Tuesday, 11 February 2014

The thirteenth (and last) top Elvis book (in my list anyway)
Elvis Presley, A Life In Music: The Complete Recording Sessions, by Ernst Jorgensen

Danish-born Ernst Jorgensen wrote his first version of this book way back in the 1970s. At the time, he was just a fan, of Elvis but The Doors, too. Then he got into the music business and, in time, became an executive at BMG, RCA’s parent company. By the late 1980s, he was running Arista Denmark. 

In 1991, BMG, weary of US RCA’s loss-making sluggishness, sent its European executives over to revive its American operations. Jorgensen was appointed to run the Elvis reissue programme, which till then had been haphazard and incoherent. That was a result of market research, Jorgensen later explained. RCA’s diligent and accurate surveys found that ‘the typical Elvis consumer was a woman between the ages of 35 and 55, who was married to a blue-collar worker, and who was unwilling to spend more than $8 on an Elvis album. This research was taken as gospel at the time I arrived.’ 

Expecting to work on the Elvis catalogue for two or three years, he is still on it and still based in Denmark. He started by setting the RCA market surveys to one side and putting together a box set, The King of Rock ‘n’ Roll: The Complete 50s Masters. Budgeted to sell 20,000, it eventually did 400,000. Jorgensen did his job with taste and drive, compiling a series of box sets (Essential 60s Masters etc) and greatest hits compilations such as Elvis: 30 #1 Hits (2002). For the true believers, he created the Follow That Dream label which puts out soundboard recordings, outtakes and originally unissued soundtracks. By late 2013, there were more than 120 albums on the label, some of which were previously available as bootlegs and some of which were entirely new material.

Behind all these records, both the RCA compilations and the Follow That Dream specials, lay the scholarly rigour that Jorgensen brought to this book. It details every Elvis session, from his first amateur recording at Sun in 1953 to his final taped show at Rushmore Civic Centre, Rapid City on 21 June, 1977. Not only is it almost unimaginably detailed and accurate, it’s a book that reads well, too. Right through it runs the question that Jorgensen says he posed himself at every turn: ‘How do you explain that Elvis’ recording of Old MacDonald came out at the same time as his recording of Big Boss Man? How do you get these two to be part of the same artistic development?’

In 2010, Jorgensen put out the 711-track, 30 CD collection, The Complete Elvis Presley Masters. ‘The Mt Everest of my life,’ said Jorgensen. A limited edition of 1000, priced at $749, it sold out immediately. ‘The most wonderful thing that has ever happened in my professional life,’ said Jorgensen. The second edition is not numbered.

Nothing is forever,
though, of course. In 2012, another unreleased Elvis track surfaced, his version of the Clovers’ Little Mama, recorded at the Louisiana Hayride on March 5, 1955. Jorgensen put that out on a Follow That Dream compilation, A Boy From Tupelo: The Complete 1953-55 Recordings. Though that 3-CD plus book collection is now sold out, you can find Little Mama — and other newly uncovered tracks on the Greatest Live Hits Of The 50s album put out by the English grey-market label, Memphis Recording Services.

Now Buy the ebook/order the paperback direct from the publisher's Rocket 88 site. (You flip the drop-down menu to find the ebook, just £1.99. There is also a free ebook thing.) Or you can go to Amazon, read the review ('outstanding' etc) then buy the ebook.

Next . . . something else

Monday, 10 February 2014

Elvis best books number twelve
The Truth About Elvis by Jess Stearn with Larry Geller
I put this in for two reasons. One, a book written by a hairdresser-cum-spiritual-adviser is simply irresistible — its vulgarity is its grace. Two, it has this fabulously stupid painting of Elvis on the cover. Double-breasted, four-button-show white suit with lapels the size of albatross wings and flares as wide as the Pacific. With the sun doing service as a halo behind his head, Elvis looks down, humbly, and stretches out his hands like Jesus gathering up his flock. The final touch is the flash of lightning running from his right hand down into the clouds: part reference to the famous Michelangelo painting and art echo of the 1970s Elvis logo, Taking Care of Business — In A Flash.

