[Side Note: Introducing the new look of Pastimescapes, which now leverages the Expound theme. Look for more tweaks in the coming days.]
Memphis. When it comes to Elvis Presley, there is something magical about the music he created in his adopted hometown.
That magic is tangible, no matter if we are talking about his early SUN sides of 1954-1955, the American Sound sessions of 1969, the Stax recordings of 1973, the Mid-South Coliseum concerts of 1974, or the Graceland sessions of 1976 – where his home’s den was converted into a makeshift recording studio.
Those Graceland sessions, which proved to be the last “studio” recordings of Elvis’ career, initially resulted in two albums: From Elvis Presley Boulevard, Memphis, Tennessee, and the bulk of Moody Blue.
Since then, of course, alternates and outtakes from the Graceland sessions have appeared on numerous releases. The Jungle Room Sessions, for instance, is reportedly one of the best-selling CDs ever released by the Follow That Dream (FTD) collectors label for Elvis fans. The disc is so-named for the nickname given after Elvis’ death to Graceland’s uniquely decorated den.
Earlier this month, Sony released the latest compilation of these songs, Way Down In The Jungle Room. The release contains all of the Graceland master recordings on Disc 1 and selected alternates/outtakes on Disc 2.
Due to already having all of the material from both discs, I had actually planned to skip Way Down In The Jungle Room. I then found out more information about Disc 2 by reading Bob Mehr’s Memphis Commercial Appeal article on the project.
Thanks to the article, I did not skip it, and I can now highly recommend Way Down In The Jungle Room due to the incredible sound of Disc 2’s alternate/outtake versions – newly mixed by Matt Ross-Spang at Sam Phillips Recording Service.
However, my purpose today is not so much to review Way Down In The Jungle Room, but to expand upon an answer to a question I recently received from Wellsy – a Pastimescapes reader and longtime Elvis fan. A frequent commenter, he even wrote a guest post on The Mystery Train Blog a few years back for me.
Wellsy emailed me on vacation from Memphis about some CDs he was considering purchasing. Somewhere in the course of our ongoing exchange, he asked, “What is the difference between FTD’s The Jungle Room Sessions and Sony’s Way Down In The Jungle Room?”
If you are interested in the Graceland sessions, the underlying question is which of the Elvis releases covering this material should you buy? In addition to Way Down In The Jungle Room, there have been quite a few, including:
- From Elvis Presley Boulevard (RCA): Masters from the February 1976 Graceland sessions (#19 on my recent “50 Greatest Elvis Albums” list)
- Moody Blue (RCA): Remaining masters from the February and October 1976 Graceland sessions, supplemented with live recordings from 1974 and 1977 (#7 on my list)
- The Jungle Room Sessions (FTD): Alternates/outtakes from the 1976 Graceland sessions
- From Elvis Presley Boulevard (FTD Classic Album Edition): Masters and alternates/outtakes from the original RCA album, including relevant portions of The Jungle Room Sessions in improved sound quality and some previously unreleased tracks
- Moody Blue (FTD Classic Album Edition): Masters and alternates/outtakes from the original RCA album, including relevant portions of The Jungle Room Sessions in improved sound quality and some previously unreleased tracks
People who know me offline, and I am sure some online have picked up on this as well, understand that I am a very analytical person. Sometimes to the point of annoyance, but, hey, it pays the bills. Anyway, I thought it might be interesting to compare some of the releases covering the Graceland sessions in a more visual fashion.
The below chart captures the master and other complete takes for each of the songs recorded at the Graceland sessions that have been officially released to date. In an attempt to keep this to a manageable size, I left out things like rehearsals, false starts, and FTD-generated splices.
As noted in the graphic, my key information sources for the above were:
Any mistakes you might find, though, were entirely of my own making.
So, which one should you buy?
For typical, casual, new, or would-be Elvis fans, I recommend you buy Way Down In The Jungle Room. It gives you all of the master takes as well as a manageable number of alternates in great sound quality. This 2-CD set is a real value at less than US $15. Incidentally, there is also an LP vinyl version, but it does not include the masters.
For “totally insane” Elvis fans (like me), who enjoy listening to multiple alternates of the same song, I recommend you buy the FTD “Classic Album” editions of From Elvis Presley Boulevard and Moody Blue. Each of these 2-CD sets will run you around US $30, but they are more than worth it to experience the making of these albums. However, you will probably want to pick up the seemingly redundant Way Down In The Jungle Room as well at some point – simply for the sound experience on Disc 2.
No matter which you choose, settle back and enjoy some Memphis magic, courtesy of Elvis.
Thanks to Wellsy for inspiring this topic as well as giving permission to use his photo of Graceland’s den.