'Elvis 2nd To None'
- BMG CD review -
- Review by Piers Beagley -
Is 'Elvis 2nd To None' a worthy follow-up to Elvis 30 #1 Hits? EIN gives you the answer
October 9, 2003
Given the mandate of presenting the five missing #1 singles along with "a mix of songs that have achieved a level of musical and historical importance far beyond their original chart status" I have to state that this selection is not quite my personal choice.
Whilst it does cover almost every musical base and demonstrates just how diverse Elvis' music really was, I don't feel that this compile gels together as a whole in quite the same way that 'Elv1s 30 #1s' did.
For the general public I imagine that the hillbilly 'I Forgot To Remember To Forget' will sound out of place. Surely the dynamic & far more important 'Good Rockin' Tonight' or 'Mystery Train' would have not only flowed better but also helped demonstrate Elvis' musical progressiveness at the time.
Similarly I have always felt that 'Moody Blue' was never a "classic" Elvis track and almost seemed dated when it came out in 1977. Instead I would have ended the CD with 'My Way' maybe a corny choice but the perfect Elvis epitaph and a UK #9 in 1977. Missing from the first volume, surely this is a song that the general public not only appreciates but also associates with Elvis.
(Right: The alternative Canadian cover)
'I'm A Roustabout' is a real gem of a discovery but it just doesn't fit following straight after 'Moody Blue'. My preferred option would have been 30 tracks including 'My Way' and 'Mystery Train'. Adding the sensational 'Just Can't Help Believing' (a cruelly ignored hit & a UK #6) as well as perhaps 'Love Letters' to fill in the later sixties jump from the movies to the Comeback Special.
Damn it, I would have added 'Rubberneckin' in all its remixes along with the extended 'ALLC' remix, the 'Bossa Nova Baby' disco mix and the new song 'I'm A Roustabout' all on a bonus CD thus leaving the main disc to concentrate on Elvis' musical legacy! But enough of my personal moaning. Let's dig deep as there are plenty of genuinely new audio excitements to be discovered in this treasure trove of deliciously remastered treats.
As for the audio restoration, Ray Bardani has taken over David Bendeth's mantle as chief audio engineer and an immediate point to note is that SONY NY (and this time with Vic Anesini) has once again been involved with this project, working with the analogue Masters, although the mixing was still done at NY's Hit Factory. It sounds fabulous. Every song tweaked to sound "NEW" and "NOW". Some tracks sound as if they were recorded this year, not in the last millenium!
'That's All Right' is such a crucial song to the development of the whole history of Popular Music that it is fantastic to see such a mainstream 'Hits' compile starts with Elvis' first ever 45 rpm master.
From an Elvis specialist & audiophile point of view however we have recently had this remastered on the 'Sunrise' collection so the improved quality of this track, sounding a little richer, was unfortunately never going to grab us in the way that 'Heartbreak Hotel' did on Elv1s 30 #1s. 'I Forgot To Remember To Forget' is the same quality of course and musically jars slightly before the action really starts.
'Blue Suede Shoes' - "Well, it's a one for the money". . January 30th 1956 and what a mighty leap in just 6 months. The sound makes a grab for your feet and you've just got to rock! As clear as if it was recorded yesterday Bill Blacks' double-bass is nice & prominent and you've just got to crank it up! (Sorry, neighbours!). It's mono, it rocks, it helped changed the world and it has a deliciously full sound. Dragging out my original vinyl copy is a fascinating comparison. The CD is pure Elvis bursting out of my Hi-Fi in exactly the same way as the original 45 but sounding even better. The audio travesty of the 50's Box-set again becomes obvious while I have to note that this track does sound very similar to the recently re-issued 'Elvis '56' version.
'I Want You, I Need You, I Love you' was Elvis' first #1 ballad and here it sounds delicious and warm (again like my original 45) while at the same time the quality of the mix helps highlight the importance of Elvis' vocal being matched by The Jordanaires harmonies.
