Elvis Presley – The Searcher (Soundtrack) – Examining Elvis the Artist

Elvis Presley – The Searcher – Original Soundtrack (RCA / Legacy)

3-disc soundtrack to the new HBO documentary

It’s hard to mention Elvis Presley and not think of the white jumpsuit, the gold-rimmed glasses and his “thank you very much” deep voice.  In fact, his music often seems to take a backseat to the legend.  Elvis Presley – The Searcher, a two-part documentary debuting on HBO, attempts to set the record straight by concentrating on Presley as an artist.

An accompanying three-disc soundtrack pulls together his most passionate performances – familiar favorites sit alongside rare alternate and live versions, and songs that he was influenced by.  The goal here is to help paint a more clear picture of Elvis as an extremely talented musician. 

Disc one leads with a pivotal moment in Elvis’ career – “Trouble / Guitar Man” comes from his ’68 Comeback Special on NBC, the very moment where he regained his powers and his confidence, and proved he could still be relevant in the age of the Beatles.  That’s followed by one of his most spine-chilling performances: “My Baby Left Me” is a dark slice of juiced-up rock n’ roll, with an otherworldly, heavily-echoed guitar from Scotty Moore.  This isn’t teen idol music, the man singing this song sounds downright desperate.

This collection represents the most potent song cycle ever assembled of Presley’s music. The first 19 tracks of disc one are particularly incendiary.  Weaving early demos, Sun recordings, live performances, studio outtakes and hit singles.  Then, “There’ll Be Peace in the Valley” changes the mood, and things mostly get a little more introspective and subdued for the remainder of the disc. “Mona Lisa” and “Hide Thou Me” are Presley casual, recorded at home, with just him on guitar and piano, respectively.  Away from the high-priced studio, he sounds more human.  Disc one closes with the gritty “Power of My Love,” recorded in Memphis.

The goal of both the documentary and the soundtrack is to prove that Presley made fantastic music throughout his entire career.  Highlights of disc two include the poignant “Fame and Fortune,” a duet with Frank Sinatra (hearing ‘ol Blue Eyes sing “Love Me Tender” and Presley tackle “Witchcraft” is certainly a hoot).  “Like a Baby” is a forgotten, yet searing track from 1960, featuring a honking sax, while “C’mon Everybody” comes from Viva Las Vegas, and has an impassioned Presley vocal. He seems surprisingly at home with the Dylan composition, “Tomorrow Is Such a Long Time.”

Presley always had an ear for the latest music and hearing his takes on the Bee Gees’ “Words” and Three Dog Night’s “Never Been to Spain” is quite interesting.  Two tracks in particular make this set worth the price – a stripped-down version of “Suspicious Minds,” that thankfully leaves off the cheesy background vocals, and a rehearsal of “Burning Love,” with blistering guitar work, shed new appreciation for both of these shop-worn classics.

Disc three is probably the most unexpected – not a single Presley track here.  Instead, it concentrates on some of the artist’s influences, including Gospel numbers (The Blackwood Brothers Quartet’s “Satisfied”), R&B (Arthur “Big Boy” Crudup’s original “That’s All Right Mama”), Bluegrass (Bill Monroe’s “Blue Moon of Kentucky”), and Blues (Howlin’ Wolf’s “Smokestack Lightning”).  It’s obvious in listening to these tracks, Presley didn’t see any boundaries in music – no matter color or genre, it was all equally great in his mind. And all of it helped shape who he would become.

Elvis Presley’s music has been packaged and repackaged hundreds of times.  Yet, RCA Records has done the seemingly impossible with The Searcher, creating a fresh new look into the career of a legendary artist, and that is no easy accomplishment.