Unraveling the Elvis web (Conductor’s Reflections #8)

If you spend much time looking for Elvis information on the web, you unfortunately run into some tasteless things. This is not unique to Elvis, of course. Pick any topic, and someone has put some garbage out there about it. That’s fine. Some people like viewing that kind of stuff. They find it “humorous” or “fun.”

Rather than dwell on that, I want to focus today on some of the sites that really get it right when it comes to Elvis.

Elvis Today Blog: This blog was the first to cover Elvis with a personal perspective. No one does it better.

Elvis Session Notes: I’ve wanted to highlight this recording data section of Oven Egeland’s excellent Elvis In Norway site for quite some time. It may very well be the Elvis reference I use most often. A page exists for every year that Elvis recorded. On each of those pages, every officially released take or live version of every song recorded that year is listed alphabetically. Recording location, date, and first release are listed for each track. Seemingly updated almost as soon as each new release becomes available, it’s obvious that this site is a true labor of love. I consult it all the time, especially to enter track information on my Elvis songs in iTunes. I don’t know Egeland, but I’d like to say thanks for providing this valuable service to Elvis fans.

Scotty Moore – The Official Website: Learn more about both Scotty Moore and Elvis on this well-researched site. Be sure to check out the “Guitars” and “Venues” sections in particular.

For Elvis CD Collectors Forum: Learn about and discuss anything and everything Elvis-related – and beyond. The wealth of information provided by some participants is astounding. [Update: Of course, like any open forum, garbage can appear on FECC as well. I included it here because the good far outweighs the bad.]

Speaking of time, I am once again running out of it. Believe it or not, I actually have two reviews in progress, one for a book and the other for a CD. Whichever I finish first will be my next post. TCB.

Viva Elvis “Burning Love” video fails to ignite, while Elvis.com makes embarrassing mistake (Conductor’s Reflections #7)

The official Elvis Presley Enterprises site reports that the folks behind Viva Elvis: The Album have released a new music video for “Burning Love.” Sadly, the Elvis.com news item states, “The video features archival footage of Elvis’ iconic Las Vegas performance.”

Uh, hello official Elvis site? Are you there? That footage is from Elvis’ iconic Aloha From Hawaii performances. You know, the ones that Elvis Presley Enterprises owns and occasionally promotes on DVD? The Aloha From Hawaii concerts took place, oddly enough, in Hawaii. White jumpsuit does not always equal Vegas. E! and other idiotic entertainment sites make this kind of mistake all of the time, but the official Elvis site should know better.

I loved the Viva Elvis album, including this track, so I figured I’d check this video out (“Burning Love” from Viva Elvis: The Album video — YouTube). First of all, it is miles ahead of the horrible video released last month for the otherwise incredible Viva Elvis version of “Suspicious Minds.” At least this “Burning Love” video doesn’t shy away from featuring footage of Elvis singing the song.

The first video, on the other hand, would have you believe that Elvis sang “Suspicious Minds” during the ELVIS (’68 Comeback) special. “Because, like, black leather is just so much cooler than a white jumpsuit,” was their way of thinking, I’m sure. That video mostly stars shadowy images of either 1968 Elvis or, it appears at times, an elvis impersonator dancing around on the screen. At least, that’s what I remember of it. I couldn’t bare to watch that thing twice.

By the way, they could have actually featured “archival footage of Elvis’ iconic Las Vegas performance” of this song. There was a fantastic 1970 version of “Suspicious Minds” filmed in Las Vegas for That’s The Way It Is. Granted, Elvis Presley Enterprises doesn’t own that movie footage (they only own Elvis’ three 1968-1977 television specials), but I’m sure they could have worked something out with Warner Home Video. They cross-promoted and worked together on Warner’s recent Elvis On Tour release, after all.

Though it may represent a switch in the targeted market for Viva Elvis: The Album from newcomers to established fans, I love the fact that this “Burning Love” video actually embraces the jumpsuited Elvis as he appeared in the Aloha concerts. Elvis did not die in 1968 (or, worse, 1958), despite what some would have you believe.

What doesn’t work for me at all, though, is the juxtaposition of Viva Elvis musicians thrown into the Aloha footage. Perhaps it is because I have watched the real Aloha so many times, but there is no illusion established that these people are all playing together on stage. It looks like you are watching two different concerts at once. Maybe that’s one of the problems some fans have with Viva Elvis: The Album. I guess the visual mash-ups bother me more for some reason than the audio ones.

The “Burning Love” video also suffers from a bit of the same problem as “Don’t Be Cruel” on the 2010 version of Elvis On Tour. About halfway through “Burning Love,” the video producers decide to cut to Elvis dramatically taking off his guitar (in reality, from the end of the song). This allows Elvis to move around freely, dance a bit, and interact with the audience. Suddenly, he is back with guitar at the end of the song – and then dramatically removes it again for the song finale. Ugh.

