It has been a fair while since Sony/BMG released a top-class Elvis product to the general public.
The Deluxe Version, right, contains over 100 songs, a 32 page booklet & with each disc housed in stylish mini LP paper sleeves. The box is CD sized with text foil stamped lift-off lid.
The regular version is a simple 4CD plastic case with no sleeves. It does however include the same booklet.
The presentation is one of the best ever from BMG and both releases contain a delightful 32 page booklet of photos and memorabilia. The text by Harvey Kubernick nicely sets the scene and includes some interesting stories from Elvis' buddy Lance LeGault including,,,
|"We were three minutes from doing it. That is how it happened. Look at the guys around him on stage. They all had burgundy or Levi jackets on. They all had uniforms on. I didn't have a uniform on. My hair wasn't even brushed. I had stepped off to the side when Elvis said `Come here.' 'What?' 'Get a tambourine and come in.' How could I make this up? If I were supposed to be there I'd have the same clothes as them.
"Elvis and I played a lot of music over the years," LeGault acknowledges. "He sang all the time. We didn't go to lunch breaks; we went to dressing rooms and jammed. Now, Elvis was very insecure when we started and I think that's why he called me up. Because Elvis had a charming insecurity. But then he warmed up and relaxed, which didn't take long. Look at the opening of that sit-down part - he had an acoustic guitar. And then he traded with Scotty and took the electric. And then it all became electric."
It is a delicious irony that the most packaged, pre-meditated image in pop culture could reclaim his most authentic self in such a spontaneous fashion. Clearly scared to death, he retreated to his strengths, surrounded by musicians who understood and relished the same impulse to simply sing and play. Elemental in its ferocity, the "sit-down" section is a time capsule that students of music, let alone Elvis fans, will long cherish."
There is the thought that as serious Elvis fans, haven't we bought the entire musical content before? This is of course basically true and I admit that the 2000 BMG double CD 'Memories' is one of best "Comeback" compiles around.
However here we not only get the ORIGINAL Album version (The 'Memories' set was a very different compilation) but there is something refreshing about the way this new set has been compiled. Once I started playing these CDs I was grabbed once again by how fresh and exciting this rock'n'roll renaissance still sounds even forty years later.
The second CD of the first Sit-Down and Stand-Up shows cleverly leads us from Elvis jamming with the boys on his very first release 'That's All Right' through a fabulous revitalisation of his classic songs all the way to the stunning 'If I Can Dream' which would be his newest single. It is still a fascinating musical journey.
I was also surprised by my realisation of just how many "old" movies songs Elvis used in this TV Special. In this Beatles/Byrds era Elvis could have been taking a chance using some of these old "corny" songs like 'Little Egypt', 'Let Yourself Go' even 'Can't Help Falling In Love' and 'Love Me Tender' which might have sounded way out of date. Remember that none of us had ever heard Elvis sings ANY of these songs LIVE since the fifties*!
However the new Billy Goldenburg arrangements and the power of Elvis' vocal push these and every song into something full of soul and passion. It's a real revitalisation, a new breath of life. Did his vocal for Love Me Tender or Can't Help Falling In Love ever sound better?
As detailed below here are the contents of each CD.
CD.1 - Original Album, plus bonus stereo tracks
CD.2 - First sit down show/First stand up show
CD.3 - Second sit down show/Second stand up show
CD.4 - First Rehearsal/Second Rehearsal
My only negative is that unfortunately BMG decided to use the original Master Tape of the TV-Special, and despite the work of their best sound engineer Vic Anesini it does sound terribly rough at times. But this is to be expected since the tape was always a poor quality Master and, as on previous releases, you can even hear the tape creases go by. Reading the JAT '68 At 40 Retrospective’ book one perhaps can understand why, since the wily Colonel made sure that RCA never truly paid for the Steve Binder/Bones Howe produced tapes. Maybe it is karma at work!
The only way to get around the poor LP Master tape would have to have done a complete reconstruction from the various parts of all the shows, and then where would that fake applause come from? In some ways the first CD of the BMG ‘Memories’ release did just that, editing together a new version of the show in great sound quality.
In any case it is after all the original album sequencing that we all have a nostalgic fondness for and the audio quality is not something that the general public will baulk at. The original album is also now bolstered by the bonus stereo tracks, plus the new releases of the "A Legendary Performer Vol.3" versions of 'It Hurts Me' and 'Let Yourself Go' – and mah boy, mah boy, do they sound great!
Noting a positive audio improvement, the sound on the other 3 discs has been upgraded to a better quality than on previous releases. Noticeable is the improvement on the tracks from the very first FTD release ’Burbank '68‘ which was mastered too loud and had clipping and distortion on the audio peaks.
The third CD features both second shows and because of this both Elvis and the band have relaxed more into the live situation and Elvis messes around a bit more. He even fluffs ‘Heartbreak Hotel’ at the start! However he feels inspired enough to try out the gorgeous ‘Santa Claus Is Back In Town’ "My favourite Christmas song of all the ones I have ever recorded" even if he has forgotten the lyrics. Similarly 'When My Blue Moon Turns to Gold Again' gets a proper work-out at the second show.
It’s particularly nice to enjoy the full second Stand-Up show (several tracks were edited out on the 'Burbank '68 ’ release) with the fun of Elvis trying to conquer the ‘Trouble/Guitar Man’ playback. Left standing alone he has to entertain the audience, "They’re gonna’ put me away for a while" as he sings ‘MacArthur Park’ and ‘Tip-Toe Through The Tulips’. "It’s getting embarrassing standing out here Steve. I’ve got to do something."
The rehearsals CD is not one that one would play often but there are still plenty of revelations as Elvis and his friends laugh and kick around some ideas a few days before the actual Studio recordings.
