Flashback ( FTD / BMG )

" Flashback, " the second Follow That Dream " Special " book and CD is a stunner, perhaps the best-ever release since the official collector label's 1999 inception, offering unused alternate mono and two-track performances from 1956-58, coupled with a fantastic collection of images from the same era. This is the moment where Elvis Presley changed the world, and " Flashback " is indisputable evidence of an unprecedented upheaval in music,art and popular culture.

Amazing and mostly unseen color and black and white photos fill " Flashback " from cover to cover. Book designer Nic Oxby again utilizes the same layout  as 2003's " That's The Way It Was, " using a simple and direct approach to allow the pictures to tell the story.

And what a story from Elvis' November 1955 SUN-to-RCA transition to television, film and personal appearances that galvanized America and the world! Although some of these snaps will be familiar to a longtime fan, many of the "new" photos are just as memorable as the old favorites. Apparently, elusive Presley collector Sharif Hanna found his way into a number of photographic archives, resulting in acquisition of some profound and evocative images of the Memphis Flash.

Elvis looks every bit the boy in the eye of the storm, almost a creature from another planet. From New York to Miami, Hollywood to Tupelo, Presley is unique, dynamic and bursting with energy. At the " Love Me Tender " session, his first on a Hollywood soundstage ( and stripped of Scotty, Bill and DJ, his regular band ), a panoramic shot conveys the feeling that Elvis is at least comfortable with both setting and substitute musicians. It appears they cut the soundtrack with the assistance of huge "cue" cards, to quickly learn the lyrics.

Similar gems abound throughout the 171 pages, so many it seems petty to note several reverse-image prints. But they are there, such as the color portrait of Elvis with Paramount producer Hal Wallis, between takes on " Loving You, " or another color shot of Elvis chatting with CBS-TV host Ed Sullivan at the October 1956 rehearsal for Presley's second appearance on Ed's " really big shoe. " However, it's a small price to pay when a half-dozen shots of Elvis visiting Sam Phillips at SUN Studios in September 1956 are just a few pages away. " Flashback " easily rivals the best Presley photo journals, as in those published by the incomparable Ger Rijff, which makes it an indispensable acquisition for any serious Elvis fan.

Elvis' CD reissue producer Ernst Jørgensen sets both book and CD along a chronological path, allowing a reader to stop, look and listen to the phenomenal artistry and growth of young Elvis Presley in just two short years. Not one of the 25 cuts on the "Flashback" CD are anything less than a treasure.

The first half of the disc provides insightful outtakes, from Elvis' debut RCA recording session in January 1956 to his final studio visit of the 1950s, at Nashville's " Studio B " in June 1958. Of these 14 recordings, unheard for almost half a century, " Heartbreak Hotel " is still a thrill, as the group comes very close to the #1 pop hit's master take. Note Presley's original reading of the lyric as "pray to die," too. A twenty-second snippet of " Money Honey, " the first-ever ( and perhaps only ) outtake of Elvis' raucous Drifters cover, although it might simply be a " vocal echo " miscue, so audible is the change on Presley's voice. It's still way cool.

" Shake, Rattle And Roll " offers between-song patter, unreleased lyrics and laughter from the 21 year-old singer. " Hang up that tambourine and go! " Elvis facetiously instructs Memphis pal and bodyguard Red West, who is sitting in a corner of the studio, banging on the instrument. Elvis' confident rhythm guitar is prominent in the mix as well.

Very little has surfaced from Presley's September 1956 Hollywood session, but " Flashback " provides the collector with more outtakes of " Rip It Up. " More tame than Little Richard's no-holds-barred Specialty single, it's still obvious Elvis loves the song and Scotty Moore's stinging lead guitar is outstanding. The final RCA session of June 1958, five classic rock and roll sides waxed in one single visit, is fully represented with superb alternate takes for each track.

The second half of the " Flashback " CD sports " binaural " outtakes culled from the crude stereo backup reels used at Hollywood's Radio Recorders studio. With the " binaural " effect, one may "isolate" Elvis' vocal in the left channel by turning down the right channel. Suddenly, a listener is sitting on Elvis' shoulder during legendary 1957 sessions from January, February, April and May. One discovers how " That's When Your Heartaches Begin " began life with Elvis on vocals and piano. It's heavenly but rough, and Elvis wisely abandons the ivories before nailing the master take, the flip-side to " All Shook Up, " another #1 hit.

Two takes of " Loving You " (main title version) have the group trying to improve the song's impact by raising the key after the first playback. It almost works. The most surprising track of all is the very first recording of " Treat Me Nice," from April 30, 1957, the first day of the " Jailhouse Rock " sessions. This Leiber and Stoller classic began life as a much lighter pop song, complete with "peppy" tempo and "cute" backing vocals from the Jordanaires. In the end, the interpretation chosen for use in the film is as tough as Vince Everett, the fist-flinging character Elvis portrays in the MGM film. Among the remaining outtakes, Elvis' polite banter with director Richard Thorpe is endearing " Mr. Thorpe, is that [okay]? " asks the star of the movie. And, of course, Elvis sings his heart out on " Don't Leave Me Now " and " Young And Beautiful. "

If there ever was a reason to praise the Follow That Dream label, " Flashback " is it a bounty of unreleased photos and recordings from Elvis' most god-like era, 1956-1958. For your delight and edification, " Flashback " is the undeniable truth nobody looked, moved or sang like Presley, and no one ever will again.

[Johnny Savage, USA]