Similar to the 'Elv1s 30 #1s' CD, 13 of these tracks are from the fifties and are all in true mono. Once again Ray Bardani/Vic Anesini have worked from the original studio tapes and the improvement in audio resolution is as good as you are going to get. The bass has been 'opened up' while the high frequencies (which had that awful digital edge on the '50's Masters') have a beautiful shine without being too sharp.
'Love Me' - For a recording that is 47 years old Elvis' vocal and harmonies with the Jordanaires sounds exquisite. This is a great choice as, although a well-known song, this often gets overlooked on Greatest Hits compiles and sounds incredible showing off Elvis' sincere vocal to the very best.
'Mean Woman Blues' - Another great addition with the improved sound highlighting the brilliant dynamic of the song. In the 'breaks', with just The Jordanaires hand-clapping, you can really absorb the ambience and echo of the studio and I just love the group chatter on the second break. The moment @1.37 when Elvis starts wailing for his sins has never sounded so good! Play it again, play it loud!
'Loving You' similarly benefits from a great mono mix with the advantage of reduced background hiss, which leads into one of my all-time favourites that should be on every Elvis compile.
'Treat Me Nice' - Elvis' voice sounds far more focussed, the slight echo has been removed and the whole band, great piano work from Dudley Brooks, and recording sounds sublime. It has a fabulous rich sound that rocks outs with Bill Black's bass work really on show. It is fascinating to hear just how effortless it sounds knowing that this track, in fact, had so many variations and re-takes. Elvis thought that this should have been an A-side smash.
'Wear My Ring Around Your Neck', 'I Need Your Love Tonight' and 'I Got Stung' are all improved with Elvis' energy really jumping out of the speakers helped by the superior bass energy but of all the mono tracks it seems that 'Trouble' benefits the most.
'Trouble' - "If your looking for Trouble, you've come to the right place", one of Elvis' most definitive statements, has never sounded better. The New Orleans' brass section, which always had a little distortion on it previously, has a beautiful new presence and the clarity of the whole track (just listen to those cymbals) really delights.
Once again this CD's jump from mono to stereo is such a revelation it made me jump for joy. At the same time these 3 track Master give Ray Bardani more to work with.
'A Mess Of Blues' - Another all-time favourite and what a brilliant start to the sixties tracks. Comparing it to the original 45 is again intriguing. The warmth and excitement of the vinyl sound has still been beautifully duplicated yet, at the same time, I was wrapped up in the fabulous depth of the bass along with the gorgeous clean top-end giving the percussion a real shine.
There is a real 'openness' and new spatial presence on all the stereo tracks, which gives one much more to explore and examine. Just listen to Elvis' clicking fingers at the start, or the Jordanaire's hand-clapping, along with Floyd Cramer's lovely rolling piano. You can really feel that special Studio B atmousphere in every glorious moment.
'I Feel So Bad' - Another brilliant blues track that has always deserved more exposure. Just check out the great mix on Boot's sax solo as he walks over to Elvis' microphone causing the solo to go from left speaker to right!
However something's not quite right for me on this version & I can only put it down to the bass being placed directly in the centre behind Elvis' vocal which doesn't seem to work as well as the original bass mix to the left channel.
'Little Sister' -This is the classic single ridiculously ignored on almost every 'Hits' compile and all is forgiven! This version burns with the fire of the original 45 but sounding better than ever. Bob Moore's tic-tac bass work really shines along with Hank Garland's sensational guitar work. Elvis' every intonation of "Little sister don't you …." is brilliantly emphasised and Ray Walker's duetting bass vocal perfectly parallels Elvis' pleading lead. Play it again & play it loud because this double A-side, with 'His Latest Flame', was Elvis' last great stand before the movies took over.
'Rock-A-Hula Baby' - David Bendeth last year explained how difficult it was to work with the movie soundtracks as they were so badly mastered so it is excellent to hear these tracks improved. Again the stereo Master allows the track to be really opened up, giving a much clearer mix. Sounding very different from original sloppy mono 45 mix, Elvis tries to put some rock n' roll into the new generation of 'family movies.' Buried in the original mix but perfectly clear here is the drum-kit squeaking, along with Elvis' chair @0.04, while a Jordanaire slips up (@ 1.27) with an extra "rock"! All great fun. Odd that the original stereo LP has left<>right channels swapped compared to the CD releases.
