When it comes to new releases in the “Elvis World” it is hardly surprising that everyone knows what their rivals are doing.
Whatever future releases FTD are planning, the bootleggers are well-aware of what Roger & Ernst have on their list and inevitably beat them to the punch.
How many times have keen collectors bought a new and exciting Bootleg release to discover 3 months later that FTD will be releasing the same material?
All the bootleg labels, Madison, Venus, Gravel Road Music, International, Backdraft etc, have all been doing it for years.
There is no doubt that for the past decade everyone has been scraping the bottom of the Elvis barrel and trying to beat each other to the almighty dollar.
After all, keen fans will be happy to buy almost anything “Previously Unreleased” with the “limited number” bootlegs getting exceptional praise on various websites (Yes, sometimes including EIN!) only to find that the same material will then
be released by FTD and we buy it all over again!
Of course BMG and SONY have been recycling Elvis’ legacy with various compilations unendingly, usually enticing the collector with publicity about newly remastered audio.
As the Sex Pistols’ John Lydon succinctly put it (about the band’s dodgy official releases) “Ever get the feeling you've been cheated? “
This brings us nicely to the recent Venus Productions bootleg release ‘Hard Knocks’.
The CD title refers to one of Elvis’ poorest soundtrack songs, and yet here Venus already featured the studio-quality unreleased “Movie version” of the song that is one of FTD’s “great finds” to be included on their future FTD Classic Album of ‘Roustabout’!
There is no doubt that both FTD’s future plans and also their tape cupboard is leaking like a sieve.
With the fact that several Elvis scholars and collectors work with both FTD as well as the bootleggers, perhaps this is not surprising.
So after a few interesting Venus seventies releases featuring Undubbed Masters and studio tracks running past their official fade-out point comes this new collection of 27 mid-sixties movie recordings with supposedly 14 takes “Unreleased”.
Unfortunately for collectors only six of these unreleased takes are more than “False Starts”. Not only that, but four of them are the song ‘Yoga Is As Yoga Does’ with seven in total from the movie ‘Easy Come, Easy Go’ as well as five from ‘Harum Scarum’!
This leaves the rather uninteresting ‘It’s A Wonderful’ musician’s backing-track with the real excitement being Unreleased Take 3 of ‘What’d I Say’. Plus the aforementioned ‘Hard Knocks’ movie version.
If this CD was released by FTD the message-boards would be full of moans and complaints – but as this is a Bootleg the message-boards are instead full of compliments.
This is no doubt due to the positive psychological feeling of having purchased something unreleased, as well as the psychological need to justify a hefty outlay. In this instance for around 15 minutes of outtakes from some of Elvis’ least inspired movies! Under these circumstances I feel sorry for Ernst Jorgensen and Roger Semon.
But keen collectors need to have everything (me too!) - so what does ‘Hard Knocks’ give us apart from 70 minutes of silliness from Elvis' mid-sixties low period?
Booklet and Cover.
The cover artwork is actually top-notch while the booklet features a pile of photos from the various movies (in a nice sixties poppy design) but no real text or further information.
I guess that being Elvis’ less creative period there isn’t much to say that could excite the majority of fans about a pile of ‘Easy Come, Easy Go’ outtakes that FTD deemed unworthy of release on their soundtrack Classic Album.
It IS worth noting that Venus once again supplies most tracks in excellent sound quality. The Easy Come, Easy Go outtakes audio quality is about one tape generation less than on the FTD, although the Venus release certainly have less stereo ambience. The Viva Las Vegas outtakes however are as good as the FTD originals. Venus certainly have their mitts on something close to the studio master tapes and not some third generation copy.
The CD kicks off with ‘Easy Come, Easy Go’ take 10, previously released by FTD but at least it is an enjoyable scene-setter. The oddity here is that the FTD does include the studio count-in whereas this is missed from the bootleg.
Two takes of ‘I'll Take Love‘ follows but it is only the final few seconds of an inconsequential false start, take 3, that is new here.
‘Sing Your Children’ is next with takes 18-19 both on the FTD soundtrack release. “Unreleased” Take 20 is only the engineer announcing “COVC Take 20” which would be hard to justify as collectable by anyone!
At last with ‘She’s A Machine’ Take 14 we get a genuinely new take we haven’t heard before – and it is fun! Not featured in the movie due to the dodgy “pot taking” lyric it was one of the best from the soundtrack even if it sounded pretty dated for September 1966. It features the fun of Elvis and the band falling apart as Elvis forgets the lyrics. Take 15 that follows was the released version.
‘The Love Machine’ Takes 13 & 14 quite hilarious attempts of a bad song “She may be ducky!” - were also both released by FTD but here we get a few extra seconds before & after of studio atmosphere.
‘Yoga Is As Yoga Does’ – one of Elvis worst songs EVER! Do we really need any extra, unreleased takes? No wonder FTD didn’t use these Takes 1-4 on their soundtrack album. If only had managed to get through Take 1 intact! Poor Elvis.
“God Damn Almighty!” Elvis exclaims as he messes up near the end.
Takes 2 & 3 are as painful and I can’t imagine any fan listening to these more than once!
On both takes Elvis exclaims, “oh shit” as he fluffs the lyrics, when what you REALLY want him to say is “Why am I recording this shit?”
‘Yoga Is As Yoga Does’ Take 4 is one of the few new, unreleased and complete takes here – but it is so similar to the master that it is just painful. (Elvis slips off melody in the middle, which is why he had to continue).
After this it can only get better – and it does!
