This is an almighty project, a coffee-table book described as an "Encyclopedia for fans all over the world" including details and photos of all of Elvis’ stage outfits.
There is no doubt that Elvis collectors found the pre-publicity mouth-watering since it promised "a full documentary of all Elvis’ suits" and nothing of this magnitude has been done before - and certainly not with FTD as the official co-publisher.
The book assembles an astounding selection of images of Elvis from 1968 to 1977 from many notable photographic contributors including the well-known Ed Bonja, Keith Alveston, George O’Hill, Judy Palmer, Sandi Picton, Sue Mc Casland, Pal Granlund, Bob Heis, Sherrif Hannah and Len Leech - amongst 27 others. The book starts with a foreword by Pal Granlund remembering his 9th June 1972 meeting with Elvis – beginning the book with a nice personal touch.
Before the main section, pages 11-14 set the scene with mention of fashion designers Bill Belew and Gene Douchette and pages 14-20 feature nice June 1968 photos from when Bill Belew first started working with Elvis.
The book presents an explanation of each jumpsuit, where it was worn, description of the design etc, a multitude of photos as well as where the costumes may be seen nowadays.
This work nicely in favour of the book since Elvis had less & less new jumpsuits as the years progressed, so that the vast majority of the photos are of Elvis in his iconic early 70s years. And boy, did he look magnificent!
All years/tours, Las Vegas and Lake Tahoe seasons are mentioned and with sixty pages dedicated to 1970 alone the selection of the photos is very impressive.
The images are printed on matt paper - perhaps a gloss finish would have looked better - and while a few have been printed in lesser quality than I have previously seen, the overall impression is pretty stunning. (Especially if you have previously bought expensive Elvis photo books to find the majority of pictures out-of-focus or disappointingly in black and white!)
Rather than run through each season, tour and fabulous jumpsuits that most fans all know and are well covered, I would like to mention a few missing suits. Las Vegas August 1970 season seems to ONLY mention suits featuring in the movie T.T.W.I.I. - since I have a photo of Elvis wearing a Dark Blue jumpsuit from August 24th 1970 that doesn’t even get a mention in this book!
Lake Tahoe 1971 gets a very brief coverage and Tahoe 1973 is completely lacking any pictures at all, yet I have seen some Tahoe May 1973 photos! The Las Vegas Summer season August 1972 doesn’t mention in near enough detail the number and range of Elvis cool shirt and pants combinations that he wore! These were an excellent change from the regular jumpsuits and I would have liked to seen more about them.
On a positive note some seasons are well documented, such as Las Vegas August 1974 which does cover Elvis’ alternative two-piece leather suits rather well.
In fact throughout the book there are several costumes and plenty of variations that will be new to a lot of jumpsuit fans. While we are all familiar with Elvis’ mid-1975 Red & Black Phoenix jumpsuits it is interesting to note that the original ‘Turquoise Phoenix’ jumpsuit (shown right) came from as early as June 1974, a year before.
If fans buy Fashion For A King purely to gaze at over 1000 great photos of Elvis splendour then there is little to disappoint with this sumptuous looking book - however the real problem is with the poor and repetitive text that accompanies these iconic images.
The authors of this giant labour-of-love are Norwegian so we could forgive a little slip or two in the text, however much of it is actually annoying to read. There are spelling errors on nearly every page and so many sentences are grammatically incorrect. Some of them you have to read twice just to understand what they are trying to say. In contrast the prose in Norwegian Stein Erik Skar’s marvellous book ‘Elvis: The Concert Years’ is totally engaging.
Should EIN write a book in Norwegian (heaven forbid!) we would, A) Run the document through a basic WORD check for grammar and spelling B) Have it proofread by a Norwegian author or writer.
It is obvious that neither of these have been done here. I also cannot believe that since it is an official FTD co-produced book neither Ernst nor Roger Semon gave the manuscript a quick read-through before printing.
Having two people Leif Erik Sander and Carla Brundle credited in the book as proofreaders is actually an embarrassment.
There are too many mistakes to note in detail and many silly ones repeat, like Elvis wearing a suit "under this Lake Tahoe Season" and "witch" instead of "which", "Kurt Russel" named as the famous actor not "Russell".