Here's Larry and Elvis, early and late period . . .

Next The book I referred to more than any other . . . written by a Doors fan of a Dane.

Friday, 7 February 2014

Elvis books eleven
The Hitchhiker’s Guide To Elvis by Mick Farren
As Farren points out in his introduction, he first heard Elvis in 1956 and has never been the same since. It’s an alphabetical catalogue of Elvisiana. Where else would you see — recorded with equal parts reverence and irreverence — the fact that Elvis hated fish so much he wouldn’t let his wife eat it while he was around? Or find the code words Elvis gave women to use so they were put straight through to him when they called Graceland? Ann-Margret was Thumper and Ursula Andress was Alan. 

Fish phobia? Naming one of the world’s sexiest women after a Disney rabbit? Let us be honest, a French psychoanalyst could base an entire career on exploring such facts.

Next Elvis and not a French analyst but the French penseur, Montaigne: “Peu d'hommes ont esté admirés par leurs domestiques.” Which, in the King's case, translates as 'No man is a hero to his hairdresser.'

Thursday, 6 February 2014

Top Elvis book number ten
Elvis ’56: In The Beginning by Alfred Wertheimer

A 26-year-old photo-realist employed by RCA to take candid promo shots of their new star, Wertheimer made 3,800 photographs of Elvis over a period of two years. The best of them, collected in this book, comprise an astounding portrait of the artist as young sex star, full of distractingly rich detail. For example, there’s one of Elvis on the Chattanooga choo-choo to Memphis on Independence Day, 1956 in which you find yourself drawn as much by Elvis’ matching ring and watch band as by his intense stare. 

Another, more obvious example, perhaps the best-known of all the photographs, has Elvis backstage with a gorgeous young girl, their tongues touching, half in play, half in lust. It looks so gorgeous, so innocent. You can’t help but find yourself wondering: what happened next? And what did she do with the rest of her life? 

In 2011, in Vanity Fair magazine, we finally found out. The young woman was Barbara Gray, by then a 75-year-old real estate agent with four marriages behind her. At the time the photo was taken, at the Mosque Theatre in Richmond, Virginia, she was 20-year-old Bobbi Owens — her maiden name. According to writer Alanna Nash, she was an ‘unabashed party girl’, a sometime dancer, sometime shoe saleswoman. ‘I was very thin and very stacked,’ she said. The Elvis picture was far from the only colourful moment in the tale she told. Raped at 12, she had her first child at 16. By 17, she was divorced and hustling. ‘I was a pretty loose gal. Then I started waking up to the fact I was a whore.’ 

After a spell nude modelling in Los Angeles, she returned to the south. By the time Elvis met her she was a ‘show-off dancer’ at the Carriage Club in Charleston. That evening was the only time she and Elvis spent together. They didn’t have sex, she said. Later, she dated two of Liberace’s boyfriends, had a fight with Zsa Zsa Gabor, worked for sexy underwear shop, Frederick’s of Hollywood and, in time, turned to God. Eventually, in spring 2011, she contacted Wertheimer, convinced him she was the girl in his pictures and sold him her rights for $2,000, an affidavit confirming her story and a small set of signed books and prints.

Now Buy another best Elvis book, mine. Don't trust me. Listen to the reviews. 'Outstanding.' 'An absolute must.' (And both by people who don't owe me money.)

Then Come back to find the link between Elvis and Bambi

Wednesday, 5 February 2014

Elvis top books, number nine
Private Elvis by Diego Cortez

The first arty wacko Elvis book, it came out soon enough after his death to retain a breath of originality. The book was launched, in New York, with a real downtown art show — everyone dressed in black, a high ratio of junkies and friends of Brian Eno, maps on the wall seeking to ‘demonstrate’ the supposed topological similarity between Memphis and Stuttgart. 

Even without the surrounding arty hoopla, the pictures alone are striking enough — amateur monochromes of Elvis in the army. Girls hang on his arm expectantly, mouths open with sexual possibilities. These candid, revelatory narratives are given added depth by the knowledge that, at the same time, Elvis had yet another, even more private life. He was courting the 14-year-old daughter of one of his senior officers, the future virgin(ish) bride, Priscilla. By contrast, these greasy snapshots with semi-professional German girls make him seem an almost-normal young man on the prowl. 

