The 5 Elvis ‘Studio Albums’ That Every Serious Music Fan Should Know

So many music fans today don’t own any Elvis albums.  And if they do, it’s usually just a greatest hits collection or maybe a Christmas album.  My guess is that most people just have no idea where to start.  I’ve done the hard work, digging through his entire catalog, and these are the 5 essential studio albums that every true music fan should have in their collection.


Elvis’s greatest hits have been packaged and repackaged so many times over the years no one even realizes he made actual studio albums.  Although he came up in the singles-driven era of the 1950s, Elvis was one of the pioneers of the “album.”  Case in point, his debut album (1956’s “Elvis Presley”) was the first rock and roll LP to sell a million copies.  This gave labels all the incentive they needed to put more money into album budgets, and not look at it merely as a collection of left over non-singles.  One of the toughest things with Elvis’ catalog is just the sheer amount of hits packages, live albums, movie soundtracks, etc that you have to weed through to find the true albums.  As a lifelong Elvis fan, occasionally calling myself an Elvis Apologist (the way CS Lewis called himself a “Christian Apologist”), I’ve gone through every nook and cranny of his catalog and these are the albums that I feel make him an important “album artist” in the way people more commonly refer to The Beatles, Stones, or Dylan.  While he made a number of great movie soundtracks, gospel albums, and christmas albums – you won’t find any of that here.  Here’s my brief synopsis of each album – listed in chronological order – along with a link to stream the album on Spotify.

1. Elvis Presley (1956)

You can’t go wrong with Elvis’ debut album.  While this is a list of “studio albums,” this debut album is technically a collection.  It combines previously unreleased songs from his prolific Sun Records years (1954-55) with fresh songs recorded in New York and a few in Nashville.  The iconic album cover with the green and pink lettering has been parodied many times over the years, most famously with The Clash’s 1979 opus, London Calling.  Key tracks: Blue Moon, Tryin’ to Get to You // Reissues include the essential singles from the sessions: Heartbreak Hotel, Lawdy Miss Clawdy and more.

2. Elvis (1956)

While this album doesn’t get talked about as much as his breakthrough album, I think it is a stronger album, and really his first start-to-finish studio album.  With this album you start to hear the range of the material Elvis would continue pulling from throughout his career.  Ballads, rockers, gospel, and pop.  Key tracks: Love Me, Old Shep, Anyplace is Paradise, How’s the World Treating You // Reissues include the essential singles from the sessions: Hound Dog, Don’t Be Cruel, Too Much and more.

3. Elvis is Back! (1960)

This might be his best album.  Easily, it’s his best produced album.  Elvis is Back! is top-to-bottom perfection.  Elvis has a room full of Nashville’s cream of the crop, and his voice is in a very special place.  He does some of his best dirty blues vocals (Reconsider Baby), as well as some of his sweetest pop vocals (Soldier Boy).  He still had the swagger of the 50s, but with that post-Army maturity, before Hollywood whitewashed his soul for the next few years.  Key tracks: Reconsider Baby, Like A Baby, Feels So Right, Fever // Reissues include the essential singles from the sessions: It’s Now Or Never, Are You Lonesome Tonight, Mess of Blues and more.

4. From Elvis in Memphis (1969)

Many Elvis fans and music critics would argue that this is Elvis’ strongest studio album.  When I first discovered the album behind his comeback singles (Suspicious Minds, In the Ghetto), I probably would have agreed.  It’s a powerful collection of music.  But trouble between Elvis’ manager Col Tom Parker and the album’s producer Chips Moman resulted in the album never getting properly finished by Chips, and the album ended up with a very uneven sound.  The unfinished sound of some of the songs has a charming, almost demo/outtake quality, but it takes the listener out of the “studio album” mindset, and more into a distracting fly-on-the-wall of a session in progress.  Had the album been finished to Chips Moman’s standards we could have a full album of Suspicious Minds-quality productions, but as it is, it is still the closest thing we have to a Memphis Soul album from Elvis at the peak of his “comeback” powers.  There were so many songs recorded during these sessions, a second album from the material was released as Back in Memphis a year later.  If your looking for a digital or CD reissue, look for a package that includes all the Back to Memphis tracks as well.  Key tracks: Wearin’ that Loved On Look, Only the Strong Survive, Power of My Love, True Love Travels on a Gravel Road // Reissues include the singles from the sessions: Suspicious Minds, Don’t Cry Daddy, Kentucky Rain and more.

