The King is Dead, Long Live The King
LPZ-2037 - Elvis Is Back
LPZ(2)- Elvis 24 Karat Hits!
Contrary to Don McLean's sentiments, it was on August 16, 1977 that the music died. It did not pass in a tragic plane crash with Richie Valens, the Big Bopper and Buddy Holly, but in a Memphis bathroom. The myth of Elvis may have superseded the man, but his startling musical accomplishments live on in the hearts of millions of music lovers. There is no place better for the Elvis impaired to begin to understand the strength and endurance of this vital music than through these two releases by DCC. Building on the foundations of blues, country and gospel, and melding influences of soul, pop and rockabilly into a uniquely American sound that bridges generations and genre, Elvis Aaron Presley left a body of work that has been largely ignored by the audiophile community. With exception of 'Elvis Is Back' (RCA LSP 2231), which has a long history (and matching price for original pressings) of exceptional sound quality, I can honestly say I have never heard an Elvis cut played for a demo or referenced as demo material on any review I have read. With the release of these fine albums I hope that will change. I am sure listeners who have avoided Elvis because of the "fat guy in a white jump suit" image will find their ears and expectations pleasantly surprised by the music contained here-in.
First to the best, DCC Compact Classics LPZ-2037 is a straight up re-issue of LSP 2231 from the cover art to the glorious sound, including the now famous Living Stereo moniker across the top of the LP's face. Originally recorded in March and April of 1960, this was Elvis and company's first real stereo recording. As is true of most Elvis recordings the copies I always found were either rough-beyond-playing or priced one-step-down from heart failure. As it is, I count myself lucky to have found a reasonably priced clean copy of LPM 2231, the mono release. I almost got a ticket racing over to the local vinyl emporium when I heard they had a copy of this DCC re-issue for me. The original mono, while not offering any idea of the sound-stage waiting on the reissue, was detailed and warm and oh-so-musical. In comparison the DCC reissue is all of this and a bag of chips too. The DCC release offers even more detail, allowing the critical listener to hear the differing acoustics of the studio, echo chamber, reverb plates and the sonic signatures of the many microphones (this is a multi-tracked album) used to commit these performances to tape. Punchier in the bass and clear, clean and detailed with air to spare, the DCC has faultless surfaces and superb pressing quality.
As for the music, one needs to go no farther than the second cut Fever to see that this is more than a rockabilly album. In fact this recording brings far more soul and R & B styling to the music of the Tupelo kid than any of the recordings that came before it. You could do worse than to buy this album just for this one song, so strong is the performance and recording. If Bob Moore's walking bass line doesn't have weight and richness and Elvis's finger snaps aren't surrounded by air and executed with a real, fleshy "pop" then there is something wrong with your system! My favorite song follows immediately - The Girl Of My Best Friend . The Jordanaires voices add richly innocent backing to the buttery voice of the King of Rock And Roll.
I Will Be Home Again is the closest you will hear to a country-western influence on this outing. This can be attributed more to Moore's guitar phrasing and Floyd Cramer's piano than anything in Elvis' performance. While Dirty, Dirty Feeling breaks no new ground, it does offer one of Scotty's better rock'n'roll guitar breaks, and is a fine refrain of the music of this team's earlier efforts; recordings which turned popular music on its ear seven years earlier. Thrill Of Your Love offers a glimpse of the rich Elvis crooning still to come.
Side two opens with Such A Night , a song made famous by The Drifters in 1954. Here it is given a spirited reading by Elvis. It Feels So Right plain out rocks, Girl Next Door Went A 'Walking brings Gordon Stoker, Neal Matthews, Hoyt Hawkins and Ray Walker closer to the front of the mix. It is easy to follow all four voices as they harmonize seamlessly with the king. The album is closed by the great blues tune Reconsider Baby . Elvis sings his heart out, Cramer's piano work, while far back in the mix and somewhat boxy sounding, is a tour de force of blues technique. Boots' sax break is everything his talent promised it would be. This cut is a real gem.
I have not heard this recording on DCC compact disc but ears I trust tell me that it doesn't give an inch to the vinyl. For those of you who are digitally oriented and would like to own a classic Presley recording with outstanding sonics, this is the way to go. For vinyl fans this release is a must-have and at one third the price of a NM original pressing it is a bargain! Add this to your Elvis collection today! If you don't have an Elvis collection per se, and you only want one album as a taste this is a fine choice - but you may be better served with DCC's other Elvis masterpiece 'Elvis 24 Karat Hits!' (DCC LPZ(2)-2040).
'Elvis 24 Karat Hits!' carries the Living Stereo banner atop its cover, but was not an original RCA release. It is, instead, a best-of compilation of RCA hits which span Presley's full RCA discography from Heartbreak Hotel to Suspicious Minds . This LP boasts an "all vacuum tube cutting system." Of the twenty-four cuts on the release, nine are in glorious original monophonic sound. Superb liner notes by Presley recording engineer Bill Porter round out the package. DCC really deserves kudos; this is one of the best-done 'best of' packages I have ever seen! From the album art to the pressing quality, there is no doubt this is a class act. With new vinyl like this available I am at no loss to spend my music budget and then some every chance I get.
