Saturday, June 16, 2012

Brand Elvis Phones In A Date With Elvis, I Respond With A Review In Kind!

The Good: Moments of voice, Moments of lyrics, Moments of instrumentals
The Bad: SHORT!, Not a truly cohesive album, Very limited in many ways
The Basics: Compiled while Elvis was in the military A Date With Elvis feels like an assembly of rejected/b-side recordings that does not belong together.

One of the nice things I've learned recently about fans of the music of Elvis Presley is that most of them seem to acknowledge that Elvis Presley soon became a commodity, a brand name that was traded on and exploited. While Elvis had a massive number of albums, there's nowhere near as much material. Yes, the producers of Elvis Presley were the original recyclers and even early in his career, there were some seriously phoned in works. It's sometimes hard not to phone in a review when what one is reviewing is completely phoned in itself. This is particularly relevant when one is reviewing something short, obscure and more or less eliminated by time, like Elvis Presley's A Date With Elvis.

While I am usually loathe to go into anything that is not simply heard on the album being reviewed, in the case of A Date With Elvis, it seems more or less essential in order to actually lend substance to the review. So, a brief history lesson: Elvis Presley, for those who did not live through it, was called to serve the United States in the Army. Drafted in the late '50s while his career was still on the rise, Presley opted to serve and in 1958 he joined up and was sent to Germany after his training period was completed. This, naturally, made the executives at RCA/Victor, Presley's recording company, very nervous. So, they culled through the archives of Presley's recordings to see what was kicking around that had been underrepresented or unreleased. The result was a pair of records released in 1959, which kept Elvis on the airwaves and in the marketplace while he was not making anything new. The first was For LP Fans Only and it was followed up with A Date With Elvis later in 1959.

On compact disc, A Date With Elvis is a terrible investment and it is inexplicable why RCA did not release this as a single disc with For LP Fans Only considering both albums were assembled rather than created as albums. They both end up short and as a result are a terrible use of the compact disc medium.

With ten tracks clocking in at just under twenty-three minutes, A Date With Elvis is a collection of unreleased and hard-to-find recordings by Elvis Presley that were created in his 1954 - 1957 recording sessions. "We're Gonna Move" and "Is It So Strange" were b-sides on two of Presley's singles ("Love Me Tender" and "Just For You," respectively) and three tracks were on the "Jailhouse Rock" soundtrack ("Young And Beautiful," "(You're So Square) Baby I Don't Care"" and "I Want To Be Free") but otherwise the tracks were new to listeners at the time and the album presents a fairly different Presley, with soul, country, and pure rock tracks. Elvis sings and plays guitar on many of the tracks and the only one he receives a co-writing credit for is "We're Gonna Move" (whether or not he actually was involved in the writing). Presley does not take any credit for production and as a result, this album has the general feel of exactly what it is: an assembled listening experience. An album manufactured entirely for the commercialism of Brand Elvis.

Unlike For LP Fans Only, there are no truly historically relevant or recognizable tracks on this release, though "I Forgot To Remember To Forget" is sometimes considered Presley's first #1 as it marked his peaking there on the Country And Western charts (most accept "Heartbreak Hotel" as his first #1).

Lyrically, there is little to recommend A Date With Elvis. Songs range from the soulful but pointless blues crooning of "Milkcow Boogie Blues" and rockabilly sound of "Good Rockin' Tonight" to the simplistic rhyme scheme of "I Want To Be Free." This is not to say that songs like "I Want To Be Free" do not sound good, but lyrically, they aren't that exciting, with rhymes that are obvious even at that point in rock history - i.e. "free/tree."

The notable lyrical exception to the doldrums of the tracks on this album comes on the tracks "Young And Beautiful" and "(You're So Square) Baby I Don't Care." "Young And Beautiful" is a straightforward love ballad with Elvis crooning to a young woman. The poetics are simple, but striking with lines like, "You're so young and beautiful and I love you so / Your lips so red, your eyes that shine / Shame the stars that glow / So fill these lonely arms of mine / And kiss me tenderly / Then you'll be forever young / And beautiful to me" ("Young And Beautiful"). Presley may just be a performer, but those who fill his mouth with words seem to know what they are doing frequently enough!

Lyrically, that is the exception, though "(You're So Square) Baby I Don't Care," is fun and different. After all, it's rare to hear a song where the musical narrator admits that the one they are in love with isn't as cool or wonderful as others might think, but that's just fine with them. Sure, a song with lines like "I don't know why my heart flips. / I only know it does. / I wonder why I love you, baby. / I guess it's just because / You're so square. / Baby, I don't care." ("You're So Square) Baby I Don't Care") won't be overplayed at weddings or anything, but it thumbs its nose at popular authority and that is admirable in and of itself.

Songs like "Baby Let's Play House" are ridiculously repetitive and are accented in how poor they are by Elvis's vocals degenerating into grunts and inarticulate vocal riffs. He mumbles through the song and it's just troubling to hear now.

That said, the lyrics being dull is accented by the limited vocal range presented on the tracks on A Date With Elvis. All ten tracks put Presley's voice within the same low range and keep him in a rather safe zone. He basically presents two styles of vocal on this album: soulful r&b Elvis ("Blue Moon Of Kentucky" and "Milkcow Blues Boogie") and rock and roll articulator Presley ("Good Rockin' Tonight," "We're Gonna Move"). The problem is vocally many of the tracks end up sounding similar to one another and there's something troubling about listening to the album over and over again because it does not hold up on this front.

Even worse is the musical front. "(You're So Square) Baby I Don't Care," "Good Rockin' Tonight" and "We're Gonna Move" all utilize the same basic sound and even melodies! "Young And Beautiful" and "I Want To Be Free" produce Elvis's voice the same way, which puts the sound of the tracks disappointingly close to their similar piano presentations and the album continues to suffer because the tracks blend into one another! The downfall of A Date With Elvis is that Elvis presents the music with disturbingly similar sounds.

This is an album comprised of early rock tracks heavily influenced by a rhythm and blues sound and while Elvis plays guitar on many of the tracks, he is not the only one. The dominant instrument sound is guitars, though some tracks have piano, bass and drums as well. The only other notable aspect is that Elvis plays bass on at least one of the tracks, too. Ultimately, though, this is a dull compilation and track to track it doesn't say anything.

All of the tracks on this album appear on other (longer) albums mixed in better, making this an album easy to avoid. The best track is "I Was The One," the low point is the whiny "Poor Boy."

For other works by Elvis Presley, be sure to check out my reviews of:
Elvis Presley
Loving You
Elvis’ Golden Records
Elvis’ Christmas Album
King Creole
For LP Fans Only
30 #1 Hits


For other music reviews, be sure to visit my Music Review Index Page for an organized listing of all the albums and singles I have reviewed!

© 2012, 2008 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.

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