Joel Goldenberg: Elvis' Golden Records

Elvis Presley in 1958, when the Golden Records collection came out.

Before we start on this year's album entry, a couple of notes.

One is my highest recommendation ever for a Broadway musical. On a recent weekend visit to New York City, I was lucky enough to see Ain't Too Proud: The Life and Times of the Temptations, of course referring to the Motown group which scored in the 1960s and early 1970s with such hits as My Girl, Ain't Too Proud to Beg and my personal favourites, You're My Everything and Ball of Confusion.

Having read a lot about different musical artists and groups, I knew that this group was well suited to a Broadway musical, not only because of the music but the behind the scenes drama. Chief among the latter was the volatility of lead singer David Ruffin, whose drug abuse and ego inflation (he wanted the group to be renamed David Ruffin and the Temptations) led to his ouster. He later died at the age of 50 as a result of his drug abuse.

Second lead singer Eddie Kendricks left the group as well, and later also died at a young age of natural causes. Of the other group members, Paul Williams shot himself and Melvyn Franklin died young of numerous health issues.

But the play, structured as a narrative told by sole classic era survivor Otis Williams, is not at all depressing. That's because the numerous musical performances are absolutely phenomenal — perhaps just as good or even better than the actual group in its prime. The singing and choreography are absolutely spot-on. As a bonus, there are appearances by actors playing The Supremes (who provide their own performances), Motown founder Berry Gordy, singer/songwriter Smokey Robinson and producer Norman Whitfield.

As I saw in New York, while the play opened last winter, it is still attracting sell-out audiences. It deserves such a high attendance.

•••

The critic Lester Bangs once indelicately referred to the Beach Boys as "a diseased bunch of motherf-----s" because of the squabbling within the group, especially in the mid-1970s when the group was split into factions, the hard-livers (Dennis and Carl Wilson) and the clean-livers (Mike Love and Al Jardine). The conflict reached a height when those factions argued on an airport tarmac in 1977.

Surprisingly, from what I've read so far of The Beach Boys' Endless Wave by Rocky Pamplin (with Ron Gamady), that incident is left out, even though it happened at the time (1976-79) when former Playgirl centerfold Pamplin (along with Mike Love's brother Stan) was a minder for Brian Wilson, who was staging a comeback after being mired in drugs and depression for years.

Some of the reaction to the book, especially on the Smiley Smile Beach Boys Forum, is outright hostile, especially in its portrait of Carl's drug abuse at the time. I find it pretty entertaining — there's a lot of funny bits in there and some anecdotes I never previously heard. There's some chronological aspects I question, but the book is quite entertaining.

And now to this week's album entry:

•••

Elvis' Golden Records, the first Elvis Presley greatest hits collection, was one of several milestones in my record buying life. The LP was the first Elvis album I ever purchased, and song for song, it is one of the best albums ever put together. In one place, you have Heartbreak Hotel, Don't Be Cruel, Houng Dog, Love Me Tender, Loving You and other great songs.

On the other hand, based on the second milestone in my purchasing life, it's also one of the most horrific albums ever put together.

That's because the pressing I had of the LP was the one in electronically reprocessed stereo, aka fake stereo, my first exposure to the process. At the time I got it (circa 1983), that was the only version available in stores. The mono would return a couple of years after CDs first hit the market. Interestingly enough, the first CD pressing was of a fake stereo version.

In the case of my LP, the blurb hyping the fake stereo was intriguing, saying their reprocessing method came about after years of research.

Doesn't sound like it. Of all the fake stereo methods developed by the different record companies, at least that I've heard, RCA's was the absolute worst. On slow tracks like Love Me Tender and Love Me, Elvis sounded like he was 100 years old, and the "stereo" spread was very clattery. On the other hand, a fast song like Jailhouse Rock sounded wilder than the original mix, and even more clattery. It all sounds very heavy, in a bad way.

So, by all means, get this album in mono.

Next time: The Best of Spinners.

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