REVIEW: Elvis – The Complete Masters Collection (Part 5)

This is Part 5 of an ongoing series reviewing Elvis: The Complete Masters Collection. Read Part 4.

I’m planning to significantly scale back this review series. I’m actually up to Volume 17 now in listening, as I gave up trying to review them as I go. This is mostly because I was not patient enough to wait. The process was just going too slow and taking away from the enjoyment. However, since I already had a draft of the below review for weeks now, I figured I might as well share it with you.


CD Vol. 7: Complete 1968 Comeback Special

This volume of The Franklin Mint‘s 36-disc Elvis: The Complete Masters Collection (mastered by Vic Anesini) presents songs recorded for the ELVIS television special in June 1968.

Elvis: The Complete Masters Collection - Volume 7

01. Trouble/Guitar Man: This was the perfect way to open both the ELVIS special and the accompanying soundtrack album. Culled from 1958’s King Creole, “Trouble” has never sounded better than it does in this performance a decade later.

In the setting of the special, “Guitar Man” bares little resemblance to Elvis’ 1967 country recording. This version rocks.

Though true to the original album, I would have preferred that the overdubbed applause at the end of this studio track had been omitted for this release. Exceptions were made for other recordings on this set, including on this very CD, and this is another exception I would have welcomed.

02. Lawdy, Miss Clawdy [Live]: In the live, “sit down” segment of the show, Elvis tears into “Lawdy, Miss Clawdy.” This is a terrific rendition that helps set the tone for the entire album. Elvis is back.

Baby, What You Want Me To Do [Live]: Elvis performs a brief snippet of “Baby, What You Want Me To Do” and then launches into a fun bit of reminiscing.

Heartbreak Hotel/Hound Dog/All Shook Up [Live]: The album then transitions to the “stand up” segment with a rocking “Heartbreak Hotel,” combined with strong versions of “Hound Dog” (I love the Native-American-inspired percussion) and “All Shook Up.”

This is the best live version of “Heartbreak Hotel.” Too bad it is part of a medley and incomplete. Years ago, I made an edit of this recording and the one at his first sit down show in order to create a “complete” version for my own personal use (inspired by a similar edit of “Blue Suede Shoes” on This Is Elvis, except mine began with the stand up show and ended with the sit down show).

Sound quality is so excellent on Complete 1968 Comeback Special that it makes a recording flaw in this medley more obvious – a microphone or amplifier feedback sound is present in the background through much of the medley, beginning with “Hound Dog.” When I went back to check, I was surprised to find that this actually existed on previous release sources as well – though not as obvious.

Can’t Help Falling In Love [Live]:  Hands-down, this is the best live version of “Can’t Help Falling In Love.” Absolutely beautiful. Again, here we have excellent sound quality, but that feedback tone is also present at times in the background. I fear it is one of those things where, now that I have heard it, I will not be able to “un-hear” it.

Jailhouse Rock [Live]: For my money, there are really only two killer versions of “Jailhouse Rock.” The 1957 original and this 1968 live recording. Even just a year later, Elvis had lost the raw edge to this song.

Unfortunately, there is noticeable distortion near the end of “Jailhouse Rock,” almost like garbled tape (not the feedback tone discussed earlier). What a disappointment. Not present on previous releases, this issue was first introduced on 2008’s ELVIS: The Complete ’68 Comeback Special boxed set (Disc 3, Track 21). Also on that set, the same version of “Jailhouse Rock” can be heard without the distortion on Disc 1 – which presents the original ELVIS-TV Special album. However, the overall recording is in much lesser sound quality. I understand that tapes can be damaged, but surely a better effort could be made for one of the pivotal moments of Elvis’ career? As this also affected The Complete Elvis Presley Masters, a pricier incarnation of the complete masters [7], Sony should be embarrassed.

Love Me Tender [Live]: I have to admit, though some may not be able to comprehend this, I am not a big fan of Elvis’ original 1956 recording of “Love Me Tender.” It bores me to tears. I definitely prefer his 1968 live versions. As with “Can’t Help Falling In Love” earlier in the show, I love the velvet sound of his voice on this.

03. Where Could I Go But To The Lord/Up Above My Head/Saved: This track begins with Elvis discussing the gospel and rhythm & blues origins of rock ‘n’ roll at one of the sit down shows. It then segues into a medley of studio-recorded inspirational songs. In the actual television special, the medley is a huge production number with Elvis surrounded by dancers while the Blossoms, including Darlene Love, provide backing vocals. Though the recording is great, I find this one much more interesting to watch than only hear.

04. Blue Christmas [Live]: In both the original broadcast version of the ELVIS special and its accompanying soundtrack, creative editing inspired a myth. “I’d like to do my favorite Christmas song, of all the ones I’ve recorded,” Elvis says. He then launches into “Blue Christmas.” For years, people justifiably believed that “Blue Christmas” was Elvis’ favorite Christmas song.

It was not until the 1998 release of Tiger Man, containing the unedited version of the sit down show from which the recording was taken, that the truth became known to a wider audience. It turned out that Elvis did not sing “Blue Christmas” as his favorite but “Santa Claus Is Back In Town.” In fact, though he could not remember some of the words, he sang a bluesy version that was a highlight of that particular show. Not only that, but when he did finally launch into “Blue Christmas,” it was an extended version compared to the original master. So, not only did the TV special and original album create the “Blue Christmas” as Elvis’ favorite Christmas song myth, they even artificially shortened said song.

