'Elvis Is Back!'
- In-depth review by Piers Beagley -
In early 1960 Elvis Presley’s future career would hinge on just two nights of recording at Nashville’s Studio B.
Had Elvis not created such vital, emotional, quintessential million-selling music on these two crucial nights he just might have been relegated to the fifties rock’n’roll vaults along with Gene Vincent, Bill Haley and the like.
Whether Elvis quite considered the true importance of these sessions is impossible to tell from the music alone, as the passion seems to flow from his soul effortlessly.
Elvis hardly ever sounds stressed, while his newly found vocal range & perfect song choices define the second most important recording session of his life.
EIN's Piers Beagley checks out this classic recording session...
"In the entertainment business the future is very uncertain. You never know, you can only try"
"What I’ll record, I don’t know yet. I’ve got quite a few songs to choose from, I’ve collected over two years. I don’t know exactly what type or what instruments I’ll use …"
"I’m gonna sing and I’ll let the shaking come naturally. If I had to stand still and sing I’d be lost, I can’t get any feeling that way."
"If I don’t please the audience, the money don’t mean nothing" -
- All quotes, Elvis March, 1960.
Elvis returned to Nashville’s Studio B on March 20th 1960, just 15 days after coming home from his army stint for Uncle Sam.
Elvis had been away from the music scene for nearly 2 years and the charts were no longer full of the excitement of fifties Rock ‘n’ Roll but had given way to a smoother sixties-sound. Elvis knew only too well that just one year out of the music business can kill your career and, although he had made some home recordings while in Germany, Elvis hadn’t recorded in a Studio since June 1958!
While 1968 is named as Elvis’ ‘Comeback’ year, nothing could have been more important than this 1960 session & no one could have been more concerned than Elvis himself. Would he still be as important to his teenage fans now that he was 25 years old? Could he still select suitable hit material in this new decade? Would his new sound even be relevant?
Just 2 days earlier, in the same studio, Nashville’s outstanding 'A Team' band had worked with The Everly Brothers recording their #1 pop classic 'Cathy's Clown’. Surrounded by great musicians now it was Elvis’ turn to prove that, after 2 years in the army, he still was a dynamic & creative force.
Elvis’ original guitarist Scotty Moore was there, along with The Jordanaires and, in an inspired move, Elvis had decided to use two drummers for a more forceful sound. D.J Fontana was back, working alongside ace session-drummer Buddy Harman.
RCA Studio engineer Bill Porter had been selected for this huge task on the strength of his recent 16 chart successes. Surprisingly this was his very first recording session with Elvis.
As Porter recalls, "The musicians began arriving by 6:30, and Elvis came in about 8:40 surrounded by bodyguard, Army buddies and old pals. Anyone watching them clown around, practicing karate moves and talking about mock tank battles, would have found it hard to believe that there was the slightest pressure surrounding the session. But I felt a tension in the (Control) room, I really did.
"About 9:30, we got down to the business of recording. Everything started smoothly enough, but as I was getting the balance on the first song, I became aware of an air of anticipation behind me. Turning around, I saw that executives had sprung up in that control booth faster than mushrooms in a cellar! Right beside my elbow was Colonel Tom Parker, VIPs from RCA plus Steve Sholes. And when Elvis did the first tune they didn’t say anything to me… No one said a word! - but what they didn't say spoke volumes!"
Elvis always rose to a challenge and tended to produce his best work under pressure. When the session finished there could be no doubt that, from his explosive first recording ‘Make Me Know It’ to the very last moment (as dawn was breaking on the second night’s work) ‘Reconsider Baby’, this might be the greatest music that Elvis would ever produce.
On the first night Elvis, as always, warmed up with gospel numbers as well as favourites such as ‘I Got A Woman’ (why, oh why weren’t the tapes rolling?!).
The true session began with the exciting feel of Elvis blasting away his Army despondency on Otis Blackwell’s ‘Make Me Know It’ and the nice doo-wop touch of ‘Soldier Boy’ – a song that Elvis had played with and also home-recorded while in Germany.
The obligatory million-seller ‘Stuck On You’ was next but Elvis’ musical genius, as well as his newly-matured voice, really shone through on the final three tracks of the night, ‘Fame & Fortune’ ‘A Mess Of Blues’ & ‘It Feels So Right’.
Just 2 days later, more than one million copies of Elvis’ new single ‘Stuck On You/Fame & Fortune’ would be shipped to the dealers and five days later in Miami, Elvis would sing both sides of the single on Frank Sinatra’s "Welcome Home Elvis" TV special.
The second and final studio session would take place on April 3rd with the recording of a series of classic songs including ‘Fever’, ‘It’s Now Or Never’ and, at The Colonel’s suggestion, an old 1927 Al Jolson hit ‘Are You Lonesome Tonight’!
