An Alternate Take Two

By Steve Barile

With the 25th Anniversary of Elvis' passing upon us, it's almost incomprehensible that he's been gone longer than he was famous. My relationship with Elvis as a fan always provided high levels of excitement, whether anticipating a concert in my area (I saw 7) or the release of previously unheard music. Expectations (as usual) were very high concerning the "25th Commemorative" boxed CD set "Today Tomorrow and Forever." I immediately loved the title and with this occasion being the last opportunity for his beloved record company to exhibit their respect and appreciation for Elvis the artist, I thought perhaps the definitive boxed set was in the works. Finally the "dream" boxed set! 100 superb sounding tracks, carefully chosen to represent and even flaunt his unique vocal talent. Unblemished by inferior fidelity making for hours of uninterrupted listening pleasure. All of course lavishly packaged with a booklet of never before seen photos culled directly from the archives of Graceland (or me for that matter) and a cover that says it all! Perhaps a close-up reminiscent of the "Back in Memphis" cover of 1969. I soon woke up from this dream upon viewing the cover that was ultimately used fearing that my high expectations for this most important release would once again not be met. I guess I'm asking for too much. To further state my case (of which I'm certain), I'd like to dissect the most important part of any such package, the music. Before I do so, may I stress that my concerns are solely for the average person spending their hard earned dollars on what they might think is "the" definitive set, when in actuality it leaves much to be desired for them.

Disc one, although getting off to a strong start, soon disappoints. The Live in '56 material would make for a filler FTD release at best. Given its inferior fidelity, I can't imagine this appealing to the general public. Together with the poorer fidelity of "Dontcha Think It's Time" and the atrocious home recording of "The Fool," all we have here is filler and no thriller. If anyone out there can enlighten me as to why "Steadfast, Loyal and True" was chosen for this package, I'd most certainly listen. And despite the improved fidelity of the Million Dollar Quartet material, it's totally unnecessary to tease with a snippet of "Don't Forbid Me. " That leaves 14 gems on a disc of 26 tracks. Anyone still reading this, knows that there is enough "unofficially" released material from the 50's to have made this CD all thriller and no filler.

In comparison, disc 2 is a vast improvement. However, the banal studio banter and false starts add nothing to the overall direction of the disc which again is not without a blemish of inferior fidelity. "Hide Thou Me" is for us Elvis fanatics only, and the choice to include "Never Say Yes" is again baffling. In all fairness, there are certainly some desert island gems here such as "Are You Lonesome Tonight," "Pocketful of Rainbows," "They Remind Me Too Much of You," and of course, the Ann Margaret duet despite Elvis fumbling for the key. Finally, as a stickler for superior sound, I feel "Mexico" and "Boy Like Me" were poorly mixed.

Disc 3 is the most "even" listen so far except for "The Love Machine" which the liner notes in the included booklet call "a ghastly song which Elvis sleepwalks through" and the abrupt cut-off of "Up Above My Head." Question: What is the reason for including a ghastly, sleepwalk performance? By contrast, "Love Letters" sounds fresh, "Long-Legged Girl" is sublime as is "Indescribably Blue" and "Let Us Pray" compels me to press the repeat button on the CD player.

Now, as with the "Platinum" set of 5 years ago, disc 4 commands attention. "Walk a Mile in My Shoes" is the best version ever! This should have been featured on the 70's Boxed Set, if not the "Onstage" LP of 32 years ago. The alternates of "The Next Step is Love" and "Life" minus the overdubs are breathtaking. "Until It's Time For You To Go" is shockingly beautiful and "Fool's Rush In" is smooth as silk. I can, however, find fault with even this disc in the way of poor choice in material, the omission of "My Way" (from Abilene '77) and in my opinion, shoddy mixing on things like "Pieces of My Life" and "A Thing Called Love." "Take Good Care of Her" is just plain boring and the choice of "No More" to represent "Aloha" is criminal. I would have chosen "Aloha Rehearsal" material instead. Properly mixed, of course. I can almost hear the accusations of incessant whining, but I assure you that when the day comes for you to hear "My Way" from Abilene '77, you too will ponder why the dream boxed set has yet to be produced.

In closing, I'd like to point out the fact that we have here representation of "Paradise Hawaiian Style" and "Easy Come, Easy Go," a movie the booklet says "few ever saw," but none of Elvis' triumphant Madison Square Garden concerts! Somehow, that doesn't seem right to me. I wonder if more care and attention is being given to the FTD label than mainstream releases. That's just a thought, not a complaint. Keep 'em coming! I'm First In Line.

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