Complete Elvis masters collections put focus where it belongs – on the music

This week, fans began receiving The Complete Elvis Presley Masters – Sony’s limited edition 30-CD set containing 711 master recordings and 103 rarities (alternates, informal recordings, rehearsals, etc.). The first run of 1,000 copies sold out, but Sony reports there will be additional sets available next year. Sony’s premium release is a luxurious and finely packaged collection of Elvis’ music. It also includes a 240-page book and a display case. For the most part, songs are sequenced in the order in which they were recorded.

Still available is Elvis: The Complete Masters Collection, Franklin Mint’s 36-CD set that contains essentially the same 711 master recordings, but with none of the “rarities.” It includes a 24-page booklet, a record-player style display case, and a reproduction of Elvis’ first single, the Sun record “That’s All Right” backed with “Blue Moon of Kentucky.” Songs are arranged thematically by CD, so they often appear in a non-standard order.

Perhaps the packaging and sequencing of the Franklin Mint set are chintzy in comparison with the Sony version, but it does check in at about half the price. It also includes individual sleeves for the CDs, while the Sony version has them inserted into the cardboard of the display case.

Which set is better? That depends on your preferences and your budget. No full-scale reviews of the Sony set are available yet. It is, after all, over 35 hours of music. However, I have been following several threads on the subject over at the For Elvis CD Collectors Forum. As with most message board forums for passionate fans of any subject, there is a lot of drama. If you can get past that, though, it is a great resource for learning more about Elvis.

Here are links to some of the relevant threads for the new Sony set:

I have to give a special mention to frequent FECC poster ElvisSessions, who has provided in depth coverage of the box set in many of the threads above.

For me, the most important thing about either of these sets is that they shine the spotlight on Elvis’ music. Forget potato heads dressed in so-called tribute, collector plates, rubber duckies, mugs, and all of the other junk that clutters up his legacy. Elvis is about music, and that is what deserves to be showcased.

[Updated 11/9/2010 with additional thread links. The folks on FECC are hard to keep up with, boy! Also, thanks to LuckyJackson1 for his Complete Masters track reviews and for providing a link to this blog.]