'Elvis 30#1 Hits'
- "There's Only 1 Elvis" -
BMG CD Review by Piers Beagley
"From the Fifties screams to the Seventies life of excess, Elvis was a Big Hunk of Burning Love.
However you take your Elvis, slicked-back delinquent wrapped in black leather or rhinestone Goliath, Elvis is the greatest-selling most influential single performer ever. Before him there was Ovaltine and Family Favourites after him Rock N' Roll began and popular music changed forever.
There is only One Elvis" **
There are so many reviews around already that I was happy just to sit back and let the beautiful, new, remastered sound just flow over me.
This is exciting, the audio blasts with pure-power from your Hi-Fi like it was recorded yesterday! You can even hear Elvis coming from Boom-boxes in the street!
This is an attractive CD of classic Elvis songs presented in a way that, hopefully, will make everyone buy a copy (even though they already own "All Time Greatest Hits").
The packaging (right) is clever and modern, showing closely cropped images of Elvis. These nicely demonstrate that there is no other star who is so obviously recognisable just from a photo of their hairline or from the waist down. The liner notes describe each song and give the release date in the USA only.
However from the moment I put it on I was grabbed by a force that made me drag out my old originals (even a 78rpm!) just so that I could truly compare them to their originals. A new fire is burning in these excellent mixes and I wanted to listen some more.
'Heartbreak Hotel' immediately grabs you in its clarity. Elvis sounds gorgeous of course but D.J's drums really sparkle and there is a fantastic richness to Bill Black's double-bass that just wasn't there before.
A quick comparison to "The Essential 50's Masters" along with the second track 'Don't Be Cruel' once again proves what a travesty the remastering was on that box set. However it does also point out what an excellent job was done on the "Elvis '56" CD by Paul Brizzi but even then there was maybe a little too much noise reduction in the high frequencies.
'Hound Dog' is, at last, given a clean mono mix (previously only available on the Rhino Billboard CD) making it burst out of your speakers. Interestingly the speed here has also been corrected making it slightly faster than any CD release, including "Elvis '56". It sounds perfect.
'Love Me Tender' was always going to be a problem. Recorded on the 20th Century Fox soundstage it had inherent bad tape hiss on the Master. I even remember my original RCA 45 saying "Brand New Orthophonic Recording" yet thinking that it sounded hopelessly hissy! The tape hiss is of course still poor but they have tried extremely hard and it is a vast improvement on the brutal noise reduction of the "50's Masters". Elvis was trying his best to prove that he could sing ballads and here his vocal does have a beautiful clarity. Some fabulous moments are highlighted that I had never noticed before. Check out where he breathes and swallows after "Take me to your heart" at 1:05. This ballad makes a delicious comparison to the power of 'Hound Dog'.
'Too Much' is an often over-looked yet fabulous number 1 which this time runs slightly slower than previous releases, while the clarity of 'All Shook Up' really makes D.J. Fontana's brush work stand out and brings a new resonance to Elvis' slapping on the back of his guitar.
'Jailhouse Rock' disappointed me a little as the Silver Screen Stereo version was such a revelation. By now "The 50's Masters" had improved on their remastering and there isn't such a great difference as on the 1956 tracks. The joy here is that this version runs 2.37 with a much longer fade out than the original single. I even compared it to my RCA 78RPM, just in case, but that also runs the same time! Here I have to state that the 'Binaural' "S.S.S" take still blows me way. There is something about the stereo version that is real dynamite.
'Don't' is just gorgeous while 'Hard Headed Woman' has a new edge to the mix that puts a real sparkle to the brass section on the recording.
'One Night' is an absolute gem and one of my favourites on this CD. The previous master had some very annoying peak distortion on Elvis' voice where he seemed to be overloading the microphone. The original also seemed to lack some bass and treble. Here they have cleverly corrected all of these and have produced an unsurpassable version.
'A Fool Such As I' - Take 8 and the first 'Alternate Take' on the CD. One has to wonder why they decided to do this at all. Were they trying to tempt us true collectors or were these takes actually better than the Masters? And would Elvis agree? An excellent copy of this was released on the Madison import "Totally Stung" (which focussed on Elvis' June 1958 session) but here the sound is true mono and certainly improved upon.
