Recorded: July 5, 1954, Sun Studio, Memphis
Released master is possibly take 4.
Single:w/ "Blue Moon Of Kentucky", Sun 209, July 19, 1954 - Elvis' very first single
Also re-released on RCA, 45rpm, 47-6380, November 1955
Also re-released on RCA, 78rpm, 20-6380, November 1955
Also re-released as Gold Standard Series, 447-0601, March 1959
Also re-released as RCA PB-13891, October 1984. "50th Anniversary" label, gold vinyl.
RIAA Certified: Gold (as of 06/25/2004)
Highest U.S. Charts Positions:
Didn't chart nationally, but reached #4 on local Memphis chart.
For other versions, see Lyrics and Downloads section below.
(Just my opinion. Give us yours!)
In the first sit-down show for the '68 Comeback Special, Elvis says that "the very first thing we recorded, the VERY first thing, was a song called "That's All Right, Little Mama'". Well, Elvis can be forgiven for not remembering that they recorded "I Love You Because" first on that evening in July of 1954. But although it was good enough to keep in the can, it still wasn't what Sam Phillips wanted.
Then, the great myth-making moment happened. The story goes that Elvis, Scotty and Bill were taking a break, and Elvis just started horsing around with the Arthur "Big Boy" Crudup blues song, "That's All Right (Mama)", banging on his guitar and wailing out the tune, half-joking but with all the energy that a 19-year-old Memphis kid can unleash! The legend would paint the picture of a naive kid just fooling around and "accidentally" stumbling onto the exact thing that Sam wanted. Sam then peeks his head in and asks "What are you doing?" The boys respond with something like "Nothing, just messing around." Sam then says something like, "Well, do it again from the top, and let's record it!"
Almost all great myth-moments are a bit shrouded, with differing stories about exactly what happened, and there are a few variations on the above story, but they generally make it out to be an accident that Sam had the wisdom to steer in the right direction. I got no beefs with that legend. I wasn't there, and it sounds good to me, but I'm not so sure Elvis was that naive. He knew the sound Sam wanted, it wasn't a big secret, and a young kid in Memphis who was trying to get his foot in the door as a singer would certainly have known it. One can imagine that the shy Elvis at this point, after running through what he could do as a ballad singer, and after recording "I Love You Because" and getting little in the way of an exciting reaction from Sam, wanted to show his other side, the kid who soaked up all the blues music alongside all the country and gospel. What better way than to pass it off as a joke, just fooling around, jamming with Scotty and Bill on a break. Elvis was certainly shy at this point but was also a persistent young man, determined to somehow make it as a singer.
Elvis, Bill, Scotty and Sam making history
However it happened, Elvis, Scotty and Bill (and Sam) laid down a classic recording! Sam was excited, having found the sound he wanted, and was eager to promote it locally. Before the record was officially released, Sam had local radio stations playing it. So successful was it at merging the country and blues sounds that when first airing in Memphis, audiences weren't sure whether the singer was black or white. An interview with Memphis DJ Dewey Phillips (no relation) two nights later cleared this matter up right away. Dewey's first question to Elvis was what high school he attended. The answer of "Humes High" (an all-white school) took care of that: This was a white boy singing rhythm and blues.
Although the flip-side, "Blue Moon Of Kentucky", was slightly more popular in Memphis (and a classic in its own right!), it was "That's All Right" that really shook things up! It has to be counted among the contenders for "the first rock 'n' roll record", although even to this day that debate rages on. What's not in doubt is that this launched the career of a shy but ambitious kid, whose personality and charisma came through brilliantly, even on this first record.
(What did the critics and fans say?)
"That's All Right, Mama" was Presley's first genuine rock recording. It was also his first hit, and the song which made a great impact in Memphis. Elvis, Scotty Moore and Bill Black had never played together before. Elvis is in magnificent voice - full of fire, riding the music with great power.
One could write a book about this one (ask rock critic Greil Marcus). Indeed, hundreds and hundreds of pages have been written about this moment - how it came about, its significance, its lasting legacy to a generation. Suffice it to say here that it sold very respectably on the Sun label despite the scandal of its sounding black; that it was musically unique because it represented an explosive synthesis of country music with R & B.
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Study Up Some More!
Elvis song reference books on Amazon!
Ernst Jorgensen's complete chronicle of Elvis' recording sessions, with loads of detailed information about each session and each song.
This is the definitive encyclopedia on Elvis' life details, as well as all the background and trivia you need for all the songs, movies, and TV appearances. Authors are Fred L. Worth and Steve D. Tamerius.
The subtitle of Ace Collins' book says it all: "The stories behind Elvis' #1 hits"!
"Elvis The #1 Hits: The Secret History of the Classics". Another self-explanatory book title. :)