Elvis at Sun
The Big Bang
Nearly a year after he'd walked into Memphis Recording Service as a paying customer to cut "My Happiness" as a gift for his mother, eighteen-year-old Elvis Presley was summoned back to the studio. The honcho, Sam Phillips, had a new song his assistant thought would be right for "that boy with the sideburns."
Presley (1935–1977) didn't do much with the song, "Without You." But Phillips and guitarist Scotty Moore heard something in Presley and were intrigued enough to book another session, for July 5, 1954. That night they worked through many of the tunes Presley knew, mostly middle-of-the-road pop like "Harbor Lights." And then, according to legend, the young singer started riffing on Arthur Crudup's "That's All Right." It was late, but the sparks made Phillips sit up and listen. He encouraged Presley to do it again while the tape was rolling.
Nothing in American music was quite the same after that. The question of Presley's "poaching" of R&B and other African American styles is a real one, best left to the academics. But this much is beyond dispute: The kid with the sideburns understood—and respected—his source material. From the start, he connected the rhythmic gait of rock and roll directly to that of jump blues and R&B, and made the result sound like the most natural thing in the world.
For all the rebel lore that attached to Presley later, this album, along with his eponymous debut for RCA, amount to the big bang, the crucial brazen moment when the impulse to "rock" transcended notions of race, and style, and ownership. The Sun material has been reissued endlessly; Elvis at Sun is a sparkling, nicely remastered representation of the groundbreaking early Presley sides. Here you'll find not only "That's All Right" but its influential flip side, "Blue Moon of Kentucky," the signature Bill Monroe tune that Presley transforms into hellfire rockabilly. Also here is the iconic "Good Rockin' Tonight" and both fast and slow versions of "I'm Left, You're Right, She's Gone."
By November 1955, Presley had moved to RCA, bringing with him the mix of rockabilly, country, blues, and pop songs that would make him a legend. Elvis Presley has been augmented with extra tracks, but it's arguable whether any vault tidbit can improve on a set that includes "Blue Suede Shoes," "I Got a Woman," and "Money Honey."
Released: 2004, RCA
Key Tracks: "Harbor Lights," "That's All Right," "Good Rockin' Tonight."
Catalog Choice: Elvis Presley; Elvis
Next Stop: Various Artists: The Sun Story
Book Pages: 608–609