Various Artists – All About Elvis: A Tribute to the King (review)

Various Artists – All About Elvis: A Tribute to the King (Fantastic Voyage) review

Looking at the impact of The King of Rock n’ Roll – through the music of others

January 2015 would’ve been Elvis Presley’s 80th birthday. And while most of the celebration centers around his music, it’s equally important to understand Presley’s lasting cultural impact.  All About Elvis is a 3-CD set containing 97 songs, and no actual music by Elvis.  But, it’s through the music of others that we get to see a clearer picture of just how groundbreaking he really was, especially in the early days of rock n’ roll.  The set is divided into three different themes: Elvis Style, Elvis Songs, and Elvis Adored.

The Elvis Style disc examines those artists who tried to imitate the King, with some surprises.  Many may not realize that Conway Twitty tried to make it in rock n’ roll before becoming a legend in country music.  He apes Presley quite well in  “Long Black Train,” which features some killer guitar.  Sun artist Hayden Thomspson turns in a cartoonish “You Are My Sunshine,” over-emphasizing Presley’s hiccups. Very few artists were more closely associated with the Elvis persona than Ral Donner, and his “That’s All Right With Me” is proof that he could imitate with the best of them.  While there are a few recognizable names, most here are unknowns, which make for an interesting listen – each singer emphasizes a different element of Presley’s style.

There are also blatant rip offs of other Presley songs which are good fun – like Billy Eldridge’s “Half a Heart,” which combines “Don’t Be Cruel” and “I Beg of You,” while Joe Henderson & His Orchestra’s “Make Me Dance Little Ant” is very close to “Jailhouse Rock,” and features a great saxophone solo.

Elvis Songs features performers doing tunes closely associated with Presley.  Ricky Nelson does a pretty bang up job with “There’s Good Rockin’ Tonight,” featuring stellar guitarist James Burton.  One of the highlights is hearing Otis Blackwell, the author of “All Shook Up,” do his take of the song.  Buddy Holly improves “You’re So Square (Baby I Don’t Care)” by adding some hillbilly charm.  Another surprise is the no-longer-a-Teenager-era Frankie Lymon rockin’ through “Jailhouse Rock.”  And, leave it to comedian Stan Freeburg, who pokes fun at the heavy echo on Presley records with a hilarious version of “Heartbreak Hotel.”

Elvis Adored is the most revealing of all the discs, because it features songs actually about the iconic performer.   The girls want him (“I Want Elvis For Christmas” by the Holly Twins), the guys hate him (“The Elvis Blues” by Otto Bash) or want to be him (“I Dreamed I Was Elvis” by Sonny Cole), while the press is intrigued by him (“All About Elvis” – a  “break-in style record by P.Q Rock n’ Roll).  There’s also songs about him leaving for the Army (“Uncle Sam’s Call” by Jimmy Woodall, “Elvis in the Army” by Jaybee Wasden), and him getting discharged (“The King is Coming Back” by Billy & Eddie, and “Elvis is Rocking Again” by the Hunt Sisters).  The Valentines poke fun at the blind fandom in “The Sock.”

Because he’s been such a cultural icon for generations, it’s virtually impossible to imagine a time without Elvis. But when he emerged in 1955, his arrival was divisive: you either loved him (the younger generation), or you despised him (the older generation).  All About Elvis helps paint a clearer picture of the enormous impact that Presley had, and continues to have, on our culture.  Any 80th birthday celebration wouldn’t be complete without a copy of this one.  —Tony Peters