Saturday, January 2, 2010

Good Times Never Seemed So Good

The best album from the Follow That Dream label in 2009. In short, that's how I would summarize Good Times, released only last month but already one of my favorites.

It's clear, listening to the two CD's packed with rehearsals, alternate takes, undubbed masters and studio banter, that Elvis is enjoying himself. It's equally evident that he's in top form vocally, "though still thirty pounds overweight and looking pretty peculiar in the cape he insisted on wearing through each evening," according to Ernst Jorgensen in his book A Life In Music.

I've always loved the funky "I Got A Feelin' In My Body" that kicked off the sessions, and it's interesting comparing the five complete takes (including the master); the tempo changes, the different styles of Elvis singing and the various ways the musicians approach the song. Noticeable is also the mixing, that emphasizes JD Sumner in a way not heard on, for example, Rhythm and Country.

Two other personal favorites are "Loving Arms," and "Good Time Charlie's Got The Blues." The outtakes of the former are very good, and it's great to finally have the unedited master of the latter, hearing Elvis repeat the third verse after the second instrumental break. It's also funny listening to him changing the lyrics after messing up take 7: "Left old Charlie here behind, Good Time Charlie lost his mind ... Some gotta win, some gotta lose, god damn you Charlie pick up your shoes."

Finally we get the existing outtakes of the dramatc ballad "My Boy" (take 1 and 2). Also included is the undubbed master (take 3) without the spliced ending that was done to lenghten the fadeout of the song. I for one find it hard to understand why any of the outtakes hasn't surfaced until now. Maybe Ernst Jorgensen asks himself the same question, as the first take is featured under "Session highlights."

Unfortunately, the first two takes of the driving "Talk About The Good Times" are incomplete, as Elvis has trouble with the lyrics due to the frenetic pace of the song. But compensations comes in the form of the unedited master (take 4) running 2 minutes and 55 seconds. What a fun number!

The three remaining songs from the December session featured on Good Times are more mediocre, in my opinion. I've always preferred the live version of "Spanish Eyes" featuring an extra verse, and although Elvis sings with passion on "If That Isn't Love" the song just doesn't excite me that much. But the first seven takes of "She Wears My Ring" are hilarious, as Elvis completely loses it! Kind of a laughing version, if you like, and very entertaining to listen to!

Two cuts from the July Stax sessions also made it onto the original album. "Take Good Care Of Her" undoubtly attracted Elvis as he puts a lot of emotion in the song. The different alternate takes sound very similar, though, and so offers nothing really new. The same can't be said for "I've Got A Thing About You Baby" where the early takes are done in a faster tempo than the later ones. "Maybe a little too fast, but with real swing," as Ernst Jorgensen puts it.

And speaking of Ernst Jorgensen, I'd like to thank him and the rest of the FTD team for a job well done. Even the accompanying booklet is top notch, displaying interesting memorabilia such as an un-retouched version of the original cover photo and a mock-up of the album. Two pages deals with the correspondence between Colonel Parker and Joan Deary regarding the need to retouch the photo and change the ELVIS type face. And what's more, all the documents are shown properly and fully readable, something that hasn't often been the case in the past.

In a way, Good Times is the perfect sequel to FTD's Raised On Rock that captured a spark from the July 1973 sessions at Stax not found on the original LP. Of course, we already knew that the recordings done in the same studio in December went much better. But what this latest release does is to confirm this, with interest.

Now, here's for Promised Land being the next classic album release from the Follow That Dream label. Maybe it will be the best one this year!

8 comments:

I BUY RECORDS said...

I completely agree with your review-"Good Times" is a top notch release. You can really pick up on the "feel good" vibe, with Elvis laying down some material worthy of his talent, just a few weeks before Christmas 1973, in his beloved hometown Memphis. It's a funky, joyous, soulful collection of tracks.

I also cannot wait for the "Promised Land" release.

Thank you FTD

David said...

