'Elvis Christmas'

Elvis with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra

- CD review by Shane Brown -

After the massive two recent chart successes of "Elvis with The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra" - along with the worldwide tour - it was inevitable that the follow-up would be 'Elvis Christmas with the RPO'.

But can the concept be applied to everything?

Shane Brown
, author of the new book 'Reconsider Baby', and Elvis music expert has written a fascinating and thought-provoking review.

The REAL ISSUE could be that the desperation to earn a quick "Christmas" buck may lead to Elvis' musical legacy being diluted by overdubbed tacky M-O-R versions that have nothing to do with Elvis' original recordings.

Read Shane Brown's incisive review below and send us YOUR feedback.

SEE BELOW - More feedback from EIN readers - What did they think of this new review, was it too harsh?

Last week EIN's Piers Beagley and Brittany Edwards provided a "Double-trouble" review of the new "Elvis with The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra" Christmas album. There was an immediate reaction from EIN readers the majority of which also rated the new album very poorly.

Shane Brown, author of the new book 'Reconsider Baby' and Elvis music expert, has also written a fascinating and thought-provoking review. He raises the issue that fans should be genuinely concerned what these "Re-Imagined" versions are doing to Elvis great musical legacy.

They say that all good things must come to an end.  Thankfully, all bad things must come to an end, too – and the new Christmas release should prove to be the end of the road of the RPO albums with Elvis.  And these formula albums are spluttering to a conclusion with about as much energy and imagination as the albums for the final formula films back in the 1960s. 

It all starts off amicably enough, I guess, with Santa Claus is Back in Town, although the very idea of playing around with one of Elvis’s greatest triumphs in the studio should automatically result in the harshest of penalties – at the very least, six back to back screenings of Stay Away Joe

While the new arrangement of Santa Claus is Back in Town is unambitious, it does at least give us a rough idea of what it might have sounded like had it been recorded a few months later for King Creole. The brass arrangement is predictable, but does its job well enough, but that leaves us with the strings, and so we get the same kind of repetitive figures that were used on Steamroller Blues for one of the earlier RPO outings. In other words, while basically harmless, the exercise is still basically pointless.

And then it seems to all go downhill from there. 

White Christmas opens with a string introduction that sounds more Mantovani than Elvis, which means that when Elvis does appear there is a jarring effect because the two styles do not join together well.  There is a nice moment, though, in the repeat section where the strings play the original tune over Elvis’s vocal variation on it.  But that moment lasts all of ten seconds. 

Here Comes Santa Claus has always been under-rated in my opinion.  What appears to be a straightforward arrangement on the original is actually remarkably intricate.  Just listen to how the timing between Elvis and the Jordanaires gets more and more complex with each verse (most notable when listening through headphones).  It is very effective and made to look so easy even though it’s not.  And as if to purposefully prove that, the RPO version whisks away the Jordanaires and, instead, brings on a group of singers who do not have the same sense of timing, even when they are replicating what has come before.  Therefore, the whole thing comes over as awkward and clumsy. Meanwhile the poor string players were probably on autopilot and dreaming of when they can return to playing Mahler, saddled as they are with yet more of the same figures they play in every other song in the Elvis records.

What does Merry Christmas Baby really need?  That’s right, some nice bluesy cellos, and some brass figures that make Joe Guercio’s arrangements sound like masterpieces.  This is so damned predictable that a moderately gifted 16-year-old music student could have written it.  There is nothing remotely original in the arrangements here, and that is the main problem.  They are tedious and dull – and sometimes ludicrous.  While the strings play elongated notes over the top of the faux-blues brass, Elvis chung-chung-chungs away in the background.  Then he tells James to “play it”, but it appears that James is now playing a violin instead of a guitar.  The whole thing is just downright bonkers, and lazy.  They could have at least edited out the ad-libs that no longer made sense. 

Except for some relatively banal strings, virtually nothing has been done to the arrangement of Blue Christmas.  And then, just when you think things are going well, a soprano with constipation is brought in to replace Millie Kirkham during the instrumental. 

I’ll Be Home for Christmas on the 1957 Christmas release was the nearest Elvis got to doing his best Crosby/Sinatra impression, and so the strings aren’t so overpowering here and at least fit in with the general style of the performance.  I always thought the original was too short, but the extension here is so awkward that they should have left it well alone.  And who is that sax player?  He’s bloody awful.  One thing that is at least impressive with some of the RPO takes on Elvis is the way the mix doesn’t sound technically like a melding of old and new – but here it does with the sax solo, which sounds more like some background music from Cagney and Lacey. 

