The points I make below are not ones that I would have preferred as a fan. I tried to look at the releases from someone else's perspective - someone who is not a fan. This means keeping as many masters available on as few CDs as possible, preferably on non-multidisc sets.
For example, why have a copy of "If Every Day Was Like Christmas," and "White Christmas" and "Christmas; Peace." And although gospel releases are important, there is an extreme redundancy in keeping both "Amazing Grace" and "Peace in the Valley". The selection is not for the hard-core fan who wants everything. Personally I would prefer another new 70's box-set, but that's a separate article! - Robin van Cleef.
50 Years, 50 Albums: Cutting The Catalogue
Four-hundred-and-forty-seven. Do a search on Amazon.com for “Elvis Presley,” and that’s the astonishingly high number of results you’ll get under ‘Popular Music.’ It should come as a relief to find out that BMG has finally realized what many fans have known for a long time: there are simply too many Elvis CDs available on the market. Can you imagine someone wishing to give Elvis a chance, and trying to pick a few random albums to begin with? One would have to choose between everything from the classic “From Elvis In Memphis” to random, relatively poor CDs like “Elvis Sings For Kids.” Clearly the Elvis catalogue was a mess, and with the renewed interest in Elvis that came with the arrival of “Elv1s: 30 #1 Hits” last September 2002, BMG had to dramatically decrease the size of the catalogue to make sure it could last another 25 years.
BMG actually started as early as January of 2002, when over fifty titles were deleted from the catalogue. The deletions continued throughout the year, and at the end of 2002 it was made clear that many CDs would no longer be available as of January of 2003, among them the “Golden Records” series, “Tiger Man,” and such (classic) albums as “Elvis Is Back” and “King Creole.”
At the time of this writing it is April [of 2003], and BMG has recently released its final list of fifty albums that shall remain available from now on. Essentially, the same fifty titles shall be available worldwide, with certain extra CDs being released only in certain countries. Also, BMG aims to delete a CD from the catalogue whenever it releases a new album, effectively keeping the number of available albums around fifty. However, as was to be expected by now from BMG, the list does not contain what you might expect:
Elvis' Golden Records
Elvis' Gold Records, Volume 2 - 50,000,000 Elvis Fans Can't Be Wrong
His Hand In Mine
Something For Everybody
Elvis' Golden Records, Volume 3
How Great Thou Art
Elvis' Gold Records, Volume 4
Elvis’ NBC - TV Special
From Elvis In Memphis
Elvis In Person
Elvis - That's The Way It Is
Elvis Country (I'm 10,000 Years Old)
Elvis Sings the Wonderful World of Christmas
An Afternoon in the Garden
As Recorded At Madison Square Garden
Aloha From Hawaii
Elvis in Concert
Elvis' Gold Records - Volume 5
Amazing Grace - His Greatest Sacred Performances [2CD]
Suspicious Minds [2CD]
Great Country Songs
The Home Recordings
The Top Ten Hits
The 50 Greatest Love Songs [2CD]
Elv1s: 30 #1 Hits
Artist of the Century [3CD]
Artist of the Century (Int’l Version – 5 Extra Songs) [3CD]
Elvis - The King of Rock 'N' Roll - The Essential 50s Masters [5CD]
From Nashville to Memphis - The Essential 60s Masters I [5CD]
Walk a Mile in My Shoes - The Essential 70s Masters [5CD]
Live In Las Vegas [4CD]
Peace in the Valley - The Complete Gospel Recordings [3CD]
Platinum - A Life in Music [4CD]
That's The Way It Is [3CD]
Today, Tomorrow and Forever [4CD]
Elvis: Christmas Album
Looking at this list, several flaws immediately jump off the page. First of all, there are many, many songs that are only available on the 3 ‘decade box sets.’ This means that to both new Elvis fans and the average music consumer, many fine selections will only be available on three $80 sets, and would therefore be much less likely to be heard. But this is only one flaw of many. For example, there are three different Christmas CDs, when one would easily suffice. There are three gospel CDs, as well as both the “Amazing Grace” 2-CD set and the “Peace in the Valley” 3-CD set. This is stunningly redundant.
