While BMG’s 'The King' was the key focus of this year's BMG Elvis marketing blitz, the real highlight for true fans of The King was this fantastic double CD. Featuring a brand new concert with Elvis at his most energetic comeback prime from 1969, along with a superb selection of greatest live hits in pristine audio quality - Who could ask for more 30 years down the track?
The 12-page booklet features appropriate observations from Colin Escott, along with a selection of black & white photos (it is odd that two are not from Las Vegas). The single CD version without the live concert also features a page of Vegas memorabilia (see below), but make sure you buy the double CD release with the gold cover.
"Many fans, especially those from Europe, figured that Elvis might never come to them, so they must come to him, They saw an entertainer reborn and reinvigorated, At the top of his game, Elvis was king of the huge stage.
Elvis returned to the newly renamed Las Vegas Hilton every year until 1976. After his death, a bronze statue of him was placed in the lobby, commemorating the 837 sold-out shows for two-and-a-half million people. The showroom is still there and Barry Manilow now occupies Elvis's penthouse suite. Las Vegas was so pivotal to Elvis that his later career is usually known as the Vegas years. He heralded the rebirth of Las Vegas as a family-oriented resort town, and showed an entire generation of performers what it took to work there. From 1969 until 1976, he was the number one attraction in the world's number one resort. And now everyone who plays Las Vegas is measured against him."
- Colin Escort
The compilation was produced by Ernst Jorgensen and Mastered by the hard-working Vic Anesini at Sony studios. Strangely Roger Semon is not credited this time around. Ray Bardini, who did such a good job with '2nd To None' etc, mixed the 1969 performance which is the best quality 1969 concert audio-wise yet released. You will not be disappointed.
The Hits CD
Setting the Vegas theme is the title track from Elvis' 1964 movie, which may seem out of place to some but works rather cleverly in its way and with yet more Viva Las Vegas mentions from Elvis on CD2. Of course most of us will previously own these tracks, but NOT in this quality making this the delicious aperitif to the 1969 main course.
On this CD the songs all stand alone. This isn't one of those "best of fake concerts" where the applause all runs together which in fact I rather enjoy. The audio is as good as it gets, although the majority of the tracks have been released before in this quality on last year's sensational 'Elvis; LIVE' genre CD. Oddly 'Elvis: LIVE' also used the same dynamic front cover image but then with a very disappointing low-key design.
New additions here to the 'Elvis: LIVE' selection are 'Release Me', 'Let It Be Me', 'Proud Mary', 'Patch It Up,' 'I've Lost You', 'You Don't Have To Say You Love Me', 'It's Over' and 'The Impossible Dream' - and some of the remastering work is stunning.
We all know the "Play it hard now" version of 'Release Me', well now the song shines here like never before. In the same way that the 'On Stage'' tracks were improved for the 2006 'Elvis LIVE' CD the same has been done here for 'Proud Mary' and 'Release Me'. James Burton's guitar really rings out and Jerry Scheff's bass is nice & full - there is a real clarity to the stereo mix and particularly the piano, even John Wilkinson's rhythm guitar becomes a feature. 'Polk Salad Annie' is obviously of the same cracking audio quality - as released on 'Elvis LIVE'.
And if you don't own the 'Elvis: Inspirational' then you will find an absolute treat with the sparkling quality and new mix of 'The Impossible Dream'.
It is also satisfying to have the genuine 1972 Masters here of ‘You Gave Me a Mountain' and 'American Trilogy' after ‘Elvis LIVE’ mistakenly used the Aloha versions.
So while enthusiasts are sure to have all of these Vegas hits elsewhere, this CD is an impressive 64 minute collection and every track in sensational audio quality.
Note that the single CD black-cover version features only 16 tracks and misses out 'Proud Mary', 'I've Lost You' and 'It's Over' so make sure you purchase the gold cover version.
The Hits: 1.Viva Las Vegas 2.See See Rider 3.The Wonder Of You 4.Polk Salad Annie 5.Release Me 6.Let It Be Me 7.Proud Mary 8.I Just Can't Help Believing 9.Walk A Mile In My Shoes 10.Bridge Over Troubled Water 11.Patch It Up 12.I've Lost You 13.You Don't Have To Say You Love Me 14.You've Lost That Loving Feeling. 15.An American Trilogy 16.Never Been To Spain 17.You Gave Me A Mountain 18.It's Over 19.The Impossible Dream.