Just when you thought things had at least levelled out in quality, we jump from 1957 to 1971 and one of Elvis’s worst vocals outside of a soundtrack. 

Yes, folks, Winter Wonderland.  Elvis sounds SO bored.  In fact, he sounds as bored as I feel listening to the RPO albums.  And just when Elvis’s vocal is bad and you hope the RPO might at least try to drown him out, the arrangement does nothing.  It’s barely a new arrangement at all.  At least the last album had one moment of inspiration when transforming I Got a Thing About You Baby into something new and fun, but that doesn’t happen on these thirteen tracks. 

Santa Bring My Baby Back to Me comes out of the whole thing rather unscathed, thankfully.  It’s just the original arrangement with a few overdubs. 

It seems that the producers were intent on using some of the worst songs from the 1971 Christmas album.  “It’s what Elvis would have wanted,” I guess. On Silver Bells the opening introduction is rather nice, but, for once, the join between the old and new is appallingly obvious. There is even a pause between the old introduction and Elvis’s rather wobbly entrance.  Do I need to mention the obvious and predictable string motifs that we have here?  You probably have the idea already.  But somehow it all seems to just highlight Elvis’s half-hearted, rather ragged vocal even more than the original. 

Much the same can be said about the arrangement of Oh Little Town of Bethlehem, although Elvis’s vocal is obvious much better.  On the plus side, there is a nice solo violin in the second verse providing a counterpoint to the vocal.  It’s almost as if someone actually had a spark of an idea when putting this one together.  The only downside, though, is that the song now seems to lumber along thanks to the more emphasised rhythm section.  It sounds awkward in a way the original did not. 

O Come All Ye Faithful had a truly inspired love-or-loathe it arrangement on the original album.  Now, however, that is obliterated.  Remember that powerful percussion that drives the second verse?  Forget it.   They’re now replaced by sleigh bells.  Very loud sleigh bells.  Annoying sleigh bells.  Who in heaven’s name had the idea of obliterating one of the most unique arrangements of any song in the Elvis legacy?  Some loved it, some hated it, but at least it made you sit up and take notice.  Now it’s like we’re on a sleigh ride with an eighty piece orchestra.  Even Donald Trump would struggle to screw up something this badly. 

And then yet another awful vocal with The First Noel.  Actually, the arrangement is rather decent (yes, I just said that), although it doesn’t completely hide the fact that Elvis’s vibrato is so wide that he sounds like he’s sitting on a pneumatic drill. But, yes, I admit it, this is probably more listenable than the original. 

And finally, we come to Silent Night, the last track on this mercifully short album.  Not much is played with here, just a few overdubs added, but the new introduction once again sounds very much tacked on rather than an integral part of the song. 

I have previous referred to these albums as being made for the "Christmas Gift to Granny market", and this one is no exception.  However, Granny is like to get very unhappy if you keep buying her Elvis albums every year, especially when they’re not very good ones. 


The real concern that these "Re-Imagined" versions will affect Elvis' musical legacy in the future ...
It is, like the others in the series, harmless but pointless when it comes to hearing it. And yet, these RPO monstrosities are slowly becoming the versions that people hear instead of the originals. Try playing an Elvis playlist on Spotify or Amazon music. What do you hear most of? These albums. And that is genuinely worrying.

Santa Claus is Back in Town in its original form is one of the most visceral, sexy, mould-breaking Christmas songs ever recorded.  It is a masterwork.  But if future generations, mostly relying on streaming, are going to get this bastardised version to hear instead (as they will through playlists, try it yourself) then we need to start getting very worried indeed. 

Elvis is rarely treated seriously as it is for various reasons, and much of that is to do with how his career was spurred on by making a fast buck.  Forty years after his death, nothing seems to have changed.  Ignoring any notion of what this is doing to his legacy, this is nothing more than yet another cash-grab. 
Perhaps even worse is the fact that other Estates are seeing money in the same format, and this year Elvis has to compete with Ella Fitzgerald and Roy Orbison albums that pair them up with  orchestras too.  For Ella, this is not new.  It was done about ten years ago but, even worse than with Elvis, some of the tracks used were totally unreleased, meaning we will never hear them how they were originally intended.  At least they haven’t done that with Elvis, yet.  But don’t bet against it if the powers that be find that elusive Tiger Man acetate sometime in the future, and think it’s lacking some cellos and a tuba. 


