Saturday, December 31, 2011
The absolute highlight was the release of my blog book, The Elvis Today Blog Book, in which I'd collected the 271 posts I penned from August 16, 2007 to January 8, 2010. As I'd worked hard with it since August the year before, it was a great feeling to finally hold the real thing in my hands.
Record wise it's been a fantastic year as well. The Follow That Dream label began the year with the fine release Live In Vegas, featuring the August 26 dinner show from Elvis' first Las Vegas engagement in 1969. Then, after the "what if" album Elvis Sings Guitar Man, the label took a dive with the two summer releases Stage Rehearsal and Amarillo '77. But Ernst Jorgensen and Roger Semon then made more than up for that, and closed the year with some excellent releases, such as 48 Hours To Memphis, He Touched Me, Promised Land and Elvis Sings The Wonderful World Of Christmas.
On the Sony main label, Ernst Jorgensen compiled and produced the critically acclaimed 5 CD deluxe set Young Man With The Big Beat, that put focus on Elvis in 1956. The highlight on the set was Elvis' final show for the Louisiana Hayride on December 15, 1956, previously unreleased. And speaking of Louisiana Hayride, I must also mention Memphis Recording Service's release The Complete Louisiana Hayride Archives 1954-1956, collecting all of the surviving Louisiana Hayride material with Elvis on one disc.
I recall I was a bit nervous one day in March when I was interviewed by the editor of the official news magazine for the University of Gothenburg where I'm currently holding a position as a public relations officer. Two months later the magazine was published, featuring an article spread over two pages titled A Life With Elvis under the heading In My Spare Time. Soon I found out I wasn't the only fan in the building where I work.
Another Elvis experience I remember really made me feel good. One evening in April, I gave a presentation about his religious music in a church. it was a fantastic feeling being able to present and listen to Elvis' gospel music in its right element.
Finally, I have to mention the pleasant correspondence I had with a veteran from the U.S. Navy and its Patrol Squadron VP-45 regarding an "Elvis ... if he's out there we'll find him!" crew patch I bought many years ago.
So, what does 2012 hold in store? I for one hope we'll see From Elvis Presley Boulevard, Memphis, Tennessee and Moody Blue released in FTD's Classic Album Series. After all, Jungle Room Sessions from 2000 is one of their most popular titles, and the interest for the bootleg series Welcome To The Jungle proved that the demand among the fans for more outtakes from 1976 is high.
Oh, I almost forgot. On March 24 I'll attend Elvis Presley In Concert when the show is playing Copenhagen, and two weeks later, on April 7, when The Original Elvis Tribute (featuring Bobby Wood and Duke Bardwell, among others) is performing in Vara, Sweden, I'll be in the audience as well. So, surely looks like I'm in for another great Elvis Year!
Happy New Year!
Wednesday, December 28, 2011
I've always liked Promised Land with its mix of rock, pop, ballads, country, funk and gospel, all songs recorded during a session at Stax Studios in Memphis, December 10-16, 1973. The FTD version follows the by now well known pattern with the original album and session highlights on disc 1 (including "the alternate album") and more outtakes on disc 2. It's a proven concept that works well this time as well.
The original album takes off with Chuck Berry's great rocker "Promised Land," and with the help of takes 2 to 6 we are offered a fly-on-the-wall experience of how it sounded when Elvis and his musicians recorded the song. One example of this is David Briggs trying out the intro on his electric piano, while Elvis asks if guitarist James Burton knows it. Another is the ending of the same take, having Elvis exclaiming, "Don't look at me. There's no more verses!" as the second guitar solo goes on and on. As for the outtakes, I love the longer take 5 (the one before the master), which has Elvis singing nearly the whole song again after the second solo.
Take 1 of the moving country number "There's A Honky Tonk Angel (Who Will Take Me Back In)" offers a more "naked" version than later takes, mainly due to Elvis emotional singing. Just listen to the line "Oh, when there's an old friend out there and she's waiting, yes she is" and you'll see what I mean. For some reason Elvis throws in an "I love you" in falsetto after the line " You never look at me and say I love you," destroying a nearly complete, beautiful take 7. But Elvis and the musicians share a laugh, and so do I.