True to the original master as released in Elvis’ lifetime, the recording here on Complete 1968 Comeback Special matches that of the original album. Elvis performs a terrific version of “Blue Christmas,” far exceeding his 1957 studio recording. I’ll stick to the real story and full-length version on Tiger Man, though.

One Night [Live]: “I think I’ll put a strap around this and stand up,” Elvis says near the end of the first sit down show, but there is no strap to be found for the electric guitar he has borrowed from Scotty Moore. Drummer DJ Fontana announces the next song as “No Strap” and Charlie Hodge, also on stage, sings “No strap today. . .” which Elvis immediately turns into a brief parody of “One Night” by picking up with “. . . is what I’m now looking for, the things I did and I saw, would make the dream . . . where, where, where, where’s the strap?”

He then launches into the song proper, including some of the original “One Night Of Sin” lyrics that had been too risque for 1957. He soon stands up, placing one foot on his chair to prop the guitar on his knee, while Charlie (and later Lance LeGault) holds the microphone for him. While some of the “ad-libs” earlier in the night were indeed scripted, Elvis wanting to stand up with the guitar during the sit down show is not one of them. For the second sit down show, though the guitar still had no strap, it was obvious they had worked out more of the logic – including how to adjust the microphone stand, allowing Elvis to stand up a few times. It is this off-the-cuff moment in the first show that holds the real magic, though. All the fun aside, it is also a great, raw performance of “One Night.”

05. Tiger Man [Live]: Though it originally appeared neither on the ELVIS-TV Special album nor the broadcast, “Tiger Man” was actually the first recording released from those made for the 1968 ELVIS special, on the album Singer Presents Elvis Singing Flaming Star And Others. “Tiger Man” was originally slated for the special, but was replaced by “Blue Christmas” at the insistence of Elvis’ manager due to the December air date. “Tiger Man” is another wonderful performance that Elvis drives with the electric guitar. The compiler made a good choice placing it back in context with other songs from the special rather than saving it for a separate disc.

[Side note: Elvis only performed “Tiger Man” on the second sit down show. Near the end of the first sit down show, Elvis states, “We’d like to do one more song for you because we have another audience waiting to come in” and then proclaims, “Man, I just work here,” when the audience sounds disappointed. He then starts looking for the guitar strap as described with “One Night” above. While he was apparently not referring to the closer “Memories” as the “one more song,” I wonder if it was actually “Tiger Man” that he was planning to sing before being inspired to do the impromptu reprise of “One Night”? Most of the renditions on the first sit down show are superior to those of the second, so a first show “Tiger Man” might have been quite the performance if the proper guitar strap had been available.]

06. Memories [Stereo Version]: Though Elvis performed two live versions of “Memories” during the special tapings, they were not nearly as good as his studio master. Rather than use the live recording featured on the television broadcast, the ELVIS-TV Special soundtrack album featured a mono version of the studio recording with overdubbed applause. RCA sure did love faking live versions with overdubbed applause in the late 1960s and early 1970s.

In this instance, the compiler makes an exception and uses a stereo version of the studio recording, fortunately without the fake audience. Technically, this mix was never released in Elvis’ lifetime, though, for even his 1968 single of the studio version was in mono.

Written by Mac Davis, “Memories” is a beautiful song and this is, by far, my favorite version. 1968’s “Memories” would go on to play over the closing credits of 1972’s Elvis On Tour, as well as posthumous documentaries – including This Is Elvis.

07. Nothingville/Big Boss Man: I have often wondered if “Nothingville” was slamming Nashville or Hollywood (“phony little two-bit town where nothing’s real”). If “Nothingville” is about Hollywood and the movies, that puts an interesting spin on this segment of the special – which is more than a little reminiscent of Elvis’ movies anyway.  In any event, the song fits within the context of one of the show’s production numbers, but it is almost too short to really matter. Next up is a carny barker inviting passers-by to experience an exotic dancer. Elvis launches into an altered version of “Big Boss Man” where the one being worked to death is actually the dancer rather than the singer. The song loses most of its blues roots here, but the arrangement is still effective.

Guitar Man/Little Egypt/Trouble/Guitar Man: To be honest, all of track 7 is really a letdown compared to the quality of the rest of the special.

08. If I Can Dream [Stereo Version]: Always a contender for his greatest performance, “If I Can Dream” caps off the special just right – with Elvis moving forward. As with “Memories,” a stereo mix is used here that was not released during Elvis’ lifetime. The album version was in mono and included overdubbed applause on the studio recording, while the single version of the studio recording was in mono as well.

All-in-all, due to the sound issues on “Jailhouse Rock,” and, to a lesser extent, “Hound Dog,” “All Shook Up,” and “Can’t Help Falling In Love,” Complete 1968 Comeback Special turns out to be the most disappointing volume of this set thus far. A real travesty since this is some of his best material. Does anyone bother to listen to Elvis CDs prior to release?

Though a minor issue, the CD also has a misleading title, for it would take several CDs to truly represent the “complete” 1968 “Comeback Special” recordings. This is but a small sampling. Even a few Comeback recordings released during Elvis’ lifetime, if restricted to that, have been left out.

Sources

(7) “Complete Masters compared/contrasted with Franklin Mint” by elvissessions, For Elvis CD Collectors Forum, 2010.


Read Part 6.