Have you listened to Christmas with Elvis and the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra yet? What did you think of it? EIN wants to know YOUR THOUGHTS. - Click here

New Review by Shane Brown.
-Copyright EIN November 2017 - DO NOT COPY -
EIN Website content © Copyright the Elvis Information Network.

Click to comment on this review- Should we concerned about messing with Elvis' legacy? - AND PLEASE send us YOUR opinion.

CLICK HERE 'ELVIS Christmas with the RPO' CD Review to read EIN's original review of this Xmas CD.

EIN FEEDBACK - What did you think of this review of the new album, was it too harsh?

From T Anderson
I also worry that the tracks on this new RPO Elvis Christmas album might become the standard for new generations.  I went to my local Walmart the other day and there was scores of this CD prominently displayed with other Christmas CDs that have been set out. People are going to buy this, listen to it and think this is how Elvis recorded these songs - making them all MOR.
Shane Brown made a comment about "Santa Claus Is Back In Town" that I'd also thought of - the horn arrangement sort of reminded me of the "King Creole" songs, although not as well done.
The intent of the producers of the RPO Christmas tracks must have been to take all of the earthiness and spirit out of the rocking songs on the 1957 album to make it M-O-R slop, which was not something Elvis would have wanted, period.  If the arrangements and overdubs had been subdued and added light support to the original recordings without eradicating the original performances, I would be all for this.
Instead, I completely detest the end product.
For what it's worth, I just listened to samples of the new Roy Orbison with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, and think the producers of that effort did a much better job than on the new Elvis  RPO Christmas album. In fact, I may order the Orbison album.

From Lon Roberts
While I deeply respect the opinion of my fellow Elvis fans who have written negative reviews, my personal feeling is that we might be a little too harsh on this new effort.
It’s a light freshening (and sometimes softening) of some of Elvis’ best Christmas songs – nothing more and nothing less. There’s nothing really radical about the album. While it’s not as innovative as the previous two RPO albums (which I personally enjoy), it’s certainly not a sacrilege. I don’t see this harming Elvis’ musical legacy.
It’s up there with the 1981 Guitar Man album – it gives us something different when we want it. This is similar to listening to masters and then opting to listen to outtakes or live versions.  Where this is a possible missed opportunity in my opinion is not exploring and updating some of the lesser known songs, particularly on Elvis Sings the Wonderful World of Christmas. The Wonderful World of Christmas, On Snowy Christmas Night, If I Get Home on Christmas Day, It Won’t Be Like Christmas Without You, I’ll be Home on Christmas Day, and Holly Leaves and Christmas Trees would have been better suited for this project. It Won’t Be Like Christmas Without You almost seems like the perfect one for the RPO to work with. Why Can’t Everyday Be Like Christmas would also “fit” well on this RPO album. The strength of the previous RPO releases is the use of lesser known [to the general public] songs and this approach should have followed over onto this third outing. So in that way it’s possible this album plays it too safe.
Overall, I rate this album above the Duets album (which I also enjoyed upon its release though I rarely listen to now). The best part of the duets album were the “new” versions of The First Noel, If I Get Home on Christmas Day, and Winter Wonderland. The new RPO album follows this approach and even reworks 2 of the 3 of these songs

From John Quigley
I am an admirer of Shane Brown – I enjoy his commentaries over at the FECC Forums and purchased his excellent book (both editions.) I also agree 100% with his assessment of the new Elvis RPO/Christmas release.
To call this album an abomination would be too kind.  In fact, the instrumentation is so poorly rendered, it makes the treacly overdubs on the Love Letters LP sound tasteful! 
With that said, I was disappointed that he felt the need to awkwardly insert his political opinion into his review.
It is so awkwardly inserted and so out of context, it makes little sense other than someone with an axe to grind.  I see this sort of one-sided political opining over at the FECC forums.  In a moderated forum, where said moderators allow this type of banter is one thing – but here, it simply comes off as “bad form.”

From Carol Hall
This new album is an appalling waste of time and effort has gone into this album.
If available I would buy any other Elvis Christmas album.

