Jarenlang had ik Elvis Monthly gekocht (en de jaarboeken) – zou het niet geweldig zijn als daarin een bijdrage van me verscheen? Ik stuurde een stuk naar de legendarische Todd Slaughter. Het werd geplaatst, een volgend ook. De beide bijdragen aan Elvis Monthly (verschenen in respectievelijk nummer 337, negenentwintigste jaargang, februari 1988 en nummer 356, september 1989 – op een van de twee exemplaren van de laatste zit nog de prijssticker van de Boekelier: f 7,00) zijn hieronder te lezen. Ik was en ben verguld met de anderstalige publicatie, en er ook tevreden over: ze zijn zoals ik het het liefst heb, informatief met waar mogelijk wat humor erin – en als het me zo uitkomt zieken en zeiken. (Om zieken en zeiken van de kant van de lezer de kop in te drukken: in het Engels schrijft men cd als CD.)
The CD era
When the compact disc was introduced, RCA had a golden opportunity to… Well, whatever opportunity they had, they missed it. Although it’s not likely that the vinyl medium will ever become completely extinct, it’s quite certain that within the next five years the bulk of the old 33.33’s will be available on CD. Where does that leave the average Elvis fan? In the poorhouse, most likely.
RCA have adopted Colonel Parker’s axiom ‘Always leave them wanting more’ and turned it into: ‘Never present them with a perfect product’.
Take for instance the early CD-releases. Among them Elvis’ first two elpees. If RCA had for once used their common sense instead of following their accountants’ advice, they would have released both albums on one CD. But no. (They no doubt think that Motown set a bad example by doing so.) As for the other CDs, most of them are compilations.
Rare Elvis certainly contains material that’s rare – but there’s no immediate reason for that rare material to surface on CD. At least not before regular albums have been made available.
RCA still have a chance to make us forget earlier mistakes though. They could start by releasing all the fifties recordings in an intelligent, session-by-session way. They could release all film soundtracks chronologically, two on one CD, if possible.
Odd as it may seem, there is reason to believe that RCA finally took off in the right direction. Their latest Sun Sessions and Memphis Record offerings leave little to be desired. Except perhaps that the latter didn’t make use of some twenty minutes of material from the ‘69 sessions. The liner notes tell you that the best 23 tracks have been selected, but I’m sure that many fans would have preferred the inclusion of Hey Jude or From a Jack to a King to Who am I.
Even with these commemorative releases RCA managed to play some nasty tricks on us. They advertised two CD-sets as: ‘18 Number One Hits’ and ‘The Top Ten Hits’. If you bought both you’ll be disappointed, for, in RCA’s way of thinking, all number one hits were top ten hits as well!
When I discovered this insane duplication strategy, I looked up a listing of Elvis’ U.S.A. chart positions. If you subtract the number ones from the 38 top ten hits, you have 20 left. Now, how many hits did Elvis have that reached between number 11 and number 20 in the American charts? About twenty. So, why didn’t the release (a) 18 number one hits and (b) 40 top twenty hits that didn’t reach number one?
RCA seems to be interested mainly in releasing compilation CDs. Fine, let’s give them some advice.
The Legendary Performer series Vols. 1-4 could be released on a double CD. Of course, all information contained in the ‘Memory Logs’ would result in an opera libretto-sized CD booklet. Another coupling that would make a nice lengthy CD is that of both Memories of Elvis albums.
Also very welcome would be a CD (or several CDs) in the same vain as The Memphis Record – like one containing the Elvis is Back! album plus other songs recorded at the same sessions.
Nashville ‘70 and Nashville ‘71 were both mammoth sessions, each resulting in enough top-quality songs to produce an excellent 70+ minute CD. The same applies to the Stax recordings and even all tracks recorded at Graceland.
A CD that would please critics and fans alike is a jam-session CD: if you take all jam-sessions recorded in the early seventies you get an impressive collection. Merry Christmas Baby (8 minutes), Don’t think twice (complete version), Got my Mojo working, plus a number of cuts that feature Elvis at the piano.
Joan Deary ought to examine the tapes of the Stax sessions. She’d probably discover more jam-session material. We’re all familiar with the story of how the recording of Promised Land came about. Elvis and the band started playing all the Chuck Berry songs they knew. And only one was recorded? Most unlikely. How could that have happened? Did Elvis tell the engineer to switch on the tape recorder when they gave Promised Land a try and switch it off immediately after? In fact, there may exist dozens of recordings of Elvis ‘warming up’ before a session by playing piano and singing. Such a warming-up gave the engineer an opportunity to check the recording levels and recording some vocals to find out if all was right?
RCA might also consider releasing decent live-CDs. Aloha sounds great, and New York ‘72 would make a fine 53-minute cd. As for Memphis ‘74 – the existing album of the concert could be extend by including versions of Polk Salad Annie, Steamroller Blues, Fever and others.
(By the way, it doesn’t seem likely RCA recorded only one Memphis show. They recorded two in New York in case something went wrong and for the same reason recorded the Aloha rehearsal show.)
With the earlier live albums, they could set a few mistakes right. They should take Runaway and Yesterday off January ‘70 and put them where they belong – in Vegas ‘69. And those ‘69 recordings, quite a number of them haven’t been released so far, like Rubberneckin’, Heartbreak Hotel and more goodies.
The ’68 Comeback Special could be the source of three lengthy CDs. One would contain all the studio recordings, two would consist of the live performances (those with and without the acoustic backing quartet).
