REVIEW: Elvis – The Complete Masters Collection (Part 7)

This is Part 7 of an occasional series reviewing Elvis: The Complete Masters Collection.

[Read Part 6]

ELVIS: THE COMPLETE MASTERS COLLECTION – VOLUME 9 CD sleeve (2009, from Tygrrius’ collection) | Click image for full-color version

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!

ELVIS: THE COMPLETE MASTERS COLLECTION – VOLUME 9 CD (2009, from Tygrrius’ collection) | Click image for full-color version

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” [1956] and “For The Heart” [1976]). 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.

Blessings,
TY


“The rich and poor have this in common: The LORD made them both.”
Proverb 22:2

REVIEW: Elvis – The Complete Masters Collection (Part 6)

This is Part 6 of an occasional series reviewing Elvis: The Complete Masters Collection. Read Part 5.


CD Vol. 8: Country Roots

This volume of The Franklin Mint‘s 36-disc Elvis: The Complete Masters Collection (mastered by Vic Anesini) presents songs that the booklet describes as follows:

“Elvis’ renditions of some of the biggest country songs ever. His tribute to country music and the legends who created it: Hank Williams, Red Foley, and many others.”

This sounds like a potential winner to me, but let’s see how it plays out.

Elvis: The Complete Masters Collection - Volume 8

Elvis: The Complete Masters Collection – Volume 8

01. I Love You Because: Of the 21 songs that make up this CD, the compiler could not have made a choice worse than “I Love You Because” to use as the lead-off track. When Elvis Presley made this recording at SUN Records in 1954, owner and producer Sam Phillips wisely rejected it. Shortly thereafter, Elvis, bassist Bill Black, and guitarist Scotty Moore “stumbled upon” the rock ‘n’ roll sound when horsing around with “That’s All Right.” Unfortunately, RCA Records – beginning a trend that would last for the rest of Elvis’ life – dug “I Love You Because” out of the rejects pile and issued a spliced version in 1956 not only on the Elvis Presley LP but as the A-Side of a single! The single failed to chart, and this recording is of interest only as a historical curiosity. (Recorded: 1954)

02. Blue Moon Of Kentucky: “Blue Moon Of Kentucky,” on the other hand, is a perfect representation of “Elvis Country.” A rhytym & blues-infused take on a country/bluegrass song, “Blue Moon Of Kentucky” served well as the B-Side of “That’s All Right” (a country-infused take on a rhythm & blues number). In some markets, “Blue Moon Of Kentucky” was more popular than the A-Side – likely because the song was a little more conventional for those audiences than the comparatively wild “That’s All Right.” (Recorded: 1954)

03. I’ll Never Let You Go: “I’ll Never Let You Go” is another 1954 SUN reject that RCA issued in 1956 on the Elvis Presley LP and as an A-Side single. While not stellar, this one is far more listenable than “I Love You Because.” This one features a slow start before eventually speeding up – a precursor of what Elvis would do not only on “Milkcow Blues Boogie” later that year, but also on live versions of “Hound Dog” years later in 1972. (Recorded: 1954)

04. How’s The World Treating You: “How’s The World Treating You” is a decent recording by Elvis. This one is slow and sleepy, as with the beginning of “I’ll Never Let You Go.” Unlike that track, however, this one stays slow and sleepy. (Recorded: 1956)

05. Old Shep: Elvis had been singing Red Foley’s “Old Shep” since childhood before he formally recorded it in September 1956. As a dog-lover, I find this melodramatic yet effective song hard to listen to at certain points in my life – depending on how my dog is doing at the time. I take these things to heart. A great, classic Elvis recording. (Recorded: 1956)

06. Your Cheatin’ Heart: I love Elvis’ take on Hank Williams’ “Your Cheatin’ Heart,” though I slightly prefer a more enthusiastic alternate take over this master. It would be years before Elvis made such an overtly country recording again. (Recorded: 1958)

07. A Fool Such As I: There is very little country left in Elvis’ iconic version of “A Fool Such As I,” a song that had been previously recorded by Hank Snow. (Recorded: 1958)

08. It’s A Sin: “It’s A Sin” was first recorded by Eddy Arnold in 1947. Elvis’ version is pretty, but a little lethargic for my tastes. (Recorded: 1961)

09. Just Call Me Lonesome: In addition to the How Great Thou Art sessions, another early sign of the comeback was Elvis returning to country music. “Just Call Me Lonesome” is a great representative of that return. What I love about “Elvis Country” is that instead of whining sounds sometimes associated with the genre, Elvis usually provides velvet vocals. (Recorded: 1967)

10. You Don’t Know Me: Elvis’ moving rendition of Eddy Arnold’s “You Don’t Know Me” was unfortunately buried on the Clambake soundtrack album. The first version I ever heard of “You Don’t Know Me” was actually by Ray Charles. The first time I heard it, in the original theatrical cut of Groundhog Day, I remember wishing that Elvis had recorded it. I was pleasantly surprised a few years later when the unknown-to-me Elvis recording surfaced on From Nashville To Memphis: The Complete 60s Masters I. Incidentally, Elvis also recorded a different version of “You Don’t Know Me” for the Clambake movie, but it is far inferior to this re-recording and was not released until after his death (other than in the actual movie). (Recorded: 1967)

11. I’m Movin’ On: Next up are some songs recorded at American Sound Studios in Memphis in early 1969, not long after the successful airing of the ELVIS television special. At first, “I’m Movin’ On” sounds a little too country, but then Elvis rocks into it to produce a spectacular version. (Recorded: 1969)

12. I’ll Hold You In My Heart (Till I Can Hold You In My Arms): “I’ll Hold You In My Heart” is an appealing little song that Elvis sings into the ground, ultimately going nowhere. (Recorded: 1969)

13. After Loving You: One of the huge highlights of the American sessions, “After Loving You” features the “new” Elvis at his best. Elvis had been playing around with this song at home for years, even taking a stab at piano on an earlier take at this session before giving up the keys. One of the best recordings of his career. (Recorded: 1969)

14. It Keeps Right On A-Hurtin’: “It Keeps Right On A-Hurtin'” is another pretty song that really does little to stand out among Elvis’ stellar 1969 recordings. (Recorded: 1969)

15. Little Cabin On The Hill: Versions of the next five songs were featured on the 1971 album I’m 10,000 Years Old: Elvis Country, often considered one of his finest. However, these mixes and edits are actually from the 1995 Walk A Mile In My Shoes boxed set. They do not match the original masters from Elvis Country. Here, Elvis launches into a Bill Monroe impersonation he had been fooling around with since at least 1956, as evidenced by the Million Dollar Quartet jam session. Good stuff. (Recorded: 1970)

16. I Really Don’t Want To Know: Elvis owns “I Really Don’t Want To Know,” one of the best on Elvis Country or any of his other albums. I love the piano work on this one by David Briggs. (Recorded: 1970)

17. Faded Love: I much prefer the shorter edit of “Faded Love” as released during Elvis’ lifetime than this overly long 1995 version. Anyway, Elvis does a fine, if forgettable, job on the Bob Wills classic. (Recorded: 1970)

18. Tomorrow Never Comes: Elvis delivers one of his most powerful performances on “Tomorrow Never Comes.” The song starts softly and slowly builds into a breathtaking, accusatory crescendo that Elvis actually had to re-record as an insert. Again, one of the very best songs of his career. (Recorded: 1970)

19. Make The World Go Away: I love hearing Elvis’ version of well-known songs, and “Make The World Go Away” is no exception. That voice. You gotta listen to James Burton on guitar on this one, too. Burton helped define the sound of Elvis’ final decade, and it is no wonder Elvis was reluctant to take the stage without him. (Recorded: 1970)

20. Green, Green Grass Of Home: I first heard Elvis’ version of “Green, Green Grass Of Home” on an RCA cassette tape I had in the 1980s called Elvis Country, one of two tapes by that name I owned – both of which had completely different lineups from each other as well as his 1971 album of the same name. Though recorded five years later for the Today sessions, this song would have fit in well on the real Elvis Country album as well. As with the much-maligned “My Boy,” this is the kind of dramatic song that often spoke to Elvis and that I, for one, enjoy hearing him sing. (Recorded: 1975)

21. Are You Sincere: Coming right after “Green, Green Grass Of Home,” Elvis’ voice sounds comparatively weaker on “Are You Sincere.” This goes against conventional Elvis wisdom, as this one was recorded two years earlier. They were recorded in different studios with different equipment, so any number of factors could be involved. Still, “Are You Sincere” is a worthy performance, first released on his 1973 album Raised On Rock. (Recorded: 1973)

While it contains a number of terrific country songs, the individual parts of this CD do not add up to a high-quality whole. Whether due to kicking off with the lackluster “I Love You Because” or the uneveness of the remaining selections, Country Roots never takes off as a compilation. Instead, it feels more random than anything else.

