Thursday, October 30, 2008

A soundboard collectors label?

Having been away for two days I was a little bit disappointed when I opened the door to my apartment and quickly scanned the mail lying on the floor. Nope, still no sign of the two new FTD releases Elvis Country and Nevada Nights.

Having already read reviews of these albums (somebody obviously has a faster mailman than I do) they seem worth waiting for. Nevertheless, it's becoming more and more clear that Ernst Jorgensen and company put their energy on the classic album series rather than on the original 5" digipacks. Also, it's pretty obvious that the 5" albums are turning into a kind of soundboard label.

This is certainly no surprise, but just for the fun of it I counted the smaller digipacks and these are the statistics:

Of the 40 5" digipacks released so far (I'm not counting The Way It Was re-release) 21 contain live material. That may not seem much, but if you concentrate on the later FTD years (2004-2008) 12 out of 17 are soundboards or professionally recorded concerts.

So why isn't that surprising? Simply because there is no use putting together alternate takes albums like Made In Memphis or Nashville Marathon when all the outtakes sooner or later wind up on on the classic albums.

I'm all for the 5" digipacks becoming a soundboard label, but I would like to see them treated with the same care as the classic albums gets. As the price is the same, it would be nice to have a booklet included with photos from the show and some nicely written linear notes. After all, if the bootleggers can do it, then why not FTD?

PS: Maybe I'm wrong and the next 5" won't be a soundboard. Maybe it will be the re-release of Flashback from the FTD book with the same name. I wouldn't be surprised. Would you?

Sunday, October 26, 2008

"Get on with the next song!"

Waiting for my copy of the FTD Nevada Nights CD to arrive in the mail, I've been spending some time listening to the recently released bootleg Back With A Bang! It contains the Las Vegas Midnight Show from March 22, 1975, that was first released as part of the CD box A Profile, The King On Stage Vol. 2, back in 1996.

This time around, the sound has been digitally restored. Another plus is the 16 page booklet with linear notes as well as a bunch of photos from this Las Vegas season showing Elvis in high spirit.

Vocally, Elvis is in great form, and the show is a joy to listen to. Gone are the long monologues from the engagement in August the year before, replaced by a quick succession of songs. "Quick, get on with the next song," he shouts after a beautiful rendition of "And I Love Her So" and launches himself and the band into "Big Boss Man."

Another proof that this is Elvis concentrating on his work and vocal challenges, is the absence (well, almost) of songs from the 50's done at a fast pace. Instead, most of the material is from Elvis 70's catalogue, including such gems as "Promised Land," "Green Green Grass Of Home," "Fairytale," and "My Boy."

Personally, I've always had a soft spot for "It's Midnight," and the version included on Back With A Bang! is top notch. Only an artist like Elvis can shout, "Good God, I miss you!" with that kind of credibility.

PS: The perfect companion for this release is Big Boss Man that FTD put out in 2005, featuring the Dinner Show on March 30. But if I had to choose, I'd say the show from March 22 is the best of the two. Quick, get on with the next song!

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Word for word

Today, on my way home from work, I picked up an Elvis book I hadn't seen before, for a bargain price at a bookstore. The title of the book is Elvis: word for word, and it's written by Jerry Osborne, an avid Elvis collector and author of the Presleyana price guide.

The idea behind the book is to collect all the verifiable things Elvis said in interviews, at press conferences, wrote in letters and spoke at concerts. By presenting everything in chronological order the author feels this is the closest we will ever get an Elvis autobiography.

To me, it's the personal written letters (few as they may be) along with a transcription of the telephone conversation Elvis had with Red West in 1976, that are the most exposing. By reading them it's possibly to get a glimpse of what Elvis thought privately about such things as love and friendship. And, sadly, it's all to evident that he was deeply disturbed at the end of his life.

The interviews are another interesting chapter, especially the early ones. But after a while I realize that they are very much alike, with the same questions about how Elvis started out, what he thinks about the screaming fans, if he's to be married soon and so on. The exception is the revealing interview Lloyd Sharer did with Elvis in 1962, presented in parts on the Elvis Aron Presley box set.

A lot of the last part of the book consists of transcripts from his concerts, but after a while I get tired of reading variations of "Good evening, ladies and gentlemen. My name is Wayne Newton." That doesn't add much in the way of an "autobiography," it only reminds me of Having Fun With Elvis On Stage.