A new addition to the band that night was saxophonist Homer "Boots" Randolph who added some brilliant touches, making tracks like ‘Like A Baby’ into the dirty blues it needed to be.
While the Gold singles are well-known, two tracks also stand out as some of Elvis’ most important recordings of all-time. ‘Reconsider Baby’, recorded in one magnificent live-take, captures Elvis as he is consumed in the passion of the music and working with such a great band.
Just like his first Sun session in 1954 it is Elvis’ acoustic guitar that drives the song. In a moment of profound spontaneity, the wailing sax of Boots Randolph (his first true solo with Elvis!) combined with Elvis’ intense vocal is hard to beat. (See Boots Randolph EIN obituary)
Similarly, Elvis’ growling moan of ‘Such A Night’ pushed this lightweight Drifters’ song into another league all-together. Here the new idea of using dual drummers Buddy Harman & D.J. Fontana never would be bettered, helping urge Elvis to an awe-inspiring performance.
While Elvis was never recognised as a song-writer, his all-important contribution as an arranger/producer is perfectly demonstrated here. Elvis’ whoop of joy at the end really says it all!
This was a very different sound to the Elvis of the fifties, smoother, more mature and with a new beauty and strength to his voice.
In an amazing two nights work Elvis recorded eighteen classic tracks including seven Gold records! When the LP ‘Elvis Is Back!’ was originally released, it surprisingly did not sell as well as expected, and GI Blues would sadly do better.
However, had it included just one of the mega-selling hit singles recorded at the same session (Stuck On You, It’s Now or Never, Are You Lonesome Tonight) there is no doubt that it would have made a bigger impression. Even the chart topping Everlys put their biggest-ever single ‘Cathy’s Clown’ on their 1960 LP ‘A Date With The Everly Bothers’!
While many of the brilliant outtakes from this all-important Elvis session have been released on various CDs, gathering them together on this Deluxe FTD is a real treat.
And with new generation tapes being found, the audio quality will also be improved especially on tracks like the ‘Collector’s Gold’ brilliant ‘Like A Baby’ Tk1&2.
Presenting a selection of ‘first takes’ together (a favourite topic of mine) ie ‘Thrill of My Love’, ‘Such A Night’ … is another brilliant move.
For hard-core collector’s the new Deluxe package contains only 7 new complete outtakes, but does add 19 other new false starts & work-parts to our collections. For everyone else who hasn’t properly investigated this glorious session, there is a real treat in store.
Out this week, and at a single CD price for a double CD deluxe-package, this is an essential purchase that no Elvis fan should miss out on.
This was a powerful statement that no one could deny – "Elvis Is Back"!
EIN 'Elvis Is Back!' CD Review
Just out of the army, and distanced from the new smooth pop of the day, Elvis seems totally at ease whether singing the sublime harmony-laden doo-wop of ‘Thrill Of Your Love’; cool pop, ‘Stuck On You’; sultry jazz, ‘Fever’; latino passion, ‘It’s Now Or Never’; heartbreaking ballads, ‘Are You Lonesome Tonight’; steamy blues, ‘Reconsider Baby’ or just plain down-&-dirty rock’n’roll, ‘Such A Night’. Whatever the type of music, Elvis seems totally at home and unstoppable.
This new deluxe CD perfectly captures the importance of these special nights, the unbelievably successful singles, as well as Elvis’ essential LP ‘Elvis Is Back!’
If you have any doubts here are Twelve Vital Reasons to buy ‘Elvis Is Back!’
1. Seven million-selling singles! An astounding feat for two nights work, if you include the ‘Girl Of My Best Friend’ European single. Extraordinarily ‘Fever’ and ‘Reconsider Baby’ were never released as singles, yet they clearly had the potential for another double A-side smash. Elvis could never have foreseen that these sessions would be so successful, especially considering the variety of musical styles attempted. An unequalled lifetime achievement.
2.The superb Audio quality. Beautifully restored by Sebastian Jeansson, there is a lovely shine and fullness to this sound. Some tracks come from newer generation tape masters (i.e. ‘It Feels So Right’ & ‘A Mess Of Blues’ that sounded so overloaded on ‘Platinum’) while others benefit from a better audio mix.
‘Make Me Know It’ Tk 1 now has that special audio ambience of Nashville’s ‘Studio B’ when compared to the same version on "Close up" - as well as some all-important banter before the song.
