This is the first in a projected six-volume set chronicling the entire singles output of Sun Records, their subsidiaries Flip and Phillips International, run in strict chronological order. No alternate takes, no studio chitchat, no second-guessing decades after the fact -- just the simple history of some of the greatest American music that ever came from one man's vision, label owner and production genius Sam Phillips. Each box features four CDs, and this first volume brings us the first 52 Sun singles -- both A- and B-sides -- plus both sides of all the singles on Flip, Sam's short-lived 1955 subsidiary. It takes us from the humblest of humble beginnings -- when Sun was a raw blues label, cutting one early Memphis blues classic after another -- through the first recordings of Elvis, Johnny Cash, and Carl Perkins, leaving us poised near Sun's golden rockabilly age.
A great many record collectors got started because of their endless fascination with Sun. Seldom -- if ever -- has a label's minutiae been held to such scrutiny that even artists who only saw one or a handful of scant-selling releases have become cult heroes. And the first flowering of Elvis aside, that's really the big ticket here -- hearing the story of a unique, maverick label unfold before your very ears. It's easy to see within the first half-dozen singles on Disc One that Sam Phillips was gonna put out exactly what felt good to him. Maybe Phillips never mastered the art of the studio fade-out, but he could drill right into the heart and soul of an artist and capture mood and ambience on tape in a way that the Chess or Bihari brothers never could. For all the blues classics covered by Disc Two, the first white artists were also starting to appear on the little yellow label. Disc Three is where the whole ball game starts to change with the arrival of Elvis, but his first four singles aren't the only great stuff on this disc. Disc Four shows Phillips slowly moving away from the blues and heading his label into country music, with rockabilly still almost a sideline dalliance. Elvis' final Sun single is here, but many of the classics on this disc come from Sam applying his production expertise to a clutch of great country singles -- some of his best and most unaffected records came out of this batch.
Bottom line: this box is the first step to owning one of the great labels of all time, and some of the best blues, country and rock'n'roll you'll ever experience. There's also a 68-page bound booklet with label reproductions and photos galore, plus great notes from Sun researchers Hank Davis and Colin Escott. The price tag might seem a tad hefty to some, but compared to what the original 78s and 45s are going for -- all of them lovingly restored here when masters were missing, by the way -- this thing's a steal.