Monday, March 20, 2023

Review Elvis UK - Beyond RCA (Updated)

In 1987 and 2002, U.K. authors John Townson and Gordon Minto released two critically acclaimed volumes on Elvis’ vinyl output in the UK and then followed in 2021 by the update 'Elvis UK3'. 

Last year they published ‘Elvis UK – Cover Story: The Ultimate Guide To Elvis Presley’s British EP & LP Sleeves 1956-77' and now the authors have completed their monumental work on the British Elvis Presley vinyl catalogue with the release of the 'Elvis UK - Beyond RCA - The Ultimate Guide To Elvis Presley’s British Non RCA LPs 1974-1997' flip-book. 

This last volume, literally, by these two renowned Elvis researchers covers the non-RCA records that were released between 1974 and 1997.

Nigel Patterson, Piers Beagley (>>> Elvis Information Network) and Kees Mouwen read the bo .. ehh file. 


The book is a digital flipbook that can be downloaded and stored on your computer. The advantage of the flipbook format is that it offers, at the push of a button, an easily accessible digital reference which can be held on multiple devices. Importantly, it will not deteriorate at all over time, and one or all pages can be printed.
Once your flip book is opened it is very easy to flip through the pages in any direction - they are presented in two-page format, so if you have a ‘hair trigger’ finger you do need to be careful with the scroll wheel on your computer mouse, as it is easy to flip more than the normal two pages. You can also easily zoom in or out on particular text or images - this is necessary to properly see the detail on many album (back)covers.
KM comment: Due to the fact that I started to read this book on my MacBook sitting on my couch the setting wasn’t optimal to take it all in. But sitting behind a desk again after a day at the office … perhaps an I-pad version works better.
Given the authors’ pedigree, the book design is clean, crisp, and strong, with good use of white space to enhance reading pleasure. ‘Elvis UK – Beyond RCA’ contains 378 scanned pages which are accessed (read) through the interactive web-based flipbook technology. 

It may sound complicated, but once downloaded it is simple and intuitive to use and the flipbook interface includes a handy search function. This is an essential element for hefty reference-book as this one.
Due to the extensive research by Townson and Minto the pages are a little text heavy. Writing a digital book offered the authors all the space they needed to share their findings in meticulous detail, and they have. This is where books like ‘Elvis UK – Beyond RCA’ differ from most other discography releases, which usually focus on showing only the records.
As digitally competent as we (the reviewers) claim to be, for baby boomer readers like ourselves, there is so much information to take in digitally … which we find challenging. However, this is actually a compliment to the authors and their research as it probably won’t be more complete in any other publication! 

Townson and Minto write that “these books become more and more detailed, their size and weight increases correspondingly and many fans - ourselves included - not only struggle to lift and handle the books - but find it difficult to store them” - however, it is the reverse situation for the current reviewers.
We, and we suspect many other older fans, prefer a paper book over a digital one, but we acknowledge, with the soaring cost of publishing physical books and increasing disinterest by younger generations in physical books, digital publishing, including flip books, is the future. 

However, at 378 pages, we consider that this hefty reference could have been made available as a print-on-demand (using global services as Amazon) for around 40 euro. We suspect if both a physical and digital version was available, there would be higher sales.

PB comment: Being published in the U.K. and with overseas postage being so high to Australia I am happy with a flip-book format as it contains so much text and so many images. For Elvis fans who travel there is no way they could carry a book of this size to read 'by the pool' on holiday. The huge 'ELVIS UK 3' E-book convinced me of the convenience of this format.

The visual element is good, particularly when it is showcasing the (often) colourful labels for each release. We would have welcomed a smattering of larger, even full page, images, which would have offered more variation in the overall look of the page design. 

Several cover images would have looked stunning had they been presented as larger images (e.g. ‘Elvis Love Songs’ (page 100), ‘Elvis in Hollywood’ (page 179); ‘Elvis Mess of Blues’ (page 266) and ‘Elvis The Sun Collection’ (page 285). Even showing some of the disc labels as full-page images could have worked. The number of pages isn’t a limitation for these digital books.

