"Elvis Presley is the greatest cultural force in the 20th century."

(Leonard Bernstein)


"If you're an Elvis fan, no explanation is necessary; If you're not an Elvis fan, no explanation is possible."

(George Klein)


"For a dead man, Elvis Presley is awfully noisy."

(Professor Gilbert B. Rodman)


"History has him as this good old country boy, Elvis is about as country as Bono!"

(Jerry Schilling)





"Bilko’s Gold Cuts" – A mixed bag of goodies

As the booklet correctly notes, “In the days before collector’s labels, “import” releases from Bilko/Fort Baxter were a godsend”. In some ways the success of their CDs, including the excellent ‘There’s Always Me’ series, helped create and guide the fabulous FTD label. Containing a packed 78 minutes, featuring rarities from 1960 through to 1976, this CD should be an interesting trip through the vaults of Bilko.

However, while presented as a “Joy ride for the novice collectors” something appears to have gone a little awry since a large number of the tracks have now been officially released by the FTD label, and in far better quality.

Let’s get the bad news out of the way first.

‘In Your Arms’ Tk1 is on FTD ‘Fame & Fortune’ and in far better quality. ‘Little Sister’ Tk6 is on UK E.P Collection Vol.2 and is extremely close to Tk9 on Such A Night, Essential Elvis Vol.6. ‘Gonna Get Back Home Somehow’ Tk1 is on FTD ‘Studio B Nashville outtakes’ and with far better audio.

‘Blue River’ Tk1 is just a 15 second false-start and Take 2 the Master. The edited extended Master, in great quality, is on the recent FTD ‘Double Trouble’. ‘U. S. Male’ Tk10 is in disappointing mono here, yet can be found in glorious stereo on ‘Close Up’. ‘Power Of My Love’ has an astounding good 1½ minutes of build-up but Take 1 itself can be found on the excellent BMG release ‘Suspicious Minds’.

‘Any Day Now‘ Tk2 is at the incorrect speed here, whereas it can be found on the FTD ‘Memphis Sessions’ in better quality and with extra studio chat beforehand. ‘Johnny B. Goode’ the remarkable March 1972 rehearsal could have been a highlight but it has also recently been released on the essential FTD purchase ‘On Tour: The Rehearsals’. The audio mix here is mono with James Burton’s guitar way too low in the mix. The FTD version is far superior and really captures the excitement in the room.

While these maybe part of Bilko’s legacy, so are my scratched & worn 45rpms part of mine - and you don’t want a compile of those believe me! It is hard to understand why these tracks were chosen for this compile.

Further minor disappointments...

The previously unreleased ‘Never Been To Spain’ Feb. ’72 has a lot of tape hiss and drags along, seemingly too slow. Revisit the 70s box-set for the Feb 16th Master to discover just how fabulously Elvis could perform this live. ‘Sweet Caroline’ previously unreleased Feb 23 ’70, has similar tape hiss, but being from the Closing show Elvis is in good humour and it is a great version. He adds the new lyric “The spring became the mattress’’ and the song has a punchier feel than the well-known ‘On Stage’ recording of a few days before.

With the Elvis classic ‘Suspicion’ unfortunately neither take is complete. Tk3 soon falls apart while Take 4 has not been released due to the ending being cut. A nice addition, but the superior Take 2 is on the BMG release ‘Such A Night’.

Finally, the oddity of the ‘The Prisoner’s Song’. It may have been a tune “for the boys” but with its racist & politically-incorrect lyrics I am sure that Elvis would not want this released, and it seems badly out-of-place on this ‘best of’. Don’t play it at dinner parties!

The good news is that the booklet & candid photos as always are excellent and the remaining 13 tracks are definitely worth exploring. From 1960, the final “previously unreleased” track ‘Fame And Fortune’ Tk.14 is one of Elvis’ very best and is fascinating since the spliced section (that was combined with Take 15 to create the final Master) is actually missing here!

