The new disc, which spans 15 years and features much previously unreleased material, opens with a glimpse of the very early Elvis. On the lead-off track, you’ll find a restrained yet engrossing version of “Harbor Lights,” which a then-19-year-old Presley cut at Sun Studios. The next band preserves a 1956 interview with an obviously nervous Elvis, who discusses his fledgling record and film career with an equally fidgety DJ. (“Your new album,” reports the jock, “is just takin’ over our hillbilly hit parade, I’ll tell ya for sure.”)
Following these bits of memorabilia are tracks that include some of the finest of Elvis’s career. We hear, for example, “Jailhouse Rock.” the classic title tune from his third movie; “Blue Christmas,” one of the most popular and easily one of the sexiest holiday records of all time; and “How Great Thou Art,” a highlight of a bleak period in Elvis’s career and the title cut from his Grammy-winning sacred music LP. Also, from his 1968 TV special come live renditions of “If I Can Dream,” one of Presley’s best-wrought ballads; “Baby, What You Want Me to Do,” which features the singer on lead guitar; and “Blue Suede Shoes,” a quintessential Elvis rave-up.
The nine-million-selling “It’s Now or Never” and “Such a Night,” both from Presley’s first post-Army LP, offer a special treat. The former tune, a Billboard Song of the Year in 1960, well showcases his mastery of the pop ballad, and the latter number, which appears here with “extras” from the studio session, offers delicious sax work by Boots Randolph and exudes the rock and roll energy and sexuality that define Presley at his best.
The only scratch on the record is “Presentation of Awards to Elvis,” a dull moment from a Honolulu press conference that sheds no light on anything. Since that track clocks in at a relatively unobtrusive 1:24, however, it hardly detracts from what is otherwise a first-rate package.