'Too Much Monkey Business'
FTD CD review
Review by Piers Beagley. September 2005.
However as an Elvis fan back then, one had to consider that this might be the only new Elvis material we would ever see officially released. How things have changed!
'Too Much Monkey Business' was issued by FTD back in 2000 as a 'special extra' release. It focuses on the Nashville "Young 'Un Sound" studio overdub sessions organised by Elvis' associate producer Felton Jarvis in early 1980.
It features all the songs from the original 1981 'Guitar Man' LP, plus 10 new bonus songs. I remember buying the album at the time, and even then I considering the idea of dubbing "new" backing arrangements onto Elvis vocal tracks as a very dodgy idea! Even the "new" single version of 'Guitar Man' disappointed me, although it did get Elvis back in the charts.
Burning Love*, I'll Be There*, Guitar Man, After Loving You, Too Much Monkey Business, Just Call Me Lonesome, Loving Arms, You Asked Me To, Clean Up Your Own Backyard, She Thinks I Still Care, Faded Love, I'm Movin' On, I'll Hold You In My Heart*, In The Ghetto*, Long Black Limousine*, Only The Strong Survive*, Hey Jude*, Kentucky Rain*, If You Talk In Your Sleep*, Blue Suede Shoes*
(*= previously Unreleased)
One positive idea of Felton Jarvis' was to use studio musicians who had originally worked with Elvis and who would understand his music, including guitarist Chip Young & pianist David Briggs. Another was to use some alternate vocal takes on a few songs, i.e. 'Just Call Me Lonesome'& 'She Thinks I Still Care'. Felton Jarvis' idea at the time was to try and make Elvis' classic originals sound more "contemporary" with a new 80's feel.
Unfortunately however the early 80s really wasn't the best period for musical creativity! This was the era of US radio dominance by Pat Benatar, Eddie Rabbitt, Kenny Loggins and The Eagles. The single 'Guitar Man' even sounded a little flat compared to Elvis' sparkling original, although Jarvis had used the composer Jerry Reed to add a new contemporary guitar feel. The R&B excitement of the original being replaced by an eighties 'MOR', Country & Western feel. So 20 years later, is the FTD re-release with 10 extra tracks an interesting revelation or does it still disappoint?
The new CD kicks off with 'Burning Love' and Jarvis' arrangement immediately feels too pedestrian. It genuinely does sound like an"Overdub" which distances Elvis from the band, making him sound too uninvolved. Interestingly the original 1972 'Burning Love' was very poorly recorded and maybe Jarvis was hoping to improve the impact of the muffled rhythm section. The audio clean-up that was really needed was finally done by producer David Bendeth with the rockin' version on 'Elvis' 30 #1s' CD.
The second new track, 'I'll Be There' has a nice touch at the start with Elvis suggesting, "Let's make it like the first chorus, all the way through" but once again Elvis then sounds disconnected from the band and the added sax solo is dreadfully bland & out of place.
A real bug-bear of mine is that Jarvis' heavy & syrupy orchestral overdubs often buried Elvis' fine vocal on far too many of his original seventies recordings. On this CD Jarvis' ability as an arranger also seems far too simplistic. Of course Jarvis was trying to create a contemporary sound for the eighties but instead he seems to have managed to place Elvis in that dreadful "M-O-R" genre. You are right to presume that the original 10 album tracks were the best selection from these sessions which is unfortunately confirmed by nearly all the newly released bonus tracks.
'In The Ghetto' is a travesty, making an exquisite song sound like a Glen Campbell MOR walk-through. If you really want to hear a different version to the original, then 'In The Ghetto' Take 11 on the 'Memphis Sessions' FTD demonstrates what could be done to ingeniously transform Elvis' original recordings. The Memphis Sessions minimalist version is so beautiful it could break your heart. Jarvis similarly seems to have been stripped away the passion & emotion from 'Long Black Limousine' making it almost sound like a line-dance!
'Hey Jude' which Elvis never wanted released in the first place now sounds even more bombastic, while the new rhythm sections added to other tracks often sounds too detached i.e. 'Kentucky Rain' & 'Only The Strong Survive.' The final travesty is the overdub of the live 'Blue Suede Shoes' August 25, 1969 Las Vegas MS version. What was Jarvis thinking of! Bringing original composer Carl Perkins to add a guitar solo was a complete waste. You can hear the audience & echo, and the whole thing sounds a mess. A better idea would have been to get the band to rock-out on Elvis' "acoustic" G.I Blues version from 1960.
However, having been so negative, not all the tracks disappoint and there are several that have a certain appeal. 'Faded Love' sounds fine with excellent new steel guitar by Sonny Garish. 'I'm Movin' On' is interesting for being more like the alternate mix on the BMG 'Suspicious Minds' CD, with Elvis' vocal mixed higher & sounding funkier than the original.
'Just Call Me Lonesome' is fine with an updated C&W feel to it, as well as appealing slide guitar. 'Loving Arms' also benefits from a simpler arrangement and delicate steel guitar. A highlight is 'She Thinks I Still Care' which at a faster tempo and, with the alternate vocal, has the feel & sound that Elvis might have captured had he ever sung it live on stage.
'If You Talk In Your Sleep' is my overall favourite and surprisingly it was not included on the original album. This is a case of less-is-more where Jarvis' has removed the original orchestral overdubs, and call & response vocals, to create a funkier feel. The added flute gives it a blaxsploitation/ghetto sound and it works, creating a fascinating alternate version.
What is unfortunately missing from this CD is any sleeve notes explaining what these sessions were all about. A list of the overdub musicians would have been a great idea and I wonder how the general public react if they buy it unknowingly. These sessions charmingly emphasise just how much Elvis really was the true producer of his own recordings. Sadly Felton Jarvis died of a stroke in January 1981 so never got to see the (minor) success of his new project.
Verdict - While this CD is the perfect release for the concept behind the FTD collector's label, the overall feel sounds too dated & muddied and only makes one yearn for Elvis' originals. FTD needs to be applauded for releasing this curiosity, even if it is only of interest to Elvis music historians. I think the fitting title 'Too Much Monkey Business' was FTD's knowing dig at the stupidity of the whole idea. It's also worth adding that the artwork & design of this release is one of FTD's very best! To be honest none of these versions are as good as the originals, however if you were a Kenny Loggins fan back in 1980 they might have a real appeal!
Review by Piers Beagley. September 2005.
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