That still leaves a wealth of unreleased live material. Tons of Vegas stuff (like the shows recorded for That’s the Way it is) and whatever else was recorded on the road, apart from the On Tour concerts.
All those live recordings could result in a spectacular and even intelligently presented retrospect, like the Springsteen box.
But… let’s not hope for too much too soon.
Elvis for millionaires
About a year and a half ago I wrote a piece on the subject of Elvis on CD. Although RCA at the time had given us reason to frown at their release policy, the future seemed tot look somewhat brighter, with products such as The Memphis Record and The Complete Sun Sessions. Also, that summer RCA Holland went to court to stop the sale of illicit Scandinavian Elvis CDs over here. Sadly, it seems they only did so to make way for their own Definitive series – CDs which in some cases had recordings transferred from elpees (the Scandinavian method!) and in other cases had mutilated versions of songs (listen to Bridge over Troubled Water!) whereas none of the tracks had been properly mastered.
Over the last eighteen months a great many Elvis CDs have been released. Some excellent, some not quite so. Most of the midprice CDs have not been digitally remastered by Rick Rowe, and if you compare what he did with the superb sounding Elvis is Back! to something less admirable like I wish you a Merry Christmas, you know what I mean.
One of the highlights so far has been the Alternate Aloha CD, and RCA must be praised for their efforts to make this recording sound so great. However, as with The Memphis Record, we don’t get all there is. The ‘left-overs’ from the Memphis sessions will eventually be available on the CD versions of Back in Memphis, Elvis Now and Let’s be Friends, but what about the missing Aloha bonus songs? Why didn’t they include Early Morning Rain and No more on the CD?
Some recent CDs, although their sound quality leaves little to be desired, don’t offer value for money. A Date with Elvis is very short, and besides, most of the songs are already available on other CDs. So what you’re paying for is literally more of the same; unlike the vinyl medium, where sometimes you can find pressings which are superior to others, all CDs sound alike. (I’m talking about recently remastered ones.)
Another strange choice for a CD release is 50 Gold Award Hits. If you’ve already bought The Top Ten Hits on CD, you get all those tracks again (with one or two exceptions) – oddly, the set’s counterpart (The Other Sides) offers more interesting items, such as the studio version of Patch it up.
While a very huge part of Elvis’ catalogue remains unavailable on CD (at least in digitally remastered form) we keep getting compilation after compilation: over 25 of them are currently in stock.
Only those of us who have unlimited financial resources at their disposal can buy (or have their servants buy) every Elvis CD that comes out. It’s also very frustrating to continually hear about major compact disc projects by other artists, like the Chuck Berry box or Eric Clapton’s Crossroads. Especially in the jazz world, comparatively small labels seem to unload 15-disc CD-boxes like there’s no tomorrow. And yet, there’s no sign of RCA bringing out treasures like a 5 LP / 3 CD box of all the comeback special live and studio recordings.
This is all the more absurd when you realise that Elvis wasn’t some obscure recording artist, but one who was responsible for roughly a quarter of RCA’s output – it seems as if all but those who are employed by that company are aware of the artistic value of Elvis’ work.
As for the immediate future of Elvis on CD – let’s hope more volumes in the Essential Elvis series will emerge – perhaps it’s a good idea to have people who have common sense infiltrate RCA and launch an intelligent CD campaign. I get the impression RCA is in the process of re-releasing the entire album catalogue on digitally remastered midprice CDs (as Elvis is Back! and A Date suggest). In that case, we’re talking about over 50 albums (excluding compilations) at 8 pounds each.
It hurts my wallet to think of the hundreds of hours of live recordings that are in RCA’s vaults.
Doorgaans ben ik een roepende in de woestijn maar hier vielen mijn aanbevelingen in vruchtbare aarde. Dat kwam door een infiltrant zoals ik die voor me zag: Ernst Jørgensen, een Deense fan in de meest fanatieke zin van het woord, die aantal de slag kwam bij de erven Elvis, een grootscheepse zoektocht naar Elvismateriaal leidde en aan de wieg stond van vele heruitgaven. Reguliere uitgebracht door RCA / BMG / Universal, en voor de fans was er het label Follow that dream, waarop outtakes van studio-opnames verschenen, en inderdaad die hundreds of hours of live recordings, in de vorm van soundboards.
De gewenste box set met alle opnames uit de jaren vijftig kwam er, een chronologisch overzicht van soundtracks, two on one CD, if possible – dat werd de reeks Double features. Er verscheen een driedubbelaar rond de comeback special, de live in Memphis elpee kwam als cd uit met de ontbrekende nummers. Alle reguliere elpees werden heruitgegeven als Classic album, in alle gevallen een dubbelaar. En voorts onder meer box sets gewijd aan de jaren zestig en zeventig, de Stax sessies, de complete concertopnamen in Las Vegas in 1969 en september 1970 (daar inclusief repetities), het meest recent (2020) een vierdelige cd-set met de opnames in juni 1970, zonder overdubs: From Elvis in Nashville.
En ook Prince from another planet, uit 2012, met twee van de vier concerten in New York in juni 1972, waar het voor mij mee begon. Er zit een dvd waarop een documentaire over die concerten, de complete persconferentie – en het complete middagconcert van 10 juni in audio, gelardeerd met een minuut of twintig 8mm film geschoten door een fan die zijn camera naar binnen had weten te smokkelen, voorbeeldig gesynchroniseerd.
© Copyright Martin de Jong, Den Haag. Alle rechten voorbehouden.