Interview with the producers of 'The Wonder of You'
November 19, 2016
Elvis Interviews, Elvis Articles, Elvis CD News, Elvis News
Elvis Presley would have loved to have taken advantage of today's meticulous recording standards. The fact is, The King was very much a stickler in the studio, and he often came away from his sessions somewhat frustrated, yearning for a better performance and/or a fuller-sounding mix closer to what he'd hear in his head.
Elvis also had an affinity for orchestral arrangements, something his estate was able to realize last year with 'If I Can Dream: Elvis Presley With the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra' (RCA/Legacy), which has sold over 1.5 million copies worldwide to date. It's not hard to see why If I Can Dream was so successful, once you cue up and connect with the majesty of tracks like 'Love Me Tender', 'Bridge Over Troubled Water', and 'How Great Thou Art'.
'If I Can Dream' was the dynamic production duo of Don Reedman (Barbra Streisand, Michael Crawford) and Nick Patrick (Plácido Domingo, Il Divo). Reedman first approached executive producer Priscilla Presley with the idea to marry vintage Elvis vocal tracks with the RPO at famed Abbey Road Studios in London, and it was an idea she wholly embraced.
'Elvis always loved the great, operatic vocalists', Priscilla Presley said in a statement. 'We often talked about his interest in recording material that allowed him to perform in that space, and it's exciting to hear him on these recordings, performing with the world-class Royal Philharmonic Orchestra via the magic of Abbey Road Studios'.
Buoyed by the reception of If I Can Dream, the production Dream Team reunited to emerge with another stellar Elvis/RPO offering, 'The Wonder of You: Elvis Presley With the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra' (RCA/Legacy), a worthy sequel if ever there was. From 'A Big Hunk O' Love' to 'Don't' to 'Kentucky Rain', Wonder again fuses the spirit of Elvis' impassioned vocals with an orchestra at the top of its game.
I reached out across The Pond to get Reedman and Patrick's takes on the sonic differences between the two albums, how a certain mantra guided their respective hands and ears, and just what aspects of modern recording Elvis would have embraced. I just can't help believin' they've locked into some seriously amazing grace with the sweet sounds of this new series.
Mike Mettler: What was the impetus for undertaking If I Can Dream and The Wonder of You in the first place? Don, you go first.
Don Reedman: The initial impetus was a vision I had that Elvis' versatile voice would be complemented by a richer, fuller quality production that would sit on the original feel of the tracks Elvis made back in the day. We have also raised the vocal level of Elvis' voice slightly overall The Wonder of You from the If I Can Dream album.
Nick Patrick: The overwhelming desire for this record was to give Elvis unique access to the very best sonic and technological opportunities the world's great artists recording today take for granted. One of the many challenges in approaching the recording of The Wonder of You was a lot more of the songs came from 'live, in concert' performances. We had to bring the quality of those recordings up to the quality of the isolated studio recordings so that Elvis' vocal sat beautifully in the orchestral setting.
There was a great deal of restoration work on those recordings, so you can hear the full sonic depth of his performances, which enhances the emotional depth. The initial impetus to take on these projects was driven by a dream to hear this incredible voice with all the drama and emotion embedded in those performances, exquisitely accompanied by a symphony orchestra.
Mike Mettler: Take me on the journey from when you first listened to tapes of Elvis singing to fusing that material with the RPO, and how you may have approached things differently for The Wonder of You.
Don Reedman: The first time we listened to the tapes, we were amazed by the quality of his vocals, and then we had to separate the vocal on many tracks and clean up the recordings so they would work with what we wanted to achieve. Once we started the recording in Abbey Road Studio 2, we knew it was going to work. The approach on the second album was very similar to the first.
Nick Patrick: Listening to the tapes for the first time was certainly one of those great moments in my career. Feeling so close to probably the greatest popular artist ever, it was an overwhelming experience, which filled us with great excitement - and a degree of trepidation: 'We better not blow this!'
We were immediately struck by the enormous range of emotion Elvis could take his audience on during a single song - the beautiful, sensitive, and tender moments that effortlessly transition into that fully operatic-like power, without ever pushing his voice too hard. He was always in control and always in charge, with his group of musicians responding to every tiny inflection in his performance. He conducted his band as if he were conducting a symphony orchestra himself.
