This is Part 7 of an occasional series reviewing Elvis: The Complete Masters Collection.
CD Vol. 9: Rhythm & Blues
One of the fun parts about bringing back The Mystery Train Blog is the potential to continue old series, such as Elvis Trivialities, and to revisit other loose ends from the first iteration of this blog.
One of those loose ends was my ongoing review of Elvis: The Complete Masters Collection. At first, however, I hesitated to continue reviewing a 36-CD set that came out 11 years ago and is now long out-of-print. Then, I realized, if I were to apply a “newness” rule to potential topics here on The Mystery Train Blog, we’d have little left to discuss. After all, Elvis Presley created his most recent recordings over 43 years ago now. With that in mind, on with the review!
Since it has been over 7 years since I wrote Part 6 of this review, I first want to reset the stage. Back in 2007, Sony digitally remastered for optimum sound quality all 711 of the recordings Elvis released during his lifetime. With various exceptions, the mixes matched the original vinyl releases. Vic Anesini performed the mastering work. These upgraded digital masters slowly began popping up on various compilations and re-releases.
In 2009, the Franklin Mint licensed the upgraded digital masters from Sony to release Elvis: The Complete Masters Collection on CD. At the time, there were two ways to buy the set – as a monthly subscription (3 discs a month for a year, “cancel anytime!”) or as an outright purchase of the entire set (36 discs) at a lower price than the combined total of all the monthly subscription fees. Each CD represented a theme, so the majority of the discs featured new sequencing and combinations compared to previous releases of this material. Unfortunately, within each individual disc, Franklin Mint generally sequenced the songs in recording order. I do appreciate the creativity behind dividing Elvis’ vast catalog into themes, but I wish they had taken this a step further and applied such creativity to more of the track sequencing as well. The Franklin Mint set also included a 24-page booklet, a record-player style display case, and a reproduction of Elvis’ first record, “That’s All Right” b/w “Blue Moon of Kentucky” on the Sun label.
In 2010, Sony released a high-end boxed set called The Complete Elvis Presley Masters. It featured the same 711 upgraded digital masters as the Franklin Mint set, but in 27 CDs – due to using more space per CD than Franklin Mint (for which, obviously, the higher disc count benefited them for their subscription program). The Sony set included three additional discs of “bonus material” in lesser sound quality, featuring various previously released tracks that came out after Elvis’ death. For the most part, the 711 masters were presented in “recording order” on the Sony set, which also included a 240-page book covering all of Elvis’ recording sessions. The first run of the Sony set was limited to 1,000 copies, numbered. It rapidly sold out, so a second, unnumbered run of 1,000 was produced in 2011 and eventually sold out as well. The luxurious Sony set cost about twice as much as the comparatively low-budget approach of the Franklin Mint set. Yet, I could never get out of my head that the underlying “complete masters” on both sets were exactly the same. The massive difference in price was solely due to the Sony set’s premium presentation and book, not the music itself.
As I already had nearly all of Elvis’ lifetime masters in varying sound quality on a myriad of CDs dating back to the late 1980s, I passed on both the Franklin Mint and Sony sets at the time of release. They were both out of my price range, anyway. In 2012, Franklin Mint began offering their entire set at a substantially reduced price. Wanting the opportunity to own all of Elvis’ lifetime masters in consistent and upgraded sound quality, I jumped on it and, naturally, started reviewing it here. At first, I would only allow myself to listen to a CD from the set for the first time when I wrote a review about it. Fortunately, my impatient side won out over my procrastination side, and I dropped that concept, or I suppose I would only now be listening to disc 9 for the first time! Not to mention the other 27 discs that would have been waiting behind it.
In 2016, Sony re-released the upgraded masters in yet another boxed set. The 60 CD Elvis Presley: The Album Collection featured essentially the same masters spread over even more discs than Franklin Mint did, but this time, for the most part, in sequence of their original album releases. As I backed up the Franklin Mint set to iTunes, I can sequence the songs in any way I please, so I passed on this Sony release, too. Of the three sets, this is the one that is the easiest to obtain in 2020, however, and is relatively affordable given the contents. Be sure to read reviews by Elvis fans before investing, though, as Elvis Presley: The Album Collection has its own eccentricities you should know about – much like Elvis: The Complete Masters Collection and The Complete Elvis Presley Masters do as well. Bottom line is, unless you are simply an obsessive collector that wants to own every single Elvis CD release, there is really no reason to obtain more than one of these three sets. Were I in the market for these masters today, I would go for Elvis Presley: The Album Collection, simply because it is the easiest to find at a reasonable price.
