Portions of this post were first published on one of my pop-culture blogs, now retired.
Today marks the 68th anniversary of the release of Elvis Presley’s first record on July 19, 1954.
I have two near-mint copies of That’s All Right/Blue Moon of Kentucky.
By far, they would be the most financially valuable pieces of my entire record collection or of all of my collections of anything, for that matter, except that they were both pressed in 2009, rather than 1954. Oh well. It’s not about the money, it’s about the music. Always has been.
That’s All Right/Blue Moon of Kentucky (Single)
Label: Sun [Reissue: Sony RCA/Legacy]
Catalog Number: 209 [Reissue: 88697613017 (Label) / 88697673597 (2010 Outer Sleeve)]
Recorded: 1954 | Memphis, TN
Released: 1954 [Reissue: 2009]
Packaged in a plain, brown sleeve much like the original, my first copy of the record was included with Franklin Mint’s Elvis: The Complete Masters Collection CD set from 2009. A few years ago, I acquired a second copy of That’s All Right/Blue Moon of Kentucky, which Sony had released back in April 2010 for Record Store Day. Unlike the simple brown sleeve, this one included a gaudy cover, but I was surprised to discover that the record contained within is actually identical to the one that shipped with the Franklin Mint set. Sony must have been thinking ahead and pressed extra copies for the Record Store Day promotion.
“That’s All Right” (1954)
One of the endearing aspects of this performance of “That’s All Right” is the sheer joy in the voice of Elvis as he sings. He finally has his opportunity in the studio, and he is making the most of it.
Elvis in 1970 reflected on his style, stating that it was “a combination of country music and gospel and rhythm & blues […]. That’s what it really was. As a child, I was influenced by all that.”
He added, “Of course, the Grand Ole Opry is the first thing I ever heard, probably, but I liked the blues, and I liked the gospel music–gospel quartets–and all that.”
On this first single, the blues and country influences are as clear as they ever would be. Some credit That’s All Right/Blue Moon of Kentucky as the first rock ‘n’ roll record, but to say Elvis invented the style is to make a false assumption that any one person actually did.
Rock ‘n’ roll evolved from the very sources that Elvis himself described. Besides, “Rocket 88,” “Rock Around the Clock,” and other potential contenders pre-date Elvis’ version of “That’s All Right.”
What Elvis did with his early records for Sun and RCA, though, was ignite the smoldering evolution of rock ‘n’ roll into a full-blown blaze. By melding country into the blues of “That’s All Right,” Elvis in 1954 unleashed a sound that not only built upon the foundation established by Arthur “Big Boy” Crudup‘s original 1946 recording, but took the song in a new direction. Absorbing the music of his youth, Elvis knew instinctively that blues and country explore many of the same themes, which allowed him to re-interpret these kinds of songs in a unique way.
Unfortunately, despite what the beautiful record label would have you believe, this reissue actually contains an RCA mastering of “That’s All Right,” rather than the original Sun mastering. It is the same 1954 recording, but RCA added echo to its versions not present on the Sun original.
A few years after this 2009 reissue of SUN 209, the “dry” version of “That’s All Right” finally became available again via FTD’s A Boy From Tupelo boxed set in 2012. Sony RCA/Legacy re-released A Boy From Tupelo in a much more affordable package for mainstream retail in 2017.
The dry version of “That’s All Right” is superior, though it takes some getting used to because the echo versions were used in every official release of the song from December 1955 through 2011. Unless, of course, you have been spinning a Sun original.
Blue Moon of Kentucky (1954)
While Elvis added country to the blues of “That’s All Right,” he created a literal flip side by melding rhythm & blues into the country bluegrass of “Blue Moon of Kentucky.” Again, the sound is markedly different from Bill Monroe’s 1946 original. Again, there is that joy in Elvis’ voice.
A fun tidbit is That’s All Right/Blue Moon of Kentucky contains only three musicians: Elvis on acoustic guitar, Scotty Moore on electric guitar, and Bill Black on the upright bass.
One of the earliest rock ‘n’ roll records, and no drummer to be heard. Credit goes to Black, whose bass makes it sound like there must be a drummer.
A drummer did not join the group in the studio until the early 1955 session that produced “I’m Left, You’re Right, She’s Gone,” the flip side of Elvis’ fourth record for Sun.
“That’s All Right” and “Blue Moon of Kentucky” became regional hits for Elvis. He would follow-up the single with four more records on the Sun label before signing with RCA in late 1955.
“History merely repeats itself. It has all been done before. Nothing under the sun is truly new.”