Elvis nails "Help Me" in one take, and according to Jerry Hopkins in his book Elvis: The Final Years, he dropped to his knees to sing it. The false start and remixed master offers no clues to if this statement is true, but Elvis does say "Puh!" after the ending, something that can't be heard on the original master.
I've always thought of "Mr. Songman" as the weakest track on Promised Land, and I guess Ernst Jorgensen feels the same, as no outtakes have been made available until the release of this version of the album. The four outtakes (three of them complete) does nothing to change my opinion, but all the studio dialog makes for an interesting listening experience all the same. There's playful banter between the musicians, Elvis and Kathy Westmoreland as David Briggs plays the electric piano for Felton Jarvis' benefit before the first take, and it's interesting to hear someone in the studio halting the third take with the words, "Hold it, excuse me, I did it ... once again!" as he somehow makes a mistake at the beginning of the song.
Another song that hasn't been offered in any other format than the master before is "Love Song Of The Year," (probably not a favorite of Ernst Jorgensen either, it isn't even mentioned when he describes the sessions in his book A life In Music). But here we get the complete recording session, from the rehearsal and all through takes 1 to 7 (8 is the master). I haven't been a great admirer of this song either, but I have to admit that listening to the alternate takes has made me change my opinion. Without the heavy overdubs, it's like a veil has been lifted from the song, exposing the real meaning of the lyrics. Take one is a great example of this, it sounds more sincere than the master as Elvis sings with great feeling, accompanied by a much more prominent sounding piano. And the rehearsal is really funny, with Elvis changing the lyrics, for example the line "So I confess my loneliness" to "So I confess I made a mess."
"It's Midnight" was the first track on Side B of the original album, a dramatic ballad that Elvis clearly identified with, wringing every ounce of emotion out of it. (The previously unreleased takes 7 and 9 are good examples of this.) But that didn't stop him from having a good time while recording it, something that becomes apparent while listening to the outtakes, especially the first ones. "I've been rich since I was 21, it don't matter. I told you J.D., I've been a millionaire since 21, I don't care if we make it or not. It's just a hobby to me. Felton's working hard. (Laughing) You're all just starting to get rich and I'm blowing it for you," he jokes after the third take has been abandoned.
A song that took on a whole new meaning to me about a year ago is "Your Love's Been A Long Time Coming," when my daughter was born. Thanks to a guest blog by Troy Y. who runs the Mystery Train Elvis Blog I learned that the lyrics were about the songwriter's newborn daughter, and not a woman. No new complete outtakes are included here, but a couple of long false starts once more show us what a good mood Elvis was in. About two minutes into take 3 he sings a "be" instead of "do" resulting in "And I'm gonna tell everyone what good love can be-do-be-do-be-do-be-dooo" and then completely loosing it, exclaiming, "What's the difference between a 'be' and 'do' among friends?"
I've always counted "If You Talk In Your Sleep" as one of the highlights on the original album, and take 5 is a firm favorite, with funky guitars, lots of bass and drums, electric piano, an organ sneaking up from behind, shouting girls, and above it all Elvis in firm command. The incomplete take 6 offers yet another chance to study Elvis at work in the studio, listening to him singing snippets of "Find Out What's Happening" before the take and then hearing him cutting the take short with the words "I lost my earphones, the earphones are gone to hell and back."
"Thinking About You" is another great song from the album, and here we are treated with a rehearsal that leads to a swinging version ("Better quit Felton, they start playing jazz, man!"), as well as five alternate takes, three of them complete. In all fairness, the different outtakes sound very similar to my ears, but the previously unreleased take 6 is a real treat, a driving version that features two guitar solos at the end, with Elvis doing the chorus after each solo. The other takes only has Elvis singing the chorus once.
