Wednesday, 9 March 2011

The Original Elvis Presley Collection



With The Beatles, it’s quite simple. Buy “Sgt Pepper”, “The White Album” et al, a few best of’s and that will give you most of what they recorded. But with Elvis, it’s a bit different. Most of his hits don’t seem to be on any studio LP’s, and of the studio albums he did make, quite a few of them aren’t very well known. Elvis’ back catalogue, for some reason, seems a bit of a mystery.

In 1996, the Dutch arm of RCA released “The Original Elvis Presley Collection”, a 50-CD box set which aimed to include every “major” Elvis LP from 1956 to 1977 - the year of his death. Of course, Elvis hadn’t released exactly 50 albums - indeed, he certainly hadn’t released anywhere near 50 studio albums - but the box set was still a sterling piece of work.

Several years later, a UK mail order firm reissued the set “in sections”. You paid a tenner a month (or thereabouts), and you got sent 2 CD’s. Slowly but surely, the set would build up until - Voila - you had your 50 CD set, plus box, plus booklet. Given that all of these CD’s had been made available before, and indeed after the release of the box (in slightly different form), and the fact that the versions of the albums included in the box are also regularly made for sale on an individual basis, it means the 50 CD’s provide a pretty good beginners guide to The King. In this blog, I shall detail what you get if you buy these CD’s - either in the box or as separate discs.

Studio Albums

Although the number may vary slightly from source to source (as do the album titles in different countries), Elvis made 23 Studio LP’s, plus a 24th “odd one out”. After releasing a series of 45’s and 78’s on Sun Records in the USA, he signed to RCA (but also put out a few records on HMV), who now are responsible for all “official” Elvis releases, including material from the Sun years. His self titled debut LP came in an iconic “on stage” shot, with his name in brightly coloured lettering, a style later “borrowed” by The Clash for their 1979 LP “London Calling”. The follow up album was simply titled “Elvis”, and The King would make a habit of using his first name as part of numerous album titles over the years. CD10 in the box, “Elvis Is Back!”, was so-titled as it was his first proper studio LP for three years, whilst “Elvis” was also the title of a 1973 album, CD43 in the box. This album is often referred to as “The Fool Album”, as this was the big hit single from the record, and as well as being track 1 on the disc, was also the first of four song titles listed on the front cover. During the 70’s, Elvis didn’t seem to venture into a photographic studio for any sort of publicity shots, and so even though most of his albums from that decade featured a shot of him on stage, many of the records were in fact studio LP's - indeed, discs 47 to 50 inclusive are all studio records.

“That’s The Way It Is” is the curio - it consists of mostly studio material, but includes four live recordings. It was reissued as a 3-CD set in 2000, with a sizeable chunk of bonus live material being added to make it feel more like a live album than a studio album. To be fair, it wasn’t the only Elvis studio LP to include live material (his final album before his death, “Moody Blue”, went down a similar route) but because “That’s The Way It Is” shared it’s name with a movie released at the same time, it’s not often thought of as a proper studio record.

Included in the list of 23 (or 24) albums, are several specialist albums. Elvis recorded two Christmas records, “Elvis’ Christmas Album” and “Elvis Sings The Wonderful World Of Christmas”. It seems as though he recorded more than two, as there have been numerous reissues and Christmas compilations over the years, but he didn’t. The recent “Christmas Peace”, for example, simply stuck half of one album with half of the other. Elvis also taped three spiritual albums - “His Hand In Mine”, “How Great Thou Art” and “He Touched Me”. Whatever your religious beliefs, there are some good songs on these records, and the cover art of the first pair of albums are so good, they are worth the price of admission alone.

Compilations

Throughout his life, Elvis took to regularly recording songs that were issued on singles rather than on albums. Indeed, by 1958, Elvis had accumulated enough non-album material to put out his first Greatest Hits set, “Elvis’ Golden Records”. Three more in the series would be released before his death (and as such, all of them appear in the box), with the second one being arguably one of the most famous Elvis LP’s of all time - titled “50,000,000 Elvis Fans Can’t Be Wrong”, it’s title and image of several gold-suited Elvises on the cover has been lampooned by several acts since, most successfully by The Fall and their rather modestly titled “50,000 Fall Fans Can’t Be Wrong”.

A fifth “Gold Records” album was issued after Elvis’ death, and therefore is not included in the box. It compiled several non-album hits released after “Gold Records 4”, meaning that some of Elvis’ biggest later period hits, such as “Suspicious Minds” and “Always On My Mind” are thus absent from the boxset. RCA did issue budget albums on their Camden imprint when he was alive, and whilst the latter was included on a 1973 release on Camden called “Separate Ways”, the boxset does not include any of the Camden releases.

