Sunday, January 30, 2011

FTD's Classic Album Series: What's Left?

Reading Troy's latest post on The Mystery Train Elvis Blog made me think about which titles we can expect to be announced in the FTD Classic Album series. Not counting albums where none or only a few outtakes exists, this is what I found out:
  • Peace In The Valley EP (including all the binaural outtakes from 1957)
  • G.I. Blues
  • A What If Album featuring Nashville recordings from 1966-1968
  • From Elvis In Memphis
  • Back In Memphis
  • He Touched Me
  • Elvis Sings The Wonderful World Of Christmas
  • Promised Land
  • From Elvis Presley Boulevard, Memphis, Tennessee
  • Moody Blue
  • Elvis In Concert
If FTD continues with their ordinary release schedule of four classic albums a year, this means that the well will have run dry in about three years time. But other exciting projects from Ernst Jorgensen and crew will come along, I'm sure.

And the fans can count themselves lucky. Like Troy writes, the FTD label "has released nearly 100 titles since it began in 1999, more albums in eleven years than Elvis released during his entire twenty-three year career."

And yeah, Troy, I'm also hoping for Promised Land to be next in line to receive the FTD treatment. If I was a betting man, this is what I would put my money on:
  • Promised Land (April release)
  • G.I. Blues (June release)
  • Elvis Sings The Wonderful World Of Christmas (October release)
  • He Touched Me (December release)
Bets, anyone?

Friday, January 28, 2011

Elvis And Bill

When asked how I became an Elvis fan I always answer that it all started with Bill Haley. You see, my mother had an EP record with Bill Haley that I discovered when I was about eight years old. One of the songs on it was "Shake, Rattle And Roll" and I played it over and over. In fact, so much that I got a Bill Haley LP for my 9th birthday. I still have it, and looking at it right now, I can tell it spent it's fair share on the turntable as well.

From Bill Haley I guess the step wasn't very far to Elvis Presley, so when one of my brothers bought a double LP called Elvis Forever, I quickly "adopted" it. Bill Haley had to step aside as Elvis became my new favorite, a position he's successfully defended ever since.

But yesterday I got reacquainted with Bill Haley again, thanks to my other brother, who's also an Elvis fan (the one who bought Elvis Forever isn't). Turned out he'd ordered a box set featuring Bill Haley's music from the 60's. Being the nice brother he is, he'd put together a compilation CD from the set, and sent it to me. I imported it to my iPod and spent an enjoyable morning listening to it on my way to work.

And would you believe it had some interesting Elvis connections? I was pleasantly surprised to suddenly hear "Stop, Look And Listen" followed by "The Meanest Girl In Town" (titled "Yeah, She's Evil!"). Calling my brother on the phone in the evening, he told me they were recorded in 1964. So the versions that Elvis did for use in his two movies Spinout and Girl Happy, are actually Bill Haley covers. I didn't know that. And they sound pretty cool, too.

Now I'm only hoping that someday Elvis' version of "Rock Around The Clock," reportedly recorded during one of his Louisiana Hayride performances, will turn up. And by the way, did you know that Elvis recorded "That's All Right" on Bill Haley's 29th birthday?

Bill Haley and Elvis Presley crossed paths on a number of occasions (Elvis Australia)

Sunday, January 23, 2011

"Elvis And I Laughed A Lot"

Learning yesterday that Lamar Fike has passed away, I decided to read a bit in the book Elvis and the Memphis Mafia, the 2005 re-issue of Elvis Aaron Presley: Revelations of the Memphis Mafia from 1995. Lamar Fike wrote it together with Marty Lacker, Billy Smith and Alanna Nash in 1995.

It's like Elvis Australia puts it, an enthralling book that gets the fans an opportunity to expand their knowledge of Elvis many times over. In it, Lamar Fike comes across as the humorous guy he was, and I'd like to quote the following passage from the chapter titled "Lamar":

I had a very left-handed sort of humor, and Elvis always thought I was funny, even when I didn't mean to be. I got that from my mother. She just died in '94. She always used to say, "Have me cremated, Lamar. Just don't let me close to a vacuum cleaner." So I look at things with a pretty jaundiced eye. Elvis and I laughed a lot.

Another passage by Lamar at the end of the book, in the chapter "Aftermath," that I'd also like to share with you, is a more serious one. It goes like this:

For better or worse, we are what he [Elvis] left behind. He lives through his music, but he also lives through us.

