Sunday, November 30, 2008

Also Sprach Zarathustra (laughing version)

This week was a slow one Elvis wise for me, as my work took me to Stockholm where I spent long days talking to and meeting colleagues who, just like me, work with the Swedish Radio's website. But Elvis wasn't totally absent.

During one of the meetings, which took place in a room located in a corridor where P2, the classical music channel is situated, I spotted some old books on a shelf. So, when my colleagues went to get some coffee, I took a closer look and saw that it was The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, printed in 1980.

A lot of the entries dealt with classic composers and artist (apparently it was first published back in 1878). But for the fun of it I searched for and found, an entry about a certain Presley, Elvis (Aaron), written in a rather technical way. For example, it stated that "His voice covered two and a third octaves, from G to b", with an upward extension to d''' in falsetto."

The entry wasn't long, only eight sentences. The next one, describing the life of Italian violin maker Pressenda , was about three times longer. On the other hand, as I found out before my colleagues returned with their coffee, the entry about John Lennon only consisted of one single sentence...

PS: During another coffee break one of my colleagues played an mp3 file for me on her mobile phone. Turned out it was Elvis related in a way, too. It was a very funny version of Also Sprach Zarathustra, and you can hear it here. I think Elvis would've cried with laughter, I sure did!

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Electrifying!

Yesterday I went hunting in a store selling used records. As it's located close to where I live (in fact I pass it daily on my way to work) I'm a regular visitor.

As usual, I looked through the Elvis CD's, and noticed a couple of bootleg releases. One of them caught my attention, a Bilko album titled Electrifying! As the price was a bargain, I laid my hands on it immediately.

The CD contains 16 rehearsals from July 1970 as well as eight tracks from Elvis' February closing show in Las Vegas the same year. When I played it I was pleasantly surprised to discover a couple of numbers from the rehearsals in Culver City that I've never heard before.

The highlight was a long running version of "My Baby Left Me" (4:46 minutes) from July 29, as well as a blues version of "That's All Right" from July 15. I find it interesting that this version isn't listed in either Tunzi's och Jorgensen's recording sessions books.

I also have to mention "Patch It Up," where Elvis after the song exclaims, "OK, that's good. A good feel." And then there's "Stranger In The Crowd," the same version as featured in That's The Way It Is, with some funky drumming by Mr Tutt. A personal favorite of mine!

Listening to these rehearsals tracks made me feel good, as Elvis seems to be enjoying himself and includes some funny lyric changes from time to time. "Let it out and shove it in" as featured on "Hey Jude" is one such example, "I'll be oh so horny" instead of "I'll be oh so lonely" on "Love Me" another.

One thing that hit me, though, is that the tracks that were recorded during rehearsals for the Las Vegas opening in the summer of 1970, are spread out on a lot of albums and box sets, when it comes to official releases:
  • That's The Way It Is (Special Edition 3 CD)

  • The Way It Was (FTD)

  • Walk A Mile In My Shoes (box set)

  • Platinum: A Life In Music (box set)

  • One Night In Vegas (FTD)

  • Elvis Aron Presley (box set)
What's more, a lot of the rehearsals haven't even been released officially, like "My Baby Left Me" and "That's All Right" mentioned above. I for one would love to see a box set dedicated to the TTWII rehearsals, with a great booklet and interesting pictures. How about it, Ernst?

Thursday, November 20, 2008

If I can dream - part two

In my latest posting I wrote about how great it would have been if Elvis toured overseas after the Aloha From Hawaii Via Satellite show. Therefore it was interesting reading an interview with Charles Stone, Elvis' tour manager during the 70's, in the December/January issue of the fan club magazine from Great Britain.

What particularly caught my interest was the following question and answer:

Q: I've heard you speaking in the past about the time you had a flight booked to come to London and book Elvis to play at Wembley. Would you be so kind as to tell the account here for those who have not heard it before?

A: Yes we were coming to England. At the time of his death I had reservations to come to London to book Wembley Arena for a week. The Colonel was not coming but Tom Hulett and myself had always handled the shows and both Elvis and The Colonel were comfortable with us doing the Elvis shows.

Unfortunately the interviewer then moves on to another subject instead of following up this interesting piece of information (a journalistic sin, no less!) so no more facts are available.

Personally, I think it highly unlikely that Elvis was planning to play London in 1977, mainly because of the shape he was in then. But then again, maybe this was the challenge he needed to pull himself together and get well. One thing's for sure, these plans (if they ever existed) would have been better put to use four years earlier, in 1973.

PS: You can read more about Charles Stone here.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

If I can dream

Looks like the upcoming FTD release I'll Remember You hasn't been released before, after all. According to ElvisNews.com the Danish fan club Elvis Unlimited has confirmed with Ernst Jorgensen that the album will contain the midnight show from February 3, 1973 and not the dinner show, that has been bootlegged twice.