For the film of the book — which, more than three decades on, has yet to emerge — Joe Strummer recorded two versions of Heartbreak Hotel, both of them radical and attractive recastings of the original.

Next That one with Elvis kissing an innocent young girl. And the story of the kiss. And the young girl. Who wasn't so innocent after all.

Tuesday, 4 February 2014

Elvis book eight 
The Elvis Reader: Texts And Sources On The King Of Rock ’n’ Roll, ed. Kevin Quain

A collection that successfully straddles an uncomfortable divide — academia and journalism. It includes both some of the best well-known writing on Elvis — extracts from the Goldman book, Lester Bangs’ Where Were You When Elvis Died?, Stanley Booth’s A Hound Dog, To The Manor Born — and some of the undeservedly obscure — notably a couple of very early pieces from Harper’s magazine. Its taste is fine, though perhaps a little predictable, and its sweep wide, though perhaps a little heavy on Elvis’ death.

Next The King and the showgirls, in Paris

Monday, 3 February 2014

Elvis bestest books number seven

The Two Kings by AJ Jacobs 

In 1974, according to his hairdresser, Elvis said he believed he was Jesus Christ. This beauteous blasphemy of a book highlights the ‘uncanny’ similarities between Elvis and Jesus. ‘Jesus was a carpenter’ it states. Then: ‘Elvis majored in woodwork.’ Both Elvis and Jesus, of course, made famous, unexpected comebacks. Jesus, in Jerusalem to Mary Magdalene, three days after his apparent death on Calvary. Elvis, in Burbank, to millions of TV viewers five years after his apparent artistic death in Hollywood. 

A better worked and more plausible conceit than Don DeLillo’s in White Noise which is, essentially: Elvis and Hitler, they were both Mama’s boys.

Now Buy the absolute bestest Elvis book, mine, Essential Elvis. PS It's cheap, only £1.99 as download. Buy it. Buy it now. Don't take my word for it. Just ask yourself what would Elvis do? Or Jesus. Or both . . .

Next Elvis goes to college. Or, at least, college goes to Elvis.

Friday, 31 January 2014

Best Elvis books ever: numbers five & six

Last Train To Memphis: The Rise of Elvis Presley by Peter Guralnick

Careless Love: The Unmaking of Elvis Presley by Peter Guralnick

The definitive biography in two volumes, as warm and loving as Goldman is bitter and twisted. Goldman’s Elvis is a half-wit who lucked out. Guralnick’s Elvis is a singer who knew what he was trying to do and worked hard at it, in the studio at least, effectively becoming the first self-produced pop performer. 

So much serious (and ironic) Elvis commentary is based on duality. On one hand, the drug addict, on the other, the honorary narcotics agent. Lover of heavy-bodied Mama Gladys and also of pornos featuring heavy-bodied Gladys-like Mama figures fighting like hell-cats. The vibrant young iconoclast versus the ageing, bloated everyman. And, above all, the original duality, Elvis and his stillborn twin, Jesse. Whatever the merits of Guralnick’s biography — and they are overwhelming — it can also be read as the good twin to the bad twin of Goldman’s Elvis. The two portraits of the subject are different enough to make hardened doubters believe in parallel universes — the Sun King versus the Scum King. 

Erudite, sweet-hearted and exhaustive — not to say occasionally exhausting — Guralnick’s first volume takes the story up to Elvis’ departure for Germany in September 1958. ‘This book cancels out all others,’ was Bob Dylan’s judgment.

The second volume finishes the story. Which is a telling fact — four years of Elvis’ artistic career stretched across the first book, the remaining nineteen years squashed into the second. Aesthetically justified or not, it highlights Guralnick’s uneasiness at dealing with pop. The evil twin barely gets a look-in. Sometimes you can’t help but feel he overvalues sincerity, honesty and authenticity at the expense of pop’s other life-affirming demons: lust, avarice, exhibitionism. To put it another way, he wouldn’t know a great jacket if you bought it for him. 