It is also annoying that on the last page they note that Elvis performed 'Release Me' at his final concert, on June 26 1977, for the first time since 1975. Seeing as Elvis performed it a couple of times in 1977 - including the Columbia Feb 18th 1977 version released by FTD themselves, this is a silly mistake.
Two examples of the kind of sentences that make difficult reading are…
"He also told the audience that he did not know the lyrics to ‘Auld Lang Syne’ so he just mumbling the first verse and he were very surprised it was a second verse to it." (pg 434)
"The spectator's ecstatic approaching climax in the giant Concert Hall as the stage overflows from lightning by large amount of stage-spotlights." (pg 9)
Some mistakes also read very strangely in English (page 456), "On July 4th @ 2:30pm he held a god concert in Tulsa, Oklahoma" Who knew God was there?!
But worst of all for a book of this depth and detail - there is NO INDEX!
This is ridiculous, as the whole point of the book is to enjoy these wonderful images of Elvis on stage and to hopefully to learn what Elvis wore at each performance.
Although the suits are presented in chronological order the photos that go with them often jump in date sequence. This would be fine IF there was an overall index but there is not. Seeing as Francesc Lopez of the great website ‘Elvis Presley In Concert’ is credited in the book, surely an updated jumpsuit index compiled from everyone’s knowledge would have be been easily to include.
The book’s two concert CDs come without a CD case or cover pictures since they are just an insert in plastic envelopes. Yet when pictures in the book do come from the matching performances, ie December 14th 1975 pages 426-429 (see below in CD review), no reference is given!
Whilst some pages inevitably feature some ‘out of focus’ pictures (ie page 63), in general most of the full-page images are a true delight - such as pages 42 and 43 from August 29th 1969. And some of the rare images such as page 23 Black Herringbone 1969 suit and the fabulous one of Elvis with the "Hound Dog" December 15th 1975 (page 425) ( below) are sensational.
Generally speaking the ‘Tour shows’ and associated suits are the best covered in the book and it’s nice to have a good collection shown here. I particularly like the type of high-quality photo and great resolution on page 194 - nice (as shown below)!
However close-ups of the Belts Elvis wore are few and here the book ultimately falls far short of what I expected- yet it does cover what microphones he used extensively!
I DO like this book because it is the first serious attempt to comprehensively document everything Elvis was wearing ‘on stage’, so it is a pity it doesn’t match one’s high expectations. Unlike some fans I have no objection to the very few ‘new photos’ simply because the ‘known’ photos used here are such iconic images, showing Elvis at his best.
What DOES annoy me is that for 25 years I have grown up to accept that three suits Elvis wore in 1975 were known as ‘White Bicentennial’, ‘Gypsy’ and ‘Aztec’ suits. Apparently the correct names for these I now discover for the first time in this book are:- "White Egyptian Bird" suit, "Eskimo Totem Pole" suit and "Chicken Rib" suit. Many other suits also suddenly appear with completely ‘new’ names I have never heard of which can be utterly confusing when a suit such as the ‘Gypsy’ has around 5 descriptive names!
I also find it quite interesting though that the light blue ‘Spanish Flower Suit’ shown on pages 215 + 217 has a remarkable similarity to the final ‘new suit’ shown on page 508!
A double-page spread of Elvis on April 27 1975, shown together with a standard CD cover, demonstrates the massive size of this book along with the photo quality.
A nice FTD bonus is that fans get two previously unreleased soundboards to listen to while looking through this gigantic book.
Along with the August 2011 released 510-page Fashion Book comes 2 CDs with two previously unreleased soundboard recorded performances.
Show 1. Omaha 1st July 1974.
Elvis performed three nights running in Omaha to sold-out audiences of 10,400 each night - this concert was the final Monday night performance. This disc runs for a total of 63 minutes including the ‘bonus track’ of Steamroller Blues performed at the closing tour show in Salt Lake City on 2nd July 1974.
