“Elvis Song Of The Year” for 2013

According to iTunes, out of 3,572 unique Elvis tracks in my collection, the one I played most often in 2013 was “Stay Away,” the flip side of “U.S. Male” in 1968. I played the track 22 times.

Based on the traditional melody of “Greensleeves,” which also inspired the 19th century Christmas classic “What Child Is This,” “Stay Away” played over the opening titles of Stay Away, Joe, Elvis’ 26th movie.

Considering how little time I have had for this blog lately, “Stay Away” indeed seems like the perfect Elvis song to represent 2013 for me.

Stay Away (1968)

Stay Away (1968)

I listened to 8,499 Elvis songs using iTunes or my iPods in 2013 (including duplicates). That is an average of 23 Elvis songs a day. I listened to 2,353 different Elvis tracks during the year.

Out of 3,700 non-Elvis tracks in my collection, my most played piece in 2013 was Michael Giacchino’s “Spock Drops, Kirk Jumps,” from his 2013 Star Trek Into Darkness film score. I played that one 26 times.

Among vocal performances, the non-Elvis track I played most was 2008’s “All I Want” by Darius Rucker (20 plays), from his Learn To Live album.

Overall, I listened to 12,629 songs using iTunes or my iPods this year. That works out to 35 songs a day.

* * *

Thank you for reading. May 2014 be your best year yet!

iTunes Speedway: Race for the Elvis Cup

Elvis Presley is Steve Grayson in SPEEDWAY (1968)

Elvis Presley is Steve Grayson in SPEEDWAY (1968, MGM)

On the iTunes Speedway

Ever since I finished backing up all of my Elvis music to iTunes, I have been wanting to do some number-crunching. I usually rate a song when I first place it on iTunes, using the built-in star ratings of 1-5 (I reserve 0 stars to mean “not yet rated”). I then update the rating, if necessary, whenever the track plays.

For updates, I only allow myself to move the song one star rating in either direction per play. That way, if I am in an extremely bad or good mood, it will not overly influence the rating of a given song.

I now have nearly five years worth of data about how I really feel about the songs within my Elvis collection. This will allow me to determine which individual years and multi-year spans are truly my favorites, at least according to the numbers.

My Picks

Before crunching those numbers, though, I used my heart to answer some basic questions. I thought this would make for an interesting comparison against the iTunes race results.

Favorite Elvis Year: 1970
Top Five Elvis Years: 1970, 1968, 1969, 1957, 1955
Favorite 5-year Elvis Span: 1968-1972
Elvis Decade Ranking: 1970s, 1950s, 1960s

Race for the Elvis Cup: The Rules

For this analysis, I eliminated any years for which I had less than 40 Elvis tracks. This resulted in the removal of 1953 (2 tracks) and 1959 (19 tracks). I also eliminated all non-musical tracks (e.g., “Introductions By Elvis,” “Elvis Talks”).

For each of the remaining 23 years, I determined the average star rating for all applicable tracks. I also determined the percentage of tracks from that year that earned a perfect 5-star rating. For instance, the results for 1956 were:

Total Tracks: 164
Average Rating: 3.91 (out of 5)
Perfect 5-star Tracks: 40.24%

The year with the highest average rating received 23 points on down to the year with the lowest average rating, which received 1 point. I then applied this same logic down the line by year for the percentage rankings for perfect 5-star tracks.

This gave each year a score ranging from a low of 2 to a high of 46. However, there were several ties down the line. The tie-breakers were:

1.) Average Rating (i.e., the tied year with the highest average rating wins the position)
2.) (If necessary) Perfect 5-Star Tracks (i.e., the year with the highest 5-star tracks percentage wins the position)

Victory Lane

The results were interesting. Leading the pack was the year 1968, with a perfect score of 46 points.