With that out of the way, the theme and title of the ninth volume of Franklin Mint’s Elvis: The Complete Masters Collection is Rhythm & Blues. This should be a treat!
01. My Baby Left Me: Now, this is how you kick off an Elvis CD! Due to its similarity to “That’s All Right” (both written by Arthur “Big Boy” Crudup), I think “My Baby Left Me” gets lost in the shuffle sometimes. This is unfortunate, as it is an incredible recording – one of my favorites from Elvis’ breakout year. (Recorded: 1956)
02. So Glad You’re Mine: “So Glad You’re Mine” is another Crudup number, but this one is not nearly as effective as “That’s All Right” or “My Baby Left Me.” Elvis sounds bored. I am thankful Elvis happened to record “My Baby Left Me” prior to “So Glad You’re Mine” or Franklin Mint certainly would have started the CD with this song instead of the superior “My Baby Left Me.” (Recorded: 1956)
03. Anyplace Is Paradise: While Elvis’ performance is sometimes lacking on “Anyplace Is Paradise,” I love the lyrics, including: “Whether we’re standing on your doorstep or sitting in a park or strolling down a shady lane or dancing in the dark, where I can take you in my arms and look into your pretty eyes, anyplace is paradise when I’m with you.” If only this song had a better arrangement and approach, it could have been a classic love song. (Recorded: 1956)
04. Tell Me Why: Recorded at the same session as “All Shook Up,” “I Believe,” and others, “Tell Me Why” is hardly a standout with a sleepy performance by Elvis – similar to “So Glad You’re Mine.” (Recorded: 1957)
05. When It Rains, It Really Pours: Things get back on track here in a big way with “When It Rains, It Really Pours.” This is Elvis at his raw, powerful best. (Recorded: 1957)
06. Ain’t That Loving You Baby: When I visited Graceland in 1990, “Ain’t That Loving You, Baby” was one of the three songs that seemed to play on a constant loop at the various facilities and souvenir shops. This was long before the days of SiriusXM’s Elvis Radio channel broadcasting from Graceland, so I guess all they had was this little loop of three songs (the other two were “Playing For Keeps”  and “For The Heart” ). Anyway, for that reason, “Ain’t That Loving You, Baby” is memorable to me. Otherwise, it is just an okay performance. (Recorded: 1958)
07. A Mess Of Blues: The CD kicks into stereo mode with the awesome “A Mess Of Blues.” I love hearing all of the claps, finger snaps, and other noises. Just a fun song. No surprise, since it was written by Doc Pomus and Mort Shuman. (Recorded: 1960)
08. It Feels So Right: “It Feels So Right” is another good one. The CD is plugging along just fine now. (Recorded: 1960)
09. Like A Baby: “Like A Baby” is another often overlooked Elvis track. This is another of my favorites, and it fits perfectly on this CD. Not only is the Elvis vocal perfect, I love the saxophone accompaniment by Boots Randolph. (Recorded: 1960)
10. Fever: I have to say, “Fever” feels completely out of place here. I suspect it was deposited here by the compiler after not finding a suitable spot for it on another disc. It is also the one song on this CD that is not in recording order, as “Reconsider Baby” preceded it. In any event, I am not a big fan of Elvis’ studio recording of this song. (Recorded: 1960)
11. Reconsider Baby: Here it is, friends, Elvis’ best blues performance – his 1960 studio version of Lowell Fulson’s “Reconsider Baby,” and again accompanied by the incredible Boots Randolph on sax. One of Elvis’ greatest recordings and certainly the highlight of this CD. Not to be missed. (Recorded: 1960)
12. I Feel So Bad: After his release from the US Army, Elvis was on fire in the early 1960s. “I Feel So Bad” is another stellar blues number from this period, written by Chuck Willis. More great sax work from Boots. Be sure to listen for the sax switching from the left to the center channel during his solo. According to legend, Elvis walked up to Boots to enjoy the moment, accidentally picking up the sound of the sax with his handheld vocal microphone. Elvis knew what he was after, and the feel of the take was perfect, so the sound oddity was left in. (Recorded: 1961)
