Review : Elvis 1969 Box Set from Gravel Road
In twelve days, Elvis cut thirty-six sides at the American Sound Studios in Memphis. Four of them were singles - In the Ghetto, Suspicious Minds, Don't Cry Daddy, and Kentucky Rain, and all but the last were gold, even though Kentucky Rain was a substantial hit. And the two albums that came out of it [From Elvis in Memphis and From Memphis to Vegas/From Vegas to Memphis (Back In Memphis & Elvis In Person] went platinum. When Elvis walked into American Sound Studio that January evening, he hadn't had a top five record since 1965. He would never get as high on the charts again as he did with Chips Moman. Elvis himself believed that he had recorded some of his best material. He did so with focus and effort, and by asserting a kind of independence which was unusual for him. But it was an independence tempered by a willingness to work with and be guided by a producer he had never met, in a studio he knew by name only. Desperate for a number one record, Elvis took chances he would never take again.
But could these sessions have achieved more?
While the overdubs made the songs undeniably more commercial, had the tracks been initially released without them, the resulting albums might have been even more revolutionary, taking Elvis Presley's career in an entirely different direction. As Peter Guralnick observed on listening to the multiple takes of In The Ghetto, 'As the song develops .. one is provided with an incontrovertible glimpse of what the process might have been like for Elvis, if only he had been able to approach recording consistently as an art'.
Elvis himself wasn't all that thrilled with some of the overdubs.
Now we on this set all of the finished masters, as GM claim, in the finished state as approved by Elvis. To me there is no denying the vast improvement in most cases I hear in these 'undubbed, [but] Repaired' masters. Although I find reason the doubt fully the claim, take for example Only The Strong Survive, at the 1:40 mark we begin 14 seconds of silence from Elvis, filled in by string and female backing vocal overdubs on the finished master - it can only be that this gap was created for overdubbing.
STILL I much prefer the undubbed version even though the gap does 'sound' a bit strange. With this set you can listen to not only what Elvis wanted, but in my opinion sounding much better in there original undubbed form, and without the female backing vocals that while I am not say they are, they remind me of the 'Nashville sound' in that it was deemed 'necessary'. I certainly don't have the view that overdubs are a no - no, each must be judged on there own, and for sure in some cases the undubbed version simply gives a different 'fresh' version to listen too. And it can be both ways even with these American recordings.
'Chips Moman knew what a modern record, a pop record, as opposed to a country record, should sound like', says Ernst Jorgensen about the end result. 'He had an exceptional band, skilled players. And he was very focused on making records. Chips, in his head, had a vision of what a record should sound like. He cared only for those records that were taken to the full extreme, taken all the way, from his perspective; that would be records like Suspicious Minds and In the Ghetto. He didn't want Elvis to sing old country songs like I'll Hold You in My Heart, or Stranger in My Own Hometown. But those stand up as well as Chips' masterful productions of Only the Strong Survive and Any Day Now. It's a funny mixture of Elvis' own creativity and Chips'.
Take Waylon Jennings (You Asked Me Too) as one example. Listen to his early work from the 1960s and you hear the 'Nashville sound' with the very annoying female making sings chirping in, then in the 1970s after he had fought and won a battle with RCA to control his on production we hear Waylon explode, particularly with the classic, Billy Joe Shaver written, 'Honky Honk Heroes' album. And noticeably with a sound far removed from what Nashville wanted - and in the undubbed form here we have Elvis as he could have been.
Elvis hasn't lost it [news article /review, August 10, 1969], from the booklet.
NOVELTY has no affect here for me as far as I am concerned [i.e. hearing something new and liking it for that] the truth is I have always struggled to enjoy 'From Elvis in Memphis' as I am 'supposed too', being as it is a classic album etc. Take the opening track, Wearing That Loved On Look, as one good example, a song I could never understand why it was used as the opening [I have long thought Stranger In My Own Home Town would have made an excellent opening track for this album] - interestingly it is without the VERY annoying female backing vocals - although still MUCH better undubbed, but here in it's natural form it makes so much more 'sense', although i still can't help have the view that it was chosen because Elvis was 'Rock 'N' Roll and this song is as close to rocking as they could find. So to me what difference 'Stranger' + in the undubbed form would have made to the album. Far closer to those other Memphis recordings from 14 and 15 years before.