Furthermore, as Elvis only sang "I'll Remember You" at the dinner show and not at the midnight show the song is included as a bonus song on the new FTD release. And finally, Ernst also told Elvis Unlimited that not only was Elvis in great spirits for this show, but also that the sound quality is outstanding on this release.

That is certainly good news, as I think Elvis sounds uninspired and tired on the dinner show, keeping his talk to a minimum (altering between "thank you" and "thank you very much" after the songs) and just going through the motions.

This should come as no big surprise, as it must have been a strange experience returning to the routine of Las Vegas after the Aloha From Hawaii success just a few weeks earlier. What if the satellite show had been followed by a World tour instead. One can only dream...

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Fun on a Hollywood Film Set

A while ago Mike Edwards over at the Have A Clambake! blog wrote that it's been a long time since he took a look at an Elvis movie, and was gonna watch Spinout and write about it. As it was a long time since I saw one, too, I asked him to tell me which one I should watch, and then I would write about it.

Turned out he wanted to hear what I think of Fun In Acapulco, so this afternoon I sat down in front of the television, dimmed the lights and watched my DVD copy of the movie. It brought a lot of memories, as this was one of few Elvis movies shown on television when I was a kid.

Actually, I think it was Fun In Acapulco and Paradise, Hawaiian Style that was shown regularly in those days, so I guess the TV company (Sweden only had one back then!) had a deal going where they could screen these two quite often. "You know the one where he dives of that cliff" or "the one where he flies a helicopter full of dogs" were expressions that I remember using when describing what Elvis movie I'd seen.

You all know the story: Elvis plays Mike Windgren, a trapeze artist, who tries to forget a tragic accident where his brother was killed. In Acapulco he's a busy guy: he become friend with an orphaned Mexican kid who becomes his manager, he works as a singer during the night and as a lifeguard at night, and is attracted to two ladies.

In the end he dives from the highest cliff, thereby overcoming his morbid fear of heights. Along the way he also sorts out his love life (he's in love with Margarita (actress Ursula Andress, no less) and decides to move back to Florida where he will become a member of The Flying Windgrens family act again.

I enjoyed watching the movie, and though it's nothing like Jailhouse Rock (Richard Thorpe directed both of 'em) I think it works reasonably well for what it is: a lightweighted film with a lot of music, a lot of romance, and a lot of scenic color.

But, speaking of the scenery, the one thing I've never liked with Fun In Acapulco is the fact that a stand-in for Elvis was used in all the scenes shot in Acapulco. In fact, all of Elvis' scenes took place in Hollywood, while his co-stars seem to have visited Mexico for the film. This is painfully clear if you look at the stand-in who doesn't look at Elvis at all (check out the scene before the "(There's) No Room To Rhumba In A Sports Car" number, for example).

That brings me to the music, that, except for the above song, I've always liked. In fact I think it's one of the best soundtracks around (certainly from the 60's anyway). Or as Ernst Jorgensen puts it in his book A Life In Music:

From the energic opening cut of "Bossa Nova Baby," through the intoxicating Tijuana sweetness of the horn players on "Marguerita," to the Spanish flavor on cuts like "Guadalajara" and "The Bullfighter Was A Lady," the recordings are a triumph of sound and atmosphere.

So there you have it, my thoughts on Fun In Acapulco. If you want to dig deeper, you can read my earlier postings about the songs "Mexico" and "Guadalajara."

Saturday, November 8, 2008

"We are spoiled folks, remember that!"

It seems the upcoming FTD release I'll Remember You from Las Vegas, February 1973 is stirring up a lot of feelings, at least among the readers of ElvisNews.com. The problem seems to be the show is the same one that has already been released on bootleg two times, first as It's A Matter Of Time back in 1993 and then only last year under the title Vegas Rhythms.

One reader, for example, writes that it's an insult to fans who have already bought this concert two times, and that Ernst Jorgensen isn't the right person to lead the FTD label. Another one thinks it's a very stupid move by FTD while a third says that Ernst isn't suitable for the job. Harsh words, indeed.

My thoughts on the subject are these: I think many of those who criticize Ernst are die hard fans who buy every FTD release and also own a lot of bootlegs. Because they collect everything FTD offers, they get upset when it turns out an album has already been released as an import record. But come on, either buy it to maintain a complete collection or just skip it! It's not as there aren't any other releases around.

As for I'll Remember You, my guess is that there are no other soundboards available from this particularly Las Vegas season, and I think that's the reason for it being released instead of another show. Ernst goal (or so I've heard) is to release a show from every tour and season, so not to release this one would be a strange decision, to say the least.

That doesn't mean I don't think everyone has the right to criticize, but let's do it in a constructive way. I for one think the titles are very unimaginative, and I'll Remember You is no exception. I also feel that the layout of the covers often leaves a lot to be desired. And that Ernst is using the same photo for the cover as the one used on Vegas Rhythms isn't something to applaud, either.