When you start to listen to the show it is noticeable that, like many others already heard from this tour on 15th, 19th, 28th +29th June, the sound is nicely mixed with the band well-balanced but somewhat ‘flat + dull’. Obviously recorded on cassette with its apparent hiss, just about ALL the soundboards from this June 1974 tour sound the same! However despite the audio quality, it is an enjoyable show with Elvis in ‘good form’.
The CD starts immediately straight into an OK ‘See See Rider’ but with the 2001/opening Riff not being recorded. ‘I Got a Woman’ begins with Elvis teasing the audience "I ain’t got off the ground yet, I’m in love!" and the usual having ‘fun’ with J.D. Sumner plus a very short ‘I Got A Woman’ ending, which on our disc then goes into an ‘Amen’ performance!
This is where I started to lose my pleasure in the FTD ‘editing of releases’! (see 'Stage Rehearsal' review)
In actual FACT ‘Love Me’ is performed next before the solo ‘Amen’ but here ‘Amen’ has been edited back into its ‘normal place’ to presumably add to our ‘smooth listening pleasure’ - well it doesn’t! Elvis even mentions, "That’s what we were supposed to do earlier but we didn’t do it. We forgot the first part of the show" - so why alter the sequence, as now Elvis’ own comments make no sense?
Many June 1974 shows whilst being ‘good shows’ were remarkably similar-often only with ‘Trilogy’ and ‘Bridge’ as songs swapped around in the evening performances and so an ‘unique’ occurrence at the Omaha show is miss-represented and must have required more work than simply leaving the show to play ‘as performed’! You can also hear the tape-edits.
(Right; Elvis in Omaha June 30th 1974)
Anyhow on the CD, next is a completely unmemorable version of ‘Love Me’ and but then we get back on track with an inspired version of ‘Trying to Get To You’ ("streaking all the way" version!) which Elvis seemed to perform very well throughout the whole tour.
‘All Shook Up’, ‘Love Me Tender’ ("My first movie was ‘Gone With the Wind’" Elvis jokes) and ‘Hound Dog’ all sound the same and are completely forgettable with Elvis throwing-away the oldies but doing them just to please his fans.
‘Fever’ finds Elvis more involved and it’s fun, with the crowd is on-board and you can hear them all clapping along to the cool-vibe.
‘Polk Salad Annie’ is OK for a 1974 version (it always was a Jerry Scheff driven song, who this year was replaced by Duke Bardwell) and the crowd responds accordingly.
Thankfully ‘Why Me Lord’ which follows is sung ‘straight’, a beautiful version with reprise "Thank you J.D that was out-of-sight, let’s do the last part again"- and taken seriously for a change. "Thank you everybody that was really nice", notes Elvis afterwards, "If it was left up to the Stamps they would do that all night."
‘Suspicious Minds’ sounds all right for a 1974 version, then it’s the surprisingly funny introductions- including Elvis getting each one of the Stamps to say "Hello". Elvis announces John Wilkinson as from Wahoo, Nebraska (this inside joke gets Elvis giggling) and teases that Joe Guercio is from Omaha. They are brief, short yet ‘funny’ introductions the way I enjoy them!
After this ‘I Can’t Stop Loving You’ is a good version with Elvis obviously enjoying singing this classic, and yet ‘You Don’t Have To Say You Love Me’ that follows lacks the vocal-power of a couple of years previously.
‘Help Me’ is a delightfully sincere version "This next song is a new song we have out" - and after an odd false start to ‘An American Trilogy’, Elvis changes his mind, "I’m sorry my mistake, ‘Bridge’"- and Elvis performs a passable version of ‘Bridge over Troubled Water’, but not up with his best versions.
‘Let Me Be There’, new since the beginning of the year, is again enthusiastic and gets a reprise. ‘Funny How Time Slips Away’, with some very nice James Burton guitar, gets a funny J.D. reprise ending with Elvis laughing and calling J.D. "Jack Daniels"! - Why we even get a one-liner of ‘I’ll be There’ thrown in! "Way to go, Jack!!" Elvis jokes at the end.
‘Big Boss Man’ has a nice Brass presence and funny J.D. ending and Elvis obviously enjoying himself throughout, but NOT the greatest sound.
