'Elvis At Sun'

CD review

- a remarkable piece of music history!

by Piers Beagley, 30 June 2004

Elvis At Sun. The birth of Rock n' Roll was 50 years ago this week. Who could have possibly expected such a revolutionary milestone from an unknown trio, while they fooled around on a few musical standards that day in Sam Phillip's Sun Studios.

The importance of this event needs no re-examination but luckily for us two true Elvis aficionados, Ernst Jorgensen & Kevan Budd, have decided to help us celebrate this historic event with a new release of Elvis' Sun Masters.

The tracklist is, of course, the same as the first disc of 1999's Elvis 'Sunrise' release but this time presented in their correct chronological & historic order. More importantly, the audio of every single track has been remastered to perfection making the songs glow in this new setting. The first CD features the original LP

All previous Sun compilations varied in quality from the distortion of a SUN 78 rpm used as a Master, to false added RCA echo, and even early fade outs. In fact, in the past I found the best way to enjoy Elvis' Sun material was to actually play the individual vinyl 45 rpms rather than a whole LP or CD.

However here, at last, every track has been restored to its true original beauty and this CD is a revelation. The booklet's design is a treat, presenting some rare photos along with a real 'Sun' feel & look to it. Sam's son, Knox Phillips, also reveals some delightful & new details about the sessions and his father's work with Elvis:

"Elvis & Sam believed in an America that prized individual differences and freedom, and I know they believed in their soul that music could lead us there."

Ernst's interesting cover notes also help explain the chaos & budget restraints that Sun operated under and makes one realise how exceptionally lucky we are to have this new release.

There also is a cute explanation from Sam Phillips on why he let Elvis record so many ballads that he really had no interest in releasing.., "I didn't have the heart to stop him"!

The keys to this new audio feast include. . .

  • The discovery of a new RCA SUN compile tape
  • The use of Sony New York for the tape transfers (they produced the astounding sound of the 'Close Up' box set)
  • The editing of multiple copies of mint 78 rpm discs to create the best sounding tracks for the songs without any Master tapes.

'Harbour Lights' that kicks off the CD (Elvis' earliest abandoned Master) is the first audio revelation. Immediately you notice that the previously added false echo is missing. The fragility of Elvis' vocal along with the genuine ambience of that small Sun Studio, and the newly revealed sound of Bill Black's double-bass, is astounding.

'I Love You Because' is Elvis full-length first take, with the fascinating spoken monologue, and again with a lovely new feel & no hiss as on previous releases. Just check out how young & innocent Elvis sounds and how extraordinary it was that he recorded a spoken part on his very first night of recording. It was an idea that he would often repeat throughout the rest of his career.

After setting the scene with the fragility of the ballads 'That's All Right' - the "Birth Of Rock 'n' Roll" - is pure unadulterated excitement and joy. Read the liner notes, play the earlier ballads again. . . look at the studio pictures .. think about the moment! Crank up the Hi-Fi - listen to the glory of this unknown three-piece band, check out the amazing percussive snap of Bill Black's bass - and feel the spirit of this golden moment in time!!

You can imagine the excitement of Sam Phillip's discovery and then realise the complication of "what the hell do you put on the single's flip-side"?

And here, 'Blue Moon of Kentucky' has never sounded better. While I feel that we were somewhat spoilt with the recent '2nd To None' remasters, within this context all these Sun songs and their importance to the future of Rock 'n' Roll & popular culture can truly be understood.

While all the tracks have been improved - I love the new fullness of the sound on 'Blue Moon' & 'Tomorrow Night' and 'I'll Never Let You Go' there are several songs that almost sound like brand new recordings!

'I Don't Care If The Sun Don't Shine' is a fabulous example where the awful distortion on Elvis' voice, on all previous releases, is suddenly fixed and there is the new discovery of a percussive beat (from Elvis' guitar & Bill Blacks' bass slap) that was totally hidden before. Its clarity & shine is astounding.

Even the new sound of 'Milkcow Blues Boogie' & 'You're A Heartbreaker', that I know have still been remastered from old 78 rpms singles, is breathtaking. With RCA's previous audio compression & distortion of the original transfers removed, these songs are another revelation. Kevan Budd, the audio restorer, cannot be praised enough for his work on these.

Similarly the removal of RCA's false echo on 'I'm Left, You're Right, She's Gone' makes both versions glow anew. This is the earliest Elvis track to feature drums (Jimmie Lott) and with these new versions coming from the newly discovered RCA tape the clarity of the sound, especially the percussion, is beautiful.

In fact if you compare any of these songs to their previous releases you realise just how much care has been taken by Sony with their transfers of these true mono Masters. Even the fairly recent 'Sunrise' CD versions had awful tape dropouts & weird left/right channel wavering throughout.

The new sound also helps capture that excitement of early rockin' Elvis and 'Baby Let's Play House' & 'Good Rockin' Tonight' really stand out as exceptionally creative 'R&B' singles with that special edge that would lead him to the intensity of 'Hound Dog' just 17 months later. Two other exceptional discoveries also come at the end of the CD.

'Mystery Train' rocks out with an astounding depth like never before. This is truly how this masterpiece deserves to be heard. Elvis' voice has never sounded so rich, nor so pleading. Whereas before the song was clipped at the end, best of all we now get every final glorious moment as that train rolls into the distance. Elvis' final spontaneous laugh & whoop of excitement is worth its weight in gold. Sam Phillips' favourite Elvis number, this is a true delight that you just have to play again & again. And turn it up!

While 'Trying to Get To You' has the potential excitement of knowing that Sam was hoping for this as Elvis' sixth Sun 'A' side, I found real delight in the final 'bonus' track - which was after all just a basic rehearsal!

'When It Rains, It Really Pours', has always been a muffled & echoey mess at best, with the recording actually lifted off Sam's reverb tape. Here, at last, we have a lovely clear version that again sounds like another newly discovered tape! There's a fascination to this song that would lead Elvis back to re-recording it 2 years later. It's the perfect ending to an astounding period of Rock 'n' Roll history which leads one neatly back to listening all over again to this CD of 16 months of musical magic.

Verdict - Elvis at Sun Studios has never sounded better and, even if you have previously bought any CD of Elvis' Sun recordings, you must, MUST celebrate this year's special 50th Anniversary by getting yourself a copy of this exceptional labour of love. Thanks to Ernst & Kevan Budd for this exceptional upgrade.

Reviewed by Piers Beagley EIN copyright 2004

Note - Thanks to the excellent 'Steve Sholes' website www.Elvisrecordings.com for some fascinating information regarding this CD.

Click here for FTD Loving You' Special Edition review

Click here for Kevan Budd's February 2006 interview with EIN.

Click here for FTD Deluxe 'Elvis Presley' his first LP review

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