'Shake, Rattle and Blue Moon

The Formative Recordings of Elvis Presley 1953-1960'

By Alan R. Tranter

Book Review by Nigel Patterson, December 2023

Book Review   

Shake, Rattle and Blue Moon – The Formative Recordings of Elvis Presley 1953-1960

(Alan R. Tranter)  

Independently published, UK, 2022, Softcover/Digital – Kindle, 269 pages/254 digital print pages, Not illustrated, ISBN-13: 979-8363966613  

Reviewed by Nigel Patterson , December 2023

From the book description:

It is not a biography, it is more accurately a  chronicle of Elvis' growth; his visits to the  recording studio, his  first movies, his  record releases, his  influences, his  live performances, his  TV appearances, all of which paint a picture of the artist who became, and remained, King.

While releases including Elvis Presley: A Life in Music (Ernst Jorgensen and Peter Guralnick), Heartbreak Hotel – The Life and Music of Elvis Presley (Robert Matthew-Walker), and Reconsider Baby - Elvis Presley: A Listener’s Guide (Shane Brown), have been widely discussed, one excellent book that has slipped under the radar, is Alan Tranter's thoughtful examination of Elvis' Sun Studio and early RCA recordings, Shake, Rattle and Blue Moon – The Formative Recordings of Elvis Presley 1935-1960

Tranter's narrative is a balanced mix of contextual overview, music history, and “in the studio” recording analysis. His writing style is reminiscent of Robert Matthew-Walker (Heartbreak Hotel: The Life and Music of Elvis Presley, 1995) - the text flows easily and offers much to remind, inform, and to ponder, as the following excerpts suggest.

From September 10 to 12, 1954 Elvis was in the Sun Studio in Memphis:

Having found some of groove, Elvis, Scotty and Bill went directly into Just Because, a song recorded by Nelstone’s Hawaiians in 1928 or 1929 (Victor V-40273) which was a kind of Hillbilly jig with added Hawaiian Guitars, and then again by The Lone Star Cowboys in 1933, and as a weird Slovenian polka version which was a hit for Frankie Yankovic and His Yanks (Columbia 12359-F) in 1948……… It is difficult to say where Elvis picked up the song, but by all accounts 17 takes of the song were run through, though it is unclear which of these was the Master. Some slower takes were apparently recorded, one of which was marked on Tape Box 3, again as “NG” [Not Good], but all were rejected in favour of the now familiar version.

During Elvis’ contract with the Louisiana Hayride, Elvis sang a number of songs not usually associated with him. On March 5, 1955, he appeared at the Municipal Auditorium in Shreveport. Tranter comments:

The show featured a second, shorter version of Hearts of Stone (1:37), again very hissy and muffled, and still with a great deal of surface noise from the acetate.

Core to the narrative is the background to specific recordings - the level of detail provided by the author for many songs, and the context that Elvis recorded in, is impressive and often enlightening. For example:

One Night (Of Sin) (Dave Bartholomew & Pearl King) M Unknown (2:37) - Another oddity, as this was not known about or hinted at until its releases 26 years later on the 1983 LP, A Legendary Performer Volume 4. No paperwork exists, which suggests that this was not scheduled to be recorded, and was most probably something Elvis wanted to try out……..


I Believe was apparently written as a reaction to the Korean War and was essentially a song of hope. It was first performed by a singer called Jane Forman on her TV show and released as a single (Capitol F2332) in January 1953, when it reached #11. The bigger hit, however, was by Frankie Laine, whose version, released the same month, would sell a million (Columbia 4-39938), and would reach #2 in the US and #1 in the UK.

However impressive Elvis' cover, in terms of the session it was merely a warm-up, and could only echo the myriad versions of the song that had been recorded previously, and were still in the public consciousness. Take 9 was the Master, with Elvis' voice the strong lead in a heavily Jordanaires focused recording.

Regarding the recording of That’s When Your Heartaches Begin:

At the jam at Sun in December, Elvis commented that this song could be a big hit for somebody who did it right. Though Elvis does it right, it is probably not the hit single version he envisaged – it is though, eerie, dramatic and beautifully sung, a wonderful contrast with the thinner, younger voice of the Elvis that tackled the song in 1953……. It got lost as the flipside of All Shook Up, and though it would appear later on Elvis’ Golden Records, it might have shone brighter as a bonus track on the Loving You LP.

