From Elvis in Memphis: 40th Anniversary Edition
Elvis Presley (RCA)
Everyone knows that Elvis Presley recorded the finest music of his life in 1954 and 1955 at Memphis' Sun Studio, under the direction of strong-willed producer Sam Phillips. It is not quite as universally understood that Presley recorded the second-best music of his life — sessions that produced hit singles "Suspicious Minds," "In the Ghetto," and "Kentucky Rain" — in early 1969 at Memphis' American Sound Studio, under the direction of strong-willed producer Chips Moman.
Those were the only two times in Presley's career he recorded studio material in his hometown, but the connection has much to do with having a producer with sharp taste who was willing to push him. As local writers Robert Gordon and Tara McAdams recount in the liner notes to the new From Elvis in Memphis: 40th Anniversary Edition, at the time, Elvis was surrounded by sycophants and handlers, but Moman and his "Memphis Boys" house band had been creating more hits than Presley. They weren't interested in coddling the returning King.
The music that emerged from these historic sessions was divided among the stellar 1969 album From Elvis in Memphis, one half of the later 1969 double album From Memphis to Vegas/From Vegas to Memphis (the studio portion reissued the next year under the title Back in Memphis), and a handful of singles, most notably the monumental "Suspicious Minds."
Various compilations over the years have collected Presley's American sessions in one place, but now this two-disc, 36-track set preserves the original track listings and artwork of both From Elvis in Memphis and Back in Memphis while adding singles and bonus tracks to the end of each disc.
Essentially a "return to roots" after a decade adrift in Hollywood and before his final Vegas voyage, the music Presley cut at American with Moman is rich in self-awareness, songs such as "Wearin' That Loved On Look" (opening line: "I had to leave town for a little while ..."), "Long Black Limousine," and "Stranger in My Own Hometown" all evoking Presley's homecoming.
All of this subtext wouldn't be as rewarding if the music weren't so fine. Presley's post-Sun pop had been glorious at times ("Don't Be Cruel" is as monumental as anything he recorded), but over time the diverse influences (blues, country, gospel, crooner pop) he'd helped fashion into rock-and-roll had become flattened, unrecognizable.
Here, with Moman, the music was bumpier. The edges were back. The funky house band was rooted in soul, country, and swamp rock, and with Presley they crafted a more dense, contemporary version of the Sun sound.