EIN’s Review by Piers Beagley of the ‘G.I Blues – The Café Europa Sessions’
Elvis’ fascinating G.I. Blues recording sessions have been released on bootlegs a few times over the years.
Being his first Soundtrack session after his stunning return to the Top with the ‘Elvis Is Back’ Nashville recordings, GI Blues demonstrated an Elvis somewhat frustrated by the quality of his first lightweight Travelogue recordings, but also a keen entertainer willing and ‘Doin’ the best he can.’
Elvis did not polish the lightweight songs off in a one-night session, as he would do in later years, and was willing to try his best with the insubstantial quality of the compositions. Elvis would also join in with the band on guitar and work hard on his vocals, several songs taking 20 attempted takes to complete a master he was satisfied by.
Little did Elvis know that the financial success of these somewhat frivolous and fun recordings would sadly pave the way to his unhappy path on The Colonel’s endless treadmill of uninspired and unending travelogue-nonsense.
Capitalising on the fact that Elvis’ 1960 recordings have moved into the 'Public Domain' area for EU release this year, MRS have issued a very fine box-set compromising 103 tracks and a 100 page book.
See full tracklist below
The presentation is similar to the BMG/RCA releases of ‘Close Up’, ‘Platinum’ or the other Elvis box-sets.
With the 50 year Public Domain rule about to kick in for Elvis’ 1960 recordings this year, I am not sure why FTD, or even RCA/SONY, did not want to beat other UK labels at their game and release their G.I. Blues set first.
Whatever the reason this set is very impressive and makes for hours of fun listening.
Without going in to detail the many versions of ‘What’s She Really Like’ and ‘Frankfort Special’ (in two totally different arrangements), the joy of Elvis’ guitar playing in ‘Shoppin Around’ plus the multiple attempts at ‘Pocketful of Rainbows’ are fabulously enjoyable. And who couldn’t get enough of yet more versions of the magnificent ‘Doin’ The Best I Can’?
Similarly there is a fascination in Elvis demanding a change of studios, going back to the familiar Radio Recorders from the RCA studios he wasn’t happy with.
Comparing the RCA studio's versions to his later Radio Recorders attempts (along with spotting his change in mood) is another reason to get this box-set.
In fact, here I wish MRS had placed all the ‘Radio Recorders’ second song attempts on the final CD instead of having them across CDs 3 and 4.
As a taster check out the fine ‘Frankfort Special’ Takes 9 & 10. Elvis sings a line of ‘Ave Maria’ – where did that come from? – before a very cool take. Elvis then notes between them when they fluff the take "Damn, son of a bitch. Let’s go again before this train runs out of juice!" It’s all very fine studio eavesdropping.
Similarly listening to Elvis try so hard through over 30 takes of ‘Pocketful Of Rainbows’, so many of them close to being a Master take but never good enough for Elvis, is intriguing. In between the takes Elvis throws in some lines of German he remembered. He sounds in surprising good humour when his voice cracks even as far as Take 19. "I’m looking through the crack. Next time I’ll crack!" he jokes.
There is plenty of fans debating the quality of the recordings, but let me state that nearly all of them are presented in terrific quality. (I have spotted a couple of anomalies but they will come in the full review later, due to lack of time.)
Nearly all of these recordings are definitely taken from a different source from both the previous bootlegs, somewhere in those old bootlegs a cassette transfer and at some points even vinyl was used! These tracks sound as clean and crisp as the recent Outtakes released by RCA/SONY on the ‘Close Up’ box-set (done by Vic Anesini no less!). The background hum & hiss from the original tapes here are at a very similar low level, it is hard to believe that most of them are not first-generation audio transfers.
Most keen fans would remember purchasing the BMG expanded release of ‘GI Blues’ 1997 just for the 8 new outtakes that were offered. Well, listening back to those officially released 1997 outtakes now they sound terrible with very muffled audio and with silly added echo! The similar take numbers featured here sound BRILLIANT in comparison.
- And, I remember paying $22 for those 8 outtakes, whereas here we get 94 new outtakes and the book, all for $45!