It makes Elvis look silly to apparently do this guitar removal bit twice in this “Burning Love” video – much like hearing Elvis apparently sing his funny “Please let’s forget the past, before I kick your —” line twice for “Don’t Be Cruel” did in the 2010 Elvis On Tour. That’s the problem with the realm of video and audio trickery. Some people do not know how to properly use the toys.

If they just had to show him with the guitar again, why not at least show him putting the guitar back on first? Then, just have him leave the guitar on when the song ended. The footage was there to do both, using elements from “See See Rider.”

The whole thing just seems sloppy, cheap, and rushed. At least it’s better than “Suspicious Minds,” though.

“They don’t seem like art to me” (Conductor’s Reflections #6)

“They don’t seem like art to me,” is how ElvisBlog’s Phil Arnold inexplicably dismisses the Elvis works of the legendary Andy Warhol in his post today commemorating Flaming Star (50th Anniversary Movie Pictorials: Flaming Star – 1960 — ElvisBlog).

The Warhol works are derived from a publicity photo of Elvis as he appeared in the 1960 film. Warhol’s 1963 piece Triple Elvis is in the collection of the Virginia Museum Of Fine Arts.

I saw it several times as a kid. It is quite stunning in person and very much “art.” I am hoping it will still be on display when the Elvis At 21 Alfred Wertheimer exhibit arrives there late next year.

Of course, there are also people out there who say that Elvis was never a singer, much less an artist, so I suppose Warhol is in good company.

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Flaming Star, one of Elvis’ best movies, was directed by Don Siegel – who went on to direct Clint Eastwood in a number of films, including Dirty Harry. The end of the Eastwood-directed Unforgiven (1992) includes the dedication “To Sergio and Don,” his mentors. “Sergio” is Sergio Leone, who directed Eastwood in what became known as The Man With No Name trilogy, and “Don” is Don Siegel.

Rolling Stone misses the point in review of The Complete Elvis Presley Masters (Conductor’s Reflections #5)

Rolling Stone magazine stopped being relevant a long time ago, but I do occasionally find their music reviews interesting – when the publication bothers to cover music, that is. Their October 26 online review of Sony’s The Complete Elvis Presley Masters is an interesting study in absurdity. The point of this release, as indicated by the title, is to collect all of Elvis’ masters into one collection. Here’s what reviewer Anthony DeCurtis had to say:

[T]he later tracks in particular could use some cherry-picking: You shouldn’t have to hear his deeply moving gospel recordings and hits like 1969’s ‘Suspicious Minds’ in the context of his long, dispiriting downward spiral.”

Besides the all-too-typical jab at his later years, this is just about the most idiotic statement I’ve ever read in a professional review. DeCurtis would prefer a Complete Elvis Presley Masters collection that is incomplete in order to satisfy his warped image of who Elvis really was? He should stick with compilations like Elv1s 30 #1 Hits, then, and leave the deep catalog diving to people who actually want to study and understand the real Elvis.

Of course, idiotic statements are unfortunately not confined to Rolling Stone. I’ve also read fan reviews in more than one place lately that criticize the top-notch Viva Elvis: The Album release for having an overblown Vegas sound. That release is the soundtrack to a Las Vegas show – what exactly did they expect? Elvis unplugged?

Defending FTD’s Release Strategy (Conductor’s Reflections #4)

As a fan of Elvis Presley and various other pop culture touchstones, one of the things I’ve noticed over the years that ties all of them together is that their various fandoms are never quite satisfied.

Take the recent announcement of upcoming Follow That Dream Records releases, consisting of a half dozen interesting – even exciting – CD and vinyl releases on the horizon for the rest of this year, thirty-three years after Elvis’ death. Among them are a 1971 soundboard recording of a concert at Boston Garden and a Classic Album re-issue of a 1973 album and associated alternates.

Predictably, the reaction on various Elvis message boards and forums across the web is lukewarm at best. FTD’s decision to release the Boston Garden show gets criticized because some fans have already bought that one on bootleg once or twice.

Hey, if you bought bootlegs, that’s your problem!

I don’t want FTD to take bootlegs into account when deciding their releases. I fully support their decision to officially release the Boston Garden show. If FTD has access to great Elvis material that has already hit the bootleg market, then bring it on.

If you have bought the bootleg release and now have to either re-buy it or decide not to buy it when it comes out on FTD, then, again, I say that is your problem.

As for 1973’s Elvis (“Fool”) album, there is the typical whining that this album was not a worthy follow-up to his Aloha From Hawaii success and, thus, is undeserving of the Classic Album treatment. Sometimes, I’m not sure to which Elvis Presley these people are listening. Elvis is a great album, with several performances that are not to be missed – including Elvis at the piano on “It’s Still Here.”

Another argument goes that while Elvis may indeed be worthy of an FTD, there are other albums of higher priority that should have come first – Promised Land, Jailhouse Rock: Volume 2, and Ernst Jorgensen’s mysterious Sun project being the oft-cited examples.

