soul album before the phrase was coined, Elvis In Memphis has an authentic and heartfelt vibe that was sorely missing from much of his latter day work.
Elvis Country (I’m 10,000 Years Old) (1971)
The King goes back to his country roots, with surpisingly pleasing results. As allmusic.com explains, “He was cutting songs that he was either very impressed with at the moment or had loved for a lot of years, but they were all songs he cared about, which gives him a commanding and charismatic vocal presence.”
Aloha from Hawaii via Satellite (1972)
A strong representation of Elvis’ famous 70’s live show. A number of schmaltzy cover songs (‘Something’ ‘My Way’ ‘Steamroller Blues’) threaten to pull the proceedings down, but the opening sequence, including the 2001: A Space Odyssey theme, ‘See See Rider’, and ‘Burning Love’ more than make up for it. As the cover art says in so many languages, “Nous aimons Elvis.”
Having Fun With Elvis On Stage (1974)
This album of nothing but stage banter is a collectors-only kind of item, but it’s a doozy. An impossibly great talisman of how far the Elvis marketing machine had spread by the early 70’s – Col. Parker and Co. were packaging and selling his lame jokes for crying out loud. This one’s valuable for obvious reasons (ie, none were actually sold).
The Sun Sessions (1976)
The Rosetta Stone of Rock & Roll, this album is more than just a historical exercise. Rocking his way through a number of tracks that touch on all manner of influences, Elvis’ energy and enthusiasm will astound those only familiar with his later work. Mesmerizingly good.
Memories: The ’68 Comeback Special (1998)
Of this television special that virtually invented the concept of ‘comeback’, writer Jon Landau said “There is something magical in watching a man who had lost himself find his way home.” After eight years on the sidelines of serious music, Elvis showed that he still had it.
Today, Tomorrow & Forever (2002)
This four disc box set collected 100 rare and previously unreleased tracks to commemorate the 25th anniversary of Presley’s death. From his first studio recordings to his last sessions, this box has a little bit of everything and remains the definitive collection for the above-average fan.
Elv1s: 30 #1 Hits (2002)
Finally collecting all of Elvis’ #1’s in one place, this welcome compilation had an added bonus: the JXL remix of ‘A Little Less Conversation’ went to #1 itself in 20 countries and proved that Elvis’ voice and energy remain utterly contemporary.