Elvis Presley. The King of Rock and Roll. I just have to come out and say it. This album is not his best work.
Made in 1956, Elvis' self titled debut is somewhat of a mess. It starts off well with the well known tune "Blue Suede Shoes" and then takes a severe nose dive into musical Sheol. As I have been going through these last few albums, I write down notes on each of the songs detailing my impressions, good and bad. Needless to say, I wrote down a lot of negative comments while listening to the album. From track 2 to track 12, Elvis' vocals were all over the place. This was definitely not the refined vocal presentation most of us are familiar with. Considering this was his debut album, I will cut him some slack. The producers may have asked him to try different styles of singing on each tune, and that's fine, but most of the choices are just plain horrible. During these 11 songs (track 2-12), Elvis' voice sounds shaky, pitchy, and the character of his voice changes so frequently that I didn't even know who I was listening to at one point. If the album rested on these 11 songs as the foundation for Elvis' talent, than in my opinion it would have been nothing to write home about.
Thankfully, "Heartbreak Hotel" comes in and changes everything. This is Elvis in his true form. The band is doing things that are musically interesting and Elvis has more presence in his voice than in any of the prior tunes with the exception of "Blue Suede Shoes". From this point on, the album is incredible. It is almost as if the Elvis impersonator that did the middle portion of the album "left the building" and the real Elvis has finally arrived. His voice is spot on and I found myself actually wanting to listen to him more once the album was over. Without these last six songs, I'm not sure I would have finished the album with that impression.
Verdict: Halfway through the album I would have told you, "Skip this one. You'll die happy." However, the last six songs changed my mind, slightly. I find myself in somewhat of a pickle. Considering there are 18 songs on this album and I can only stand behind 7 of them, I'm not sure that I can recommend the whole album, and since this is list is called 1001 Albums You Must Listen To Before You Die, I'm not sure what to do with it. Is it a must? Not really considering you can listen to the good songs on other more quality albums, but at the same time, it is Elvis' debut recording which deserves a listen because of it's historical significance. You can listen to this one yourself and judge, but if you never hear Elvis' debut album as a whole, I don't personally think you're missing much.