Elvis is very sincere in his Closing dialogue saying, "I’d like to tell you you’ve really been a fantastic audience to work to - of all the three shows we’ve been here" and oddly states, ‘A lot of people ask me a lot of questions that I really can’t answer…. The only thing I can tell you is we really like what we are doing."
Elvis then goes into a very ‘cut short’ ‘Can’t Help Falling in Love’ on this incomplete CD as the show ends.
The Bonus Track from the next night, the final concert of the tour in Salt Lake City is a clear ‘highlight’ being in better sound and a good version of Steamroller Blues - so much so I just wish the next song a rare 1974 version of ‘Help Me Make it Through the Night’ had also been included - certainly the CD running time would have allowed this.
This is a ‘Good’ Summer 1974 tour show with a very enthusiastic audience – a nice addition to my collection but ultimately not different enough from the previous ‘Rockin’ Across Texas’ FTD Amarillo 19th June show to get me too excited. The sound certainly isn’t ‘best ever’ or ‘excellent’ as some reviews have mentioned and certainly in no way comparable to FTD’s March 1974 multi-track ‘Live On Stage In Memphis.’
Also, unlike the Amarillo Show, this recording is ‘incomplete’ and also ‘edited’ (NO Edit during the intros though as noted in the book’s wrong track-listing!) Nor are the book photos of Elvis in Omaha on 1st July 1974 (pages 332-333) correct either as I believe they are in fact from June 30th 1974! (see above) Clearly the least interesting of the 2 shows that came with the book.
Show 2: Las Vegas 14th December 1975 show.
Wow! What a complete ‘value for money’ 2nd CD this turns out to be - an absolutely ‘packed’ CD with 79 minutes and also coming from a ¼ inch Reel-to-Reel mono soundboard giving a MUCH better overall sound too. Unfortunately the parts where Elvis sings loud on all 6-cylinders does overload the tape with peak-distortion which does detract from the listening pleasure at times. However it is a great show and on the whole the audio quality is brilliant, with very clear bass drums and chicken’ pickin’ guitar.
First of all I have to admit that it has to be a little similar to the previous night’s Dinner show (FTD ‘Dinner At Eight’). Still a below par Elvis putting out a very acceptable show but CLEARLY tired after yesterday’s marvellous performances on 13th December - Elvis tonight just couldn’t perform to such a high standard.
The CD starts straight away into ‘See See Rider’ after which Elvis says "Everyone’s entitled to one stupid mistake" and that he made 3 this year.... one we know (the August 1975 Engagement?!) and two we will never know.... presumably attempting to ask Kathy Westmoreland out again in July 1975 and something else?
During ‘I Got a Woman/Amen’ Elvis says he is trying to wake up and sounds ‘lacklustre tonight’. Elvis even elaborates that whilst people were queuing up to see him outside he was "upstairs trying to get myself wake up… alone" - performing a very average version.
The Elvis greets the audience and gently teases fans "There’s just so far this suit will go honey, you gotta meet me! .. She said, "Hurry up her legs are like mine!" I don’t want to kiss her legs!"
At the end of ‘Love Me’ that follows we experience our first ‘vocal overload/distortion’ before a decent version of ‘Trying to Get To You’ – a great audio mix with powerful bass, and not bad at all!
‘And I Love You So’ builds to a beautiful ‘intimate version’- nice! The audio quality and mix with the orchestra is THAT good on this quiet track that Felton Jarvis could have easily included this on the 1977 ‘Moody Blue’ album.
Medleys of All Shook Up/Teddy Bear/Don’t Be Cruel are all ‘passable’ before a funny thing happens (towards the last part of Don’t Be Cruel) when Elvis quips to a Woman that "one of us has got to get bigger lips!"
‘Hound Dog’ is the regular audience-pleasing ‘throwaway’ until at the very end Elvis asks for it to be ramped up. Still it’s his worst performance so far tonight. Afterwards Elvis plays with the fans, "You know there’s little kids in the audience so we can’t really get serious about this whole thing!"
Unfortunately Elvis messes with the words of ‘Until It’s Time for You to Go’ at the start, although the crowd are obviously loving it - and it’s otherwise a passable version. Elvis would only perform this song another four times and this is the only officially released live version we have.