[Read Part 7.]


REVIEW: Elvis – The Complete Masters Collection (Part 5)

This is Part 5 of an ongoing series reviewing Elvis: The Complete Masters Collection. Read Part 4.

I’m planning to significantly scale back this review series. I’m actually up to Volume 17 now in listening, as I gave up trying to review them as I go. This is mostly because I was not patient enough to wait. The process was just going too slow and taking away from the enjoyment. However, since I already had a draft of the below review for weeks now, I figured I might as well share it with you.


CD Vol. 7: Complete 1968 Comeback Special

This volume of The Franklin Mint‘s 36-disc Elvis: The Complete Masters Collection (mastered by Vic Anesini) presents songs recorded for the ELVIS television special in June 1968.

Elvis: The Complete Masters Collection - Volume 7

01. Trouble/Guitar Man: This was the perfect way to open both the ELVIS special and the accompanying soundtrack album. Culled from 1958’s King Creole, “Trouble” has never sounded better than it does in this performance a decade later.

In the setting of the special, “Guitar Man” bares little resemblance to Elvis’ 1967 country recording. This version rocks.

Though true to the original album, I would have preferred that the overdubbed applause at the end of this studio track had been omitted for this release. Exceptions were made for other recordings on this set, including on this very CD, and this is another exception I would have welcomed.

02. Lawdy, Miss Clawdy [Live]: In the live, “sit down” segment of the show, Elvis tears into “Lawdy, Miss Clawdy.” This is a terrific rendition that helps set the tone for the entire album. Elvis is back.

Baby, What You Want Me To Do [Live]: Elvis performs a brief snippet of “Baby, What You Want Me To Do” and then launches into a fun bit of reminiscing.

Heartbreak Hotel/Hound Dog/All Shook Up [Live]: The album then transitions to the “stand up” segment with a rocking “Heartbreak Hotel,” combined with strong versions of “Hound Dog” (I love the Native-American-inspired percussion) and “All Shook Up.”

This is the best live version of “Heartbreak Hotel.” Too bad it is part of a medley and incomplete. Years ago, I made an edit of this recording and the one at his first sit down show in order to create a “complete” version for my own personal use (inspired by a similar edit of “Blue Suede Shoes” on This Is Elvis, except mine began with the stand up show and ended with the sit down show).

Sound quality is so excellent on Complete 1968 Comeback Special that it makes a recording flaw in this medley more obvious – a microphone or amplifier feedback sound is present in the background through much of the medley, beginning with “Hound Dog.” When I went back to check, I was surprised to find that this actually existed on previous release sources as well – though not as obvious.

Can’t Help Falling In Love [Live]:  Hands-down, this is the best live version of “Can’t Help Falling In Love.” Absolutely beautiful. Again, here we have excellent sound quality, but that feedback tone is also present at times in the background. I fear it is one of those things where, now that I have heard it, I will not be able to “un-hear” it.

Jailhouse Rock [Live]: For my money, there are really only two killer versions of “Jailhouse Rock.” The 1957 original and this 1968 live recording. Even just a year later, Elvis had lost the raw edge to this song.

Unfortunately, there is noticeable distortion near the end of “Jailhouse Rock,” almost like garbled tape (not the feedback tone discussed earlier). What a disappointment. Not present on previous releases, this issue was first introduced on 2008’s ELVIS: The Complete ’68 Comeback Special boxed set (Disc 3, Track 21). Also on that set, the same version of “Jailhouse Rock” can be heard without the distortion on Disc 1 – which presents the original ELVIS-TV Special album. However, the overall recording is in much lesser sound quality. I understand that tapes can be damaged, but surely a better effort could be made for one of the pivotal moments of Elvis’ career? As this also affected The Complete Elvis Presley Masters, a pricier incarnation of the complete masters [7], Sony should be embarrassed.

Love Me Tender [Live]: I have to admit, though some may not be able to comprehend this, I am not a big fan of Elvis’ original 1956 recording of “Love Me Tender.” It bores me to tears. I definitely prefer his 1968 live versions. As with “Can’t Help Falling In Love” earlier in the show, I love the velvet sound of his voice on this.

03. Where Could I Go But To The Lord/Up Above My Head/Saved: This track begins with Elvis discussing the gospel and rhythm & blues origins of rock ‘n’ roll at one of the sit down shows. It then segues into a medley of studio-recorded inspirational songs. In the actual television special, the medley is a huge production number with Elvis surrounded by dancers while the Blossoms, including Darlene Love, provide backing vocals. Though the recording is great, I find this one much more interesting to watch than only hear.

04. Blue Christmas [Live]: In both the original broadcast version of the ELVIS special and its accompanying soundtrack, creative editing inspired a myth. “I’d like to do my favorite Christmas song, of all the ones I’ve recorded,” Elvis says. He then launches into “Blue Christmas.” For years, people justifiably believed that “Blue Christmas” was Elvis’ favorite Christmas song.

It was not until the 1998 release of Tiger Man, containing the unedited version of the sit down show from which the recording was taken, that the truth became known to a wider audience. It turned out that Elvis did not sing “Blue Christmas” as his favorite but “Santa Claus Is Back In Town.” In fact, though he could not remember some of the words, he sang a bluesy version that was a highlight of that particular show. Not only that, but when he did finally launch into “Blue Christmas,” it was an extended version compared to the original master. So, not only did the TV special and original album create the “Blue Christmas” as Elvis’ favorite Christmas song myth, they even artificially shortened said song.

True to the original master as released in Elvis’ lifetime, the recording here on Complete 1968 Comeback Special matches that of the original album. Elvis performs a terrific version of “Blue Christmas,” far exceeding his 1957 studio recording. I’ll stick to the real story and full-length version on Tiger Man, though.

One Night [Live]: “I think I’ll put a strap around this and stand up,” Elvis says near the end of the first sit down show, but there is no strap to be found for the electric guitar he has borrowed from Scotty Moore. Drummer DJ Fontana announces the next song as “No Strap” and Charlie Hodge, also on stage, sings “No strap today. . .” which Elvis immediately turns into a brief parody of “One Night” by picking up with “. . . is what I’m now looking for, the things I did and I saw, would make the dream . . . where, where, where, where’s the strap?”

He then launches into the song proper, including some of the original “One Night Of Sin” lyrics that had been too risque for 1957. He soon stands up, placing one foot on his chair to prop the guitar on his knee, while Charlie (and later Lance LeGault) holds the microphone for him. While some of the “ad-libs” earlier in the night were indeed scripted, Elvis wanting to stand up with the guitar during the sit down show is not one of them. For the second sit down show, though the guitar still had no strap, it was obvious they had worked out more of the logic – including how to adjust the microphone stand, allowing Elvis to stand up a few times. It is this off-the-cuff moment in the first show that holds the real magic, though. All the fun aside, it is also a great, raw performance of “One Night.”

05. Tiger Man [Live]: Though it originally appeared neither on the ELVIS-TV Special album nor the broadcast, “Tiger Man” was actually the first recording released from those made for the 1968 ELVIS special, on the album Singer Presents Elvis Singing Flaming Star And Others. “Tiger Man” was originally slated for the special, but was replaced by “Blue Christmas” at the insistence of Elvis’ manager due to the December air date. “Tiger Man” is another wonderful performance that Elvis drives with the electric guitar. The compiler made a good choice placing it back in context with other songs from the special rather than saving it for a separate disc.

[Side note: Elvis only performed “Tiger Man” on the second sit down show. Near the end of the first sit down show, Elvis states, “We’d like to do one more song for you because we have another audience waiting to come in” and then proclaims, “Man, I just work here,” when the audience sounds disappointed. He then starts looking for the guitar strap as described with “One Night” above. While he was apparently not referring to the closer “Memories” as the “one more song,” I wonder if it was actually “Tiger Man” that he was planning to sing before being inspired to do the impromptu reprise of “One Night”? Most of the renditions on the first sit down show are superior to those of the second, so a first show “Tiger Man” might have been quite the performance if the proper guitar strap had been available.]