If one compares the ‘Close Up’ versions with similar numbered takes here, the mix here has Elvis’ vocal more up-front but the source of these outtakes is closely comparable in quality. There is no doubt that these versions come from a tape or DAT transfer very close to the original studio recordings.
The Book & Design.
The book features 100 pages of photos and memorabilia from Elvis’ recording sessions, publicity sessions and movie shoot. Packed full of great pictures – plenty of them refreshingly new to me - it includes record sleeves, movie posters and lobby cards.
The book’s design with its red, blue and yellow colours fits the GI Blues theme perfectly and the four CDs have a particularly stylish design. (remember how lame the design was of the BMG 1997 cd?)
The book features some explanatory text by Thomas Weib and Oskar Hentschel both about the film itself and also how the whole production fitted into Elvis’ hectic pace life at the time.
Many fans would not realise that G.I Blues was already being filmed in Germany while Elvis was still in the army but using body doubles. It’s interesting that producer Hal Wallis and Colonel Parker had sold Elvis the idea of this film musical-travelogue before Elvis was even back in civilian life.
A new point of interest for me was finding out that Elvis met with the two film-doubles both for him and Juliet Prowse at the Frankfurter Hof in Germany.
The actress for Juliet Prowse, Roslies Wille-Nopens states that Elvis even visited the German movie set to find out how the German exterior shots were going. …
Elvis got to know the two chosen doubles during a meeting at the hotel Frankfurter Hof where the Hollywood production team led by producer Hal B. Wallis and co-director Michael Moore sat in conference. During an interview Roslies Wille-Nopens stated that now and then, Elvis appeared on the set curious to see how exterior shooting in Germany was going on. Readers are reminded that close-up shooting with actor Elvis was not done before nine months later in Hollywood. Shooting in Germany started on August 17th, 1959. Exterior shooting of the tanks in manoeuvre took place in the training area right in front of Elvis' Ray Barracks in Friedberg. Scenes with reporting soldier's right before the train departure to Frankfort scene were shot on the lawn in front of Wiesbaden main station.
Another nice touch is the note from Jordanaires’ Ray Walker…
"We, finally, worked in our scene on the Paramount set: "Frankfort Special". Elvis lined us up and had me sit next to him. The scene was a make-shift compartment, or cabin, on the train which had four collapsible sides. We would sing to the recorded tracks from one angle, the crew would take down a wall, replace it, take down another wall to shoot from that angle and we would do the same thing, again. The travel scenes, filmed from a train in Germany at an earlier date, were played behind us on a screen; we never saw Germany.
To make the scene more realistic, the compartment was supported by heavy, steel springs, with a twenty to twenty-five foot pole attached to the underside, laid over a saw horse of sorts and being shaken by two of the set crew, to create movement.
A great time was had by all. One couldn't be around Elvis without having a grand time."
- Ray Walker -Bass Singer of the Jordanaires
There is also three pages of details about the Recording sessions themselves by composer Sid Tepper (who of course wrote 47 songs for Elvis with Roy Bennett). He tells the sad truth about how Colonel Parker stopped Elvis getting the two songs explicitly written for the movie by the great composers Jerry Leiber & Mike Stoller.
This whole package features a design and production values that FTD or SONY/RCA are going to have trouble beating for their future release.
Unlike some other Elvis sites reviews of this package EIN does not ignore the fact that FTD has also promised a future release of the G.I. Blues sessions.
FTD’s Roger Semon and Ernst Jorgensen have noted, "Whereas the (GI Blues) masters are definitely public domain the outtakes are not. Outtakes released within the 50 year period following their recording date are protected for 50 years from the date of release."
This MRS box-set however contains none of the previously released outtakes, some of them like ‘Wooden Heart’ laughing versions being classic alternates. So while this set misses out a few outtakes, the 103 tracks across 4 CDs makes it an amazingly impressive box-set.
Some fans have complained that it is ‘Not Complete’ but in the past we should remember that FTD has also not given us "complete sessions" from Elvis’ soundtrack recordings – yet these have been compulsory purchases for any soundtrack fan.
On a disappointing note FTD have also recently released 2 brand new 'Viva Las Vegas' Outtakes but only on the double-LP vinyl version which has also upset faithful FTD collectors who would like these on CD as well.
