The Sun Sessions
Released: March 22, 1976
Recorded: August 1953 to October 1955
Peak: 76 US, 16 UK, 1 DF
Sales (in millions): 1.0 US
Genre: early rock and roll
Song Title (Writers) [time] (date of single release, chart peaks) Click for codes to charts.
There have been a variety of releases covering Elvis Presley’s Sun Records’ era. See the “Notes” section on this page for a breakdown of some of those collections. Below are the five singles (A and B-sides) released by Sun.
First single released July 19, 1954:
Second single released September 25, 1954:
Third single released January 8, 1955:
Fourth single released April 10, 1955:
Fifth single released August 20, 1955:
These five songs were recorded at Sun Records but not released until Elvis Presley’s first RCA album.
4.506 out of 5.00 (average of 25 ratings)
Quotable:“The quintessential Elvis Presley album and the birth certificate for rock’s once and future king.” – Clarke Speicher, The Review
Awards:(Click on award to learn more).
About the Album:
“Who doesn’t need this in their record collection?” AMG1 “Presley was one of the most naturally gifted performers his genre ever knew, and was the performer who truly brought the music to the people as no one had before or since.” AMG1 “The Sun Sessions stands as the quintessential Elvis Presley album and the birth certificate for rock’s once and future king.” RV “On July 5, 1954, Elvis Presley walked into…Sun Studios in Memphis.” TL He was only 19, but along with guitarist Scotty Moore and bassist Bill Black, they made history. His “first recordings captured a force of nature: untutored, unsophisticated, but somehow brilliant.” BL
“There aren’t many rock albums that feature music one can honestly say changed the world as we know it, but that is, if anything, a modest appraisal of the contents of Elvis Presley’s The Sun Sessions.” AMG1 “Elvis certainly didn’t invent rock & roll, and he wasn’t even the first white guy to play it,” AMG1 but he “was (with little room for argument) the single most important artist in the history of rock & roll.” AMG1 “Much as Louis Armstong did for jazz, Elvis created a distinctive new way to play the music that combined a number of influences,” AMG1 such as “elements of blues, gospel and hillbilly music” AMG3 as well as “R&B, country, and pop.” AMG1 He found “a common ground between them that was his and his alone.” AMG1 That “hybrid has become a commonplace of American popular culture [such that] it is difficult to understand how alien his music was in 1954.” CE-59
Sam Phillips, the head of Sun Studios, “once boasted that if he could find a white singer that could sing, sound and feel ‘'like a negro’ that he’d make a million dollars.” AD Phillips had much to do with shaping Elvis’ early sound. Phillips produced five singles with Elvis that were released in 1954 and 1955. The impact of those singles wasn’t immediately felt, but once Elvis hit big, his work with Sun Records resurfaced, largely filling out Elvis’ early albums for RCA Records. As for that million dollars, Phillips fell short of that goal, making $35,000 when he sold Elvis’ contract to RCA. However, the value these songs had in shaping rock and roll is priceless.
The Sun Sessions gathers his five singles from the Sun years and, adds various outtakes from the era, depending on the version of the collection. The resulting “album captures Elvis in his first flush of greatness,” AMG1 collecting “his first, and arguably most important, recordings into one convenient package.” AMG1 “One can hear the thrill of discovery and experimentation on every cut” AMG1 as “Elvis [is] first learning to put his ideas together in the recording studio.” AMG1 He “burst into these sessions, raring to go… his delivery is tense sounding, a result of nerves perhaps, but this tension is released into a collection of stunning vocal performances.” AD “If Elvis would sound stronger and more savvy with time, he never sounded freer or more excited with the possibilities of his own voice as he does on this material.” AMG1 “The sheer enthusiasm Elvis brings to these Sun recordings is audible.” AD This “is a young Elvis Presley…getting ready to unleash…rock & roll…on an unsuspecting world.” AMG3
“My Happiness” and “That’s When Your Heartache Begins”It has been widely reported that Elvis’ first Sun session was in the summer of 1953 when he entered the studio to record this pair of song’s for his mother’s birthday. Considering that her birthday was in the spring, it is more likely that he made the record for himself to hear how he sounded. CE-60
“Harbor Lights” “and “I Love You Because”Elvis was back in July 1954 to record what became his first single for Sun. Phillips paired Presley with guitarist Scotty Moore and bassist Bill Black. Those sessions produced a few songs not released on a single. On “Harbor Lights,” Elvis was trying to croon but “could only manage an insecure whine…the immature sound of a voice that has yet to find itself.” CE-63 He also applied his attempted crooning to “I Love You Because.”