06. Memories [Stereo Version]: Though Elvis performed two live versions of “Memories” during the special tapings, they were not nearly as good as his studio master. Rather than use the live recording featured on the television broadcast, the ELVIS-TV Special soundtrack album featured a mono version of the studio recording with overdubbed applause. RCA sure did love faking live versions with overdubbed applause in the late 1960s and early 1970s.

In this instance, the compiler makes an exception and uses a stereo version of the studio recording, fortunately without the fake audience. Technically, this mix was never released in Elvis’ lifetime, though, for even his 1968 single of the studio version was in mono.

Written by Mac Davis, “Memories” is a beautiful song and this is, by far, my favorite version. 1968’s “Memories” would go on to play over the closing credits of 1972’s Elvis On Tour, as well as posthumous documentaries – including This Is Elvis.

07. Nothingville/Big Boss Man: I have often wondered if “Nothingville” was slamming Nashville or Hollywood (“phony little two-bit town where nothing’s real”). If “Nothingville” is about Hollywood and the movies, that puts an interesting spin on this segment of the special – which is more than a little reminiscent of Elvis’ movies anyway.  In any event, the song fits within the context of one of the show’s production numbers, but it is almost too short to really matter. Next up is a carny barker inviting passers-by to experience an exotic dancer. Elvis launches into an altered version of “Big Boss Man” where the one being worked to death is actually the dancer rather than the singer. The song loses most of its blues roots here, but the arrangement is still effective.

Guitar Man/Little Egypt/Trouble/Guitar Man: To be honest, all of track 7 is really a letdown compared to the quality of the rest of the special.

08. If I Can Dream [Stereo Version]: Always a contender for his greatest performance, “If I Can Dream” caps off the special just right – with Elvis moving forward. As with “Memories,” a stereo mix is used here that was not released during Elvis’ lifetime. The album version was in mono and included overdubbed applause on the studio recording, while the single version of the studio recording was in mono as well.

All-in-all, due to the sound issues on “Jailhouse Rock,” and, to a lesser extent, “Hound Dog,” “All Shook Up,” and “Can’t Help Falling In Love,” Complete 1968 Comeback Special turns out to be the most disappointing volume of this set thus far. A real travesty since this is some of his best material. Does anyone bother to listen to Elvis CDs prior to release?

Though a minor issue, the CD also has a misleading title, for it would take several CDs to truly represent the “complete” 1968 “Comeback Special” recordings. This is but a small sampling. Even a few Comeback recordings released during Elvis’ lifetime, if restricted to that, have been left out.

Sources

(7) “Complete Masters compared/contrasted with Franklin Mint” by elvissessions, For Elvis CD Collectors Forum, 2010.


Read Part 6.

REVIEW: Elvis – The Complete Masters Collection (Part 4)

This is Part 4 of an ongoing series reviewing Elvis: The Complete Masters Collection. Read Part 3.


CD Vol. 6: Heartache

Elvis: The Complete Masters Collection - Volume 6This volume of The Franklin Mint‘s 36-disc Elvis: The Complete Masters Collection (mastered by Vic Anesini) presents songs falling under the theme of “Heartache.” The booklet describes this disc as “Twenty haunting melodies that reveal Elvis’ familiarity with the darker side of love.”

Heartache is certainly a theme Elvis revisited often in his recordings over the years. Many of my favorite Elvis songs would probably fit into this category, so I’m excited to give Heartache a spin.

01. That’s When Your Heartaches Begin: Elvis actually first recorded “That’s When Your Heartaches Begin” as a demo at the Memphis Recording Service in 1953. This is his professional version, though, recorded four eventful years later for RCA. He does a masterful job with the song, including the spoken-word recital in the middle – a technique that he would perfect even further a few years later with the similar “Are You Lonesome Tonight.” (Recorded: 1957)

02. Don’t: If you listen too closely to the words to “Don’t,” it can actually sound creepy from a modern perspective:

“Don’t, don’t,” that’s what you say each time that I hold you this way. When I feel like this and I want to kiss you, baby don’t say “don’t.”

This song should be judged within the context of innocence from which it sprang, though. The Jerry Leiber & Mike Stoller song features masterful lyrics, indicative of the quality of material Elvis lost out on when his association with that team ended. “Don’t” includes a quite beautiful and sincere love pledge:

I’m your love and yours I will stay. This you can believe, I will never leave you, Heaven knows I won’t.

Oddly, this track has about ten seconds of extra silence at the end once the song concludes – not reflected in the runtime on the CD sleeve, either. (1957)

03. Are You Lonesome Tonight?: “Are You Lonesome Tonight” is an Elvis masterpiece, recorded shortly after the end of his stint in the US Army. Listen to that voice. He was back, better than ever. (1960)

04. Starting Today: “Starting Today” is the first of four songs written by Don Robertson that appear on Heartache. This is a quiet, likable song. (1961)

05. (Marie’s The Name) His Latest Flame: “His Latest Flame” is one of three Doc Pomus songs on this disc. “His Latest Flame” is fantastic and includes a much-needed increase in tempo over the opening songs of Heartache. (1961)

06. Anything That’s Part Of You: Another Don Robertson song, “Anything That’s Part Of You” is as relevant to broken relationships today as it was when first recorded. This is a perfect, subtle performance by Elvis. (1961)

07. Just Tell Her Jim Said Hello: It’s hard for me to believe this weak number is from Leiber & Stoller, yet it is. “Just Tell Her Jim Said Hello” sounds like it should be a movie tune. (1962)

08. Suspicion: Doc Pomus delivers the goods again, this time with the fantastic “Suspicion.” I first heard this song on a cassette variant of Elvis Country and have loved it ever since. (1962)

09. She’s Not You: “I’d trade all of someone new for anything that’s part of you,” lamented Elvis in “Anything That’s Part Of You.” On “She’s Not You,” though the writers are different, he continues that theme: “She’s everything a girl should be, but she’s not you.” For this song, Doc Pomus teamed up with Leiber & Stoller, ensuring a sure-fire hit when also combined with another great performance by Elvis. The original pressing of Franklin Mint’s Elvis: The Complete Masters Collection contained an error on this track – the last several seconds were missing. They issued replacement discs and subsequent pressings (including mine) have not had this error [6]. (1962)

10. They Remind Me Too Much Of You: More from the pen of Don Robertson, “They Remind Me Too Much Of You” again continues the theme of “Anything That’s Part Of You” and “She’s Not You,” except now the singer has reached the stage where he wants all reminders of the love gone wrong wiped away. Robertson’s lyrics are masterful at portraying the anguish: “Must I evermore be haunted, day after day my whole life through, by the memory of each moment that I spent alone with you?” (1962)

11. What Now, What Next, Where To: “What Now, What Next, Where To,” while still lamenting a lost love, manages to strike some hopeful tones as well. This is the fourth and final Robertson composition on Heartache, wrapping up this mini-storyline as the singer finally moves on. I have to give the compiler credit for putting all of these songs together, actually making for a coherent album of sorts. (1963)

12. Blue River: I can’t stand this song and hardly ever play it. The sooner “Blue River” ends, the better. (1963)

13. It Ain’t No Big Thing (But It’s Growing): I had to go and say that, didn’t I? As soon as “Blue River” ends, an even worse song begins, “It Ain’t No Big Thing.”  While Elvis’ June 1970 marathon recording session in Nashville produced some of the best songs of his career, it also produced junk like “It’s Ain’t No Big Thing.” Nearly unlistenable. (1970)

14. I’ve Lost You [Live]: After two duds in a row, Elvis’ live version of “I’ve Lost You” is a welcome reprieve. While not as interesting as the studio version, this is still a fine performance in its own right. I love how his voice nearly blends with the Sweet Inspirations as the chorus repeats at the song’s end. (1970)

15. When I’m Over You: Like most songs, “When I’m Over You” is better than “It Ain’t No Big Thing,” but it is still one of the weaker songs from the 1970 Nashville sessions. I do enjoy the gospel sound that the background vocalists bring to the song. (1970)

16. I Will Be True: Accompanying himself on piano, Elvis takes on the Ivory Joe Hunter song “I Will Be True.” A decent performance, with much conviction. (1971)

17. Love Me, Love The Life I Lead: Elvis did not write this song, but it sure sounds like he could have:

If you’re gonna love me, love the life I lead. Need the things I need. Don’t try to change me. If you’re gonna take me, take me for what I am. I can’t be another man. I can’t be free from the life I lead.

