"Elvis Presley is the greatest cultural force in the 20th century."

(Leonard Bernstein)


"If you're an Elvis fan, no explanation is necessary; If you're not an Elvis fan, no explanation is possible."

(George Klein)


"For a dead man, Elvis Presley is awfully noisy."

(Professor Gilbert B. Rodman)


"History has him as this good old country boy, Elvis is about as country as Bono!"

(Jerry Schilling)






The Rough Guide To Elvis (2004 Edition)

Paul Simpson

First published in 2002 ‘The Rough Guide to Elvis’ deserved the glowing reviews it received at the time.

Now, to coincide with Elvis’ 70th birthday, it is released in a bigger 2nd edition. Author Paul Simpson is a serious Elvis fan who is obviously interested in his subject and who also has a delightful style of writing. He keeps the information concise yet always insightful. As a pocket-sized book of 474 pages it is remarkably packed with fascinating Elvis stories, information and rare insights into The King.

Simpson’s reviews are spot-on, praising the worthy while denouncing the bad. His comments on the bilious Albert Goldman book are perfect - “It is Goldman’s bigotry that really undoes his book. It is hard not to conclude that all his disgust is really self-disgust.”

While the number of pages of the 2nd edition is actually the same, the size of the book has been slightly increased to allow for added information and for relevant chapters to be updated to include all the new releases of the past 2 years. Sadly, passing deaths like Sam Phillips’ in 2003 now also have to be added.

Simpson has gathered more insights from new sources, like Alanna Nash’s book ‘The Colonel’, updating chapters where necessary. A new sub-chapter has also been added about Elvis’ mother Gladys - “The tragedy is that the very fame that freed them from poverty later destroyed the family”.

The section on The Colonel’s gambling addiction has rightly been updated – “As Parker’s estate when he died in 1997 was worth less than $1M, estimates by his biographer Alanna Nash that he may have gambled away up to $30M don’t seem that far-fetched.”

I have always liked the layout of the book, with the side-sections that you can dip into, and there is always something new to discover. Typically a chapter such as ‘In the Studio’ captures excellent insights from Elvis’ cohorts - “The urgency was palpable. Chet Atkins, who famously dozed of at a session in 1966, was never invited back after sleeping through one take”!

All aspects of Elvis’ history is examined, his life, his music, his influences, his movies, as well as Simpson’s personal pick of Elvis’ 50 essential songs. Great to compare against your own selection, from my point of view it is unbelievable that ‘Such a Night’ is not on his list! Final chapters also investigate Elvis as ‘The Icon’ (where Valentino, Byron, k.d lang & David Bowie all get a mention!) and the interesting ‘Elvis Country, from Memphis to Bad Nauheim’.

Personally I love chapters like ‘Influences’ where all of Elvis’ musical styles are investigated and you can learn more about his idols including the more obscure, such as Lavern Baker & Mississippi Slim. There is also a great look at Elvis’ personal record collection.

Sections such as ‘Ten songs that tell the story’ (songs Elvis sang that reflected on his life) and ‘Elvis’ ten weirdest songs’ are also fascinating! New CDs such as the ‘Close Up’ box-set and the recent FTDs releases are included, although ‘Ultimate Gospel’ is not featured. Unfortunately while both the new DVD box-sets of ‘Aloha’ and ’68 Comeback Special’ are mentioned as essential viewing, they were released as the book went to print so don’t get a detailed review.

As usual they are a few minor omissions – how can the ‘Elvis ‘56’ CD compilation not be mentioned, nor Elvis’ final concert recording “Adios” in the bootleg section? - but these are minor quibbles and an even better reason to update The Rough Guide again for the 2007 “Elvis’ 30th Anniversary” edition!

Verdict - An absolutely essential book for any Elvis fan and the only one you can carry in your pocket to read at anytime. The size makes it the perfect travelling companion and I always make sure that I have it with me for those train, plane & automobile trips! As the subtitle of the book says, ‘The Man. The Music, The Movies, The Myth’, what more could you want in your pocket?

Click to read EIN's interview with Paul Simpson

Click to comment on this review





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Elvis Odd Spot (updated 13 Jan 2005)