'Bossa Nova Baby' - This sounds fantastic. Possibly the first true audio revelation of the CD, Ray has performed miracles getting a perfect stereo separation. The guitars, piano (listen to the great keyboard work) and percussion are all perfectly clear while the trumpets have a clean edge to them that we have never heard before. You can really imagine being in the studio with The Amigos cheering the song along so clearly in the background. The original was covered in a dreadful echo as well as having an odd 'muffled sock' mix. A gem and every moment of the original master has been used, with this running on 4 seconds longer, until you can just hear someone calling a halt. A genuine surprise and I love it!
'Viva Las Vegas' - Another brilliant mix. That terrible echo chamber on the whole original track has been removed along with the awful hiss and Elvis' vocal is beautifully highlighted. Again the track fade-out runs as far as it can making it 4 seconds longer than the original.
'If I Can Dream' - As this was already remastered in 1998 this is another major surprise. With every section of this all-important recording being given just the right emphasis, this is a sensational mix. The band is flawless with every instrument perfectly placed. Just listen to the clarity of the intro with the cymbal, double-bass & trumpet. The whole brass section is immaculately produced with no edgy distortion. The choir is now spread across the whole stereo image creating an incredible spatial sound, almost as if you were in a church. This helps emphasise the spiritual and pleading nature of the song and Elvis' vocal has also never sounded so strong. Interesting to also note that that the speed is now correct as it ran a little slow on the previous 'Memories' compilation.
'Memories' - This is again another revelation being an improvement on the beautiful stereo version on last year's 'Today, Tomorrow & Forever' box-set. Featuring a far better vocal track with Elvis very centred and with the orchestra benefiting from the spatial width. The violins are noticeably mixed to the left and the overall sound demonstrates a new depth. The best mix we have heard and it is also missing that annoying 'thud' at the end too. Just great.
'Don't Cry Daddy' - As we all know David Bendeth did some really important work with the 'American Studios' material and once again these songs are tremendous. Although Elvis only overdubbed the vocal (he came down with laryngitis) the song obviously meant a lot to him. Here Ray Bardini has really opened up the mix and the song really shines. Compared to the stereo original the bass is clear and mixed left, while the string section and violas sound perfect.
On the original single Elvis was swamped by the orchestra but here you can observe every nuance, with the sadness of the lyric being brought out by Elvis' emotional vocal. Listen out for his groans @1.13, and towards the end of the song, which were previously hardly audible. Elvis rarely double-tracked his vocal but here is a chance to hear the producer Chips Moman's brilliant work.
'Kentucky Rain' - The classic single that has always deserved more public exposure. Again Elvis' vocal has been taken out of that dated 'echo chamber' sound and the mix of the band, along with the orchestral strings & horns, is beautiful. Here there is a fabulous balance with the backing vocals playing perfectly against Elvis poignant vocal. Yet again we get a longer fade out to the very last moment.
'You Don't Have To Say you Love Me' - Elvis sounds more sincere than ever here as that messy echo, which was added to Elvis' original vocal, has been removed. The Strings have a different mix while the sound still manages to retain that full and warm vinyl feeling.
'An American Trilogy' - Once again Ray Bardani gives us the complete master performance and this version begins slightly earlier than the original single. Now you can hear Elvis say, "Take it" before the band starts. Such truly dynamic song really benefits from the audio potential of this CD. You can be sure that the Hilton audience never heard it so clearly!
On this version the strings are mixed positively to the left and it was actually a surprise to find the flute solo also on the left channel, as it has always been right before! With the improved dynamic range the distortion is removed and, cranked up to the max, this live song truly shines. You can really feel yourself in the ambience of the Hilton Showroom and don't you just want to kill the guy that coughs @2.44, what an idiot! A beautiful, emotional, piece and this version certainly shows what a totally astounding performance Elvis could produce live. The track also continues past the Master with Elvis ending by saying, "Thank you. You're a fantastic audience".