The original Promised Land album closed with the country flavored "You Asked Me To," and the FTD treatment of the album includes no less than four complete outtakes. Two of them are previously unreleased, the first one, take 3A, once again showing Elvis in a good mood. "Give me a key, or a sign," he says, as there is no intro in the song. Then follows the sound of a piano, bass and guitar, as the musicians try to be helpful. "OK, that's enough, not to many keys, shit, I get confused," he laughs, then launches himself into yet another session highlight.
As you've probably guessed by now, Promised Land is another winner from FTD. But what's a review without some criticism? First and foremost, the first take of the title track is missing, probably due to the fact that Elvis changes the line "And the poor boy is on the line"” into "And the mother****** is on the line." In a way this is a strange decision, as Elvis sings exactly the same thing on the second rehearsal version of "Promised Land" included on the FTD release From Sunset To Las Vegas. Another questionmark is the composite version of "There's A Honky Tonk Angel," spliced together from takes 5, 3 and 8. I think it would have been better to include the nearly complete take 3 instead, a take which apparently ends in a hilarious way. My third complaint is that the unedited master of "Thinking About You" is missing. The edited master used on the original album was faded out before Elvis started to sing the chorus, something that became apparent when a longer edit was released on Our Memories Of Elvis Volume 2 in 1979.
These minor complaints out of the way, Promised Land is without a doubt one of the best releases from the Follow That Dream label this year. It's one that I will return to many times, together with Good Times and Raised On Rock, the other two classic albums making up what could be called "The Stax Trilogy." Highly recommended.
Saturday, December 24, 2011
Elvis Presley, the multi-millionaire squire of Graceland, is well known as the “practical joker.” He pulled off one of his best at his annual Christmas Eve get-together when he usually hands out envelopes stuffed with money and sometimes gold-plated automobile keys to employers and friends. Everybody remembered that last year some of his gifts included expensive Mercedes-Benz automobiles and the usual cash gifts that he likes to share.
As Elvis began to play Santa Claus this year he was in ha happy-go-lucky mood as everyone gathered in his den and living room expecting the usual gifts and maybe a “little something special.” With a sly grin on his face, the singer turned to his father, Vernon Presley, and asked: “Where are the envelopes please?”
Vernon reached into his coat pocket and produced the envelopes. “Well, it’s been a mighty lean year,” said Elvis, whose income probably exceeded four million dollars in 1971 with two appearances at the Las Vegas Hilton International Hotel, two tours of the country, and record royalties.
He had built them up for the kill. He knew inside the envelopes was a gift that would be worth a hamburger, french fries and a soft drink. As the envelopes began to be opened, the room felt silent. His special gift for 1971 was a 50-cent gift certificate to McDonald’s Hamburgers. His joke over, Elvis later distributed his real gifts which included envelopes stuffed with cash for his employees.
Saturday, December 17, 2011
Maybe it was the great big decorated Christmas tree that was placed in the middle of RCA's Studio B that got Elvis in the right mood for the session. Maybe Lamar Fike dressed up as Santa Claus did the trick. Whatever the reason Elvis seems to be having a good time from the start.
While producer Felton Jarvis and the musicians discuss the beginning of "It Won't Seem Like Christmas (Without You)" featuring a celeste, Elvis throws in a line of "Merry Christmas Baby." David Briggs follows suit, hammering away on the celeste. "I gotta hold you guys down, man," Elvis laughs.
Admittedly, he sounds a bit annoyed when the second take breaks down, complaining that the lyrics aren't written out, but then works hard through a couple of more takes before settling on take 7 as the master. The previously unreleased take number 5 is a highlight, with Elvis pushing the boundaries of the song, the result a more loose and less polished version than the master. Unintentionally or not, he even changes the line "Far too many miles are between" to "Far too many years come between" at the end of the song.