But all in all, I think Ernst Jorgensen and Roger Semon are doing a great job. During the 10 years or so that FTD has existed over 70 albums has been released by the label. That's about as many as RCA put out during Elvis' lifetime! It's like someone wrote on ElvisNews.com (a lot of readers are defending Ernst, too): We are spoiled folks, remember that!

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Elvis Country offers few surprises

Finally my copies of the two new FTD releases arrived with the mail! Elvis Country was the first one I played and not very surprisingly the snippets of "I Was Born About Ten Thousand Years Ago" were included between the songs from the original album. As I've stated before, it would have been nice to have them first with the snippets and then without, even if that meant a 3 CD set.

When it comes to the outtakes, most of them have already been released before, on regular RCA records as well as on FTD albums (A Hundred Years From Now and Nashville Marathon come to mind). In fact, "Tomorrow Never Comes" and Where Did They Go, Lord" are the only two songs that offer us a couple of "new" full running unreleased takes.

On the other hand, it's interesting listening to Elvis struggling to master "Tomorrow Never Comes" and the vocal challenges the song offers. "If I broke there, you can imagine how bad it will be later on," he exclaims one time after losing his voice. Actually, his voice breaks at the end of what will be the master (take 13) but according to the booklet a retake of the ending took care of that. (Why isn't the retake included?)

Speaking of the booklet, it's full of interesting pictures, nearly all of them showing Elvis at an early age. My favorite is the one of Vernon and Elvis taken in Tupelo 1948. Another one shows Elvis together with a lot of other children, after he has won fifth place in the talent show singing "Old Shep" at the Tupelo Fair in 1945. And he wears glasses! That's a little mystery all by itself.

On the downside, the booklet offers no "Behind The Scenes" information, as the other 7" FTD do. So if you want to know more you have to look elsewhere. I recommend the excellent linear notes written by Colin Escott for the digitally remastered Elvis Country CD BMG released in 2000.

Returning to the FTD release, I think Ernst Jorgensen and Roger Semon have done well with The Country Jam that brings together "Faded Love," (Country version) "The Fool," "A Hundred Years From Now" and "Little Cabin On The Hill" in the chronological order they were recorded.

It's also interesting listening to the studio banter before "Whole Lot-ta Shakin' Goin On." For some reason, Elvis is irritated after the rehearsal of the song (why isn't the rehearsal included, too?) but maybe it's his irritation that leads to the frantic performance! And I bet he got even angrier after hearing the rough mix with overdubbed horns, I for one am glad he ordered them removed.

So there you have it. Not very many surprises but a welcomed addition to my FTD collection. Finally I can make my own complete Nashville Marathon compilation, putting all the released takes of the songs in the order they were recorded on six 6 CD's.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Elvis on tape - part two

Last night I did something I haven't done in about 20 years. In bed, I put on my headphones, pressed the play button on my old Sony Walkman and listened to one of my 200 live tapes, a cassette containing an audience recording of an Elvis concert.

This brought back a lot of memories, I can tell you that. I remembered looking at the long type written list with concerts, painstakingly picking the ones to buy, and also the excitement when the cassettes finally arrived. But most of all I remembered listening to the tapes, often in bed with my headphones on, imagining I was right there in the auditorium, watching Elvis perform.

Sometimes this called for a lot of concentration as well as imagination, as the sound quality was really bad. But the longer I listened to a tape, the more I got used to the sound and the more I got out of the experience. Thanks to those tapes I learned a lot about Elvis' concert career; after all RCA only released a couple of live albums during his lifetime, and he did over 1 100 shows.

Nowadays it's a different story altogether, with all the soundboards being released, both by FTD and the bootleggers. But just as the live tapes taught me a lot, so have the soundboards. You see, because the sound was so bad at times on the live tapes, I thought Elvis sounded great all the time.

The soundboards paint a different picture. Now I can clearly hear what was going on. One such example is the closing show in Las Vegas on September 3, 1973, released by FTD in 2004 (Closing Night). When I listened to this one on cassette I thought it was a great show with Elvis in fine form vocally.

The soundboard, on the other hand, tells the story about a crazy show, where Elvis changes a lot of the lyrics and where his mode swings from funny to angry and back again. The soundboard also reveals that Elvis' voice seems to have lost some of its power, and that the songs, with a few exceptions, suffer from this.

On the other hand a soundboard can confirm a first impression. Yesterday I listened to Elvis' evening performance in Dallas, November 13, 1971. Although the sound quality was really bad I thought it was an exciting concert with Elvis in fine form and mood. Today, I played the soundboard CD The Power Of Shazam, and though it was recorded in Boston three days earlier it confirmed my belief that this, Elvis' third tour, was a great one.

PS: You can read the first part about my Elvis cassettes here.