Like the Beatles’ 1, Elvis Presley’s Elvis 30 #1 Hits aims to be the proverbial offer no one can refuse. For neophytes catching up with rock history, 30 # 1 Hits will serve as textbook and gold mine. For longtime fans, the upgrades in sound quality are at least noticeable and at times revelatory.
Elvis 30 #1 Hits is the flagship release from RCA to commemorate the twenty-fifth anniversary of Presley’s death. (It comes on the heels of Elvis: Today, Tomorrow and Forever, the excellent four-CD set of rarities released in June.) 30 #1 Hits actually numbers thirty-one songs, from 1956’s “Heartbreak Hotel” to 1977’s “Way Down,” plus the bonus thirty-first track, “A Little Less Conversation,” the surprisingly successful recent remix of an Elvis movie-era obscurity by a Dutch DJ.
The team responsible for remastering and, in many cases, remixing the tracks claims to have been the first to lay hands on the master tapes since they were put in storage. The improvements are significant: Take “Suspicious Minds,” for instance. Comparing the version on 30 #1 Hits against that on RCA’s 1993 Essential 60’s Masters box set is no contest. The sonic enhancements — a fuller, punchier sound, including tighter bass and more detail on the guitars — allow the song to leap from a brittle two dimensions to a brilliant three. Even “A Fool Such as I,” a tune from 1959 — and limited by that decade’s technology — gains in presence and stature, as the Jordanaires’ vocal backups and Hank Garland’s stinging, jazzy guitar licks hold their own against Presley’s airy, nuanced vocals.
In his lifetime, Presley scored eighteen Number One hits on Billboard’s singles charts. This collection has been extended to thirty-one by including songs that topped the country, R&B and the U.K. pop charts. Not that anyone will complain about having thirty-one songs of this caliber on a single CD. Even Elvis might want to re-enter the building for a bargain like that.