It’s been a longtime since those first cheap "Hayride" compilations arrived in our record shops and I can still remember the excitement of not only hearing my first Elvis Hayride recording (on Capital Radio in London) but also discovering my first non-RCA Hayride release. Things have come a long way in 25 years and now we are really spoilt.
In mid 2012 Sony's budget SETLIST label issued a "The Very Best Of Elvis Presley 1950s Live" featuring 15 tracks. This gathered some of the best sounding live sets from 1956, the 'Little Rock' concert, some tracks from the Tupelo Mississippi Fair but with the main point finding a cheap alternate to enable the release of the newly found 'Louisiana Fairgrounds, Shreveport - December 15th' Elvis performance that was released within the Deluxe 'Young Man With The Big Beat' box-set.
Even though that selection was some of the best sounding Elvis LIVE 50s recordings, some of the "general public" purchasers understandably complain about the less than professional audio quality.
Sometimes people don't realise how lucky we are to have ANYTHING recorded from Elvis' early live performances.
We can blame Col Parker here for not bothering to "waste money" recording any of Elvis' live 1950 performances professionally!
See our great EIN interview with the Tupelo Engineer who recorded the concert without permission.
Earlier in November 2011 MRS issued their 'The Complete Louisiana Hayride Archives 1954-1956' featuring all of Elvis' Hayride recording (known at the time) - and featuring great audio restoration and improvement on those old scratchy (Unlistenable) acetates like 'Hearts Of Stone'.
This featured a 100-page book of great photos and text plus 24 live tracks - See EIN in-depth review here.
Back in May this year Ernst Jorgensen announced that the DELUXE 'A Boy From Tupelo: The Complete 1953-55 Recordings' would be issued including 3 CDs, one featuring 29 LIVE tracks including eight UNRELEASED recently discovered Elvis performances.
Published in August 2012, in time for the 35th Anniversary, this release was the biggest Elvis Presley book/CD publication so far and included unpublished photos, recording data and "the real story behind Elvis' time at Sun."
See EIN's in-depth review here.
Now MRS have released their version of Elvis' "Greatest LIVE hits of the '50s" selecting the best live version of each song, as well as including all the unreleased live tracks from the Deluxe 'A Boy From Tupelo' box-set plus the bonus of the even more recently discovered unique wire-recording of 'I Forgot to Remember to Forget'.
Unlike other recent MRS products there is no book or booklet, just a simple digipack with three colourised photos of Elvis.
This is more like a budget MRS production although the design is in fact very stylish with the three photos supplied by Joe Tunzi showing Elvis' on-stage energy to great effect.
While I don't appreciate every iconic black&white Elvis photo being colourised, there is a time and a place for them and I think they look fabulous here.
Of course most "serious" Elvis collectors will probably own most of these tracks already. The Little Rock concert and the last Louisiana Hayride December 15th 1956 appearance were featured on ‘The Young Man With The Big Beat’. In fact six Louisiana Hayride tracks here come from the MRS 2011 Complete Louisiana Hayride release, while the three Tupelo Fair tracks were also on the 'Tupelo Welcomes Elvis' MRS collection. Others were featured on the early MRS books/DVD audio releases in ‘Memphis
Recording Service Volumes 1 & 2’.
But as with any "best of" collection, it's the track selection that counts.
And what a set-list it would have been had Elvis gone on stage to perform these 22 classic tracks.
From the first "Well, well, well, well, whoo, whoo.." of 'Good Rockin' Tonight' through to the 'Hound Dog' closer Elvis and the Blue Moon Boys rock out like there's no tomorrow.
While 'Good Rockin' Tonight' is a fabulous start, I'm not sure the audio will necessarily impress the "general public" and there are other better quality audio tracks here.
The songs are not chronologically presented, but more as a possible extended best of set-list, with Elvis as always winding up with 'Hound Dog'.
Personally I might have chosen the outstandingly exciting 'That's All Right' from Meridian as the first track along with it's lovely introduction, "We never have definitely settled on exactly what kind of music he sings. We call it Country Music, but it sure is a lively country ...We'd like to introduce Elvis Presley.." ...... but Elvis and the Blue Moon Boys sure ROCK OUT on every track, desperate to impress their young audiences.