In terms of our approach to setting Elvis' vocal in with the RPO on this record, we did feel the songs were a little more uplifting and energized. We wanted the orchestral arrangements to reflect that, particularly with songs like ‘Big Hunk O' Love', which was a live performance from (1973's) Aloha From Hawaii and is faster and more energetic than that 1959 studio recording.
'I've Got a Thing About You Baby' is a new, reworked version of the (1973) studio recording; again, it's faster, with a completely new feel. We do, of course, still have the beautiful ballads too.
One significant difference between the recording approach of If I Can Dream and The Wonder of You is on the new record, we recorded all the new rhythm parts before the orchestra - unlike If I Can Dream, which was recorded the opposite way around. This allowed the orchestral arrangements and the RPO's performance to respond to the energy and sonic quality of the new rhythm tracks.
Mike Mettler: I understand your original If I Can Dream mantra was, 'Listen to Elvis'. Did that still hold true the second time around? What did Elvis 'tell' you to do as you worked on The Wonder of You material with the RPO?
Don Reedman: He told us the same thing, really - be guided by the emotion and feeling of the vocal.
Nick Patrick: The mantra stayed the same. As I mentioned before, when Elvis made his original recordings, he was dictating the dynamics, energy, and emotional intensity of each performance. That is the clearest message he could tell us what he wanted from each performance, and we reacted to that and tried to give every nuance of those performances added emotional weight.
Mike Mettler: How did you know which Elvis songs were right for orchestration like this? What were the signs and characteristics that made you take those song choices to the next level?
Don Reedman: We wanted songs that were more upbeat in feel and more instant, yet have them be surprising to the audience with a little more imagination and positivity in feel - all the while capturing all the different styles that Elvis had to give.
Nick Patrick: We wanted these songs to give the audience a real reason for owning both records. The Wonder of You feels a bit more 'celebratory' - and, dare I say, commercial in feel while still retaining the beautiful, tender moments.
Mike Mettler: What is it about Abbey Road Studios that makes it the perfect location for recording these albums? Do you have any personal favorite recordings from any other artist that were cut at Abbey Road?
Don Reedman: Abbey Road is a wonderful studio encased in history, and my favorite recordings from Studio 2 are those of The Beatles. I love the rawness of their first album (Please Please Me, released in the UK in March 1963). It is simply the best studio for these type of recordings.
Peter Cobbin is a wonderful engineer who knows every microphone to use for whatever type of recording you are making. They have the best selection of valve microphones in the world, and the best backup team and equipment.
Nick Patrick: Abbey Road is one of the very best orchestral studios in the world. We record in Studio 2, the studio The Beatles used for almost all their recordings. The studio recording room remains largely unchanged from those historic recordings. The sound is tighter than Studio 1 - and that suits the project better, as it enables us to shape the sound more in the mixing process.
They have an incredible range of microphones to choose from. We exclusively used vintage valve mikes to create a beautiful, warm glow around the orchestra. The room allows you to hear the orchestral sound breathe. Plus, you cannot ignore the incredible spirit of all the amazing recordings that have been made there, floating around every corridor of the building.
One of my favorite recordings from Abbey Road was Pink Floyd's The Dark Side of The Moon (released March 1973). It's dark, uplifting, and dramatic - one of the greatest records ever made.
Mike Mettler: Were the RPO sessions recorded at 96kHz/24-bit or higher? Would you agree that high resolution is the best way to capture all of the elements of an orchestra of such magnitude?
Nick Patrick: The recordings were all 96/24, yes. For this kind of project, it definitely makes a big difference. It gives you so much more air at the top end, and depth in the bass end. You need to hear the sonic architecture and space around the orchestra, and 96k allows that.
Mike Mettler: Was there any thought given to doing a 5.1 surround sound mix of these sessions? Personally, I love listening to orchestral performances in surround sound because I feel I can hear the instrumentation in each section of the orchestra that much clearer, which leads to an even fuller appreciation of the music at hand, including the vocal performances along with it.
Nick Patrick: I think it would sound amazing in 5.1.You would really feel like you were standing next to Elvis in the middle of the orchestra. But we have not had any discussions about doing 5.1 mixes. Maybe for something for the future.