Overall you can hear every nuance coming off those wonderful, 45 year-old, 3-track tapes. There is a true full-frequency feel to the audio and the instrumentation sounds clearer than previously. Have you ever noticed that tinkling cymbal @ 1.00 in the ‘Soldier Boy’ Master before? Even comparing the tracks to the excellent versions from "Elvis 30 #1s" they do sound a little better here having a more natural feel and less compression. Listen to it loud on a first-class Hi-Fi and then investigate it all over again on good quality headphones. The audio certainly deserves the suitable ‘Miracle Surface’ and "New Orthophonic" logos on the front cover!
3. The Track selection. While there could never be room for every alternate take, each instrumental or tempo change is well reflected here, and the two jam-packed CDs feature a perfect track selection. CD 1 at last gives us the true track order of the original LP, plus the singles.
The magical ‘Reconsider Baby’ sounds even more spontaneous with newly added "1,2,3" count-in from Elvis. Also featured are a selection of ‘First Takes’, a striking idea which segues extremely well. The First Takes (a favourite topic of mine) are astounding for the fact that almost every one could have been used as a ‘Master’. There is a real magic in all of them that helps one realise just how much of a perfectionist Elvis was. And at last we get the beautiful ‘Fame & Fortune Tk.2’ on a CD.
4. The Creative Edge. CD 2 perfectly illustrates the creativity of these special nights in Nashville. With most tracks represented by 2 or 3 takes, the real excitement of Elvis and the band progressing towards the faultless Master is skilfully represented.
The new studio banter featured on most tracks is also a fascinating eavesdrop on the group at work. Elvis’ laughter on ‘The Girl Next Door’ early takes and his cool swing on the ‘Fever’ outtakes (where you can actually hear & feel him dancing in the studio) all add to the amazing story.
On ‘Fame and Fortune’ we now also get to hear the key change between Take 4 and Elvis’ consummate performance on Take 5. FTD has also avoided the somewhat torturous "15 takes of the same song in a row" by their careful selection. There is so much to explore and, at a packed 79 minutes, you couldn’t ask for more!
5. The Packaging. The 16-page booklet contains a delightful selection of photos as well as memorabilia. This includes RCA’s suggestion of substituting ‘Girl Of My Best Friend’ as the new single in Europe for ‘It’s Now Or Never’, due to copyright problems. Similarly to the deluxe Soundtrack FTDs there is a look ‘Behind The Scenes’ with some revealing historical snippets - "March 18th , Elvis briefly conducts the orchestra at Ellis Auditorium’s Ice Show performance for Negroes"! The ‘Intakes & Outtakes’ section nicely details all the versions & releases so far. This is a great package overall and, in a lovely touch, RCA’s Nipper logo is back on the LP label design.
Below a page of memorabilia from the booklet.
6. ‘Soldier Boy’ Tks 2&3. Some of the newly featured tracks are worth mentioning in their own right and these first official releases of ‘Soldier Boy’ have never sounded so delicious. There is some sensational dialogue between Elvis and Chet Atkins that helps set the scene.
Chet abruptly stops the recording with, "Ok, one more!"
Chet, "We got a ‘pop’ on feel blue, wasn’t it?"
Elvis, "A puff you say?"
Chet, "A mike ‘pop’ you know."
Elvis, "I thought you said a puff" – Like we’re smokin’!
Interestingly the tempo is slower on the earlier takes, only to speed up for the middle takes. Also listen out for Elvis’ exquisite solo whistle before Take 9.
7. ‘Mess Of Blues’ Tks 1,2&3 An absolute gem that highlights Elvis real enjoyment in making music. Take 1 is a vast improvement over the echo-laden version on ‘Platinum’ and you can clearly hear Elvis snapping his fingers, grooving to the beat and immersed in the music. Listen out for Elvis’ "yeahh" on Take 2 as he totally misses the start saying, "Hold it, Goddamn! I got carried away and forgot what I was supposed to be doing!" Take 3 is at a slightly slower tempo than the Master but is fabulously cool & laidback.
Elvis growls "Yeah" several times in appreciation, then fluffs the lyric with, "If you cry when you’re in love, you know it’s no disgrace". Finally he misses the song’s ending commenting, "Bullshit! I messed up the damn ending, son-of-a bitch. Hold It, hold It!" A sensational new addition to our collection.
8. ‘It Feels So Right’ Tk 2,3 4, Take 2 is the version from ‘Long Lonely Highway’ (missing the Take announcement here) but Take 4 has some wonderful dialogue discussion and rehearsal with pianist Floyd Cramer, "The second chord is a B Flat, isn’t it?"
On Take 3 (previously on Platinum but in far worse audio quality) Elvis gives it his all, really pleading with the lyric. Listen closely to Elvis’ hand-clapping and also as he wonderfully messes up the lyric singing @1.30, "Each time we kiss, it means so much" (instead of "Each time we touch") and then off-mike comments, "I fucked up!"