Nearly 85% of the Elvis tracks I had from 1968 were connected to the ELVIS television special project in some way, so that definitely helped stack the deck. Among them were “If I Can Dream,” one of my all-time favorite songs, and other tracks from Memories: The ’68 Comeback Special, a stellar album that includes the full June 27, 6 PM “Sit Down” show.

Top Five Elvis Years
#1 1968 (46 points)
#2 1970 (43 points, wins 2nd position over 1969 on Average Rating tie-breaker)
#3 1969 (43 points)
#4 1967 (38 points)
#5 1955 (37 points, wins 5th position over 1957 on Average Rating tie-breaker)

The real surprise for me was 1967 making the Top Five. Highlights for 1967 included the September sessions in Nashville that produced standouts like “Guitar Man,” “You’ll Never Walk Alone,” and “You Don’t Know Me.” In fact, alternate takes from that session, many of which are collected on FTD’s Elvis Sings Guitar Man, helped propel 1967 ahead due to the number of five-star ratings.

1965 came in last place, with a minimal score of 2 points (no surprise there). I was surprised that 1977 (5 points) was not able to overtake 1964 (8 points) and wound up as Elvis’ second-worst year.

5-Year Mission

I was also interested in determining my favorite 5-year span. As noted above, I usually say my favorite Elvis time period is 1968-1972, with 1954-1958 running a close second. How did the numbers match against my picks?

To my surprise, it turned out that my favorite 5-year Elvis span was actually 1966-1970, which came in at a whopping 198 points. 1968-1972 earned a collective 183 points, while 1954-1958 came in at 146 points. In other words, this race was not even close.

I often state that the opening salvos of Elvis’ comeback were actually fired in 1966 during the How Great Thou Art sessions, so perhaps I should have seen this coming. 1969 included the Memphis sessions that produced “Suspicious Minds,” “Kentucky Rain,” and “In The Ghetto,” his return to live performances, and even a strong soundtrack on the Change of Habit film. 1970 featured the That’s The Way It Is project, including the Nashville sessions, the summer rehearsals, and the August live performances.

The five-year span that earned the least points was 1961-1965, with a combined total of only 50, barely more than the single year of 1968.

Elvis Decades

Now, to answer that age-old question, what is your favorite Elvis decade? Though 1964 and 1965 are hard to love, I otherwise enjoy Elvis’ entire career. When pressed, however, I state that my favorite decade is the 1970s. What did the numbers say?

Again, they proved me wrong. The 1950s won out, with an average of 29.2 points. Second place was the 1970s, well behind at an average of 22.88 points. This barely edged out the 1960s, which had an average of 22.3 points.

Elvis professionally recorded during only five years in the 1950s, and the quality of his output was much more consistent in that time than in the 1960s and 1970s. The 1970s were brought way down by outliers like 1977 (5 points) and 1974 (10 points), while the same occurred for the 1960s with 1965 (2 points), 1962 (8 points), and 1964 (8 points). However, even the 1950s had its own outlier of 1958 (10 points).

Awarding the Elvis Cup

The analytical side of my personality loved reviewing these numbers. The emotional side of me, though, still believes that 1970 is my favorite Elvis year, no matter what iTunes says.

For me, feelings always rule out in the end, so the Elvis Cup is hereby awarded to 1970, the reigning champion.

3,510: An Elvis Obsession

In 2008, I obtained my first iPod. I didn’t think much would come of it because I mostly listened to CDs. Once I had that iPod in my hands, though, an obsession slowly took hold. I found that listening to Elvis in shuffled mode gave me a much broader view of his career than simply relying on whatever CD I happened to spin. Over time, it also allowed me to rediscover songs from CDs that I otherwise did not play very often.

I have been collecting Elvis music since 1987 and have purchased hundreds of his CDs. The iPod has allowed me to truly experience the power of that collection, rather than just having it sit on a shelf.

In iTunes, I created a series of smart playlists to make various shuffle themes for my iPod. I think of these as my own private radio stations. They are not completely random, as I build out the smart playlists with certain rules.

