Storms of rumors surround this “historic” day in Memphis, TN some 61 years ago. It is alleged, with some photographic evidence (take the cover, for example), that during a Carl Perkins recording session at Sun Records, Jerry Lee Lewis (then a young-fresh-fellow on the brink of superstardom), Elvis Presley, and the Man in Black, Johnny Cash recorded 30+ minutes of (mainly gospel) material for what turned out to be dubbed, The Million Dollar Quartet. The recording is heavy Elvis, and sounds much more like an unscripted, haphazard practice session of studio musicians than anything resembling a million dollars ($9,068,492.65 today). Johnny Cash’s presence is all but nonexistent, which raises questions to the album photo’s legitimacy (the official Sun Records release from 1981 has Marilyn Evans, Elvis’ then girlfriend, removed from the photo altogether). This bootleg version was released a year earlier by OMD, and is the only known release by the unknown label. Regardless of the recording’s legitimacy, it’s an educational spin and a gem of a find. Take it with a grain of salt, but enjoy nonetheless.
I’m excited to start my collection of reissue debut classics from the seminal four from Sun Records. First acquired is Roy Orbison’s At the Rock House (originally released in 1961). Somewhere in transit is Jerry Lee Lewis’ 1958 debut of the same name, and down the pike will be Dance Album of Carl Perkins and Johnny Cash’s With His Hot and Blue Guitar. As you can plainly see, Roy’s reissue is on rockin’ red vinyl, where Mr. Lewis’ is on sleek silver. Carl’s is on blue suede, and Cash’s on fire orange. A great (and cheap) way to acquire these rock n’ roll classics.
In 1984, Rhino Records, with exclusive license from Sun International Corporation, released this beautiful Greatest Hits album as a radiant picture disc. Long gone were the rights to Elvis, but each of the other legendary Sun Records icons are present. Roy Orbison doing Ooby Dooby, Carl Perkins doing Honey Don’t and Blue Suede Shoes, Billy Lee Riley doing Red Hot, Junior Parker with Feelin’ Good and Mystery Train, Jerry Lee Lewis with Great Balls of Fire and Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On, and of course, Johnny Cash with Folsom Prison Blues. It’s worth owning even if picture discs are prone to skip (and they are).
Many thanks to the previous, and anonymous owner of my copy of the Sun Records released, The Million Dollar Quartet, for mummifying this 1986 magazine article, shining light upon, arguably, the most prolific, and storied combination of talented musicians the modern age has ever witnessed. Celebrated evening reading material, for sure. Perhaps I’ll transcribe it someday… perhaps.
We are all book judges, are we not? It’s in our instinctual nature to see something, say an album cover, and immediately send its contents through the legal systems of our minds and instantly give it a ruling, right? I mean, when I see an album cover of a cat sitting in a Christmas box (give the gift of cats, I always say) in front of a 1950s decorated Christmas tree, I’m not thinking smooth jazz, you see what I’m saying? (The aforementioned Christmas Cat album will unveil itself during the month of December, along with the rest of my “holiday groove music.” So I’ll see the lot of you in January!)
So much (and this is painfully obvious) time and consideration is put into any given album cover, but I wonder if the guy / gal / team designing any given cover (it’s like Any Given Sunday, but with records) considers the longevity of their work. For example, let’s take a look at Elvis Presley’s 1956 debut for RCA Victor Records appropriately titled, Elvis Presley. It’s about as iconic as apple pie (“Why, is that apple pie I smell?” – A little KITH humor… really, I’m just pleasing myself at this point) and for good reason. Had the King’s (“I didn’t know we had a king. I thought we were an autonomous collective.” – MP) groundbreaking album (to put it lightly) instead displayed the man say, in a Christmas box in front of a 1950s decorated Christmas tree, pop culture may have turned out a little different. Do you see what I’m saying? Or, typing, rather… man, I’m falling out of the tangent tree and hitting every branch today it seems.
Without Mr. Blue Suede Shoes’ album looking exactly the way it does (actually, Mr. Blue Suede Shoes should probably refer to Carl Perkins, so let’s call Elvis, Mr. Tutti Frutti instead, shall we? Well, wouldn’t Mr. Tutti Frutti be the moniker for Little Richard? Good point. Let’s just call Elvis, Elvis then. There is no fun in that, but fine… whatever.), the equally iconic face of The Clash’s London Calling may have looked like say, a photo of Paul Simonon sitting in a Christmas box in front of a 1950s decorated Christmas tree. Are you picking up what I’m throwing down here? Nobody knows (Spaceballs…) the impact of anything, or rather, nobody can predict what sticks to the wall, and what is used for kindling in the living room fireplace. Only time, oh, that sweet, lactating mother of all, will tell.
Also, there is a house music comp based on the cover of London Calling which was based on the cover of Elvis Presley, and my prediction is, it won’t stop there.