There is also variety in the visuals. In addition to cover and label images, there are photos from related films, Elvis on and off-stage, in the studio, with fans, and a wide array of interesting archival items.

NP comment: For some reason, I became fixated on the 42 gloriously green images of the alternate label variations for the Readers Digest set, Elvis Presley’s Greatest Hits (pages 61-63), I may need counseling.

PB comment: Growing up in the U.K. I now remember seeing plenty of these releases in record shops or advertised in magazines. I have since forgotten so many of these “non” RCA releases that I found this book really fascinating. 

Such releases as 'The Elvis Tapes' (only interview material and no music!) or the French 'Les 40 Plus Grands Succes' (what was Blue River doing there?) bring back memories of my early Elvis fandom! AND the fact that RCA have still never done a proper ‘Blue Rhythms’ release beggars belief.

As readers have come to expect from each of the ‘Elvis UK’ publications, there is a wealth of background information relating to the record industry incorporated throughout the text in this reference.
The narrative informs … from background on particular releases to an explanation of flexi-discs. Serious collectors will appreciate the level of detail, while casual readers will savour the information enhancing their knowledge and appreciation of Elvis. 
Hands up who remembers Elvis on the Hammer label or knows the relevance of Slaughter Joe or Stomper Time to the world of Elvis releases? And what about the truth behind the Arcade label which released the massively successful double album, Elvis’ 40 Greatest! There is much to be learned reading ‘Elvis UK – Beyond RCA!’

PB comment: In the late 70s with RCA executives seeming lost with regard to Elvis’ musical legacy it is the U.K. characters ‘behind the scenes’ that are now so intriguing to read about. And can you imagine a time when a shop not having enough supplies of an Elvis album warranted reporting in magazines or newpapers!
As Townson and Minto write on their website, the book “deals with each album individually, in a detailed and forensic way, while the text is amply illustrated with scans of every known cover and label variation, relevant photographs and scans of contemporaneous newspaper and magazine articles

Also featured is background information about each release, including historically significant events of the period, hitherto unpublished information from company files, a header block for each album release comprising information about the songs or spoken word material, details about the writers and record modes. 
The book provides a complete overview, which will be especially appreciated by the (die-hard) fans who collect vinyl. Every LP, in all variations available (or should we say known to the authors), is listed. 
Most fans will easily understand the need for a detailed reference of the RCA-part of the Elvis catalogue, and while some may consider the non-RCA releases unimportant, the authors rightfully state that this a misconception and some of these albums were hugely successful - who does not own a copy of the ‘Elvis’ 40 Greatest’ compilation or another release that contains the odd rarity or part of the Elvis catalogue that was not available from RCA at the time? Looking back now, some of these releases have become interesting collectables.

PB comment: The fact that in 1974 Arcade released a 'Greatest hits' double-album that RCA had not even considered shows how poorly Elvis was being treated by RCA at the time. And the fact that Arcade’s deal with RCA expired only three weeks before Elvis died was an amazingly lucky fluke for RCA. As the Arcade producer notes, “we could have sold another million copies".
KM comment: When Gordon Minto reviewed the 2020 edition of ‘Elvis Day by Day’ he asked the question do we really need an overview of every re-release on CD or vinyl? When seeing 12 label variations of the ’40 Greatest’ compilation I thought of his words :-). 

This is in no way a criticism of the authors, as they - just like I did - simply report and categorize what’s out there (and what should be recorded for future reference). You be the judge if you need this much detail.

We enjoyed reading the little detailes the authors added throughout the book. For example on how the 'iconic' logo cover for the K-Tel's Imperial sub-label release 'American Trilogy' was derived from the February 4, 1956 picture of Elvis leaving Steve Allen's 'Stage Show' in New York. There are many details like this throughout the book. 
The song-title index at the end of the book is a neat inclusion as it allows the reader to quickly find recording dates and the various releases each song appeared on. This is something many references miss.

It is the minutia, trivia and the extra details like this that are so fascinating. For instance, stories about ‘Boppin’ Bob Jones’ who was such a great character and had so much important input into Elvis releases at the time – as well as doing his best for high-quality audio remastering.

