There is no doubt that FTD had to produce this ‘ELVIS’ Classic Album version at some point - but it has to be a very different offering to their version of his first LP as unfortunately the session tapes for nearly every song is missing. No doubt lost during RCA’s unfathomable tape clear out of 1959. It makes you want to cry!
Another difference is that nearly all these tracks have already been remastered by Vic Anesini and have previously been released elsewhere. Not only on the "Complete Masters" set but also on the wonderful RCA 1956 box-set ‘Young Man With The Big Beat’ released in 2011. And I can’t imagine that any FTD collector would not have bought ‘Young Man With The Big Beat’.
So what is new? What makes this FTD set worth collecting?
When Elvis entered Radio Recorders in September 1956 he really was there to record "an album", his first genuine album of RCA material. After the all-time record-breaking smash of ‘Hound Dog/Don’t Be Cruel’ things could never be the same. This is not a Greatest-Hits kind of collection, instead it contains twelve tracks of extraordinary variety - it is one of my favourite early Elvis albums.
So how many times have I already bought this fabulous album? The original vinyl (which got too worn), a replacement 33rpm vinyl, the 50's BMG box-set, Elvis '56, the 2005 Kevan Budd audio remaster, Young Man With The Big Beat and The Complete Masters at the very least. Surely that is enough!
Back in 2005 'Uncut Legends' magazine captured the importance and excitement of Elvis' second album in this lovely article which is worth repeating…
"August 1956, the Christmas sales market was looming and the follow-up to Elvis' million-selling first album had been pencilled in by RCA for November. There was just the one problem: there wasn't anything to release.
Ever since he'd secured Elvis a seven-movie deal back in April, the nefarious Colonel Tom Parker had been so preoccupied with draining the coffers of Hollywood that the small matter of maintaining Presley's 'day job' had become almost inconsequential. It was only after RCA executives turned up on the set of Elvis' first feature, Love Me Tender, and demanded he be given leave for an emergency session that Parker begrudgingly relented. With a break in shooting over Labor Day weekend in early September, Elvis was spared just three days to record what would become "Elvis". The first time that he entered the studio with the specific mandate of recording a long-play album.
Had Elvis rolled into Radio Recorders in Hollywood that weekend and merely gone through the motions just to silence his employers, it would still have been released. Hell, anything Elvis recorded was going to be shoved in a glossy sleeve and racked out by the thousands. It just so happened that after two months spent hanging around the set of Love Me Tender, Elvis was champing at the bit to remind the Cochrans and Vincents already snapping at his heels that he was The King. And on 'ELVIS', he'd take no prisoners.
It's evident from the opening, twitchy hi-hat stutter prompting Little Richard's 'Rip It Up', moments before Elvis utters the immortal blue collar war cry of a young buck hell-bent on good livin', "Well, it's Saturday night and I just got paid!" Compared to the ropey hurtle through Richard's 'Tutti Frutti' recorded nine months earlier for his first album, 'Rip It Up' was a vastly superior performance, and not just from Elvis. Scotty Moore complemented the hedonistic urgency of the vocal with a biting guitar break while D.J. Fontana was just as audibly eager, his crash-bang-walloping rhythm akin to a one-man street brawl. Their first group session in two months, both in song and in spirit, 'Rip It Up' announced that Elvis and his boys were very much back in town.
Similar fire was granted to the album's other Little Richard-penned rockers, 'Ready Teddy' and 'Long Tall Sally', though it was when the pace slowed that Elvis' vocals really started to smoulder: the drowsy, wooing baritone of 'Anyplace Is Paradise', the pining isolation of 'How's The World Treating You' and the unflinchingly sincere 'First In Line'. Even the cornball tearjerker 'Old Shep', the first song Elvis had performed in public back in 1945 at the age of ten, was played disarmingly straight.
Likewise, the outstanding 'Love Me', penned by Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller and conceived as a 'country hick' romantic spoof. Elvis failed to see the humour, his delivery cleansing it of any cynicism, only to instead make poetry out of its masochistic plea to have his faithful heart broken.
The fact that its entire contents were cut in one three-day period (bar 'So Glad You're Mine', recorded back in January yet, bizarrely, left off his debut) bestowed Elvis with the textural uniformity its predecessor lacked. Yet, if it was his first, "proper" rock 'n' roll album, planned and produced as such, it would also be his last this side of army life. The next, Loving You, was a compromised soundtrack affair.
The Sunday morning hangover of bad songs, bad movies and bad decisions was only just dawning. But as the sound of the glorious Saturday night before, 1956's Elvis remains invincible.
Cover & Design.
The 16-page booklet features plenty of great images from the time, I love the one of Elvis receiving a copy of the very album itself from George Klein! (see above)
Mid to late 1956 Elvis looked great with his hair still that blonde-brown colour. The photos here capture Elvis at that point in time somewhere between innocence and mega-stardom. Several pages are dedicated to photos from the David Hetch session from February 1956 (see example above) which for some reason didn’t make it on to Elvis’ single and album sleeves until much later in the year.