5. Elvis Country (I’m 10,000 Years Old) (1971)

One thing that mired many of Elvis’ studio albums was also one of the things Elvis fans love him for – his lack of discipline.  I love that Elvis never wanted to sing in a vocal booth, never wanted to use headphones, always wanted to be in the middle of the room full of musicians.  But this often led to many of his recordings sounding more like a killer jam session, and less like a well-crafted studio masterpiece.  This album is no exception.  Full of off-the-cuff sounding forays into country, folk, blues, and even bluegrass.  I have to give them kudos for experimenting on an Elvis album, but clips of I Was Born About Ten Thousand Years Ago weaving in and out between the songs really wears you out after a while, and contributes to the messiness already inherent in many of these performances.  Reissues have remedied that problem, removing the song between tracks, and including it separately as a bonus track.  Elvis Country is probably the peak of Elvis’ mature ’70s voice, and he still has a lot of that electric energy from his not-so-distant comeback.  Sadly, after this album you hear him rapidly slow down and gradually lose his spark all together.  Just like From Elvis in Memphis, the tracks from these “marathon Nashville sessions” ended up getting parceled out into two other albums – Love Letters from Elvis (1971), and the studio half of the soundtrack album That’s the Way It Is, which mixed live and studio recordings.  There are reissues that combine all the tracks from these sessions into one package.  Key tracks: Funny How Time Slips Away, I Really Don’t Want to Know, I Washed My Hands in the Muddy Water // Reissues include the singles from the sessions: It Ain’t No Big Thing (But it’s Growing) and more.

FURTHER LISTENING: If you wanna dig deeper check out these additional albums: How Great Thou Art (1967), Elvis ’68 Comeback (1968), Something For Everybody (1961), Pot Luck (1962), and any Sun Sessions collection will do.

My Elvis Playlist of personal favorites:


First Impressions: Lana Del Rey’s Lust for Life

I’ll start this out by saying that I hold Lana Del Rey to a higher standard than other current pop stars.  Born to Die and especially Paradise had a big impact on me, and my own music.  I’ve followed her career closely since then, but I can’t say that anything since Paradise has inspired me the way that collection of songs did.  I respected that her approach on Ultraviolence, recorded in my adopted home city of Nashville with a room full of musicians, had a much more organic sound than the “in the box” productions of Born to Die and Paradise.  But it also lacked some of that hip hop edge that I loved so much from those first two releases.  Honeymoon was a very slow grower on me.  I dig a lot of the songs now, but it almost felt like she had gone so deep into her own bubble that it was hard to find a way in.  And now with Lust for Life, she seem ready to communicate to her ever-growing legion of fans, and maybe turn her “sad girl” persona into something more like an “empowered female” positive role model.


I wanted to gather my thoughts after just a couple listens to give you all my “First Impressions.”  Here’s a track-for-track breakdown:

Love – Her first single, released earlier this year, felt a little too familiar on first listen.   It’s as if she took all her lyrics she’d already written on the subject of love, and youth, and optimism and put them in a blender, and then weeded out anything that felt personal. But this was the first sign that she was trying to change her message into something more positive, after years of songs about domestic violence, drugs, and loose morals.  The chord progression is as generic as the lyrics… it felt like she told her producers, “let’s try to write an anthem for my audience.”  But maybe she forgot that it was all the little idiosyncratic details she used to put in her songs, that made people connect to her in the first place.

Lust for Life ft. The Weeknd – Again, this song strikes me as Lana trying to write a “hit”, keeping the message super vague, not crafting the detailed tone poems of her earlier work.  The Weeknd doesn’t bring much to the track.  Feels like maybe it was just a chance to get one of her famous friends on a track, but without allowing him to add anything to the track.  I really don’t have much to say about this song, so let’s move on to the rest. 

