'So High'

FTD CD review

- FTD gem that "captures" cross-section of Elvis' musical genius

(Piers Beagley, February 2004)


'So High' is the final instalment in FTD's close look at Elvis Presley's sixties recordings in Nashville and focuses on those "terrible years" 1966 -1968 and what an absolute gem it is!

This CD cleverly demonstrates that Elvis' creativity was far from finished and it is a skilful selection showing the kind of music that Elvis was enjoying at that time.

While half the CD focuses on the 'How Great Thou Art' sessions, presenting the tracks in chronological order mixes up gospel, blues & folk and they all fit perfectly in context.

The later sixties were a terrible period for Elvis & Elvis fans alike. The pop music scene was full of true creativity. In mid 1965 Bob Dylan was recording 'Blonde On Blonde' while Elvis was recording 'Paradise Hawaiian Style'!

The Beach Boys were working with multi-tracks and orchestras on the astounding 'Pet Sounds' and the Beatles responded with 'Sgt. Pepper'. Meanwhile The Colonel had 'His Boy' recording 'Smorgasbord', 'Old MacDonald', 'Yoga is as Yoga Does' and appearing in the worst films of his whole career!

From 1965 until the 1968 'Comeback Special' Elvis appeared to have totally lost his way. Slight glimpses of hope such as 'Guitar Man' didn't break into the Top 40 and even then that would be followed by the dreadful 'Speedway'. We now know that Elvis despised those soundtracks that he was forced to record and found solace in his love & enjoyment of Gospel music, folk & blues.

For me this is a far better representation of Elvis in this period that the third CD of the '60s Box Set' or the Gospel selection alone. 'Down In The Alley' & Dylan's 'Tomorrow Is A Long Time' fit seamlessly between Elvis' religious performances. While many of these tracks have been available on bootlegs before they haven't been in Stereo nor in this fantastic sound quality that we have come to expect from these FTD releases.

In fact a major bonus is that all the 'How Great Thou Art' religious songs which sounded so very thin on the 'Amazing Grace' box-set are at last mixed properly and have a lovely smooth & full 'vinyl' sound. Maybe Ernst has taken notice of our praise of the fabulous sound on 'Close Up'. If anyone teases you again about the dreadful 'Double Trouble' or 'Clambake' soundtracks, just tell them that they were all The Colonel's fault and play them this fabulous CD as proof!

With their best cover design yet, & at a packed 75 minutes, this is without doubt one of the best FTD releases so far. While the reason for buying this is the excellent demonstration of Elvis' creativity away from those 60's Soundtracks and every track is worthy of its historical place there are still some "special extras" that are worth pointing out.

Elvis' previous session in 1966 had been for the 'Spinout' soundtrack, and the last Elvis Presley real non-soundtrack LP, 'Pot Luck', had been recorded way back in 1962, so no wonder he was enthusiastic & ready to record some inspiring music.

Previous to the session Elvis had stated that he was interested in recording The Clovers 'Down In The Alley', 'I'll Remember You' & even 'Rags To Riches'. So it is not surprising that there was electricity in the air when the May 25th session kicked off with Elvis' interpretation of The Golden Gate Quartet's 'Run On'.

'Run On' Tk.6 - With all the excitement Felton Jervis starts Take 6 by suggesting, "Relax it, just a little bit." Take 5 had just fallen apart as had Takes 3 & 4, but here Elvis gets close to the Master. It also sounds even better since the final release seemed to have some added echo to it where here you can absorb the lovely dynamics of 'Studio B'.

Similarly 'Stand By Me', always a favourite and a song that has moved me to tears, is exquisite with Elvis' vocal so totally sincere as well as being dipped in honey. This take is at a slower tempo than the Master and with the added spacial stereo mix it sounds perfect.

'Down In The Alley' Tk.6 - 4am and near the end of the first day's session and this was the first song where Elvis could really let loose. Elvis gives his soul some serious salvation with a blast of much needed blues. On this take Boots Randolph's sax is more prominent in the mix while the guitar solo is rougher, however the drum riff at the end is strangely absent. The audio mix is improved here with percussion and bass accentuated, along with Elvis' vocal. A real highlight, although there can be no doubt that Take 1 on the '60s box-set' is hard to beat. Nice & rough, just like we like it!

