The skinny white boy from Tupelo's legendary first album...
Chris Jones 2007
The first rock album to top the American charts was never really designed as such. By 1955 Elvis was becoming hot property, hitting the road with Bill Black, Scotty Moore and DJ Fontana he was recording sparse sessions at Sun records while the major labels were sniffing around the sesnsation from Tupelo. By November of that year RCA finally paid the big bucks (35,000 dollars) and it was time to properly market the new sound of a white boy singing black music.
Rock ‘n’ Roll was still an untested quantity with the American heartland. Despite local hits for his Sun sides in various states, Elvis had yet to have a nationwide smash. Yet Steve Scholes of RCA knew that he had to strike while the iron was hot. Carl Perkins (whose “Blue Suede Shoes” get the Presley treatment here) was on the rise, as were a whole slew of kids who knew the time was right to popularise R ‘n’ B. With Elvis on the road it was difficult to get the band into the studio to record any material.
After only two sessions it was decided to use the unused Sun tracks bought along with Presley’s contract along with a fair selection of the newer RCA sides. To counteract the country/rockabilly flavour of the Sam Phillips’ sessions Scholes got presley to record harder rhythm and blues tracks including his own take on the incendiary “Tutti Frutti” by Little Richard as well as numbers like Ray Charles’ “I Got A Woman”. The personnel used on these tracks were the cream of RCA’s country players, including the legendary Chet Atkins on guitar.
Also recorded at these sessions was “Heartbreak Hotel”. Despite its legendary status it actually took several weeks to take off and was left off the album (it was added on later CD releases). But despite the oddly piecemeal construction of rock’s first album proper, every one of the twelve tracks remains an absolute classic. Filled with the young, raw energy that was to be so quickly erased from the King’s output following his stint in the army.
Even the cover, shot at a gig in Tampa the previous year, remains an iconic signifier for all that youthful rebellion that Western civilization holds so dear. Every (and I mean EVERY) home should own a copy.