13. Witchcraft: What I love about “Witchcraft” is how it starts off as this unassuming little song with cutesy rhymes, and then kicks into a rockin’ chorus. Each time Elvis goes into “my head is spinning,” he gets a little more forceful. More Boots on sax. This is a killer song. (Recorded: 1963)
14. Down In The Alley: “Down In The Alley” was a bit of an acquired taste for me, but it is a decent blues number and fits well on this CD. (Recorded: 1966)
15. Big Boss Man: Thanks to Jerry Reed on guitar, “Big Boss Man” seems a hybrid of blues and country. Elvis sounds committed, but this is not a huge favorite of mine. (Recorded: 1967)
16. Hi-Heel Sneakers: I love the raw sound of Elvis’ voice on “High Heel Sneakers,” a fun blues number – which sounds like a contradiction in terms! But how can you not love lyrics like, “Put on your red dress, baby, ’cause we’re going out tonight. Well, wear some boxing gloves, in case some fool might start a fight.” (Recorded: 1967)
17. U.S. Male: What is “US Male” doing on a rhythm and blues compilation? This belongs on one of the country compilations instead. Anyway, this is a fun, if dated, song, featuring songwriter Jerry Reed on guitar. Completely out of place here, though. (Recorded: 1968)
18. Stranger In My Own Home Town: Elvis recorded Percy Mayfield’s “Stranger In My Own Home Town” at his first Memphis sessions in 14 years. I first discovered this song when it served as the power opener to The Memphis Record (1987). I have loved it ever since. I am partial to The Memphis Record mix, but this original mix is decent, especially in improved sound quality over previous CD releases. I’m with Elvis, who says, “Play it again, play it again” during one of the instrumental breaks. This is another one where I really love the lyrics: “My so-called friends stopped being friendly, but you can’t keep a good man down.” (Recorded: 1969)
19. Got My Mojo Working/Keep Your Hands Off Of It: This is an off-the cuff jam that was captured during Elvis’ “marathon” session in Nashville in June 1970. A heavily edited and overdubbed version of “Got My Mojo Working/Keep Your Hands Off Of It” was used on the ill-advised Love Letters From Elvis album, which essentially gathered scraps left over by two of the very best albums of his career, That’s The Way It Is and Elvis Country. Among left-overs, this song is a standout. As for this CD, it drags down the quality after “Stranger In My Own Home Town.” (Recorded: 1970)
20. If You Don’t Come Back: Though written by Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller, who penned many of Elvis’ best songs in the 1950s, “If You Don’t Come Back” is a bit of a departure for Elvis. It is an interesting listen, and I particularly enjoy the vintage 1970s wakka-chukka guitar licks. (Recorded: 1973)
21. Just A Little Bit: Continuing the groove of “If You Don’t Come Back,” “Just A Little Bit” is another fun song. Both were recorded at Stax Studio in Memphis. (Recorded: 1973)
22. Shake A Hand: I have to say, Franklin Mint really lucked out on the sequencing of this one. Since they are intent on recording order, “Shake A Hand” just happened to fall last, yet is actually the perfect song to close this CD. I love this performance by Elvis, and the sound is crystal clear. This is a bass-heavy song in terms of sound, and the drums really drive it. (Recorded: 1975)
What a great CD! Of Franklin Mint’s unique, themed compilations (I am excluding Volume 4: Christmas With Elvis, Volume 5: Complete Aloha From Hawaii Concert and Volume 7: Complete 1968 Comeback Special from that label), this is my favorite so far. This is actually a CD or playlist that I would routinely enjoy. Sony should put this compilation out as a single CD, maybe as a budget release.
Let’s see, up next would be Volume 10: Live In Las Vegas. It compiles the albums Elvis In Person and On Stage, which we already know are among the best albums of his career. Seeing as how I recently devoted four posts to Elvis’ 1969 Las Vegas shows, I will either skip to another CD for the next review in this occasional series or wait another seven years to write Part 8. You just never know with me.
“The rich and poor have this in common: The LORD made them both.”