Elvis Presley's first record producer and Sun
Records proprietor Sam Phillips once recalled the confusion within
the Memphis music biz over what the young, soon-to-be-superstar was
doing. "I recall one jockey telling me that Elvis Presley was so
country he shouldn't be played alter 5 AM," he explained. "And
others said he was too Black for them."
By the time Elvis reached RCA, that problem was solved, at least for
the programmers and pundits. What he created would hitherto be known
as rock and roll. But from his earliest days as a hit-maker, Elvis,
who some major-label types initially feared was just a hillbilly
novelty act, routinely climbed all three of the Billboard singles
charts, simultaneously scoring hits in pop, country and R&B. His
forays into gospel earned him three Grammy Awards (as well as a
posthumous induction into the Gospel Music Hall of Fame). This
versatility illustrates how much Elvis absorbed and retained of the
music that surrounded him growing up in Mississippi and Tennessee.
This collection focuses on material that can be loosely defined as
country, but these tracks owe a lot to Elvis' deeply rooted love for
gospel and his ease with R&B.
What defines these tunes as country is perhaps not the literal sound
so much as the sensibility. These are late-night laments, honky-tonk
tear jerkers, songs about breaking up, letting go, looking back,
moving on. They channel the melancholy of great country songwriting
into tracks that are inimitably Elvis - and that must be counted
among his most poignant. Elvis remains a larger-than-life figure
with his big voice and his big productions, yet his choice of
material brings him compellingly down to earth. Listen to these
songs with the benefit of hindsight and you can sense the hurt and
disappointment that may have lurked behind the famous facade: the
after-effects of marital troubles, the alone-in-a-crowd isolation,
the mid-life realization everybody has that time indeed is slipping
away. Even "Snowbird," Anne Murray's easy-listening hit, takes on a
serious emotional lieft in Elvis' hands.
Kris Kristofferson's "For The Good Times," about a couple left with
only fond memories of better days, is full of understated heartbreak.
"Kentucky Rain," co-written by one-time country star Eddie Rabbitt,
is more grandly dramatic, unfolding like a wide-screen movie right
before your ears. Taken from the legendary sessions at American
Studios in Memphis that also yielded "Suspicious Minds" and "In The
Ghetto," "Kentucky Rain" combines late-Sixties Southern soul with a
sophisticated, orchestral arrangement that could have come from Burt
Bacharach and Hal David. lt would be a memorable song in any context,
but here it proves that we're not dealing with any ordinary idea of
what constitutes country music.
This is a country sound belonging to Elvis alone, often recorded in
Nashville but always coming straight from the heart. (from the liner notes)