“That’s All Right”After a break, Moore reported that “Elvis started singing a song, jumping around, acting the fool, and then Bill picked up his bass and started acting the fool too, and I started playing with ‘em. Sam…stuck his head out [from the control booth] and said, ‘What’re you doing?’ We said, ‘We don’t know.’ ‘Well back up,’ he said, ‘try to find a place to start and do it again.’” CE-63
The song was “That’s All Right,” an R&B tune recorded by Arthur Crudup in 1947. Elvis infused it with his country twang, marrying the country music of typically white performers with the R&B music of typically black performers. “It still sounds audacious, as if the players themselves can’t believe what they’re doing.” TL “It came together so perfectly, so seemingly accidental…so pure in its essence.” PG-115
“Blue Moon of Kentucky”It was Bill Black who suggested that for the B-side, they do “the same thing with a country number that they had done on the Arthur Crudup blues.” PG-115 Bill Monroe’s “stately bluegrass waltz ‘Blue Moon of Kentucky’” CE-64 was transformed from its hillbilly roots into an R&B recording. It represented a performance that was “so loose and raw, so genuine in the emotion and excitement.” AD Phillips was “electrified by what he heard” CE-64 declaring, “Hell, that’s fine! That’s different! That’s a pop song now!” CE-64
“So taken was Bill Monroe by The King’s interpretation…Monroe re-recorded the track to make it sound like Presley.” RV On these and others, Elvis “forever burn[s] his imprint into classic spirituals and bluegrass favorites.” RV
“Good Rockin’ Tonight”The A-side of Elvis’ second single was another slab of “very assured sounding and hugely enjoyable rock-n-roll” AD via “an R&B song heavy with sexual overtones.” CE-72 It is a cover of another oft-cited candidate as one of rock-n-roll’s first songs. “Good Rockin’ Tonight” was written and sung by Roy Brown in 1948. Singer Wynone Harris had a #1 R&B hit with it that year.
“I Don’t Care if the Sun Don’t Shine”“In a display of true musical eclecticism, Presley picked…a tune from Walt Disney’s 1949 animated film Cinderella” CE-72 for the B-side. “The strange dichotomy between the innocent and the profane that would exercise such a fascination over teenage girls two years later was played out in microcosm on Presley’s second single.” CE-72
This was “the first record to bear evidence of the Presley swagger. He is playful, obviously full of energy and enthusiasm.” CE-72 The song also features the first use of percussion on a Presley record – either bongos played by Phillips’ neighbor Buddy Cunningham or Presley thumping on the back of his guitar. CE-72
“You’re a Heartbreaker”The A-side of Elvis’ third single was written by Jack Sallee, the manager of the Ruffin Theatre in Covington, Tennessee. He went to Sun to record some promos for a hillbilly jamboree he hosted on Friday nights. Phillips lamented to him that he needed some original material for Elvis and Sallee made a demo of “You’re a Heartbreaker.” It was his first and last published composition. CE-72
“You’re a Heartbreaker boasts a great, assured Elvis vocal in contrast to other, more tense performances.” AD
“Milk Cow Blues Boogie”“This is a wonderful example of Elvis’ unfettered exuberance on the one hand, and of his calculated craft.” PG-121 This was originally the 1930s’ blues song “Milk Cow Blues” by Kokomo Arnold. It had been covered many times, “most notably in western swing versions by Bob Wills and his brother Johnnie Lee. Here Elvis makes it his own, with a beautiful slow beginning that should prove once and for all what a great blues singer he could be.” PG-121
“I’m Left, You’re Right, She’s Gone”This song, which borrows the melody from a Campbell’s Soup ad, was written by trumpeter Bill Taylor and steel guitarist Stan Kesler from the Snearly Ranch Boys in West Memphis. CE-73 It was “conceived as a slow blues” CE-73 but reworked into “a medium-tempo hillbilly shuffle.” CE-73 Elvis recorded the song at the same session as “You’re a Heartbreaker.”
