Captivating collection of the man who would be King
Elvis Presley’s career has been exhaustively analysed and documented over the years with more compilations and comprehensive box sets that one has to wonder whether the King of Rock ‘n’ Roll ever managed to sleep. Such is the sheer wealth of music he recorded that it would probably take at least another three lifetimes just to absorb it all.
Released to coincide with the 40th anniversary of Presley’s death, A Boy From Tupelo preserves every known live and studio recording Elvis made between 1953 and 1955 over 3CDs. While much of the material of this period has already been available for a few decades or more, never before has an attempt been made to chronicle the man’s early years in such meticulous and chronological detail.
The set logically begins with Presley’s earliest recordings, otherwise known as the Memphis Recording Service Acetates. These four tracks date from July 1953 to January 1954, when Elvis was still in his teens, awkward and unsure of himself. But soon that was about to change, when in July 1954, Elvis, Scotty Moore and Bill Black cut a version of Arthur Crudup’s “That’s All Right.” It was a song that would alter Elvis’ whole future, and many other teenagers too for that matter.
Disc one covers both the original Sun Masters and RCA Masters, representing a total of 27 tracks in all (including the aforementioned acetates), so no surprises there (with the exception of an unprocessed master edit of ballad “I Love You Because”). Disc two consists of every surviving outtake captured at Sun Studios, while the third CD chronicles the rising star’s relatively humble (though no less riveting) live and radio performances, half of which are previously unreleased.
I have already written about most of these tracks before, namely The Complete Sun Sessions and his shows at the Louisiana Hayride (all of which are naturally featured here), so I shan’t go into specifics, except to say that when the decision was made to issue 8 takes of “Harbor Lights,” 8 takes of “When It Rains It Pours,” and a whopping 9 takes of “Blue Moon,” you know that Tupelo is aimed squarely at more than just the casual listener. Yet such is the historical importance of these sessions, whether it be a tiny snippet of dialogue, or an incomplete song fragment, means that practically everything on this release comes across as priceless. In fact, the only real surprise is that so much of it exists at all.
The sound quality of these vintage recordings is superb. Clearly a lot of care and attention has been placed into the fidelity side of things. Nor will the box set you back to the extent that you’ll be living off bread and water for a whole week. Packaged with a sumptuous 120-page book, featuring rare images, liner-notes and even memorabilia, A Boy From Tupelo is likely to remain the definitive collection of his Sun-related tenure for many years to come.