He genuinely was one of the greatest vocalists who ever drew breath.
Sean Egan 2010
This year marks what would have been Elvis Presley’s 75th birthday. Sony have responded with this career-spanning four-disc box set.
Running chronologically, the first track is My Happiness, a mother’s gift demo that legendarily caused Elvis to catch the ear of Sun Records’ Sam Phillips. A Little Less Conversation, the JXL re-mix/soup-up that gave Elvis a new millennium number one, is the inevitable closer. Inevitably, there will be quibbles about the inclusions – singles and album tracks – sandwiched between those cuts, starting with the fact that Sony have not included the other mother’s gift rendition, That's When Your Heartaches Begin. However, the impossibility of pleasing everybody is demonstrated by the fact that while this compilation contains a healthy 100 songs, Presley had a dozen more US top 40 hits than that number in his lifetime.
Whatever Presley’s artistic peaks and valleys, we are reminded herein that no sub-standard recording was ever employed as an Elvis 45: impeccably performed high-class cheese like Return to Sender and the inchoate but passionate patriotism of An American Trilogy are singles remembered barely less fondly than the slinky Heartbreak Hotel or the barnstorming Hound Dog. However, this set demonstrates that impressionistic memory misinforms us that Presley’s non-singles output was exclusively a story of precipitous decline, with album track gems from all periods, ranging from the sultry Reconsider Baby to the rootsily uptempo I Washed My Hands In Muddy Water. It confirms also that though he latterly opted for lazy cover versions, a bluesy strain is evident through all sections of Presley’s career, as are high production values.
Also consistent, of course, is The Voice. Presley was a non-songwriter who didn't even have free reign in what he could record. His singing was the one means by which he could provide an imprimatur to his output, and he did so triumphantly. Those rich, dark tones tackle the snottiness of Blue Suede Shoes, the sensuality of Stuck On You, the soaring supplication of How Great Thou Art and the epic compassion of If I Can Dream with equal ease.
Good Rockin’ Tonight – a knowledgably assembled set and a wonderful listening experience – confirms that Presley’s reputation rests not on a socio-political phenomenon status now receding into history, but the fact that he genuinely was one of the greatest vocalists who ever drew breath.