From Jan Ackerman
Both the EIN review and the new Shane Brown review tell the truth. I hope the RPO producers read these reviews that are coming from fans who LOVE and undertand Elvis.
I liked his comment "RPO monstrosities" as I think that is true. although to be honest I have bought each one and found that i liked one or two tracks before.
When these "RPO monstrosities" become the versions that radio stations or spotify play in the future then all that work in getting Elvis's musical legacy back on track will be lost.
The EIN comment that Ernst Jorgenson is not mentioned on the CD has to be very telling. I bet he hates these albums.

From Emiel Maier
I cannot take Shane Brown's review seriously.
The article quotes Shane as suggesting: "All good things must come to an end. Thankfully, all bad things must come to an end, too – and the new Christmas release should prove to be the end of the road of the RPO albums with Elvis."
This clearly shows to me that Shane's view is biased.
However sales figures show that both previous release were very successful.
So calling that success "a bad thing" is something strange as an awful lot people really enjoyed those albums.
It is clear that the RPO albums should not be reviewd by purists.
(EIN says - 'Why Not?"  Especially as many fans see these "re-imagined" versions as potentially helping corrupt Elvis' true musical legacy potentially turning his "Classics" into MOR slush?)
I regardlessly will buy the album and make up my own decision as musical taste is a personal thing.

From Melany 
I didn’t actually mind the first song Santa Claus is Back in Town, I felt the orchestra filled in some parts and gave it more body. I also didn’t mind Merry Xmas Baby, as his voice in the later years suits the big orchestra sound. I remember reading that Elvis always loved Al Martino and the big band sound and a lot of his music in the 70’s reflected this so I think this is why this sort of works. But when he was alive he was a very clever musician and did great arrangements – I don’t think Elvis ever would have produced something like this if he were alive. I wouldn’t rate either of these songs more than 3 out of 5.
BUT the rest of the album was not so great. I happen to love Elvis version of White Christmas but the RPO version is pretty bad, it doesn’t quite gel.
I listen to other Christmas CD’s from the Drifters etc., who have an orchestral sound behind what they sing but their voices suit that style – it fits - this album just sounds off. I also love the song Silver Bells usually – the intro to this was very pretty before the vocals came in – where did the choir learn to sing?? – the high singing “silver bells” sounds awful and it sounded like Santa’s reindeers were mucking up through this recording.
I didn’t like the RPO version of Little Town of Bethlehem. And Come all ye faithful – I have no words (it is a minus score)
I have always enjoyed Elvis Christmas songs for their simplicity but the orchestra seems to suck the life out Elvis’s vocals – it just doesn’t have the same ‘oomph’. It was all ‘too much’.
Such a shame really.
35 mins of my life I will NEVER get back.

From James Mcrae
I just listened to this cd and it didnt do much for me.
Could not see the point of the orchestral backing this time and i usually love Elvis Christmas music.
Ah well cant win them all!

"Reconsider Baby: Elvis: A Listener's Guide" OUT NOW: Since Elvis' death in 1977, thousands of books have been written about Presley, but very few concentrate on the most important thing: the music.
Elvis made over 700 recordings during his life and this book examines all of them. Session by session, song by song, Reconsider Baby takes the reader on a journey from Elvis’s first recordings in 1953 through to his last performances in 1977. This significantly expanded and revised edition of 2014’s Elvis Presley: A Listener’s Guide also examines in detail how Elvis and his recordings and performances were discussed in newspapers, magazines, and trade publications from the 1950s through to the 1970s. The text draws on over 500 contemporary articles and reviews, telling for the first time the story of how Elvis and his career played out in the printed media, and often forcing us to question our understanding of how Elvis’ work was received at the time. Go here to our recent interview with author Shane Brown
EIN will be reviewing his new book next week.
(Interviews, Source;ElvisInfoNet)

Book Review "Reconsider Baby: Elvis: A Listener's Guide": Elvis Presley made over 700 recordings during his life. This book by author Shane Brown examines all of them. Session by session, song by song, Reconsider Baby takes the reader on a journey from Elvis’s first recordings in 1953 through to his last performances in 1977.
This significantly expanded and revised edition of 2014’s Elvis Presley: A Listener’s Guide provides a commentary on Elvis’s vast and varied body of work, while also examining in detail how Elvis and his recordings and performances were discussed in newspapers, magazines, and trade publications from the 1950s through to the 1970s.
The text draws on over 500 contemporary articles and reviews, telling for the first time the story of how Elvis and his career played out in the printed media, and often forcing us to question our understanding of how Elvis’s work was received at the time of release.

