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Boy from Tupelo
Review by Frankie Hagan

It must have seemed like such a small thing, then: a young boy arriving at 706 Union Avenue in Memphis in 1953. He paid $3.98 to make a “custom record” and, as a special bonus, change the course of music history. That young man was Elvis Presley, and his impact on popular culture has spanned half a century. To coincide with the 50th anniversary of the recording of Elvis’ first single, “That’s All Right”–a moment some music historians refer to as the birth of Rock ‘n’ Roll–HEAR Music and BMG Special Products have released 15 Elvis classics on Boy From Tupelo.

It would be difficult for any Elvis collection to follow the recent #1 and #2 Hits albums, which included two “new releases” that achieved additional posthumous success for the King. But this compilation wants to make a different statement, about how the music itself was something special. Boy From Tupelo represents the talent and innovation that made Elvis go from being a white trash kid cutting a record for his mama to the biggest thing 20th century music would ever see. The tracks presented on this collection–in particular “That’s All Right,” “Blue Moon of Kentucky” and “Lawdy Miss Clawdy”–are about the synergy of styles that Elvis created by merging Country Western and the so called “black” music he knew so well from his roots. His was a new sound that would be the forerunner and champion for Rockabilly and Rock ‘n’ Roll.

The excitement of “Blue Suede Shoes” and “Good Rockin’ Tonight” seems obvious today, but it’s amusing to consider that at their recording, the sound Elvis was making defied classification. These songs and other standouts, like “Baby Let’s Play House” and “So Glad You’re Mine,” demanded more than the simple words a review might offer in praise or criticism, and are just as engaging today.

The music on Tupelo would be a credit to itself, even without the 20-page booklet of liner notes and early Elvis pictures. Suffice it to say, this may not be the flashiest of collections, with the largest array of hits, but it is easily one of the most significant. In a world where shows like American Idol manufacture stars in front of millions of people in their living rooms, it is important to reflect on the raw conditions that created one of the brightest stars of them all. Elvis’ humble beginnings and enduring legacy give credence to the adage that kings are born, not made.

 

Can’t get enough of the King? Click here to read Will “the Thrill” Viharo’s reviews of two new Elvis releases on DVD.

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