This disc alone is without doubt going to leave this set with that 'loved on look' as the years go by.
My reason for recommending this set would be 60-70% for this disc, but your reasons may be different.
So with that in mind, on to Disc 2 which gives us an 'unreleased' multi-track stereo concert of the August 24, 1969 Midnight Show, and is as fine as any you will have heard, only you have never heard this one before, only bits and pieces released in different packages. And this is how the producers have sourced it, however they have managed to seamlessly make a full concert using 'segments' from the August 24 Dinner show [Three tracks] where they have not had the original audio. I didn't notice anything so it is seamless and so an excellent disc. My reason for recommending this set would be 15-20% for this disc, but there is no reason why this could not be interchangeable with disc 1, all according to your preferences.
The booklet cover. [There is a second booklet of photos too].
Now Disc 3, and I have not left myself much room in the percentage stakes for recommending this disc. There is nothing wrong with it, in fact it is a fine example of a soundboard recording. Released originally back in 1995/6 by DAE as 'Hear We Go Again', one of the first two or three bootleg soundboard's I ever purchased - this is said to be the 'raw unprocessed' recording and to my ears it sounds like it is in much improved sound quality. In fact back in 1996 the Elvis collectors world was alight with the release of this disc, finally a quality basically full, not compilation, 1969 concert, and a quality new concert at that!!! [Why didn't RCA release something similar on the Elvis Aron Presley box instead of the 1975 (compilation) soundboard????]
Now I have left nothing in the can at all percentage wise to give for a reason for buying this set, and neither should i -- content is what matters most -- but make no mistake, the packaging and booklet are superb.
So no mater which way you look at this set, I can highly recommend it to all ...
As an aside it is interesting that despite the fact that the Follow That Dream (FTD) Collectors Label have released not one, but three double CD Classic Album sets summing up the American Sound Sessions [See Below] Gravel Road have still managed to find something of value that could be added.
The following three albums have been released by FTD and are highly recommended.
The American sessions stand as a personal triumph for Elvis, a performer at a turning point, an artist who that Winter in Memphis, was again sharp, eager, and alive. And the music he created there will always prove it.
The combination package 'Elvis In Person & Back in Memphis' was the basic concept, but we wanted more. During the first days of the comeback in Las Vegas in 1969, special RCA presentation box sets were given away. These box sets are very rare and expensive to get hold of.
This was the perfect 1969 package idea for this release. Included are:
- A 28 page full color/b&w photo folio with 28 photos of Elvis from 1969 including rare or unpublished photos
- A 32 page full color booklet with original articles
- An interview with Elvis from 1969, co-workers and musicians about recording at the American Sound Studios and performing in Las Vegas
- Over 60+ photos of Elvis on stage (many from the same show), various are rare or unpublished
- 15 incredible photos of The American Sound Studio with Elvis, again some are rare or unpublished
- Previously unreleased versions
- A rare studio rehearsal of January 1969
- The unaltered raw audio of the August 24, 1969 M/S soundboard
- The reproduction slipcase of the famous 1969 presentation box set
- All recordings in excellent sound quality
We hope you'll agree we did our best to respect and honour the original artistic ideas from 1969.
Disc 1: In Memphis Undubbed Repaired Masters
'The 'Elvis 1969' Box versions are the repaired versions without studio banter! Some tracks have a longer running time. Presented exactly as they were prepared for in the spring of 1969 by producer Chips Moman with the okay of Elvis'. Some of the unrepaired, undubbed masters here were recently released by FTD, in some cases with studio banter. Our versions are the repaired versions and come without this banter, presented exactly as they were prepared for in the spring of 1969 for various overdubs. Our sole intention is to present these songs how they left the Memphis studio, with the okay of Elvis and producer Chips Moman.
