2020 Songs of the Year

Thank you for riding The Mystery Train. Welcome to 2021!

Every year at about this time, I like to unleash my analytical side on my digital music data.

According to iTunes, out of 4,797 Elvis Presley tracks in my digital collection, the one I played most often in 2020 across all devices was a live recording of “Mystery Train/Tiger Man” from the August 22, 1969, Midnight Show in Las Vegas, Nevada, as released on Disc 3 of Elvis Live 1969. I played this rockin’ track 17 times, making it my fifth-most played song of the year overall. Here it is on YouTube:

Credit: Elvis Presley channel (YouTube)

I listened to 7,059 Elvis songs on my devices in 2020 (including duplicates). That is an average of 19 Elvis songs a day. I listened to 2,221 different Elvis tracks during the year.

One of 6,454 non-Elvis tracks in my collection, my most played song overall in 2020 was Jesus Culture‘s “Break Every Chain,” with lead vocals by Kristene DiMarco. Featured on the 2011 album Awakening – Live From Chicago, this live recording played 27 times on my various devices this year. Again from YouTube, here it is:

Credit: Jesus Culture channel (YouTube)

The other three songs that beat out Elvis in number of plays in 2020 for me were:

  • It Is Well With My Soul” by Bethel Music, also featuring lead vocals by DiMarco, Live At The Civic: You Make Me Brave, 2014, 21 plays.
  • Oh Happy Day” by The Edwin Hawkins Singers, Let Us Go Into The House Of The Lord, 1968, 18 plays.
  • Burn The Ships” by for KING & COUNTRY, Burn The Ships, 2018, 18 plays.

Overall, I listened to 11,650 recordings using my digital devices this year. That works out to 32 songs a day. I listened to 4,621 different tracks during the year.

2020 was a challenging year for everyone, full of surprises. As a new year dawns, I pray that all of you have health, peace, and strength.


“I am about to do something new. See, I have already begun! Do you not see it? I will make a pathway through the wilderness. I will create rivers in the dry wasteland.”
Isaiah 43:19

A Squirrel Loose at the Big, Freaky International Hotel (Part 4: The Epic Conclusion) [Playlist Recipes #7]

This is the finale of a 4-part look at Sony’s 2019 Elvis Live 1969 boxed set, which contains all 11 concerts RCA recorded during Elvis Presley’s August 1969 engagement at the International Hotel in Las Vegas.

[Read Part 1 | Read Part 2 | Read Part 3]

To paraphrase Elvis, there ain’t no end to this post, baby! I have committed not to push this review to five parts, however, as to move on to other topics next week.

That said, I still want to delve into some song and show specifics for the 1969 engagement, so today’s post is going to run long, amounting to a double ride. No extra charge. To help with this portion of the discussion, my analytical side provided the following infochart.

Elvis Presley Summer 1969 Setlists Infochart | Click image for larger version | Compiled by Tygrrius

Though not part of the 11-CD Elvis Live 1969 boxed set, which focuses on RCA’s multitrack recordings, I included the informal soundboard recording from the early days of the engagement for reference as well. To date, its only official CD release as a more-or-less “full” show remains FTD’s The Return To Vegas. It would have made a great bonus disc on the Elvis Live 1969 set, as the overall feel of this show is slightly different than a few weeks later, and it even features an extended version of “Mystery Train” and a couple of alternate arrangements. Perhaps it was a cost-saving measure.

Anyway, focusing on the 11 shows that RCA recorded, Elvis performed 13 of the songs every single night – most of which formed the beginning and end of the shows. Of these, the strongest are “Suspicious Minds,” “Can’t Help Falling In Love,” “Runaway,” “In The Ghetto,” “Blue Suede Shoes,” and “All Shook Up.” With the studio version released as a single during this engagement and destined to become Elvis’ last number one hit, “Suspicious Minds” is particularly stunning. The 1969 live version stands as an incredible example of how Elvis reinvented his sound for these shows.

Most disappointing among the core songs are “Jailhouse Rock/Don’t Be Cruel” and “Baby, What You Want Me To Do.” “Jailhouse Rock” pales in comparison to the 1957 studio master as well as the 1968 live master. Both it and “Baby, What You Want Me To Do” notably lack the raw power and punch of the ELVIS television special performances from the previous summer. Understandably, there is a difference between performing 4 shows in 2 nights for a television special versus 57 shows in 29 nights for this Vegas engagement. Elvis no doubt needed to save his voice, but these performances in particular come up short.