13 Beaches –  With the orchestral intro, this one screams “classic Lana.”  And with her lyrics about the cost of fame, it could have easily fit on Honeymoon, or possibly an earlier record.  I enjoy this one much more than the first two songs.

Cherry – Here’s another one that harkens back to previous eras.  This feels like it could have been right at home on Ultraviolence.  Maybe it’s that familiarity (in a good way), that makes this another immediate stand out for me.

White Mustang – Tracks 3-5 seem to be a trilogy addressing her past work, coz this one really gives me Born to Die vibes.  So far, I’m feeling like she saved the best tracks for the non-singles.

Summer Bummer ft. ASAP Rocky & Playboi Carti – This is probably my favorite of the singles she released before the album.  I had been missing her strong hip hop element on the last couple releases, so this is a welcomed return.  Can’t say I’m crazy about the guest rappers on this, or the next song, but they don’t bother me either.

Groupie Love ft. ASAP Rocky – Classic Lana lyrics, putting herself in the role of the groupie, even though that’s harder to believe these days, as she’s one of the biggest acts in her own right.  Not as strong as “Summer Bummer,” but another good hip hop infused track.

In My Feelings – This one might be my favorite on the album.  The production and vocals feel really fresh.  The flow of her vocals are sort of awkward, but unique, and for that I commend her.  The “get that cigarette smoke out of my face” pre-chorus is the jam.

Coachella – Woodstock in My Mind – Even though it’s clear she thinks she’s making a big political statement, this feels like an exercise in trying to say “something.”  This feels like a self-referential throwaway to me.  From what I’ve read, this was written, recorded, and released within a week or two. Maybe it should have stayed on the burner a little longer.

God Bless America – And All the Beautiful Women in It – I like the stripped down acoustic intro, and the verse and pre-chorus are promising.  Especially the pre-chorus. But the chorus has me running to push the skip button.  I feel like she’s trying really hard to have a relevant statement about the women’s marches and the political climate.  But good intentions don’t always make the best songs.

When the World Was at War We Kept Dancing – Rounding out the trilogy of “statement” songs on the album, this one again starts out very promising.  Great melody on the verse.  This song works better than the previous two tracks.  But still not one that I’ll probably return to much.

Beautiful People Beautiful Problems – ft. Stevie Nicks.  Gorgeous verse/pre-chorus melodies.  Lana seems to have no problem setting a song up, but this album is full of disappointing choruses.  The “video game” lyric felt a little forced.  The chorus chord progression is one she has used many times to greater effect (i.e. Sad Girl, Black Beauty).  Stevie Nicks sounds good on her solo sections, but the vocal blend of Stevie and Lana together is kind of a mess.

Tomorrow Never Came – ft. Sean Lennon.  Again, the song sets up very nice.  It’s refreshing to hear Lana accompanied by an acoustic guitar.  And again the lyrics and melody of the verse/pre-chorus are strong.  It’s clear that she and her co-writers/producers are milking the Beatles connection with Mr. Lennon, using a lot of classic Beatles chord changes.  Overall though, the lyrics feel very generic.  Sean Lennon’s vocals sound great.  Never been a fan of his voice or songs in the past, but he sounds great here with the double-tracked vocals, a la his dad or Elliott Smith.  The press made a big deal about the title being similar to the Beatles’ “Tomorrow Never Knows” – but the sentiment is a lot more generic.  More similar to classic country songs like Ernest Tubb’s “Tomorrow Never Comes” – unlike the Beatles’ masterpiece which was about the psychedelic experience, and inspired by the Tibetan Book of the Dead.

Heroin – Along with In My Feelings this one is a major highlight for me.  I love the moody atmosphere.  The verses take you down a winding road that leads to one of Lana’s patented lysergic half-time choruses, propelled by reverb drenched beats.  I’d be happy with an album full of jams like this.  The startling bridge offers a nice wake up call, after the 2nd chorus almost puts you into a drug-like stupor.

