In a day and time of the gender-defying falsities such as hair extensions, phony eyelashes, Botox injections for virtually every body part, fake lips, bogus breasts and buttocks, face lifts, nose alterations, tummy tucks, false hope, empty promises, fake cigarettes and Facebook, it is no small wonder that our bereft society has allowed such spurious atrocities to infiltrate its once venerated claim to human expression: music. The understanding of music by its creators and appreciators alike has always been held in high regard as THE universal language. The revered works from Mozart and Tchaikovsky, Armstrong and Sinatra, to Berry and The Beatles surely rank amid the most treasured and timeless classics. The removal of a cello in a Mozart piece to replace it with a tuba would be and should be considered musical castration. The exchange of Armstrong's trumpet for a violin or the symphonic background of a classic Sinatra standard swapped for a heavy metal accompaniment is unthinkable, and equally offensive is the idea to substitute Berry's guitar for a piano or an organ for the violin in "Eleanor Rigby". Sadly, though, as unconscionable as such plagiarisms may be, it has occurred all too frequently with respect to the iconic musical legacy of THE universally exalted, American King, Elvis Presley.
The most recent example of the Royal Scam is the cheesy repackaging of original musical gems, grotesquely altered by the technical stripping away of the brilliant authenticity that was the musical backbone of any given Elvis master, and by the "miracle" of overdubbing and isolation, sublime musicianship has been plagiarized by incorporating The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra (RPO) with Elvis' isolated voice to render outstanding recordings of "Burning Love", "Big Hunk O' Love", "How Great Thou Art", "Steamroller Blues", or any of the others collected on either escape, as unlistenable debacles. Despite the enormous sales success of both volumes, the general consensus among Elvis purists mirrors my sentiments; however, I feel compelled to air my frustration and convey my fears. Surprise, Surprise!
Cleverly titled If I Can Dream (as in "Elvis always dreamed of singing with an orchestra" as quoted by Plastic Pris, or Colonel Beaulieu, as I refer to her), volume one was heavily promoted, and it was no surprise that it skyrocketed right up to the top of the British charts. Likewise, the relatively immediate capitalization on the success of volume one with a follow-up (aptly titled The Wonder Of You, as in it's a wonder Elvis can set $ale$ records forty years A.D.) was also predictable. Note: Elvis sang with an orchestra throughout his career, therefore, not a revelation. With a similar level of promotion, the second volume also became a British chart topper and made Elvis THE single act with the most #1 albums in UK history, winning the race with contemporary artists such as Michael Buble and Lady GaGa to the coveted top spot (quite a feat for someone who hasn't sung a live note in nearly forty years)! Reason being, one may ask? The answer is elementary: ELVIS! Suffice it to say that this never has, nor ever will occur again involving any other singer, alive or dead. Period. I beg the question though, who is it that is parting with their hard-earned currency to purchase fraudulent music? Is it truly the hardcore Elvis fan who might be so desperate for something fresh or a generation that seeks exposure to the legend? Assuming the hardcore fan has collected ALL of the original masters, ALL of the FTDs and ALL available soundboard recordings, he or she should always be able to enjoy something "fresh" as the sheer volume of material is staggering and by no means bemoan the cost of said material if purchasing the mock concept that is The Philharmonic "collaboration". My idea of something sounding "fresh" would be to employ just the opposite technique and remove the unnecessary, existing backing tracks and any of the redundant echo on his voice that might be present, to isolate and "dry" Elvis' vocal (to achieve a sound reminiscent of the multi-volume collaborations of Rick Rubin and Johnny Cash on the American series), then add a subtle accompaniment. Humor me, if you will, and join me in Magic Hour to imagine "Mary In The Morning" with an upfront and "dry", Elvis vocal, solely complemented by an acoustic guitar, and perhaps replace that annoying harmonica with say, a pretty violin. If the reader is unfamiliar with the Cash material mentioned, treat yourself to any one of these volumes instead of the watery Elvis that is presented with the RPO to realize what Elvis could sound like, or revisit Elvis' undubbed versions of "Gentle On My Mind" and "My Little Friend"as featured on the FTDs, From Elvis In Memphis and Elvis At American Sound, respectively.
The argument from the perspective of a watered-down, tarnished Elvis influencing a new generation of Elvis fans is devoid of substance. What better appeal for fan recruitment than the innovatively and conceptually packaged, original music? For once, I am proud and rejoice to report that an "Elvis" record did not sell well in my (and Elvis') beloved land of the US of A! Therefore, my British friends, I am in need of enlightenment regarding the perplexing infatuation that is seemingly bestowed upon the artificial cocktail of Elvis singing with the RPO. As I write, the double vinyl LP version of The Wonder Of You (RPO vol. 2) , is the UK's number one selling album with Elvis once more winning the race to the top and out-selling the country's own, The Rolling Stones!
As universally appealing as America's own is, he, too, needs to be properly promoted. Case in point is the conceptual repackaging of Elvis' original music exemplified by the stellar Sony music productions Elvis At Stax or the more recent Way Down In The Jungle Room CD (and vinyl) collections which have both enjoyed critical acclaim yet sold poorly when compared to the counterfeit re-workings with the RPO. Also worth significant mention is The RCA Album Collection, a 2016 boxed set release of every album recorded by Elvis within his lifetime, a gorgeous package that went virtually unadvertised! As I stressed in Alternate Take #6, "Easy Questions And Sound Advise", many moons ago, it seems awfully clear that with increased promotion, Elvis' original and untampered body of work has all the potential of generating impressive sales.