It's a great selection – Twenty Four classics in 61 minutes. The outstanding Eagles Hall 'Baby Let's Play House', 'Maybellene' from the Hayride, 'Heartbreak Hotel' and 'Money Honey' from Little Rock, 'I Was The One' and 'Blue Suede Shoes' from Tupelo (what a shame the recording wasn't better), 'Paralyzed' and the perfect un-rushed version of 'Don't Be Cruel' from the final Hayride performance, they are all here.
Elvis' first national smash 'Heartbreak Hotel' wouldn't be a hit until March / April of 1956 and only eight tracks here come from Elvis' post RCA contract concerts. It's interesting to spot the big difference between Elvis working on stage to his new fans pre-fame in early 1955 compared to the assurance of him working the huge adoring crowds of Tupelo and the final Louisiana Hayride in late 1956.
The two bonus tracks give fans a chance to own the newly discovered March
1955 versions of 'Money Honey' and 'Shake, Rattle & Roll', while the better version of 'Money Honey' from Little Rock is earlier in the set.
Of course with any "Best Of" selection it’s impossible to match everyone's taste. Personally I would have chosen the much clearer sounding ‘Tweedlee Dee’ with extra slide guitar from Gladewater, April 30, 1955 over the March 5 rough-sounding acetate version. ‘I Got A Woman’ from Little Rock is another alternate favourite of mine, while the slower drawn-out ending of ‘Hound Dog’ from Louisiana Fairgrounds December 15th also takes some beating.
But overall this selection is a clever compilation of the best sounding audio quality vs best Elvis performances.
I’m not sure what the "General Public" will make of the new poor-sounding acetates of ‘Little Mama’ and ‘Hearts Of Stone’ so near the start of the CD. Sure, they are rare collectables and essential for the keen-Elvis-fan but "Greatest Live HITS" they certainly are not. Oddly ‘Love Me Tender’ and ‘Love Me’ – genuinely well-known live 1950’s HITS don’t make this compilation.
The audio has been re-mastered and improved, presumably by MRS’s regular ‘Studio D’ engineer who did such excellent work on the ‘Complete Louisiana Hayride’ and the ‘Hawaii Bloch Arena’ concerts but there is no credit on the cover.
The audio has certainly been worked on compared to the recent ‘A Boy From Tupelo’ masters - although plenty of the tracks have also been taken from previous MRS releases. There is a little more compression used here and on most tracks the surface hiss has been reduced, while the frequency range has been adjusted to boost Elvis’ audio, as well as boost the middle & bass.
Of course while there can be not much real improvement from the original poor acetates of some of the sources, the overall sound is an enhancement on most tracks.
The mini audio glitch on ‘Little Mama’ ex the ‘Boy From Tupelo’ original has been cleaned up here. While the LIVE ‘I’m Left, Your Right, She’s Gone’ is from the original MRS remaster with the lyrics in the correct order (by cleverly using an insert from the studio recording).
But basically we are stuck with the fact that all too few professional quality recordings of Elvis LIVE in the 1950s actually exist.
So just like the LIVE compilation CD in ‘Young Man With The Big Beat’ and the LIVE compilation from "A Boy From Tupelo’ this "Best Of" crackles with amazing energy, power and stunning performances as Elvis and the Blue Moon Boys become the biggest force in Rock’n’Roll history.
The final nine tracks from ‘Shake Rattle & Roll’ via ‘Heartbreak Hotel’, ‘Long Tall Sally’, ‘Money Honey’, ‘I Was the One’, ‘Blue Suede Shoes’, ‘Paralyzed’, ‘Don't Be Cruel’ to ‘Hound Dog’ certainly announce that Rock’n’Roll has arrived and it’s no longer that "Lively Country Music" that no one could quite describe only one year earlier!
The only credits on the cover are Joe Tunzi for photographs and Kevin Reape for the Design along with artwork by Hoirkman Szebht and Tony King.