The box also includes several other best-of’s, which consist of tracks that didn’t sell enough to be certified Gold, and hence were not included on the “Gold” collections. These are the dreadfully titled “For LP Fans Only”, “A Date With Elvis” and “Elvis For Everyone”. The latter is another curio, only one of the songs had previously been released officially, and because the remainder of the tracks were exhumed from the vaults across a ten year period, it’s more of a “rarities” album than a compilation.

Soundtracks

Whilst it was during the 60’s that Elvis entered the wilderness years, releasing an endless stream of movies that the critics hated, most of which spawned equally despised soundtrack albums, Elvis had actually started his movie career back in the 50’s, and had issued several soundtrack albums before his career headed into the middle of the road. CD3 in the box was from the movie “Loving You”, whilst “King Creole” also dated from the 50’s, being released in 1958.

Possibly due to the questionable nature of some of the material on the 60’s soundtrack albums, RCA decided to release many of these as “2 for 1” releases on CD, and it is these pairings that are included in the box set. Listed as “Elvis Double Features”, the decision to do this slightly destroys the chronological order of the box, but the bonus is you get a variety of extra tracks thrown in, as the decision was taken on these “Double Features” releases to include unreleased material, and “movie-related” songs - “Viva Las Vegas”, for example, was never on a soundtrack album at the time, but was issued as a stand alone 45 - despite there being a film of the same name. The “Double Features” CD that includes the “Viva Las Vegas” soundtrack material, thus, also includes the song of the same name.

To make things even more confusing, several movies were not even the recipient of a soundtrack LP, but some Elvis EP’s were released with movie material at the time. As a result, some of the “Double Features” CD’s are actually a combination of odds and sods, and are not actually reissues of earlier albums. Also factor in the decision to remix some of the material when these CD’s were first issued (circa 1992) and it all gets a bit confusing. I hope to go into greater detail about these albums in a future blog.

For now, lets look at what the boxset includes in terms of the films. CD11 features seven songs from “Flaming Star”, seven from “Wild In The Country” and six from “Follow That Dream”. “Flaming Star” and “Follow That Dream” were originally only ever four track EP‘s, whilst the tracks on “Wild In The Country” come from singles and other albums.

CD17 has six songs from “Kid Galahad”, all of which originally appeared on an EP at the time of the film’s release, and the “Girls Girls Girls” LP, with four bonus tracks added for this CD release. CD18 includes the soundtrack albums for “It Happened At The World’s Fair” and “Fun In Acapulco”, again, with bonus tracks added for this pressing.

CD20 cobbles together the ”Kissin’ Cousins” and “Clambake” LP’s. The final five songs on the CD originate from “Stay Away Joe”, but once more, the songs come from other Elvis releases, rather than being taken from an original soundtrack EP or LP. CD21 couples “Love In Las Vegas” and “Roustabout”. The former, when originally released, was nothing more than a 4 track EP but is expanded here, so that it includes “Viva Las Vegas”.

CD21 includes the “Harum Scarum” LP (retitled here as “Harem Holiday”, the first song) and the “Girl Happy” LP. CD24 pairs the “Frankie And Johnny” and “Paradise, Hawaiian Style” LP’s, CD25 “Spinout” and “Double Trouble”.

CD26 features the EP for “Easy Come Easy Go”, expanded here again to “album length”. The second half comprises the “Speedway” album, although like other CD’s in this series, tracks that were originally included on (but not recorded for) the original LP, are missing (“Western Union” and “Mine”, for example). Such tracks did not appear again on any Elvis albums released in his lifetime, and are thus missing from the box.

CD29 - the final “movie” CD - includes material from four films, none of which ever spawned a soundtrack LP originally. The films concerned are “Live A Little Love A Little”, “Charro”, “The Trouble With Girls” and “Change Of Habit”. This CD includes two versions of “A Little Less Coversation”, which would later - in remixed form - become one of Elvis’ biggest posthumous hits.

Live

Although Elvis became a household name in the US with his early, live, TV appearances, it wasn’t until 1968 that RCA got around to releasing his first live album. And once this took place, a flood of live albums duly followed.

The first live album is often referred to by a variety of different titles - in the box set, the spine lists it as “NBC-TV Special 68 Comeback”. This was, as the title suggests, a soundtrack to a TV special, Elvis’ first live engagement after the “movie” years. Although it has been made available on VHS and DVD in later years, back in 1968, video players didn’t exist so the only way you could own the show officially was if it was made available in an audio format, so RCA released this LP. To this day, it remains an iconic show - Elvis in black leathers, pounding through material from the early days, it put Elvis back on the map both as a commercial force, and an important figure musically.