FTD have also stated that… -
"As some people know. FTD has been working on our G.I. BLUES project for a while. The reason it takes a lot of time to complete, is that to achieve the optimum sound you have to go back to the original 3-track tapes, and re-mix all the material -expensive and time consuming (something only SONY/FTD will be able to do, since nobody else has the tapes)."
This may be the case, however FTD are very aware of the Public Domain 50-year rule and they could have halted this Public Domain release by putting out the FTD "G.I. Blues Vol.1" before December 2010. This would have added another 50 years copyright to the newly released outtakes as well as keeping FTD collectors happy.
So while this box-set is perhaps missing a few tracks, with it selling in HMV and Amazon it does appears to be a legal Public Domain release and, as such, with its delightful 100 page booklet is has to be great value for money.
FTD’s Roger Semon has stated about Public Domain releases that .."The Public Domain law is what it is and it's up to Sony BMG to remain competitive by way of pricing."
As an FTD collector and supporter of Ernst Jorgensen and Roger Semon’s great work (as well as the sensational audio work by Vic Anesini) I still have no trouble in recommending this great release since...
a) It does raise the bar for FTD to produce even better ‘Classic Albums’ with even more expansive booklets.
b) I cannot see this denting the eventual sales of the FTD ‘G.I. Blues’ release since I will be buying both and the market they are aimed at is also different.
c) There is no doubt that the audio-mixes from the sessions will be different on the FTD release (just check out the similar tracks on ‘Close-Up’) and for that reason alone hardcore collectors will need this version with Elvis’ voice mixed clean and way up-front.
d) FTD really should have known to release ‘G.I Blues Vol.1’ last year instead of all those 1976 soundboards.
Overall Verdict: MRS's G.I Blues – The Café Europa Sessions presented as four CDs plus a 100-page book has to be stunning value for money. The audio quality – while not perfect on every outtake – is fantastic throughout the vast majority and way, way better that any of the outtakes on BMG’s expanded 1997 re-release of G.I. Blues. While a few fans will consider not purchasing this for "political" reasons in support of FTD, most fans will realise that this has to be essential purchase both for the audio upgrade of these great 1960 sessions and the very fine book to go with them. The design is perfect for the G.I. Blues theme and the overall package will be hard to beat in any future release.
CD 1 (67:16)
1. Shoppin´ Around
2. Didja´ Ever
3. Doin´ The Best I Can
4. G.I. Blues
5. Frankfort Special
6. Tonight Is So Right For Love
7. Big Boots
8. What´s She Really Like
9. Blue Suede Shoes
10. Wooden Heart
11. Pocketful Of Rainbows)
12. Shoppin´ Around (Instrumental Takes 1,2)
13. Shoppin´ Around (Instrumental Take 4)
14. Shoppin´ Around (Version 1, Takes 2,4,6 - 9)
15. Shoppin´ Around (Version 1, Take 10)
16. Shoppin´ Around (Version 1, Take 11)
17. Doin´ The Best I Can (Takes 1,2,4,5 - 8)
18. Doin´ The Best I Can (Take 13))
19. G.I. Blues (Takes 2,3,4)
20. G.I. Blues (Take 7)
21. G.I. Blues (Takes 8 -10 Pickup)
22. Tonight Is So Right For Love (Take 4)
23. Tonight Is So Right For Love (Takes 5,6)
24. Tonight Is So Right For Love (Take 7)