Don Reedman: We have not yet discussed 5.1 sound mixes, no.
Mike Mettler: Do each of you have one specific favorite performance on The Wonder of You? Me, I'm just as partial to the emotionality inherent in Elvis' vocal on 'Don't' as Priscilla Presley is.
Don Reedman: 'Don't' (1958) is a favorite because I could hear the arrangement in my head, and was able to get it thru to Robin Smith, the strings arranger, and conductor. It's also a fantastic vocal of a very young Elvis.
I also love 'The Wonder of You' (1970) and 'Suspicious Minds' (1969). They are very emotional and show the wonderful fullness in sound of the RPO.
Nick Patrick: I love 'Memories' (1968), a beautiful song that really works with Robin Smith's orchestral arrangement. And 'Suspicious Minds' is one of my favorite Elvis songs, so that is a big favorite as well.
Mike Mettler: What did you consider to be some of the challenges in terms of matching the 'right' Elvis vocal with the 'right' arrangement? Did any of his vocals have to be level-matched across the album or need any kind of technical enhancement to bring them up to a certain sound quality standard?
Don Reedman: Nick will answer this better, but there was a lot of cleaning up and editing different vocal performances to achieve the great result we have.
Nick Patrick: This album presented some real challenges in terms of matching the quality of the original vocal recordings from the live performances and those of the studio recordings. Much time was spent restoring the full bandwidth of those live recordings, so the vocal sound across the entire album was consistent. Many of the studio recordings had reverb already recorded on Elvis' vocal track, so time was also spent on reducing that without in any way damaging the original sound. This enabled us to create our own acoustic space for him to work with the orchestra and other new elements.
Mike Mettler: What do you feel is the best way for people to listen to The Wonder of You - on vinyl, on CD? Personally, I feel the overall breadth inherent in these recordings is very much lost if you listen to any of these tracks via low-quality MP3s.
Nick Patrick: To experience the full sonic experience, it has to be CD, but this is mainly a physical CD audience. I do believe the emotional intensity of this album will be heard via whatever system or format it is played on, and that is very important to preserve in an age when so much music is listened to on 'buds or laptops. It still must touch and move you.
Don Reedman: Just listen to the album on the best quality gear you can. Play it loud and proud!
Mike Mettler: It's been noted that Elvis sometimes felt dissatisfied with the scope of what was captured on tape after certain recording sessions of his. How do you think Elvis would have embraced the higher-resolution recording options of the modern day? What do you think he might have attempted to do in the studio, given the advancements in recording in the years since he passed away in 1977?
Don Reedman: Elvis appreciated the development in engineering quality, and he mentioned this in the '68 Comeback Special. I don't think he would have changed his approach to the recording process from his own standpoint. He was all about the feel, and he was right about that. We have been very mindful of that fact in our approach to the recordings.
Nick Patrick: Elvis was an artist who was always pushing boundaries, and I cannot imagine him not embracing every technological advancement that allowed him to push those boundaries. He would have loved the clarity and space that can be achieved now, and I am sure he would have used everything at his disposal to make his records the best they could be.
One thing I think Elvis would have loved, if he were recording now, is the ability to perfect recordings with the editing power of Pro Tools, while maintaining his unique sense of performance.
Mike Mettler: Outside of what appears on these two albums in their orchestral form, what are your personal favorite original Elvis tracks, from any era of his recording career?
Don Reedman: 'Hound Dog' (1956) - the raw feel of it.
Nick Patrick: I think it would have to be 'In the Ghetto' (1969) - one of his most beautiful vocal performances.
Mike Mettler: Finally, will we see a third installment in this series in 2017? Do you have any ideas in mind for what you'd like to do next?
Nick Patrick: We hope very much that there will be a third Elvis installment, yes. We are just starting a Roy Orbison album, which we are very excited about.
Don Reedman: We are making an Elvis Christmas album, and, like Nick said, are also in the process of working on a Roy Orbison album. Exciting times ahead!