However ‘You Gave Me a Mountain’ next is a solid performance, albeit with a little distortion on the peaks.
‘Polk Salad Annie’ turns out to be sounding rather ‘good’ due to an Excellent Jerry Scheff Bass line, always good to have Jerry rocking on this song and on this reel-2-reel the bass is prominent and clear. A surprisingly good sounding extended version with Elvis pushing it to five minutes!
Just before the introductions Elvis has fun with two more female fans giving one the scarf and one the kiss and laughs about "Tic-Tacs for bad breath"!
From the Introductions J.D. Sumner & Stamps Quartet’s performance of ‘Sweet, Sweet Spirit’ is ‘edited’ out and along with 2001/opening riff + closing riff this saves 7 minutes from the show allowing the 79 minutes and 33 seconds to fit onto one disc.
There is nothing particularly notable about the intros - except James Burton playing ‘Johnny B. Goode’ (whilst Elvis sings ‘off mike’) + then Elvis asks James Burton to demonstrate some rather fine Chicken’ Picking guitar. Charlie Hodge gets a cute "Happy Birthday" from Elvis and also ‘Tony’ from the Joe Guercio orchestra gets a special ‘Hail Hail Rock’n’Roll’ reprise performance.
‘Just Pretend’ "from an album about three years ago" is another good version and a delight to have in this reel-2-reel quality (which makes the peak distortion a shame). Elvis only ever performed this classic song a few times in concert before this December 1975 season - and the only official version we have so far is from a cassette soundboard of December 6th 1975.
‘How Great Thou Art’ would be THE performance ‘highlight’ tonight - especially with a great ‘reprise’!
‘Burning Love’ follows quickly before Elvis jokes that he is going to tell the true story of "Heartbreak Hotel" and does a great job on ‘Softly As I Leave You’. Again this mix is clearer than the version RCA released on the 1978 single and could have easily been used on the ‘Moody Blue’ LP.
‘America’ is well performed and ‘Little Sister’ is a nice laid-back version and a treat tonight. ‘Little Sister’ was only performed four times in the whole of 1975 and only once since 1973! Elvis even points out "last time" before the final chorus. This is the only officially released 1975 version of ‘Little Sister’ we have.
‘Heartbreak Hotel' is ‘ok’ with nice ringing guitar from James Burton and Elvis singing along, before Elvis’ Daughter + Vernon Presley get introduced, "I’d like to introduce you to my little daughter, Lisa, she’s seven years old." Both get big applause from the crowd.
Then Elvis sings ‘O Sole Mio/It’s Now or Never’ but this time Elvis and not Sherrill Nielsen sings the first part in Italian. Although Elvis partially messes up the ‘O Sole Mio’ lyrics being from Elvis it has its ‘charm’ and is another concert highlight.
Finally Elvis wishes everyone a "Merry Christmas and Happy New Year" if he doesn’t see them and closes with ‘Can’t Help Falling in Love’.
Overall this was a ‘good show’ with a slowish start but with mostly great sound and Elvis relating especially well to his adoring FANS. There are quite a few ‘highlights’ in the show that you’ll want to listen to again and again!
On pages 426-429 are 4 pictures of Elvis wearing the ‘White Bi-Centennial’ or ‘White Egyptian Bird suit’ as he did at this show (shown above).
Overall Verdict: EIN notes that this huge project has received some extremely poor reviews, as well as some outstandingly positive reviews (usually from sites selling the book). There is no doubt that the pre-publicity raised everyone’s expectation level, as well as knowing it was an FTD co-produced package. We also have to take account that for most fans it is not a cheap book - costing US$180 (including postage) here in Australia. EIN however has also spent large amounts in the past for pretty disappointing Elvis photo-books. So for the overall value of this massive book packed full of stunning Elvis photos - combined with the 2 unreleased concerts on CD - EIN awards it a 7/10.
Three points have to be deducted from the book for the lack of index, text faults and incompleteness. Individually we would rate the bonus CDs, Omaha 1.7.74 show 6/10, the second Vegas 14.12.75 show 8/10 and book 7/10.
Review by Geoff Mc Donnell plus Piers Beagley.
-Copyright EIN September 2011
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