Can another detailed examination into Elvis' musical legacy really be worth buying? (Hint, the answer is a big YES!)
Go here as EIN's Piers Beagley reviews the newly expanded look into Elvis' musical legacy, including some choice book extracts...

(Book Reviews, Source,ElvisInformationNetwork)

'ELVIS Christmas with the RPO' CD Review: The new Christmas album supposedly brings together the legend’s yuletide performances from his 1957 Christmas Album and Elvis Sings the Wonderful World of Christmas from 1971, re-imagined with new arrangements performed by the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra.
It's the third album of orchestral re-workings of tracks performed by Elvis, following 2016's The Wonder Of You and 2015's If I Can Dream both reached Number 1 on the Official UK Albums Chart.
But can producers Nick Patrick, Don Reedman and Priscilla Presley really keeping milking the money-making Elvis cow or will they turn out an overdone Christmas turkey?
Do the "new" Producers even care about Elvis' fabulous musical legacy?
Go here as EIN's Piers Beagley and Brittany Edwards go into the Listening Booth to cause "Double-trouble" and try and discover what's good and bad...
NOW UPDATED WITH YOUR FEEDBACK - do you think this was a good idea- do you agree with our review?- .CLICK HERE.
(CD Reviews, Source;ElvisInformationNetwork)

'The Wonder Of You' Elvis with the RPO - In-depth CD Review: It is forty years since Elvis Presley entered a recording studio and he seems very reluctant to record anything new. So in terms of releasing a "new" album of Elvis material the topic has always been a tricky one. After the massive 2015 success of "Elvis with The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra" and ‘If I Can Dream’ the follow-up was inevitable and 'The Wonder Of You' recently achieved Number One in the UK album charts.
But can a follow-up really be as impressive - and do the true Elvis fans have to approve of these on-going fake "Revisions"?

Click here as EIN's Piers Beagley and Bryan Gruszka are back again to cause "Double-trouble" and supply a very detailed review, discovering what's good and bad...
And HAVE YOUR SAY - what do you think of the new album? Are we wrong in our opinions?
(CD Reviews, Source;ElvisInfoNet)

'If I Can Dream' new Elvis album - EIN Readers Respond: The publicity for the "new" Elvis album is ramping up, which is good to see. EIN asked its readers what were their opinions so far about the new album to be released at the end of this week.
Of all the sneak previews EIN suggested that the new version of "Burning Love" sounded GHASTLY!
Nor can we possibly believe that these songs with new overdubs are, "What Elvis would have loved to have had" as Priscilla tells everyone on her publicity trail.
EIN reader's comments are a very mixed bunch such as..
... I've listened to every track that's available from this CD, and I hate them all! They've ruined Elvis' songs. Why can't they leave his music alone? The original tracks are perfect, just the way they are!
....The new arrangements are terrific and exciting as well as creative - especially Burning Love!!
... I’ve really liked most of what I’ve heard so far but must agree that 'Burning Love' is a bit odd… it doesn’t offend but it won’t be the track I use to sell the concept to family and friends."
... They have absolutely destroyed "Burning Love". This was about as stupid as painting a mustache on the "Mona Lisa".
To be honest while EIN is not so sure of the concept of putting an orchestra over already orchestrated versions and putting violins over great rock'n'roll numbers like 'Burning Love' but we are keeping an open mind until we hear the whole album on a quality HiFi.
We also hope the album is a big success but maybe we are the wrong target-market since we know the originals so very well.
Click HERE to read our reader Feedback - and send us YOUR Opinion
(News, Source;ElvisInfoNet)

See EIN review of 'Aloha From Hawaii' 40th Anniversary' release

See EIN review of 'Prince From Another Planet’

See EIN review of 'A Boy From Tupelo'

See EIN review of 'Young Man With The Big Beat'.

See EIN review of 'Elvis Is Back!' Legacy Edition review:

See EIN review of 'The Complete Elvis Presley Masters' in-depth Review

See EIN review of 'On Stage' 40th Anniversary LEGACY in-depth review:

See EIN review of From Elvis In Memphis (40th Anniversary Legacy Edition)

See EIN review of 'I Believe' BMG Gospel set.

See EIN review of 'The Complete '68 Comeback Special' CD Review:













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