- BMG CD Review -
25 Essential reasons to get ‘Close Up’ (with Elvis)!
EIN's Piers Beagley reviews the new boxset from BMG
With the 4 discs all having a particular theme (which is after all what made ‘Collector’s Gold’ just so damn good) there isn’t a weak point on any of them.
All four discs are packed full of gems demonstrating the power of Elvis’ music while at the same time including rarities that will delight collectors and give all of us plenty of new material to explore.
Last year’s ‘Today, Tomorrow & Forever’ box-set thankfully sold well enough for BMG to approve another special release for this year.
While T,T&F had some truly marvellous moments the chronological walk through Elvis’ musical life wasn’t as satisfying a listen as it could have been. The dreadful ‘Love Machine’ for instance ended up on the same disc as ‘In The Ghetto’ and while historically correct the overall feeling was a little uneven & incoherent.
However with lesser expectations, and maybe a slight emphasis towards the collector’s market, Ernst & the team have come up with a truly sensational follow up. Possibly the best ‘specialised’ box-set yet released!
With the 4 discs all having a particular theme (which is after all what made ‘Collector’s Gold’ just so damn good) there isn’t a weak point on any of them. All four discs are packed full of gems demonstrating the power of Elvis’ music while at the same time including rarities that will delight collectors and give all of us plenty of new material to explore.
The four themed Discs are
1. Unreleased Stereo Masters from the '50s
2. Unreleased Movie Gems
3. The Magic Of Nashville
4. Live In Texas 1972
Elvis sadly left us 26 years ago this month and I can think of no better way of celebrating his life & music than spending 4 hours with him at home getting ‘Close Up’! Buy this set, you won’t regret it!
If you need any more convincing here are 25 essential reasons to get ‘Close Up’.
Of all the Elvis box-sets so far none have been as well presented as ‘Close Up’. From the fabulous front cover photo of Elvis on bended knee at Richmond, Virginia 1956 to the final ‘Gold Suit’ image the 48-page booklet is full of gorgeous & rare pictures.
In both colour and black & white these perfectly capture the 4 themes of the CDs.
The unseen photos of Elvis performing at the 1961 Ellis Auditorium, Memphis Charity show are just fabulous.
The liner notes by Colin Escott are also the most informative yet, packed full of fascinating detail and at the same time revealing a few new secrets. (Until now no one knew that the master of Jailhouse Rock was actually a spliced version!)
2. The Sound. All the studio CDs were, for the first time, mastered at SONY Studios, New York. While I have often praised the recent Elvis releases for their excellent new mixes and wide dynamic audio ('At The International' for instance) the sound of this set is a real revelation. SONY Studios are renowned for their work with analogue originals and here the sound has that new dynamic & clear quality but at the same time having an audio warmth and smoothness similar to vinyl.
There is no ‘digital’ edge and on a good Hi-Fi you can immediately notice the difference. They sound so perfect that I hope they set a new benchmark for Elvis’ future releases. The album was Mastered by Vic Anesini - except Live CD4. (BMG, can we please have all of Elvis’ back catalogue remastered this way!!??) Listening to the CD of Elvis’ fifties songs in this quality, along with them being stereo/binaural is like re-discovering them for the very first time!
3. Peace In The Valley. Tk.9 – The first track of the ‘Unreleased Stereo/binaural Masters from the 50s’ is the original version but in a quality & depth that you have never heard it before. Elvis sounds almost reticent as they begin, "uh, No" he says. Immediately you can hear the purity of the sound and his beautiful harmonising with The Jordanaires. Listen closely and you can hear Elvis’ chair squeak, his every intake of breath and you can even hear the rustle of his lyric sheet. There is amazing balance and a ‘space between’ that you have never heard before. Elvis’ vocal is pure passion & perfection. This was Elvis laying down the gauntlet to all his challengers who said that he was an incarnation of the devil. Just fifteen minutes earlier he had recorded the raucous ‘Mean Woman Blues’!
4. Is It So Strange. Tk.12 - While there are plenty of alternate takes on this CD the Master version of "Is It So Strange" has always begged for a quality reissue. The band is perfectly understated and with Elvis’ separated vocal you can hear every nuance of his voice. The ‘binaural/stereo’ mix gives you a much better feeling of actually being in the Studio, placing you between Elvis and the band, as he records these beautiful songs. Listen to Elvis as he begs "Let us kiss again, let me hold you near. And take me from this strange world.." Just fabulous.
5. Jailhouse Rock. Tk.6 – Here is every perfect moment of the classic Jailhouse Rock. The take starts with Elvis discussing the length of the fade out "Make it real long? … Just keep lasting as long as you want to … my tongue will be out!" From the first rock-crunching drumbeat this is pure ecstasy. Here you can hear Elvis’ raw vocal (no wonder it was a splice!) "Let’s rock, rock, rock" he screams as Scotty Moore breaks free. This version even continues on past the ‘Elvis 30 #1s’ version to the very end as the band wrap it up. "Fabulous" someone in the studio comments. Little did they know how right they were at the time.