From the same year ‘Shoppin' Around’ Tk9,10 is from the initial RCA studios G.I. Blues session and interestingly features Elvis playing guitar. ‘You'll Think Of Me’ Tk7 is a similar to the version on ‘Memphis Sessions’ but the band is still fine-tuning the arrangement and the sitar is rougher, making it a delightful version.

‘When I'm Over You’ – While this was always a pretty lame song, it was truly ruined by the dreadful string & organ overdubs of the final release. This longer version is definitely preferable and the best available. I wonder why BMG hasn’t released it yet since it would have made an interesting bonus track to CD1 of the TTWII S.E. set.

The real gems start at Track 15 with ‘That's All Right’ July 15, ’70 rehearsal. While the recording is distorted it can’t distract from the excitement and power of Elvis & the band jamming on a real bluesy version of his first single. Sixteen years after first recording this milestone and Elvis still finds something new to impart to the song! Great stuff.

‘Stranger In The Crowd’ July 29, ’70 rehearsal also captures a real enthusiasm that Elvis had for the song. With just Elvis & the TCB band, and in great stereo, this is excellent. Interesting to compare it with the orchestrated TTWII live version. ‘Polk A Little Sock Salad’ Aug 10, ’70 - another classic taken from the stage dress-rehearsal for the TTWII shows. Elvis laughs and whoops his way through this gem, playing with the lyrics while still rockin’ out. Essential listening.

‘I Just Can't Help Believin' is from the same rehearsal and, as always, he forgets the lyrics! Interesting as Elvis sings along with the orchestra and slings extra comments to the band. Cute. ‘It's Over’ April 10, ’72. Elvis comments at the start, “This song is a favourite of mine” and this version is excellent. With a martial drumbeat, this is a very different arrangement to the Feb ‘Master’ 3 months earlier. The orchestra is low in the mix and the tempo is faster. Delightful screams from the crowd add to the impact.

‘If You Talk In Your Sleep’ Aug 30, ‘74 was always a great song in Elvis’ live repertoire from this extraordinary season and this version, with its extended intro, doesn’t disappoint.

Three songs from the Bilko “More Pure Elvis” round out this CD, and have now been adjusted to play at the correct speed. Apart from the brief RCA “Memories” series, undubbed Masters are something that Ernst & BMG haven’t yet explored. However, there is no doubt that if Elvis’ vocal was the “best take” then there is real interest in hearing the original studio recording without unnecessary overdubs.

‘If You Don't Come Back’ & ‘Promised Land’ from the Stax sessions are fascinating for their pure funk, although the high level organ mix of ‘Promised Land’ Master makes you realise that the overdub & remix, with Dennis Linde’s extra guitar and added piano, did create the perfect single.

‘Moody Blue’ is fascinating for another reason since it demonstrates just how tired Elvis sounded at this point in his life. Elvis' voice waivers as he tries too hard, pushing the song to a minute longer than the edited single. Elvis seems to run out of steam which, of course, reflects his life at the time. It also shows what improvements can be made with editing & overdubs.

Verdict – Some hard-core fans often complain that the FTD label produces CDs with bad cover designs and that their musical selection could be improved. This ‘best of Bilko’ truly demonstrates that finding rare, quality Elvis content is pretty hard nowadays. It also helps emphasise what a brilliant job Ernst Jorgensen & Roger Semon really do perform, most of the time.

With so many tracks officially released this has to be a disappointment from a label with as good a reputation as ‘Bilko’. The Fort Baxter ‘greatest hits’ from their label-mate was so much better. However the 9 rare gems that are featured are genuinely exciting, and I am sure several of them will see FTD release in the future.

Note - EIN advocates the support of FTD releases since bootlegs do deprive all the musicians & songwriters of their deserved income.

Read EIN's review of "Fort Baxter's Greatest Hits"

Click to comment on this review

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