Clearing the Desk: Spector, Smiths and Elvis

Yesterday, I wrote about a few books on my desk that slipped to the back burner. Here are a few albums that met the same undeserved, neglected fate:

Phil Spector Presents the Philles Album Collection (Sony Legacy): Those who know Phil Spector-produced artists by their singles and hope to find pirate treasure in their album tracks will be disappointed by this seven-disc box set. There are some great finds here, most notably the electrifying version of Jackie DeShannon‘s “I Shook the World” by Bob B. Soxx and the Blue Jeans, but since the Crystals, the Ronettes and others in the Spector stable were singles artists, the albums were thin. Still, for me they’re thin in interesting ways. It’s hard to imagine I’ll ever listen again to Bob B. Soxx’s Zip-A-Dee-Doo-Dah, with Spectorized versions of “This Land is Your Land,” “The White Cliffs of Dover” and the title track, but the Crystals’ Twist Uptown is consistently entertaining, and the filler’s performed better than such average ideas merit. The disc I’ve listened to the most is Phil’s Flipsides, a collection of instrumental tracks that feature the Wrecking Crew at their go-go finest.

The Smiths Complete by the Smiths (Rhino): The Smiths are one of those bands that eluded me in their time. When their debut album came out in 1984, I liked harder music. After I heard “How Soon is Now,” I was frustrated and gave up when I couldn’t find anything else by them that sounded like that. Most subsequent efforts ended with the realization that I was probably too late to the dance with them, and that I was past the age when Morrissey’s powermope would speak to me. When the complete Smiths was released, I committed myself to making it through the studio albums but skipped the live Rank (no reason) and two greatest hits collections (redundant) and was glad I did. At first, I found Morrissey impossibly fey, but the barbs and kicks in his songs slowly emerged once I grew accustomed to his anxious loneliness as a baseline state of being. I still like the muscle in the BBC recordings on Hatful of Hollow, and even at the point when Johnny Marr and Morrissey were on the outs, the songs don’t show the stress. It’s hard to know who something like The Smiths Complete is for – Smith fans have it, and it’s hard recommend a band’s library as a starting point  – but they affected the music that followed them to such a degree that ’90s Britpop makes a lot more sense to me now.

Young Man with the Big Beat by Elvis Presley (Sony Legacy): This attractive box set packaged to resemble a multi-album vinyl set captures Elvis in 1956 when almost everything worked for him. That year, he cut “Blue Suede Shoes,” “Heartbreak Hotel,” “Love Me,” “Trying to Get to You,” ” Hound Dog,” “Don’t Be Cruel,”  “Love Me Tender” and more, and you can hear the confidence in the tracks. He sings with the assurance that it’s all going to work because it has so far. The set includes a live show from Shreveport as well as songs from his one setback that year, a stint in Las Vegas that didn’t speak to the swells at the casinos. You don’t notice any timidity in his performance of “Long Tall Sally” in Vegas until you hear what he comes up with when the Shreveport audience egging him on. Box sets are the coffee table books of the music world, but The Young Man with the Big Beat is an attractive document of a rare moment in anyone’s life when everything was coming up Elvis.