Not a second is less than a thrill and a delight.
Right up until the point where cars were being parked and instruments unpacked', 'the assembled musicians were under the impression they'd been booked to record with Jim Reeves. This was a half-hearted attempt to thwart the fans gathered outside who knew full well who was coming in.
Rolling Stone  gives the album a whopping 4.5 stars and says 'Recorded when Presley, was 25, fresh off a. two-year military stint and musically fit. to burst, Elvis Is Back! might be the King's greatest non-compilation LP: wildly varied material, revelatory singing, impeccable stereo sound'.
The music itself is coherently and attractively laid out, from 'Album' to 'Singles' to 'First Takes' on CD 1 to 'March Sessions' and 'April Sessions' on CD 2. The usual gorgeous glossy booklet sports plenty of session and release details, along with several full color promotional portraits taken just before Elvis was discharged from the Army in March 1960. It's a shame he didn't have a few more days booked for additional studio work.
Even the lesser tracks became golden with Presley and his able band.
The warmth of these 1960 master recordings is palpable, and as good as anything issued so far in the digital era. Evidently, such exquisite audio quality did not come easily for the FTD team, as certain master tapes were so heavily processed they could not be properly decoded. Careful use of an alternate source provided the higher resolution, more exciting result on the original album tracks, for example.
'Elvis Is Back! was a triumph on every level', wrote Ernst Jorgensen in his essential research guide, Elvis Presley: A Life In Music (St. Martin's Press, 1998). 'Elvis had never been heard like this before, except perhaps by himself in his own head. There was new depth to his voice; his interpretations were increasingly sophisticated; the group was probably the best studio band in the business; the song selection was imaginative and varied, the technical quality excellent. Most surprisingly of all, the new album pointed in no one musical direction ... It was as if Elvis had invented his own brand of music, broken down the barriers of genre and prejudice to express everything he heard in all the kinds of music he loved'.
Citing highlights of the released stuff is slightly ridiculous. Of the 18 songs recorded, three were worldwide number one singles, with two -- 'It's Now Or Never' and 'Are You Lonesome Tonight?' -- showing new directions from the Tupelo, Mississippi native. It's evident that, while stationed in Germany, Elvis had worked to expand the power and range of his voice, as well as seek out the music that would define his return to civilian life.
Exclusive album recordings like 'Fever', 'Such A Night' and 'Like A Baby' are some of the richest of Presley's career, not to mention stunning single B-sides 'Fame And Fortune' and 'A Mess Of Blues'. Most importantly, 'Reconsider Baby', is one of the ten best songs Elvis ever laid onto tape. In a nice surprise, the singer's count-in to his astonishing reworking of a classic Lowell Fulsom blues is included for the very first time as well.
For fans of this era, moving on to unreleased gems is where the fun really begins. 'Let's cut one', suggests co-producer Chet Atkins. And so begins an almost acapella take 1 of 'Make Me Know It', and Elvis' return to formal studio work in almost two years. According to engineer Bill Porter, the tension in the control booth was thick. Management and RCA executives alike wanted to know did Elvis still have 'it'?
Their answer was delivered in less than three minutes Yes'.
If I hit a few bad notes here because I can't my bearings right, you know, but uh, we got plenty of tape', apologizes Presley before a near-perfect take 1 of 'Fever'. Other numbers go through key, arrangement or tempo changes en route to perfection. Sometimes, as on 'Soldier Boy', it's just a little technical problem. 'OK, one more, we got a pop on 'feel' ... a mic pop, you know', explains Chet. 'I thought you said a puff', jokes Elvis.
The sexual firepower of Elvis' vocal on 'It Feels So Right' is coupled with a sense of menace on the outtakes, with Floyd Cramer's piano fills in nice, nasty counterpoint to Hank Garland's repeated guitar riff. It is Elvis himself who kicks off the guitar intro to Jesse Stone's 'Like A Baby', until he realizes it disrupts his vocal concentration. 'Hold it! I can't think of two things at once!' he exclaims. It's fascinating to hear how hard Presley worked to craft 'It's Now Or Never' as a powerful pop homage to vocal hero Mario Lanza. True to the legend, he did indeed hit the final ending notes in a single, complete take but, ironically, had to splice them onto to a later effort, as the band played the final bars that much finer.
In general, like much of the music taped at Nashville's Studio B by Elvis during the early-to-mid 1960s, the rejected performances are often only a hair worse than their released counterparts, a testimony to the talents of all involved. And Elvis Is Back! is undeniable evidence of a unique and enduring musical vision from the greatest singer of the twentieth century, Elvis Presley.
The best way to buy this classic album is in the form of the Official Elvis Presley Collectors Label double CD Special Edition complete with original album, all the singles recorded at the sessions in March and April 1960 and importantly multiple alternate takes where you can hear very strong alternate versions while at the same time listening to Elvis produce this important album, and the worldwide hit singles, It's Now Or Never, Stuck On You, Are You Lonesome Tonight? etc. Buy Elvis Is Back! FTD Special Edition Elvis Presley FTD 2 CD Set.
Elvis Is Back! : FTD Special Edition Elvis Presley FTD 2 CD Set
(An * indicates previously unreleased take.)
Disc 1 From the Original Album Release: Make Me Know It ; Fever ; The Girl Of My Best Friend ;I Will Be Home Again ; Dirty, Dirty Feeling ; The Thrill Of You Love ; Soldier Boy ; Such A Night ; It Feels So Right ; Girl Next Door Went A'Walking ; Like A Baby ; Reconsider Baby ;
The Original Singles Released from the Sessions: Stuck On You ; Fame And Fortune ; It's Now Or Never ; A Mess Of Blues ; Are You Lonesome Tonight? ; I Gotta Know (including Take 1*) ; Alternate Takes: Make Me Know It (Take 1) ; Fever (Take 1) ; The Girl Of My Best Friend (Take 3) ; Soldier Boy (Take 1) ; Such a Night (Take 1) ; It Feels So Right (Take 1) ; Stuck on You (Take 1) ; Fame And Fortune (Take 2) ; It's Now Or Never (Take 1) ; Are You Lonesome Tonight (Takes 1,2)
Disc 2 - The March Session: Make Me Know It (Take 3) ; Make Me Know It (Takes 9*,10*,11) ; Make Me Know It (Takes 17,18) ; Soldier Boy (Takes 2*,3*,7) ; Soldier Boy (Takes 9*,10) ; Stuck On You (Takes 1-FS, 2) ; Fame And Fortune (Takes 4*,5) ; A Mess Of Blues (Take 1) ; A Mess Of Blues (Takes 2*,3*) ; It Feels So Right (Take 2) ; It Feels So Right (Takes 4*,3) ; The April Session: Fever (Takes 2*,3*-'f---' at end taken out) ;Like A Baby (Take 1-FS/BD*) ; Like A Baby (Take 2) ; Like A Baby (Takes 3,4*) ; It's Now Or Never (Take 2) ; It's Now or Never (Takes 3,4*) ; Girl Of My Best Friend (Takes 2*,4*,5*,6) ; Girl Of My Best Friend (Take 9) ; Dirty, Dirty Feeling (Take 1) ; Dirty, Dirty Feeling (Takes 2*,3*-sp last chord from 4/m) ; Thrill Of Your Love (Takes 1,2*,1-PB) ; Such A Night (Takes 2,3,4*/5-sp) ; Girl Next Door Went A'Walking (Takes 1,2,3) ; Are You Lonesome Tonight (Takes 4*-FS,3*, wp 1/2-sp*)