- Associated Press - Sunday, August 14, 2011

MEMPHIS, TENN. (AP) - Elvis Presley fans love an anniversary.

Every year, thousands of Elvis devotees flock to Memphis to remember the singer’s death on Aug. 16, 1977. The main event of “Elvis Week” is the solemn candlelight vigil at Graceland, his longtime home, at midnight Tuesday.

This year, fans have something else to commemorate. It was 55 years ago _ 1956 _ when the first two Elvis albums were released, launching an international music career that brought Elvis’ mix of country, rhythm and blues, and gospel to millions of fans around the world.

“It’s a documentation of what I think is rock music’s most incredible year,” said Ernst Jorgensen, a music producer and Elvis catalog expert. “Nobody was prepared for Elvis.”

To mark Elvis’ breakout year, Jorgensen and his team have assembled a five-CD box set called “Young Man with the Big Beat.” Jorgensen will be unveiling the RCA/Legacy box set Monday at Graceland. The collection goes on sale Sept. 27.

The set includes not only the five CDs, but also an 80-page book that provides a daily chronology of Elvis’ year though photos, postcards, fan letters, magazine covers and other memorabilia. The set also includes rare photos, posters and a replica concert ticket stub.

The first two CDs in the set are packed with music from the debut LP “Elvis Presley” and the follow up “Elvis.” Those seminal albums had some of Elvis’ most well-known songs: “Heartbreak Hotel,” “Blue Suede Shoes,” “Don’t Be Cruel,” “Hound Dog,” “Love Me Tender” and more.

Those tunes, recorded in New York, Memphis, Nashville, Tenn., and Hollywood, Calif., helped sell 10 million singles and 800,000 LPs in 1956 alone. They also brought Elvis to television on Milton Berle’s show, where he gave a hip-swiveling performance that excited his young fans and shocked their parents.

Elvis’ stage presence, soulful voice and love of songs he heard growing up in Memphis put him in a unique position alongside other rock pioneers of his time: Chuck Berry, Little Richard, Bill Haley, Fats Domino.

“We were fascinated about how this one man seemed to change the entire music business in America in 12 months,” Jorgensen said.

But it was the first album, which included “Trying to Get to You” and Ray Charles’ “I Got a Woman,” that author Peter Guralnick said is the more important of the two 1956 albums.

“I would look at the first album as an American songbook. It’s an homage to all the great genres of American music,” said Guralnick, who wrote two Elvis biographies, “Last Train to Memphis: The Rise of Elvis Presley” and “Careless Love: The Unmaking of Elvis Presley.”

The third CD in the set features rare live recordings that have been re-mastered. They include songs from a previously unreleased concert in Shreveport, La., in December 1956, and a Las Vegas concert where he bombed in front of an older audience.

Jorgensen said he is always looking for undiscovered gems like the Shreveport concert that can make Elvis’ music new to longtime fans.

“You try to get all the pieces to the puzzle,” Jorgensen said.

Story Continues →