Aug. 16, marked the 35-year anniversary of Elvis Presley’s death. To mark this event AZCentral.com did a great post on his 10 essential recordings for Sun Records. Artickle Below:
To honor that occasion, here’s a look back at the birth of Elvis Presley’s legend — 10 essentials he recorded for Sun Records back before we even knew he was the King of Rock and Roll. He went on to greater success, of course, after signing to RCA Victor and topping the charts with his first major-label release, “Heartbreak Hotel.” But the songs he recorded for Sun in that first burst of creativity (from July 5, 1954-Nov. 20, 1955) have always held a special place in the hearts of diehard Elvis fans (and diehard fans of rock and roll in general).
1. “That’s All Right”
This is Elvis at ground zero, a youthful rockabilly reinvention of the blues song “That’s All Right” by Arthur “Big Boy” Crudup. It’s the sound Sam Phillips had been looking for when he brought Elvis into the Memphis Recording Service. Phillips ran the studio and Sun and is frequently quoted as having said, “If I could find a White man who had the Negro sound and the Negro feel, I could make a billion dollars.” Elvis was that White man, and he proved it on this uninhibited recording, captured after Elvis picked up an acoustic guitar and started messing with the song for kicks while on break at the end of a long, dissatisfying day of trying to get something special down on tape.
As Scotty Moore, the 22-year-old guitarist Phillips brought in for those sessions would recall much later in the liner notes to “Sunrise”: “All of a sudden, Elvis just started singing this song and acting the fool, and then Bill (Black) picked up his bass and he started acting the fool, too, and I started playing with them. Sam, I think had the door to the control booth open, and he stuck his head out and said, ‘What are you doing?’ And we said, ‘We don’t know.’ ‘Well, back up,’ he said, ‘try to find a place to start, and do it again.'”
2. “Baby, Let’s Play House”
I’m pretty sure the letter B was invented just so Elvis could one day work his magic on “Whoa baby, baby, baby, baby, baby (with a hiccup on that last one)/Baby, baby, baby, ba-ba-ba-ba-ba” in the opening moments of his classic take on Arther Gunter’s blues song. The rest of the record is also pretty brilliant, but that first line is where Elvis really grabs you by the collar on this rockabilly gem, which also features an amazing bassline by the great Bill Black. Years later, Elvis super-fan John Lennon borrowed the line, “I’d rather see you dead, little girl, than to be with another man,” for the Beatles’ song, “Run for Your Life.”
3. “Good Rockin’ Tonight”
You can almost see him raise the corner of his upper lip on certain key lines here (“There’s a-good a-rockin’ tonight,” in particular). And his phrasing is brilliant throughout, especially “I’m gonna hold my baby as tight as I can/Tonight, she’ll know I’m a mighty mighty man.” Scotty Moore’s guitar completes the magic on this classic remake of a Roy Brown jump blues tune.
4. “Blue Moon of Kentucky”
This was both the literal and figurative flip side of his first Sun single, “That’s All Right” — a bluesy reinvention of a downbeat bluegrass waltz by Bill Monroe. And much like “That’s All Right,” the decision to record it was spawned by someone just screwing around in the studio (this time Bill Black). As Scotty later recalled in the liner notes to “Sunrise,” “It just really flipped Sam — he felt it really had something. We just sort of shook our heads and said, ‘Well, that’s fine, but good God, they’ll run us out of town.'”
5. “Mystery Train”
Junior Parker wrote this as a blues, but Elvis made it one of rockabilly’s greatest hits, with a huge assist from Moore, who rarely sounded better. It’s a train song, as the title would suggest, although the word mystery never appears in the song (which is kind of mysterious). That long black train took his baby but it never will again, he vows, with attitude to spare. Elvis’ version cracked the Top 100 of Rolling Stone magazine’s 500 Greatest Songs of All Time list in 2003.
6. “Blue Moon”
This standard by Rodgers and Hart had been making the rounds since 1934. But nobody played it as haunting as Elvis, who actually sounds like he’s standing alone without a dream in his heart, without a love of his own in the opening verse. It’s when he hits you with his sweet, ethereal falsetto, though, that this goes from brilliant to classic.
7. “Trying to Get to You”
There’s a reason this became a staple of the Elvis repertoire, appearing on “Elvis” (an NBC special) and the live recordings, “Elvis: As Recorded Live on Stage in Memphis” and “Elvis in Concert.” Scotty Moore’s fluid guitar fills punctuating every line, Elvis turns in one of his most assured vocals at Sun, which is saying a lot. It’s a flawless performance, from the a cappella intro, to that first hiccup on the lyric “I’ve been runnin’ all the way,” to the way he pulls out of the more assertive bridge by stretching the word “thing” over several awe-inspiring syllables full of pathos and hiccups.
8. “Milk Cow Blues Boogie”
This is the one with the classic fake intro where they set the tone all slow and understated before Elvis stops the other guys with, “Hold it fellas. That don’t move me. Let’s get real, real gone for a change.” Then, they kick back in, and suddenly the song is full-tilt rockabilly with some nice falsetto touches from the King and one of rock’s great exhortations going into Scotty’s solo (“Ahh, let’s milk it!”).
9. “I’m Left, You’re Right, She’s Gone”
The title alone marks this one for a classic, and the music follows suit — a country-flavored rocker with a melancholy Elvis vocal that really works his lower register. It doesn’t rock as much as some of Presley’s other rockabilly sides, but Scotty Moore’s guitar is great, providing accents on the bridge after taking a more “That’s All Right” approach under the verses.
10. “When It Rains, It Really Pours”
This was the last song he ever recorded for Sun and it was never really finished, but the version captured on the two-disc Sun collection “Sunrise” is a playful hoot with a full two minutes of false starts, the first of which finds Presley breaking down in laughter on the chorus. It’s a great song, though, and when it’s on, it’s really on.