When released on the original album back in 1971, Felton Jarvis had just about used every trick in the book when it came to making overdubs on "If I Get Home On Christmas Day," adding strings, horns and a lot of backing vocals, creating what I like to call a "bombastic Elvis sound." Listening to the alternate takes, especially the early ones, you can almost be fooled into thinking it's another song, it sounds so much more intimate. No less than three complete takes are previously unreleased, all of them having Elvis singing "Somehow I know I'll get my chance this time" instead of "I know I'll get my chance with you this time" as used on the master.
Another intimate and sensitive song is the pretty "Holly Leaves And Christmas Trees," written by Red West and featuring a simple but effective arrangement for acoustic guitars and organ. The phrasing is a bit different at places on the previously unreleased takes 2 and 3. It must have been a treat for Red watching Elvis working with his song in the studio, recording no less than five complete takes of it.
One of the highlights of the album is the blues classic "Merry Christmas Baby," and here we get the complete studio performance as released on Memories Of Christmas in 1982, preceded by about 30 seconds worth of rehearsal, previously unreleased. Listening to Elvis saying "Yeah, just run it a couple of times and I'll come in there, you know, somewhere. Let's set the rhythm first," it's easy to imagine him in the middle of the studio with a mike in his hand, his musicians in a semi-circle around him.
For some unknown reason this unedited version switches to the original album master mix (with a guitar overdub) approximately four and a half minutes into the song, and then back again to the undubbed mix about one minute and ten seconds later. This was also the case on the version found on Memories Of Christmas, but not on the slightly shorter edit (7:19) included on Reconsider Baby released in 1985. It would be interesting if Ernst Jorgensen could shed some light on this.
A song that offers some interesting studio dialog and rehearsal is "Silver Bells," the last song to be recorded on the first night. Before tackling the first take Elvis says, "Charlie, why don't you guys do harmony with me and help me sing?" After a false start, Elvis tells engineer Al Pachucki that he don't want the harmony to be on the record, just hear it to get it right. In his book A Life In Music Ernst Jorgensen describes this episode as "an uncomfortable impasse," but listening closely, I don't hear anything suggesting this, Elvis sounds polite and Al doesn't seem to take offense. "OK, that's very good," he answers back, asking Charlie to turn an amplifier down.
The second night of recordings kicked off in great style with Michael Jarrett's "I'll Be Home On Christmas Day." Elvis seems relaxed and jokes around between takes. When Felton Jarvis suggests they need a sandpaper effect, one of the musicians jokingly remarks "He wants to do his fingernails!" to which Elvis responds laughingly, "Do that shit on your own time, Felton. You can get a manicure tomorrow, hell!"
As for the song itself, takes 3 (with extra verse) and 4 have been released before, on I Sing All Kinds (2007) and Platinum - A Life In Music (1997) respectively, but the studio banter between them has not. "Before we were doing eight verses, we'll cut it down to six," Elvis says, and you can almost hear him cross out a couple of them on his lyrics sheet as he mutters, "one, two, three ... let's see..."
Take 6 is previously unreleased, recorded after Elvis did his informal rendition of "The Lord's Prayer." It's a beautiful version, thankfully lacking the unnecessary overdubs found on the master. Elvis is in fine voice, conveying the message of the song perfectly. Another highlight.
The seasonal standard "Winter Wonderland" is on the other side of the spectrum. After a spiritless take 7 (the first six takes were on a reel that was erased) that finishes abruptly after the guitar solo when Elvis messes up the lyrics, laughingly throwing in some explicit language, he exclaims, "I'm getting tired of this damn song. Tired of it!" Do his credit, he then tries hard to get it right, rehearsing together with pianist David Briggs on how to come in after the solo.
Fortunately, "O Come, All Ye Faithful" proves a return to the better and a much more inspirational Christmas performance. The previously unreleased take 2 has Elvis making a mistake as he begins to sing the second verse too early, but is otherwise beautifully performed. It also runs longer than the master (take 1), featuring the first verse one more time at the end (this verse was spliced with take 1 on Memories Of Christmas). The voices singing with Elvis are unidentified, but according to the booklet it's most likely some members of Elvis' band and entourage, like Charlie Hodge and Red West. Incidentally, this is a song that I actually think benefited from the overdubbs made a little more than a month later, giving it a more "churchly" sound.