'Tomorrow Is A Long Time' Tk.2 - The first night ended as the dawn came up with a Bob Dylan jam. When you hear this it makes you weep knowing that 'Double Trouble' & Easy Come, Easy Go' were to follow - Just what truly potential moments were lost? Elvis provides an exquisite vocal on close to six minutes of soulful & surreal folk with a song that is a classic of the sixties. This version, the first complete take, has more of a 'jam feel' than the Master with the new mix giving a greater clarity to the guitars.

'So High' Tk.1 - I love these rougher first takes and this is no exception. Felton gets everyone in the mood suggesting, "This is So High Take 1, Swing On!" At a slower tempo than the Master and with everyone clapping along earlier, this has a great church feel.

'Somebody Bigger Than You & I' Tk.11 - One of my favourite Elvis gospel songs which was a real challenge to get perfect in the studio (The Master was an edit). It's a shame that some of the rehearsal wasn't included here as this is just so damn good and Elvis makes it sound so easy! On this version the 'ice-rink' organ is thankfully lower is the mix and the arrangement is lighter. (The Master seems to have uncredited overdubbed strings). Really benifitting from the lovely warm mix of this CD, this is a real treat.

'Without Him' Tk.1 - A beautiful song that truly delights. Elvis slightly messes up the lyrics and his shoes squeak but otherwise the arrangement is similar to the Master. However the tempo is slower and the final drum arrangement hasn't been added yet. This took the group 14 takes to finally get a satisfactory recording so it is interesting that the very first take is so good. Even after eight takes Elvis remarked, "I wish I was a little more familiar with it. . ."

'If The Lord Wasn't Walking By My Side' Tk.6 - Another gem recorded post the final chosen Master, Take 5. A great gospel sing-a-long and the vocal mix is just right. Listen for Elvis as he snaps his fingers in enthusiasm.

'I'll Remember You' Tk.2 - Elvis overdubbed the vocal here and it is just delightful. At the planned recording session Elvis had announced that he had a "throat infection" but maybe he knew that The Colonel had 'Old MacDonald's Farm' waiting for him at the next session in just 2 weeks time! Here the harmonica & guitar are higher in the mix than the Master and you can hear Elvis chuckle beforehand. A delicious song that was unforgivably edited before it was thrown away as a bonus on the 'Spinout' LP. Elvis would, of course, reclaim it with his 'Aloha' performance and here you can appreciate it in all its beauty.

'Guitar Man' Tk.9 - Always great to have any new version of this classic. The Master released on the '60's Box- Set' always played at too fast a speed (just compare it to your original 45 rpm & it just ain't right!) while this version is at a slower tempo. This takes fades before Elvis heads into the 'What I'd Say' groove at the end, which was so good on Take 10. ( On Long Lonely Highway)

While 'Mine' and 'Singing Tree' have never been my favourites, here they fit perfectly into context. 'Mine' Tk.4 - is improved over the Master with a better acoustic guitar mix along with a less dramatic arrangement.

Similarly 'Singing Tree' Tk.1 - while not as good as the version on 'Close Up' it is much better than the faster tempo Master which used a multi tracked Elvis vocal that never did seem to make sense.

'High Heel Sneakers' Tk.5 - This was the stuff that Elvis' publishing company didn't want him to record! The end of the movie contracts was in sight but the '68 Comeback' was still a far-away dream. "Well I'm pretty sure now baby, Uh huh.. Ughh, Pretty soon you're gonna knock 'em dead!" Elvis at his loose and best. On this take you can hear Elvis clapping along with the excitement of it all. Elvis' vocal is higher and you can hear him grooving along with Boots Randolph's sax solos. This wasn't going to be the Master but it's a classic. Listen to Elvis giggle & mess up the lyrics as it finally falls apart. Another highlight.

'You Don't Know Me' Tk.2 - Yet another post-Master version. After some sensational blues Elvis showed the perfect counter-point with another attempt at the Ray Charles' 'You Don't Know Me' that he felt he didn't do justice to in the earlier 'Clambake' session. Beforehand Elvis delights with a "Yeah Baby". While the new Ray Walker bass-line really doesn't work here (The simpler arrangement of Take 1, the master, was already perfect) it is still a worthy addition as you hear Elvis' every sigh showing his enthusiasm in this remake.