Then consider the number of ‘greatest hits’ packages: “Classic Elvis,” two “Artist of the Century” sets, “Elv1s: 30 #1 Hits,” “The Top Ten Hits,” as well as the entire “Golden Records” series. This is especially poor planning considering BMG is expected to release a follow-up to “30 #1 Hits” later this year. Another observation is that there are fifteen multi-disc sets; way too many. It may also be noted that, because of the poor selection of albums chosen by BMG, there is a considerable amount of overlap: many songs appear on several CDs. This overlap is only emphasized by the fact that both the original “That’s The Way It Is” album and the 3-CD set from 2000 are on the list. The same goes for “Elvis’ NBC-TV Special” and the “Memories” 2-CD set. Clearly, if this list were to be adopted, everyone loses.
Elvis’ legacy is in serious danger not only because mostly newly compiled CDs are available (and Elvis’ history won’t be remembered), but many songs simply won’t be available. The average consumer wishing to randomly pick up an Elvis CD is not as likely to pick up a classic album, would hear only the same familiar songs, and might therefore be discouraged from buying more. And in the end, BMG itself loses. Because after all, if interest in Elvis goes downhill, BMG loses its biggest selling artist.
Hoping to rectify the matter, I looked at Elvis’ entire selection of studio masters and the albums that they (originally) appeared on. I decided to make a new list of albums that I think should be available. What I tried to do was make a list of albums that contained every studio master that Elvis recorded between 1953 and 1976, with as little overlap as possible, using only (original) albums that have already been released. That way, Elvis’ entire catalogue could be acquired through individual albums one by one, or through the purchase of retrospective packages like the 50’s, 60’s, and 70’s box sets.
Using my list of available albums, a person new to Elvis could look at the (original) albums, notice a few songs that they like or might know, and purchase albums accordingly. Naturally, this will lead to the discovery of material they will have never heard (rather than buying the same greatest hits again), stimulating the purchase of further Elvis albums. The following is a list of 48 albums that I would release worldwide:
Elvis’ Golden Records
Elvis' Gold Records, Volume 2 - 50,000,000 Elvis Fans Can't Be Wrong
Elvis Is Back!
Something For Everybody
Elvis’ Gold Records, Volume 3
Elvis’ Gold Records, Volume 4
From Elvis In Memphis
Back In Memphis 
Elvis In Person 
That’s The Way It Is [3CD]
Elvis Country (I’m 10,000 Years Old)
As Recorded At Madison Square Garden 
Aloha From Hawaii
Elv1s: 30 #1 Hits
Peace in the Valley [3CD]
The King Of Rock And Roll – The Complete 50’s Masters [5CD]
From Nashville To Memphis – The Essential 60’s Masters [5CD]
Walk A Mile In My Shoes – The Essential 70’s Masters [5CD]
Sunrise [2 CD Set]
Jailhouse Rock/Love Me Tender
For The Asking (The Lost Album) 
Tomorrow Is A Long Time
Memories [2 CD Set]
An Afternoon In The Garden
Essential Elvis: The First Movies
Essential Elvis, Volume 2: Stereo ‘57
Essential Elvis, Volume 3: Hits Like Never Before
Essential Elvis, Volume 4: A Hundred Years From Now
Essential Elvis, Volume 5: Rhythm and Country
Essential Elvis, Volume 6: Such A Night
Great Country Songs
Heart & Soul
Can’t Help Falling In Love: The Hollywood Hits
A Rock ‘n Roll CD
A Gospel CD
There are many reasons why the list I made is superior to the one BMG released. First of all, every master recording from the 1950’s is available; the entire sun sessions are available on “Sunrise,” and all other masters are available on the original (now upgraded) albums. The use of original albums means that there is relatively very little overlap, and history is somewhat preserved. Secondly, every non-soundtrack, non-gospel master is available from the 1960’s on separate albums. In addition to that, all the released ‘Comeback’ music (save for the stuff on FTD’s “Burbank ‘68”) is available on two strong packages. An entire decade of Elvis’ (non-soundtrack, studio) music is available on eleven CDs! The four upgraded albums from the ‘70’s are also available, along with several strong live packages.