For example, one of the rules in my Elvis Mix avoids 1-star songs. I only want to hear those in the context of their original albums.

In my Best Mix, I have Elvis set to play about 10% of the time. Otherwise, he would dominate that list due to how many Elvis songs I have. I also control the percentages of songs in certain genres that play. I tweaked this through the years until I made a Best Mix shuffle that suits my quirky taste.

Over time, I slowly began backing up more of my Elvis collection to iTunes. By May 2010, I had over 1,200 Elvis songs in iTunes for my iPod. This included the 711 masters released during his lifetime. At that point, rather than continuing to pick and choose from my CDs, I decided to go back and back up every unique track from every Elvis CD I owned.

I began on June 1, 2010, and figured I would be finished by the end of that year.

I finished yesterday, March 15, 2013.

This extended time period was not due to lack of diligence on my part. In fact, if anything, I have been too diligent. With only a few breaks, this has consumed more of my spare time over the last few years than I care to admit. Other things that I could have been doing, such as writing, have suffered.

So, why did it take me so long? For one thing, it turns out that I have many more Elvis songs than I realized.

I also did not simply throw in each CD, allow iTunes to look up the track names, and be done with it. If only it had been that easy. The first feature I turned off was the auto-look-up of track names, because I found this often had errors or formatting inconsistencies. Instead, I hand-typed all of that stuff in. If there were going to be errors, at least they would be my errors.

iTunes "Get Info" window

iTunes “Get Info” window

For each song, I researched its first album appearance and other tidbits, such as recording location and take number. For this, I primarily used the comprehensive Elvis Recording Data/Session Notes section of the Elvis In Norway site.

For live songs and other tracks without clean breaks in between, I added fade-ups and fade-downs. I also removed any uninteresting “false starts” and chatter from studio outtake/alternate tracks. When a false start proved to be of interest, I split it out to its own separate track.

Along the way, I also replaced those 711 core masters with new versions in better sound quality.

After all of that, I have 3,510 unique Elvis tracks, representing nearly 160 hours of music.

In an amazing coincidence that I really cannot believe, it turns out that I also have exactly 3,511 non-Elvis tracks backed up to iTunes, representing 208 more hours of music. I have often said Elvis represents about half of the tracks on my iPod, but I had no idea that was so precise. Over time, the non-Elvis tracks will likely grow at a faster rate now than the Elvis ones, though. [However, I am not going to start a similar project for my non-Elvis CDs. Never again.]

To keep my smart playlists working the way I like, I also rated each track. The analytical side of me has all kinds of number-crunching ideas around this, but here is a fun breakdown for starters:

  • 5 Stars: 938 tracks (27%) [example: “Always On My Mind” (1972)]
  • 4 Stars: 909 tracks (26%) [example: “It’s Now Or Never” (1960)]
  • 3 Stars: 853 tracks (24%) [example: “Love Me Tender” (1956)]
  • 2 Stars: 556 tracks (16%) [example: “Wear My Ring Around Your Neck” (1958)]
  • 1 Star: 254 tracks (7%) [example: “A Dog’s Life” (1966)]

It astonishes me that, thanks to my iPod, I can now fit the entirety of my Elvis music collection in the palm of my hand. I can literally take it with me anywhere and listen to any song at any time.

Elvis in iTunes

Elvis in iTunes

With those 3,510 tracks, I could listen to Elvis for six days straight, without sleeping, and never hear a repeated track.

I would never do that, though. I am not that obsessive of a person.

The fact that my next post will be coming out in about six days is a complete coincidence.


“Elvis Song Of The Year” for 2012

There are still a few hours left in 2012, so I’m going to squeeze in one last post for you this year.

Live In VegasAccording to iTunes, out of 2,953 unique Elvis tracks, the one I played most often this year was “Mystery Train/Tiger Man,” as released on FTD’s 2011 CD Live In Vegas: August 26, 1969 Dinner Show. I played the track an astounding 26 times.