The emphasis of this #1's CD seems to be to make Elvis' vocal ability stand out above all and on this take it is only the uncertainty of the band that stopped it from becoming the Master. By the next take Hank Garland's guitar work was perfected and the Jordanaires had added clapping to the guitar solo. (Take 9 was to become the single). I guess the reason the producer David Bendeth chose this take is that Elvis' vocal is perfect and is actually higher in the mix. A very nice bonus for us.
'A Big Hunk O' Love' - This could be the third alternate that has been referred to since this is Take 3 (same take as on "50's Masters"). The original single was a splice of take 3 and 4 which means that a generation of tape quality had already been lost. This sounds just fine but the CD soon changes as we enter the sixties and the audio explodes in to stereo.
'Stuck On You' - The jump from mono to stereo is incredible. By "The Essential 60's Masters" the remastering was much improved along with the original tapes that they had to work with. However I always felt that the treble was a little too over equalised and this version is so much smoother with a fabulously clean mix and an expansive bass. Just delicious. It is interesting to compare it to the same song (Tk 1) on the recent 'Fame & Fortune' FTD CD. There the mix is amazingly dynamic but you feel that maybe Elvis' vocal has been lifted a little too high to the detriment of the overall sound.
On 'It's Now or Never' they have managed to eliminate the sibilance on Elvis' vocal and managed to create a perfect version using the original piano overdub which cannot have been easy.
'Are You Lonesome Tonight?' - I thought I had heard this old chestnut enough but here again they have created a new master which really glows. Elvis' vocal is so clear and is also higher in the mix while the acoustic guitar has a clarity that I have never heard before. Amazingly it sounds as if it was recorded yesterday!
'Surrender' - This must have been such a complicated song to record. There seem to be so many layers of sound as well as tempo changes to cope with! Here every instrument just shines. I had to play this version again and again noticing something new with every listen. I had never noticed the importance of the acoustic rhythm guitar before! Fabulous.
'His Latest Flame' - This was another surprise (like 'One Night') where I just love what they have achieved. The mix is superb with the acoustic guitar and percussion just perfectly placed against Elvis' voice. The "60's Masters" for some reason had a very muffled sound but this new remaster is perfect. I was so surprised by the new sound that I had to compare it to my RCA 45 original only to realise that this really was what the original single sounded like (apart from 4 decades of scratches!). Elvis would have loved this mix.
Here I have to note my personal disappointment that 'Little Sister' didn't make this collection - what an exceptional double A side and surely a better example of Elvis' musical excellence than say 'Wooden Heart'?
'Can't Help Falling In Love' - Another movie song that suffered from terrible background tape hiss. Producer David Bendeth says that this was one of the hardest to remaster but they have done a fabulous job. The tape hiss is removed and Elvis' vocal really shines. Another gem.
The three Nashville singles 'Good Luck Charm', 'She's Not You' and 'Devil in Disguise' all show an improvement on the "60's Masters" with a beautiful clear mix showing off full instrumentation of the band.
'Return To Sender' is the second movie recording, this time from Radio Recorders, Hollywood, where the master version sounded very poor. The original had that awful left channel bias & muffled sound to it but here there is an amazing jump in quality. Mixed into fabulously spatial stereo at last and it sounds fantastic. Not only that but the awful fade out even on the original single, where Boot's Randolph last note was clipped, has been fixed up with a clean fade out. I love it.
'Crying In the Chapel' - Another beautiful remaster letting Elvis' delicious vocal really stand out. These Master tapes from 1960 captured some very special performances (Check out another classic 'Stand By Me' on the FTD Easter Special CD). Personally I would argue that moving the acoustic guitar way over to the left channel, as they have done in this mix, was a mistake as it has far more prominence in the original single and now it doesn't sound quite right to me.
'In The Ghetto' - This is FANTASTIC. An absolute masterpiece. I have always preferred the Memphis Sessions Tk.11 which has Elvis' moving vocal without overdubs but here they have got the remaster just perfect. Elvis' poignant vocal still shines above it all yet the backing vocals and orchestral overdubs are as clear as if they were recorded in the studio at the same time. Another great bonus is that despite the sleeve notes saying that it runs the same time as the original (2:45) there is in fact an additional 10 seconds on the fade out. Exquisite.