Of the remaining three Christmas songs recorded on the second night, no outtakes exists. "On A Snowy Christmas Night" was recorded on the same reel that included the first six takes of "Winter Wonderland" and was erased. And another reel, used while recording "The First Noel" and "The Wonderful World Of Christmas," is missing.
Compensation comes in the form of all the nine alternate takes (three of them complete) from the remake of "I'll Be Home On Christmas Day," recorded in June. For some reason Elvis wanted to give the song a more solid and heavy beat, the result being a bluesier version. "Rough, very rough," he exclaims after the take 2. The third take, previously unreleased, has Elvis slightly messing up the extra verse featuring Michael Jarrett's children. That doesn't stop him from delivering an enjoyable, funky version, urging the band along and telling them to add another verse. "That's a lot better like that, Elvis," Felton Jarvis can be heard saying right after the ending.
Obviously he's in a good mood here as well, kidding with the producer and the musicians. "I didn't like that, that was too good, he jokes after an abandoned intro. "Nothing went wrong so I couldn't criticize it." For some reason, he breaks up laughing during take 6, and after take 7 says, "Come to think of it, I liked the original version better," evoking laughter. It's hard to tell if he's joking this time, but the master was shelved, and not released until eleven years later on Memories Of Christmas. To finally have all the outtakes from this great remake on one release is worth the price of the album alone.
I also have to mention the booklet that displays some interesting memorabilia, such as an alternate album cover, a document ordering that "Miracle Of The Rosary" is to be deleted from the track list and a sketch stating that the title (or maybe subtitle) should be Christmas Songs For You From Elvis. Unfortunately the In And Outtakes section contains some minor errors as does the track list ("Silver Bells" doesn't include take 2, just take 1). A bit sloppy perhaps, but nothing to get upset about. The main thing is that FTD presents us with another winner in their classic album series - one that shows the 1971 Christmas recordings in a different light.
Monday, December 12, 2011
Reading on the Elvis Information Network that hopefully fans from around the world can help them achieve their objective, I decided to do my part. After downloading the song I took a peek at the UK Single Downloads Top 40, but no trace of Elvis and "Blue Christmas" yet.
I for one would be pleasantly surprised if this campaign succeeds in getting Elvis back in the charts. On the other hand: "You'll be surprised what you can do if you will only try."
Saturday, December 10, 2011
What if the follow-up to the critically-acclaimed and Grammy-nominated Young Man With The Big Beat box set turned out to be something called That Wild Presley Beat, focusing on 1967? I recently wrote a guest blog in the form of an imaginary press release for The Mystery Train Blog that throughout 2011 has commemorated the 44th anniversary of 1967.
Thursday, December 8, 2011
Wednesday, December 7, 2011
From the first time I heard it, I've always loved the rhythm provided by bass player Norbert Putnam and drummer Jerry Carrigan, David Briggs strumming on the piano and the bluesy harmonica, courtesy of Charlie McCoy. And above it all, Elvis altogether at home with the song, delivering an impassioned performance, urging his fellow musicians along. This is how Ernst Jorgensen describes the recording in his book A Life In Music:
Pushing everyone else to eke as much emotion out of the song as he was ("Dig in, James," he cajoled; "Wake up, Putt"), he cruised through more than six minutes on the first take. There was ease and menace and delight in Elvis's after-hours performance, and the result has led more than one observer to lament that it wasn't a blues album rather than a Christmas album that had brought them together that night.In fact, the take lasted about eight minutes, and listening to the complete studio performance as released on Memories Of Christmas (1982) it's evident that Elvis doesn't want to let go of the song, repeating the lyrics over and over. "Well, I'm feeling mighty fine," he sings, and it's obvious that he does.
