Friday, June 22, 2012

Iconic Title And Cover: 50,000,000 Elvis Fans Can’t Be Wrong, But They Can Be Tools!

The Good: Some legitimate, recognizable, enduring hits
The Bad: A whole lot of filler from a historical perspective.
The Basics: Phoned in while Elvis was in the Service and refurbished to included more filler, 50,000,000 Elvis Fans Can’t Be Wrong makes one ask, "What makes you so sure?"

While Elvis Presley was off finishing his military service in Germany, his record company, RCA continued to release albums on his behalf, keeping his name in the public mind and his music on the airwaves. Against pretty steep odds, the gambit worked and Presley's music remained popular through the end of the 1950s with extraordinary sales and continued enthusiasm. Apparently, RCA was founded by P.T. Barnum; selling off all of the b-sides and recycled tracks that had not been put on albums before. The final compilation before Elvis returned to civilian life and the recording studio was 50,000,000 Elvis Fans Can’t Be Wrong: Elvis’ Gold Records Volume 2.

This assemblage of hits follows in the tradition of Elvis' Golden Records, in that it takes tracks that had performed at the million-selling mark (which were what were called "gold" back then - they'd be platinum now!). But this is notably different from the prior "Greatest hits" c.d. in that this collection seems far more dated, far more obscure, and surprisingly bad. There, I've said it. On the original release there were only two tracks that truly deserved to be considered the best of Elvis - "Don't" and "I Beg Of You." Outside those two tracks, only "One Night" and "(Now And Then There's) A Fool Such As I" were recognizable to me. That's saying something considering I've been on a steady diet of Elvis' 1950's works for two weeks now.

Originally a paltry ten-track record that lasted only about twenty-two minutes, 50,000,000 Elvis Fans Can’t Be Wrong: Elvis’ Gold Records Volume 2 was remastered in 1997 for compact disc with an additional ten tracks. Sadly, though, only "(There'll Be) Peace In The Valley (For Me)" truly resonates as one of Presley's worthwhile performances in the additional material. The rest feels like filler and in that way, the album is far more worthwhile whatwith having approximately forty-four minutes of music in its second incarnation.

I'm learning to dig Elvis, but the short of it is that 50,000,000 Elvis Fans Can’t Be Wrong: Elvis’ Gold Records Volume 2 phones it in and all of the best songs from Elvis from the 1950s is on the first greatest hits disc. This just feels like an attempt to keep Elvis' works in the marketplace and it was at the time. Lacking that need now, the album feels remarkably redundant, compiling music from some of the least successful early Elvis records and trying to pass them off as hits. This is not to say RCA was being disingenuous; I'm sure, in its day "My Wish Came True" truly did sell a million singles, but it's dated. It's one of the Elvis tracks that could be any number of songs on any of his early albums that was not a single of its own.

Out of the twenty tracks, Presley receives co-writing credit for only one track ("Paralyzed") and while he plays guitar on most of the tracks and sings on all of them, it is easy to write this off as a collection that Presley had little or nothing to do with. This was not a creative control endeavor, it was a moneymaking one. The problem is, especially now, it feels like one.

So, for example, on the remaster, two of the songs are Christmas songs! "Santa Bring My Baby Back (To Me)" and "Santa Claus Is Back In Town" seem strangely out of place on the album that is mostly preoccupied with romantic ballads. Indeed, if anything unified the original album, it was the soft, slow nature of the hits presented on it. Now, with other tracks like "King Creole" and "Hard Headed Woman" the tenor of the album is seriously altered.

Lyrically, there is little extraordinary or even interesting on 50,000,000 Elvis Fans Can’t Be Wrong: Elvis’ Gold Records Volume 2. I've been fond of "Don't" since the first time I heard it because it was both very 1950's with that romanticism that borders on chauvinism and a sweetness and desire that one forgets can be associated with the music of Elvis Presley. So, when Presley gently croons, "Don't, don't leave my embrace / For here in my arms is your place / When the night grows cold and I want to hold you, / Baby, don't say don't. / If you think that this is just a game / I'm playing / If you think that I don't mean / Every word I'm saying / . . . Don't feel that way / I'm your love and yours I will stay" ("Don't") it's hard not to see his words as sweet and filled with longing. And he presents it well.

But then there are tracks like "A Big Hunk O' Love." Written by Aaron Schroeder and Sid Wyche, Elvis was compelled to sing, "You're just a natural born beehive / Filled with honey to the top / Well I ain't greedy baby / All I want is all you got, no no no / Baby, I ain't askin' much of you / Just a big-a big-a hunk o' love will do" ("A Big Hunk O' Love"). Even at the time, rhymes like "you/do" was overdone and the inarticulate utterances throughout the songs (big-a) are just cringeworthy now.

In other words, lyrically the album is not the most extraordinary collection of lines sung by Elvis. Between the Christmas songs, tracks pulled from soundtracks, and endless romantic ballads, this album is simple and a poor representation of the moments that could have been called inspired in Presley's early career.

Vocally, 50,000,000 Elvis Fans Can’t Be Wrong: Elvis’ Gold Records Volume 2 is equally uninspired. Indeed, from a historian's perspective this collection is downright droll as Presley presents so many of the songs in remarkably similar fashion. First, Presley stays very much in his safe range at the low end of the register. In this way, "Don't," "I Beg Of You," and "Mean Woman Blues" all end up sounding remarkably similar. After all, when one voice is presenting the songs in the same slowed tempo it's hard not to get tired of it (especially if the music backing the vocals is so similar). The faster songs, like "King Creole," "Hard Headed Woman" and "Got A Lot O' Livin' To Do" also begin to blend vocally. One finds oneself singing one of the songs, then in the middle of one of the others. Why? Presley's vocals on them are so close to one another!

But this disc illustrates well how Presley exploited fully his own niche. He might not have had the range going for him, but he sure has consistency! If it were anyone else, it would be a positive rut that Presley's vocals exist in as he never seems to challenge himself to be more than what he starts as.

The only real exception on this album is "(There'll Be) Peace In The Valley (For Me)" and there the challenge to the Elvis Orthodoxy is less in range, more in capacity. Presley draws out his notes better, making for a more complete and lasting series of notes. And he makes it sound good and tender and all-around impressive. But again, that is the exception on an album comprised of songs like "Party" and "My Wish Came True."

The music is homogeneously boring as well. Outside some of the noteworthy tracks, like "Don't," there are no truly recognizable melodies on the album. "King Creole" and "Got A Lot O' Livin' To Do" and "Hard Headed Woman" all utilize the same essential tune! They also have the same general instrumentation and tempo. Again, this is not a collection of universally recognizable hits that endured into the new millennium well.

50,000,000 Elvis fans may not be wrong, but odds are they have these tracks on much more satisfying releases. And for those of us who are not traditionally fans of Elvis Presley, this collection is not likely to make us fans. Or even impressed. We're just more likely to wonder why 50,000,000 fans followed a performer whose million-sellers were strangely unremarkably and indistinct.

The best track is "Don't," the low point is the utterly unmemorable "I Got Stung."

For other works by Elvis Presley, be sure to check out my reviews of:
Elvis Presley
Loving You
Elvis’ Golden Records
Elvis’ Christmas Album
King Creole
For LP Fans Only
A Date With Elvis
30 #1 Hits


For other music reviews, be sure to check out my Music Review Index Page for an organized listing of all the albums and singles I have reviewed!

© 2012, 2008 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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