This four-LP/CD set is nothing less than
essential, with just a couple of important caveats to consider,
mostly based on its age.
Released in 1980, Elvis Aron Presley - which is often referred to informally as "The Silver Box"
- was the
first attempt at a serious box set devoted to Elvis Presley. In
keeping with the many other "firsts" in his career, it was also the
first multi-LP/CD, career-wide survey on a rock & roll star's music,
concentrating on rarities and outtakes; in other words, totally
unknown territory for a major label.
To be sure, the original
eight-LP/CD box had its flaws - including awkward and shoddy
construction - and somewhat indifferent sound by today's standards,
but it did offer a treasure-trove of essential Elvis Presley sides
that had never shown up legitimately before.
The set opens with its
strongest sides: the live performances from the Venus Room of the
New Frontier Hotel in Las Vegas in the spring of 1956, and the
King's March 25, 1961 benefit performance from the Bloch Arena in
Honolulu, Hawaii. For all of the seeming indifference of the crowd
at the Vegas appearance, these are first-rate live rock & roll
performances and are also as good a cross-section of his work as you
could get, pared down to four tracks: "Heartbreak Hotel," "Long Tall
Sally," "Blue Suede Shoes," and "Money Honey."
The Honolulu benefit
appeared on vinyl bootlegs during the '70s, but never sounded this
good - there are still a few momentary drop-outs, and the noise of
the screaming girls on the first numbers does suppress the music
slightly (if George Martin could have heard this tape, it would have
warned him of what he was in for in trying to record the Beatles in
concert). But this is also about as idealized an early Elvis Presley
live performance as we're ever likely to hear, as he was backed not
only by Scotty Moore and D.J. Fontana, but also by Hank "Sugarfoot"
Garland, Floyd Cramer, and Boots RandoLP/CDh, which essentially
means the best of his live band and his studio group combined.
Elvis is remarkably relaxed here, joking with the crowd
as he ranges across his entire career up to that point, from "That's
All Right" to "It's Now or Never." The combination of the inevitable
sound leakages, a few flubbed lines (on "One Night"), and Col. Tom
Parker's neglect of the musical side of Elvis' career precluded this
show - Elvis' last before a paying audience until 1969 - from ever
being released on its own, but by itself, it's worth a good deal. It
also makes for a fascinating snapshot of the King as he was
metamorphosing musically from the young, lean, raw rock & roller
into a mature, sophisticated (and genuinely great) singer.
second LP/CD doesn't fare quite so well, its highlight being a
series of ten delightful outtakes of various movie songs (some of
them not always very good) and what were then previously unreleased
excerpts from the TV specials from 1968, 1973, and 1977.
The third-LP/CD outtakes from his live, late-'60s Las Vegas shows, and
the "Lost Singles" selection, were useful for gathering together
nine '70s-era 45s that were out of print and not anthologized on
extant albums at the time - much more valuable is "Elvis at the
Piano," depicting the King working through four numbers on his own,
including the unedited version of the 1973 single "It's Still Here."
The fourth LP/CD contains representative excerpts from a June 1975
Dallas, Texas show. This is an extremely enjoyable compilation with
at least 20 tracks that are an essential part of any serious
collection of Elvis' music. ( AllMusic Review by Bruce Eder