More interesting is the information that Elvis received a boxed 16 mm copy of each of his films, for which he was required to sign an agreement like the one for Fun In Acapulco: "I hereby agree that the film will be for my personal use only at my home and I will not use it in any way commercially or for profit."

Thursday, October 16, 2008

The flowered silk shirt

It's amazing how Elvis Presley keeps turning up when you least expect it. This afternoon I was sitting on a train bound for home after two days work in Stockholm, reading one of my favorite authors, Clive Cussler.

For you not familiar with his work, Mr Cussler is a bestselling American novelist writing action adventures involving lost ships, heroes, megalomaniacs, beautiful women and sunken treasure. I've loved his books since my early teens, and apart from being highly entertaining they've been great textbooks when it comes to me learning English.

Anyway, there I was, reading one of his latest books, The Navigator, when suddenly Elvis makes an appearance in it. Well, almost. The situation is this: The hero of the book, Kurt Austin, has invited Italian beauty Carina Mechadia over for dinner. As she arrives, she compliments his flowered silk shirt. Kurt answers:

"Thanks. Elvis Presley wore the same design in the movie Blue Hawaii."

I thought it was a great line, and a nice detail in the dialogue. Apparently Clive Cussler had done his homework, as he both knew that Elvis made a movie called Blue Hawaii, and that Elvis wore flowered shirts in it.

Unfortunately, that was the only appearance Elvis made during their date, and I was a bit disappointed when:

"Austin put on a recording from his extensive jazz collection..."

In my opinion, the soundtrack from Blue Hawaii would've been a better choice, what with the flowered shirt and all. Still, being both an Elvis Presley and Clive Cussler fan, it was nice to see their paths cross, so to speak.

PS: Turns out Elvis and Clive have at least one thing in common, their love for cars. Actually, there's both a Cussler car museum and an Elvis Presley automobile museum. You can read about Elvis' cars here and Clive's cars here.

Monday, October 13, 2008

3D Elvis

Being a fan of 3D computer animated movies such as Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within and the more recent Beowulf, I was delighted to find this clip on Youtube (thanks to Elvis Information Network):

Apparently the guy who created this animation is a freelance animator named Tim Pope. He writes on YouTube that it was a personal project done with Lightwave animation software, and that it took "2 years of blood, sweat, and tears to complete."

I don't know about you, but I was very impressed with the result and have watched it many times tonight. Granted, the resemblance isn't perfect but still very close. Just imagine what will be possible in the very near future. It'll make Christmas Duets seem like child's play...

Saturday, October 11, 2008

The quotable Elvis movie book

Sometimes I dream about writing a book about Elvis. After all, I've been a fan for over 30 years and like to think I've learned quite a lot about him during that time. Also, as a journalist, I'm used to interviewing people and doing research, so maybe a book project isn't as far fetched as it sounds.

But then again, so much has been written about Elvis that is seems there is nothing more to tell. However, one of the projects I've been fantasising about is a book about his time in Las Vegas, another an in depth look at the making of a certain movie or a certain recording session with the help of, for example, interviews with former musicians, co-stars and crew.

My third, and maybe most realistic project, is to compile a book with quotes from his movies. The idea comes from a little paperback I have, called The Quotable Star Wars. In it, Steve Sansweet, a journalist until he joined Lucasfilm as a promoter of Star Wars, has collected his favourite quotes from the first trilogy made in the 70's and 80's.

"The Star Wars Generation took great delight in the dialogue: the funny lines and the philosophical ones," Sansweet writes in the introduction. And, being a member of that generation, who isn't familiar with quotes like "Use the force, Luke" and "I'll never turn to the dark side!" to name just a few.

There's just one problem with my idea. Despite the fact that Elvis made 33 movies, it's hard to remember dialogue that stands out like in Star Wars. After all, who goes around muttering "You'll be surprised what you can do if you'll only try" (from Clambake) or "You'll scratch my back and I'll scratch yours" (from Paradise, Hawaiian Style).

