Home Read Classic Album Reviews: Elvis Presley | Elvis at Sun / ’68 Comeback...

Classic Album Reviews: Elvis Presley | Elvis at Sun / ’68 Comeback Special: Deluxe Edition DVD / Aloha From Hawaii: Deluxe Edition DVD

Gaze upon (or at least listen to) the three faces of E with these new retrospectives.

These came out in 2004 – or at least that’s when I got themt. Here’s what I said about them back then (with some minor editing):


Half a century ago this week, a teenage truck driver with long sideburns and a curled lip walked into a recording studio, cut a handful of songs — and changed the world forever.

That kid, of course, was Elvis Presley. The studio was Sam PhillipsMemphis Recording Service, home of Sun Records. And the song that made history was Arthur Crudup’s That’s All Right, an old blues number that Presley, guitarist Scotty Moore and bassist Bill Black spontaneously recast into 117 seconds of unbridled excitement and raw energy unlike anything heard before.

Some pundits say this was the moment rock ’n’ roll was born. And maybe they’re right. Either way, what happened at 706 Union Ave. on July 5, 1954, was undeniably the start of something big. So it only seems right that to mark the golden anniversary of that moment of divine inspiration, Presley’s longtime label RCA has dug through the vaults and unearthed treasures fit for The King. Or for any of his loyal subjects — no matter which incarnation of His Elvisness they prefer.

The ’50s Elvis

If you want to take it from the top, there’s the CD Elvis at Sun, the latest collection of Presley’s electrifying early sides. Along with That’s All Right and the equally feisty B-side Blue Moon of Kentucky, this 19-track compilation includes other rockabilly essentials like Good Rockin’ Tonight, Baby Let’s Play House, Just Because, Milkcow Blues Boogie and the immortal Mystery Train. Sure, unless you’re a musical illiterate, you’ve heard most of it before. And no, it’s not quite a definitive collection, since only a couple of alternate takes are included. But Elvis at Sun is still a nice little package — the pictures are decent, the liner notes are informative and the tunes are sequenced in chronological order to create something of a musical narrative. More to the point: If you don’t have these tunes, your CD collection is woefully incomplete.

The ’60s Elvis

Incomplete is not the word to describe the ’68 Comeback Special Deluxe Edition DVD set. Exhaustive is more like it. Or perhaps exhausting. This three-disc box easily lives up to its deluxe claim with more than seven hours — yes, seven hours — of fare from Presley’s first live shows in seven years. First and foremost, naturally, you get the full version of the famous NBC-TV extravaganza. Here is E at the height of his powers, rocking out in that tight black-leather biker outfit and sitting down to jam on a tiny stage with old cronies like Moore and drummer D.J. Fontana. Then, as icing on the cake, you get a couple of hours of unused live footage, with plenty of cuts — like raucous versions of That’s All Right and Tiger Man — that outshine stuff that made it to air. If the DVD stopped there, it would be perfect. Regrettably, it goes on to include more than three hours of leftovers, flubbed takes and footage from cheeseball variety-show production numbers. OK, it’s comprehensive. But does anyone — even an Elvis fanatic — really covet endless dance-sequence retakes? No matter how you slice it, the ’68 Comeback Special shows you can have too much of a good thing.

The ’70s Elvis

Thankfully, the Aloha From Hawaii Deluxe Edition DVD is more restrained. Over the course of two discs and a comparatively compact four hours, it chronicles a 1973 Presley concert beamed by satellite to more than a billion viewers. Aside from the actual TV special, Aloha From Hawaii unearths 20 minutes of footage from Elvis’s arrival in Hawaii, a full rehearsal concert, a re-edited version of the show and extra songs that were taped later for the U.S. prime-time broadcast. Too bad Elvis himself is a touch past his prime. By ’73, the once-vital King had morphed into the glittery Vegas-style showman of his later years, complete with white jumpsuit, giant belt, American eagle cape, copious bling-bling, mutton-chop sideburns and karate kicks. So even though these performances rock for the most part — especially newer cuts like Suspicious Minds and Burning Love — it’s hard to shake the feeling you’re watching the first Elvis impersonator.