I listened to 7,935 Elvis songs using iTunes or my iPods in 2012 (including duplicates). That’s an average of 22 Elvis songs a day.

Out of 3,364 non-Elvis tracks, my most played song this year was “She Never Cried In Front Of Me” by Toby Keith, from his 2008 album That Don’t Make Me A Bad Guy. I played that one 17 times.

Believe it or not, this actually marks the first year since I started keeping track in 2009 that an Elvis song was my most-played recording. I sent many of the play counts for tracks in my 100 Greatest Elvis Presley Songs Of All Time list into the stratosphere when I played them repeatedly to determine the rankings.

Overall, I listened to 13,499 songs using iTunes or my iPods this year. That works out to 37 songs a day. That is actually down significantly from 55 songs a day last year. However, CD and vinyl spins are obviously not captured in these totals. Lately, I’ve been playing more CDs and vinyl.

Sure, this post was a little self-indulgent . . . but aren’t they all? See you in 2013!

“Elvis Song Of The Year” for 2011

Burning Love (1972)According to iTunes, out of 2,564 Elvis tracks, the one I played most often this year was: “Burning Love,” his 1972 single.

I listened to 10,023 Elvis songs using iTunes or my iPod in 2011 (including duplicates). That’s an average of 27 Elvis songs a day.

Out of 3,225 non-Elvis tracks, my most played song this year was: “Sweet Dreams” by Beyoncé, from her 2008 album I Am… Sasha Fierce.

Overall, I listened to 19,917 songs using iTunes or my iPod this year. That works out to 55 songs a day. My daily average in the last two years was about 44. The increase is probably due to this year having the capability to play my iPod in the car.

When I first started this blog, I mentioned that the soundtrack of my life was powered by Elvis. I’m happy to say, that hasn’t changed.

ilEvs (Shuffled Elvis)

Over on The Sheila Variations blog, Sheila states, “It’s very weird to listen to [Elvis] on Shuffle. It’s vaguely schizophrenic, the material is often wildly uneven, but there is also a thruline which is his voice and also – I guess I would call it joy. He seems happy to be doing what he’s doing” (“Elvis Shuffle” — The Sheila Variations).

Although Elvis is not always a primary topic there, The Sheila Variations has featured many insightful Elvis posts lately. It’s always great to see Elvis-related posts on non-Elvis blogs. Be sure to check this one out, for both the Elvis and non-Elvis content.

As for me, I happen to do much of my Elvis listening in shuffled mode these days. I didn’t always listen this way, but the iPod Age has no doubt caused this habit to evolve in me.

Except when first experiencing a new album, I don’t often play Elvis in context anymore. Maybe it’s because I’ve heard the material in context so many times before, but I find that shuffling Elvis is a powerful way to get into his entire career without getting stuck on “I only like the 50s” or “I only like the 70s,” etc.

For instance, I just can’t take twenty or thirty of his 1960s movie tunes in a row. If instead sprinkling them among other songs I enjoy, though, I often pick up on a great movie song I may otherwise have missed (“Anyone” comes to mind, though that revelation actually came about during an all-artists shuffle).

Of course, the control freak side of me does not allow this to be completely random. I’ve got a series of smart playlists I use in order to carefully plan this randomness. More about that some other time. In fact, it’s been on my list of future articles for well over a year now! Maybe someday, I’ll actually write it.

Pieces of our lives: A look at modern Elvis fans

The Elvis Today Blog (book)
By Thomas Melin
274 pp. Blurb. $9.95

The Elvis Today Blog (2011)

The Elvis Today Blog (2011)

Full Disclosure: I wrote a guest post for the Elvis Today Blog back in 2009, and it appears in this book (p. 224). The last thing I want to do is start reviewing my own material, though, so the following review covers the other 99% of this compilation.

