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.


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

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.


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.


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.


(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.

From “Harbor Lights” to “Unchained Melody” in 14 days

A few months ago, I spent three weeks listening in release order to all Elvis albums issued during his lifetime. Though I owned these songs for years, I had never played them in such a sequential manner before. I probably never would have, either, were it not for the convenience of modern technology – using iTunes and my iPod.

All of the great coverage around the web about Sony’s The Complete Elvis Presley Masters collection inspired me to undertake a similar journey in recent weeks. Using the Elvis Presley master recordings list as a guide, I created a new playlist to listen to all of the songs in recording order this time. While I was at it, I also tagged each song with a number so that I can easily sort them by recording order in the future.

It took me only two weeks to listen to over 700 Elvis songs, and it was an even better listening experience this way. As expected, the hardest years for me to sludge through were 1964 and 1965 (from about “Poison Ivy League” on down to “Queenie Wahine’s Papaya”). Even then, there were the occasional highlights like “Please Don’t Stop Loving Me” or “This Is My Heaven” – but most songs from this time represent the worst of the movie tunes.

Outside of that long rough spot, though, playing the songs in a coherent fashion like this made it even more obvious how solid most of his other recordings were over the years. It really made me appreciate the “sound” of individual sessions, something that is not always evident when listening to many of his albums. As a fan, it was an emotional experience as well, even more so than listening to them as albums.

When the Graceland sessions came to a close with “He’ll Have To Go,” I realized there were only three Elvis recordings left before he did just that. As he sang “If You Love Me,” and “Little Darlin’,” I knew the inevitable was coming. It was going by so fast, I wanted it to slow down, I wanted it not to happen this time.

He launched into his breathtaking version of “Unchained Melody” and when it was over . . . silence.

I sat and listened to that silence for awhile . . . and thought about what it represented.

Elvis Information Network presents a massive review for an enormous set

I’ve been living vicariously through others lately by rather obsessively reading different people’s views of both the Sony and Franklin Mint complete masters sets. I have to hand it to Piers Beagley over at Elvis Information Network. The prospect of reviewing a 30-disc set like The Complete Elvis Presley Masters must have been daunting. I don’t mind telling you that I doubt I could do it.

He did a fine job, and included a lot of great photos. For scale perspective, he even included a standard CD in the shots. Wow, the set is actually much larger than I realized!

Outside of scattered forum postings, this is probably the set’s first full-fledged review. Be sure to read Piers Beagley’s massive 5,000 word review of the enormous Complete Elvis Presley Masters over on EIN.

Shoppin’ Around: Elvis Presley 2010 Christmas Gift Guide

If you know and love an Elvis fan, here are some Christmas gift ideas to suit a wide variety of budgets. Price ranges listed are in US dollars, but most of these items are available around the world.

Under $10

Viva Elvis: The Album: Reactions from the Elvis fan community have been mixed on this CD, which features new backing music to Elvis’ vocals. While this tribute to his career obviously will never replace the original recordings, I love this retrospective. Viva Elvis is a fun and brilliant album that presents Elvis in a whole new light – how it might sound if he recorded today.

Under $20

On Stage (2010 Legacy Edition): This two-CD set contains both On Stage-February 1970 and Elvis In Person At The International Hotel, Las Vegas, Nevada, which capture his August 1969 and February 1970 Vegas engagements. Elvis is in top form here, and these recordings have never sounded better. A few bonus tracks are also included on each disc, from the same time period.

Under $30

Elvis Blu-ray Collection: Jailhouse Rock/Viva Las Vegas/Elvis On Tour: This three-disc Blu-ray set, currently retailing for less than $9 a movie, presents a well-chosen sampler of Elvis’ film career. Jailhouse Rock is the classic 1957 rocker that holds its own against King Creole (1958) and Flaming Star (1960) as Elvis’ best dramatic performance. 1964’s Viva Las Vegas is the highlight of his 1960s “formula” movies – aided, no doubt, by the talents of the beautiful Ann-Margret. Finally, 1972’s Elvis On Tour features Elvis on stage and behind-the-scenes during an April 1972 tour. While not as incredible as 1970’s Elvis-That’s The Way It Is (not yet available on Blu), Elvis On Tour is still a fantastic experience not to be missed.

Fair warning: This 2010 release of Elvis On Tour has been modified from the original version. Due to Warner Home Video’s inability to obtain permission to use “Johnny B. Goode,” the opening song of the movie is now an amateurishly looped, throwaway version of “Don’t Be Cruel.” This only affects the first two minutes of the otherwise unaltered film. The power of Elvis manages to save this release and make it worth recommending. Despite what you may read elsewhere, picture and sound quality for Elvis On Tour are terrific on Blu.

Elvis As Recorded At Boston Garden ’71: This Follow That Dream collectors label CD is a soundboard recording of Elvis’ one and only concert at Boston Garden. This is a must-have for fans of this era, for it provides the missing bridge between his 1970 and 1972 live concert sound. Great show! Find FTD releases at and other online Elvis stores.

$400 – $750

Elvis: The Complete Masters Collection (Franklin Mint); The Complete Elvis Presley Masters (Sony): These are two different but similarly themed CD releases. Both contain all 711 recordings that Sony identifies as masters released during Elvis’ lifetime. Sound quality is upgraded, but faithful to the original mixes (in most cases, anyway). The $400 Franklin Mint version also includes a 24-page booklet, a “record player” style display case, and a reproduction of Elvis’ first SUN record, “That’s All Right”/”Blue Moon Of Kentucky.” The $750 Sony version is aimed at higher-end collectors and includes another 103 songs (alternate masters, outtakes, home recordings, etc.), a 240-page book, and a fold-out case to hold everything. The first run of the Sony edition is sold out, but pre-orders for a January second run are now being accepted. To still have something to place under the tree, you could print out a photo of the set from the Sony site. The Franklin Mint version is still available.

Have fun, fellow Elvis fans, and thanks to all of those who love us!

Sony taking pre-orders for second run of The Complete Elvis Presley Masters

The first run limited edition of The Complete Elvis Presley Masters sold out before its release earlier this month. For those who missed out, Sony is now taking pre-orders for a second run – which will be identical to the first, except it will not be numbered. The set will ship in January 2011. See the official Complete Elvis Presley Masters site for more details.

Introducing a new page: Elvis Presley Master Recordings

I’ve added a new reference page to The Mystery Train Elvis Blog, Elvis Presley Master Recordings. Inspired by the two recent complete Elvis masters releases, it lists and explains what I consider the 710 Elvis master recordings released during his lifetime.

View The Mystery Train Elvis Blog’s Elvis Presley Master Recordings page. You can also access it using the tab at the top of the page.