Good Times CD set (Follow That Dream Records, 2009)
A perfect presentation for an imperfect album
Good Times marked the second album released from Elvis’ 1973 sessions at Stax studio in Memphis. This version from the Follow That Dream collectors label includes all ten tracks from the original album and thirty-seven additional tracks of alternate takes and undubbed masters. FTD’s Classic Album series serves as the best possible format for this album, with sound quality in most cases as good or better than previous releases.
Take Good Care Of Her
- Disc 1, Track 01, Master—Take 6: You have to give Elvis credit. Musically, he openly dealt with his relationship issues from just about every angle imaginable. In “Always On My Mind,” the singer begged forgiveness and asked for another chance from his wife. In “Separate Ways,” he accepted the split as inevitable. In “Take Good Care Of Her,” Elvis even directed a surprisingly benign message at his soon-to-be ex-wife’s new love interest. Whether his real-life actions measured up to his song choices is a debate for another time, but certainly, Elvis found creative sparks in his relationship problems that fueled many of his later recordings. Though many could be labeled as “dark” or “depressing,” these deeply personal recordings also may be the best insight into how Elvis was feeling during the last few years of his life. Though “Take Good Care Of Her” is not a great song by itself, it is Elvis’ personal conviction and passion that somehow make it more than it really should be.
- Disc 1, Track 11, Rehearsal & Take 1: Here, we get a short rehearsal segment, followed by Elvis’ first attempt to record the song. Elvis almost sings to himself during the rehearsal, an interesting listen just for the “fly on the wall” aspect. Absent from the master take, you can hear a hint of bitterness in Elvis’ voice as he goes through Take 1. “Just to be around her was my greatest pleasure, she was everything my future held in store,” he sings sadly.
- Disc 2, Track 06, Takes 2, 3: Take 2 falls apart just seconds into the song. Take 3 is complete, but unremarkable.
- Disc 1, Track 23, Take 4: Nothing special here, either, though you can still hear more bitterness than on the master.
- Disc 2, Track 17, Take 5: Producer Felton Jarvis apparently brings this take to an early close, causing Elvis to curse and comment, “Now I know how Jesus felt with that thorn in his side.”
- Disc 2, Track 18, Take 6 (Undubbed Master): One of the best services that FTD provides us Elvis fanatics is supplying the undubbed versions of many of his master recordings. These stripped-down versions are often revelations, sometimes sounding better than the released recordings. For this song, though, I actually slightly prefer it with the overdubs. It is nice to have both options for this and the other songs on this album, though – a real selling point for this release and many others in the Classic Album series.
- Disc 1, Track 02, Master—Take 3: “Loving Arms” is one of Elvis’ best country songs – ranking right up there with just about anything on Elvis Country. This is a superb performance, one of the highlights of Good Times. This FTD release is the best this song has ever sounded, as if you are standing in the studio with Elvis as he pleads, “If you could only hear me now. . . .”
- Disc 1, Track 12, Take 1 & Rehearsal: Elvis plays around with the tempo of “Loving Arms” during Take 1, obviously trying to find the “sweet spot.” By the end, you can hear the confidence in his voice as he begins to get it just right. After the take, Elvis and the other musicians work out a new ending for the song.
- Disc 2, Track 02, Take 2: This is another faster take on the song. It’s probably too fast, but the power of his voice still makes it a worthwhile listen.
- Disc 2, Track 12, Take 3 (Undubbed Master): I must note again that sound quality here is simply amazing, especially considering these recordings are over 35 years old. I prefer the dubbed version, mostly because the ending of the song is improved by removing the obnoxiously loud chorus on the last note.
I Got A Feelin’ In My Body
- Disc 1, Track 03, Master—Take 3: There are three songs that drag Good Times down from being a real contender for one of the top albums of his career. Unfortunately, they all come right in a row. First up among the losers is “I Got A Feelin’ In My Body,” a fast-paced gospel number on which Elvis sounds like he is trying too hard. The song is not very good, and Elvis is unable to save it this time.
- Disc 1, Track 13, Take 1: By the end of Take 1, Elvis begins playing around with the words, yet keeps the song from completely falling apart.
- Disc 2, Track 03, Take 2: This sounds more like a rehearsal than an actual attempt, particularly at the beginning. Elvis obviously knows it’s not quite there yet as well, for he laughs near the end.
- Disc 2, Track 13, Rehearsal & Take 3 (Undubbed Master): Even this master take does not sound like they have quite worked the song out, probably the source of some my issues with this recording. This is marginally better than the dubbed version, though. Outside of the context of playing this album in its entirety, I would still rarely, if ever, play this song.
