Saturday, August 30, 2008

"No imagination these people!"

On I read that the October FTD release from the August 1974 Las Vegas engagement will be called Down In The Alley. Reactions from some of the readers are that "Big Boss Man would have been my preferred title after the new opening song for this Vegas season, but of course that name has already been used by FTD" and "No imagination these people!"

This got me thinking and after taking a quick look at my FTD collection it seems to me the titles were a bit more imaginative during the earlier FTD years (1999-2003). Examples of this are Out In Hollywood, In A Private Moment, The Jungle Room Sessions and Dixieland Rocks. They all sound like classic bootlegs, don’t they?

Of course there are exceptions. New Year's Eve is hardly as exciting sounding as its bootleg companion Rockin' With Elvis New Years' Eve, but on the other hand I Sing All Kinds, released last year, has a nice ring to it.

Still, the fact is, 9 out of the 16 (I don't count the The Way It Was re-release) FTD titles in the 5" series released between 2004 and 2008 are named after a song, such as Big Boss Man, Unchained Melody and An American Trilogy. On comparison, only four of the first 23 releases (1999-2003) have a song as a title.

So, is it true that "these people" (Jorgensen & co) have no imagination? Well, when one look at the titles that certainly seems to be the case.

But maybe I can be of assistance. How about using a line from a song instead and naming the new FTD Just Rockin' And Reelin' (from Down In The Alley) or I Work Hard In The Evenin' (from Big Boss Man). Those sound just like classic bootlegs, don't they?

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Time to renew my membership

Yesterday I finally got around to renew my membership in The Official Elvis Presley Fan Club of Great Britain. If I count correctly, it was the 26th time I've done so.

I remember how I became a member back in 1982. Me and my family had visited some good friends and my father was at the wheel driving home. I was sitting in the back enjoying a comic when, on the readers letter page, a picture of Elvis from the Aloha show caught my eye. Next to the picture, one of the readers asked if there existed an Elvis Presley fan club.

The editor assured the reader it certainly did, and attached the address to The Official Elvis Presley Fan Club of Great Britain. Don't know how an editor of a Swedish comic magazine managed to pull that one off, but I was quick in sending the fan club a letter telling them I wished to become a member.

That's 26 years ago, and I'm still loyal to the club. I've written about the pros and cons of being a member in the British fan club before (read about it here), but the fact is I continue to pay the membership fee every year. In the beginning I had to send a postal check to do this, then in later years my credit card number.

Nowadays you would expect the possibility to renew the membership on the Internet, via Pay Pal or some other online payment service, but that's not the case. I still have to painstakingly write down my credit card number on a piece of paper and send it with ordinary (snail) mail to the fan club's address in Leicester, England.

Not that this is a insurmountable operation, it's just that in this day and age people do tend to use the Internet for such things, and I wouldn't be surprised if The Official Elvis Presley Fan Club of Great Britain loses members in this way. My renewal form was on my desk for months before I got a grip and sent it in. Same story last year, and the year before that.

When I became a member I remember reading that club had over 30.000 members, which I thought was an pretty impressing number. I have no idea how many there are today, but surely a lot fewer. I also wonder how many have been members for 26 years or more?

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Love Letters through my eyes

After listening quite a lot to the recent FTD release Love Letters From Elvis on my iPod last week while on vacation in Denmark, my lasting impression can be summarized like this:

The original album would without doubt have been stronger, had "The Sound Of Your Cry" and "Sylvia" been included. Even so, it would still be inferior to its two companions That's The Way It Is and Elvis Country.

This is hardly a surprising conclusion. I've always thought "The Sound Of Your Cry" is a great song (I love take 3!) that certainly fits the "love letters theme," as do "Sylvia."

In fact, one could argue that the decision to remove these two songs from the original album in 1971 and include the Easter single "Life"/"Only Believe" instead was a bad one. Not only did it weaken the album quality-wise, it also disrupted the theme of the record. After all, a confusing song about the creation of man can hardly be called a "love letter." Neither can a boring inspirational song, for that matter.

