Sunday, May 11, 2008

How That's The Way It Is Was Woven

The last two weeks I've been traveling a lot, and thanks to the company of the That's The Way It Is FTD classic album on my iPod, it's been a pleasant journey. So now, being home for the weekend before I hit the road again, here are my thoughts on the latest FTD release.

First of all, it's not an easy task to transfer an album such as That's The Way It Is to the FTD two CD format. Unlike the other classics so far TTWII is the first one to include both studio och live material. Therefore you have to decide where the focus should be: on the studio songs, the live performances, or both.

I think Ernst Jorgensen and Roger Semon did the right thing when they concentrated on the studio tracks. After all, the majority of the songs originate from the first "Nashville Marathon," while only four are from Las Vegas.

I've always thought TTWII is a fantastic album with a lot of strong songs. I love Elvis version of "I Just Can’t Help Believin'" as well as the frantic rocker "Patch It Up" and the beautiful ballad "Twenty Days And Twenty Nights." "Stranger In The Crowd" is another personal favourite. Come to think of it, there isn't one track of the bunch you could call weak, is there?

Therefore, it's interesting listening to Elvis working with the songs, although it seems he's pretty sure where he wants to go even on the first takes. There are few surprises, and early takes of songs such as "Twenty Days And Twenty Night," "Mary In The Morning" and "How The Web Was Woven" are delivered very much like the masters.

But there are always exceptions to the rule. "The Next Step Is Love" is causing Elvis some trouble: he isn't sure when to start and has problemes with a few lines later on. An interesting detail is you can hear the demo with Paul Evans singing at the beginning of the track (This one was released on the second CD included with the FTD book Writing For The King.)

As I've stated in an earlier posting, I think the idea to include studio versions of the live songs where such exists ("I've Lost You" and "Patch It Up") is a good one (after all, these studio tracks were released as singles in 1970). The highlight here, and on the whole set, is hearing Elvis working himself and the band through nine takes of "Patch It Up" before he gets what he's looking for.

At one time he practically explodes when he messes up the phrasing: "God damn, that motherfucker, god damn!" he exclaims. You can hear Elvis use some more profanities on other tracks, and although I'm not a big fan of bad language I'm glad there's no censorship. After all, this is how it sounded at the time and Elvis was after all, only human.

All in all, I think Jorgensen och Semon have done a very good job. I guess one could argue that "Something", "Little Sister/Get Back" and the "Tiger Man" jam don't belong, as they weren't on the original album. Indeed, it would be interesting hearing the reason for them being included. ("Something" was also one of the bonus songs on the 3 CD Special Edition of TTWII released in 2000.)

If it were up to me, I would've included the live versions of "Stranger In The Crowd" and "The Next Step Is Love" instead. Or maybe "Just Pretend," "You Don't Have To Say You Love Me" or "Twenty Days And Twenty Nights." But these are minor points. I highly recommend the That’s The Way It Is set from FTD, it's one of their best so far!

PS: I've never understood why RCA chose to overdub applause on "Bridge Over Troubled Water." If they wanted a "live" feeling, why didn't they simply release the live version instead?

5 comments:

Tygrrius said...

Thanks for taking the time to post this great review! It was worth the wait.

Based on your review, I'll definitely be buying this one, my first FTD in over a year (since "Let Yourself Go").

Regarding "Bridge Over Troubled Water," I never liked that overdubbed applause, either. I suppose they were trying to "bookend" the record with the live sound, but, as you said, why not just use an actual live performance? They recorded plenty of great ones, right up there with the studio version.

The other thing I don't like about the original alblum version of the song is Elvis' voice being so low in the mix for the first verse or so. I always wondered if that was intentional or a technical mistake.

I remember the first decent releases of the studio "Bridge Over Troubled Water" on "Heart & Soul" back in the early 1990s being a revelation. Without the overdubbed applause and now sporting a better-mixed intro, this was the first time I actually liked the studio version better than the incredible live versions. It's amazing how much mixing can change the experience of listening to the same song.

Anyway, thanks again!

Ty @ The Film Frontier said...

"Check out Thomas' review of FTD's 'Elvis: That's The Way It Is' 2-CD set, over at his Elvis Today blog."

MĂ„rtenbrother said...

Nice review, Thomas, and wise comments, tygrrius! It's really a nice package, but as with other ftd classic albums there aren't many surprises as a lot of the material already has been released. But that's ok, Ernst and Roger have done a great job. I would have substituted Little Sister/Get Back and Something for the studio version of Bridge (without applause), but that's just my opinion. Wasn't Something (and Sound of Your Cry) planned to be on the Love Letters LP or/and as a single? I may be wrong. Something would have suited better as a bonus track on a Love Letters ftd, which I guess is coming, together with Elvis Country. Guess that's why the Tiger Man jam is included, to have (almost) everything from the sessions on six cds. I Didn't Make It On Playing Guitar will probably be on the Elvis Country ftd, And Love Letters will include an unreleased ten minute instrumental jam version of This Is Our Dance! :-)
By the way, isn't it funny that Elvis Beatles recordings always were delayed? Yesterday wasn't included on In Person (and the Hey Jude part wasn't released at all), Something had to wait until Aloha, and Hey Jude had to wait three years (I could have waited forever!) to be released. And Get Back (as well as Lady Madonna) was only released after Elvis's death.

MĂ„rtenbrother said...

And now it seems that Love Letters from Elvis is the next ftd. Will it contain Sylvia and The Sound of Your Cry? Or do we have to wait for an Elvis Now ftd for Sylvia? Hopefully not ...

Tygrrius said...

I'm hoping that the FTD Love Letters From Elvis will have the definitive, full-length jam version of "Got My Mojo Working/Keep Your Hands Off Of Her." I can see why they would edit it for a mainstream release, but this is a collectors label. No fades, please!

I'm also a sucker for the songs "Heart of Rome" and "This Is Our Dance" (even though a lot of people apparently hate that one), so I'm hoping for some alternates, or at least improved sound quality, for those.

Hopefully, we won't get 37 takes of "It Ain't No Big Thing" as space-filler though.

If only FTD would move into the 21st century, though. They could save themselves (and fans) a lot of money by partnering with iTunes, Amazon, whoever, and make the tracks available as individual downloads.

I think the going rate for most songs is $0.99 US, and I'd be willing to pay double that in order to have the ability to pick and choose FTD songs to download.

Surely there are enough web-savvy Elvis fans by now to make this kind of venture worthwhile, even if only as a side-venture to the physical CDs?

If they are worried about piracy, it is theoretically just as easy to do that with a physical CD as it is with a downloaded song. In fact, in some ways, it may even be easier with a physical CD.