“Baby Let’s Play House”The original was released in 1954 by Nashville’s Arthur Gunter and hit #12 on the R&B charts. It sported “a changely countrified charm, enhanced by Gunter’s mellow delivery.” CE-75 Elvis’ version was “marketed as a country record, though it fit few definitions of country music.” CD-75
It was Elvis’ “most aggressive performance on disc to that point.” CE-75It “introduces a note of pure play” PG-125 with “its utterly uninhibited, unpredictable, insensate declaration of joy.” PG-125 Scotty Moore enhanced it “with two bristling solos that were light-years from his fingerpicking roots. The car radio had obviously been tuned to R&B stations along the road.” CE-75
“I Forgot to Remember to Forget”For Elvis’ fifth single, Phillips would draw again from his own roster of artists. In this case, he tapped “I Forgot to Remember to Forget,” a country song composed by Stan Kesler, who’d co-written “I’m Left, You’re Right, She’s Gone.” The song “strikes a cheerful pop tone in the face of heartbreak.” PG-125 It became Elvis’ first #1 country hit.
“Mystery Train”This was a song Junior Parker recorded for Sun two years earlier. It was actually another Junior Parker song, “Love My Baby,” which Phillips originally presented to Elvis. The King’s take on “Mystery Train” and and “That’s All Right” are both arguably the apogee of Elvis’ Sun years – each “came together, so perfect in its imperfection.” PG-132 Both are “totally together, tight performances and the voice of Elvis is very rich and the musical backings creating much excitement.” AD In general, it’s on the faster cuts “where Elvis really is himself, really pours his voice out.” AD
“Mystery Train” “overflows with such spontaneity and excitement, it feels like it must have been done in one take. The song rocks and rolls with such rollicking grittiness.” RV It is “as pure, full, and perfect as any record that had ever topped the charts.” CE-78
Regarding the multiple variations of the Sun recordings: they started with The Sun Collection in 1976. This collection included alternate versions of “That’s All Right” and “Milk Cow Blues.”
Then came The Sun Sessions, which bumped those two extra versions in favor of alternates of “I Love You Because”, “I’m Left, You’re Right, I’m Gone,” and “When It Rains, It Really Pours.”
In 1987, The Complete Sun Sessions was released, adding “Tomorrow Night,” “Harbor Lights,” and “When It Rains, It Really Pours” to the original collection as well as alternate takes, bringing the total song count to 28.
1999 saw the release of “the exceptional Sunrise, a generous 38-song double-disc set that contains all of Elvis’ Sun recordings, including alternate takes and several previously unreleased live performances. The compilers wisely…devote the first disc to the original takes, dedicating the second to alternate takes: six live cuts from 1955 and four private demos from 1953 and 1954. This sequencing emphasizes the brilliance of this music. Not only is listening to all 19 masters in a row quite breathtaking, but the second disc winds up as a revelatory experience, since it offers a kind of alternate history by following Elvis’ pre-professional recordings from his Sun sessions to early live performances.” AMG2
Songs that had not appeared on The Complete Sun Sessions included “My Happiness,” “That’s When Your Heartaches Begin,” “I’ll Never Stand in Your Way,” “It Wouldn’t Be the Same without You,” “Fool, Fool, Fool,” “Shake, Rattle & Roll,” “Money Honey,” “Tweedle Dee,” and “Hearts of Stone.”
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First posted 3/22/2013; last updated 8/21/2023.