his weekend, Elvis Aron Presley would have been 70 years old. Unfortunately he ate too many fool’s gold loaves, a 30cm-long bread roll stuffed full of bacon, peanut butter and strawberry jam containing a gut-busting 42,000 calories. He died on the toilet and gave birth to an industry that has taken tackiness and stupidity to new levels. Dumb rednecks cue up to gawp their way round Elvis’s old home and his daughter pretended to have sex with Michael Jackson. All around the world, from Las Vegas to Blackpool, middle-aged fools dress up in white jumpsuits and croon “Are You Lonesome Tonight?” before reading the latest theories about how their hero is living on an island with Princess Diana.
That’s how the average Stylus reader probably sees Elvis Presley. To our generation, his music has been buried under a landfill site’s worth of rumours and ridiculousness. The man who pretty much kick-started this whole rock’n’roll lark when he “stole black music so selfishly and used it to get (him)self wealthy”, has become a joke. In a world where Christina can get her flaps out without anyone raising an eyebrow, and in which a record called “Fuck It” can get to No.1, it’s almost impossible to imagine the moral panic caused by a young man thrusting his pelvis on television. It’s equally difficult for us to imagine how astonishing and exciting Elvis Presley’s music must have sounded to teenagers in the fifties. Without Elvis, we might all be listening to jazz or skiffle. Shudder. Because of this, Elvis is due respect and reappraisal, and as we’re about to be bombarded by three months’ worth of re-releases (between now and the end of April, Sony are re-releasing an Elvis single every week), now would be a good time for it.
Elvis Forever, which contains most of those re-released singles, is a double disc comprising the No 1s and 2nd To None albums in a slipcase. 61 tracks of The King, from “Heartbreak Hotel” to “I’m a Roustabout”. As bodies of work go, it’s hard to beat, and even if you’ve never sat down and actively listened to an Elvis record you’ll know nearly every track here in the same way that everyone knows the Beatles’ catalogue.
So, when reviewing an album full of songs that everyone knows, what else can I do but pick out some personal favourites? “In the Ghetto,” even though Nick Cave tried to ruin it, still sends shivers through me every time, while “Hound Dog” is some of that raw, primal rock’n’roll—ooh, they don’t write ‘em like that any more. The songs that Elvis performs with the Jordanaires—who sound a lot better than they looked!—contains the very essence of American cool.
It’s not all brilliant, of course: the spoken bit in “Are You Lonesome Tonight?” sounds laughable today and “You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me” is cheesier than a meal at Chuck E Cheese. And, predictably, the dance mixes of “A Little Less Conversation” and “Rubberneckin” ruin the retro mood. It can also be said that 61 consecutive tracks of Elvis are a bit much for all but the most devoted fan.
Still, this is one of those albums where you don’t necessarily listen to the whole thing in a sitting. You just need to skip through to your favourites and croon along, while thinking about whether you’d look good with a quiff. And while you’re doing that, raise a glass of beer—or an enormous sandwich—to the memory of the man who helped make music what it is today.
Uh huh huh.
Reviewed by: Mark Edwards
Reviewed on: 2005-01-10