But "The Sound Of Your Cry" and "Sylvia" certainly wouldn't have been enough to lift the album to the heights of That's The Way It Is and Elvis Country. After all, the tracks that ended up on Love Letters had been rejected when TTWII and Country were put together, and many of them are among the weaker efforts from the Nashville Marathon in June 1970.

That said, the FTD release offers great value for money, with two fully packed CD's containing a lot of outtakes and undubbed masters (often running longer than the dubbed ones). It's also great to finally have the undubbed and unedited master of "Got My Mojo Working," complete with the "motherfucker" verse, officially released.

Also, session outtakes on songs such as "It Ain't No Big Thing (But It's Growing)," "If I Were You," "I'll Never Know" and "Sylvia" offers an insight into how Elvis and the band worked during these studio recordings. For example, it's interesting listening to guitarists James Burton and Chip Young discussing arrangements and working out intros.

It's also obvious at times that both the musicians and Elvis think the material they work with is, in fact, not of the best quality. Just listen to "This Is Our Dance" where Elvis first calls out, "C'mon Charlie, we gotta hurry man, we gotta eat" and then, where James Burton after a couple of takes exclaims, "This isn't Lamar's song? If it is, I'm gonna kill him."

One thing I do miss is the informal jam "I Didn't Make It On Playing The Guitar" that was released on the CD A Hundred Years From Now back in 1996. According to Ernst Jorgensen's book The Complete Recording Sessions this jam developed during the recording of "It Ain't No Big Thing" and should have had a place on the FTD release of Love Letters From Elvis. But I guess it will be released on Elvis Country instead.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Funny how time slips away

Exactly one year ago, on August 16, 2007, I started the Elvis Today blog. As I've written earlier, the idea was, and still is, to share my Elvis-related experiences and express my opinions about all things Elvis, such as new releases from the FTD label.

First and foremost I do this because I think it's fun to put my thoughts in writing. But I have to admit, a big bonus is knowing that what I write is read by Elvis fans such as myself.

And, as Elvis Today has been up and running for a year now, I thought it would be interesting to know just how many readers I have and where they come from. Therefore, I accessed a program called Google Analytics that lets you know how much "traffic" there is to a certain site on the Internet, such as a blog.

This is what I found out:

  • So far Elvis Today have had 7 001 visits from 71 countries.

  • Most of the visits come from Sweden, the United States and the United Kingdom, but many also from Canada, the Netherlands and Germany.

  • Maybe a bit more surprisingly are visits from China, Oman, Iran and Iraq.

  • 20 per cent of the visitors access Elvis Today directly, while 27 per cent reach it from referring sites and 53 percent through a search engine such as Google.

To sum it up, I'm happy that Elvis Today is read by fans all over the world. When I started the blog I wasn't sure if I was going to write in Swedish or English. Man, am I glad that I chose the later!

Thursday, August 14, 2008

King Elvis Still Classy

It's pretty interesting reading what the press thought of Elvis' concert at the City Auditorium, Omaha, Nebraska, on April 22, 1976, recently released under the name America on the FTD label. The review of the show is included in Stein Erik Skar's The Concert Years and is titled King Elvis Still Classy. Here are a few excerpts:

"Thursday night in Omaha, the 41 year old singer was as classy, though maybe not as sleek, as all of those Cadillacs he’s been handing out… The King is still the King, despite reports that he has been depressed, debilitated and overweight."

"The pounds only make Elvis more imposing, if slightly less mobile. The charisma may be off a notch but the gestures are grand and Olympian... Presley mixed patriotism, religion, sex and self-parody in a way that's as seductive as ever."

All in all, Elvis received favourable criticism, despite a repertoire that hadn't changed very much since he last played Omaha two years earlier, in 1974. So, did the review give a fair picture of this particular concert? The answer is, after listening to America a couple of times, both yes and no.

