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Elvis Emerges to Join Orbison, Clapton as Rock Gems Unearthed

Elvis Presley
Elvis Presley in a rare publicity photo while he was still enlisted in the U.S. army. The picture was shot for RCA Records and a German magazine in July, 1959, the year before ``Elvis is Back!'' Source: Sony Legacy via Bloomberg

Elvis Presley squandered much of the 1960s and 1970s starring in bad movies and bloated shows.

The Elvis who emerged from the army in 1960 still was devastated by the death of his mother, and convinced that he was forgotten. His spirits were raised by the wild reception he got on returning to the U.S. He entered a Nashville studio to make his 10th LP, “Elvis Is Back!”

Boy, did he work hard. A new box set puts the case stronger than ever, adding the 1961 collection “Something for Everybody,” rare songs, and the singles “Stuck on You,” “It’s Now or Never,” “A Mess of Blues,” “Little Sister” and “Are You Lonesome Tonight?”

The inclusions soften the previously grating shifts among styles, jumping from the jazzy “Fever” to the old-school rock of “Dirty, Dirty Feeling” and on to blues, country, pop and gospel. (In 1960, Presley also recorded “His Hand in Mine.” Gospel ballads count among his most passionate.)

The King was reunited with his backing group Scotty Moore, Floyd Cramer and D.J. Fontana and vocal quartet the Jordanaires. The songwriting is strong, starting with Otis Blackwell’s “Make Me Know It” through to Lowell Fulson’s “Reconsider Baby.” Elvis never hit such consistent highs again, even in the 1968 second comeback. Rating: *****.

Had he lived, Elvis now would be 76; the late Roy Orbison 75. “The Big O” blew people away with his distinctive voice, at last showcased properly by the excellent “Monument Singles Collection (1960-1964).” Forget the forbidding perma-frown stare lurking behind dark glasses and just listen to “Only the Lonely.” Rating: ****.

The slew of reissues has grown as record companies see the potential in baby boomers repurchasing albums from their youth padded with fresh material -- some essential, some not.

Pearl Jam, Primal Scream, Phil Spector, the Kinks and Jayhawks all have seen their best works reissued this year. I’m looking forward to again hearing British indie band Suede (reissues starting May 30) and the remastered Pink Floyd (commencing in September).

Like many of the above, Simon & Garfunkel’s exceptional “Bridge Over Troubled Water” stands on its own merits. The 1970 title now has been given an extra DVD, including a long-lost CBS documentary, “Songs of America.” I’ll stick with the original music, which I used to play for hours when growing up.

Rating: ***** for the album, *** for the latest version -- diehard fans will appreciate the time capsule.

Yet another release of “Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs” by Derek and the Dominos also grafts on a host of extras. The Eric Clapton classic from 1970 has been out at least six times on CD. A 40th-anniversary “super deluxe” version adds a hardcover book and the “In Concert” set. It’s too much for many listeners, though some unreleased tracks, such as “Matchbox,” are impressive. Rating: ****.

“Faith” was George Michael’s peak as the former Wham! singer looked set for A-list stardom in 1987. After an erratic personal and professional trajectory, we can look back and marvel at his finest moments. “Father Figure” and “I Want Your Sex” are remastered and crisper. There’s a dispensable second CD with dance mixes and instrumentals. Rating: ****.

What the Stars Mean:
*****      Exceptional
****       Excellent
***        Good
**         Average
*          Poor
(No stars) Worthless

Presley, Orbison, Simon & Garfunkel and Michael are on Sony Legacy. The Derek and the Dominos title is on Polydor as a 2CD set with bonus tracks or a limited edition that adds vinyl albums and DVD. Prices start from about $15; the large Clapton box is about $80. Download fees vary across services.


(Mark Beech writes for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are his own.)

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