Though many others are nearly as good, the one song Elvis improves in 1969 over his 1968 rendition is the “Tiger Man” portion of “Mystery Train/Tiger Man,” fueled by James Burton on lead guitar and Ronnie Tutt on drums. Like “Suspicious Minds,” the powerhouse “Mystery Train/Tiger Man” is a true highlight of this engagement. Unfortunately, Elvis drops it in favor of “Johnny B. Goode” for a couple of the shows. Now, one of those “Johnny B. Goode” performances was quite incredible and made it onto Elvis In Person, but I wish Elvis had dropped something else on those two occasions to make room for it, such as “Runaway.” That is no slam on “Runaway,” which I absolutely love and is among the highlights of the engagement for me.

A better substitution that Elvis provides on four nights is replacing the weak “Memories” with “I Can’t Stop Loving You.” I enjoy the studio versions of “Memories,” as recorded for the 1968 ELVIS special, but it just never worked live.

Additional highlights of the overall 11-concert span include three performances of “My Babe” and several of “Are You Lonesome Tonight.”

Of the one-off songs, the only one that really stands out from a performance perspective is “Reconsider Baby,” the blues song that Elvis returned to time and again over the years. “Rubberneckin’,” “Inherit The Wind,” and the abysmal “This Is The Story” are notable solely because these are the only live versions available. “Rubberneckin'” would have worked better with an arrangement closer to the funky studio master.

Though released as a limited edition 2-record set earlier in 2019, the August 23 Dinner Show makes its CD debut here. Not a single performance had previously been released on CD from this show – the only such concert on the set. The show is also unusual in that the Imperials backing group is not present, leaving full duties to the Sweet Inspirations – my preference, anyway. The show features exceptional versions of “Mystery Train/Tiger Man,” “Are You Lonesome Tonight,” “I Got A Woman,” and “What’d I Say” – the last of which benefits from a shorter rendition than the other shows.

“I had sideburns. Long hair. Fourteen years ago, it was weird. You think it’s weird now? Fourteen years ago, I couldn’t walk around the street: ‘Get him! Get him! […] He’s a squirrel.’ So I was […] shaking. In fact, that’s how I got in this business was shaking. It may be how I get out of it, too.”
–Elvis Presley, 1969

Four weeks ago now, I decided to write a post where I would share what I consider the best version of every song that RCA recorded during the Summer 1969 engagement. “I will kick it off by mentioning the Elvis Live 1969 boxed set from last year,” I thought – not intending to write a review. It would be a couple paragraphs and then the song list. Done. An easy post to warm up the engine of The Mystery Train Blog again.

Well, here we are, 4 weeks, 4 posts, and over 4,500 words later, and I am finally coming to the original intent of that very first post (after, of course, having written a rather haphazard review after all).

Before I backed up these shows to iTunes, I separated out the majority of the talking portions as their own tracks (oh, if only Sony would do this, it would save me so much time). This allows me to create playlists more focused on the music – which improves the 1969 experience to a huge degree. To an extent, you can replicate this by pressing skip at the end of most tracks, as Sony normally places all of the talking at the end of a track (even if that talking introduces the next song, another pet peeve of mine — but that’s why I just save them the way I want them).

Here is my “August 1969 Ultimate Show” playlist recipe for this concert engagement. As we just discussed, Elvis’ setlist varied to some extent each night, so no single show actually contained all of these songs.

Disc references are to the Elvis Live 1969 set, but of course, you could use any available previous release as well. This playlist clocks in at about 71 minutes, keeping in mind my iTunes versions of the tracks have most of the talking trimmed out to separate tracks.