The “Essential Elvis” series is also available. I did this for two reasons. The first is that these are in fact pretty strong albums and, on my list anyway, only one of few packages that contain alternate takes. The second reason is actually one that I think should span the entire catalogue: self-promotion. I would include an advertising sheet (in a similar style to the one for Elvis-Today that was included with “Essential Elvis, Volume 6: Such A Night”), promoting the Follow That Dream label. After all, the people that are interested in buying these alternate takes will probably also like releases like “Out In Hollywood” and “Fame And Fortune.”
For the other albums, I would include advertising for other (similar) albums on the above list. For example, with “That’s The Way It Is” include a sheet that says: “Like this album? Try Elvis Country.” Or alternatively, put a sticker on the case with such ads. After all, no one outside of the Elvis world can even name a single original Elvis album. Everyone knows the Beatles’ “White Album” and “Sgt. Pepper’s” (even if they haven’t actually heard them), yet no one can name “Elvis Is Back!” or “From Elvis In Memphis.” With this mini-advertising on the albums, hopefully that can change over time.
|One might notice that I included 1991’s “For The Asking (The Lost Album),” which featured all non-soundtrack songs Elvis recorded in 1963. They were originally released as bonus songs on soundtracks at the time, but – as was recently announced by FTD – these albums won’t be available in stores. If “For The Asking” were to be released again, this time with re-mastered sound, a nice eight-page booklet, and added artwork, it can be considered a strong fifteen-track prequel to “Tomorrow Is A Long Time.”
In reference to BMG’s list, there are several other improvements. There is only one Christmas package, as opposed to three. There is one greatest hits package, as opposed to four. There are two gospel packages (“Peace In The Valley” and a budget CD), as opposed to five. There are seven multi-disc packages, as opposed to fifteen. Clearly, my new list is leaner, cleaner, and tighter. It includes more music on fewer albums, for less money. It contains most of Elvis’ original albums, a key part in keeping Elvis’ legacy going. This is what BMG should have done a long time ago.
As was to be expected there are several problems, even with my new list - some minor, some major. Let’s look at my list. First off, the lack of soundtrack albums is painfully apparent: of the thirty-one movies Elvis starred in, only five soundtrack albums would be available (plus the “Can’t Help Falling In Love” CD). With the recent news that Follow That Dream is to release all (?) movie-soundtracks, what does that leave for the average consumer? I chose to keep all the ‘50’s soundtracks, as well as the two that got a deluxe treatment: “GI Blues” and “Blue Hawaii.” I would only keep the deluxe versions, though, and remove the regular jewel-case versions. But is this enough?
It’s true that some of Elvis’ weakest music came from the soundtracks, but there were plenty of gems, too. When sticking strictly to the revised catalogue as above, the average consumer would never get to hear “I Need Somebody To Lean On” or “Change of Habit,” for example. It’s a real shame, but it’s a problem that is nearly impossible to solve when keeping the catalogue to fewer than fifty titles. Hopefully, with the aforementioned advertising (especially in “Can’t Help Falling In Love” for the FTD soundtracks), this problem can be corrected over time with further exposure to the FTD label.
|You may also notice that I included “Elvis In Person” under ‘Upgraded Albums.’ Unfortunately, “Elvis In Person” hasn’t been upgraded yet, but I think it should be. “Elvis In Person” was a very strong album, and could easily be upgraded with a few live cuts, even if they’ve been released before. What about “Rubberneckin’” from “Collector’s Gold”? What about “What’d I Say”? The original album had twelve songs, upgrading it to eighteen would be easy. (I included “Elvis As Recorded At Madison Square Garden” there because a simple sound-upgrade is easily justified).
While we’re on the subject of 1969, the thirty-two studio masters need to be handled differently as well. BMG should delete the “Suspicious Minds” 2-CD set, keep the upgraded “From Elvis In Memphis,” and upgrade “Back In Memphis” with the remaining six 1969 songs (“My Little Friend,” “Rubberneckin’,” “Hey Jude,” “I’ll Be There,” “Who Am I?” and “If I’m A Fool For Loving You”), making for a total of sixteen tracks (compared to eighteen on “From Elvis In Memphis”). As much as I love “Suspicious Minds,” I think it needs to go. Priority should be given to preserving the original albums. One should understand the fact that the general public is not that interested in the alternate takes found on “Suspicious Minds,” and its deletion would therefore be easily justified.