Don’t let the title of this book fool you. The Elvis Today Blog is not a book about an Elvis site. Without a doubt, The Elvis Today Blog is a book about Elvis.

However, it turns out that The Elvis Today Blog is also a book about us – modern Elvis fans.

By relating his personal experiences, author Thomas Melin crafts a unique volume that follows the triumphs and trials of being an Elvis fan in the post-1977 era.

“Sometimes it just hits me how much I love Elvis music and what a great feeling I get from listening to it,” writes Melin in “The Wonder Of Elvis” (p. 56), one of his best entries. “On the highway I put the fourth CD from the Today, Tomorrow & Forever box set in the car stereo and there was ‘See See Rider’ from February 1970 blasting through the speakers. It’s hard to explain what I felt, but I remember thinking ‘Man, I’m gonna listen to Elvis and his music until the very day I die,'” he states.

A major contribution of The Elvis Today Blog is the “Special Moments With FTD” series, Melin’s focus on specific songs released on Sony’s Follow That Dream collectors label for Elvis fans:

  • “Love Me Tender,” Dixieland Rocks (1975) – p. 65
  • “The Sound Of Your Cry,” The Nashville Marathon (1970) – p. 78
  • “You’ll Never Walk Alone,” So High (1967) – p. 92
  • “Mexico,” Out In Hollywood (1963) – p. 107
  • “It’s Easy For You,” The Jungle Room Sessions (1976) – p. 116
  • “Hey Little Girl,” Out In Hollywood (1965) – p. 182
  • “I Just Can’t Help Believin’,” One Night In Vegas (1970) – p. 182
  • “My Boy,” Dixieland Rocks (1975) – p. 183
  • “Young And Beautiful,” Elvis On Tour: The Rehearsals (1972) – p. 238
  • “Suspicious Minds,” Memphis Sessions (1969) – p. 265

Most notable of the above entries are those dealing with “You’ll Never Walk Alone,” “It’s Easy For You,” and “Suspicious Minds,” where the author uses powerful descriptions to take you inside the various studios to watch Elvis at work.

Modern Elvis fans aren’t just listening to records and CDs, though. They also enjoy listening to Elvis on their iPods or other portable music devices. “I too like buying and collecting CD’s, reading the liner notes and listening to the tracks on my stereo. But that doesn’t stop me from downloading the music into my iPod and taking it with me whenever I’m traveling somewhere. To me, that’s the real benefit of owning an iPod, that I always have access to the Elvis Presley catalog, wherever I happen to be,” Melin says (“Ku-u-i-pod,” p. 37).

I don’t normally comment on cover design and page layout of books (unless they are awful), but these elements by Staffan Melin, a brother of the author, warrant special mention. The cover is a creative take-off of the 1975 Elvis Today album cover. The interior page layout makes for easy reading, featuring the Deja Vu Serif Condensed font. Kudos to the designer.

It’s no secret that I’m a huge fan of the web version of the Elvis Today Blog. In fact, I often find inspiration there, and the Mystery Train Elvis Blog would probably not exist in its present form without the Elvis Today Blog’s influence. It has been a joy rediscovering favorite or forgotten posts as I read them in book format.

Needless to say, I’m hoping that Melin releases additional volumes of his Elvis works. One enhancement suggestion I have for the next volume would be to include an index, to make it easier to find all of the references to certain topics. If that could not be done on a large scale, it seems that at least the Labels feature in use on the web version could be converted into a short index for the book version.

Another way to enhance future volumes would be if Melin included supplemental information that was not part of the original blog posts. Using an example from this book, he mentions meeting drummer DJ Fontana (p. 28), who shared some Elvis stories with him. Maybe one or two of those stories could be noted as bonus content.

Those are just minor suggestions, though. The Elvis Today Blog is not only a great book about Elvis, but an essential examination of contemporary Elvis fandom. Highly recommended.