No, because Elvis hadn't renewed his repertoire which during this time in his touring schedule was seriously lacking in variety. The only new song he sang was "Hurt" which was performed for the first time during the last tour in March. Also, because Elvis at times on stage sounded bored, uninspired and tired.

Yes, because, as the critic wrote, "Presley has one of the great voices around and when he turned on the power, he was overwhelming." This is especially true on songs like "Trying To Get To You," "America," "Hurt" and "How Great Thou Art."

Thinking about it, it's really incredible that Elvis could muster the energy to do all the tours he did in 1976, when, looking back, it's evident he was in poor shape and had a lot of problems. Of this, the crowd in the City Auditorium in Omaha, knew nothing. They were having a good time that particular night in April, 1976.

PS: A lot of fans have complained about the mixing of the soundboard, and I have to agree. The backing vocals are way to loud and at times completely drown out Elvis' voice. One such example is "If You Love Me (Let Me Know)" where, during the chorus, you wonder if Elvis is singing at all!

PS 2: A small observation. During Jerry Scheff's bass solo it sounds like Elvis is adding a line from "Reconsider Baby," something like, "Why don't you go ahead on baby."

Monday, August 11, 2008

When I recorded at Sun

In Memphis, Elvis Week 2008 is at full swing. I was there three years ago, and while Graceland was the highlight of my visit then, I also treasured my trip to Sun Studio. After all, it was there it all started.

And like Elvis, I paid to make a record. But, unlike Elvis, I had to choose a karaoke track of a song and then record my own voice to it on a CD. I thought "Walk A Mile In My Shoes" was a proper choice and was led into a tiny cubicle at the back of the studio.

In the cubicle there was a TV-screen mounted in one of the upperhand corners showing the lyrics, and in front of me stood a microphone. The girl at Sun who was helping me out told me I had one practice run before doing the actual recording.

Man, it was hot in that cubicle, and sweat was pouring down my back as I started to sing, "If I could be you, if you could be me, for just one hour..." Still, I thought it went pretty well.

So well, in fact, that I asked my "engineer" if I could record a short poem ("Men With Broken Hearts") before she played the actual karaoke track. "No problem," she answered helpfully, "just start when I knock at the door to the cubicle."

So, there I was, not only trying to sing like Elvis, but also to talk like him! Anyway, it went OK the second time around as well, and I got my record. And though it never will be as famous as the one Elvis did there back in 1953, it was, and still is, a great souvenir from my time in Memphis.

Do you want to hear it? Click here to play the song.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Duets that divide the fans

Judging by different message boards on the Internet, it looks like half the fans feel the upcoming Christmas Duets album will be a big hit for Elvis, while the other half thinks it's gonna harm his image.

Personally, I'm not that excited either way. Maybe I would've been 15 years ago when Frank Sinatra's duet album was climbing the charts. Now, to me, the whole idea of a duet album seems like an old, obsolete one.

On another level, it will of course be interesting to hear how good these Christmas duets work technically. In other words, if the songs sound as if they were recorded by Elvis and his "guest artists" in the same studio at the same time, or if they feel artificial.

Finally, I do admit I'm a little bit curious as to why only a partial track listing has been released. Could it be we're in for an surprise and one of the tracks not listed will be a duet between father and daughter?

Monday, August 4, 2008

Which shows will it be?

Here I am, waiting patiently for my July FTD releases to arrive, while at the same time thinking about the upcoming October titles, that were announced a couple of days ago.

I think it's great that the opening show from August 1974 will be part of the package. After all it's a very different show, opening with "Big Boss Man" and including such gems as "Down In The Alley" and "Good Time Charlie's Got The Blues."

The question, of course, is what else this double CD set will have to offer. I for one would gladly like to see the rehearsal from August 16 included, but then we'd have a blueprint of the bootleg From Sunset Boulevard To Paradise Road, so I guess that's out of the question. Instead it will most likely be another show from the engagement.