Although in the U.K. (and pre-internet) Bob Jones had a better idea about Elvis’ music catalogue in the U.S. vaults than RCA in the States. Back in 1981 (so pre Roger Semon) Bob Jones even had the audacity to ask RCA for the following from their vaults for a 'Presley Box Set'. Collectors who know about Elvis’ rare material will be stunned by anyone even knowing this back in the eighties. As the book states, “It was a wild idea, but those who knew Jones well also knew how much this all meant to him”.

Jones wrote in part … “we will need new copy tapes from the States: 
Part 1 - Unissued Material
1. "King Creole" (Alternative version, Mono)
2. No matrix no, "Plantation Rock" 
3. My Baby Is Gone 
4. Uncle Pen (Unissued "Sun" recording 1954/55.)
5. Tennessee Saturday Night 
6. Loving You (No mat no.) (Alternative version from film)
7. Got A Lot O' Livin To Do (Alternative version from some film)

Regarding the quality of 80s releases, audiophiles will be intrigued by the 60’s ‘Electronic Stereo’ discussion and also Bob Jones’ hatred of poor quality RCA releases. In 1982 Jones would even write to RCA “venting his fury” at the audio quality of the material he had been sent to use for mastering. He wrote, “I am returning this useless tape”!

Another character is Shelby Singleton (in 1969 he bought the SUN catalogue off Sam Phillips - but minus any Elvis material) and the book includes plenty of discussion about his disputes with RCA. At the time some of Singleton’s startling claims were:
  • That, despite the on-going legal battle, he was about to release 'more Presley material in the 'immediate future' but did not specify what.
  • That he had many people trying to search out old Presley product, especially radio material recorded on wire recorders from the Louisiana Hayride period.
  • That he had over 18 hours of film material which he would use in a TV documentary.
  • That he had the rights to this sort of material as he owned the Sun Records catalogue as these were recorded while Elvis was at Sun though he conceded that RCA held the rights to the master recordings.
  • That he had already catalogued over 4,000 catalogue titles with another 5000 titles as yet uncatalogued.
For me some other remarkable discoveries were the fact that K-Tel’s U.K. head of operations in the 80s was Don Reedman who was a keen Elvis fan and responsible for several Elvis releases and who forty years later in 2015 would be the main producer of the million-selling Elvis “Royal Philharmonic” overdub releases.

The authors lengthy discussion around the ‘Blue Rhythm’ blues releases, first issued in 1983 by the Everest label. It was also re-released in multiple formats over the years as ‘Mess O’ Blues’.

Elvis fans have often debated RCA’s failure to release a comprehensive "R&B" Elvis compilation yet here was an independent company releasing exactly that forty years ago and getting good sales. And of course Boppin' Bob Jones was involved in the production.
Archival materials 

We have always considered that the inclusion of archival material in a book adds value. ‘Elvis UK – Beyond RCA’ includes various press clippings which offer not only a “primary” source record, but also a “feel” for the time. 
It was amusing and somewhat alarming to see headlines like 'Presley Fans Demented’, ‘Daughter Wants To See Elvis? Kick Her In The Teeth!’ or ‘It’s 1954 And Elvis Is Young, Sexy And Dangerous!’.

Also fascinating to read the numerous press clippings about RCA’s court battle with Charly Records regarding the latter’s Elvis Presley: The SUN Years album. At times, the archival material gives the book the look and feel of a scrapbook, and this a positive, as scrapbooks are wonderful items to peruse given the variety and richness of their content, and the nostalgic feelings they can engender.

‘Elvis UK – Beyond RCA’ is another winner from the Elvis UK team. It is an important release offering a treasure chest with so much to discover. It is the perfect book to leaf through on a lazy Sunday afternoon (or any other day). You will be all the better, and better informed, for the experience … but John and Gordon, please consider a softcover edition for us digitally challenged, oldies. 

The book 'Elvis UK – Beyond RCA' is available for UK£20 and can be ordered via >>>