Elvis Presley – From Elvis In Memphis (Legacy Edition) [reissue]

January 01, 1970

(RCA/Legacy)

 

 

www.legacyrecordings.com


 

1969
is weighing heavily on the pop-culture nostalgist’s brain this summer. Between
anniversaries of the moon landing, Woodstock,
the Manson family murders and the Stonewall riots, the year is being rightfully
acknowledged as a watershed. In all of these discussions though, nobody’s
talking about Elvis. Long seen as more of an icon of the ’50s, Elvis’ impact
was still enormous throughout the 1960s, and 1969 was the pinnacle of Presley’s
late-decade reinvention. The cheesy B-movie roles were still coming, but Elvis
had again turned his focus onto making quality music. Beginning with the
stripped-down and soulful ’68 Comeback
Special,
Presley became intent on presenting himself as a credible pop
singer; although he certainly knew that he was in no position to challenge the
counterculture’s dominant grip on the zeitgeist, he also knew that he was far
and away more relevant than the AM-radio schlock with which he had become
associated.

 

 

The
culmination of that reinvention is the utterly confident and musically solid From Elvis In Memphis, which marked the
first time that Presley had laid down tracks in Memphis since his mid-’50s Sun Studios days.
Remarkably, the sessions didn’t see Elvis trying to fool his audience into
thinking he was that same vivacious young troublemaker, but instead he created
a clutch of skillful and stylized songs that were both age-appropriate and
light years beyond the syrupy schmaltz most people expected of him. By
recording at ex-Stax producer Chips Moman’s American Sound Studios (the same
locale where Dusty Springfield laid down Dusty
In Memphis
), Presley was able to tap into just enough gut-bucket soul to
remind him of where he came from, and the tracks on From Elvis In Memphis find Elvis doing what he does best:
incorporating elements of the music that appealed to him on a visceral level –
soul, gospel, country – and reconfiguring them into a contemporary format. The
result is one of the best studio albums Elvis ever recorded.

 

 

To
be sure, there’s not the level of raw energy and visceral looseness that marked
his early Sun material or his legendary RCA debut album, but Elvis’ voice is in
top form here, reminding even the most casual listener of just how powerful
that voice really was. The arrangements are, appropriately enough, remarkably
spare; while one will hear string swells, horn stabs and background choirs,
they’re kept to an elegant minimum, allowing Presley’s voice to handle the
emotional heavy-lifting. Moman’s decision to let this be an “Elvis
album,” rather than an “Elvis sings soul/country/whatever
standards” album was incredibly wise, and that muddle of ingredients laid
the foundation for such classics as “In the Ghetto,” “Long Black
Limousine” and, of course, “Suspicious Minds.”

 

 

Originally,
the Memphis sessions were parceled out on different releases throughout 1969;
the original Elvis in Memphis only
included the first dozen cuts; this reissue packages together those, along with
the Back in Memphis album (which,
itself, was part of the From Memphis to
Vegas/From Vegas to Memphis
two-fer), and a handful of singles that were
released throughout the year. Compiled together, the 36 tracks work amazingly
well as a consistent album. While these incredible sessions are unlikely to be
treated as rock ‘n’ roll masterpieces along the lines of the Beatles’ and
Stones’ late ’60s work – after all, 1969 was also the year that Presley began
his first Vegas residency – they certainly deserve to be. Not because Elvis is
and was a legend, but because when forced to decide between bubblegum pop,
adult-contemporary snooze and ill-fitting youth revolution, Presley instead
struck out on a path that was uniquely his own, and created material that was
far stronger than it needed to be, and exponentially more interesting than the
majority of what it was surrounded by.

JASON
FERGUSON

 

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