Before decadence and excess set in, Elvis Presley was among the key figures in 20th-century American music. He absorbed what many now call “roots” sounds — country (then often-referred to as “hillbilly”), gospel, blues, R&B, pop — and performed them singly and in combination, singing in a voice part Dean Martin, part Junior Parker, part humble country boy, part surly hick, gyrating like a man possessed. Chuck Berry and Carl Perkins established the syntax of rock ‘n’ roll, but Elvis was its voice. As hard as it may be to those born post-1970, but to many of the nation’s more conservative citizens (those ever-vigilant Watchdogs of Morality), Elvis was the Antichrist, a sign that hard-won post-WWII American decency (and mass conformity with it) was circling the drain.
It’s all here in Elvis 75 (he would’ve been that age in 2010 had he lived), a four-CD set that cherry-picks the best from his entire career: raw rockabilly (“Baby Let’s Play House”), swaggering rock ‘n’ roll, mini-operas (“It’s Now Or Never,” “In the Ghetto”), inspired silliness (“Viva Las Vegas”), and some of the most impassioned singing ever recorded (“Suspicious Minds,” “Reconsider Baby”). When no one was looking, he recorded tuff rockers (“Little Sister,” “The Promised Land”) that stand alongside the best of the Beatles, Creedence Clearwater Revival, and Dave Alvin. Iggy Pop and Jim Morrison wouldn’t have been possible without Elvis. True, he lost his way (the Orson Welles of pop?), but that happens sometimes. (Is there anyone out there truly going gaga over the Rolling Stones’ albums post-Steel Wheels or even post-Some Girls? Listened to Liz Phair or Johnny Rotten née Lydon lately?) The important thing is … aw, hell, sometimes words do get in the way. Brown-bag a few lunches and spend your cash on this disk instead — it could help you be a better person. (RCA Legacy)