6. Treat Me Nice. Tk.19. Tk.12 & 13 – A real highlight with 2 alternate versions both very different from the released Master. This was the track that Elvis envisaged as being the hit song from the film. The first take has a very different feel and totally different backing vocals. Elvis is slapping the back of his guitar again (like on ‘All Shook Up’) and the groove is very cool. Elvis however rejected this version for a remake 4 months later. Take 12 breaks down & Elvis says "It’s a little bit too fast, man, just a little bit". Again the snippets of Elvis’ conversation gives us not only a glimpse of the excitement of being in the studio but also a chance to examine these crucial recordings as they progress. Take 13 was only 2 takes away from the single version but Elvis was to simplify the backing vocals even further.
7. Young and Beautiful. Tk.3, Tk.7 - Here is a magic moment as Elvis heartily laughs "If I get any worse the Johnson office won’t pass it!" This is a reference to the slightly risque suggestive title, sung of course by the sexually permissive Elvis which the American film censors might have objected to at the time. ("You’re so young & beautiful" indeed!) The un-released ‘Nightclub’ version is a gem.
8. Baby I Don’t Care. Tk.1 - The true creative edge of Elvis’ passion was often captured on the very first take. Elvis overdubbed his vocal (since he actually played electric bass on the original track) however the complete Tk.1 is an exciting revelation and, at last, without the distortion of the Master. The sound is exceptional and you can hear every nuance of Elvis’ vocal overdub, every intake of breath, and even hear his chair squeaking as the rhythm grabs him. At the start Elvis exclaims, "You’ve got me wasting tape. It’s too late in the day for all this shit!" while at the end he explodes with true excitement.
9. Doin’ The Best I Can. Tk.10–12 – ‘Unreleased Movie Gems’ are featured on CD 2 and this track beautifully shows off Elvis’ new vocal maturity. Take 10 breaks down because of his noisy chair. Elvis comments, "Hold it, Hold it. The chair squeaked. Anyone got any oil?!" With The Jordanaires providing the perfect background Elvis sounds smooth & silky as he slides immaculately through his vocal range with ease. Perfect except for the lyric slip up of "I guess I was the only one who didn’t care at all"! With the newly remastered sound this is good enough to eat.
10. Frankfort Special. Tk.4 & 5 - Previously never a favourite song of mine this take however, with its smooth bass and fabulous echoing guitar, really grabbed me. At the start Elvis himself complains, "There’s no way in hell I can hold this thing up!" Elvis, Dudley Brooks on piano, and Ray Walker discuss the melody before take 5 starts taking shape. Scotty Moore & D.J. Fontana delightfully inject the early feel and groove of 1955’s Mystery Train into the rhythm. Listen closely to the end at you can almost hear that quintessential Elvis shriek of delight coming back from 5 years earlier. A great addition.
11. Lonely Man. Tk.3 - Have you ever dreamed of Elvis sitting on your porch and singing just to you? Here Elvis does just that playing acoustic guitar and serenading you alone. "Here I am, come meet a lonely, lonely man." With no other backing this version perfectly emphasises Elvis’ loneliness & emptiness.
12. Wild In The Country. Tk.1 & 14 - The first take is truly fascinating, sounding exceptionally different from the released single. With over-complicated backing vocals Elvis also tries a latinesque vocal flourish which really doesn’t suit the nature of the song. Take 14 is exquisite. The single made #2 in England.
13. Slicin’ Sand. Tk.6 & 7 - Nine alternate Blue Hawaii takes are featured and all in sensational sound quality. Elvis kicks off the track by saying, "Hit it, hop to it!" and while ‘Slicin’ Sand’ was never destined to be a classic this take has real appeal. Elvis sings an extra verse with the lyric ‘Sand in my sandwich!’ It all breaks down with Elvis laughing "oh sh*t! Sand in my sandwich? What the hell?" It’s a lovely look at the fun of recording the early sixties soundtracks as well as including a delicious Scotty Moore guitar solo reminiscent of his 1950’s work. "We’re gonna have a ball on the beach." Weren’t these ‘family’ movies? What was Elvis singing about?! There is fabulous humour in his voice. A great version.
14. Steppin’ Out Of Line. Tk.15 – It was always a disappointment that this song was cut from the film Blue Hawaii as it’s a great raucous rock number. This is another take of the version that ended up on the ‘Pot Luck’ LP but without the awful distortion that has always been present on Elvis’ vocal track. Raw & rough with a roaring saxophone solo by Boots Randolph along with the brilliant finale from dual drummers Hal Blaine & D.J Fontana. The ending is a true classic with Elvis growling and the drums falling apart delightfully. "I liked it" comments Elvis. What a shame it never made the movie.
