Essential New Music: Elvis Presley’s “Elvis Presley: The Album Collection”


I am not about to go down in history as the guy who had the hubris to give a 60-CD collection of Elvis Presley albums anything less than a perfect 10. That’s not to say that every album featured here (and every album is featured here) is a classic. Take, for example 1977’s dreary Moody Blue, which became a hit only because Presley died a month after its release. The bulk of The Album Collection, though, showcases not only the staggering amount of material that RCA was able to wring out for more than 20 years, but, as one of his huckster managers put it, the “business (and) artistic workings of the process known as Elvis Presley.”

Chronologically speaking, the broad-stroke trajectory of Elvis’ career—from upstart interpreter of “race records” to sequin-studded parody—is pretty well-documented. Despite his continuing influence and legacy, it’s surprising how much of Elvis’ material remains elusive to the casual listener. Scattered throughout this collection are various compilations of best-known and most popular cuts, many released while Elvis was in the Army. More than two dozen of Elvis’ movie soundtracks find the King taking slight genre detours, from Middle Eastern mystique (1965’s Harum Scarum) to countless visits to sunkissed Hawaii. Presley’s sporadic forays into gospel result in some of the most powerful albums of the set, especially 1960’s His Hand In Mine.

Before going full-blown jumpsuit, snatches of Southern soul and country keep his late-’60s and early-’70s output invigorated. Further discs of Sun Sessions outtakes and late-period rarities make this behemoth ideal for headstrong newcomers and obsessive completists alike.

—Eric Schuman