Unfortunately, though Elvis must have connected with the lyrics, the song never really develops – a good song that probably could have been better. (1971)

18. Thinking About You: Featured on the Promised Land album and recorded at Stax Studio in Memphis, “Thinking About You” is one of Elvis’ best country songs. Wow, does it sound great on this set. Nice to have the original mix back. (1973)

19. Mr. Songman: “Mr. Songman” is a decent album cut that also served well as the flip-side to 1975’s “T-R-O-U-B-L-E.” (1973)

20. Woman Without Love: “Woman Without Love” is the worst of the songs Elvis recorded at his March 1975 Hollywood session that produced the very solid Today album. Unless I’m listening to the entire album in context, I always skip this dreadful song. (1975)

Though it contains a few duds (this is a complete masters collection, after all), Heartache is overall a stellar collection of songs. The early 1960s tracks in particular are real highlights.

Sources

(6) “Complete Masters compared/contrasted with Franklin Mint” by elvissessions, For Elvis CD Collectors Forum, 2010.


Read Part 5.

REVIEW: Elvis – The Complete Masters Collection (Part 3)

This is Part 3 of an ongoing series reviewing Elvis: The Complete Masters Collection. Read Part 2.


CD Vol. 5: Complete Aloha From Hawaii Concert

Volume 5 of The Franklin Mint‘s 36-disc Elvis: The Complete Masters Collection (mastered by Vic Anesini) presents the 1973 concert album Aloha From Hawaii via Satellite as well as bonus songs recorded for insertion into the NBC version of the Elvis: Aloha From Hawaii TV special.

Elvis: The Complete Masters Collection - Volume 5

This disc features the original mix of the 1973 double album. In 1998, BMG/RCA released a CD with a new mix and mastering by Dennis Ferrante. At that time, I tried to keep my Elvis CD collection consolidated. Since I much preferred the new mix, I gave away my older Aloha From Hawaii via Satellite CD with the original mix. Therefore, I do not have anything to make fair sound comparisons against for this CD. These days, I put more stock into owning the original mixes as released during Elvis’ lifetime than I did back then.

Elvis recorded all songs on the Complete Aloha From Hawaii Concert on January 14, 1973. Though it aired live in some parts of the world, Aloha From Hawaii did not air in the United States until April 4 of that year. To this day, many Americans wrongly believe they saw the special live. In reality, it had an even longer “tape delay” than NBC’s abysmal Summer Olympics 2012 coverage.

01. Also Sprach Zarathusta/02. See See Rider: “Also Sprach Zarathustra” (used as the theme for 2001: A Space Odyssey) was the perfect way to open Elvis concerts in the 1970s. This is a particularly fine version, beginning with low rumbles and building into a fantastic crescendo as Elvis appears on stage and quickly rocks into “See See Rider.” Listen to James Burton’s guitar work on the solo, sounding better than I remember it.

03. Burning Love: Elvis moves right into another rocker, “Burning Love.” The sound on this CD is so incredible, I can already tell I may go back to this mix when I want to listen to Aloha, over the 1998 version. Elvis just kills the song on the end during the “Hunka’ hunka’ burnin’ love” segment. What a fantastic opening to the live broadcast. Sounding sheepish, Elvis quietly tells the audience after the song, “Good evening, and I hope you enjoy our show tonight. We’re gonna try to do all the songs you wanna hear, you know.”

04. Something: For this third song of the international event, Elvis launches into a Beatles number, “Something.” The performance is okay, but a bit of a letdown after the concert’s stellar opening. Wow, this CD sure does sound awesome, though. It can make an okay song sound a little better.

05. You Gave Me A Mountain: Elvis had first tackled Marty Robbins’ “You Gave Me A Mountain” while on tour in 1972, including one performance used in the 1972 documentary Elvis On Tour. While this version is a step down from that one, Elvis still sounds great here.

06. Steamroller Blues: Next up, Elvis takes on James Taylor with “Steamroller Blues,” adding some much-needed energy back into the show. Elvis earned a top 20 hit when RCA released this performance as a single (backed with the 1972 studio cut “Fool”). Authentic to the original album (the end of side 1), the CD fades on the applause after the song ends.

07. My Way: As with the original album, “My Way” begins with the piano strains, leaving out Elvis’ introduction of the song. This is a fine, though not very compelling, version of the Frank Sinatra hit. In the first six songs of his live event, Elvis has already tackled the blues, rock ‘n’ roll, the Beatles, country, James Taylor, and Frank Sinatra.

08. Love Me: Before the song, Elvis mentions that he’s planning to do a medley of his records later in the show, to which an audience member shouts, “Do all of them!” Elvis hears this and replies, “Okay, I’ll do it, all 429 of ’em. I’ll do it.” He then dips back into his own catalog for a disappointing version of 1956’s “Love Me.” The song borders on being a throwaway, which is a shame.

09. Johnny B. Goode: James Burton carries this Chuck Berry classic on guitar, as Elvis forgets some of the lyrics early on (the song was added to fill time when a rehearsal revealed the planned show was too short). Still, Elvis rocks the song and the show benefits from its inclusion.

10. It’s Over: “I’ll watch you walk away somehow, I have to let you go, because it’s over,” Elvis sings in what must have been another heart-wrencher for him, as his own marriage was ending at this time. Unfortunately, “It’s Over” is otherwise forgettable.

11. Blue Suede Shoes: It’s back to rock ‘n’ roll, this time with a rousing but short rendition of Carl Perkins’ “Blue Suede Shoes.”

12. I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry: Elvis introduces the Hank Williams classic “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry” as “the saddest song I’ve ever heard” and proceeds to do a commendable job.

13. I Can’t Stop Loving You: Next, Elvis moves right into “I Can’t Stop Loving You.” Though the arrangement is the same, Elvis sounds much more subdued here compared to the rocking version found on the previous year’s As Recorded At Madison Square Garden.

14. Hound Dog: Elvis then launches into a perfunctory version of “Hound Dog,” lasting a mere 45 seconds and leaving me to wonder, “Why bother?” As with the record, the CD fades out shortly after the song ends, leaving out Elvis’ joke about first performing that song when he was twelve-years-old.

15. What Now My Love: Elvis gets serious again and puts more effort into “What Now My Love” than his own hit material. This is one of the highlights of the show, and the sound quality on this CD makes it shine even more.

16. Fever: Maybe it’s because I heard this one first, but I’ve always preferred this live version of “Fever” over Elvis’ 1960 recording of the song for the Elvis Is Back! album. The song just works better in a concert setting. I also see this as the point in Aloha From Hawaii where Elvis finally shakes off the rest of his nerves and really loosens up – making for a better second half to the show.

17. Welcome To My World: This is a lightweight song that serves as a breather for Elvis between “Fever” and “Suspicious Minds.”

18. Suspicious Minds: Growing up, the first versions I heard of “Suspicious Minds” were on this album and the similar one released on As Recorded At Madison Square Garden. It took me a long time to become accustomed to the studio version. While I now prefer the studio and early live versions best, I still enjoy the 1972 and 1973 versions. Great to hear Elvis rocking on one of his more contemporary hits.

19. Introductions By Elvis: I’m not going to start reviewing band introduction tracks, but I will point out that this is the edited version as released on the original album (i.e., Elvis calling Charlie Hodge a “general flunky” and later mentioning Hawaii Five-O star Jack Lord have been omitted).

20. I’ll Remember You: Also omitted is Elvis explaining that proceeds from the concert would benefit the Kui Lee Cancer Fund. “I’ll Remember You,” first recorded by Elvis in 1966, was written by Kuiokalani Lee, who passed away from cancer that same year. The lyrics take on even more signficance if you listen with that in mind: “I’ll remember you long after this endless summer is gone. I’ll be lonely, oh so lonely, living only to remember you.” Though a decent live version that matches the mood of the show, “I’ll Remember You” really does not live up to Elvis’ 1966 recording – both in terms of the vocals and the percussion.

21. Long Tall Sally/Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On: The closest thing the show gets to the promised medley is this combination of Little Richard’s “Long Tall Sally,” which Elvis recorded in 1956, and “Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On,” popularized by Jerry Lee Lewis in 1957 and recorded by Elvis in 1970. While the medley works in the show and picks up the pace as needed, both songs pale next to Elvis’ studio efforts. “Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On” in particular has a completely different, watered-down arrangement compared to Elvis’ version from less than 3 years earlier.

