Elvis Presley’s “The Sun Sessions” Reviewed
The Sun Sessions is a compilation album superseded in time, a 16 song run through Elvis Presley’s start at Sun and an absolute masterpiece and the last word until the 19 song 2004 Elvis At Sun (hi “Harbor Lights”), and both beaten like the New York Giants on any given Sunday by A Boy From Tupelo, the eight hours every extant recording plus some live stuff from earlier this year.
That was now but this is then and then was, March 1976, seventeen months before Presley died, we were back at rock and roll ground zero. I was born the year of Presley’s first hit, 1956, so I am not precisely a contemporary. But I lived in a house filled with Presley, and I clearly remember being smuggled into “Jailhouse Rock” by my big sister (age restriction), I remember the family going together to “Blue Hawaii,” I remember the constant Presley greatest hits, but what I didn’t know, didn’t have any real clue about was, Sun Records, RCA, Records, I didn’t understand how it all came about, till well after the fact. So much so that at the age of nineteen, while recognizing just about everything on The Sun Sessions, I didn’t know they were the Sun sessions: as a slow to grasp it all teen, I saw no real distance between “Almost Always True” and “Milkcow Blues Boogie,” or even “You’re A Heartbreaker”. So listening to those sixteen tracks in succession was an astonishing experience. It was a monumental mindfuck that put Presley back among the greats.
From country to blues, to the meet and match of the two, to pure pop for now people, to standing room only sex, to homicide, to regret, neglect, heart breaker, and true love, and everything in between, it was a return to the fire that grabs all rock and roll fans. This was what it was all about and this set me up for the nascent punk scene (“Anarchy In The UK” was months away). I was studying at Stockport College, drinking and drugging religiously, but I didn’t have the handle on popular music I would have soon, that punk would give me.
When people ask me when I grew up, when I became who I am, I always point not to civil wars, or deaths, rejection, loneliness, the horrors of my twenties, I point to punk: I grew up with punk, but I was readied for punk by Presley’s Sun sessions; like punk, I’d known it without knowing it, it played in the back of my brain that looped into my baffling love of Hank Williams (I was fanatical at the age of twelve) and my love of Motown, Sax, the Sound Of Philly: where did it all come from? It came from listening to Presley at an age so young I didn’t even know I was listening. And then, when The Sun Sessions was released, it clicked, not with foresight, but a retrieval of something incredibly important that I had misplaced.
If you’re keeping track at home, this is album #62. Perhaps the single most important purchase of my life. Whatever sort of man I am, I trace to this moment: