Monday, August 31, 2009

When It Rains, It Really Pours

Not only was my concern for the future of FTD a month ago unwarranted, last week the label announced that it will end the year with no less than six new releases. An impressive figure, although a closer look at the list reveals that two of the planned albums are recycled.

I will definitely buy the 5 inch digipack 2 CD set titled From Sunset To Vegas which features the rehearsal recorded at RCA's studio on Sunset Boulevard on August 16, 1974, as well as a couple of live recordings from Elvis' Las Vegas engagement in August/September that same year. This release is the perfect companion to the double CD Nevada Nights that FTD offered us last autumn.

I know I nag about it now and then here on Elvis Today, but I've never been able to figure out why FTD doesn't put together a CD box. The two above mentioned titles would've been perfect candidates, don't you think? So would the recordings from Jailhouse Rock, apparently, as the second FTD album in September will be a 2 CD in the classic albums format, followed by a second volume next year.

The most exciting of the bunch is Good Times that will see the light of day around November 1. This one has always been high on my wish list for getting the classic album treatment, and finally it does. Ernst Jorgensen promises "many great outtakes" and I for one hope for an alternate version of "My Boy."

FTD also promises us a new soundboard, but no further details are given. As the label more and more turns to concerts already issued on bootleg, maybe we can look forward to Elvis' concert in Dallas, December 28, 1976? This incredible show was released as A Hot Winter Night In Dallas by Fort Baxter back in 1998.

As for the recycled albums, one of them will be Rockin' Across Texas, released as a 2 CD set without the book that is now deleted. The Way It Was got the same treatment a while back, so I guess it was just a matter of time.

One of the first FTD albums and also one of the best is The Jungle Room Sessions. Nearly ten years after its original appearance it returns in the shape of a 2 disc vinyl set, making up the final release of the year.

I really can't make up my mind about it. On the one hand I don't understand the decision to manufacture vinyl records featuring material already released on CD, but on the other hand an edition of The Jungle Room Sessions pressed on 180-gram vinyl and "supplied in a new gatefold sleeve featuring additional Graceland images" sounds pretty cool.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Elvis On Tour - Special Edition

Yesterday I spent a rainy morning on the coach watching my faithful VHS copy of Elvis On Tour. And, not very surprisingly, I started thinking about what a special edition would look like, if it was ever to materialise.

According to Stein Erik Skar's book The Concert Years about 50 hours were filmed from Elvis' concerts, the record studio and from the activity surrounding the concerts. Given the wealth of material filmmakers Pierre Adidge/Robert Abel had to work with, I think they did a good job editing the film.

That said, a special edition could, of course, be even better. The question is how to go about it. One approach could be a complete re-edit, to make it into a That's The Way It Is-movie, that is, let it start with the mock session/rehearsals recordings and then continue with the live performances. But maybe that's a questionable solution, as it would certainly go against the original intentions of the producers.

Another, and maybe more acceptable way to do it, would be to keep the original plot, but add new material and in some cases also delete some things. One example of the latter that immediately comes to mind is the scene where a very old guy wearing a hat, in a weak voice tells us which doors Elvis is going to pass through on his way to somewhere. Boring stuff.

More exciting is the prospect of adding rolls of films. The fantastic version of "Always On My Mind" from the mock session is a given. Also, I would like to see some more material from the rehearsal recordings, such as "Burning Love." In the original movie only the religious material from that day is used, to illustrate Elvis love for gospel music.

And of course, the addition of more live performances, is what really would make a special edition special. Immediately missing songs such as "How Great Thou Art," "I Can't Stop Loving You," "Release Me" and the incredible version of "Are You Lonesome Tonight" from Elvis: The Lost Performances comes to mind. And complete versions of "Suspicious Minds" and "Until It's Time For You To Go."

One thing I haven't made up my mind about is whether to keep the scenes from the 50's, including Elvis' performances on the Ed Sullivan Show in 1956. What do you think?

PS: While I wrote this I listened to Live In Texas 1972, the final CD on the Close Up box set released in 2003. It features the next to last concert Elvis did during his April 1972 tour, in San Antonio. What hit me was that none of the older songs done in that breatless speed ("All Shook Up" and "Teddy Bear"/"Don't Be Cruel"among them) were included in Elvis On Tour. A wise choice.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Elvis Super 8 Film Festival

I repaid the courtesy and wrote a guest blog for The Film Frontier. You'll find it here.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Elvis Today, Tomorrow And Forever

In Memphis, this years edition of Elvis Week is coming to an end. Thanks to the Elvis Information Network I've been able to keep track on what's going on, and as always I remember my trip to Graceland during Elvis Week 2005.

Unfortunately, the media coverage here in Sweden has been practically zilch when it comes to the anniversary of Elvis' passing. And just like on January 8 this year, TCM (Turner Classic Movies) disappoints us here in Europe by showing not a single Elvis movie on August 16. The American edition, however, delivers in great style, screening no less than 13 of the Kings movies.

Returning to Elvis Week, today was also the day when Ernst Jorgensen would attend and talk about upcoming Elvis projects. Apparently he appeared on the Sirius Radio where he stated that he had three engineers working on three different classic albums - but couldn't tell which one would be the first in line to be released.

He did reveal, though, that the next FTD release will be a 1974 rehearsal tape previously released on the bootleg From Sunset Boulevard To Paradise Road. That is great news, at least to me, as I've never succeeded in obtaining this title.

So ends Elvis Week and August 16. Thanks for reading Elvis Today. And thank you, Elvis.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Are you laughing tonight?

I've always liked the way Elvis laughs. The first time I heard him do it must have been in the early eighties when the laughing version of "Are You Lonesome Tonight" was played frequently on the radio. In Europe it was released as a single, taken from the Elvis Aron Presley box set, and went on to become a pretty big hit.

"There's something touchingly childlike in Elvis' uncontrolled laughter, and this performance has become a classic for the way it shows a side of Elvis that rarely surfaced in public," Colin Escott writes in the CD reissue of the silver box set. That got me thinking about other songs where Elvis gets the giggles. This is what I came up with:

On the above mentioned box set, there is another laughing version, that has in its own way become a classic, at least among the fans. I am, of course, referring to the infamous "Datin'" from Paradise, Hawaiian Style that has Elvis cracking up a number of times on numerous takes of the song. It's highly entertaining and I always smile when I listen to Elvis struggling with the silly lyrics and completely loosening it.

Another soundtrack song that has Elvis breaking up is "Beach Shack" from the movie Spinout. Thanks to FTD and its classic album series we can hear the first three takes, and right from the start it's clear that Elvis finds the lyrics he's reading from the lead sheet highly amusing. Giggles become an enormous laughter as he ad libs "What you think I am" right before he and the Jordanaires are about to sing the line "dum-di-dum-di-dum."

Trying to pull himself together he exclaims, "It's got to be the silly hour," before loosening it again on the following take. I guess humor was the weapon with which to survive those soundtrack sessions in the mid 60's. It's great fun listening to and my favourite laughing version with Elvis.

It wasn't just during studio hours that Elvis got the giggles. As you all know he often laughed on stage both between and during songs. "I'll Remember You" from FTD's Takin' Tahoe Tonight! featuring the 3 AM show he did on May 13, 1973, no doubt qualifies as a laughing version.

The reason for this is Elvis having fun changing the lyrics to fit the early hour of the show: "Long after this, long morning is through... I'll be horny, ..lonely, oh so lonely." He also, for some reason, cracks up right at the end of the song, after which he laughingly announces, "Well, that's about enough!"

Another live laughing version that comes to mind is "Love Me Tender" from Murfreesboro recorded on May 6, 1975, and included on the FTD release Dixieland Rocks. As I've written about that one before I wont go into any details, except to say that it's really funny.

The final song I come to think of the rehearsal version of "Memories" from July 24, 1970, only available on bootleg. It's really hilarious and has Elvis changing the lyrics, making peculiar noises and almost laughing his head off. You have to listen to it to fully understand what I'm talking about.

So there you have it. Six laughing versions that show the funny side of Elvis. Of course there are more of them out here. Can you help me out?

Friday, August 14, 2009

Defying every logic known

The last couple of weeks I've been listening a lot to the latest FTD "escape" The Wonder Of You. As you probably know, it features the August 13, 1970 Dinner Show, the sixth and last one to be recorded by RCA during that particular engagement.

I won't bother with a review, as I totally agree with the one written by Tygrrius over at the Elvis Australia site. Instead, this fantastic concert once more made me think about which show I would pick if there existed a one-use-only Elvis concert time machine.

No doubt one of the shows from the Elvis third Las Vegas engagement would be a very strong candidate. One of my absolute favorites is the Midnight show recorded on August 12, available on the 3 disc set That's The Way It Is - Special Edition released in 2000.

As Alex Richardson puts it in the latest The Man And His Music issue, while reviewing the unofficial CD/DVD package That's The Way It Is: The Complete Works:

"The perfect blend of old and new material - the highlight being the seemingly impromptu sit-down-with-electric-guitar session - from a man who was firing on all cylinders, this is a very strong contender for Elvis' greatest show ever."

Sometimes when I fantasize like this about which show I would like to travel back in time to see, I cheat and bend the rules a little. When I do, it's possible to pick both an early show (say, from 1969-72) and one from the later concert years (1973-77).

Still, I always have a hard time choosing between the legendary Pittsburgh concert from New Year's Eve 1976 (released by FTD in 2003) and the afternoon show performed in Nassau Coliseum, Long Island, on July 19, 1975 (available on the bootleg Americas Own). Both stand out as some of the best concerts Elvis did during those years.

It must have been an incredible experience sitting in audience watching him perform "Rags To Riches" or sing "Bosom Of Abraham/You Better Run."

But of course there are other highlights. The shows from Elvis' third tour in November 1971 show him in top form, as do the the ones from tour number eight that took place in the summer of 1973. And of course it would have been incredible to see Elvis perform during the filming of Elvis On Tour or when he was recorded live on stage in Memphis on March 20, 1974. Not to mention Madison Square Garden or the famous Aloha satellite show.

What it boils down to is that not only is it impossible to travel back in time to see Elvis, it's also extremely difficult to pick that one concert to attend. But if a time machine materialized right now in my living room I would punch in the following date and location: August 12, 1970, The International Hotel, Las Vegas, around midnight!

PS: Thanks for lending me the title to this post, Tygrrius!

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Back In Kosovo

You have to admit that the title of this post is the perfect sequel to the latest one I penned, named From Elvis In Kosovo. I actually came up with the name before I had decided what to write. But then I remembered another thing having to do with Elvis and my time as a peacekeeping soldier a couple of years ago. Well, sort of, anyway:

When I arrived in Kosovo as part of the Swedish battalion stationed there, one of the first things I had to do was to visit Pristina, the largest town in Kosovo, to get to know the lay of the land, so to speak. Sitting in a green jeep, me and my buddies made big eyes taking it all in. After all, a war had taken place here not long ago.

Then all of a sudden, I caught sight of a large banner hanging over the street. In high letters it spelled E-L-V-I-S. It caught me completely off guard. I mean, here I was, not knowing what to expect or find, and right in front of me was the name of the greatest singer the world has ever known. It was a surrealistic moment.

Back at the Swedish camp, I couldn't help but wonder about that banner. Was there really an Elvis shop in Kosovo? And if so, what did it sell? I found the answer a short while later, while on foot patrol one night in Pristina.

In a city where electricity come and go randomly, it came as no surprise to me and my fellow soldiers that the street lamps were dark that particular night. After a while my night vision kicked in, and suddenly, walking on the pavement, I caught sight of that big banner again. And, turning my head to the right, I understood.

Though it was dark, I clearly identified a shopwindow and that the name of the store was – yeah, you guessed it, ELVIS. But, looking closely, I noticed that the goods displayed had absolutely nothing to do with Elvis Presley whatsoever. Instead, I found myself looking at a clothes shop.

As you can imagine, I was slightly disappointed. At the same time I guess I was glad the mystery was solved. And you know what? Every time I drove under that banner the following six moths or walked past that particular store, I saw the face of Elvis Presley in front of me. In an unsafe country far from home, it was a good feeling.