That Elvis Country will be among the October FTD releases is logical, following in the steps of That's The Way It Is and Love Letters From Elvis. As my brother told me on the phone the other day, it will then be possible to make one's own complete "Nashville Marathon" compilation, putting all the released takes of the songs in the order they were recorded on six 6 CD's.

Last, but not the least, Elvis In Person will be an interesting release. Strictly speaking, it was first put out as part of the double album From Memphis To Vegas/From Vegas To Memphis in 1969, but as it was a solo release one year later and a fantastic album, who am I to argue?

The big question mark is how it will be handled by Ernst Jorgensen and his crew in the classic album format, being strictly a live album. It must have been easier working with Elvis Recorded Live On Stage In Memphis, in that case they only had to add the songs from the concert missing from the LP.

But when it comes to Elvis In Person, where the songs are taken from a couple of shows, it's another ball game. Me and my brother's guess is that the first CD will include the original album plus unreleased masters and the second one a complete show. Which one? Your guess is as good as mine.

PS: If I count right we have been offered the following shows so far:

August 21 (Viva Las Vegas 2 CD set. Dinner or Midnight show?)
August 23, Midnight Show (FTD Elvis At The International)
August 24, Dinner Show (Live In Las Vegas box set)
August 26, Midnight Show (FTD Elvis All Shook Up)

Friday, August 1, 2008

Special moments with FTD 5

It's around 9 PM, October 29, 1976. Elvis Presley walks down the stairs from his bedroom at Graceland, Memphis, Tennessee. He's still tired, having finished another tour just two days ago.

At the end of the stairs he nearly trips on some heavy cables running from the den at the back of the house, just behind the kitchen, to the big RCA mobile recording truck parked outside.

"Goddamn," he mumbles before heading into the den, today known as the Jungle Room.

Elvis is a troubled man and feels his life is spinning out of control. His relationship with Linda Thompson is not going well and is sure to end in the very near future, of that he's certain.

Also, he's heard new rumours about the book his longtime friend Red West is planning to write together Sonny West and Dave Hebler in bitterness after being fired in July. He has tried to talk them out of it, has even offered each of them $50,000, but they have turned him down flat.

"Worried about that book? I don't think so," he says to himself, but those closest to him know better. Elvis is frightened, angry and hurt.

He enters the den that for the second time that year has been turned into a recording studio. All the walls have been draped with heavy blankets to dampen the acoustics and the Polynesian-style furniture removed.

In the room, he politely greets his musicians who have been waiting patiently for him to emerge from his bedroom. He sits down and is handed the lyrics for the first song from producer Felton Jarvis.

"This is the one I talked to you about before," Felton Jarvis tells him. You know the one written specifically for you by Andrew Lloyd Webber and Time Rice, the one called "It's Easy For You."

Elvis looks absentmindedly at the lyrics sheet.

"Yeah, I remember," he finally tells Jarvis after having collected his thoughts. "Let’s hear the demo."

Felton Jarvis nods and returns to the mixing table that stands close to the wall with the little waterfall, which in honour of the day has been turned off by engineer Mike Moran. He presses a button and soon the pleasant baritone-voice of Webber fills the room, "You may not mind that it's over, but I have a different point of view…"

At first Elvis looks non-committed. But it's soon evident that he's deeply moved by the song as he seems to gaze at some far off place at the same time as his eyes begin to moisturise.

After the ending, he blinks a couple of times to chase the moisture away, looks down at the lyrics and recites a line from the song, "I had a wife, and I have children, I threw them all away."

As the musicians hit a couple of notes to check their instruments Elvis adds, "I get carried away very easily. Emotional son of a bitch."

For a while they all look at Elvis, sensing his attraction to the song and his troubled soul. Then, as Elvis slips on his headphones, Felton Jarvis discretely clears his throat and says, "OK, we’re rolling. Take one."

What follows is an amazing performance by Elvis, almost autobiographical, where he sings about the loss of his love and the world that is crumbling around him. To one and all, it's obvious that Elvis is suffering, and that everything is coming apart. Emotional stuff, indeed.