In 1956, American television audiences were introduced to Elvis Presley for the first time. Although many believe his first television appearance was on the Ed Sullivan Show, he actually appeared two months earlier on the competing Steve Allen Show, as well as previous stints on Milton Berle and Tommy and Jimmy Dorsey’s Stage Show. None of these hosts knew what to do with Elvis. They weren’t that impressed with his talent or his taste in music, and they were certainly not enamored with his style of performance. All of that aside, they recognized ratings gold when they saw it and negotiated in earnest with Colonel Tom Parker for a piece of the Elvis Presley money pie.
As a national sensation, Elvis was following the release of his first full length album, “Elvis Presley”, released in March of 1956. Rated as the #332 album on Rolling Stone’s Top 500 Greatest Album of All Time, this first professional release builds on the raw sound of the Sun Sessions material. I have mixed opinions on this album, even as a passionate Elvis fan since I began following his music and career in the early 1970s. The album kicks off with the instantly familiar sound of “Blue Suede Shoes”, and I will fully confess I was hoping for more of the classic Elvis hits I assumed would populate this debut. However, the rest of the album is a combination of less familiar tunes, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, and versions of songs that just don’t match up to their more famous renditions. As much as I love Elvis and prefer his take on “Blue Suede Shoes” versus the original recorded by Carl Perkins, his take on “Tutti Frutti” or “I Got A Woman” just fall flat next to Little Richard and Ray Charles. I am much more partial to his take on “Blue Moon”, a haunting vocal with alternating falsetto that contrasts and highlights the unbelievable vocal gifts Elvis possessed.
It is hard to process how Elvis transformed from a relatively unknown aspiring country singer to the face of the emerging sound of rock and roll, peaking as the most famous musical artist of the 20th century. Every stop on Elvis’s progression is worthy of study and consideration, and this debut is no exception. In my view, it provides the dynamic brilliance and moments of inconsistency that marked his entire career. It would have been fascinating to see Elvis emerge in a slightly different era when he could have had more artistic control over the songs and career choices he opted for, but no matter what, when I first hear “Well, it’s one for the money…”, I know I am listening to the King of Rock and Roll.