Friday, August 7, 2009

From Elvis In Kosovo

The above headline is obviously inspired by From Elvis In Memphis that is once again in the limelight thanks to the 40th Anniversary Legacy Edition CD. But the post itself has absolutely nothing to do with that great album. Here goes:

A couple of years ago I left the safety of civilian life and did a tour of duty with the Swedish Armed Forces stationed in Kosovo, as part of the peacekeeping mission. As you can imagine, I brought my fair share of Elvis albums with me together with a portable CD player. (This was just before the iPods made their entrance.)

One of my army buddies kind of digged Elvis too, especially the 70's stuff, so one day we talked about organizing an Elvis night in the mess room. This was a fairly easy thing to do, since music was played in the mess every Saturday evening during bar hours. Me and my buddy just volunteered to pull bar duty one particular night and we were on.

We then decorated practically the whole camp with posters announcing an "Elvis night" the following Saturday, where only Elvis music would be played. Admittedly, we were a bit worried that no one would turn up, but apparently word had spread quickly.

The night in question the mess room was packed with uniforms, most of them Swedish, but some from other countries as well. To this day I still remember the first song we played - "I Washed My Hands In Muddy Water" - and soon the place was cooking.

I also recall a Norwegian soldier turning up, armed with a guitar. All of a sudden he was doing his own Elvis imitation, something that came as a complete surprise. He was all right I guess, but many in the crowd wanted the real thing back, and pretty soon "Whole Lot-ta Shakin' Goin' On" blasted through the speakers.

All in all, the night was a complete success. I'd like to think that Elvis would've been proud had he known what his music meant to all those soldiers that night, serving in another country far from home.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Summer of '69

I just returned from a pleasant one week vacation in a little cottage on the western coast of Denmark. But as there was no connection to the Internet whatsoever, one of the first thing I did when I was home again was to visit the newly resurrected site as well as a few others to get myself up to speed again on things Elvis wise.

Half expecting the next FTD release to have been announced sometime during the week, I was a bit disappointed to find out that was not the case. What caught my eye instead was a couple of news items associated with Elvis exciting return to personal performances in Las Vegas 40 years ago:

1. A soundboard of the August 3, dinner show in Las Vegas, released in 1993 by Ford Baxter under the misleading name Opening Night, is to be re-released under the name of Elvis - Return Of A Prodigy. It's supposed to be edited, as to why I have no idea.

I own a copy of Opening Night and gave it a spin today. In short I found it pretty similar to the shows recorded professionally by RCA a couple of weeks later. Elvis is clowning around quite a bit, but maybe not as much as a bit later into the engagement. I guess he was still feeling a bit nervous as this was only the sixth show he gave.

Some of the arrangements also sound different, this is particularly true on "Are You Lonesome Tonight" where there is no high voice singing, instead that part is being played by a violin.

2. EPE's latest marketing item is a backstage pass where "you can explore Elvis’ dressing room as it may have looked during his historic 1969 engagement at The International Hotel. Included in the virtual online experience, are photos, artifacts, audio and video clips and lots more online fun." Coming from EPE, maybe not surprisingly this "fun" costs money, $1.99 for 24 hours of access.

3. Much more interesting is the Elvis: Vegas '69 book written by Ken Sharp, the guy who also put together Writing For The King, among others. Elvis Australia, another great Elvis site I favour, posted a review and after reading it, I have to say it sounds like a promising book.

Not only does it include a lot of previously unseen photographs, it also features first hand accounts of those who "where there." One of those, a lucky Mr Ian Fracer-Thomson, not only succeeded in sneaking into the opening night invitation only show, he also watched and listened to a large part of the dress rehearsal.

4. And finally, something I obviously didn't read about but wish was true: A CD box from FTD featuring the remaining shows recorded by RCA in the summer of '69 that so far has not been released in full. After all, if a bootlegger and a writer can pay attention, why can't Elvis official collectors label? (Although I applaud the Sony BMG release of From Elvis In Memphis Legacy Edition.)