CD 2 (73:51)
1. What´s She Really Like (Takes 1 - 4)
2. What´s She Really Like (Take 5)
3. Frankfort Special (Takes 1,3 - 7)
4. Frankfort Special (Take 8)
5. Frankfort Special (Takes 9 -12)
6. Frankfort Special (Take 13)
7. Tonight Is So Right For Love (Take 8)
8. Tonight Is So Right For Love (Take 9)
9. Tonight Is So Right For Love (Take 10)
10. Tonight Is So Right For Love (Take 11)
11. Whistling Blues (Take 1)
12. Tonight Is So Right For Love (Music & Chorus) (Takes 1 - 3)
13. Tonight Is So Right For Love (Music & Chorus) (Take 4)
14. Big Boots (Fast Version) (Take 2)
15. Big Boots (Fast Version) (Take 3)
16. Big Boots (Fast Version) (Take 4)
17. Big Boots (Fast Version) (Take 5)
18. Big Boots (Fast Version) (Take 6,7)
19. Big Boots (Slow 1st Version) (Take 1)
20. Big Boots (Slow 1st Version) (Take 20)
21. Big Boots (Slow 1st Version) (Take 4)
22. What´s She Really Like (Takes 6 -10)
23. What´s She R eally Like (Take 11)
24. What´s She Really Like (Takes 12,13)
25. What´s She Really Like (Takes 14 – 16)
26. What's She Really Like (Different Key&Beat) (Take 17-18)
27. What's She Really Like (Different Key&Beat) (Take 19)
CD 3 (63:44)
1. What's She Really Like (Different Key&Beat) (Insert) (Take 20)
2. What's She Really Like (Different Key&Beat) (Insert) (Take 21)
3. What's She Really Like (Different Key&Beat) (Insert) (Take 22)
4. Pocketful Of Rainbows (Take 1)
5. Blue Suede Shoes (Take 1)
6. Wooden Heart (Take 4)
7. Pocketful Of Rainbows (Take 3)
8. Pocketful Of Rainbows (Takes 4 - 6)
9. Pocketful Of Rainbows (Take 7)
10. Pocketful Of Rainbows (Take 8)
11. Pocketful Of Rainbows (Take 9)
12. Pocketful Of Rainbows (Take 10)
13. Pocketful Of Rainbows (Takes 11,12)
14. Pocketful Of Rainbows (Takes 13,14)
15. Pocketful Of Rainbows (Take 17)
16. Pocketful Of Rainbows (Takes 18,19)
17. Pocketful Of Rainbows (Take 20)
18. Pocketful Of Rainbows (Takes 1,23,24)
19. Pocketful Of Rainbows (Takes 25,26)
20. Pocketful Of Rainbows (Take 28)
21. Big Boots (Mid Tempo) (Take 2)
22. Shoppin´ Around (Version 2) (Takes 1 - 3,6)
23. Shoppin´ Around (Version 2) (Take 7)
24. Pocketful Of Rainbows (Take 1)
25. Pocketful Of Rainbows (Take 2)
CD 4 (45:05)
01.Frankfort Special (Medium tempo) (Takes 1 - 3,6,7)
02.Frankfort Special (Medium tempo) (Take 8)
03.Frankfort Special (Medium tempo) (Take 9)
04.Frankfort Special (Medium tempo) (Take 10)
05.Tonight´s All Right for Love (Take 1
06.Tonight´s All Right for Love (Take 5a)
07.Tonight´s All Right for Love (Take 5b)
08.Tonight´s All Right for Love (Take 6)
09.Tonight´s All Right for Love (Take 8)
10.Tonight’s All Right for Love (Take 9)
11.Tonight’s All Right for Love (Takes 10, 11)
12.Tonight’s All Right for Love (Takes 12, 16)
13.Tonight’s All Right for Love (Insert) (Takes 1, 2)
14.Big Boots (Slow 2nd Version) (Takes 1 - 5)
15.Big Boots (Slow 2nd Version) (Take 6)
16.Big Boots (Slow 2nd Version/Insert) (Takes 1 - 4)
17.Tonight’s All Right for Love (Instrumental) (Takes 1 - 3)
18.Tonight’s All Right for Love (Instrumental) (Take 4)
19.Tonight’s All Right for Love (Instrumental) (Take 5)
20.Radio Spot 1 (UK)
21.Radio Spot 2(UK)
22.Radio Spot 3 (UK)
23.Radio Spot 4 (UK)
24.Radio Spot 1 (Australia)
25.Radio Spot 2 (Australia)
26.Movie Trailer Soundtrack 1
27.Movie Trailer Soundtrack 2
TOTAL 4 CD RUNNING TIME:
4 hours 9 minutes 47 seconds
Source; MRS - EIN’s Review by Piers Beagley / EpGold