Tracks like 'Blue Moon/Young Love' ("I tell you there are 500 songs with that same chord") 'When It Rains, It Really Pours' ("Goddamn that's high!"), 'That's My Desire' and Elvis' delight in 'Love Me' and 'When My Blue Moon Turns to Gold Again' (how strange that they never made it onto the TV Special LP) are just some of the really enjoyable moments.
(Right: The photo on the Deluxe package for the Rehearsals CD)
With the rehearsals CD running short it does seem a shame that another couple of unreleased tracks weren’t thrown in to help satiate the hard-core collectors.
What is ultimately missing from this set is Elvis’ genuinely live ‘If I Can Dream’ Master, as recorded at NBC and used on the TV broadcast. You can also find it on the ‘Memories’ BMG CD as the final track - and it is a sensational live vocal overdub including the exhausted "Thank you. Goodnight" ending.
Of course Elvis pedantics are arguing that this is not the "complete" Comeback Special which has to be true since the DVD alone runs for 7 hours plus there are all the Studio outtakes. There are snatches of dialogue that you wish had been left in place including Elvis’ sincere "Thank you for coming out tonight" introduction but with the "in concert" CDs running 77 minutes these were obviously edited for time.
In the end this is a "General Public" release providing the best of all four shows plus rehearsals and as such is one of BMG's best releases in years.
I realise that if, like myself, you have bought every individual FTD and BMG release (i.e. Tiger Man, Memories and FTDs 'Burbank '68' & Let Yourself Go) then you will have all the content - but of course not all the songs in their correct context. However the whole package is something too good to miss out on not to "Let Yourself Go" and enjoy this wonderful celebration one more time. It is, after all, only slightly more expensive than one FTD digi-pack release.
Verdict: An essential celebration of Elvis at his best. Personally I was happy to pay the $15 extra for the Deluxe edition with its printed CD slip-cases. The complete Deluxe package can be found for around $45. All in all, great value and hours of musical entertainment from Elvis at his best.
* Ok Elvis had performed some of his oldies Live in Hawaii and Memphis in 1961 but these were not known performances nor were they re-invented and updated versions of his classics.
Note that the JAT book '68 at 40- Retrospective' is the perfect book to read while listening to these CDs. Go here for our book review and more Elvis '68 photographs.
Review by Piers Beagley
Copyright EIN - September 2008
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CD1 - Original Album, plus bonus tracks:
Trouble/Guitar Man - Lawdy, Miss Clawdy/Baby, What You Want Me To Do/Heartbreak Hotel/Hound Dog/All Shook Up/Can't Help Falling In Love/Jailhouse Rock/Love Me Tender - Where Could I Go But To The Lord/Up Above My Head/Saved - Blue Christmas/One Night - Memories - Nothingville/Big Boss Man/Guitar Man/Little Egypt/Trouble/Guitar Man - If I Can Dream
It Hurts Me - Let Yourself Go - A Little Less Conversation - Memories (stereo) - If I Can Dream (stereo)
CD2 - First Sit-Down show & First Stand-Up show:
Introductions - That's All Right - Heartbreak Hotel - Love Me - Baby What You Want Me To Do - Blue Suede Shoes - Baby What You Want Me To Do - Lawdy Miss Clawdy - Are You Lonesome Tonight? - When My Blue Moon Turns To Gold Again - Blue Christmas - Trying To Get To You - One Night - Baby What You Want Me To Do - One Night - Memories
First Stand-Up show
Heartbreak Hotel - Hound Dog - All Shook Up - Can't Help Falling In Love - Jailhouse Rock - Don't Be Cruel - Blue Suede Shoes - Love Me Tender - Trouble/Guitar Man - Baby What You Want Me To Do - If I Can Dream
CD3 - Second Sit-Down show & Second Stand-Up show
Heartbreak Hotel - Baby What You Want Me To Do - Introductions - That's All Right - Are You Lonesome Tonight? - Baby What You Want Me To Do - Blue Suede Shoes - One Night - Love Me - Trying To Get To You - Lawdy Miss Clawdy - Santa Claus Is Back In Town - Blue Christmas - Tiger Man - When My Blue Moon Turns To Gold Again - Memories
Second Stand-Up show
Heartbreak Hotel - Hound Dog - All Shook Up - Can't Help Falling In Love - Jailhouse Rock - Don't Be Cruel - Blue Suede Shoes - Love Me Tender - Trouble - Trouble - Trouble/Guitar Man - Trouble/Guitar Man - If I Can Dream
CD4 - First Rehearsal/Second Rehearsal
I Got A Woman - Blue Moon/Young Love/Oh, Happy Day - When It Rains It Really Pours - Blue Christmas - Are You Lonesome Tonight?/That's My Desire - That's When Your Heartaches Begin - Peter Gun theme - Love Me - When My Blue Moon Turns To Gold Again - Blue Christmas/Santa Claus Is Back In Town
Danny Boy - Baby What You Want Me To Do - Love Me - Tiger Man - Santa Claus Is Back In Town - Lawdy, Miss Clawdy - One Night - Blue Christmas - Baby What You Want Me To Do - When My Blue Moon Turns To Gold Again - Blue Moon Of Kentucky
Go here for other relevant EIN articles:
EIN reviews 'Let Yourself Go' FTD
EIN reviews 'Burbank '68'
1968 - The Night Elvis Reclaimed His Crown:
The '68 Special - 40th Anniversary Celebration:
Spotlight on the definitive Elvis "blues" album:
EIN reviews BMG Genre CD, 'Elvis 'R&B''
EIN reviews 'The Complete Million Dollar Quartet'