22. An American Trilogy: Reportedly, when asked what kind of costume he wanted for the live broadcast, Elvis noted that he wanted something that said “America.” The custom-designed American Eagle jumpsuit fit the bill visually, while “An American Trilogy” sealed the deal on the musical side. This is both the climax of the show and the most impressive performance on the album. An argument could even be made that this moment was the climax of his career as well. Though not evident on the record, Elvis throws his jewel-studded belt into the audience shortly after this song.

23. A Big Hunk O’ Love: Serving as a bookend of sorts with the similar “Burning Love,” Elvis reaches back to 1958 for this hit and serves up a great rendition. If only he had treated his other classics with this respect for this show. “A Big Hunk O’ Love” provides a powerful rock ‘n’ roll ending for the live broadcast.

24. Can’t Help Falling In Love: Finally, Elvis closes out the show with a quick version of “Can’t Help Falling In Love.” It is not in the same league as his 1968 or 1969 live versions, but it almost does not matter at this point. The power of the overall concert wins out, and it ends in utter excitement. What a performer.

25. Blue Hawaii [Re-recording]: For the NBC version of the special, Elvis recorded several “insert” songs without an audience to extend the length of the special. This is a fine version of the title song to his 1961 movie Blue Hawaii.

26. Ku-U-I-Po [Re-recording]: The remaining songs on this CD were first released after Elvis’ death, on the 1978 album Mahalo From Elvis. Though they are technically outside of the parameters of Franklin Mint’s Elvis: The Complete Masters Collection, I am happy to have them as bonuses. This is a great re-recording of “Ku-U-I-Po” from Blue Hawaii.

27. No More [Re-recording]: Though recorded for the NBC version of the show, “No More” actually went unused. The visual portion of this performance was first released on DVD in 2004. This is another strong re-recording of a song from Blue Hawaii.

28. Hawaiian Wedding Song [Re-recording]: “Hawaiian Wedding Song” was featured in the finale of Blue Hawaii. Elvis does another good job on this re-recording. Perhaps he should have performed one or two of these Blue Hawaii songs during the actual concert. Why not drop “Welcome To My World” or “It’s Over” for one of these? (Other than the fact that the other two songs had never been released before by Elvis.)

29. Early Mornin’ Rain [Re-recording]: Though Elvis had first recorded it only two years earlier, this re-recording of “Early Mornin’ Rain” has a different vibe. I enjoy both versions. Again, this would have made a great number for the actual concert.

The sound is terrific, and so is the show. This will now become my go-to edition of Aloha From Hawaii.

* * *

I was about 13-years-old before my older brother would allow me to touch his record collection. As a small child, I had a bad habit of accidentally destroying his stuff (Star Trek posters, a trumpet, and pretty much anything else I could get my curious little hands on), so his records were off limits for a long time.

Of his fifty or sixty Elvis albums, the one I considered the most special was Aloha From Hawaii via Satellite. I was sure at the time that this was the greatest Elvis concert ever. Though I could name dozens of live recordings now that would top it, I did relive some of that youthful exuberance when listening to the Complete Aloha From Hawaii Concert. While I do not have the older release to compare, I am sure this album has never sounded better on CD.

* * *

With thirty-one CDs still to go, continue to look for future installments here on The Mystery Train Blog.


Read Part 4.

REVIEW: Elvis – The Complete Masters Collection (Part 2)

This is Part 2 of an ongoing series reviewing Elvis: The Complete Masters Collection. Read Part 1.


We haven’t finished the summer yet, folks, but why not take a break from the heatwave to enjoy a Christmas-themed review?

CD Vol. 4: Christmas With Elvis

Elvis: The Complete Masters Collection - Volume 4This volume of The Franklin Mint‘s 36-disc Elvis: The Complete Masters Collection (mastered by Vic Anesini) presents nearly all of the Christmas songs that Elvis released during his lifetime (a live version of “Blue Christmas” appears on a later disc).

Christmas With Elvis contains each of the Christmas songs featured on Elvis’ Christmas Album (1957), his 1966 Christmas single, and Elvis Sings The Wonderful World Of Christmas (1971).

01. Blue Christmas: I think of “Blue Christmas” as the “Hound Dog” of Elvis Christmas songs. It’s the one the general public most associates with him. It is an okay recording and certainly appropriate to kick off this CD. I wish it had less or no backing vocals, though. I much prefer his live versions from 1968. (Recorded: 1957)

02. White Christmas: “Blue Christmas” does not transition very well into “White Christmas,” but the compiler has once again taken the easy way out and confined the song sequencing of this disc to recording order. I’m actually not a huge fan of “White Christmas” by Elvis. For this one, my go-to versions tend to be those by The Drifters (whose 1954 recording inspired the Elvis one) or Burl Ives (1965). Incidentally, this track differs from the one released during Elvis’ lifetime in that a finger-snap near the beginning of the song has been omitted (5). I must admit, I would never have noticed such a small detail on my own. That’s the wonder of the For Elvis CD Collectors Forum. (1957)

03. Here Comes Santa Claus (Right Down Santa Claus Lane): You’ll be happy to know that no finger-snapping has been omitted from this terrific version of “Here Comes Santa Claus.” I love how Elvis swings some of the lyrics. (1957)

04. Silent Night: I probably would have saved “Silent Night” for the closer, but what a beautiful recording. For the gentle voice of a 22-year-old to convey this kind of passion and conviction speaks volumes about the faith of Elvis Presley. (1957)

05. O Little Town Of Bethlehem: On the other hand, Elvis’ version of “O Little Town Of Bethlehem” tends to wear on me a bit. Like “White Christmas,” it is an okay performance, but nothing special. Nat King Cole’s 1960 recording tends to be my go-to version of this one. (1957)

06. Santa Bring My Baby Back (To Me): It’s more finger-snapping fun on “Santa Bring My Baby Back.” What’s not to love? (1957)

07. Santa Claus Is Back In Town: Here it is, not only Elvis’ best Christmas song, but also one of his best blues numbers – right up there with 1960’s “Reconsider Baby.” When it comes to Elvis performances, they do not get much better than “Santa Claus Is Back In Town.” Incredible. (1957)

08. I’ll Be Home For Christmas: Elvis delivers yet another stunning performance on his classic version of “I’ll Be Home For Christmas.” This also would have worked as a great album closer. Sound quality is noticeably cleaner here than it was on 1994’s If Every Day Was Like Christmas CD, my previous source. (1957)

09. If Every Day Was Like Christmas: Recorded just a couple of weeks after the session that produced the How Great Thou Art album, the unique “If Every Day Was Like Christmas” makes me wish Elvis had recorded a few more Christmas tunes at this time. This one seems to have slightly more reverb than my previous source on the same 1994 CD. As I’ve not seen any experts make note of this, I assume this reflects the original release. (1966)

10. It Won’t Seem Like Christmas: Flash forward five years now to May 1971 and the sessions that produced Elvis Sings The Wonderful World Of Christmas, my favorite of his Christmas albums. I used to write off “It Won’t Seem Like Christmas” as too depressing for a Christmas song, but it has definitely grown on me over the years. (1971)

11. If I Get Home On Christmas Day: Though it covers much the same theme as “It Won’t Seem Like Christmas,” “If I Get Home On Christmas Day” sounds much more hopeful. A very enjoyable performance. (1971)

12. Holly Leaves And Christmas Trees: Written by Elvis’ longtime friend Red West, “Holly Leaves And Christmas Trees” takes its place among the best of Elvis’ Christmas recordings. (1971)

13. Merry Christmas Baby [Album Master]: While it does not quite meet the stature of “Santa Claus Is Back In Town,” “Merry Christmas Baby” is another solid blues take on the holiday season by Elvis. This studio jam ran for well over eight minutes, about 5:45 of which appeared on the Elvis Sings The Wonderful World Of Christmas album. The single version, edited to 3:15, does not appear in The Complete Masters Collection. (1971)

14. Silver Bells: Elvis delivers a fine rendition of “Silver Bells,” a Christmas classic. (1971)

15. I’ll Be Home On Christmas Day: Written by Michael Jarrett (“I’m Leavin'”), “I’ll Be Home On Christmas Day” is a perfect Christmas song for Elvis. I put this one just below “Santa Claus Is Back In Town” as his best Christmas recording ever. Really, one of his best-ever songs, period. It is always a highlight of any album on which it appears. (1971)