Nevertheless, there are some quotes that comes to mind that might qualify:

  • "It ain't tactics, honey. It's just the beast in me." (Jailhouse Rock)
  • "Now you'll know what I'll do for an encore" (King Creole)
  • "You go to school. I'm going out to make a buck." (King Creole again)
  • "I don't care if you pilot a jet or a flying carpet." (Kissin' Cousins)
  • "You godda be kiddin'. On second thought, you wouldn't wear your head like that for laughs." (Elvis talking to the bald Lord of the assassins in Harum Scarum)
Hmm, maybe there are two problems with my idea, the second being that no one except the hard core fans will recognize the quotes. But what if I just aim the book at them? Then we're back at problem number one. Maybe you can help me out with some more quotes?

Monday, October 6, 2008

Leafing through the latest issue of the magazine from The Official Elvis Presley Fan Club of Great Britain I spotted a small add reading:

"Elvis online: Visit the Website of the Official Elvis Presley Fan Club on for Elvis news, views, pictures, travel offers and the new on-line shop featuring a wide range of dvds, cds, books, vinyl and miscellaneous merchandise."

I nearly choked on my coffee. Could this be true? As you may know, I've written earlier about how strange it is that the English fan club in this time and age doesn't have a site on the Internet where you can read the latest news and pay your membership fee, amongst other things.

Quickly, I scrambled to my computer, punched in the address and was greeted by this:

Not the most imaginative of layouts, but that isn't the problem. Actually, I prefer simple solutions on the Internet without blinking adds and so much information you don't know where it begins or end. (Would've been nice with a picture of Elvis, though...)

No, the problem with this site is that it isn't updated. Clicking on "News" I noticed the last posting was from August 7 this year, two months ago! Also, on the first page, Todd Slaughter writes:

Like our fan club magazine, this site is your site. You will have the opportunity to contribute, support, and participate in its development. The only "editorial" control, will be my daily utterings, and the reading and vetting of contributions for libel and decency.

Unfortunately, there aren't any "utterings" and how I as a member and reader can "contribute, support and participate" is, to say the least, pretty unclear. I tried to register but nothing happened, and nowhere on the site did I find a messageboard or any other way to contribute to the page.

Under the capture "Galleries" I found two fan photos, dating from the summer of 2007, and no fans pictures whatsoever. I'll gladly contribute with some of my own photos from Memphis, but how?

The one thing that seems to be working on the site is the shop, which have a decent selection of CDs, both from Sony BMG and FTD. Also, the paintings by artist Teresa Winston look cool, although expensive, to say the least. But the range of DVDs and books is unimpressive with only two titles in each category up for sale.

I for one applaud the fan club for finally being online, but if it's gonna work the site must be regularly updated. And if the fans are to play an important part, then the possibility for that must exist. Otherwise, no one will visit, and it will fall into oblivion.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Who needs duets?

The thing that impressed me the most while listening to the audiosamples from the upcoming Christmas Duets album wasn't the duets themselves. Instead, it was the last three tracks featuring only Elvis with new backing recorded for his vocals.

The biggest surprise is "The First Noel" that almost sounds like a completely different song. Gone is the boring organ, replaced by a much more interesting playing piano and some nice strings. Admittedly, Elvis' voice still sounds a bit strained, but the overall result is much better than the original one.

The same goes for "Winter Wonderland" where I've always thought Elvis sounds bored. But the driven arrangement gives his rendition of this classic Christmas song a push in the right direction, lending it a more fresh and enjoyable sound.

I've always liked "If I Get Home On Christmas Day," with its "bombastic Elvis sound" (strings, horns, heavy drumming and a lot of backing vocals) but judging by the snippet from the Duets CD we're in for a softer version with acoustic guitar and piano. Interesting.

When it comes to the duets, it's hard to form an opinion hearing only 30 second samples. But overall, I think the ones from the 70's work better than those from the 50's. Maybe it's because the songs from 1957 sound more dated, maybe it's something else. I don't know.

What I do know, is that every Christmas the past 30 years I've been listening to Elvis' Christmas songs featuring only Elvis, and that's the way I prefer it to be. It's hard to explain, but after listening to the duet samples I want to hear the originals.

Don't get me wrong, if Christmas Duets makes the public more interested in Elvis, I'm all for it. But on my turntable, Elvis' Christmas Album and The Wonderful World Of Christmas will be spinning.

PS: Remixes such as "The First Noel" are a much more interesting concept to me than the making of duets. As someone commented on "Putting a new "Fresh of paint" on a classic is okay if its done well and staying close to the original."