A Boy From Tupelo:
The Complete 1953-55 Recordings

Elvis Presley

Forty years after his death, the love for Elvis Presley has yet to wane. The myth behind the man grows with each passing generation as his catalog and legacy continue to generate millions. To really understand where the appeal lies, you really have to go back to the very beginning: When Elvis walked into Memphis Recording Service in June 1953 to record a two-sided single for $3.98. Those recordings, the two he cut in January 1954, plus numerous tracks Presley recorded that year and the next — they’re all part of a comprehensive three-CD set called A Boy From Tupelo: The Complete 1953-55 Recordings.

You’ve probably heard most of the recordings that comprise A Boy From Tupelo, but it’s likely you haven’t heard them unfold and develop, as Elvis did, in such a natural, organic manner. To make the experience even more riveting, the set’s 120-page book compiled by Ernst Mikael Jørgensen takes you through each stage of Presley’s early career with factual tidbits, stories, photos, graphics and a chronological stroll through the King’s first two years of what would become one of the most fascinating American sagas of the 20th century.

It’s hard not to pick up on the purity of Elvis’ voice on “My Happiness,” “That's Where Your Heartaches Begin,” “I'll Never Stand In Your Way,” and “It Wouldn't Be The Same (Without You)” — the songs he paid for himself. The 19 Sun master takes, plus four additional RCA remasters, document Presley’s progress, with the help of guitarist Scotty Moore and bassist Bill Black. The three and producer Sam Phillips spent hours trying out different songs to suit their sound, but it was “That’s Alright Mama” and “Blue Moon Of Kentucky,” both of which fell into the mix spontaneously, that resonated the most. It’s no surprise they occupied the two sides of Presley’s very first single.

Others like “Good Rockin’ Tonight,” “Baby Let’s Play House,” and “Mystery Train” would eventually become standouts in Elvis’ discography. Multiple takes, some previously unreleased, of 10 songs recorded over the next 16 months fill the second disc of the set. This is what the completists will be after. The real thrill of this set, however, is the third disc of live and radio performances. Most of these are from the Louisiana Hayride, a weekly show broadcast on KWKH in Shreveport. Appearances in Texas, Memphis, and Alabama are also featured, along with a previously unreleased CBS radio broadcast from Meridian, Mississippi.

The future King of Rock & Roll’s first appearance on the Louisiana Hayride comprise the two songs from his first single — “That’s Alright Mama” and “Blue Moon Of Kentucky.” Playing a “new, distinctive style,” the 19-year-old’s hyper moves and affecting vocals were indeed something different for an audience more accustomed to Hank Williams and Slim Whitman. With each subsequent spot, you easily notice Presley’s growth as a singer and entertainer.

Much of the material here was in such bad shape that it required extensive editing and duplication. Whatever sonic glitches you can’t overcome, there’s no mistaking how Presley’s confidence evolved over the course of one “Tweedle Dee” to the next “Money Honey.” By the time you get to the Bob Neal interview from August 1955, there’s little doubt that Elvis Presley and his band were blossoming into one of the most beloved acts in the South. Tracking through A Boy From Tupelo: The Complete 1953-55 Recordings, it’s evident that in a span of two years, Elvis Presley was on his way to conquering the world and changing the face of music forever.

~ Shawn Perry

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