'Suspicious Minds' - Elvis is again beautifully lifted in the mix. It's not as great an improvement as 'In the Ghetto' but is still the best quality Master that you will have heard. The main problem here was that the Memphis Horns overdub had to be recovered from the original mix. This means that if you listen on headphones you can notice some odd phasing effect at points especially on the high frequencies (check the cymbals around 1:35). This obviously won't upset the regular listener but does stop it being a perfect remaster that makes 'Burning Love' & 'In The Ghetto' stand out.
'The Wonder Of You' - There can be only one original Master version and it's the one that starts with Elvis edging the band along with "Ooo-Ooo-Ooo-Ooo" before the lyric starts - and this isn't it! This is the Dinner Show recording from the same night and the very first time Elvis sang it live in concert. The band isn't quite together, Elvis fluffs the lyric several times and the backing singers are out of tune. (The single was recorded at the Midnight Show the same night and the out of tune backing vocals were removed with an overdub a few weeks later). There is no doubt that this is great vocal by Elvis and there is no annoying audience overdub plus he does a lovely "Whoop" with delight at the end.
However it still doesn't have the magnificence of the single Master which makes this a very odd choice. It is obviously a fabulous version for us collectors to own (along with 'A Fool Such As I') so maybe these two were possible tracks for 'Today, Tomorrow and Forever' which ended up here instead! Another slight oddity is James Burton being mixed onto the left channel. Since when did he stand on Elvis' right? It won't be long before this is the version always played by radio stations as his Number One single which will see Elvis' musical legacy incorrectly re-written.
'Burning Love' - This is Magnificent. It's like revving up a new V-8 engine rather than that old 1972 Lada car that you used to own! The mix is so powerful and Elvis' vocal is brilliant - It honestly feels like the song was recorded in 2002. The band really cooks with Emory Gordy and Ronnie Tutt's rhythm section powering the song along. A complete revelation compared to the original mix. Australia was very lucky to get this as a taster single. Now can we have the rest of Elvis' 1971-72 material remastered- Please!?
'Way Down' - Elvis' final single before he left us, and a classic. The mix is a good as can be as Elvis gets down and rocks the Jungle Room. The interesting thing here is that oddly they have left in Elvis' mistake where he comes back in with his vocal too early during the bridge (@1:59). (This was mixed out on the Master). A great 1977 song that sounds fresh enough to lead seamlessly into the bonus of the JXL 'ALLC'.
Verdict - I really hope that this will sell and sell making it the classic family CD for Christmas. The improvement in sound quality makes it a 'must buy' for all of us, even those who already own all these tracks multiple times over. However this is, of course, also only a glimpse at Elvis' amazing body of work which once again begs for RCA to produce a worthy follow up that will give everyone a chance to hear more of his essential songs in as good as quality as this.
So do we start voting on the follow-up track listing now? - Paralysed, Mess Of Blues, Little Sister, I Need Somebody To Lean On, Love Letters, Always on My Mind, Promised Land … There's only One Elvis.
(**Quote from recent BBC documentary "There's Only One Elvis")
'Elvis 30 #1 Hits' was reviewed by Piers Beagley.
-Copyright EIN 2002. Do Not reprint or republish without permission.
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ELV1S 30 # 1 HITS - RCA 07863 68079 2
1: Heartbreak Hotel
2: Don't Be Cruel
3: Hound Dog
4: Love Me Tender
5: Too Much
6: All Shook Up
7: Teddy Bear
8: Jailhouse Rock
10: Hard Headed Woman
11: One Night
12: (Now And Then There's) A Fool Such As I (Take 8*)
13: A Big Hunk O'Love (Take 3)
14: Stuck On You
15: It's Now Or Never
16: Are You Lonesome Tonight
17: Wooden Heart
19: (Marie's The Name) His Latest Flame
20: Can't Help Falling In Love
21: Good Luck Charm
22: She's Not You
23: Return To Sender
24: Devil In Disguise
25: Crying In The Chapel
26: In The Ghetto
27: Suspicious Minds
28: The Wonder Of You (Las Vegas, Feb. 18 1970 D.S.*)
29: Burning Love
30: Way Down
31: A Little Less Conversation (JXL re-mix [Radio Edit])
* Previously unreleased versions
CD Credits: Compilation Produced by David Bendeth.
Mixed by David Bendeth & Ray Bardani and ReMastered by Ted Jensen and George Marino.
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