During Elvis Week the singer's pivotal year is remembered

On the anniversary of Presley's death, his first two albums, released in 1956, are also commemorated.
Elvis Presley died 33 years ago today, and it was 55 years ago that the singer released his first two albums in 1956.
Elvis Presley died 33 years ago today, and it was 55 years ago that the singer released his first two albums in 1956.

Every year, thousands of Elvis devotees flock to Memphis for "Elvis Week", where they commemorate the singer's death on August 16, 1977. The main event is the solemn candlelight vigil at Graceland, his longtime home, at midnight tonight.

This year, fans have something else to commemorate. It was 55 years ago - 1956 - when the first two Elvis albums were released, launching an international music career that brought Presley's mix of country, gospel and rhythm and blues to millions of fans around the world.

"It's a documentation of what I think is rock music's most incredible year," said Ernst Jorgensen, a music producer and Presley catalogue expert. "Nobody was prepared for Elvis."

To mark Presley's' breakout year, Jorgensen and his team have assembled a five-CD box set called Young Man With the Big Beat. The collection will go on sale on September 27 and include the five CDs with an 80-page book that provides a daily chronology of Presley's year though photos, postcards, fan letters, magazine covers and other memorabilia, as well as rare photos, posters and a replica concert ticket stub.

The first two CDs in the set are packed with music from the debut LP Elvis Presley and the follow up Elvis. Those seminal albums feature some of Presley's' most well-known songs: Heartbreak Hotel, Blue Suede Shoes, Don't Be Cruel, Hound Dog, Love Me Tender and more; tunes that helped sell 10 million singles and 800,000 LPs in 1956 alone.

"We were fascinated about how this one man seemed to change the entire music business in America in 12 months," Jorgensen said.

But it was the first album, which included Trying to Get to You and Ray Charles's I Got a Woman, that the author Peter Guralnick said is the more important of the two 1956 albums.

"I would look at the first album as an American songbook. It's a homage to all the great genres of American music," said Guralnick, who wrote two Presley biographies, Last Train to Memphis: The Rise of Elvis Presley and Careless Love: The Unmaking of Elvis Presley.

The third CD features rare live recordings that have been remastered and includes songs from a previously unreleased concert in Shreveport, Louisiana, in December 1956.

Jorgensen said he is always looking for undiscovered gems such as the Shreveport concert that can make Presley's' music new to longtime fans.

The fourth CD in the set features out-takes from the first RCA recording session in January of that year, and a February session in which Presley does 12 takes of Shake, Rattle and Roll.

The fifth CD includes interviews and two segments of Presley's rare monologue, The Truth About Me. The out-takes and interviews display a sensitive, emotional side to Presley amid a great deal of criticism.

Guralnick said the criticism didn't start until Presley became a national star, and it was based on class and social prejudice.

"He was extremely outspoken that this was unfair, and that every generation needs to have its own style of music," said Guralnick.

Fans can pre-order Young Man with the Big Beat for US$110 (Dh400) at Elvis1956.com, or wait until September 27 and pay a suggested retail price of $140 (Dh515).

Published: August 16, 2011 04:00 AM


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