The master was long thought to be Take 7, but evidence points to it being spliced with Take 14, evidence that perfection took a little longer to achieve than first thought.

Tranter also appraises the reader of the technical elements of recording:

In 1957, two track Ampex Tape Machines were introduced at Radio Recorders as back-up, should any of the primary (mono) tape machines malfunction. When satisfactory Masters were obtained, the back-ups were marked for erasure in bright red ink and stored away.


Binaural as a way of recording Stereo sound images, is a process where two separate outputs are recorded onto different tracks and are then run together to form a more spatial sound when listened to on headphones.

It was not uncommon for echo to be added to Elvis’ recordings. In relation to Anyplace Is Paradise (recorded at Radio Recorders Studio 1 in Hollywood on September 2, 1956), the author notes:

…….there was often a tendency to apply echo for no apparent reason and ‘muddy’ the vocal, but the great swathe of echo applied to this track is nothing less than perfect. Like many of the Sun tracks and a number of tracks recorded this far for RCA, the overall sound is the overriding factor, and like Blue Moon, or Heartbreak Hotel, you can’t really imagine it any other way.

Elvis’ initial post Army recordings in 1960 are also covered in the book, with Tranter commenting:

When Elvis entered the studio, on March 20th, the #1 single on the US Hot 100 was Theme From A Summer Place by Percy Faith and his Orchestra, and this probably tells us all we need to know about how music had changed in the intervening two years. The song would remain there until April 25 th when Elvis’ first post-army single [Stuck On You] would sweep it aside like a cobweb.

The day before Elvis recorded Stuck On You, he tackled Soldier Boy:

Elvis obviously knew the tune, and had performed it at home in Germany, and may well have had it in mind to record since then. It is pretty much there at Take 1, with a slightly different ending that kind of hangs on the air, but very nice. They attempt a slightly quicker tempo from Take 8, but by Take 11 the original tempo is re-established. It actually fits very well, and snaps against the opening track, showcasing his baritone, making a five-year old song sound very contemporary, and, of course, topical.

At another point, the author insightfully observes:

It is interesting to note that Elvis would top and tail the decade with two of his greatest LPs, Elvis Is Back (1960) and From Elvis In Memphis (1969).

Punctuating discussion of Elvis’ live and studio recordings, Tranter addresses the role of Colonel Tom Parker (real name: Andreas Van Kuijk). About Colonel Parker's strategy when signing Elvis with RCA, the author comments:

One wonders if Van Kuijk had a cohesive plan at this point. The move to a major label was a beginning, a springboard of sorts, TV appearances would follow, and then the movies. There seemed to be momentum. The truth is that 'Parker' was selling Elvis as a commodity, primarily a visual one (he had no interest in the music), and, with no knowledge of when the bubble would burst, it can be argued that both RCA and Van Kuijk were in a rush to make as much money as possible before it faded. Van Kuijk had ditched both Eddy Arnold and Hank Snow with little thought of ethics or loyalty and would have done the same with Elvis if the money ran out.

Tranter goes on to criticise the Colonel for the arrangements he made to control the songs Elvis was presented to consider recording:

In 1956, the Aberbachs employed their cousin, Freddy Beinstock, to look after Elvis’ catalogue, and it was through him that all songs would need to pass. Beinstock would boast that Elvis never got to see an original song unless it went through him first, and therein was a problem of Van Kuijk’s making. The problem was not so apparent in the early years, but by the mid-60s, especially with the movie songs, often written to order and at short notice, it led to some startling inconsistency.

The book features an Appendix detailing 1940s & 1950s songs recorded by Elvis in the 60s and 70s, and a three-page Bibliography.

Shake, Rattle and Blue Moon is available in softcover and Kindle formats.

Verdict: Alan Tranter’s Shake, Rattle and Blue Moon – The Formative Recordings of Elvis Presley 1953-1960 has a fresh feel and is an informative and entertaining account of Elvis’ earliest recordings. It offers background to individual songs and takes you inside the studio as Elvis lays down each track. The book works well as a solid overview for new fans or as a refresher for longtime fans, with many pieces of information the reader may have forgotten or not have been aware of.


Click to comment on this Review

Book Review by Nigel Patterson.
-Copyright EIN December 2023
EIN Website content © Copyright the Elvis Information Network.


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