When Colonel Parker haggled the first of many record-breaking deals for Elvis, taking him from the independent Sun imprint to major label RCA Victor in November 1956 for almost twice the amount offered by the label’s rivals, mainstream success was clearly in everyone’s minds. Quite how Elvis would come to embody the American dream, however, living out the perfect rock’n’roll narrative while simultaneously acting as its guinea pig, no one could have predicted.
1956 was his breakthrough year: mainstream teens screamed the country down; adults looked on with a mixture of bemusement and fear. Across four discs of outtakes, final masters and live recordings, Young Man With The Big Beat traces 12 months’ worth of lighting the touch paper and watching things explode: the screams getting louder with each gig, the country more in thrall to Elvis’ alien presence.
If the ubiquitous studio recordings are given fresh bite with the live performances, a fifth disc of interviews provides the real draw for this £50-odd set: Elvis creating the myth at the same time as getting his head around living it. Being expected to know how many blonde girls scream at his shows reveals just what lunacy was beginning to consume the States. Additionally, with the benefit of hindsight, a truculent Colonel Parker interview reveals his ever-tightening grip to have been pretty strong from the outset.