A few weeks ago we looked at a scathing review of Elvis’ second appearance on the Milton Berle Show by the Times’ TV critic, Jack Gould. In another Elvisblog article, we noted the disdain shown by the Times’ movie critic for Elvis’ first few movies. So, it may come as a surprise that the Times music critic, John S. Wilson, actually had some good things to say about Elvis’ second album, Elvis.
John S. Wilson had a four-decade career with the New York Times, starting in 1952. He was the newspaper’s first critic to cover popular music. He wrote about blues, cabaret, Latin, folk, pop, and his favorite, jazz. Wilson’s article on January 13, 1957, was a four-column piece about Elvis. The text framed around and under a good 4×6 photo of him centered on the page. It was titled, “Elvis Presley: Rocking Blues Shouter.”
Mr. Wilson certainly knew his blues, and early in the article, he makes the argument that Elvis was imbued with the spirit and style of Negro country blues singer Big Bill Broonzy. I have a little Broonzy music, and I can see where Wilson was coming from. He continued, “His outright rock ‘n’ roll efforts generally are based on an exaggeration of his blues roots.” OK, I buy that. However, Wilson totally shot the mood by saying, “essentially, rock ‘n’ roll is a grotesque extension of the blues.” Uh, oh. This guy doesn’t like rock ‘n’ roll, I thought, and he’s going to slam Elvis.
But, no. Wilson used great phrases like, “he is tuned to his times with …catalytic precision” and, “He will eventually settle into the mainstream of popular singers.” I didn’t quite get it when Wilson wrote that Elvis’ music was “all amplified to brain-shattering proportions by doom-filled echo chambers.” What? The Sun Records echo sound is now recognized as pure musical genius, so Wilson was just wrong on that one.
More than halfway through the article, Wilson finally got to the business at hand – his review of the new album Elvis. He called the song “So Glad You’re Mine” an excellent, practically unalloyed, sample of country blues. He described “Any Place Is Paradise” as another basically strong blues.
When Mr. Wilson finished talking about his favorite songs on the album, he started talking about Elvis, the singer. The next two paragraphs are word-for-word from the article.
Mr. Presley is completely at home with the shouts, the whoops, the hoarse zest and the plaintive cry of the country blues singer. When he is using these devices with artless skill, he is a genuinely exciting performer.
And on the artful side, Mr. Presley should not be underestimated. Between his first disc, Elvis Presley, and his second, Elvis, the improvement in his diction, in the use he makes of his strong natural voice, and in the thoughtfulness of his presentations is very marked. All these suggest that his horizons are far from limited.
Boy, was John S. Wilson right about that.
I thoroughly enjoyed the nearly fifty-year-old article, “Elvis Presley: Rocking Blues Shouter.” It is probably my favorite in the New York Times Elvis commemorative newspaper called The King. However, even the articles I don’t like make excellent topics for Elvisblog, so we will return here again.
© 2006 Philip R Arnold All Rights Reserved www.elvisblog.net