1956 was the year that some hillbilly truck driver with the unlikely name of Elvis Presley kickstarted rock ’n’ roll with a his jumpy, jittery, hiccupy versions of Carl Perkins, Little Richard, Ray Charles, Otis Blackwell, Big Joe Turner, old-time country music, blues and standards his mother would love. Everything was instinctual. His singular genius—similar to that of Billie Holiday—was so ingrained in his very being, that he had no idea what he was doing. He just knew what felt good.

By 1956, though, he knew exactly what he was doing. Yet there was still enough of the Deep South bumpkin in him to make him totally charming and irresistible both on a musical level and a personal one. And this is what this box brings out.

The first two discs are from the studio: 39 gems that sound as good today as when they were recorded. “Ol’ Shep,” the 1933 cornball country weeper by Red Foley about his dead dog, can still bring a lump to the throat. You can hear Presley’s confidence grow from Disc #1 to Disc #2.

At first, he’s brash, out-of-breath, hungry and ever so trying to please. By the second disc, he’s totally in command, secure in the knowledge of his overt sex appeal and playing upon it.

Disc #3 goes from when he actually bombed in Vegas to those Southern shows where he’d make the girls faint. He covers up his nervousness in Vegas with bad jokes and pointing out celebrities like Phil Silvers and Ray Bolger in the audience.

Disc #4 contains studio outtakes, version after version of “Lawdy Miss Clawdy” and “Shake Rattle & Roll.” Listen to ‘em straight to the end and you feel like you’ve been at a long arduous band practice.

Disc #5 is all interviews.

Okay, fine, you’ve got to be an Elvis fanatic to want to hear this stuff over and over again. Especially the interviews, the dozens of takes of the same song, the screams during the live shows, and songs that you may already own. But it is a beautiful package, very impressive, and there are so many cool moments on this thing that makes it worth its sticker price.

In A Word: Historic

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