'Always On My Mind' - A classic song that Elvis nailed in one take! Here the mix again opens up the performance making every component shine. Interestingly the original single ran noticeably slower and it sounds much better here. Listen out for the crystal clear guitars and tambourine within this spectacular mix. This version does actually differ from the original as the string section never used to feature properly until the second verse (@ 1.00) but here they are prominent even on the first verse. Beautiful.
'Promised Land' - Another great mix which drags the whole performance out of the somewhat muddied single version, "Oh, Get On It", giving a real space to the band and James Burton's guitar. David Brigg's blistering piano performance shines, as well as the organ which was hardly noticeable in the original mix. The sax section at the end doesn't distort as before and you can hear Elvis' cute, "Yeah, Rock on" at the very end.
'Moody Blue' - As I said, this is not a favourite of mine but actually does sound so much better in this version compared to the original single mix which was dreadful. Here Ray Bardini has cleaned up the sound and the backing vocals are mixed left channel, as opposed to competing with Elvis in the centre. The guitars are nicely placed across the complete mix too. A real improvement. If 'Moody Blue' is supposed to wrap up Elvis' chart history at this point then I would have actually chosen a closing point such as 'My Way' with maybe even the added excitement of the unreleased version from Ann Arbor!
So while there is no doubt that 'I'm A Roustabout' is a great bonus track, to the general public it is hardly on the same creative level of Otis Blackwell's 'Don't Be Cruel'. Having noted that I would have to add that the quality of this newly discovered acetate is just amazing and a joy to listen to. A definite improvement on the, rather bland, original title track it has a great sixties feel as well as fun lyrics. "Makes me kinda' feel, like I wanna' fight"! A great discovery.
'Rubberneckin', sounding fabulous and funky, of course ends the CD nicely placing Elvis, yet again, as a musical force in this new millennium.
On a final note Australia does have the 'cup handle' front cover which I feel doesn't explain to the general public what this CD is all about, the small sticker on the front being unreadable unless you get "close up"!
Verdict - I would love this CD to sell millions, and Ray Bardani's work certainly deserves it, but unfortunately I feel that a marketing opportunity for really high sales has somehow been missed. All true Elvis fans, of course, must buy it if only for the chance to grab your girl and 'Bossa Nova Baby' across the floor! However I feel that the overall eclectic mix of styles, while showing off Elvis' amazing musical talent, just doesn't quite fit together on this CD in the same way as last years 'Elv1s 30 #1s.' Let's all hope that BMG is planning a stunning marketing campaign for Christmas. Lovely to see the CD dedicated to the great Sam Phillips (1923-2003)
Afterword - If you drop out 'I Forgot To Remember' as well as the new 'I'm A Roustabout' and then programme all remaining 59 tracks of both 'Elv1s 30 #1s' and '2ND to None' in chronological order you do actually end up with a very satisfying, & audially spectacular, journey through Elvis' career.
'Elvis 2nd To None' was reviewed by Piers Beagley.
-Copyright EIN 2003. Do Not reprint or republish without permission.
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SECOND TO NONE - RCA 07863 55241 2
1: That's All Right
2: I Forgot To Remember To Forget
3: Blue Suede Shoes
4: I Want You, I Need You, I Love You
5: Love Me
6: Mean Woman Blues
7: Loving You
8: Treat Me Nice
9: Wear My Ring Around Your Neck
10: King Creole
12: I Got Stung
13: I Need Your Love Tonight
14: A Mess Of Blues
15: I Feel So Bad
16: Little Sister
17: Rock-A-Hula Baby
18: Bossa Nova Baby
19: Viva Las Vegas
20: If I Can Dream
22: Don't Cry Daddy
23: Kentucky Rain
24: You Don't Have To Say You Love Me
25: American Trilogy
26: Always On My Mind
27: Promised Land
28: Moody Blue
29: I'm A Roustabout (prev. unreleased)
30: Rubberneckin' (Oakenfold re-mix [Radio Edit])
CD Credits: Compilation Produced by Ernst Jorgensen and Roger Semon.
Mixed by Ray Bardani and Mastered by Vic Anesini.
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