Monday, June 11, 2012

Elvis, In The Service, Is Kept Alive In The Marketplace With For LP Fans Only.

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 For LP Fans Only feels like an assembly of rejected/b-side recordings that does not belong together.

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 For LP Fans Only.

While I am usually loathe to go into anything that is not simply heard on the album being reviewed, in the case of For LP Fans Only, 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.

On compact disc, For LP Fans Only is a terrible investment and it is inexplicable why RCA did not release this as a single disc with A Date With Elvis 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-four minutes, For LP Fans Only is a collection of unreleased recordings by Elvis Presley that were created in his 1954 - 1956 recording sessions. "Poor Boy" was a b-side on one of Presley's singles ("Love Me Tender"), but otherwise the tracks were new to listeners at the time and the album presents a fairly soulful Presley. Elvis sings and plays guitar on many of the tracks and the only one he receives a co-writing credit for is "Poor Boy" (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.

The most historically notable release on For LP Fans Only is "Shake, Rattle And Roll," Presley's cover of the Charles Calhoun track popularized by Big Joe Turner and later Bill Haley & His Comets. Interestingly, Elvis's version was released as a single, but failed to chart in any significant way and it is equally intriguing that the three most popular versions of the song were all recorded within a relatively short time of one another.

Lyrically, there is little to recommend For LP Fans Only. Songs range from the soulful but pointless blues crooning of "Lawdy Miss Clawdy" and rockabilly sound of "Mystery Train" to the dumb "rock out" track of "Shake, Rattle And Roll." This is not to say that songs like "Shake, Rattle And Roll" do not sound good, but lyrically, they aren't that exciting. And "Lawdy Miss Clawdy" is such a short song that it feels like it's desperately trying to get up to a minimum length by repeating the lines "Bye-bye baby / I won't be coming no more / Good bye little darling / Down the road I go."

The notable lyrical exception to the doldrums of the tracks on this album comes in the form of "I Was The One." "I Was The One" is a track that is surprising was not successful given the way it manages to develop over the course of the poem. It begins as an arrogant "f-you!" to the next guy from a jilted lover with lines like, "I was the one who taught her to kiss / The way that she kisses you now. / And you know the way she touches your cheek, / Well, I taught her how. / I was the one who taught her to cry / When she wants you under her spell. / The sight of her tears drives you out of your mind, / I taught her so well" ("I Was The One"). After such a powerful and often mean set up (hard not to love the jaded line "And it was all for me"), the protagonist reveals the comeuppance with the twisting lines, "I'll never know who taught her to lie. / Now that it's over and done, / Who learned the lesson when she broke my heart? / I was the one" ("I Was The One"). So, the musical poem becomes a morality play and it works brilliantly illustrating effective in song and verse the consequences of vengeance. It's rare a song can do that and still sound great, but Presley pulls it off with "I Was The One." It's astonishing to me to learn it peaked at #19 on the charts!

Lyrically, that is the exception, though "My Baby Left Me," probably the album's other recognizable track and another one that surprisingly underperformed on the charts, is not a bad song. I suppose it's difficult when listening to Elvis records back to back to back because at some point, many of us audiophiles simply get sick of listening to Elvis whine. I mean, I'm developing a genuine appreciation for the classic sound and the style that emphasizes voice and lyrics over the simple guitars and drums, but dang! Elvis whines and cries a lot for one who is portrayed in history classes as the archetypal '50's manly man. I appreciate the emotional balance of men who are encouraged to cry, but listening to Elvis so much makes me recall a commentary on At The Movies With Ebert And Roper where one of the hosts implored Ben Affleck to stop crying in every movie he does!

That said, the lyrics being dull is accented by the limited vocal range presented on the tracks on For LP Fans Only. 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 ("Lawdy Miss Lawdy," "Playing For Keeps") and rock and roll articulator Presley ("I'm Left, You're Right, She's Gone," "Shake, Rattle, And Roll"). 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. "Shake, Rattle, And Roll," "My Baby Left Me" and "I'm Left, You're Right, She's Gone" all utilize the same basic sound and even melodies! "Poor Boy" and "You're A Heartbreaker" produce Elvis's voice the same way, which puts the sound of the tracks disappointingly close to their similar guitar presentations and the album continues to suffer because the tracks blend into one another! The downfall of For LP Fans Only 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. This is, however, 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
30 #1 Hits


For other music reviews, be sure to visit my Music Review Index Page for an organized listing.

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