This makes no sense to me. FTD is supposed to structure its releases in order of priority? That would mean that they would front-load all of the best releases. Eventually, you would hit a point where all that was left was stuff like Double Trouble and Roustabout. All the good stuff would be gone, and we’d have nothing left to be excited about.

Instead, they have to vary things up. All-in-all, I think FTD does a fantastic job of that – particularly in the last two or three years.

There are also complaints that a tie-in to this year’s Elvis On Tour Blu-ray/DVD/theatrical event was not announced. FTD is the collectors label. Whether it comes this year or next, any corresponding audio releases for Elvis On Tour will likely debut on the main Sony label, with a related FTD release at some point after that.

So, stop all the whining, will you? You’re starting to sound like a bunch of Trekkies.

A Few Thoughts on Mr. Potato Head Elvis Presley (Conductor’s Reflections #3)

Come on Elvis Presley Enterprises, I know you can do so much better than this: Mr. Potato Head Elvis Presley Figures to Launch in August of 2010.

It’ll just be another way for people to ridicule Elvis. These may work and be fun for characters from fictional universes like Star Wars and Indiana Jones, but not as supposed collectibles of a deceased superstar. These kinds of products do not protect his legacy.

By the way, that is a horrible-looking Elvis impersonator in the promotional image. On the other hand, if you’d simply called it a Mr. Potato Head Elvis Impersonator figure, then I’d be fine with it. And, like all other impersonator-related news, I’d ignore it.

Who buys this stuff?

With FTD Elvis Collector Releases, Do You Get What You Pay For? (Conductor’s Reflections #2)

A comment from Ray on my previous post inspired today’s entry, making me ask, “Are CDs in the Follow That Dream Records collector series worth the price for Elvis fans?”

I’m going to discuss this issue in terms of American dollars and prices because that is the information to which I have easiest access. However, I’m sure that the underlying concepts of what I’m talking about will be applicable in whichever currency you choose to deal in. You’ll just have to do the conversion for yourself, because I’m too lazy to do that.

The cost of your average FTD collector release CD is about $29.98 US. At least here, these releases are not available in stores, so you’re also likely going to be paying for shipping. Standard shipping is going to run you about $6.85. If you buy more than one at a time, which I tend to do, you can often save on overall shipping.

However, to keep our example simple, I’ll include shipping in the price of the CD and assume we’re talking about buying just one release at a time. That brings our grand total to $36.83. For convenience, we’ll even round that up to $37.

At first glance, that seems like a hefty price for a CD release. However, whether it is worth it depends on which FTD you are buying. The recent Good Times release contained 47 tracks spread over two CDs. That works out to about $0.79 a track.

The average price for downloading a music track on iTunes or Amazon is $0.99. You’ve saved $0.20 a track, plus received the full-fledged CD versions in perfect sound and a booklet packaged in a nice case about the length and width of an old 45 RPM record sleeve. In addition, many of these tracks are not even available on iTunes or Amazon (they should be, but that’s an editorial for another day).

The single disc releases, of course, give you less overall value per track. The High Sierra concert release I was talking about in my last post is one CD at 28 tracks. That works out to about $1.32 a track. If it turns out to be a great concert, that is probably worth it. If it’s a dud, then you’re probably better off saving your money for a different release. We won’t know for sure until it’s released and the online reviews start rolling in.

Most of the single disc releases come in a smaller case and do not include a booklet. Coming in at 21 tracks, last year’s single disc The Wonder of You works out to $1.76 a track.

That’s a steal, worth every single penny. This August 13, 1970, performance is one of the best FTD releases thus far. I would have been willing to pay double the price or more.

I don’t buy every FTD release, though. Far from it. At around 12 releases a year, the $37 price tag prevents me from doing that. This is probably a good thing, because it makes me be selective rather than blindly buying every release simply because it has the name “Elvis” on it.

I have found that the best Elvis purchases are CDs and DVDs, so if you’re debating between an FTD CD and an Elvis “collectible” rubber ducky, PEZ dispenser, bobble head, or what have you, do yourself a favor and spend the money on the CD. At least you’re getting something that Elvis had some hand in creating. Who cares about a bobble head?

When you’re buying FTDs, especially those that have already been out for awhile, it’s always a good idea to check online for reviews. Find a reviewer out there that you trust. For me, I go with the opinions of Thomas over at Elvis Today. We tend to agree on most things Elvis – so if he likes a release, I’ll probably like it, too. (By the way, if you haven’t already, be sure to check out his great FTD-related post this week.)

With over 80 FTDs to choose from so far, you’ll find that some are well worth the price and others may spend more time on your shelf than in your CD player.

Finally, we have to remember that this is a collectors label with a very limited distribution. We pay a premium at times, but it sure beats only being able to buy mainstream releases like Elvis 75: Good Rockin’ Tonight or 30 #1 Hits. Or, worse, Elvis bobble heads.

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Thanks, Ray, for inspiring today’s post!