Next The question that calms us all at moments of great stress: what would Elvis' hairdresser do?

Thursday, 30 January 2014

Elvis top books: number four

Elvis In His Own Words by Mick Farren and Pearce Marchbank, Omnibus, 1977

A quickie post-death book of real quality. Lots and lots of black and white photographs, arranged and displayed by one of Britain’s best graphic designers and annotated by one of Britain’s best music journalists. The rest is just what it says in the title — Elvis’ very few interviews arranged in chronological order to produce something like a mini-autobiography.

And now today's picture of Elvis  . . . in a Crouch End window display. The King lives in Nappy Valley!

RIP Mick Farren who died earlier this year, just off Charing Cross Road, having collapsing onstage while playing with his final bunch of Deviants.

Next A train to Memphis. Not the night one but the last one.

Wednesday, 29 January 2014

The best of Elvis books, number three

Graceland: The Living Legacy Of Elvis Presley, by Chet Flippo

The Homes & Gardens version of the King’s life. Lavishly lifeless photographs of Graceland’s decor and the contents of the Elvis collections on the other side of Elvis Presley Boulevard. An excellent reminder of the truly fabulous vulgarity of Graceland, with scalpel-sharp text by Flippo. Just one little detail is missing. A picture of the toilet where he died. 

There are cod and funny pictures of Elvis' toilet all over but you won't find a real one. In fact, there has never been a posthumous picture published of not just Elvis' toilet but of the whole upstairs, private section of Graceland. It remains sacrosant and unseen, not just by the 600,000 annual visitors but by non-civilians ones, too. Their requests for tours of Elvis' home quarters are always rebuffed. Even President Clinton was turned down.

There are, though, pictures that were taken before his death — and, apparently, it has been left just as it was. Perfectly. Here is an old shot of the bathrooom. Still no toilet, though.

And here is a different kind of private Elvis picture instead . . .

It was taken by Jane Rule Burdine, an artist from the Mississippi hill country where Elvis was born.

Now . . . buy the essential Elvis book, mine. 'An absolute must for any fan of the King.'
Next Elvis talks (posthumously)

Tuesday, 21 January 2014

Best Elvis books
Number two
Mystery Train by Greil Marcus

It’s old — written while Elvis was alive. It’s not just about Elvis — there are three other major essays in it, on The Band, Sly Stone and Randy Newman (well before his Toy Story days, naturally). It’s too often pretentious — even such an original brain and fine writer as Greil Marcus should restrain from sharing his dreams and daydreams with the reader. Yet it is still one of the best things ever published about Elvis. The selective discography was ground-breakingly intelligent and informative when it was first published and it’s still the best beginner’s guide both to the highlights of Elvis’ career and to the blues and country music that stood behind his innovations. 

The long essay on Elvis — which came out at a time when his career was at an all-time nadir — offered the first detailed chronicle of the Sun recordings, the first reconsideration of his later work and a string of bright, sharp comments. An example: ‘To Elvis, Watergate would have been something like a cosmic paternity suit.’ As with a lot of Marcus’ stuff, it’s not even a case of not being sure if I agree with it so much as not even having a clue what he’s on about. But it sounds like it means something. And it made me laugh.


And here is a picture of Elvis just down the road from the nearest train stop to his parents' house in Memphis. (I know it looks like a fake. Or one of Paul Graham's slow-jolting pictures of America on foot. But it's not. It's real and genuine and 1956, taken by Alfred Wertheimer, of whom there will be more soon.)

Next At home with the King

Monday, 13 January 2014

Best books on Elvis
Number one: 
The Goldman gospels

Elvis by Albert Goldman, McGraw-Hill, 1981

Elvis: The Last 24 Hours by Albert Goldman, St Martin’s Press, 1991

Portrait of the artist as ageing, racist voyeur, addicted to pharmaceutical morphine and peanut butter. To the true believer, Goldman is the anti-Christ, purveyor of filth and lies. To the sceptical fan, he’s got all the details right while completely missing the overall picture. There has never been a serious challenge to his research but the book never gets to grips with the most obvious of its own rationales: if Elvis was so stupidly unimportant, why did the publishers think it worth paying such a vast advance?