16. On A Snowy Christmas Night: Though it does not often get mentioned, I love “On A Snowy Christmas Night,” especially the reminder to “Give thanks for all that you’ve been blessed with and hold your loved ones tight.” (1971)

17. Winter Wonderland: For some reason, many Elvis fans criticize this performance of “Winter Wonderland.” Even Thomas over at Elvis Today Blog, with whom I almost always agree, called it “spiritless.” I don’t hear it that way at all. Perhaps some feel this song should remain in the territory of a performer like Johnny Mathis, whose 1958 version is horrible. For me, Elvis owns “Winter Wonderland” – particularly by adding on his signature ending style. This sounds exactly like “Winter Wonderland” as interpreted by Elvis should: Perfect. (1971)

18. O Come All Ye Faithful: “O Come All Ye Faithful” is the “Silent Night” of the second Christmas album and is just as effective. This is a great arrangement, too. I love the percussion leading into “Sing choirs of angels…” (1971)

19. The First Noel: While I would not call it “spiritless,” Elvis does begin to sound a bit tired on “The First Noel.” To continue the comparison, “The First Noel” is the “O Little Town Of Bethlehem” of the 1971 album. Good, but not great. (1971)

20. The Wonderful World Of Christmas: It is strange that “The Wonderful World Of Christmas,” the weakest song of the 1971 Christmas album session, became the title track. It also does not serve very well as the closing track here. (1971)

As I stated last time, since The Franklin Mint has chosen to theme their CDs anyway, I would have preferred the compiler put more thought into the sequencing. It is much easier to intermingle Elvis’ Christmas music from different decades than many of his other recordings (also true of his gospel music), so this is a missed opportunity on this CD.

However, Christmas With Elvis at least gathers his Christmas masters in one place. It’s really hard to go wrong with an Elvis Christmas CD and this one is no exception. With upgraded audio, I’m all set for the Christmas season in a few months.

* * *

In Part 1 of this review, I mentioned that I was planning to frame the reproduction of the 1954 SUN 45 “That’s All Right” b/w “Blue Moon Of Kentucky” that came with this set. Here are the results, and it looks beautiful.

SUN 209 Reproduction - Framed

I’ve just obtained an RCA vintage-1977 edition of “Way Down” b/w “Pledging My Love” to hang beneath it. Just waiting for the frame to arrive.

Well, that’s four CDs down and … wow … thirty-two to go. Continue to look for future installments here on The Mystery Train Blog. I hope to finish within the next eight or nine years.

Sources

(5) “Re: Complete Masters compared/contrasted with Franklin Mint” by Claus, For Elvis CD Collectors Forum, 2010.


Read Part 3.

REVIEW: Elvis – The Complete Masters Collection (Part 1)

A day long remembered

The package first arrived here 58 years to the day of Elvis Presley making his first record. However, I was not home to sign for it the afternoon of July 5. That would have been just too cool. Instead, on July 6, the special delivery successfully made its way inside my front door.

For over two years now, I have been living vicariously through reviews and other online postings of fellow fans who obtained either the budget-friendly Elvis: The Complete Masters Collection from The Franklin Mint or its rich cousin, Sony’s The Complete Elvis Presley Masters. Now, I can finally experience these masters for myself.

Background: A tale of two sets

Sony’s The Complete Elvis Presley Masters (2010) is a 30-CD set containing 711 master recordings and 103 “rarities” (alternates, informal recordings, rehearsals, etc.). It also includes a 240-page book and a massive, foldout display case. For the most part, songs are sequenced in the order in which Elvis recorded them. Sony’s premium release is, no doubt, a luxurious and finely packaged collection of Elvis music.

Franklin Mint’s Elvis: The Complete Masters Collection (2009) is a 36-CD set that contains the same 711 master recordings, but none of the rarities. It includes a 24-page booklet, a record-player-inspired display case, and a reproduction of Elvis’ first single, the SUN record “That’s All Right” backed with “Blue Moon of Kentucky.” Each of the CDs has a theme, so songs 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 more expensive Sony version has them inserted into the cardboard of the display case. Both sets are occasionally on sale, so if you are in the market for either one, be patient and avoid paying full price.

Decisions, decisions

Ultimately, once a good deal synched up with my budget, I chose the Franklin Mint set. I bought it well aware that the packaging and presentation would be lesser than that of the Sony set. “Never judge a book by its cover” is an adage I have long heeded. In this case, I decided to take a chance and hope that “Never judge a CD set by its packaging” would hold just as true.

For me, as always, it is all about the music. With this Franklin Mint set, I now have the identical 711 Elvis masters as presented on the Sony set. I have been buying Elvis CDs for over twenty years, so my music library already had nearly all of the masters in some form. Sound quality, mixes, and masterings vary widely in those two decades worth of CDs. My goal was to achieve a more uniform sound quality by upgrading my Elvis masters to Vic Anesini’s remastered versions from 2007.

Sony’s Elvis chief, Ernst Jorgensen, explains:

“In March of 2007 SONY decided to go through all Elvis masters […]. We retransferred everything [and] remastered all tracks including repairing as many clicks, pops, bad edits and dropouts as we could. Vic Anesini spent literally hundreds of hours on the project, as did Sebastian Jeansson, who worked as our audio consultant […] tirelessly pushing Vic and I to try new ways of improving the sound (1).”

Selections from the 2007 remasters have also appeared sporadically on other releases – including Elvis 75: Good Rockin’ Tonight, I Believe: The Gospel Masters, and various Legacy Edition releases. With some exceptions, I have attempted to avoid collecting these individual releases, as I have known I would eventually buy one of the full sets.

Most of the Anesini remasters feature the original mixes from Elvis’ lifetime. The most notable category of exceptions is that stereo mixes were favored over mono mixes for applicable 1960s and 1970s singles. I would love to hear a subsequent compilation with the original mono mixes to those singles. The mono singles released on the Legacy Edition of From Elvis In Memphis are terrific.

As with the masters, I already have all of the so-called “rarities” in my collection from other releases. Most reviews indicate that the sound upgrades on the rarities are negligible compared to that of the masters. Even with Sony’s larger set, the 711 masters are the real stars. [For the purposes of this discussion, I am going to defer to what Sony considers the 711 masters released during Elvis’ lifetime, rather than using my personal list.]

Elvis: The Complete Masters Collection (Booklet Cover)

Now that The Complete Masters Collection is finally here, what am I going to do with it? To quote Elvis, “Just play it, man, play the @!#?@! out of it!”

No doubt, my next mission is to play all 711 tracks, some 31 hours of music. The real question is, in what order should I listen? It would seem that I have at least three options:

  • Recording order (essentially synching with the Sony set)
  • Release order (based on his original albums and singles)
  • Thematic order (based on the Franklin Mint compilations)

Originally, I was leaning towards recording order. However, using my existing library, I have previously explored Elvis’ lifetime releases in both release order and recording order.

Instead, I have decided to “embrace the themes” for my first listen to this set. After all, I bought the Franklin Mint set, not the Sony set, so I want to try it out in the manner they presented before changing it around to suit my tastes. Besides, I think it will be fun to listen to these songs in such a non-standard way.

Originally, I did not plan to write a formal review of the set. First of all, it is nearly three years old. Most people have already made up their minds as to whether to buy this one. Second, properly reviewing a 36-CD set is a massive undertaking. The closest thing I have done to this before is reviewing 2006’s Superman: The Ultimate Collector’s Edition, a 14-DVD set. My eleven-part review took me nine months to complete. That’s right, it takes women the same amount of time to have babies as does for me to review a Superman DVD set.

Forget Superman, though. This is Elvis! Not only that, but the 2007 remastering effort rates among the top three or four most important Presley projects since his death in 1977. How could I not take a moment, or several, to review them on my little blog devoted to Elvis?

So, a couple of years late, but just as enthusiastic as I would have been back then, I now begin my review of Elvis: The Complete Masters Collection.

Packaging

The Franklin Mint set arrives relatively well-secured in a large white shipping box. The black display case comes bubble-wrapped and also surrounded in the box by four padded envelopes, labeled 1 through 4.

The first envelope contains the SUN record reproduction, the booklet, a needless certificate of authenticity, an equally needless welcome letter, and the first three CDs. Though I think this service is no longer available, Franklin Mint originally provided a subscription option for the set, where you could buy three CDs a month. Of course, the overall cost was more expensive that way. Since the first shipment to subscribers also included the display case and record, the first three discs are more like samplers with extremely short running times.