Now another one of Elvis' friends is gone. I'm glad he shared his memories with us. His story helps me fit a couple of more pieces together from the the giant jigsaw puzzle that is Elvis Presley.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

A Golden Opportunity Missed?

The bootleg series Welcome To The Jungle featuring the famous Jungle Room Session from 1976 has been critically acclaimed by both fans, fan club magazines and Elvis sites. It's easy to understand why.

So far three volumes have been released (as recorded at Graceland in February 1976), and a fourth one is on its way (including the October material). Each one contains about an hours worth of masters, alternate mixes and most important, outtakes, presented in the chronological way they were recorded.

Granted, not everyone likes to listen to take after take of songs such as "Love Coming Down" or "Never Again." But it's a great way to learn more about how Elvis approached his work during what was to become his last recording sessions.

When FTD released The Jungle Room Sessions back in 2000, it presented the 1976 recordings in a much more positive light than was the case with the original albums From Elvis Presley Boulevard, Memphis, Tennessee and Moody Blue. The Welcome To The Jungle releases puts the truth somewhere in-between.

Being able to listen to the sessions this way, it's clear that Elvis is committed at times, but also occasionally more unfocused than during earlier recording sessions. "She Thinks I Still Care" is a perfect example of the former, "Moody Blue" of the latter.

Maybe that's why Ernst Jorgensen and crew hasn't chosen to release another volume of what is one of the most popular FTD titles with the fans. If so, I have to agree with the Elvis The Man And His Music magazine who put it this way:
Sadly, FTD seemed to have missed an golden opportunity to offer a deluxe version of this former release, allowing others to fill this void.
But maybe it isn't too late. A lot of dialog seems to be missing on the Welcome To The Jungle albums, and they were released as individual CD's. Maybe FTD can fill that void with the box set Behind Closed Doors - the complete 1976 studio sessions?

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

White Knight In Vegas

I for one applaud FTD's decision to release yet another 1969 August show, this time the dinner show from August 26, titled Elvis: White Knight In Vegas. In fact, I could use the same argumentation that I did in one of my very first posts back in August 2007, titled "I Can't Stop Loving 1969."
From the day I heard the "Elvis In Person" record for the first time when I was a kid I have always enjoyed the live recordings with Elvis from 1969. He’s so full of energy, sings fantastic with much of that raw 68-voice still present
and clowns around quite a bit (maybe too much at times).

Even the old songs sound great, like "Blue Suede Shoes" and "Hound Dog". And the monologue is always funny to listen to ("I did loving you, loving her and loving everybody I could get my hands on at the time", for example).
I also like the fact that FTD will release Elvis: White Knight In Vegas in their classic album format, as a 7" digipack with an accompanying 12 page booklet. The August 26 Dinner Show marks the sixth complete concert from the 1969 Las Vegas engagement released officially so far, the other five being:
  • August 21 (Viva Las Vegas 2 CD set. "Dinner or Midnight show?")
  • August 22, Dinner Show (FTD Elvis In Person, disc 2)
  • 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)

Just keep the '69 shows coming until there are no more of them left in the vaults, FTD! (That goes for the August 1970 shows, too!)

Saturday, January 8, 2011

"Everyone Does Enjoy Hearing You Sing"

As Elvis would've been 76 years old today, I had planned to write something about how he celebrated his birthdays through the years. But that plan had to be abandoned as I noticed that Alan Hanson over at the Elvis History Blog had done just that. Now I know how Troy Y. felt must've felt when he was to write his Christmas edition of The Mystery Train Elvis Blog.

Alan Hanson took a look at what Elvis was doing on the 23 birthdays he celebrated during his career. Thankfully for me he didn't mention how Elvis celebrated his birthdays before becoming famous, so I thought I'd mention one that was particular important, and took place exactly 65 years ago today.

On Elvis' eleventh birthday, January 8, 1946, his parents bought him a guitar at the Tupelo Hardware Store. According to Pter Guralnick in his book Last Train to Memphis Elvis wanted a bicycle, but his mother Gladys was worried he'd get hurt. That the guitar was considerably less expensive had something to do with it, as well.

In fact, I visited the Tupelo Hardware Store in August 2005, while attending Elvis Week. There the owner told a different story, one that was also described on a plaque placed to the left of the entrance. According to it, Gladys brought him there to buy a bicycle. Once they arrived a 22-caliber rifle caught Elvis' eye, and he asked his mother to buy it instead. She wasn't happy about purchasing a gun so they compromised on a guitar.