Change – Starting with Heroin, the last 3 songs feel like another trilogy.  This is one chorus that really works.  I love hearing her with just a piano accompaniment.  I can’t think of another song in her catalog with such a stripped down accompaniment.   The chorale vocals feel corny, but I can dig it.  The bridge melody feels very familiar, maybe recalling ELO’s Telephone Line.

Get Free – The verse takes forever to get to the chorus.  But once the chorus hits with it’s Radiohead “Creep” chord progression/melody about her “modern manifesto” I’m already rolling my eyes.  The “war in my mind” lyric, which she originally sang in “Ride,” makes at least the 3rd reference to her own work on this album.  Further proof that if she’s so in her own bubble maybe she’s not the best artist to comment on the world at large.  I feel like she could do “more” for her listeners by exploring her own experiences and thoughts, instead of trying to make sense of it all through the greater context of the whole world’s problems.  But I love the “Twin Peaks” baritone guitar on the chorus, and the “Pet Sounds” bouncy organ on the outro.

ALBUM HIGHLIGHTS: Summer Bummer, In My Feelings, Heroin.

One thing I’ve been able to count on with Lana’s music is that it has the ability to grow on me.  So I imagine some of these songs that I didn’t like on first impression, will work some magic on me over the next year or so.  I just wanted to share my thoughts as they were fresh.  Would love to see what your thoughts are, feel free to share them in the comments section.

My Lana Del Rey Playlist of personal favorites:


Post-Beatles 1970-1980

In Richard Linklater‘s 2014 film, Boyhood, Ethan Hawk‘s character gives his son a CD-R mix he calls The Black Album. Not to be confused with the Jay Z album, or the legendary unreleased Prince album, this is a collection of solo Beatles tracks combined to make a “new” Beatles album. This is something I’ve been toying with since the days of cassette. I remember in the early days of Microsoft Paint, at around age 12, I made an updated version of the Let It Be cover, with the 4 squares with each Beatle – but using pictures from the 1995 Anthology era (and a 1980 picture of Lennon). Nerdy. There wasn’t even music involved. But just seeing all the guys together gave me some form of continuity, or even comfort. And I remember attempting my own CD-R mix in my early 20s. But I had very limited resources, as I didn’t have many of their solo albums. I’ve always been a Lennon guy, so I had those, but didn’t have much for the others. But now with Spotify, it’s become WAY easier to really take on an ambitious Post-Beatles collection.


Unlike Ethan Hawk’s mix, I put a number of rules on the project, to try and lend some credibility to the endeavor. First of all, John died in 1980, so I think it’d be unfair to include tracks from the other guys after that. This collection presupposes that the band kept going for one more decade. Second rule, no major hits. Again, unlike Ethan Hawk’s mix, you’re not gonna hear My Sweet Lord next to Imagine next to Live and Let Die. As tempting as that would be, it would completely take me out of the idea that this is an album. It would merely feel like a hits collection. And one of the great things about the Beatles was they had singles and then they had albums, and they rarely crossed over. And collectively the guys all had a lot of hits in their solo years, so this restraint actually helps narrow the focus. Another rule was giving each Beatle equal space. This ultimately was a big factor on the Beatles break up, there wasn’t enough space on an album for all of John, Paul and George by 1970. They were all on major writing streaks, and even Ringo brought in his best original with Octopus’s Garden on the Beatles swan song, Abbey Road. George only got two songs on that album and they were two of the best tracks on the album, Here Comes the Sun (the most streamed Beatles song on Spotify) and the majestic Something, the most covered Beatles song other than the ubiquitous Yesterday.  So this collection gives each Beatle more space than any Beatles album. Going in the order of Ringo, George, John and Paul.