Note that 'Let It Be Me' and 'You Don't Have To Say You Love Me' were remastered earlier by Vic Anesini for 'Love, Elvis' and 'It's Over' for 'Elvis By The Presleys’.
Live Concert CD
A brand new unreleased Elvis performance from his first Las Vegas season, and what a power-packed sensational concert season it was. With 'In The Ghetto' charting at #3 and 'Suspicious Minds' about to be released, Elvis was bursting with energy and ready to prove that he could conquer Las Vegas. This is not the professional smoothness of his later 1970 seasons but Elvis bursting with a new enthusiasm that showed in every show.
This concert is noted on the back cover as being "the first concert recorded by RCA records " however we suspect that the performance is mainly from the fabulous Midnight show with some repairs done using the Dinner Show recording. The final tracks have previously been released on the 1977 vinyl bootleg 'The Legend Lives On'.
(Right: The classic "The Legend Lives On" vinyl bootleg, featuring Ed Bonja's favourite Elvis photo. - Read Ed Bonja's interview about this classic shot)
The concert has been remixed by Ray Bardini and it sounds sensational. The rhythm section is dead centre and the overall mix is very nice. The entire band can be heard and the orchestra is well placed. Elvis is loose and having fun as well as being a bit risqué.
Presumably everyone would have considered this recording a technical dress-rehearsal before RCA started rolling tapes for their 'In Person' LP for real, and in fact on a couple of songs Elvis' microphone overloads. However in 1969 there wasn't a proper P.A system in the showroom and so we get to hear the concert better than even Elvis could! As he says in the middle of 'Suspicious Minds', "I can't hear a god-damn thing!"
From the first notes of 'Blue Suede Shoes' we know we have a brand new concert here as the usual orchestra introduction - on every 1969 release so far - is missing! Ronnie Tutt hits the snare, the band kick into the intro and it's go-man-go!
From the "Well, It's One for the money, Two for the show" through to the smart finale of "Well, I gotta Go..." (from 'What’d I Say') Elvis runs through a fine set-list, displaying a real enthusiasm for his oldies as well as showing off his new material, plus a nod to the success of the 1968 Comeback Special.
The first three tracks set the scene and the prominent tambourine throughout even gives the concert a similar audio feel to the 'Comeback Special' sit-down session. Comparing this concert to other 1969 releases the sound is very punchy and crystal clear with a rich baseline. In comparison the classic album 'In Person' seems far more muddied with Elvis' voice buried a little in the mix and the orchestra. Similarly the audio mix on the FTD 'All Shook Up' is also not as bright and rich. I personally also enjoy the alternate rocking' experience of the earlier FTD 'At The International' which used a little more audio compression and reverb to give you the feel of being in the audience of the showroom, but this release is truly dynamic.
After the first song Elvis laughs, "They get me going crazy too" the first sign that he is there to have fun. Elvis kicks on to a rocking and soulful 'I Got A Woman' and a brilliant 'All Shook Up' including, "I’m a little screwed up but I feel fine". If only Elvis had always treated "the oldies" as funky as this - and how good was 'I Got A Woman’ as a short and punchy 3-minute song compared to the later drawn out versions?
At this point Elvis welcomes the audience "to the freaky International Hotel" with the "weirdo dolls and funky angels on the wall!" Elvis then stammers badly telling them that he, "hope you get a k-k-k-k-kick" out of the show. There’s a lovely note of self-depreciation as he comments, "C’mon boy you can talk. Christ, what’s wrong with me?' - It’s a great Elvis moment.
Another great Elvis moment is before ‘Mystery Train’ when Elvis has to kiss a fan to get her to sit back down. There’s a lovely laugh in his voice as Ronnie Tutt provides the appropriately timed drum-roll with Elvis adding, "Oh Lord, have mercy!"
Elvis' enthusiasm shows as he rocks through the 'oldies' with real energy and verve. 'Jailhouse Rock/Don’t Be Cruel', ‘Mystery Train/Tiger Man' really rock as they should. On 'Hound Dog' Elvis goes spontaneously into a "chang chang" ending to keep the song going and throws in a naughty and teasing "You ain't nothin' but a Mother" as well!