Wherever lies the truth, it was a special feeling entering that store and standing at the counter where once Elvis had stood. And I love the words Gladys is supposed to have said to Elvis right there, according to Peter Guralnick: "Son, wouldn't you rather have the guitar? It would help you with your singing, and everyone does enjoy hearing you sing,"

They still do, 65 years later. Happy birthday, Elvis!

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Jailhouse Rock Volume 2

More than a year after the first volume was released, FTD's Jailhouse Rock Volume 2 arrived in December last year. After listening to it I have to say it works fine as an individual release. At the same time I feel that the end result, in view of both volumes, could've been even better.

But let's start with the positive stuff. Once again we're given a chance to study Elvis and his musicians at work. To become a fly on the wall in the studio offers the opportunity to learn more about the recording process and how Elvis practiced his craft. Jailhouse Rock Volume 2 surely makes that possible.

I've always thought "Jailhouse Rock" must've been a demanding song for Elvis, and listening to the last couple of takes confirms that. "I don't think I'm gonna make it all way through," he says after take 8, then goes on recording just the ending.

Another highlight is the first movie version of "Treat Me Nice," where not only the tempo changes during the course of the 19 takes of the song, but also the beginning and the ending. "That's a hit," Elvis jokes after the third take and a bad ending by the Jordanaires.

Overall, Elvis seems to be in a good mood during these sessions. "How bad you want me to get," he laughs after the second take of "Young And Beautiful (jail version). The only time he seems irritated is while recording the second version of "Don't Leave Me Now." "Seems like everybody is holding down, we cant get any feeling out of it this way," he mutters after the first couple of tries of the song.

It doesn't say so anywhere on the cover or in the booklet, but my conclusion is that all the tracks included on Jailhouse Rock Volume 2 are binaural. Unlike the binaural sessions included on the second disc of volume 1 (disc 1 featured masters, alternate masters and movie masters) the songs are arranged in the classical FTD way. That is, not take after take of the same song, but the different songs mixed with each other for, I guess, more listening pleasure.

And that brings me to my first complaint, the inconsistency between the two volumes. Why do it in one way on the first and then in another on the second? Doesn't make much sense.

What also bothers me is the duplication of songs. A couple of the movie masters can be found on both releases. That also goes for the two bonus tracks on the first album, as well as the original EP that appears on both volumes. This I don't understand, either. Maybe it was done to "fill out" the individual CD's to lengthen the playing time, which leads me to my third complaint.

The total playing time of all four CD's combined is an impressive four hours (243 minutes and 13 seconds to be exact). But by subtracting for example the original EP on volume 2, all material from both double albums could be collected on just three CD's. In other words, it would've been quite possible to put out everything from the Jailhouse Rock sessions on a tripple album, or as a box with three CD's.

And this is my major point: If I was working for FTD, I would've aimed for ONE classy Jailhouse Rock release, with ONE (thicker) booklet and with ONE way of presenting the outtakes, be it as complete recording sessions for each song or in the more common “mixed” FTD way. I feel such a release would do these historical recordings even more justice. Or am I being too criticial?

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Pittsburgh And Elvis Today Revisited

I've spent much of New Year's Day proofreading the manuscript of my book The Elvis Today Blog. As I wrote in August last year, I've decided to collect the 271 posts I've penned from August 16, 2007 to January 8, 2010 in a book.

My brother has already done the layout, including the cover, so what's left for me to do is going through the text one more time. It's a time-consuming and monotonous business, but with the help of FTD's New Year's Eve it wasn't too bad, considering.

Actually, it has been some time since I've listened to Elvis' Pittsburgh concert from December 31, 1976, and I enjoyed getting reacquainted with it. So much, in fact, that I was going to write a post about it. But that plan was put on the shelf as my proofreading reached the first post from 2008, dealing with – yeah, you guessed it – the Pittsburgh show.

So what I decided to do instead, was showing you how that post (or at least the better part of it) will look like in the book. Just click on the thumbnail picture to the right.

Originally, it was my intention to have the book ready sometime during the autumn last year. A little delayed, it now looks like it will be possible to order The Elvis Today Blog from later this month.

Stay tuned to this blog more more information coming soon.