There’s a riot goin’ on! 1956 style
These days Elvis Presley is best remembered by young people as that overweight weirdo who wore jumpsuits and sang ballads to suburban house wives in Las Vegas – not to mention all those movies he was forced to appear in throughout the 1960s. By the time of his death in 1977, Elvis had seen his Faustian bargain come full circle. And if there’s one thing that any great artist fears more than death itself, it’s mediocrity, which in the end is perhaps what killed him ultimately, despite many shining moments to the contrary. We’ll probably never know.
But let’s go back to a period when a handsome young truck driver from Tupelo, Mississippi walked into a recording studio in Memphis and almost single-handedly changed the course of a whole generation.
Elvis Presley’s debut album on RCA in 1956 is unquestionably one of the most influential records ever released. Love him or loath him, such was the man’s impact on teenage culture at the time, girls would line up for hours just to a get a glimpse of their idol. Even the LP’s cover is iconic, and a clever form of marketing, no doubt, one which sees the singer in full flight on stage, holding his guitar like some dangerous weapon beckoning his disciples to take up guitars of their own and bring down the establishment (a similar design would be adopted by The Clash more than twenty years later).
From now on the post-war parents of the Eisenhower era would have a new threat to contend with, something far worse than commies under the bed; and that was Elvis Presley in your daughter’s bedroom.
“Blue Suede Shoes,” penned by Carl Perkins, is the energetic opener, kick-starting what had been a pretty dull decade so far, where Elvis breathes new life and urgency into what was originally a rather inoffensive country tune. “Counting on You” unveils his more musically conservative side. “I Got A Woman,” a Ray Charles song, swings in a white kind of way, and proves that the future King had been listening to more than just Dean Martin and Bing Crosby.
“One Sided Love Affair” might sound dated, but Elvis delivers a convincing vocal, a sign of things to come (whether for better or worse). “I Love You Because” was recorded in 1955 in Sam Phillips’ Sun Studios, and seems a bit out of place on here, likewise “Just Because”, another Sun recording, yet remains a prime example of a singer searching for his own unique voice.
Side two begins with “Tutti Frutti”, a song originally done by Little Richard, a sort of black Liberace, and whose title was apparently a term for gay relations (who says that the 1950’s were straight). And although not as wild and raucous, Presley stills manages to deliver a performance strong enough to excite any young teenager of the time to rip off their pedal pushers and swing around the linoleum dance floor.
The next few songs were also recorded at Sun, and reveal Elvis’s more tender side (no doubt just what RCA would have wanted), and so are otherwise forgettable from a male point of view, with the exception of “Blue Moon”, one of Elvis’s earliest recordings, whose primitive technique only adds to the song’s overall atmosphere.
When this album was first released, no-one could have foreseen the hurricane that was soon to sweep up the youth of America. For by the time Elvis Presley arrived on the scene, nothing would ever be the same again.