Elvis :Studio B Outtakes 1961- 1964 (Follow That Dream/BMG)

 

Studio B is the third CD on the Follow That Dream label to feature exquisite 1960s Nashville outtakes. Many of these 23 alternate performances, taped between June 1961 and January 1964, have been heard on "import" discs, but the official quality here is outstanding. Studio B is another chronicle of the incomparable Presley magic, pre-Beatles.

The early sixties is one of producer Ernst Jørgensen's favorite periods in Presley's career, and for good reason they prove Elvis a consummate professional, where the outtakes are nearly better than the master selections. The famed studio itself sounds tremendous, Presley and the peerless Nashville studio pros are usually in good spirits, and Elvis' vocals are absolutely superb -- powerful yet supple, soft but dynamic, as per the song being rendered.

Elvis worked on expanding his musical horizons while serving his Army commitment in Germany, and the unadulterated focus he brought to his art during his first few years back is stunning. The material doesn't always live up to Elvis' new gold standard, though. For example, "Something Blue", "Fountain Of Love" and "Echoes Of Love", heard here in interesting multiple takes, hardly befit the talents of the greatest recording artist of the 20th century. Even though "Gonna Get Back Home Somehow" boasts a tough groove, it lacks distinction. "(Such An) Easy Question" is Elvis offering a fine imitation of early influence Dean Martin, but it's no "Volare." The alternate take is slower and actually sexier, for what that's worth.

Studio B reaches a peak with outtakes from Presley's June 1961 session, which produced "Little Sister" and "(Marie's The Name Of) His Latest Flame." This Nashville engagement was guitar wizard Hank Garland's last, due to a tragic car accident that permanently sidelined his career. Garland's titanic and downright nasty solo runs throughout "Little Sister" are just sketches, but they're still great! The early takes of "His Latest Flame" -- initially offered to singer Bobby Darin -- begin with a hackneyed, organ-based arrangement and the Pomus/Shuman submission doesn't sound very good at all. After take two the group would focus on a driving piano rhythm, supported by a more intense "Bo Diddley" beat, until they reached pop perfection with master take eight. Some of this material was released in the UK twenty years ago on The EP Collection, Vol. 2, but more is heard here.

Other delights in this collection include the "wall of sound" that is "Night Rider" -- the original demo not surprisingly produced by innovative studio genius Phil Spector. "Night Rider" co-writer Mort Shuman wished to evoke Presley's well-known travels through the Los Angeles nights on his Harley-Davidson motorcycle, and the versions here are from ultimately rejected remakes by Elvis in March 1962. The master choice fell to an earlier take from the previous October, but these don't seem all that bad in retrospect. Studio B also includes the fascinating tail end of an R&B studio jam between Presley and his boys prior to the start of take one.

Elvis further enthralls the listener with genuinely co-written numbers "That's Someone You Never Forget" and "You'll Be Gone." The former is an eerie tribute to Presley's late mother -- how many songs can claim that description? The latter features Elvis striving to capture the essence of a smoldering, moody love ballad initially inspired by "Begin The Beguine."

The January 1964 visit, Elvis' last non-soundtrack work for more than two years, has not been given as much scrutiny as other sessions. Perhaps this is due to the fact that just three tunes were waxed, two of which were remakes of unused 1963 recordings. In any event, they sadly hint at possibilities never again explored.

"Memphis Tennessee" is one of the remakes, with Elvis embracing a most suitable Chuck Berry hit. This time around Presley wants to capture the dynamics heard on his radio from innovative labels like Motown and vital new artists like Marvin Gaye and Smokey Robinson. The emphasis is on the rhythm -- bass and drums -- and Elvis and his studio band jump right in. Take one is a monster to properly control for engineer Ron Steele, as the order to roll tape is immediate, and Elvis loves the final result of take six so much he auditions the acetate for everyone, including new Hollywood pal Johnny Rivers. Rivers, a regular visitor to Presley's home, asks Elvis to play the disc repeatedly.

Sadly, Presley's plans to make "Memphis Tennessee" a single A-side are dashed when Rivers, unbeknownst to Elvis, issues his own recording of the Berry song that spring. His Imperial single of "Memphis" makes #2 on the Billboard charts in June 1964. Not surprisingly, the young singer's deceit earns him a permanent ban from the Presley home.

It's striking how Presley's commitment is at such a high level that these outtakes are only a hair worse than what originally got pressed on vinyl forty years ago. After 1970, producer Felton Jarvis would be lucky to secure master performances from Elvis as good as these early sixties alternates.

At the risk of being redundant, it is safe to say that Studio B, like Long Lonely Highway and Fame And Fortune, is another essential FTD release.

[Johnny Savage, USA]