March 03 - Review 1968 - The Unreleased Recordings

The Dutch Elvis One label released the CD “1968 - The Unreleased Recordings” in their ongoing “Bootleg Series”. 

This CD, limited to 500 copies, is the next installment is this series covering "unreleased" session material. Playing it close to the European public domain laws one could ask the question ‘are you looking for trouble?’. 

The Design

Regardless the content of the releases from the label, their designs are basic, but look just fine. The pictures are usually original, not the ones you would find on an ‘official’ release. This time four pictures from the 1968 TV special accompanied by a production shot from the “Charro” movie and a candid picture. The liner notes are short and contain information on the musicians present and ‘sources’ of the material. 

The Content

The CD is advertised as “a collection of 23 recordings, including take 1 of “U.S. Male”, “Stay Away” (take 1, slow version), “Stay Away” (take 4, fast version), the hard to find backing track of “A Little Less Conversation”, some outtakes from the 1968 TV special, and many more”. 

The content appears to be marketed as “Comeback Special” material but actually cover recording sessions for “Stay Away, Joe”, “Live A Little Love A Little” and yes, the before mentioned TV special with “A Little Less Conversation”, “The Edge of Reality” and “Let Yourself Go” striking bridges between the movie and TV Special material.

The opening of the CD is great, you can’t go wrong with a bit of trouble from a male U.S. guitar man. This is followed by “Stay Away”, a guilty pleasure. This song has a real catchy melody that sticks. 

For some fans an interesting recording would be the "Prisoners Song”, originally titled “Wings of An Angel” which is performed - with some lewd lyrics - as part of a jam for “U.S. Male”. The has been available on bootleg for over 25 years though. 

“Going Home” opens with a nice drum, and nicely fits in with “Stay Away”. Unfortunately the CD loses some momentum with the dull “Wonderful World”. 

The album picks up a bit with “Edge of Reality”, again “Stay Away” and some more spunk with the musicians warming up and “Let Yourself Go”. This nicely illustrated Elvis working with real musicians. These tracks have a good ‘sixties’ feeling and would fit in great in any Austin Powers movie. “Let Yourself Go”, performed for the TV Special has far more energy than the soundtrack version and almost runs over into a rockin’ “Guitar Man”. We slow down with “It Hurts Me”. 

On “Stay Away” - present seven times on this compilation, including a short take 10 with a running time of 32 seconds - we hear Elvis experimenting with the speed of the song. On take 15, the undubbed master, wraps up the different takes of this catchy tune. 

The CD closes with three bonus tracks. The low and high key instrumental versions of “Almost In Love” make it a very very slow cool-down after the upbeat ”Stay Away”.  James last move over! The CD ends more entertaining with a dubbed down backing track of “A Little less Conversation”, a great funky instrumental. No wonder this track was featured on the Ocean’s 11” soundtrack.

Overall the audio quality of this CD is good, but you can still hear that the material was sourced from various official and unofficial releases. The closing track is the worst-sounding song in that regard. 

Looking For Trouble? 

On the subject of ‘sourcing’ the material on this release the set is advertised as “all recordings are previously unreleased by Elvis' record company”. I didn’t know that the Follow That Dream label was not an official Elvis Presley record label. The label appears to be pushing the boundaries of what is legal and what is not with most of the material on this CD not having been released officially through Sony or the FTD sub-label. Only the binaural masters of “A Little Less Conversation”, Wonderful World” and “Edge of Reality” appear to be unreleased. It seems a bit strange that the label included these three tracks, otherwise they would be “home and dry” legally. 

But as there have been umpteen CDs in this series, and the label probably know what they can get away with and what they can't - and there may well be legal precedents that they are going by regarding the “unreleased” tracks. It would probably take a court case to decide whether what is essentially a different mix or source of music already released is classed as "unreleased". This makes this release (almost completely) legal under the EU fifty year rule for previously unreleased material. 

To counter these kinds of releases copyright owners are now releasing material through digital channels. The original digital only release of the American Sound Sessions material last year can perhaps be seen in this light because the unreleased takes would have come into the public domain on January 1st 2020. 

The plus for fans is that it forces record companies to release material that would otherwise remain unavailable. It helps to get this material - and original albums  no longer widely available - back in the public domain and record stores. Just like vinyl and CD re-issues of original albums. It may force Sony to release quality re-issues of their original albums to put Elvis back in the public eye.  

Overall Conclusion

Overall the compilation of out- takes, gives a messy but enjoyable listening experience, giving it almost a live-studio experience with the “yeah!” screams, “Fuck It” and “God Damns” still present. For collectors this compilation offers nothing new, everything has been released in some form over the past 30 years. For those who missed out, this CD is a nice way to catch up. 

That’s exactly where these kind releases serve a purpose; compiling available material on one silver disc - just like the recent “Work in Progress” compilation, in one nicely designed package and available ‘officially’ through fan clubs and outlets like Amazon.