The subscription option also explains the relatively short running times of most other discs in the set. While the Sony set presents 814 tracks spread over 30 discs, the Mint spreads its 711 tracks over 36 discs. More discs meant the subscription lasted longer. The subscription model probably contributed as well to the decision to arrange the songs in themes rather than simply placing them in recording order. Otherwise, 1950s fans might have canceled out right after the last 1958 song, while 1970s fans may have tired of waiting to get to their favorite decade.

The remaining envelopes contain the other 33 discs. Each disc is housed in a lightweight card stock sleeve – reminiscent of the ones used in the ELVIS: The Complete ’68 Comeback Special CD set, but not as wide.

Each sleeve is individually shrink-wrapped. Unfortunately, two or three of the sleeves arrived with creases in them. I am not truly a “collector” as such, and the damage did not affect the actual CDs, so I was not concerned enough about this to request replacements, which I am sure Franklin Mint would have provided. Plus, I will not be upset when I inevitably damage one of the sleeves myself at some point since the set already has its first dents.

Though I know it has been criticized in some circles, I actually rather like the art design on Franklin Mint’s sleeve covers and disc labels. Incidentally, the back cover of each Franklin Mint CD sleeve includes RCA, Legacy, and Franklin Mint logos. Each disc contains the RCA and Legacy logos and is noted as a product of RCA/JIVE Label Group, a unit of Sony Music Entertainment.

Display case

Where's The Latch?

If only Franklin Mint had invested another few dollars into the display case, it might have been special. At a glance, it appears like a quality item. The “gold”-embossed depiction of a classic Elvis pose on top is perfect. Though it includes a carrying handle, the fatal flaw of the case is that it inexplicably has no latch to lock the top.

The Paper Record PlayerUnderneath the covers, things get worse. First, there is a faux record player illustration. Though I have no plans of leaving it there, the SUN 45 is apparently supposed to reside on it. Underneath this layer are the slotted compartments that house the CDs.

The CDs are difficult to place in the poorly-designed slots. The cheap slot trays also feel as if they could break away from the bottom of the display case at any moment. By the time I made it to disc 36, though, I finally had the hang of it.

CD BinThe display case could have been so much more with just an inexpensive tweak or two. Instead, it is barely functional. Fortunately, I do not plan to remove the original discs very often.

Booklet

The barebones booklet begins with a one-page, marketing-style introduction (uncredited). The remaining pages note the theme and track listings of each CD. Though this is probably the easiest way to find a specific song on the 36 discs, no one is buying this set in order to obtain this meager booklet. The booklet is noted as a product of Sony Music Entertainment.

45-RPM single

SUN 209 reproductionAs I said before, my interest in this set is about the music. What better way to represent the music of Elvis Presley than to include a wonderful reproduction of the very record that started it all? This is the closest I can come right now to owning SUN 209: “That’s All Right”/”Blue Moon Of Kentucky” by “Elvis Presley, Scotty and Bill.” Given the shortcomings of the rest of this set’s accessories, this incredible record is a welcome surprise. In fact, I like it so much that I have ordered a frame for it. Maybe someday I can swap out this reproduction for the real thing.

A brief note on sources

Before I begin the actual CD reviews, I want to acknowledge the spectacular coverage of Vic Anesini’s remastering efforts on these 711 tracks over on the For Elvis CD Collectors forum. Members elvissessions, luckyjackson1, Matthew, Claus, and others are far more knowledgeable than I am on the particulars of the Elvis masters. While the opinions I present are my own, I have consulted their observations many times over to expand the context of my listening experience. Here are links to some of the relevant threads:

CD Vol. 1: Songs Of The Fifties

Elvis: The Complete Masters Collection - Volume 1This volume gives a brief sampling of songs that Elvis recorded between 1954 and 1958. Appropriately, the image on the cover and CD is derived from his debut album, 1956’s Elvis Presley.

01. That’s All Right: And we’re off! This journey has a perfect beginning, too, with the A-Side of Elvis’ first record. There’s something special about “That’s All Right.” Though this was originally a blues number, you can hear the joy in his voice. (Recorded: 1954)

02. Heartbreak Hotel: Leaving the SUN years behind for now, the set now moves to the A-Side of Elvis’ first new record with RCA. I love Scotty Moore’s guitar solo on “Heartbreak Hotel,” segueing into Floyd Cramer on piano. (1956)

03. I Was The One: Flip “Heartbreak Hotel” over and you get one of my all-time favorites, “I Was The One.” You can definitely hear a new maturity in his voice here versus the raw SUN years. (1956)

04. Don’t Be Cruel: This is the A-Side of what was arguably his most popular single. In July 1956, with “Hound Dog” as the B-Side, Elvis fans must have had a hard time deciding which side of this record to play first. As for me, I’m definitely more of a “Don’t Be Cruel” kinda guy. Scotty Moore’s opening guitar lick sells this one right from the start. (1956)

05. When My Blue Moon Turns To Gold Again: Is it country? Is it rock ‘n’ roll? Does it matter? Though lesser known, “When My Blue Moon Turns To Gold Again” is one of those perfect “Elvis blend” songs, and his delivery oozes cool. (1956)

06. (There’ll Be) Peace In The Valley (For Me): While in the midst of a public controversy regarding rock ‘n’ roll, Elvis records a gospel EP – naturally. Though the song suffers from overexposure on too many compilations these days, “Peace In The Valley” features another stellar vocal performance from Elvis. (1957)

07. My Wish Came True: Six perfect songs in a row, and the title of this next tune reflects what I’m thinking. Unfortunately, though, the trend does not continue. Elvis receives much criticism for the overblown nature of some of his 1970s song arrangements, including the background vocalists. Overpowering background vocals on Elvis recordings did not begin in that decade, though, as evidenced by the positively obnoxious vocals of the Jordanaires and Millie Kirkham on “My Wish Came True.” I often wish for a “Jordanaires mute button,” but this is one of those times where I would like a “Millie Kirkham mute button,” too. A good song ruined. (1957)

08. Doncha’ Think It’s Time [Single Master]: It took me years to warm up to this song, but now I absolutely love it. This is Elvis at his coolest. Just listen to that laid-back, yet effective vocal. This is a case where a B-Side outshines the A-Side in terms of quality. (1958)

09. Wear My Ring Around Your Neck: What do you get when you take 45-seconds of mediocre song and repeat them three times? The boring “Wear My Ring Around Your Neck,” which was the A-Side of “Doncha’ Think It’s Time.” (1958)

10. I Got Stung: “I Got Stung” is a song that just tries too hard, bordering on parody at times. Notably, this is one of only five songs that Elvis formally recorded while in the Army. (1958)

While a very short CD, Songs Of The Fifties is comparable in length to albums of that time period (e.g., For LP Fans Only and 50,000,000 Elvis Fans Can’t Be Wrong). In the CD era, we have become accustomed to longer albums.

The disc does an effective job of presenting a high-level overview of his 1950s recordings, acting as a teaser for subsequent albums in the collection. It touches on the SUN era, his early RCA records, gospel, and his final professional recordings as he entered the Army. The only songs notably lacking are tunes from his first four movies. Sound quality is stellar throughout.

CD Vol. 2: Songs Of The Sixties

Elvis: The Complete Masters Collection - Volume 2This volume samples 1960 through 1969. The famous cover shot is from the 1968 ELVIS television special, though none of its songs feature in this volume.

