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Presley’s Jukebox: Bob Dylan, Bobby Darin, Rick Nelson, Jerry Butler Shine on “Elvis Heard Them Here First”

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Though Elvis Presley rose through the ranks of Sun Records alongside artists like Jerry Lee Lewis, Johnny Cash and Carl Perkins (his fellow members of the “Million Dollar Quartet,” if you will), Elvis and Jerry Lee differed from Johnny and Carl in that they primarily leaned upon the songs of others.  Cash and Perkins predated the pop-rock singer/songwriter revolution of the next decade, and in fact, harkened back to an older tradition in country and blues of performing your own material.

Yet by the time the King of Rock and Roll came out of the army, returned from Hollywood and reinvented himself on the concert stage, much had changed.  Armed with their guitars, Bob Dylan and The Beatles had proved that singers didn’t need a cadre of professional writers to craft their songs, whether from New York’s Brill Building or Nashville’s Music Row.  Soon, “singer/songwriter” would enter the lexicon, upping the emotional ante for these “confessional” writers.  “Covers” of existing hits were largely the province of adult-aimed “MOR” singers like Andy Williams and Johnny Mathis.  Where did this leave Elvis Presley?  Ace Records makes a compelling case with the new compilation Elvis Heard Them Here First that Presley simply continued to do what he had done all along: synthesize strains from a wide range of genres and songs into material that was always uniquely “Elvis.”

The 24-track compilation is based on Ace’s You Heard It Here First series, which presents original versions of songs made famous by other interpretive singers.  Producer Tony Rounce acknowledges in his introductory essay that the playing field was rather wide.  Even during those early Sun years, all but three of Elvis’ recordings on the label were of previously-performed songs.  Rather than limiting himself to one era, Rounce collects songs recorded by Elvis between his 1959 return from the Army and his death in 1977.  The disc avoids the overly familiar (Perkins’ “Blue Suede Shoes,” Big Mama Thornton’s “Hound Dog,” etc.) and offers up a fascinating journey through the records that just might have inspired Elvis to turn in some of his best vocals.

What songs will you hear?  Hit the jump! Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Joe Marchese

April 24, 2012 at 15:12