'Heartbreak Hotel' is interesting for the way Elvis laughs at himself and his voice has that real gravelly 68 Special feel. The clarity of the sound gives you a real sense of the openness of the showroom and there’s very nice piano work from Larry Muhoberac too.
As usual for 1969 Elvis takes the chance in the middle of the show to tell the audience his version of his Lifestory - and this take is still fun to hear. In Elvis’ first 1969 Vegas season he was still in his risqué joke-telling mood (he later laughs about "pulling his handle!") and here the audience laps it up. Elvis talks about Ed Sullivan and the Steve Allen Show - "The dog was on heat!" He talks about going into the army, "Overnight I got drafted, shafted and everything else." In a cute coincidence for this CD the only sixties movie that Elvis mentions is "Viva Las Vegas" which gets a big cheer from the crowd. Elvis also introduces and thanks Mr & Mrs Tippler, the couple that gave him his first job at Crown Electric.
After the introductions Elvis plugs in his electric guitar to kick off to a funky and very loose 'Baby What You Want Me To Do.' Check out James Burton's fuzzy guitar solo as well as Elvis' enthusiasm as he cheers the band along.
At this point, and at last in context, is the delicious snippet of Elvis almost singing 'Surrender’. This was previously featured on the fabulous 'Collector's Gold' 1991 box-set where it was edited onto the start of 'Are You Lonesome Tonight'. Elvis also naughtily says, "I'm not going to do that man, I'm gonna' sit up here and pull my handle!" which was also previously edited.
A very fine 'Runaway' is next followed by a sincere 'Are You Lonesome Tonight' where it is nice to hear Elvis’ guitar high in the mix and Millie Kirham’s soprano less so. A regular 'Yesterday/Hey Jude' has a longer ending with Elvis kissing his adoring fans, before some fine band Introductions which features the fabulous "Happy Birthday" sung to James Burton - which also confirms the date as August 21st.
After these Elvis is ready to head on home with the sensational quartet of In The Ghetto/Suspicious Minds/What'd I Say/Can't Help Falling In Love.
'In The Ghetto' is fine for being taken at a slightly slower tempo than the ‘In Person’ version while 'Suspicious Minds' is also at a slower tempo here than on other 1969 Live releases. This presents it more like the single version, and with a better mix than on 'In Person’ it is a tremendous new addition. Unfortunately Elvis cannot hear the band properly so he goes off track at times, but Elvis and the band's driving energy, for the full 8 minutes, more than makes up for it.
Next up is the real highlight of a burning 'What'd I Say’ with some great guitar and fabulous call & response vocal work. It is a burst of adrenalin and one of the best live versions ever released. With the "Well, I gotta go.." refrain it's the perfect power-packed finale before Elvis really has to say goodnight. There is no doubting Elvis’ sincerity when he says, "You’re a fantastic audience, this one’s especially for you" and with a heartfelt ‘Can’t Help Falling In Love' he heads on home.
You can even hear a stunned Charlie Hodge commenting "My boy, my boy. . " on the fade out. Listening thirty-eight years later one can only agree.
The Concert: 1) Blue Suede Shoes 2) I Got A Woman 3) All Shook Up 4) Love Me Tender 5) Jailhouse Rock/Don't Be Cruel 6) Heartbreak Hotel 7) Hound Dog 8) Memories 9) Mystery Train/Tiger Man 10) Monologue/Lifestory 11) Baby What You Want Me To Do 12) Runaway 13) Are You Lonesome Tonight? 14)Yesterday/Hey Jude 15)Introductions 16) In The Ghetto 17) Suspicious Minds 18) What'd I Say 19) Can't Help Falling In Love.
Verdict: As a combined package 'Viva Las Vegas' covers almost all of Elvis' greatest hits live - It is the BEST BMG release of the year! The sound quality is sensational making the first CD the best quality versions you can own, and then you also get a brand new 1969 Concert! What more can one hope for 30 years on? ALL fans should buy the double CD version to enjoy Elvis at his most dynamic while Vegas was still brand new and exciting to him. It is the sound of The King reclaiming his throne. Check out your local stores on on-line shops for a great price, at $20 for a double CD this is sensational value.
Review by Piers Beagley
-Copyright EIN, November 2007
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