01. It’s Now Or Never: Based on the Italian song “O Sole Mio,” “It’s Now Or Never” became one of Elvis’ big hits after he returned from the Army. A good song, though I much prefer “Are You Lonesome Tonight” from the same era. (1960)

02. Blue Hawaii: The set’s first movie song, “Blue Hawaii” features Elvis in fine form. (1961)

03. Good Luck Charm: “Good Luck Charm” is one of those simple but fun songs that would have been right at home in his 1950s repertoire. (1961)

04. (You’re The) Devil In Disguise: Here is a terrific, 40-second song. Rather than fully developing beyond that, however, it just repeats over and over until it is long enough to be a single. I love the clap-filled instrumental break near the end of this hit, though. “Devil In Disguise” is not one of his greatest, but it is definitely a fun song. (1963)

05. What’d I Say: Wow, this song finally sounds as wonderful as I remember it from the vinyl days! My previous CD source, 1993’s Double Features: Viva Las Vegas/Roustabout, sounds abysmal and often makes me avoid this song. This huge sound improvement has me playing this one over and over now. Incredible. Ray Charles owns the definitive version of “What’d I Say,” of course, but there’s still much of interest here in this performance for Elvis fans. They could have toned down the kazoo a touch for my tastes, though. (1963)

06. I’m Yours [Single Master]: The single version of “I’m Yours” is actually new to me. Unlike the version from Pot Luck, the single lacks Elvis’ harmony vocals and recitation overdubs. Background instrumentation ruins both versions of “I’m Yours.” I hardly ever play the album version, and I doubt this single version will get much play, either. Still, it is an interesting variant to finally have in my collection. Maybe it is the sound quality and the relative “newness,” but after repeated plays, this one seemed to grow on me a little. Incidentally, to this point in the collection, all of the tracks within a particular themed CD have been presented in recording order. “I’m Yours” is the first that is out of sequence. I assume the compiler moved it here as a buffer so that the “dirty” “What’d I Say” would not have to transition right into the gospel “How Great Thou Art.” (1961)

07. How Great Thou Art: Elvis creates a true masterpiece with “How Great Thou Art,” one of his most beautiful recordings. The How Great Thou Art album went on to earn Elvis his first Grammy. I consider this session the opening round of the comeback. (1966)

08. I’ll Remember You: I first knew “I’ll Remember You” from the live version on Aloha From Hawaii. In fact, I wrongly thought for years that it was one of the “new” songs for that show. When From Nashville To Memphis came out in 1993, the studio version was a revelation to me. In addition to Elvis’ smooth vocals, I love Buddy Harman’s tympani work on this. (1966)

09. In The Ghetto: Hot off the heels of the ELVIS special, Elvis returned to the studio and the top of the charts. Though I prefer the alternate takes with simpler backgrounds, “In The Ghetto” is a classic not to be missed. (1969)

10. Kentucky Rain: “Kentucky Rain” is country, Elvis style, and another of his best-ever recordings. Listen to that musical “thunder” – reminiscent of “How Great Thou Art,” actually. (1969)

Elvis recorded more songs in the 1960s than any other decade. It is difficult to cover such a broad range of material with only 10 songs. Given that limitation, Songs Of The Sixties is effective. While the first disc started with a bang and ended with a fizzle, this one starts with a fizzle and ends with a bang.

CD Vol. 3: Songs Of The Seventies

Elvis: The Complete Masters Collection - Volume 3You folks are pretty smart, so I bet you have already guessed that Songs Of The Seventies provides a sampling of songs Elvis recorded in the 1970s.

01. You Don’t Have To Say You Love Me: What a poor choice of song to begin this CD. Unfortunately, it seems the compiler continues to feel compelled to go in recording order within the confines of each disc. Why not take advantage of the theme concept and be a little more creative? That being said, “You Don’t Have To Say You Love Me” is a fine performance. It just should not be the leadoff track. (1970)

02. Love Letters [Re-recording]: This is not one of my favorite songs, no matter the version. I usually give this re-recording of “Love Letters” a slight edge over Elvis’ 1966 original, though. (1970)

03. Patch It Up: This is the version of “Patch It Up” that should have been included on the original That’s The Way It Is album, rather than the comparatively weak live performance. Great song. (1970)

04. We Can Make The Morning: This stunning performance is all too often overlooked. “We Can Make The Morning” starts out as a quiet, unassuming song and builds into a powerful vocal showcase. (1971)

05. Where Do I Go From Here: “”Where Do I Go From Here” is a good, but ultimately unremarkable, performance. Using these lyrics, I think Story Without Meaning would make a good album title, though. (1972)

06. Burning Love: How can the compiler include “Burning Love” on this CD and not use it as the leadoff track? Anyway, this is the song that proved to doubters that Elvis could still rock in the 1970s. “Burning Love” is one of those all-time classics that I just have to crank up each time it comes on. The mix on this is awesome, too! (1972)

07. It’s A Matter Of Time: Turn “Burning Love” over and you get its flipside, “It’s A Matter Of Time.” This is an okay song that works well as a B-Side. It offers pleasant enough support without overshadowing the A-Side. Oddly, this 10-song compilation includes a full half of the cuts released during Elvis’ lifetime from this 1972 studio session. Why not space them out a bit? (1972)

08. Raised On Rock: I searched for this song for years when I was growing up. I assumed it would be a rocker in the same vein as “Burning Love.” When I finally found a used 45 of it, I realized, boy, was I wrong. Ironically, “Raised On Rock” sounds more like country than rock ‘n’ roll. It is an all right song, but not one that I play too often. As Elvis once said, “That don’t move me.” (1973)

09. Promised Land: Unfortunately, this track begins with a flaw. The first split-second of “Promised Land” is missing. On FECC, this has been referred to as the “missing initial cowbell strike” (2), though I believe the beginning of the guitar lick is also chopped. I wondered if an absent cowbell strike would really make a difference for someone like me, who is not an audiophile. Now that I can play the track on my own system, yes, it is very obvious that the song starts in progress, and it does ruin the beginning of “Promised Land.” Sony corrected the issue in time for the subsequent pressing of the 4-CD set Elvis 75: Good Rockin’ Tonight. However, unbelievably, Sony issued its premium The Complete Elvis Presley Masters over ten months later with this error again present on “Promised Land” (3). Apparently, the “glass master” used to create the CD had already been finalized for that release well in advance (4). For one of Elvis Presley’s best performances, of any decade, I find this completely unacceptable – particularly on a premium release like the Sony set. In reality, they should have fixed this one on both sets. For what it is worth, the rest of the track sounds terrific. You will want to source it from Good Rockin’ Tonight, though. Can you imagine if the first split-second of “Don’t Be Cruel” had been chopped off? I guarantee, glass master or not, this would have been fixed. For me, “Promised Land” should be treated the same way. In fact, I personally like “Promised Land” more than “Don’t Be Cruel.” A sacrilege, I know. (1973)

10. Bringin’ It Back: “Bringin’ It Back” is one of Elvis’ most modern-sounding recordings. This beautiful song is my absolute favorite of the Hollywood sessions that produced Elvis Today. (1975)

And with that, the disc ends . . . because, as we all know, Elvis did not record anything after 1975. Oh wait! That’s right, the 1976 Graceland sessions and the 1977 live recordings have been snubbed on Songs Of The Seventies.

Out of the three sampler discs, this one seems the most haphazard – as if the compiler really did not “get” Elvis in the 1970s. Overall, it is a disappointing disc – made worse by the error on “Promised Land.”

Speaking of “Promised Land,” why would someone include both “Promised Land” and “Burning Love” on the same disc of a 36-CD collection? Elvis recorded so few rockers in the studio in the 1970s, yet two of them are used up right off the bat here on a 10-song CD. “Promised Land” (complete with the first cowbell strike) should have been saved for a later disc, while a much more representative 10-song sampler for the 1970s should have been compiled.

Though not as cohesive as the first two volumes, Songs Of The Seventies manages to work only because of the strong Elvis performances.

* * *

What is really important here, though, is not the thematic song selections or the sequencing, but the sound, the sound, the sound. Sometimes, I wish I were an audiophile, because I might be able to more effectively communicate to you how incredible it is to hear all of these songs – recorded over a span of some 21 years – in such a uniform and pristine sound quality.

However, I am not going to lie to you. While I could tell at least a slight difference on most songs, on some songs, I could not hear any difference compared to my existing CD versions from 2006 or earlier. To an extent, the point of these masters is to duplicate the sound of the original releases from Elvis’ lifetime. With that in mind, it is probably to be expected that there is not a huge difference on every single track. In addition, I am sure my amateur ears are missing many subtleties.

For me, the most striking upgrade so far is “What’d I Say.” I just keep playing that one. It is like rediscovering an old friend.

“Rediscovering old friends,” maybe that best sums up being on this new journey through Elvis’ complete masters. Look for future installments here on The Mystery Train Blog.

Sources

(1) “Re: ISRCs ‘Franklin Mint Set’ (Selected Discs Only)” by Ernst Jørgensen, For Elvis CD Collectors Forum, 2009.
(2) “Re: Complete Masters compared/contrasted with Franklin Mint” by elvissessions, For Elvis CD Collectors Forum, 2010.
(3) “Re: … and the BEST about the SONY BOX is … CONTINUED…” by luckyjackson1, For Elvis CD Collectors Forum, 2010.
(4) “Re: Out of a possible 10 – Rate the Complete Elvis Masters Box?” by Matthew, For Elvis CD Collectors Forum, 2011.


Read Part 2.