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Elvis Is Back (And Now Reissued)

Elvis Presley.
Getty Images/Staff
Elvis Presley.

The Legacy Edition reissue of Elvis Is Back! prompts some rare praise of corporate consolidation from me. Since Sony took control of what had been RCA several years ago, the back catalog of Elvis Presley has been served well. His discography had long been lost in a thicket of quickie best-ofs and repackaging that all but made original LPs irrelevant. The conventional wisdom was that, after Elvis went into the Army, something vital leaked out of him and he was never as Kingly again.

But I am here to tell you that, especially with some singles from the same 1960 period added on, Elvis Is Back! is as fine an album as Presley ever made — and maybe the most representative of his range of styles. Some modes are his alone. For example, his treatment of "Such a Night" is unique: Is he sending up the song? Sending up himself? Both? Neither? It's mysterious and amusing at once.

Elvis Is Back! was reportedly a favorite of the artist himself, and he served as much as his own producer as he would on any session. But the record fell short in sales when initially released, and Presley seemed to second-guess himself forever after.

Following a movie soundtrack and a gospel side-trip, Elvis recorded Something for Everyone in 1961, and it's included in the Legacy reissue package. A more cautious and ingratiating set of tunes like "Sentimental Me" and "Gently" is redeemed by a trio of add-on singles that stomp harder than anything on Elvis Is Back!, topped off by the celebrated "Little Sister."

Going To Graceland

On a recent trip to Memphis, I sipped a bit more of the Elvis elixir by visits to Sun Studios and Graceland, both mandatory for serious rock fans. Sun impresses partly because it seems as humble as Elvis' origins — stuck in the middle of nowhere, no more glorious than any neighborhood store. But, also like any place subject to so many waves of human fascination and adoration, it's a place full of spiritual energy. As is Graceland, though in its way, it remains enigmatic.

Graceland began as an Elvis theme park, but as time goes on, it seems like more of a peculiar but precious museum. No one will ever be the first rock 'n' roll superstar again, and no one will ever create such a combination of Fortress of Solitude and clubhouse for his gang. The TV room is the most fun-filled fantasy zone of yellow and cream furnishing and triple screens. It's apt that fuel efficiency plays no part in the concept and presentation of the Elvis automobile collection. It seems sad to me that his customized private jet, the Lisa Marie, was used so little because he got it only two years before his death. Some special exhibits at Graceland were inspired, like Elvis and the Media; some less so, like Elvis the King of Fashion.

But the gravestones in the Meditation Garden will grab everybody for all time. The tributes tossed at the foot of Elvis' slab included flowers and teddy bears, but also a giant-sized Butterfinger bar, getting all bent and wrinkled in the Southern rainstorm that day. At first, I thought somebody should take it away. Then I decided it was perfect. He's a big hunk of timeless candy made from sex, schmaltz, sass — indeed, Elvis has something for everyone.

Copyright 2022 Fresh Air. To see more, visit Fresh Air.

Milo Miles is Fresh Air's world-music and American-roots music critic. He is a former music editor of The Boston Phoenix.