When originally released on the album Elvis Sings The Wonderful World Of Christmas in October 1971, "Merry Christmas Baby" was edited down to 5 minutes and 45 seconds and featured an overdubbed guitar solo by Eddie Hinton. The single release a month later (coupled with "O Come, All Ye Faithful") was a minute and a half shorter than on the album.
An edited version with strings overdubbed (2:49) was used in the movie This Is Elvis from 1981 and can be found on the soundtrack (not yet released on CD). Four years later, in 1985, "Merry Christmas Baby" closed the excellent blues compilation Reconsider Baby (1985), this time a long edit without guitar overdub running for about 7 minutes and 20 seconds. Interestingly enough, this edit was included instead of the original one when Elvis Sings The Wonderful World Of Christmas was released on CD.
Later this month will see the release of the FTD version of Elvis Sings The Wonderful World Of Christmas. According to the track list the second CD will include "Merry Christmas Baby" - take 1 (unedited version) with a running time of 8 minutes and 29 seconds. My guess is that those extra 30 seconds will turn out to be the studio banter described by Ernst Jorgensen in A Life In Music: "Just run through it a couple of times, Elvis told the rhythm section; "I'll come in somewhere."
Read about two other Christmas favorites with Elvis:
- "Santa Claus Is Back In Town" (posted August 26, 2011)
- "I'll Be Home On Christmas Day" (posted December 24, 2008)
- Wake Up, Putt! (posted March 20, 2010)
Saturday, December 3, 2011
It's a simple, yet real classy package, with the format being just a little bigger than a usual digipack, but with a hardback binding including a 92 page book. And what a book! Most of the pictures I have never seen, and with additional stuff like Elvis' first Hayride contract and ads, and a real informative text, it's worth the admission alone. And the layout is nice, too.
My favorite pictures are those from March 1956 with Elvis in a sleeveless shirt. Boy, does he look mean! There are also a lot of photos from December 1956, his last Louisiana Hayride visit. And that brings us to the music, a full CD of all the surviving Louisiana Hayride material.
You can have your doubts about the December 1956 material being included, since it was on Sony's Young Man With The Big Beat just a few months ago, but it runs longer here and it sounds as if everything is from the same source. I can't imagine why Sony left out the classic ”Elvis has left the building” comment, but here it is.
Since the first part of “Heartbreak Hotel” is missing, MRS used the start of the song from the Tupelo concert, recorded half a year earlier. It works fine. The back cover boasts that the show has been speed corrected, and comparing it to Sony's release, I think they are right.
Even without the December 1956 material, this CD would have been great, since it collects all the Hayride material on one disc. Why Sony hasn't done that is way beyond me. (The only previously released live material from 1954-1955 which is not here is the Houston concert from March 1955 and could have been included as a bonus if it hadn't been for the December 1956 songs.)
My favorite part is the August 1955 segment, with Elvis – and Bill Black – all geared up! Their treatment of “Maybelline” is fantastic and it was nice to hear it again. And everything is unedited, like it should be. This was not the case when parts of this material was officially released in 1999 on Sony's Sunrise.
I'll return to this album over and over again. It's Elvis live in the fifties, dammit! Not much can beat that. Or this release.
Thursday, December 1, 2011
But just like Live A Little, Love A Little and Girl Happy, Christmas and snow is nowhere in sight when Elvis sings "Santa Lucia" in Italian, just summer and sun. In fact, Elvis isn't visible either, just his shadow, as he is standing behind a curtain, singing to Ann-Margret in his rival Count Elmo Mancini's hotel room.
Being a Swedish-American maybe she, for the briefest of moments, got a bit of a "christmassy feeling" while humming along, who knows? (If she did, all thoughts of Christmas must've gone out the window as Elvis then entered the room belting out "If You Think I Don't Need You.")
If you want to know more about this "missing" Christmas song, I wrote about it last December. I was happy to see that Troy Y., who's running The Mystery Train Elvis Blog, included it this year in his post Christmas Dreams 2011: An Elvis Playlist for the Holiday Season.