This doesn't happen all that often, and yet here we have a gift from the
"import" gods. Unreleased 50's Elvis. Let's say it again: unreleased 50's
The packaging by VIK boasts an awesome, 6x8 double fold-out sleeve with six
unreleased photos from 1958-59 (4 in color) plus a color reproduction of
Presley's self-penned lyric sheet for "I'm Beginning To Forget You"! "Kind
'a bluesy version," he notes. All tracks here are apparently cut between
17Jul and 7Aug'59, save for 5 tunes from Apr'59 (19, 21, 23-25) and they
each amply display what the last three years of hysteria are all about.
One hears the artist, on some of his off-duty hours, working through a
variety of numbers for pleasure, edification and an eye towards his release
in 1960. Most of the performances here are vocal and piano, some voice and
guitar, all are pure Presley power. Whether directing the recording, or
simply showing off for his friends, this is Elvis at his down-home best.
The slow tries of "Kathleen" are highly similar to his May'71 version, one
of them boasting a big crescendo-laden ending. One fast take is very Jerry
Lee Lewis-like, confident and rockin' ("I will take you home again ...
YEAH!"). Others to be recorded professionally later include "Soldier Boy"
with tender vocals almost quieter than his 1960 version, a beautiful guitar
arrangement of "Danny Boy" (which one take of was first released in 1985 on
the "gold" box) and a rollicking piano rendition of "The Fool" (also
released on the "gold" box).
Besides the extra versions of some of the above numbers, we hear at last
the ultimately rejected pop confection of "Apron Strings," a
Weiss/Schroeder tune given to Cliff Richard, which is cute but light and
his passionate take on Little Richard's "Send Me Some Lovin'," his
best-ever Richard cover.
It cannot be understated how intimate these tapes are. All at once you are
in the Bad Nauheim house as "Earth Angel" is discussed. He sings the
entire song as done by the Penguins in '54 on Dootone records! "That's a
pretty good record," says a pal, "Yeah, there's no doubt about it" Elvis
One of his other stabs at "Earth Angel" runs into "I Will Be True,"
bluesier than the 1971 cut, which he finishes off with a cute, sloppy
ending. "There's No Tomorrow" shows how evident it is that Presley loves
its operatic qualities (it's transformed into "It's Now Or Never" the next
year) and just the bigness of this tune; he struggles to find the proper
forcefulness to the opening section. Presley would have been well-served
to have chosen "There's No Tomorrow" to precede "It's Now Or Never" on tour
in the late seventies, rather than "O Sole Mio."
Funny moments abound here too: a few lines of "Que Sera Sera" slam into
"Hound Dog" ("will I be hound dog?") two different times; strangely enough,
the great Irish rocker Van Morrison did the same medley in 1971 during a
Northern California recording studio jam session (also officially
Country, always an influence on Elvis, is apparent with Ernest Tubb's sweet
lament "It's Been So Long, Darling" (is that Charlie Hodge on percussion in
the background?). "Number Eight (On The Jukebox)" is a lovely country
ballad with a thrilling vocal that's similar in feel to "The Thrill Of Your
Love" from the post-Army sessions, with some echoes of the haunting vocals
he'd deliver in 1969 for "Long Black Limousine"! Either of these would've
been a nice addition to 'Elvis Is Back' if Presley had wanted to include
"I'm Beginning To Forget You", as first released on 1983's 'Legendary
Performer v4' in 83 (noted then as being "found at Graceland" in the early
sixties), has the "boiled eggs" dialogue followed by that graceful
rendition of the Jim Reeves tune with Elvis' familiar rhythm guitar licks
carrying it through. It's a real shock he didn't record it after he got
back to the States. The second, spoken "jokey" cut is also here, recently
given life on 'Platinum.' Nat Cole's classic "Mona Lisa" is sung in
Presley's "Wooden Heart" voice, but one cannot help but notice a much
greater song here. It should be noted the audio quality is much superior
to any other issue of the number, especially towards the end, where there
was once insane distortion.
VIK saves the best for the end with Presley's brilliant rendition of Hank
Williams' perfect "I Can't Help It I'm Still In Love With You)," his finest
Hank interpretation, bar none. What a magnificent vocal one hears! This
was only recently offered by RCA/BMG on 'Platinum' although one is left to
wonder why they waited so long.
The sound quality of these performances has always been known as poor at
best, but the last track on this disc displays two examples of the efforts
that were made by VIK to restore the original sound of the tapes. The
difference is clearly like night and day! All the songs sound better here
than anywhere else available, and most of them are only available here.
This is some amazing work on classic-era Presley!
These tapes are evidence of the expansion of Elvis' musical horizons away
from rock numbers; one hears his vocals striving for the sweet-voiced
purity that came to fruition in 1960-63. Now, with "Greetings From
Germany" there is a link between what he left behind and what lay ahead.
To call this CD essential would be like gilding the proverbial lily. Get
it and get real, real gone for a change.
Sound rate * 1/2