Buy 'The Wonder Of You: Elvis With The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra'
Buy Deluxe Box: 'The Wonder Of You: Elvis With The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra' (17 track CD / 2 x LP
Buy Deluxe Box: 'The Wonder Of You: Elvis With The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra' 2 x LP
The Wonder Of You: Elvis Presley With The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra
A Big Hunk O' Love
I've Got A Thing About You Baby
I Just Can't Help Believin'
Let It Be Me
Always On My Mind
The Wonder Of You
Just Pretend (duet with Helene Fischer)
'The Wonder Of You' album is truly a worthy successor to last year's 'If I Can Dream'. First off the sound is magnificent and Elvis' voice is really upfront. The backings with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra are innovative and brought right up to date. Again, Elvis is featured singing in many musical genres including rock, country, pop and gospel.
The album opens with an Elvis classic from the 1950's 'A Big Hunk O' Love' which rocks along magnificently with the help of the RPO who give it a really innovative opening. Then comes 'I've Got A Thing About You Baby' which is not a very well known track by Elvis but it is given a really upbeat treatment here, especially with the drums, and is great to dance to. This is followed by perhaps Elvis' most loved song ' Suspicious Minds' which is given a new string arrangement here. Elvis' voice never sounded clearer or upfront. Next up is another 50's track with the young Elvis singing one of his classic ballads. The arrangement is great and it is amazing how brilliant Elvis' voice sounds after all these years. This is followed by another Elvis favorite 'I Just Can't Help Believin' which was recorded 'live' for the personal appearance film 'Elvis, That's The way It Is' in 1970. A truly beautiful song written and sung originally by B.J. Thomas. Elvis has never sounded better with the RPO string section coming very much to the fore towards the latter part of the song. Next, comes another Elvis fan favorite, and certainly one of mine, 'Just Pretend'. Nothing need be said about this track as it is magnificent.
Then we have the classic Ketty Lester track 'Love Letters'. Elvis sang two versions of this love song - one in the 60's and one in the 70's. It is the 70's string version which is used here but the RPO strings bring it bang up to date. 'Starting Today' is a song about lost love and again not a very well known song from his album 'Something For Everybody'. It is beautifully sung by Elvis in that soft falsetto voice he used often in the 1960's. This is what makes this album special - the different voices Elvis could conjure up at will. 'Kentucky Rain' is up next and a country track which Elvis sang in Vegas during the early 70's. Another great track and one really liked many many DJ's. All of Elvis' songs tell a story and this one is no different.
'Memories' was recorded during Elvis' 1968 NBC TV Special known as his Comeback Special. He looked magnificent in his black leather suit and sang this song sitting down on the edge of the stage with fans. A beautiful song reminiscing about days gone by. 'Let It Be Me' is another live recording from his early Vegas years and is most famously associated with The Everly Brothers. Elvis puts his heart and soul into this love song and it shows. 'Always On My Mind' follows and many believe that this song was sung by Elvis with Priscilla in mind. Beautifully sung and the RPO give it that extra touch to improve on the original. The album ends with the title track 'The Wonder Of You' again another 'live' track from Vegas1970 and this is classic Elvis with a 50's sounding ballad. It's a knockout. Apparently, according to Priscilla Presley, when Elvis sang the song he was referring to the glory of God. I Love these albums with the RPO as they bring the sound and arrangements bang up to date. A big well done to all those involved. Finally, if one buys the download version of this album you get an extra 'bonus' track of a Duet of 'Just Pretend' with German singer Helene Fischer. Personally, I think it is fantastic and has been mixed amazingly well. (F. B. Quinn).
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Tupelo's Own Elvis Presley DVD Video with Sound.
Never before have we seen an Elvis Presley concert from the 1950's with sound. Until Now! The DVD Contains recently discovered unreleased film of Elvis performing 6 songs, including Heartbreak Hotel and Don't Be Cruel, live in Tupelo Mississippi 1956. Included we see a live performance of the elusive Long Tall Sally seen here for the first time ever. + Plus Bonus DVD Audio.
This is an excellent release no fan should be without it.
The 'parade' footage is good to see as it puts you in the right context with color and b&w footage. The interviews of Elvis' Parents are well worth hearing too. The afternoon show footage is wonderful and electrifying : Here is Elvis in his prime rocking and rolling in front of 11.000 people. Highly recommended.