‘Hard Knocks’ Take 4 is listed as the master, however it is in fact, the movie version (COV-04) which was recorded on March 5, 1964 at the same overdub session as 'It's Carnival Time'. (Thanks to Keith Flynn for the info).
The differences are surprisingly minimal (a little smoother intonation on the lyrics) and it makes you wonder why a new vocal overdub was requested.
The audio quality is excellent – it has not been taken from the film audio-track.
However knowing that anything new has been discovered for a future FTD ‘Roustabout’ classic album is pretty exciting.
Similarly ‘It's A Wonderful World’ Take 17 is new, but this time it is only the musician’s backing-track. Sadly no alternate Elvis vocal this time – but I have never considered this a great track.
Compared to ‘Easy Come, Easy Go’, the movie ‘Fun In Acapulco’ was a classic - and with its Mexican musical influence it was one of Elvis’ more enjoyable soundtrack albums.
‘Mexico’ Takes 1 & 2 were released by FTD on their soundtrack album – but they still sound great here.
‘Marguerita’ Take 7 is new but Elvis never actually starts singing as he points out, “Too fast, too fast, way too fast”. The delightful Take 6 that follows was on the FTD soundtrack album.
‘The Bullfighter Was A Lady’ Take 10 Remake was recently released on the FTD ‘Elvis For Everyone’ excellent bonus CD. Here we get a few seconds of studio banter afterwards – but nothing from Elvis.
The Harum Scarum soundtrack always divides the fans. Some love it for its middle-eastern influence while others hate it for its corniness.
I am one who truly enjoys the Harum Scarum soundtrack for at least sounding different, distinct and unique in Elvis’ repertoire. Better the bizarreness of Harum Scarum than the boredom of Kissin’ Cousins or Easy Come, Easy Go!
So the new, complete and unreleased ‘Wisdom Of The Ages’ Take 4 is a treat for me.
Sounding very similar to the master (which follows) there is something delightful in the sincerity Elvis can impart to the quite ridiculous lyrics. The melody is also a vocal challenge (similar to his Italian power ballads) and here Elvis just fails on the ending. A cute addition.
Elvis doesn’t try so hard for the ending on the Master and so gets it right. “Print it as far as I am concerned” notes the engineer.
‘Kismet’ Takes 1 & 2 follow, once again previously released by FTD. If you like Harum Scarum you’ll love this. Takes 3 and 4 are previously unreleased but both are sadly very short false starts, Elvis only sings three lines before they stop. Take 5 is the master and sounds very fine.
(Collectors may recall that FTD stuffed up the audio-quality of the LP masters on their soundtrack release! See Harum Scarum FTD review here).
‘Hey little Girl’ Takes 1 & 2 are the same as on the FTD release with the great ending of Elvis laughing and going ''Ta, da, da, da" on the playoff.
Seven takes of ‘Shake That Tambourine’ follows. New Take 14 is a treat. At the start Elvis jokes, ''Pick it up just a little bit. Boy that's long man, it looks just like the Declaration of Independence!'' presumably talking about the wordy lyrics. This was a track that took Elvis thirty-eight takes to finish!
On unreleased Take 15 (only a false start) Elvis again mentions the Civil War. His mind was obviously not on the soundtrack lyrics!
The other takes have been previously released by FTD, all of them false starts except for complete Take 16.
With ‘What'd I Say’ we at last get to a track really worth releasing. Take 1 features a few seconds more studio banter before than the FTD version when Elvis then asks, “You got a pen, chief?”
‘What'd I Say’ Take 3 is brand new and is perhaps the only track on this CD really worth getting excited about. With a similar feel to Take 2, Elvis whistles beforehand and notes an appreciative “Yeah” on the intro. They are getting close to the Master and the soulful feel is excellent but suddenly after the third verse the band misses the beat and the track stops. Elvis says, “Sorry” even though it was not his mistake.
‘What'd I Say’ Take 4 – Master ends the CD but here we get the extra banter beforehand.
Elvis asks, “How was it up to there was it any good?” Engineer Dave Weichman replies, “Yeah, it’s grooving!” It’s a nice final touch.
While there wasn’t room on the already packed FTD ‘Viva Las Vegas’ soundtrack it is a real surprise that FTD has not released these two ‘What'd I Say’ takes in full elsewhere. Maybe on the next FTD movie outtakes “mop-up”!
Overall Verdict: While there is no doubt that FTD would be blasted for releasing a new movie compilation with so little unreleased content, this new Venus release is far more enjoyable than it should be. Perhaps this is due to the two sensational ‘What I’d Say’ final tracks that leave you with a smile on your face.
The real disappointment is that four of the new unreleased tracks are outtakes of ‘Yoga Is As Yoga Does’ which is so damn bad that most fans will skip over them after one listen. And if you also don’t appreciate the Harum Scarum soundtrack then there is precious little for you here.
Keen collectors buying this will of course already own the vast majority of the tracks and in the near future FTD are going to release the ‘Roustabout’ classic album. So while I can understand collectors enthusing over their new purchase, potential buyers truly should consider whether this release is really worth their hard-earned cash for the couple of interesting extras like ‘What I’d Say’.
Review by Piers Beagley.
-Copyright EIN June 2015
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Note - EIN does not support bootleggers since they do deprive songwriters & musicians of their well-deserved earnings. Nor does EIN ever sell bootleg material. This release does however demonstrate to EPE/FTD/SONY that new quality ELVIS releases are possible using fanfootage and other alternate sources.