It is also great to have a good image of the original album back-cover (see below) (although it doesn’t mention that there were multiple versions). It featured wonderful sleeve notes by RCA’s Chick Crumpacker recalling the initial lack of interest in Elvis’ first TV appearance. It starts...
…. "It was a cold rainy night on Broadway. The time, January 1956. The place, a TV theatre studio between 53rd and 54th Streets. The occasion, the first network telecast of a country singer unknown to the pop world, a youngster of unusual talents with some uncertainty about displaying them before a national audience.
Although Elvis Presley’s debut was gained through spectacular local fame and following, its publicity had not attracted the world at large. An artist who had set numerous Southern centers on their ear, Presley was facing a majority of viewers as cold and unprepared as the citizens of Siberia.
In New York, very few had braved the storm. The theatre was sparsely filled with shivering servicemen and Saturday nighters, mostly eager for the refuge from the weather. Outside, groups of teenagers rushed past the marquee to a roller-skating rink nearby. Just before show time, a weary promoter returned to the box office with dozens of tickets, unable to give them away on the streets of Times Square.
What happened that night, and during the days following, is now history. The national gaze was pivoted to Presley en masse…. "
The informative "Behind the Scenes" also nicely explains the time-line and how this album release fitted into Elvis’ heavy workload....
… Surprisingly, the first steps towards compiling Elvis' second album were made even before 'Heartbreak Hotel' had taken off and prior to his debut album, Elvis Presley, being released in March 1956. Following the February 2 recording session in New York, RCA's A&R executive, Steve Sholes, wrote to Colonel Parker, saying: "On Friday we didn't have any new material that suited Elvis so we recorded 'Lawdy Miss Clawdy' and 'Shake, Rattle And Roll'. Neither one of the two will be suitable for single release, but I know they will make good selections for the second album". Steve Sholes' attitude was as courageous as it was visionary……
Fortunately, by the time of the recording sessions for 'I Want You, I Need You, I Love You' in April 1956, all previous concerns about the commercial potential of Elvis Presley had disappeared, but now Sholes' anxiety centred instead on the relative lack of productivity at Elvis' recording sessions. Sholes was used to getting three to four sides per three-hour session, but on the April 14 date, he only managed to record one song for Elvis' new single. The July 2 session in New York was slightly better in terms of productivity, in that 'Hound Dog', 'Don't Be Cruel' and 'Any Way You Want Me' were committed to tape. To compound the problem though, Elvis only selected four songs to take home with him from Sholes' stack of demos intended for possible inclusion on his second album.
Fundamentally, this meant that Sholes and RCA only had 'So Glad You're Mine' in the can for the second album…."
There are four pages of memorablia plus some great recording session photos (see below) and interesting documents including one stating that Elvis might considering recording a selection the songs including ‘Naughty Mama’ and ‘I Ain’t Studying You, Baby.’
The first CD comprises all of Elvis’ studio work from July 2 1956 through to September 3 1956 - but leaving out the Love Me Tender soundtrack session. (The next FTD planned release).
The audio has been mastered by Sebastian Jeansson (who worked with Vic Anesini on the Complete Masters) and it sound fabulous. Perhaps what matters more here is the audio improvement on the ‘Rip It Up’ outtakes.
The CD starts with ELVIS the original album, followed by the single 'Playing For Keeps', 'Too Much' and also includes the three single sides from the ‘Hound Dog’ / Don’t Be Cruel’ session. It is not as if any of us need yet another version of the classic life-changing single but I still can never get enough of the lesser played singles ‘Too Much’ (listen for the laugh in Elvis’ voice straight after Scotty’s out-there guitar solo!) and the delicious ‘Anyway You Want Me’.
The CD ends with the only surviving session tape featuring the ‘Rip It Up’ outtakes 10 –19.
The majority of these have already been released across various BMG/FTD releases such as Flashback and ‘Today, Tomorrow and Forever’. Take 17 and Take 18 are the only unreleased takes on this double CD.
To be honest, comparing the remastered sound to the Flashback versions they are definitely improved albeit not that dramatically. However now there is a lovely high-frequency edge on D.J. Fontana’s drums which notiecably sparkles here. The earlier takes also rock with Scotty Moore's guitar solo being so nice and rough!
Elvis’ friends Natalie Wood and Nick Adams were present at the session and at the start of Take 15 Jordanaire Hugh Jarrett intones a marvellous "Natalie Wood" as a tease. Gordon Stoker played some stunning piano, by now the band were rockin’, and this could be a master save D.J. Fontana missing a beat or two.
This was originally released on the Platinum box-set (along with the fake edit of "Hey Nick, you play drums?" from Take 18) but here it sounds crisp and with a cleaner bass.
Previously unreleased Take 17 is sensational and complete but close enough to the final version that there is very little difference. Bill Black however plays an obviously missed-timed stray note at 01.16 which would stop the take being released.
Before unreleased Take 18 you can hear Bill Black warming up but this time it is Elvis’ voice that wavered at 01.15 and the take fell apart when DJ Fontana and Scotty stopped before they get to the end.