Yes this is a great FTD release, although the album itself has always been pretty hit and miss.'Loving Arms' and 'Good Time Charlie's Got The Blues' are simply brilliant, up there with the very best of Elvis' recordings. However 'Spanish Eyes' and 'She Wears My Ring' are mediocre to say the least, and don't improve with the versions here - why did Elvis choose to record such garbage? 'Ive Got A Thing About You Baby', never quite understood the appeal of this, in part I think it's down to Elvis' performance and the faster versions here are even worse - he sounds really tired and unwilling to drive the song along, but that's just an indictment of the first Stax session. I think this would have been much better if Elvis had recorded it at virtually any other time (of course, Riley's original only came out in 72!) 'Talk About The Good Times' is fun but average, but 'If That Isn't Love' is possibly Elvis best 70s gospel recording (well, maybe tied with 'Seeing Is Believing'!!), a great song brilliantly performed. Amazing he didn't record more Dottie Rambo songs. 'Take Good Care Of Her' had been hits for Adam Wade and Sonny James (also recorded by Johnny Tillotson) in the 60s and although Elvis gives a really heartfelt performance, the song (ie lyric) is just awful. 'My Boy' is infinitely better although not quite in the league as the two stellar cuts on the album. I loved hearing undubbed versions and I would say with exception the undubbed versions are improvements over the released masters, with with much greater intimacy and ability to really hear and feel the power and pain in Elvis voice. Roll on a FTD version of 'Promised Land' especially for 'Its Midnight' and 'If You Talk In Your Sleep'. Taking the best from each one of these two albums would have resulted in one of the very greatest albums of his career - in hindsight, if only quality was more important than quantity (and even better if we steal 'Sweet Angeline' from 'Raised On Rock'!)

Mårtenbrother said...

Great article, Thomas! It was a long wait for the FTD edition of Good Times (three weeks with mail from England to Sweden – c’mon!) but I guess it was worth it. This album holds a very special place in my heart since it was the second Elvis LP I bought! And since the first one was King Creole, I was a bit ... confused. Was this really the same guy who sang Lover Doll?

I remember a friend borrowing the two LP’s, and he thought King Creole was great. But the other one ... ”It’s kinda strange”, he remarked. And I agree. There are quite a few tracks that has a haunting quality to them: Take Good Care of Her, Loving Arms, My Boy ... At least they had for a nine year old. And the album cover! You could hardly see what he looked like, could you?

If my memory doesn’t fail me, I bought Good Times (the first time) at the Skivakademin in Stockholm for 20 Swedish kronor. That’s like three bucks. Or less than ten percent of what I paid for the new edition. Well, you didn’t get outtakes in those days!

Mårtenbrother said...

Very interesting read, David. I've always thought about what a great 12 track album we could have had from the December 1973 sessions. Here is my versions of it (Leaving of Help Me b/w If That Isn't Love for an Easter 1974 single and the rest of the tracks as B-sides for singles):

Side A
Talk About The Good Times
If You Talk In Your Sleep
Loving Arms
You Asked Me To
Thinking About You
It’s Midnight

Side B
Promised Land
There’s A Honky Tonk Angel
I Got A Feeling In My Body
Your Love’s Been A Long Time Coming
My Boy
Good Time Charlie’s Got The Blues

Susan Birtles said...

Brilliant review David, obviously very knowledgeable on the Elvis front. Whoeever runs this site - I just stumbled on it by accident, please ask David to write more review, maybe he does already. I'll be looking through you site to find more.

Mårtenbrother said...

Hi Susan, it's Thomas who wrote the review and runs the blog. David wrote an excellent comment, though.

Thomas said...

David: Thank you for your very well written comments. You're right about "My Boy," the undubbed versions are superior to the released master. And what a shame that RCA didn't pick the best songs from the December 1973 sessions and made one great LP.

Mårten: Thanks for sharing your memories of Good Times. And your version of a 12 track album is right on the money (as is the easter single). What a winner it would have been!

Susan: Welcome to my blog Elvis Today!

Suan Birtles said...

Hi Thomas and Martenbrother, thanks for the welcome. Thomas' review was really good but I especially liked David's comments.
What about Love Song of the Year where does this fit in? Maybe instead of Talk About The Good Times? WIll be a regular visitor from now on.