The Elvis channel, on satellite radio, also leaves a lot to be desired in the promo department, as well as other areas, but, for now, let's remain focused on the promo issue, or lack thereof . When listening, I am inevitably annoyed and frustrated by the hosts' deficient knowledge of Elvis' music, the repetition of air-play, the inexcusable flubs ("Here's "I'll Remember You" from the movie, Spinout”), the seemingly incessant airing of RPO rubbish which prompts me to switch the channel as I refuse to expose, thereby, sensitize my flawless ear to such musical debris, and, of course, the bombardment of rhetoric with respect to these disastrous RPO escapes. I rarely, if ever, hear mention of an upcoming release like the aforementioned "Stax" collection (for which a promo-for-radio CD was produced but, to my knowledge, never aired on the Elvis channel, or anywhere else, for that matter), "The Album Collection", the "Jungle Room" set, or any of the marvelous productions from the Dynamic Duo over at FTD, Roger Semon and Ernst Jorgensen (whose name is noticeably but intentionally missing from the extensive credits in the embarrassing RPO sets, which is perhaps due to a reluctance to participate in such drivel, methinks). Is it not rational that if any forum should flood its audience with adverts of fan-worthy, Elvis music collections, it should be this one? Despite mismanagement in death as in life, Elvis' unique appeal thrives on.
Never one to delude others, or myself, I regrettably realize, but fear the inevitable release of RPO III, tentatively titled, Don't Ask Me Why...Money, Honey! The heavy promotion would once more guarantee a #1 slot with Elvis breaking more sales records and assuring RPO IV and RPO V, etc. I cringe at the thought of the next Elvis tour de force to fall victim to this "Royal" treatment. Might it be "Promised Land"? "Reconsider Baby"? "Any Place Is Paradise"? Perhaps a Beatles duet of "Something" or "That's When Your Heartaches Begin", with Adele taking the recitation? Once the deemed essentials of Elvis' extraordinary musical legacy are completely bastardized by the intrusion of a misplaced symphony, might this be all that is left for future generations' musical impression of the legend that once was an Elvis Presley?
If these concerns and/or fears are shared by the reader, fret not. There are any number of quality collectables continually becoming available (legal or otherwise) to the hungry, Elvis purists and novices alike, who relish the idea of respectfully perpetuating Elvis' original musical legacy with creative integrity. Ironically, some of these new and exciting projects are conceived and produced by the very purists I speak of. The latest to fall into this category is a lavish collection of the raw Elvis at Sun Records on the Memphis Recording Service label (MRS). Named after the label and subtitled The Complete Works 1953-1955, the presentation is most impressive as is any and all of the label's previous productions. Living up to and perhaps rising above its own reputation, MRS delivers the goods once more! The double CD/book set presents these timeless recordings in a sonic clarity the likes of which these ears have not heard before. The state of the art re-mastering of these sixty year-old recordings results in an awe-inspiring, eerie freshness. The inclusion of bonus tracks, outtakes and personal acetates, which are all newly re-mastered as well, maximizes digital space allowing for ultimate value for the exceedingly reasonable cost. The 100-page book accomplishes to inform and educate even the most ardent fan and is generously illustrated with rare photos and documents pursuant to the era. This particular package is an essential piece of musical history that all music enthusiasts MUST own!
The more obscure, underground label, E.P. Collector, has uncovered a marvelous recording that should, for all intents and purposes, please even the most stubborn, seventies resistant, Elvis dabbler. With much gratitude to the unknown fan whose foresight inspired the recording of the opening show of Elvis' April tour in 1976, I should like to delicately suggest an uninterrupted, attentive listen to the fine audience-recorded "import" titled, The Beat Is Back! As the press release proclaimed, this 2-disc set features a performance of "How Great Thou Art" that may very well be the best live version to date! Personally, I'm in concurrence with this statement as bold as it may be. In fact, throughout the Kansas City concert, Elvis is in ideal form and vocally engaged. The set is certainly worthy of repetitive play and scrutiny of Elvis' vocal performance, particularly when considering the waste of precious time that might be spent listening instead to "manufactured" nonsense. Packaging is as professional as it gets featuring photos from the show along with the local press appraisal. I'm obviously sold on this one.
The Standing Room Only Tapes Volumes 1 and 2 are offered by another fan-based label called Magnetic. It's high-quality presentation of all known recordings made for Elvis' only Golden Globe award-winning film, the well-regarded Elvis On Tour, is yet another fan pleaser. Eight superb-sounding compact discs are evenly divided over two delicately handsome boxed sets that each include a 12-page booklet chronicling the respective audio housed within, making for a most convenient reach for said material. The (as of now) thought to be complete rehearsal recordings and the four live shows that are known to have been professionally recorded are spread over the two 4-CD boxed volumes which comprise the 8-disc total, and each disc is presented in individual cardboard sleeves to emulate a classic LP cover!
An additional nod must be given to Venus Records' monumental package of the 5-disc set called The Mono Masters (see my review elsewhere on this site). The sound quality is first-rate and the plethora of originality to savor here permits one to forgo any marketing ploy to squander our invaluable time and money on the blatant display of gimmickry that is the RPO with Elvis.
To close, my wish is to convey the message to all Elvis fans and anyone whose desire it is to musically educate themselves of joining me in refraining from supporting an artificial presentation of Elvis' record catalogue, thereby enabling the gross mismanagement that continues to plague Elvis and his legacy, as we refrain from putting a bumper sticker on a Ferrari.
Note: Credit to the author in If I Can Dream is a typo by the record company.
Alternate Take 16 is lovingly dedicated to the fond memory of my friend and fellow Super-Fan, Claude Baker.