It is terrific to hear Elvis jokingly ask Nick Adams, "Hey Nick, you play drums? It’s pretty good if you can get it." This is a delightful insight into the session, now fully in context, and one wonders why this penultimate take has not been released before.
The next Take 19 would be the powerful master. Perhaps reacting to Elvis’ jibe, D.J Fontana, thrashes the hell out of his drums, Scotty Moore plays a blistering solo and Elvis’ voice which had previously strained through 27 takes of ‘First In Line’ holds out.
The last song of the session it would become the all-important lead song of the album.
‘Old Shep’ alternate Take 5 follows. This was released by mistake on some US album pressings. If you listen to Take 1, the master, you can clearly hear Elvis’ piano chair, or Bill Black’s double-bass, squeak at 0:05 during the into. Elvis was playing the piano himself. I suspect that Thorne Nogar pressed for a cleaner recording although in the end Elvis’ heartfelt vocal was better on the first take. They kept trying for another 4 takes by which time Scotty Moore was adding some more prominent bluesy guitar picking to the mix. Take 5 is also at a slower tempo. The Jordanaires backing-vocals are spot-on in both takes so the band must have rehearsed well beforehand.
In the end Elvis’ more emotional vocal on the first take was perfect for the album choice.
As this Take 5 was officially released perhaps this bluesier version should have been in the ‘Complete Masters’ box-set but it was however omitted.
When Elvis and the band wrapped up the session with ‘Rip It Up’ they had recorded an astounding Thirty-Nine studio masters in the one year. And remember that Elvis’ RCA contract only asked for "A minimum of 8 record sides a year"! - WOW!
FTD booklet double-page spread of memorabilia from the time
DISC 2 features the historic final appearance on the Louisiana Hayride.
Hirsch Coliseum, Louisiana Fairgrounds, Shreveport - December 15th 1956.
FTD collectors presumably will already have this on the ‘Young Man With The Big Beat’, so while an important performance this will add nothing to most fan’s collections.
Three songs from his new album were performed on the show. 'When My Blue Moon Turns To Gold Again', 'Long Tall Sally', and most importantly the stunning ‘Paralyzed’.
Elvis’ final show of the year recorded for the Louisiana Hayride is an incredible, totally assured performance, to more than 9,000 screaming fans.
‘Don’t Be Cruel’ is also a perfect un-rushed version, the tempo slowed down and imitating the Billy Ward and the Dominoes version that Elvis would have heard in Vegas. Such a brilliant version and so different from the throwaway seventies attempts. Similarly ‘Love Me’ is beautifully performed and now with the Jordanaires as his permanent backing group.
‘I Was The One’ is also a very assured crowd pleaser getting the topical line for December "I’ll never know, I wish it would snow".
"The song from the movie, in which I got blasted!" ‘Love Me Tender’ is a lovely early version and ‘When My Blue Moon' are more treats for this classic concert.
Elvis of course ends the year with an all-mighty ‘Hound Dog’ as his faithful fans scream their lungs out in love and appreciation. It wouldn’t be until years later and The Beatles in 1963 that such mayhem would match this adoration for a recording artist.Incredibly Elvis’ next concert wouldn’t be until three months later on March 28th 1957.
Sadly the concert only runs 31 minutes - and is the same version released on ‘Young Man With The Big Beat’(see full review here).
Here I feel that FTD have somewhat let collectors down by not including something extra and new. The obvious possibility being the highlights from the TV shows that Elvis was performing within exactly the same time frame.
The album was recorded September 1-3 1956, so why not include the added bonus of the Ed Sullivan September 9 performances with newly improved audio from Sebastian Jeansson / Vic Anesini?
The Sullivan TV performances of the album tracks ‘Love Me’, ‘When My Blue Moon Turns To Gold Again’, ‘Ready Teddy’ and ‘Too Much’ would have all fitted perfectly here.
Of course I realise that the bottom of the barrel is being scraped but even a couple of newly remastered tracks would have made the second disc more interesting and collectable.
Several fans have asked EIN exactly what makes this Classic Album worth buying all over again and they also wonder exactly how much FTD have left in their barrel.
So of all my various copies of this fabulous album, this FTD Classic Album certainly is the best presentation so far (not on vinyl!). It looks wonderful and sounds fabulous - but is it wrong to say that I still feel that I was hoping for something more? (click here and send EIN your thoughts)
Overall Verdict: It is obvious that Elvis’ second album deserved a Classic Album treatment at some point and this is a very fine release for what it is. The presentation and booklet is as fine as ever. Sadly FTD putting the album out also makes the statement that they don’t ever expect to find those missing session tapes. Keen fans will surely be buying this to complete their collection (which is a fine reason) or perhaps only for the two previously unreleased ‘Rip It Up’ outtakes and the alternate take of ‘Old Shep’ (which seems a little crazy).
Certainly if you never bought the ‘Young Man With The Big Beat’ box-set the this double-CD package is a cracker. However at around US$35 this time I get the feeling that FTD could have offered a little more.
As I noted, the bottom of the barrel is close and thinking of future FTD releases fans must be wondering - What now, What next, Where to – What’s left?
EIN's spotlight looking at exactly what is left for future FTD releases is coming very soon.