01. Wearin' That Loved On Look 02. Only The Strong Survive 03. I'll Hold You In My Heart 04. Long Black Limousine 05. It Keeps Right On A-Hurtin' 06. I'm Movin' On 07. Power Of My Love 08. Gentle On My Mind 09. After Loving You 10. True Love Travels On A Gravel Road 11. Any Day Now 12. In The Ghetto 13. Inherit The Wind 14. This Is The Story 15. Stranger In My Own Home Town 16. A Little Bit Of Green 17. And The Grass Won't Pay No Mind 18. Do You Know Who I Am? 19. From A Jack To A King 20. The Fair's Moving On 21. You'll Think Of Me 22. Without Love (There Is Nothing) 23. Suspicious Minds.
Tracks 1-12 were in fully dubbed versions released on 'From Elvis In Memphis'. These were the only songs besides the single 'Suspicious Minds' intended for release of the magnificent studio recordings at the American Sound Studios. The tremendous enthusiasm provoked using the remaining recordings as well. It was proven right - it sold multi platinum. Tracks 13 -22 were fully dubbed versions released on 'Back In Memphis' which was also released as a double release with Elvis In Person as, 'From Memphis to Vegas - From Vegas to Memphis'. Track 23 was released as single and not added to either of the two studio albums. An extended live version was released on 'Elvis In Person'. Note: This disc includes some previously unreleased versions.
Disc 2: In Person Live 'On Stage' Multi -Track
On disc 2 you will find the multi-track live recording of the August 24, 1969 Midnight Show. Thanks to existing tape legends, paperwork and research and the fantastic unprocessed soundboard recording of the same show, we were able to piece this show together as it was originally recorded. We double-checked and compared the whole show second for second with an audience recording of the show that we had recently acquired. There are only three songs borrowed from the dinner show: 'I Can't Stop Loving You', 'Runaway' and 'What'd I Say', which are 98% identical to the midnight show versions. We used the career dialogue from the August 24, 1969 dinner show. We don't have this in multi-track quality and therefore we decided to include a third disc with the original raw unrepaired soundboard. This is Elvis at his best in 1969 in the best sound.
01. Opening 02. Blue Suede Shoes 03. I Got A Woman 04. All Shook Up 05. Love Me Tender 06. Medley : Jailhouse Rock – Don't Be Cruel 07. Heartbreak Hotel 08. Hound Dog 09. I Can't Stop Loving You* 10. Johnny B. Goode 11. Monologue* (Life Story) 12. Baby What You Want Me To Do 13. Runaway* 14. Are You Lonesome Tonight ? 15. Words 16. Yesterday (with 'Hey Jude' Ending) 17. Band Introductions 18. In The Ghetto 19. Suspicious Minds 20. What'd I Say* 21. Can't Help Falling In Love / Outro
The Multi track recording has been repaired with segments of the August 24, 1969 Dinner Show. Tracks marked with * are taken from the Dinner Show.
Disc 3: Raw Audio Unedited Soundboard & Studio Rehearsal
01. Opening 02. Blue Suede Shoes 03. I Got A Woman 04. All Shook Up 05. Love Me Tender 06. Medley : Jailhouse Rock – Don't Be Cruel 07. Heartbreak Hotel 08. Hound Dog 09. I Can't Stop Loving You 10. Johnny B. Goode 11. Monologue (Life Story) 12. Baby What You Want Me To Do 13. Runaway 14. Are You Lonesome Tonight ? 15. Words 16. Yesterday (with 'Hey Jude' Ending) 17. Band Introductions 18. In The Ghetto 19. Suspicious Minds (Partially). Bonus track (20+ minutes) 20. Band Rehearsal and a first attempt of 'Come Out, Come Out (Wherever you are)' at American Sound studios (Roy Hamilton can be heard here) January, 1969.
Disc three contains the raw unprocessed soundboard recording of the August 24, 1969 M/S, without effects. A significantly different August 24, Midnight Show when compared to the fragmented release over the years of the multi track recording. Edited due to improper language use or running times. Also segments of this show were used to repair or enhance other 1969 and 1970 multi track recordings. This is the real deal, uncut, raw and finally, no tons of reverb as on previous releases of this remarkable show.
Tupelo's Own Elvis Presley DVD + 16 page booklet.
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.
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.