Elvis The #1 Hits hits the top spot!

Book review: 'Elvis The #1 Hits - The secret history of the classics'

Patrick Humphries | Ebury Press, UK & Australia, Softcover, 2002, 160 pages, Illustrated, ISBN: 0-091-88908-1

This book is effectively a companion release to the CD 'Elvis The 30 #1 Hits' (it is published by one of the BMG group of companies).

It details the story behind each of Elvis' #1 songs (including A Little Less Conversation and the notable omission from the album, I Want You, I Love You, I Need You) and a lot, lot more.

Rock historian, Patrick Humphries adeptly paints vividly engaging pictures of events in the recording studio that give the reader a real feel for what was happening during the recording session.

On "Jailhouse Rock": 'Elvis and I played some four-handed blues piano for a while…Jerry Leiber kicked off a run-through of 'Jailhouse Rock'. It was starting to feel good.' On "Don't": 'Don't came quick and easy, in just seven takes. Elvis himself sounds relaxed but, as ever, firmly in control….and the backing is so laid-back as to sound almost soporific.

The image conjured up is one of relaxing before a blazing log fire, while the snow piles up outside the frosted window and the hi-fi softly trickles out Elvis' latest single. Simple and straightforward as the recording session had been, there was trouble brewing…'

Humphries' florid narrative however goes well beyond the recording studio to reflect what was happening internally and externally to Elvis' life and how at times he was creatively out of step with changing times:

"By 1967, we find Elvis filming Clambake, while The Beatles are busy recording Sergeant Pepper. As Elvis commences filming Speedway, Jimi Hendrix and The Who electrify Monterey at the world's first rock festival…"

Elvis The #1 Hits is also a great compendium for finding questions and answers for music trivia nights:

  • "where exactly was Heartbreak Hotel?
  • and why was Number 33 the cutest little Jailbird I ever did see?

Patrick Humphries provides you with all the answers.

For each song you will also find songwriter and backing musician details, recording details and release date. The book's photos are a mix of black & white shots complemented by a full color section. The candids aren't new but they are eye pleasing.

The book cover close-up shot of Elvis with pursed lips hits you right in the face! 'Elvis The #1 Hits' also includes a book-within-a-book. At the end of each song chapter, Mal Peachey contributes 'The A-Z of Elvis'. Using each letter of the alphabet, Peachey provides an interesting sub-narrative on aspects of The King's life. From A is for Aaron (an examination of the two different spellings of Elvis's middle name) to Z is for Zarathustra (Elvis' opening theme from 2001 A Space Odyssey) there is a lot of territory examined.

C is for Cosa Nostra is particularly interesting as it touches on, not surprisingly, possible Mafia involvement in Elvis' Vegas years. Another very effective inclusion throughout the book is the use of large font quotations from well known rock music critics and personalities, attesting to Elvis' greatness:

"Elvis was the King of Rock 'n' Roll because he was the embodiment of its sins and virtues, grand and vulgar, rude and elegant, powerful and frustrated, absurdly simple and awesomely complex"…...Dave Marsh.

"He's a great singer. Gosh, he's so great. You have no idea how great he really is, really you don't"……Phil Spector

Patrick Humphries has previously written books about other music legends including The Beatles, Bruce Springsteen, Van Morrison and Bob Dylan. His latest publication is not to be confused with the similarly titled book, 'Elvis 30 #1 Hits'. This other release is a sheet music compendium published recently by the Hal Leonard company.

Verdict: You have the album, now buy the book. Indispensable reference guide chocker-block with facts, behind-the-scenes info and other fascinating material.

Due out in Britain on 3 October 2002 and in Australia on 9 October 2002.

Available from www.amazon.com

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