15. Make Me Know It. Tk.1 – ‘The Magic Of Nashville’ is featured on CD3 with a look at his sensational output from Studio B. Just 2 weeks after leaving the Army Elvis is back at RCA studios trying to prove his importance in Popular music. Here he records his very first song since his army stint & Otis Blackwell’s ‘Make Me know it’ is Elvis’ first cry for freedom and the rock ‘n’ roll that he had left behind. An essential piece of history with Elvis getting a chance to show off to the RCA executives in attendance his newly found deep & sensuous voice. Elvis would record 3 million sellers later the same evening.
16. It Feels So Right. Tk.1 – 6am in the morning, the RCA execs have left long ago and Elvis gets a chance to record some music that gave depth to his soul. A down & dirty meaningful blues and you can hear Elvis’ enjoyment as he claps along with the rhythm. The sensuality of the lyrics, the clarity of the vocals, "Cos baby, If it feels so right, How can it be wrong?" So true.
17. Surrender. Tk.5 & 6 - Elvis hangs back on the intro at the start. "I think that’s a little too long on the vamp, don’t you?" asks engineer Bill Porter. Recorded post G.I. Blues & Flaming Star this recording shows the absolute passion that Elvis could impart to his vocals. The openness of this new mix brilliantly places Elvis’ vocal against The Jordanaires, which really adds a brand new shine to every syllable.
18. His Latest Flame. Tk.12 – An all-time classic and intriguing to hear this post ‘Master’ version. Elvis finally chose Take 8 but in the session, at 4am in the morning, he still continued past that point looking for that elusive something else. Here is the final recorded take and this mix gives a real clarity to all three guitars along with Elvis’ vocal nicely lifted above the mix of the single version.
19. Stand By Me. Tk.10 – Felton Jervis comments at the start "Sounding better Elvis, a lot better." Totally focussed, Elvis plays his vocal perfectly against the richness of the 11 backing vocalists. The piano arrangement is gorgeous and Elvis means every word. His last recording session had been for Spinout (Smorgasbord!). Listening to this beauty from 1966 you know that Elvis had again found his guiding light. Perfect.
20. U.S. Male - Tk.10 - "Ok? We’re ready?" Elvis laughs and whistles. You can even hear his humour & excitement as slaps his hands on his legs. It was 1967 and Elvis needed to prove that no one was gonna mess with 'This U.S. Male.' While gospel may have been Elvis’ inspiration it seems that gritty blues (Guitar Man, Down in the Alley, Big Boss Man etc) were his salvation. He delightfully growls, "Tell me guitar, now sock it to me son.. You can be as cool as you want to be!"
21. 'Live In Texas’ - San Antonio, April 18 - At last Elvis fans get an official ‘On Tour’ concert! Moving on from the studio CDs and into the seventies, BMG have finally given us a taste of what might have become the abandoned ‘Standing Room Only’ LP. In excellent stereo this CD captures Elvis in ‘business mode’ and really delivering the goods. Looking resplendent in his Lion-head Suit and red-lined cape Elvis hardly talked to the crowd & concentrated on the music. A great mix and really worth listening to on headphones.
22. Proud Mary - As featured in the ‘On Tour’ movie, Elvis comments "bring that bass up!" and they do. A deliciously juicy mix emphasising Jerry Scheff’s funky bass work. Compared to the Madison Square Garden releases the dynamic stereo mix here really highlights the composition of whole group. You can really hear the band slowly build up and up as Elvis pumps the crowd. This was going to be a great night!
23. For The Good Times - The crowd just explodes with excitement at the start of this new song. While this song would be recorded for the MSG LP this is the earliest live version that has been released. There is a delicious clarity to the mix. You can imagine yourself right on stage with Elvis & Charlie Hodge duetting. There is a lovely space to the sound giving a fabulous glimpse to Elvis’ power as he holds sway over the audience of 10,500.
24. How Great Thou Art - Again the earliest live official release of this great song. Elvis announces "We’d like to do a gospel song for you…" For some reason he would inexplicably drop this absolute stunner from his ‘Madison Square Garden’ set, just 2 months later, & even from the ‘Aloha’ shows. Even though Elvis had sung this classic in concert as early as November 1970 RCA surprisingly never released a live version of it until 1974. This version is at a slower tempo and the spacious mix helps emphasise Elvis’ belief & love for gospel music.
25. Burning Love - Elvis announces "We’d like to do a new song for you tonight, and if we goof this up just bear with us … Burnin’ Love, baby!" From San Antonio, April 18 and as featured in the ‘On Tour’ film, remember Elvis holding the lyric sheet? Elvis had recorded it less than a month earlier and this great version was only the second time that he had performed it live. The crowd must have been stunned as they would have never heard this classic before – amazingly it wasn’t to be released for another 4 months! The final CD only increases my anticipation for the future ‘Elvis On Tour’ DVD & CD box-set including rehearsals and the complete April 9th Hampton Roads show.