Interestingly my only complaint about this whole release is that Elvis’ brilliant comment of, "Are we ready?" which was previously featured on ‘Platinum’ is missing! Where did it go, it was my all-time favourite Elvis lead-in!
9. ‘Like A Baby’ Tk1&4. A magnificent first take with Elvis playing guitar remarking, "I can’t think of two things at once". He then falters as he strains for the high notes, stopping the take with, "Whoo shit, I went lower. I can’t make it"! This is sensationally raw & ramshackle.
The audio on Take 2 is also an improvement over the version on Collector’s Gold. By Take 4 Elvis has quit playing guitar, however the audio mix gives you a sensational feel of really being there with the band. Listen out for Hank Garland’s rolling blues guitar work.
10. ‘The Girl Of My Best Friend’ Tks 2,3,5. A song that altered a great deal during the session with the tempo going from slow to fast & then back to slow again. On the new slower Take 2 Elvis drifts off the melody halfway through saying, "Hold it, Hold It." By Take 4 it is sped up, "That’s a better tempo" says Chet Atkins, however it still falls apart. Take 5 has Elvis clicking his fingers loudly but the band’s tempo still slips away from him. Elvis stops halfway though saying to the group, "Excuse me. Don’t speed it up as it goes along."
11. ‘Such A Night’ Tks 2,3,4,5 Elvis’ famously funny intro where he keeps missing the start - but this time with even more! There is part of the rehearsal beforehand, and now the majority of new Take 4 follows, the final part is a splice with the Master. Listen out for Scotty Moore adding some extremely fancy jazzy guitar to the mix which is missing from the final version. The use of the two drummers is paramount here, producing a sensational back-beat pushing Elvis on & on to the final "Whoop" of delight at the very end. An absolute classic.
12. ‘Are You Lonesome Tonight?’ Tk 4 F/S & work-parts. A revisit to this old chestnut is, surprisingly, another highlight and the perfect ending to the CD. Elvis messes up the start to a delicate Take 4 saying, "Excuse me, start again." This track is a truly exciting insight into the creation of this million-seller. You can now listen to Elvis’ every breath & sigh as he works for perfection and you also get to hear Elvis’ delightful singing up and down the scales while he tries to get the work-part right. A real delight.
Overall Verdict – A totally essential FTD and their best, complete work so far. These tracks have been spread across too many diverse releases over the years - nine separate releases - and at last they are flawlessly compiled & with a perfect sound too. I am already looking forward to every major studio session being packaged in a similar way. As a deluxe double CD, at a bargain price, every Elvis fan should buy a copy but beware, once you start listening, it is very hard to stop! A fantastic job that every Elvis fan will adore.
A big thanks to Ernst, Roger & all at FTD.
Review by Piers Beagley.
-Copyright EIN March 2005
EIN Website content © Copyright the Elvis Information Network.
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'Elvis Is Back!' - FTD 2005 March release #82876 67968 2
Disc 1: The Album
Make Me Know It
The Girl Of My Best Friend
I Will Be Home Again
Dirty, Dirty Feeling
The Thrill Of Your Love
Such A Night
It Feels So Right
Girl Next Door Went A'Walking
Like A Baby
Stuck On You
Fame And Fortune
It's Now Or Never
A Mess Of A Blues
Are You Lonesome Tonight
I Gotta Know (1, 2[Master])
Make Me Know It (1)
The Girl Of My Best Friend (3)
Soldier Boy (1)
Such A Night (1)
It Feels So Right (1)
Stuck On You (1)
Fame And Fortune (2)
It's Now Or Never (1)
Are You Lonesome Tonight (1, 2)
|DISC 2 - The Outtakes
Make Me Know It (3)
Make Me Know It (9, 10, 11)
Make Me Know It (17, 18)
Soldier Boy (2, 3, 7)
Soldier Boy (9, 10)
Stuck On You (1, 2)
Fame And Fortune (4, 5)
A Mess Of Blues (1)
A Mess Of A Blues (2, 3)
It Feels So Right (2)
It Feels So Right (4, 3)
Fever (2, 3)
Like A Baby (1)
Like A Baby (2)
Like A Baby (3, 4)
It's Now Or Never (2)
It's Now Or Never (3, 4)
The Girl Of My Best Friend (2, 4, 5, 6)
The Girl Of My Best Friend (9)
Dirty, Dirty Feeling (1)
Dirty, Dirty Feeling (2, 3 [splice w/4 at the end]
Thrill Of Your Love (1, 2, 1-PB)
Such A Night (2, 3, 4/5 [splice]
Girl Next Door Went A'Walking (1, 2, 3)
Are You Lonesome Tonight (4, 3, Workpart 1/2 [splice])
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