March 21 - Review 40 Greatest!

The “40 Greatest!” is kind of a legendary album for various reasons. Is this bootleg re-issue too? 

The History Of The Original Album(s)

The “40 Greatest!” was originally released (on Arcade) in 1974 and UK's biggest-selling album over the Christmas period of that year, but it was ineligible for the UK Albums Chart until 1975 because the chart company felt that heavy TV advertising and low pricing distorted the charts. It finally reached number one on the UK Albums Chart in 1977, and became the 10th best-selling album of the 1970s in the UK.

The 1978 re-release, was released simultaneously on black vinyl and a more expensive pink vinyl edition. The pink vinyl sold a stagger 250.000 copies more than the black vinyl. It is in fact one of the best-selling Elvis compilation albums of all time.

This set comes with the tracks from the 1981 "I Was The One" overdub LP as bonus material. 

The press release claims that, despite the success, the albums were never released on CD. The 1974 edition of the "40 Greatest!" was bootlegged in 2011, the 1978 edition is now available on silver discs too. The “I Was The One” album was first released / bootlegged on CD in 2007 and again in 2011. 

The Design 

The original 1974 edition of this album was released with a brown cover and a doctored image of Elvis. The 1978 re-issue came as a top-opening gatefold sleeve, again with a doctored - better looking though - image of Elvis on both black and pink vinyl. 

The cover follows the 1978 re-issue but the six-panel digipack doesn’t follow the top-opening of its original. That’s a pity because with a digipack that’s easily done. The design is pretty simple: on the outside a copy of the 1978 edition mixed inside with the cover art for the “I Was The One” album and an original advertisement for the album
. The bonus tracks on this set come from the latter. The printing on the silver discs looks very home-made while the digipack looks good. 

The Content

The content isn’t that bad, we’re talking 56 of Elvis Presley’s greatest hits from the fifties until 1970 with “There Goes My Everything”. The selection of songs could be limited due to the buyout agreement The Colonel made with RCA, terminating all previous agreements between the musician and the record company. The set contains many of my favorites, the only minor is that the later years aren’t covered while our man recorded some great songs right until the title-track of his last “Moody Blue” album. 

The addition of the sixteen bonus-tracks is nice, the 1983 “I Was The One” album features overdubbed live and studio recordings from the 1950s and early 1960s - never before released officially on CD - covering Elvis’ rise to fame. 

These bonus tracks are different from the original 40 greatest hits as they are stereo overdubs grafted on to 1950s mono sources with the exception of the 1961 stereo version of “Little Sister”. These overdubs, featuring some of Elvis Presley’s original musicians, were RCA's answer to the "Stray Cats" who brought the Rockabilly music back to the pop charts, at the time. These versions - just like the ones released on the 1981 “Guitar Man” album 

It works for me on “Don’t”, but not on the title track “I Was The One” or the great “Baby I Don’t Care”, not only does the new music fit to the song, it doesn’t match with the old recording, Elvis voice sounds like an echo buried deep in the music. Touching great originals like this will always be a debate among fans, but this new sound doesn’t really mix with the 40 original hits on this set. 

The Conclusion

For many fans this album, and compilations like this or the “Forever Series” were their introduction to Elvis Presley and the start of a great hobby. Mainstream as these compilations may be, they help to spread Elvis Presley’s music and thereby hold some sentimental value for many fans. 

There are several conclusions possible. One is that this CD is a simple rip-off made for a quick buck. Another conclusion is that this CD is a nice trip down memory-lane, back to your first Elvis album.