The biggest problems come when looking at the ‘70’s recordings. It has long been known that this material hasn’t been given a lot of respect, and it becomes painfully obvious when making this list. Of the 118 secular masters that Elvis recorded between 1970 and 1976, only 66 have been released on original albums in upgraded form (“That’s The Way It Is,” “Elvis Country,” “Promised Land,” and “Moody Blue”). Another nine songs were released on 1999’s “Burning Love” CD (which is on the list as well), leaving a whopping 43 songs that were not remixed, and were not released on any CDs other than their original CD issues (“Love Letters From Elvis ,” “Elvis Now ,” “Elvis (The Fool Album),” “Raised On Rock ,” “Good Times ,” and “Elvis Today ”).
The problem here is that these albums are too short to keep in the catalogue as full price albums, but to delete them without replacing them would leave almost four-dozen songs unavailable – many that aren’t even on the “Walk A Mile In My Shoes” box-set.
There are three possible solutions that I can think of. One would be to release some sort of 2-CD package that only consists of these 43 songs. This would be an odd list of songs, however, considering it would consist of selections from 1970 through 1975 that are basically unrelated. The second option would be to release a new ‘70’s box with these additional songs on them. But as has become apparent over the years, this is not an idea that BMG is likely to go for. The third option would be to combine some of these albums into one CD (much like was done with “From Elvis Presley Boulevard” and “Moody Blue,” and “Good Times” and “Promised Land” respectively).
There are two problems with above approaches, however. First of all, new fans wouldn’t be able to experience the original albums as they were released originally – releasing these songs on new albums is really changing history. Secondly, these options would require releasing even more CD’s – a solution that is the exact opposite of what this lean set of 48 is supposed to accomplish.
Who Needs Money?
Despite what we may wish to be the case, not everyone is willing to pay full price for an artist they have heard so many negative things about. I agree with BMG that there should be budget CDs, but not too many. There have been so many budget releases over the years (that are all the same), that BMG needs to delete them all and stick to about four or five. We need only one ‘Love Songs’ collection (the recently re-released “Heart And Soul”), only one country compilation (the recently re-released “Great Country Songs”), only one rock and roll album (perhaps the recent “Elvis ’56,” although it obviously doesn’t contain any rock and roll beyond 1956), and one gospel CD. As a brief overview of Elvis’ movie soundtracks, I’d also include the recently re-released “Can’t Help Falling In Love.”
What Now, What Next, Where To?
As is obvious by now, the poor catalogue organization that has been apparent over the last 25 years has finally taken its toll. It is certainly a great step forward to see what BMG is doing, but it’s clearly a flawed one. If an improvement like this is to take place successfully, BMG needs to make a list like I did (with ‘only’ 48 albums), or something very similar to it. We need to preserve history by keeping the original albums as much as we can, while adding value, and increasing the availability of Elvis’ music. This includes NOT releasing a sequel to “30 #1 Hits.” I am not a business man by any means, but it is my strong belief that BMG would be better off either promoting “Elv1s: 30 #1 Hits” again this holiday season, or giving some promotion to the other releases (that are relatively unknown). I hope someone at BMG reads this, and decides to alter their plans. If the plans they made are to be followed, Elvis’ legacy is in serious trouble. And so is everyone willing to buy his music in the years to come.
Spotlight written by Robin van Cleef - April 2003.
Copyright Robin van Cleef/EIN, September 2003/2006
EIN NOTE: Ernst Jorgensen, in a recent 2006 interview with author Ken Sharp, talked about his role in the preservation of Elvis' recorded legacy.
Ernst - If we look at the main label, the Sony/BMG label, what we did in the 90s was restore the original material to CD for the separate releases and the box sets. In my mind I call the 90s 'the historical period'. The great successes of this decade have been # 1 Hits , 2nd To None , Elvis By The Presleys, the Love Songs compilations, the Gospel compilations. It’s not the historical element which is driving the main label. And it shouldn't be because we've been there and we've done it. We need to attract new people as main customers by making different types of albums.
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