- Disc 1, Track 21, Take 4: A take beyond the master, which is actually somewhat rare at an Elvis session. Perhaps evidence that they were not completely satisfied with Take 3, either. Still not something I would choose to hear often, but I do like it better than Take 3. Elvis sounds more comfortable with the song than on previous takes.
- Disc 2, Track 19, Take 7: Elvis sounds tired on Take 7. The pace is a little slower, but not a real improvement. By the end, I was hoping they would speed up to just get the thing over.
If That Isn’t Love
- Disc 1, Track 04, Master—Take 4: It is evident on Disc 4 of the Live In Las Vegas boxed set when Elvis introduces Dottie Rambo, writer of “If That Isn’t Love,” that he thinks a lot of her. That is why it pains me to criticize this song. Elvis recorded many great gospel numbers in his career, but unfortunately, this is not one of them. As is often the case, Elvis puts a lot of effort into the song, but it is just sub-par material.
- Disc 1, Track 14, Take 1: This take was a surprise for me. I actually liked it, certainly better than the master. It turns out this was first released on Rhythm & Country, but it did not stand out to me back then.
- Disc 2, Track 07, Take 4 (Undubbed Master): This undubbed take is better than the released master, but not as good as Take 1.
- Disc 1, Track 24, Splice of Takes 5 (LFS) & 7: Referring to Take 4, Elvis tells Jarvis to “save that last one” before beginning Take 5. This splice of Take 5 (a long false start) and the end of Take 7 is also better than the master Take 4. The song is still lacking, but at least is more listenable.
- Disc 2, Track 14, Takes 6, 7: A mistake on piano ends Take 6 just seconds in. Next, is Take 7, complete but forgettable.
She Wears My Ring
- Disc 1, Track 05, Master—Take 10: “She Wears My Ring” is the worst song on Good Times, and one of the worst from Elvis’ mostly stellar 1970s studio work.
- Disc 2, Track 09, Takes 1-7: Elvis and the band get a case of the laughs in these early takes, which go by rather quickly. Much like some of the 1960s movie tunes, studio chatter and laughter is far more interesting than the actual song in question.
- Disc 1, Track 15, Take 8: Elvis and company manage to cool the laughter and make a decent take, better than the master.
- Disc 2, Track 15, Take 10 (Undubbed Master): Elvis sounds bored to me but Jarvis declares, “That’s a gas!” at the end.
I’ve Got A Thing About You Baby
- Disc 1, Track 06, Master—Take 15: The payoff for making it through the last three songs begins with “I’ve Got A Thing About You, Baby.” This one is from Tony Joe White, familiar to Elvis fans as the writer and original performer of “Polk Salad Annie.” While Elvis’ early versions of “Polk Salad” more or less followed White’s original, Elvis’ take on “I’ve Got a Thing About You, Baby” is faster and funkier than White’s. This mostly positive, upbeat song is exactly what this album needs. Elvis only briefly falls into more jaded territory with the “Ain’t it just like a woman” verse. This one deserved to be a big hit.
- Disc 1, Track 16, Take 1: Fourteen takes would separate this take from the master, and it shows. Elvis sings it slightly differently, and stumbles over a few of the words in this fast-paced version.
- Disc 2, Track 8, Take 5: This is a fun song, so listening to take after take is no problem. Enjoyable but unremarkable take.
- Disc 2, Track 16, Takes 6, 8, 10, 11: Multiple takes on a single FTD track can mean only one thing: lots of false starts. These takes are slower than 1 and 5, about the speed of the released version. Elvis flubs the lyrics on the otherwise promising 6 and 8, then calls for a “big, huge idiot board” to show the words. He flubs Take 10 as well. “I’m too crazy to be serious,” Elvis notes and then pulls off a longer Take 11, flubbing some of the lines near the close and finally ending the song slightly early.
- Disc 1, Track 22, Take 14: Elvis makes it all the way through this spirited take of the song. With the overly complicated lyrics, it’s no wonder this song did not become a mainstay of his concert repertoire.
- Disc 2, Track 1, Takes 15 (Rough Mix of Master): This rough mix is pretty close to the released version.
- Disc 1, Track 07, Master—Take 3: On “My Boy,” Elvis worries about the effects of a potential breakup on a child. My impression is that Elvis fans either love or hate this song. I’ll take this soul-searching performance over “Hound Dog” or “Teddy Bear” any day.
- Disc 1, Track 17, Take 1: Elvis approaches “My Boy” seriously from the start, making it obvious that the song is important to him. I love this take, which is a little slower and has a simpler sound than the released version. Though Elvis misses a note near the end, this one is nevertheless as great as the master.
- Disc 2, Track 5, Take 2: Another serious attempt. Elvis stutters a bit about halfway through, but marches on through the song anyway. An okay take, but the lesser of the three. “I can’t sing it no more,” Elvis jokes when Jarvis calls for another take.