  1. Opening Riff/Blue Suede Shoes (8/25/1969 Dinner Show [DS]) 2:36 (Disc 8)
  2. I Got A Woman (8/23/1969 DS) 3:05 (Disc 4)
  3. All Shook Up (8/26/1969 Midnight Show [MS]) 1:32 (Disc 11)
  4. Love Me Tender (8/26/1969 MS) 2:21 (Disc 11)
  5. Jailhouse Rock/Don’t Be Cruel (8/24/1969 DS) 2:12 (Disc 6)
  6. Heartbreak Hotel (8/24/1969 DS) 1:56 (Disc 6)
  7. Hound Dog (8/22/1969 DS) 1:48 (Disc 2)
  8. Memories (8/25/1969 DS) 2:50 (Disc 8)
  9. I Can’t Stop Loving You (8/25/1969 MS) 2:36 (Disc 9)
  10. My Babe (8/22/1969 MS) 2:00 (Disc 3)
  11. Mystery Train/Tiger Man (8/22/1969 MS) 3:21 (Disc 3)
  12. Johnny B. Goode (8/24/1969 MS) 2:10 (Disc 7)
  13. Baby, What You Want Me To Do (8/25/1969 MS) 1:52 (Disc 9)
  14. Funny How Time Slips Away (8/22/1969 MS) 2:21 (Disc 3)
  15. Surrender (8/21/1969 MS) 0:29 (Disc 1)
  16. Runaway (8/23/1969 MS) 2:16 (Disc 5)
  17. Loving You (8/23/1969 DS) 0:21 (Disc 4)
  18. Are You Laughing Tonight (8/26/1969 MS) 2:53 (Disc 11)
  19. Reconsider Baby (8/23/1969 MS) 3:28 (Disc 5)
  20. Words (8/24/1969 MS) 2:31 (Disc 7)
  21. Yesterday/Hey Jude (8/25/1969 DS) 4:15 (Disc 8)
  22. Inherit The Wind (8/26/1969 DS) 2:52 (Disc 10)
  23. Rubberneckin’ (8/26/1969 MS) 2:21 (Disc 11)
  24. This Is The Story (8/26/1969 MS) 2:46 (Disc 11)
  25. In The Ghetto (8/25/1969 DS) 2:47 (Disc 8)
  26. Suspicious Minds (8/25/1969 MS) 7:14 (Disc 9)
  27. What’d I Say (8/23/1969 DS) 1:57 (Disc 4)
  28. Can’t Help Falling In Love (8/26/1969 DS) 2:10 (Disc 10)

While it was not my intent, nor even a consideration in crafting this list, it turns out that all 11 shows are represented – an indication of Elvis’ strength and consistency during this Vegas engagement (though the August 21 Midnight Show barely squeaks in with a short version of “Surrender”).

For those of you who want to include them (you know who you are), you could slot in the “Monologue” career retrospective from the August 24 Dinner Show before “Baby, What You Want Me To Do” and add “Introductions By Elvis” from the August 21 Midnight Show prior to “In The Ghetto.” This adds less than nine minutes, resulting in a total length of just under 80 minutes for the August 1969 Ultimate Show. That’s right in line with the length of the August 23 Midnight Show, but with nine more songs due to less talking throughout.

After careful analysis, my favorite show of the 1969 engagement is the August 25 Midnight Show, disc 9 of Elvis Live 1969 and previously released on FTD’s excellent Hot August Night. It features top-notch versions of “Mystery Train/Tiger Man,” “Suspicious Minds,” “Runaway,” “My Babe,” “Are You Lonesome Tonight,” “Hound Dog,” “Blue Suede Shoes,” “All Shook Up,” “I Can’t Stop Loving You,” among others. In fact, 7 of the 12 masters that RCA chose for Elvis In Person came from this show. That is probably the only reason it is not better represented in my August 1969 Ultimate Show playlist above, as I was tending to avoid master versions in the event of a tie with another version. Elvis may have put a little extra into this particular show due to the celebrities in attendance, including Tom Jones, Nancy Sinatra, Lightnin’ Hopkins, Buddy Hackett, and Shelley Fabares.

ELVIS LIVE 1969 (Sony, 2019) | Click image for larger, full-color version | Original image credit: Sony

“If I take time out to drink water, just look at me and say, ‘Is that him? I thought he was bigger than that. Squirrelly-looking guy.'”
–Elvis Presley, 1969

If you’re not in for the whole Elvis Live 1969 boxed set, 2010’s On Stage: Legacy Edition (Sony) is probably sufficient for casual or budget-minded fans, as it neatly highlights Elvis’ Summer 1969 and Winter 1970 Vegas engagements on 2 CDs and can still be found for about $12 US. CD 2 features Elvis In Person as well as additional songs recorded live in 1969. Keep in mind that both “Runaway” and “Yesterday” on the On Stage album, featured on CD 1, are from August 1969 as well.

If you are more on the obsessive side like me, but don’t already have most of these shows, I can definitely recommend Elvis Live 1969. Just be sure to shop around, as Elvis Live 1969 can often be found quite reasonably priced – considering the number of included shows. For example, Graceland is charging full list price as of this writing, but you can find it elsewhere for less than 60% of that price.

Among Elvis’ Las Vegas engagements at the International/Hilton Hotel, Summer 1969 ranks second only to Summer 1970 for me. I place Winter 1970 third. While the number of available shows in official releases is significantly less and disallows detailed comparisons, subsequent Vegas seasons in 1971-1976 are nowhere close to the 3 of 1969 & 1970.

To see one of these 1969 shows must have been something really special.


