For me the seeds of Elvis’ comeback were sown during the May 1966 Nashville sessions that produced the “How Great Thou Art” album. This was Elvis’ first batch of recordings that were not scheduled for the purposes of producing movie soundtracks since a short January 1964 session which only produced 3 masters. The soundtrack albums that followed showed a real decline in quality, and as Ernst Jorgensen had written in the excellent “A Life In Music” the king really was ‘lost in Hollywood’, with even the most ardent of Presley fans surely hoping that things would soon get back on track. The only secular album that was issued during this period was 1965’s “Elvis For Everyone”, which whilst billed as a celebration of Elvis’ first 10 years with RCA records, was actually the result of a vault search that compiled songs that had been left in the can over the past 10 years. Desperate measures really , and whilst the album certainly had its moments, it was never going to be strong enough to turn things around during the summer of 1965.
in some respects the same could be said of the gospel album which appeared in February of 1967, but whilst this title may not have had the broader appeal of a new rock or blues based collection, for those that were still listening, it showcased Elvis in great form performing the music that was always his first love, and showed beyond any doubt that he still had it. It was now just a case of getting the right projects and the right material again, and as we all now know, major changes lay just around the corner in the summer of 1968.
The gospel sessions also gave fans an insight into how things could progress, with a number of first rate secular masters which were cut at the same time. These included the June 1966 single coupling “Love Letters” & “Come What May”, the bluesy “Down In The Alley”, a tremendous cover of Bob Dylan’s “Tomorrow Is A Long Time” and the lightweight rocker “Fools Fall In Love”. Another ballad featuring Elvis on piano, “Beyond The Reef”, was also recorded at theses sessions, but this was not commercially released until 1980 on the silver box set, “Elvis Aron Presley”. An additional short session in June 1966 saw Elvis cut the Hawaiian tinged “I’ll Remember You”, and a new ballad called “Indescribably Blue” and a great new secular album was certainly possible had recording sessions, and perhaps more importantly, RCA’s release policy been different.
However, “Indescribably Blue” was coupled with “Fools Fall In Love for a January 1967 single release, whilst “Down In The Alley”, “Tomorrow is A Long Time” and “I’ll Remember you” were literally thrown away as ‘bonus songs’ on the “Spinout” soundtrack album released in October 1966. This really was a missed opportunity on behalf of RCA, as whilst Elvis still had movie contracts to fulfill in the months leading up to, and indeed following, the June 1968 taping of the NBC TV Special, when he was cutting secular material the standard of these recordings improved significantly with the likes of “Guitar Man”, “Big Boss Man”, “Hi Heel Sneakers”, “Too Much Monkey Business” and “U.S. Male” being cut between September 1967 and January 1968.
Was the king denied a great lost album that could have been issued in early 1968 then? Well, looking at the sort of schedules Elvis worked to at the time. and indeed throughout his career, it’s easy to see how this material was originally issued haphazardly, as sessions were booked in to produce albums and singles specifically, and (most) masters were issued shortly after they had been cut, so there’s no way Elvis would have been recording songs over a two year period with one specific album in mind. These days however, such things are commonplace in the music industry, so it really isn’t surprising that RCA have made two attempts to compile Elvis’ ‘lost’ album during the CD age.
The first of these “Tomorrow Is A Long Time” was issued back in 1999, and featured the 18 secular masters that Elvis recorded during May 1966 and January 1968. It was a great release at the time, which provided the casual buyer with a nice overview of some excellent, but lesser known Presley tracks, and was fine addition to mainstream CD catalogue. This was followed back in 2011 with the FTD title “Elvis Sings Guitar Man”. Here the approach was a little different as the January 1968 recordings were held over for the “Stay Away Joe” project, so we got 14 masters. along with “Beyond The Reef” as a bonus song, and a number of first takes being added to disc one and disc two being a compilation of further out takes from these sessions.
Personally, I preferred the 14 track approach, as this is more in keeping with the sequencing of an original vinyl album, although had this title been issued during 1968 it would have probably been a 12 track album at best. Of course it is the role of the collector’s label to focus on specific sessions and release these in a coherent fashion, so I can see why the January 1968 recordings were not included on “Elvis Sings Guitar Man”. However, for my own personal compilation, I felt the addition of these masters made for a much stronger album, and I also decided to limit the compilation to 14 tracks, so that we have something approaching an original album sequence.
Enjoy Elvis “Down In The Alley” – the lost album: This was designed to look like one of the Japanese paper sleeve CD albums, so the sleeve is a little larger than the replica album covers that feature in the 60 original album collection box set, and I’ve also added inner sleeves (to list CD bonus tracks) and a bonus card for a retro sixties look.