- Disc 2, Track 20, Take 3 (Undubbed Master): Despite his joke, Elvis delivers on Take 3. An interesting listen here without the overdubs.
- Disc 1, Track 08, Master—Take 4: “Spanish Eyes” is a good example of “standard fare” for Elvis’ studio work in the 1970s – not his best, and not his worst. According to the liner notes, he recorded this one at the request of girlfriend Linda Thompson. Enjoyable as much for the acoustic guitar work as Elvis’ vocals. Sound quality is a huge improvement over the prior CD release of this album.
- Disc 1, Track 18, Takes 1, 2: Elvis flubs Take 1 early, and then delivers a decent second take. Again, be sure to listen out for the beautiful acoustic guitar on this one.
- Disc 2, Track 21, Take 3: Pianist David Briggs hits a sour note, so Elvis’ portion of this short take consists only of him singing the first word, “Blue.” Some fun studio chatter starts this track out, though. Briggs also spoils a first attempt at Take 4. “He’s gettin’ crazy!” Elvis says. With no new take called, the track ends just in time for the official Take 4 on the next track.
- Disc 2, Track 22, Take 4 (Undubbed Master): Nice to have, but I prefer the dubbed version.
Talk About The Good Times
- Disc 1, Track 09, Master—Take 4: Elvis’ version of “Talk About the Good Times” just doesn’t work as well as two of his other Jerry Reed covers, “Guitar Man” and “US Male.” Perhaps it’s because Reed is not present in the studio to provide guitar accompaniment this time. The underlying song and its associated message are strong. Lyrics like “Most folks couldn’t tell you who their neighbors are. All the guns are loaded, front doors are bolted,” are even more relevant now than in the 1970s. However, Elvis could have done so much better than just the okay version he delivered of this song. Instead, the finished product just sounds like a frantic rush job.
- Disc 2, Track 10, Takes 1, 2: Take 1 starts out promisingly enough, guitar driven in the vein of “Promised Land” with less of the often annoying piano of the released version. Elvis stumbles over the lyrics, though, and curses the take to an early close. Take 2 is even shorter. Elvis looks away from the lyrics and misses them again. He then recites part of the Lord’s Prayer in a mock serious tone. Odd stuff.
- Disc 1, Track 19, Take 3: Other than the master, this is apparently the only other complete take Elvis did of this song. Piano is unfortunately more prominent than on the first take. By the next take, it really takes over.
- Disc 2, Track 11, Take 4 (Undubbed Master): They obviously took a “good enough” approach on this song. A real missed opportunity.
Good Time Charlie’s Got The Blues
- Disc 1, Track 10, Master—Take 9: The album’s best song is saved for last. Like “Loving Arms,” “Good Time Charlie’s Got The Blues,” is one of Elvis’ greatest country performances – as good or better than anything on Elvis Country. Sound quality is the best it has ever been. You are there.
- Disc 2, Track 4, Takes 1, 4, 6: “Just keep it down to Earth,” Elvis reminds the band as they start Take 1 of “Good Time Charlie’s Got The Blues.” Elvis starts cursing about his cord before he can even sing, though. On Take 4, Elvis makes it through about the first third of the song before he gets distracted and thinks they’re at the end of the song. He jokingly blames it on his pal Charlie Hodge. Take 6 is complete, but Elvis still sounds distracted. The song is not quite together yet.
- Disc 1, Track 20, Takes 7, 8: Elvis flubs the lyrics in the first verse, and then does an impromptu parody of the song as only Elvis can. A must-listen. When Jarvis notes that this is now Take 8, Elvis is surprised. “It is? Damn, these takes are going by fast.” “Some of them have been very short,” Jarvis points out, getting a chuckle out of Elvis. Take 8 is just about as good as the released version.
- Disc 2, Track 23, Take 9 (Unedited, Undubbed Master): The expanded FTD version of Good Times closes out with a surprise, an unedited, undubbed version of the “Good Time Charlie’s Got The Blues” master that is even better than the released version. This track alone makes the FTD Good Times an essential release.
* * *
FTD does a fine job on the accompanying booklet this time out. One of the things that has always bothered me about Good Times is that Elvis doesn’t look quite right on the cover, particularly his lips. I won’t give it away here, but the booklet finally reveals why this is so.
FTD’s version of Good Times turns out to be a fine upgrade of the original album, truly capturing the spirit of a collectors label by bringing the original cuts together in pristine sound quality along with tons of additional takes. Ten years in, FTD seems to have hit its stride, and its Classic Album series has become essential.
Songs: 6 (out of 10)
Audio Quality: 10
Liner Notes/Booklet: 7
Original Album Cover Art: 6
Overall Experience: 9