A couple things of note – you’ll notice Ringo only has 9 songs, while the others have 11 each – there was only so many great/good Ringo songs, and this felt like a more than fair amount of Ringo compared to a typical Beatles album containing 1 each (or 2 for the White album).  But I bring him back at the end of the mix with “Dream” arranged by George Martin, which felt like a very Beatles thing to do.  And of course, he’s represented as a drummer on a number of John and George’s songs.  I broke the rule on no hits for Ringo too because even his popular songs aren’t as familiar to modern ears as Lennon, McCartney or Harrison’s big hits of the era.  I bent the rule of nothing past 1980 a couple times with George.  Including 1982’s recording of Circles, I validate that because he wrote the song in 1968 in India, so it would have been a song in the running for all of his (or potential Beatles) albums of the 1970’s.  And also I chose George’s 1992 re-recording of This Guitar (Can’t Keep from Crying), which is a much better vocal performance, and a more Beatle-esque recording than the original from 1975’s Extra Texture.  So the hard work has been done for you, I’ve weeded through all the 70s solo albums, and these are the choice (mostly lesser known) nuggs. With 42 songs, this would be the equivalent of them putting out an album every couple years throughout the decade, about 3 or 4 albums. Enjoy!

Ian McGlynn’s Tomorrow’s Taken is now a teenager

Today I am celebrating the 13th birthday of Ian McGlynn‘s Tomorrow’s Taken.  It was the first album I produced.  At the time, I only had the first two Dolour albums under my belt, both of which I had co-produced, but Tomorrow’s Taken (released in April 2004) was the first album I took full responsibility for the production.  


Ian’s manager (and partner in crime) Chris Newkirk found my records through our mutual friend Jeanette Parks, and asked me to produce Ian’s first studio album.  They flew me out to New Jersey to meet and spend the next few weeks in the summer, and then again in the fall, of 2003 living with Ian and working on the album every day.  It was a record where we both pushed each other to stretch out.  Ian allowed me to get very hands on with the songs, it was an atmosphere of pure creativity, and I think we really brought out the best in each other.  Ian had previously been mostly a solo piano guy, but Ian’s taste in music was anything but “sensitive singer/songwriters,” so my goal was to put Ian in a position where he could make the most honest representation of his music.  I opened up the floodgates to allow influences from everywhere to creep into the album.  There’s is a lone piano ballad (Southard Park), but there is also – folk pop (How Did I Get Here?), Dr. Dre influenced grooves (The Exception), electronic Kid A-esque songs (Be My Guide, Here For Me), Tom Waits‘ vibes (Carnivalism), lots of Brian Wilson harmonies (You Might Understand), Dark Side of the Moon moods (Morning Prayer), and plenty of Beatles-esque moments (No Time and especially the closer, Turn Away).  The album is mostly comprised of Ian on vocals and piano/keyboards, and me on everything else.  I played guitar, bass, some additional synth, mandolin (on Be My Guide), and even drums on the record!  

Once we finished tracking, and I brought the sessions back to Seattle for some tweaking, it was Jason Holstrom who really helped us reach the finish line with his great mixing skills, and over-all problem-solving expertise.  What I lacked in technical skills, Jason more than made up for.  Tomorrow’s Taken kicked off a long string of collaborations where Jason mixed everything I produced – including three Dolour albums (and tons of unreleased stuff), Sameer Shukla‘s There’s Only One Side Tonight LP, and both of my Traveling Mercies records.  Jason and I were also contributing writers and players on United State of Electronica‘s debut album, which he mixed as well.  Even though Ian was across the country from us, Tomorrow’s Taken felt like a key player in this “summer of love” renaissance era in Seattle.

Sometimes I forget what a huge influence the outside records I’ve produced have had on my own music.  This album, at the time, was some of the most electronic/synth-heavy stuff I’d done.  After finishing Ian’s record, almost as a reaction to all the programming and electronic sounds, I headed in a much more organic direction with Dolour’s swan song, Years in the Wilderness, and then my era with The Traveling Mercies all the way up through my most recent solo releases.  But with my new project, Solar Twin, I know that a lot of the seeds that were planted 13 years ago on Ian McGlynn’s record are blooming again.  So many of the production, programming and arrangement ideas I explored on this record are back in my life in a way that they haven’t been in over a decade.  I’m so proud of this record, and grateful that I made a life-long friend in Ian.  Give the record a spin today!

– Shane Tutmarc


Welcome to Heavy Reverie!  This will be a place that will be filled with all the super important things that distract me from working on what I’m supposed to be working on.  Rock N Roll history, Old Hollywood, 20th Century Pop Culture, and beyond.