Elvis Presley

The Essential Elvis, Vol. 6: Such a Night

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Since Elvis Presley reissue specialists Roger Semon and Ernst Mikael Jorgensen began their Essential Elvis series in 1986 (long before they were given overall responsibility for the Presley catalog), the joke has been that "essential" is exactly what the releases are not, at least in the common meaning of "indispensable," because they consist largely of alternate takes of songs that are almost invariably better performed in their better known versions. In the sense of distilling the essence of Presley's work, the series actually does live up to its name, giving a glimpse into the studio while the singer is working, and presenting his music as it comes together. The first three volumes contained material from '50s recording sessions leading up to Presley's departure for his stint in the army, then the fourth and fifth volumes jumped ahead to the early '70s. Such a Night, the sixth volume, returns to chronological order, picking up where the third volume, Hits Like Never Before, left off by starting with Presley's first session back from the army in 1960 and continuing to select tracks from the non-soundtrack work he did in RCA's Studio B in Nashville through 1964. As annotators Colin Escott and Jorgensen point out, these sessions resulted in 81 masters, of which only 20 get alternate treatment here. (The album leads off with the standard version of the title song, but it is preceded by several false starts.) The choice of what to include seems to have been predicated more on finding good, interesting takes than on using the best songs, since hits like "It's Now or Never" and "Are You Lonesome Tonight?," as well as great rockers like "(Marie's the Name Of) His Latest Flame" and "Return to Sender," all of which were recorded at these sessions, are not featured. Still, one gets to hear well-performed outtakes of such favorites as "Stuck on You," "Fever," "Surrender," "Little Sister," "Suspicion," and "Memphis Tennessee." Sometimes the take compares very favorably with the originally released one, although at other times there are obvious mistakes or breakdowns. Clearly, though he was never credited as producer, Presley is in charge of the sessions, stopping takes and changing tempos here and there. Such a Night is not an album for anyone other than Presley fanatics who already know the conventional versions of these songs by heart, but for them it will be a welcome addition to their collections. (Incidentally, the annotations notwithstanding, "Little Sister" was recorded on June, not May, 25, 1961.)

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