Twenty Years and Counting

The anniversary of Elvis Presley's death inspires the release of--surprise!--more Elvis Presley product.

The exceptions to this are mainly on disc one. "I'll Never Stand in Your Way," probably cut at Sun Records in January 1954, reveals a strangely tentative Elvis not yet ready to cut loose. So, too, does a stop-and-start run-through of "That's All Right," the Arthur Crudup blues that he eventually mastered; the manner in which he reins in the crazy sensuality that he oozes in the better-known version gives this reject a scintillating tension. But rather than building on this theme, the compilers of Platinum disrupt it by sprinkling radio smashes into the mix. It's difficult to know why they felt compelled to drop the originals of "Don't Be Cruel," "All Shook Up," "Teddy Bear" and many more onto Platinum; probably they feared that people purchasing it after seeing the plugs that have been airing on Wheel of Fortune and Jeopardy would be alienated unless at least some favorites were included. But the juxtaposition of a shaggy, off-pitch ransacking of "When the Saints Go Marching In" (a private recording from 1956 that finds Presley harmonizing with running buddies Red West and Charlie Hooten) with the polished-for-airplay "Love Me Tender" is just plain baffling. Or maybe it's not. That the subtitle on "Suspicious Minds," from disc three, reads "Alternate Take 7" lets you know that there are six others sitting in a can in RCA's vault just waiting to be foisted on a gullible populace. Place them beside some classics and--voila!--Platinum, Part Two.

By the same token, you can hardly blame RCA for taking advantage of certain fans' mania for owning everything they can grab that's even tangentially connected to the dead performers who mean the most to them. The record industry is a business, not a public service, and members of it have the right to make money from it whether the albums they're distributing are good or not. Furthermore, none of their efforts will have the slightest impact on the evolution of Elvis Presley's image. In death, the King has taken on a life of his own--one that's too powerful for anyone to control. He may be a joke to some and a god to others, but either way, he's here to stay. On August 16 twenty years from now, people will still be making pilgrimages to his grave, and they'll still be buying every Presley album they can find. Pop stardom is ephemeral, but Elvis is forever.

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