Monday, July 23, 2012

Following That Dream

Earlier this month I received an e-mail from Phil Arnold, who runs the ElvisBlog and is a regular contributor to the Elvis International magazine. He told me that he had just received his copy of the latest issue of the magazine and that the article I wrote for it looked great.

It was Phil Arnold who at the end of last year asked me if I was interested in writing something about the Follow That Dream (FTD) collector's label. Thinking about it, I came up with the idea of focusing on the CD's in the series and how listening to studio outtakes and live concerts can help you get a feel for how Elvis approached his work.

During two months I wrote the article in my spare time, so reading the mail from Phil Arnold felt good. He had noted that the editor Darwin Lamm had split my story into parts, and that he looked forward to reading more in the next issue.

I then wrote an e-mail myself, to Darwin Lamm, asking his permission to publish the whole article on my blog. He replied that it was OK, so this week I devote my blog to the FTD label and the article “Following That Dream” in no less than four posts, starting today.


Following That Dream (Part 1)

With over 100 titles since the start in 1999, Sony BMG’s official Elvis Presley collectors label Follow That Dream (FTD) has released more albums than Elvis did during his life time. The wide range of available concerts as well as studio outtakes offers an interesting insight into how Elvis approached his work. Thomas Melin, author of the Elvis Today Blog, takes a closer look at some of the CD releases from a label that has served the fans with unreleased material for more than a decade.

The summer of 1999 saw the launch of the collectors label Follow That Dream (FTD) with the title Burbank 68, featuring rehearsals, studio and live recordings from Elvis’ legendary TV Special.

I still remember how excited I felt reading the announcement of the label in the British fan club magazine and ordering the CD. For years the major European fan clubs had discussed the possibility of establishing a legitimate Elvis Presley collector’s label, and finally Elvis’ record company had agreed. The goal with the new label was (and still is) to serve the dedicated Elvis collector with unreleased material. Since then, FTD with producers Ernst Jorgensen and Roger Semon at the wheel has produced an average of eight releases a year.

That’s an impressive release schedule if you stop and think about it for a moment. Just compare it with the “dry” years between 1978 and 1986 when only about 25 Elvis releases from RCA saw the light of the day (that's averaging three albums a year), many of them compilations with mostly old material, like The Rocker and Always On My Mind. In those days it was a long wait for an Elvis record including unreleased material, and releases such as Elvis: The First Live Recordings and Elvis - A Golden Celebration were a big happening, indeed.

Things just had to get better – and they did. In the mid 1980’s Ernst Jorgensen (then employed by RCA in Denmark) and Roger Semon (then employed by RCA in London) teamed up and during the 15 years or so that followed they brought order and vitality to the Elvis Presley record catalog. Not only did the releases improve greatly, they also served to reestablish Elvis reputation. Suddenly people around me thought it was cool that I listened to Elvis (something I’d known all along).

A steady stream of critically acclaimed box sets like Collectors Gold, The King Of Rock ‘n’ Roll, From Nashville To Memphis, Walk A Mile In My Shoes and Platinum – A Life In Music were released, but also a couple of albums that in a way were the forerunners to what was to become the FTD label. This was the Essential Elvis series, where Ernst Jorgensen and Roger Semon used the same formula that they would on many of the FTD releases. That is, collecting unreleased outtakes from a certain recording session or studio on an album.

In fact, during 1999 and 2000, Ernst and Roger produced albums for BMG that could as easily have been FTD releases, as well as the other way around. One example of this is the last Essential Elvis volume Such A Night (2000) that focused on the early sixties sessions that took place in RCA’s Studio B in Nashville, another the FTD album Long Lonely Highway released the same year, featuring Studio B outtakes from 1960 to 1968. With this in mind, it came as no big surprise when I read in an FTD catalogue from 2004 that the highly popular FTD album The Jungle Room Sessions (2000), with material from Elvis’ two last albums, was originally planned as a release on the Essential Elvis series on the main label.

And speaking of the The Jungle Room Sessions, this was the first FTD title that made many fans, me included, revaluate a certain recording session, as 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. Elvis generally seems to be in a good mood, laughs between songs and above all, is committed. And without the heavy overdubs (strings, horns and voices) found on the masters, the takes included on The Jungle Room Sessions makes for a more moving listening experience as well, exposing Elvis feelings. One such example is the first take of “It’s Easy For You.” As the musicians hit a couple of notes to check their instruments, Elvis says, “I get carried away very easily. Emotional son of a bitch.” And he’s right. What follows is one of the most emotional performances ever done by Elvis, at least in my book.

To be continued on July 25 (Part 2) …


Mike Hermenet said...

What a FANTASTIC article so far my friend!! You have definitely nailed it when you mentioned how JUNGLE ROOM SESSIONS really allows listeners to re-evaluate their feelings about those final recording sessions! After all the years of hearing how depressed Elvis' mood was during the JRS, to hear the outtakes and to hear Elvis talking and occasionally joking around and laughing completely disproves all that had been said!

Once again, OUTSTANDING work on your article and I can't wait for part 2!!

Thomas said...

Thank you, Mike, glad you liked it! Writing the article made me realize once more just how much FTD has meant and still means to us Elvis fans, and how lucky we are to have the label (even if we don't always agree with everything they do).

Now here's for hoping that you like the rest of the article as well!