Overall Verdict: With 89 previously Unreleased tracks in the most superb sound,
listening to this fabulous set is a dream! With all fours discs presented with a
proper theme this look through Elvis' unreleased back-catalogue works in a far
smoother way than last year's 'Today Tomorrow & Forever' box-set. The packaging is also outstanding with lots of quality Elvis pictures including some fabulous rare ones. The essay by Colin Escott, also split into four sections, is informative and well-detailed. One of my favourite box-sets of all-time if you haven't already guessed! A leap in audio quality and a real quality RCA presentation. Track it down, you won't regret it.
Reviewed by Piers Beagley
EIN Copyright August 2003
-Copyright EIN 2003. Do Not reprint or republish without permission.
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You can still find this set selling for US$40. Do NOT miss out!
'CLOSE UP' - Released August 2003 - BMG 82876 50537 2
CD 1: - Unreleased stereo masters from the 50's
1: (There'll Be) Peace In The Valley (For Me)
2: I Beg Of You (11) [13.01.57]
3: That's When Your Heartaches Begin (2)
4: It Is No Secret
5: Blueberry Hill
6: Have I Told You Lately That I Love You
7: Is It So Strange
8: Loving You (KX # 5)
9: Loving You (KX # 15)
10: Jailhouse Rock
11: Treat Me Nice (19) [# "2003"]
12: Young And Beautiful (21, 22)
13: Young And Beautiful (3) [Jail version]
14: Young And Beautiful (7) [Florita Club]
15: I Want To Be Free (12) [Jail version]
16: I Want To Be Free (record version)
17: Treat Me Nice (12, 13) [# "2008"]
18: Don't Leave Me Now (2) [# "2016"]
19: Don't Leave Me Now (21) [# "2017"]
20: Baby I Don't Care (V/O take 1, "2015")
CD 2: - Unreleased Movie Gems
1: G. I. Blues (6)
2: Doin The Best I Can (10, 11, 12)
3: Wooden Heart (1)
4: Pocketful Of Rainbows (15, 16) [NO version]
5: Shoppin Around (Takes 4, 5) [BOX version]
6: Frankfort Special (4, 5) [HOX version]
7: Big Boots (1) [M10X-version]
8: Tonight's All Right For Love (14, 15)
9: Summer Kisses Winter Tears (2)
10: Flaming Star (2)
11: Lonely Man (3) [Solo]
12: In My Way (2)
13: Forget Me Never (1)
14: Wild In The Country (1, 14)
15: Lonely Man (1)
16: I Slipped, I Stumbled, I Fell (14, 15, 16) [Low-key]
17: Aloha-Oe (1) [Section #2]
18: Hawaiian Sunset (3)
19: Ku-U-I-Po (6, 7)
20: No More (11)
21: Slicin' Sand (6, 7)
22: Steppin Out Of Line (15) [Record version]
23: Almost Always True (3)
24: Moonlight Swim (4) [edited]
25: Can't Help Falling In Love (14, 15, 16)
CD Credits: Compilation Produced by Ernst Jorgensen and Roger Semon.
Mastered by Vic Anesini - except Disc 4 by Dennis Ferrante
CD 3: - The Magic Of Nashville
1: Make Me Know It (1)
2: Soldier Boy (10)
3: It Feels So Right (1)
4: The Girl Of My Best Friend (9)
5: Surrender (5, 6)
6: Working On The Building (4)
7: Starting Today (1)
8: Kiss Me Quick (4)
9: That's Someone You'll Never Forget (7)
10: His Latest Flame (12)
11: I Met Her Today (16)
12: Night Rider ['61] (1)
13: Just Tell Her Jim Said Hello (4)
14: Echoes Of Love (8)
15: Ask Me (7) [re-make]
16: Stand By Me (10)
17: Somebody Bigger Than You And I (15)
18: Without Him (8)
19: Mine (9)
20: Singing Tree (4) [1st version]
21: U. S. Male (10)
CD 4: - Live In Texas 1972 [San Antonio, April 18]
1: Also Sprach Zarathustra
2: See See Rider
3: Proud Mary
4: Never Been To Spain
5: You Gave Me A Mountain
6: Until It's Time For You To Go
7: Polk Salad Annie
8: Love Me
9: All Shook Up
10: Teddy Bear/Don't Be Cruel
11: Heartbreak Hotel
12: Hound Dog
13: How Great Thou Art
14: I Can't Stop Loving You
15: Love Me Tender
16: Suspicious Minds
18: For The Good Times
19: Burning Love
20: American Trilogy
21: Funny How Time Slips Away
22: Can't Help Falling In Love
23: Closing Vamp
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