The problem with compiling an essential best-of compilation covering the phenomenon that was (and is) Elvis Presley is the very man himself, who has passed from this mortal coil into the iconic pop culture stratosphere where even his own death is questioned and Elvis sightings are as frequent as fleas. Then there are the thousands of performers who daily dress up as Presley himself and sally forth into the world like perfectly gyrating replicas of either the early or later Elvis (body physics dictate that you can't be both). Elvis may have left the building, but not really. His image is everywhere, and his fans are legion and devout. So how does one pick his essential sides when "Do the Clam" is a classic in the Kingdom of Presley simply because Elvis did it? He recorded Tony Joe White
's "Polk Salad Annie" in 1970. It was hardly the best version ever of "Polk Salad Annie" but it was Elvis' version of "Polk Salad Annie," which puts it in rarefied class of its own, and making it, like "Do the Clam," absolutely essential in some quarters. When you're larger than life, words like essential have to expand or be left wanting. The Essential Elvis Presley
boils this imposing legacy down to two discs of 20 tracks each, and approaches the problem of what is truly essential by choosing to compile all of Elvis' significant charting hits, beginning with his 1954 cover of Arthur Crudup
's "That's All Right" from Sam Phillips
' Sun Records and continuing chronologically through Presley's long association with RCA Records through the year 1976. That means, while there's no version of "Do the Clam" ("Polk Salad Annie" is here, though), there are classic sides like 1956's "Heartbreak Hotel," "Don't Be Cruel," "Hound Dog," and "Love Me Tender," 1957's "Jailhouse Rock," 1961's "Little Sister," and 1969's "In the Ghetto," "Suspicious Minds," and "Kentucky Rain." There are 17 number one hits and a whole lot more. Elvis fanatics are going to complain about what isn't here, of course. Elvis is the King, after all, and therefore by definition everything he recorded ought to be essential. And everything he recorded is indeed essential on some level. But these are the sides that broke through to the deepest level of the world pop culture that Elvis helped create. These are the songs that broke him and then sustained him on radio and television and at the movie theaters. Die-hard Elvis fans will undoubtedly already have everything collected here. This is a set instead for folks who want to have at least one Elvis anthology in their collections, and want the hits they remember and don't much care if those hits are from the early Elvis or the later Elvis or the dear departed Elvis. Just the hits, bartender, shaken not stirred. That means no version of "Do the Clam," singular as it is.