“You can make many plans, but the LORD’s purpose will prevail.”
Proverb 19:21

“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.

We can solve the mystery if we try

Frequent commenter Ray Faithfull recently emailed me the following mystery:

I watched a clip posted on facebook for the song “We Can Make The Morning”….then it dawned on me that it was longer than the Now album release and the FTD release by almost 30 seconds..I figured you would be the person to go to for some insight as to how many takes of this song were actually done and what and where have they been released??

Was take 1 the master take that went for over 4:30 and was simply faded at 3:48 for the final cut ??

I have included the link to the video i am referring to with the version i had not heard or at least not completely?? http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GGIMKq-qwOM

Though I did not know the answer right off the top of my head, Ray had obviously placed a lot of faith in me (no pun intended . . . I think), so I felt compelled to research this for him.

First, I checked iTunes, where I have meticulously cataloged every unique Elvis track I own. To my surprise, the only version of “We Can Make The Morning” I have is the master recording, as released on Elvis Now.  My iTunes version of the 1971 track, sourced from the circa-2007 Vic Anesini remastering effort as released on Elvis: The Complete Masters Collection, clocks in at 3:59. However, the last five seconds of that are silence.

"We Can Make The Morning" on iTunes

“We Can Make The Morning” on iTunes

I pulled out my vintage 1972 vinyl edition of the Elvis Now album, and it indicated a run time of 3:54 for “We Can Make The Morning.” So, I had approximately six seconds more song than Ray’s 3:48 source, but nowhere near the 4:44 of the YouTube video. Though I am fairly obsessive about obtaining alternate takes of songs that Elvis formally recorded between 1969 and 1976, I certainly do not own every Elvis release. Perhaps this extended version was on an album I did not have.

Checks of the Elvis Now FTD edition liner notes and Ernst Jorgensen’s essential Elvis Presley: A Life In Music – The Complete Recording Sessions book provided no useful information in this case. Next, I went to my favorite source for alternate take information, the incredible Elvis Recording Data/Session Notes section of the Elvis In Norway site. There, I also found only one entry for “We Can Make The Morning,” the master recording (B-side single), with time listed as 3:54.

I only collect official releases, so my next thought was that the 4:44 version might be from a bootleg. Elvis In Norway’s Session Notes section fortunately does not muddy the water by including those, so I went to another reliable source that does incorporate bootleg information, the Recording Sessions section of Keith Flynn’s Elvis Presley Pages site.

There I found three matches for “We Can Make The Morning”:

A note on the May 20 / 21 page indicates, “Tape reel #2 from this session is missing, and this is the reel that would have included […] the outtakes of We Can Make The Morning,” so that effectively ruled out an alternate take of the song.

The undubbed master has apparently never been released, nor has the May 25 string overdubs version. Only the completed June 21 version, with overdubbed brass and strings, has been released (i.e., the one from Elvis Now).

However, the site lists the track as 4:11. That’s 17 seconds closer to 4:44, but still not enough. The 4:11 version of the song was released on the bootleg Unedited Masters: Nashville 1971 by the Venus label. There, “We Can Make The Morning” is listed as the “unedited, overdubbed master.” I do not have the album to verify whether the track fades at the end but, assuming the Venus information is correct, that leaves at least 33 unaccounted seconds that are in the video.

After all of this, I finally decided to take a listen to the YouTube video, which had been created by a fan. The visual imagery, interspersing photos of Elvis in life with photos of fans at candlelight vigils in the years after his death, was not to my liking, so I stopped paying attention to the video and just listened to the audio. Not only did it go to 4:44, but the song had not even fully faded at that point.

What was going on here? Though I did not detect anything the first time through, my guess was that a portion of the song had been re-looped somewhere (i.e., a part of the recording had been replayed to artificially make the song longer). On my second listen to the 4:44 video, I played the Elvis Now version at the same time. Whatever potential monkey business had occurred within the song was definitely happening near the end.

My third and fourth listens revealed that 3:28 in the video is a repeat of 2:48. For example, listen how Elvis draws out “night” at 3:33, which is an exact duplicate of how he sings it at 2:53 in the video.

Essentially, someone has artificially added at least 40 seconds to the audio track on the “We Can Make The Morning” YouTube video by repeating a portion of the song – most likely to suit the purposes of the photo montage. Other than the abrupt ending, the audio editing is actually quite seamless. However, I will stick with the original version.

Thanks for the great question, Ray, and for inspiring today’s post.

Case closed.

Close-up of ELVIS NOW back cover (1972)

Close-up of ELVIS NOW back cover (1972)

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!