Elvis ended up releasing an alarming number of live albums in the final decade of his career - “Elvis In Person” and “On Stage” were the first pair to be issued, surfacing before the end of 1970, and three more appeared before 1975. CD’s 41 and 42 in the box are both live albums, “As Recorded At Madison Square Garden” and “Aloha From Hawaii”. The decision to release two live albums one after the other is certainly unusual, especially as several songs appear on both records, but the decision seems to have been made in order to make the Hawaii show available to fans, as it too had originally been a TV broadcast. CD46 is “Recorded Live On Stage In Memphis”, which bizarrely does not feature an “on stage” shot, despite the fact that most of the studio albums from this period did!

Although the latter period of Elvis’ career has often been viewed with a deal of scepticism (the white jumpsuit, the increasing waistline, the Vegas engagements, all viewed by Elvis detractors as the sign of a man losing the plot), there are some truly exceptional moments on these live records - the exhilarating blast of “C C Rider”, the sheer beauty of “Can’t Help Falling In Love”, these albums should be viewed as being essential pieces of the Elvis back catalogue.

Discography

I have listed below full details of the 50 CD’s in the box. I have listed the releases in the order in which they appear, and to try and simplify matters, have listed each entry as being either Studio, Live, Soundtrack or Compilation. The catalogue numbers relate to the versions available in the box, and it’s worth bearing in mind that some of these releases have appeared in expanded form in the ensuing years.

Elvis Presley (Studio CD, RCA SP5001)
Elvis (Studio CD, RCA SP5002)
Loving You (Soundtrack CD, RCA SP5003)
Elvis’ Christmas Album (Studio CD, RCA SP5004)
Elvis’ Golden Records (Compilation CD, RCA SP5005)
King Creole (Soundtrack CD, RCA SP5006)
For LP Fans Only (Compilation CD, RCA SP5007)
A Date With Elvis (Compilation CD, RCA SP5008)
50,000,000 Elvis Fans Can’t Be Wrong (Compilation CD, RCA SP5009)
Elvis Is Back! (Studio CD, RCA SP5010)
Flaming Star/Follow That Dream/Wild In The Country (Soundtrack CD, RCA SP5011)
GI Blues (Soundtrack CD, RCA SP5012)
His Hand In Mine (Studio CD, RCA SP5013)
Something For Everybody (Studio CD, RCA SP5014)
Blue Hawaii (Soundtrack CD, RCA SP5015)
Pot Luck (Studio CD, RCA SP5016)
Kid Galahad/Girls Girls Girls (Soundtrack CD, RCA SP5017)
It Happened At The World’s Fair/Fun In Acapulco (Soundtrack CD, RCA SP5018)
Elvis’ Golden Records 3 (Compilation CD, RCA SP5019)
Kissin’ Cousins/Clambake/Stay Away Joe (Soundtrack CD, RCA SP5020)
Love In Las Vegas/Roustabout (Soundtrack CD, RCA SP5021)
Harem Holiday/Girl Happy (Soundtrack CD, RCA SP5022)
Elvis For Everyone! (Compilation CD, RCA SP5023)
Frankie And Johnny/Paradise, Hawaiian Style (Soundtrack CD, RCA SP5024)
Spinout/Double Trouble (Soundtrack CD, RCA SP 5025)
Easy Come Easy Go/Speedway (Soundtrack CD, RCA SP5026)
How Great Thou Art (Studio CD, RCA SP5027)
Elvis’ Gold Records 4 (Compliation CD, RCA SP5028)
Live A Little Love A Little/The Trouble With Girls/Charro/Change Of Habit (Soundtrack CD, RCA SP5029)
NBC-TV Special 68 Comeback (Live CD, RCA SP5030)
From Elvis In Memphis (Studio CD, RCA SP5031)
Elvis In Person (Live CD, RCA SP5032)
Back In Memphis (Studio CD, RCA SP5033)
On Stage (Live CD, RCA SP5034)
That’s The Way It Is (Studio CD, RCA SP5035)
Elvis Country (Studio CD, RCA SP5036)
Love Letters (Studio CD, RCA SP5037)
The Wonderful World Of Christmas (Studio CD, RCA SP5038)
Now (Studio CD, RCA SP5039)
He Touched Me (Studio CD, RCA SP5040)
As Recorded At Madison Square Garden (Live CD, RCA SP5041)
Aloha From Hawaii (Live CD, RCA SP5042)
Fool (Studio CD, RCA SP5043)
Raised On Rock (Studio CD, RCA SP5044)
Good Times (Studio CD, RCA SP5045)
Recorded Live On Stage In Memphis (Live CD, RCA SP5046)
Promised Land (Studio CD, RCA SP5047)
Today (Studio CD, RCA SP5048)
From Elvis Presley Bouelvard, Memphis, Tennessee (Studio CD, RCA SP5049)
Moody Blue (Studio CD, RCA SP5050)

Further viewing:
Discogs Page, with scans of all 50 CD's: http://www.discogs.com/viewimages?release=1471083

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