The book’s unrelenting dyspepsia does have its own artistic integrity. There’s a fascination to reading Goldman’s obsessive rantings and a perverse syllogistic logic to his central aesthetic judgment: that Elvis was a non-talent because he wasn’t black. Goldman’s emotional extension of this is: and that was Elvis’ own fault!

That Goldman himself choked to death on the free food of a first-class airline flight is one of fate’s more vulgar jokes.

Next up The train that don't stop her no more. And maybe why.

PS Here is an image a google search turned up. The young woman seems to be named Elvis Goldman.  Doesn't seem to have anything in common with either of her namesakes, though. Unlike the original Elvis, her black hair appears to be natural. And unlike Goldman the biographer, she doesn't seem to need glasses.

Saturday, 11 January 2014

Elvis: the best of books, the worst of books

Another bit of my Essential Elvis manuscript that didn't make it into the final version was my list of the best Elvis books. The list was in the first edition but in a far briefer form. 

So, over the coming days (maybe weeks), I will be posting here on what I reckon are the best Elvis books.

But first . . .

Johnny Ramone's list of the best Elvis books. 

The late Ramone brother kept extensive lists in notebooks. Here is his Elvis book top ten.

1. Last Train to Memphis (Peter Guralnik) 

2. Careless Love (Peter Guralnik)

3. Elvis Up Close: In the Words of Those Who Knew Him Best (Rose Clayton and Dick Heard)

4. Elvis Aaron Presley: Revelations From the Memphis Mafia (Alanna Nash)

5. That’s Alright Elvis (Scotty Moore and James Dickerson)

6. Elvis: What Happened? (Red West and Steve Dunleavy)

7. All About Elvis (Fred L. Worth and Steve D. Tamerius)

8. The Elvis Encyclopedia (Adam Victor)

9. Down at the End of Lonely Street (Peter Harry Brown and Pat H. Broeske)

10. The Elvis Atlas (Michael Gray and Roger Osborne)

More Johnny Ramone and Elvis . . .

His favorite Elvis songs  . . .

1. Don't Be Cruel, 
2. Can't Help Falling In Love, 
3. Baby Let's Play House, 
4. Viva Las Vegas, 
5. Are You Lonesome Tonight? 

His favourite singers . . .

1. Elvis
2. Bing Crosby
3. Roy Orbison
4. Gene Pitney
5. The Everly Brothers

His favourite Elvis movies . . .

1. Loving You
2. Jailhouse Rock
3. King Creole
4. Viva Las Vegas
5. Follow That Dream
6. Kid Galahad
7. Love Me Tender
8. Kissin' Cousins
9. Elvis: That's the Way It Is
10. G.I. Blues

So did the Ramones ever cover an Elvis song? It seems not. For sure, there isn't one on the quite wonderful Ace records compilation, The Ramones Heard Them Here First. They did, though, do this quite wonderful version of a Tom Waits song . . .

Next You'll be able to see how my favourites compare with da brudder's. Hint: the first one is not on Johnny's list.
Meantime . . . buy the book.

Wednesday, 8 January 2014

Happy birthday, Elvis . . .

You would have been seventy-nine. Time to get other people to do your work for you. So here are some ideas . . .

The ten best Elvis cover versions (okay, my ten favourites), in alphabetical order

Always On My Mind Pet Shop Boys


Blue Hawaii Willie Nelson


Can’t Help Falling In Love Bono


Jailhouse Rock John Mellencamp


Little Sister Ry Cooder


Mystery Train The Band


Mystery Train Helen Watson

Sorry, there is no YouTube on this so I have posted another Helen Watson cover of another Memphis wonder, Percy Sledge's Out Of Left Field (1967), written by Dan Penn and Spooner Oldham.


Suspicious Minds Candi Staton 


Viva Las Vegas Shawn Colvin


Viva Las Vegas ZZ Top


And the best song about Elvis . . .

Blue Moon Revisited (Song For Elvis) Cowboy Junkies

Now buy the book (Essential Elvis) here