When I say you have heard this music before believe it. Contained in the grooves of this album are some of the best rock and roll cuts recorded in the last fifty years. Influential, fun and pioneering, this music will thrill you with its life. A stunner if your only exposure to Elvis has been the radio and (mostly disappointing) movie soundtracks, if you have heard the king's recordings on a fine system before, prepare to be impressed. Compared to my collection of originals and reissues, this LP offers outstanding playing surfaces, detailed and honest transcriptions of the master tapes, and first-rate sound quality. This is, without doubt, the Elvis album to own if you are only going to own just one.
The collection starts with the seminal Heartbreak Hotel . This cuts swings in the true sense of the word with bedrock bass performance from DJ Fontana, a thrilling exchange between Floyd Cramer on piano and Scotty Moore on lead guitar, and of course the utterly unique vocal styling of the king. Comparing the DCC vinyl played on my long-in-the-tooth Linn LP12 to my RCA compact disc issue of 'The Top Ten Hits' (RCA 6383-2) played through the truly state-of-the-art Levinson No. 39 compact disc processor reveals the RCA compact disc to sound flat, lifeless, compressed and dull. Keep in mind this is a mono cut that is well over 40 years old - clearly there is quite a bit more on the master tapes than we have been offered before!
Comparing this same cut to the RCA pressing of 'Elvis' Golden Records' (RCA AFM1-5196) 50 th Anniversary pressing (restored to original mono and digitally re-mastered no less!) shows the RCA vinyl to still better the RCA compact disc in every sonic attribute, but not to the same degree as the DCC vinyl. The only original copy I have of 'Elvis' Golden Records' is the "electronically reprocessed for stereo" release (LSP 1707e), and that recording is such a monstrosity that I bought the 'Top Ten Hits' compact disc just to be able to listen to this music without getting a headache! My wife put it best when she heard the DCC vinyl follow the RCA compact disc - she said the CD sounds like someone's car stereo as heard passing by, the DCC vinyl sounds like music. And what music it is…
Another example, perhaps a more fair comparison of original pressing vs. DCC reissue is the song Can't Help Falling In Love which originally appeared on the soundtrack of 'Blue Hawaii' (RCA LSP2426). My original early pressing is of very high quality vinyl with a quiet playing surface. On the original pressing this lovely ballad seems slightly more relaxed than the DCC. The DCC is far more dynamic. Elvis' voice is moved forward in the soundstage. The DCC pressing also has a bit more top-end, but I would be remiss to call it bright in any way. This is a close call and I am tempted to call the DCC the winner, but the original pressing has such seductive qualities that I think you can't go wrong with either. One big difference is that you will likely pay $50 or so the for RCA LSP in clean condition and you will only have a couple of great Elvis songs. On the DCC you get them all!
Almost everything you could want from Elvis is on these two LP's. From the early years and in mono we get Heartbreak Hotel , Love Me , Don't Be Cruel , Hound Dog , All Shook Up , Teddy Bear , Jailhouse Rock , Wear My Ring Around Your Neck , and A Big Hunk Of Love . Missing is I Want You, I Need You, I Love You and Anyway You Want Me . When you have limited recording time you have to make decisions! A real best of for Elvis would easily be a three or four album set.
In original stereo we get Love Me Tender , Stuck On You , It's Now or Never , Are You Lonesome Tonight? , Surrender , and nine others. The LP concludes with the hit Suspicious Minds , and it has never sounded better. Once again, comparisons with the RCA compact disc 'The Top Ten Hits' reveal the RCA compact disc to sound noticeably inferior, although not quite as startlingly so as the Heartbreak Hotel cut. The RCA compact disc is thinner in the bass - not as ripe- and massed strings sound like a synthesizer. The voices of Ginger and Mary Holliday, Jeannie Greene, Susan Plinkington and Donna Thatcher (who later went on to sing with the Grateful Dead!) singing backup seem more separated on the compact disc; and this is not a good thing. They should sound melded together. The soundstage on the compact disc is smaller and farther back from the plane of the speakers than the DCC vinyl, too.
I did compare several other cuts on the DCC compilation with their original RCA releases. I will spare you the details and simply say that I found that, for the most part, the DCC either equaled or surpassed any other pressings I could find. If you want the cream of Elvis' music without the exorbitant prices of "collector's records" the DCC is just what the doctor ordered. Once again, I have not heard the DCC compact disc version, but I have heard rumors that it is pretty good. If it is anywhere near the quality of the vinyl release then it stands as the definitive Elvis compilation on CD.
If this review sounds like a rave, it is. I am very impressed with the pressing, the packaging and the sensitivity to the music that DCC has exhibited on these releases. Let's hope they keep these releases in print long enough that those of us with limited music budgets have time to save up and buy them. With Roy Orbison already on the way the only question I can ask is "What's next guys?"