'You'll Never Walk Alone' Tk.1 - Just Elvis, sitting alone, playing a favourite on the piano. Here we get the full take one with Elvis suggesting at the start, "Give me a little bit of an intro there Charlie." As Elvis plays live you can hear how the band and the Jordanaires are all working out their parts. Halfway through the track @ 2.40 Elvis stops and without a pause commences the song all over again. It was this second section that was released as the single, along with a little edit from Take 8. Here, in the unadulterated version, you can feel the very soul of Elvis breaking free. The previous day's session had started with 'Guitar Man' and 'Big Boss Man' and, luckily for us, Elvis would never look back. Five and a half minutes of inspiration.

'Jam' - While worth noting only because it has never had an official release this yodelling jam called 'Muleskinner Blues' was recorded between takes of 'Stay Away' but it really is way too short to make an impression.

'Stay Away' Tk.6 - is similar to other releases but with the added interest of Elvis slapping his thighs along with the groove.

'U.S. Male' Tk.11 - The stereo mix of this is excellent with Elvis' vocal nicely lifted and Elvis quipping all along while he enjoys composer Jerry Reed's great guitar picking. His comments are great, "Sock it to me one time" & "You better listen to me buddy, you can mess around all you want to but I'm gonna' lay one on you". Elvis had been frustrated with the songs that Freddy ('The Freeloader') had offered for the session so far and Elvis had grabbed this song from Jerry Reed himself as the session was heading to a close. Not surprisingly the Master release (Tk.12) was to be Elvis' highest charting single (#28) in 2 years.

'Too Much Monkey Business' Tk.4&10 - 4 ½ minutes of pure enjoyment as Elvis has fun working out his version of Chuck Berry's 1956 single. Elvis is in a sensational mood and with Jerry Reed's acoustic guitar and Bob Moore's double-bass up front this has a fabulous vibe. The arrangement is cooler & lighter than the final release and also without the harmonica. Elvis adds a bit of 'When Irish Eyes are Smiling' and makes fun of himself laughing, "Help him somebody. The boy's squirrely!" You have to hear this to believe it. An absolute gem!

'Going Home' Tk.29 - Again this has a beautiful clean mix with Elvis' voice and the acoustic guitars shining but I'm with Elvis who commented on Take 24 (Collector's Gold) "I don't know what else I can do to improve it, except go home!" However it is of course a great closing track as Elvis does head on home.

Overall Verdict: Although this period of Elvis' recording career was one of his least admired, this FTD CD challenges all that with one of their very best released so far. No other Elvis CD has managed to satifactorily capture such a cross section of Elvis' music from this period and it also helps explain exactly where that renewed energy of the '68 Comeback Special' had been hiding. Absolutely sensational and not to be missed.

Footnote: The initial pressing of this CD disappointingly had a mastering fault on the title track, causing a slight audio glitch. A new pressing is being done and any CDs with the initial fault can be replaced via your point of purchase.

EIN copyright 2004

Reviewed by Piers Beagley
Copyright EIN - 2004

Click to comment on this review

Go here for Ernst FTD conference & interview

For more Elvis Studio Outtakes why not check out

Fame and Fortune 1960

Studio B 1961 - 1964

Silver Screen Stereo

Elvis - The Jungle Room Sessions

Elvis- The Memphis Sessions

Elvis - The Nashville Marathon

Elvis Presley - The First LP

Elvis: On Tour The Rehearsals

So High - FTD 82876 53368 2 - Released March 2004.

Gospel and secular outtakes
1: Run On (Take 6) 
2: Stand By Me (Take 2)
3: Down In The Alley (Take 6)
4: Tomorrow Is A Long Time (Take 2)
5: Love Letters (Take 8)
6: So High (Take 1)
7: By And By (Take 9)
8: Somebody Bigger Than You And I (Take 11)
9: Without Him (Take 1)
10: If The Lord Wasn't Walking By My Side (Take 6)
11: Come What May (Take 2)
12: I'll Remember You (Take 2)
13: Guitar Man (Take 9)
14: Mine (Take 4)
15: Singing Tree (Take 1)
16: Just Call Me Lonesome (Take 3, 4)
17: Hi-Heel Sneakers (Take 5)
18: You Don't Know Me (Take rem 2)
19: We Call On Him (Take 2)
20: You'll Never Walk Alone (Take 1)
21: Jam
22: Stay Away (Take 6)
23: U. S. Male (Take 11)
24: Too Much Monkey Business (Take 4, 10)
25: Goin' Home (Take 29)

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