And in fact there's an odd collection of spelling mistakes on the nicely designed cover. Chuck Berry’s 'Maybelline' should be spelt 'Maybellene', 'Tweedlee Dee' is misspelt as 'Tweedle Dee' and since when did the classic ‘That's All Right' become 'That's Alright'?
In the end I am not sure who this collection is aimed at although the price on Amazon makes it pretty attractive for anyone. I would think that the hard-core Elvis collectors will surely have the newly found tracks from the ‘Tupelo’ box-set (or have been given them by their friends) while the "general public" are sure to wonder why songs that they have never heard of like 'Little Mama' and 'Hearts Of Stone' are doing on a 50s Greatest Hits CD that doesn’t feature 'Love Me Tender' or ‘Jailhouse Rock’, ‘All Shook Up’ etc.
Overall Verdict: Despite the low audio quality of several tracks, any "Best Of" Elvis LIVE from the fifties has got to be an stunning release. Fans who want the rarities featured on the now Sold-Out 'A Boy From Tupelo' will
be more than satisfied by this new release, while fans that want to discover
what the early fuss was all about over this "Lively Country" artist will certainly find the answer here. We've sure come a long way from those early "Hayride" compilations I used to get excited over! After all, at around GB£8 or US$13 from Amazon UK it's got to be good value for money.
Review by Piers Beagley.
-Copyright EIN November 2012
EIN Website content © Copyright the Elvis Information Network.
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MRS and JAT's 'Greatest Live Hits of the 50s' order now: The 24 track CD is the most varied compilation to date, containing only the best live performances, making the ultimate live set list of the 1950’s. And at a Great Price - Only GB£8 or US$13.
For the first time on General Release, it has 8 new live tracks that have all been re-mastered and are now significantly and noticeably improved, than before. Additionally, the CD also contains for the first time, an unreleased live version of ‘I Forgot to Remember to Forget’ from October 1955.
01. Good Rockin' Tonight - Eagles' Hall, Houston, Texas, March 19, 1955.
02. Baby Let's Play House - Eagles' Hall, Houston, Texas, March 19, 1955.
03. That's All Right - Meridian, Mississippi, May 26, 1955.
04. Little Mama - Louisiana Hayride, Shreveport, March 5, 1955
05. You're a Heartbreaker - Louisiana Hayride, Shreveport, March 5, 1955
06. Tweedle Dee - Louisiana Hayride, Shreveport, March 5, 1955
07. I Don't Care If the Sun Don't Shine - Louisiana Hayride, Shreveport, January 22, 1955
08. Hearts of Stone - Louisiana Hayride, Shreveport, March 5, 1955
09. Blue Moon of Kentucky - Louisiana Hayride, Shreveport, October 16, 1954
10. I Got A Woman - Eagles' Hall, Houston, Texas, March 19, 1955.
11. Maybelline - Louisiana Hayride, Shreveport, August 20, 1955
12. I'm Left You're Right She's Gone - Louisiana Hayride, Shreveport, July 2, 1955
13. I' Forgot To Remember to Forget - Louisiana Hayride, Shreveport, October, 1955
14. Shake Rattle & Roll - WJOI Radio, Florence, Alabama January 19, 1955
15. Heartbreak Hotel - Robinson Memorial Auditorium, Little Rock, Arkansas, May 16 1956
16. Long Tall Sally - Robinson Memorial Auditorium, Little Rock, Arkansas, May 16 1956
17. Money Honey - Robinson Memorial Auditorium, Little Rock, Arkansas, May 16 1956
18. I Was the One - Mississippi Alabama Fair & Dairy Show, Tupelo, Afternoon Show, September 26th 1956
19. Blue Suede Shoes - Mississippi Alabama Fair & Dairy Show, Tupelo, Evening Show, September 26th 1956
20. Paralyzed - Louisiana Hayride, Shreveport, December 15, 1956
21. Don't Be Cruel - Louisiana Hayride, Shreveport, December 15, 1956
22. Hound Dog - Mississippi Alabama Fair & Dairy Show, Tupelo, Mississippi, Evening Show September 26th 1956
23. Money Honey - Louisiana Hayride, Shreveport, March 5, 1956
24. Shake, Rattle & Roll - Louisiana Hayride, Shreveport, March 5, 1956