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Suspicious find

Music | Elvis reissue will look very familiar to aging fans of the king

Issue: "Africa, Inc.," Oct. 10, 2009

As the profits of the music industry continue their meteoric fall, the desperation of the measures taken by record companies to avert-or at least to cushion-the crash has become all but impossible to overlook. Actually, in the case of what might be called the "reissue game," any serious attempts at camouflaging the desperation went by the wayside long ago.

Take, for example, the recently released 40th-anniversary edition of From Elvis in Memphis (RCA/Legacy), a two-disc packaging of the 1969 Elvis Presley album of the same name and its 1970 follow-up, Back in Memphis. Bolstered with four "bonus tracks" and 10 "original mono single masters" (including "Suspicious Minds," "Kentucky Rain," and "In the Ghetto"), the reissue consists of 36 songs recorded under the supervision of Chips Moman during what many regard as Presley's most artistically rewarding studio period.

The problem is that most of this material has been reissued before-10 years ago, in fact, on the occasion of its 30th anniversary-in the same Ernst Mikael Jorgensen digitally remastered audio. Then it was called Suspicious Minds: The Memphis 1969 Anthology and included alternate takes that brought its track total to 44.

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In short, Presley fans who own Suspicious Minds won't be getting anything new by buying From Elvis in Memphis except a 24-page liner booklet that's only a little different than the 24-page liner booklet in Suspicious Minds. One could hardly blame them were they to hold out for the 50th-anniversary edition that RCA and Legacy (or whoever owns the tapes by then) will almost certainly release in 2019.

One says "almost certainly" because, unpleasant though they are, there are facts that might make the expenses involved in such an undertaking look like a bad investment. The teenage girls who had their bobby sox knocked off by Presley are now in their 70s and, judging from the financial priorities implicit in their voting patterns, increasingly more likely to spend their money on healthcare than on the music of their youth.

A similar cul-de-sac looms before the Beatles generation, so it's no surprise that Capitol Records has just reissued the seminal band's entire catalog on CD for only the second time since the introduction of the medium in the mid-1980s. The Beatles Stereo Box Set (EMI) contains all 13 of the Fab Four's UK studio albums plus both volumes of the long-extant singles and EPs collection Past Masters on two discs.

Albums one through four (Please Please Me, With the Beatles, A Hard Day's Night, Beatles for Sale) appear in stereo for the first time, the others have had their sound brought up to 21st-century technological snuff, and most of them come with QuickTime footage documenting their making.

The new-and-improved audio is impressive. Paul McCartney's bass playing, in particular, has never sounded as nimble or clear, and it is nice to hear the various elements of the early Beatles sound coming from different speakers.

Such details, however, do not add up to a revelation, and, given that it took a team of EMI's top engineers four years to come up with the results, it's hard to imagine the recordings sounding significantly different, let alone better, any time soon.

Meanwhile, the release of the box set coincided with the release of The Beatles: Rock Band, an interactive video game that, in theory, will keep The Beatles, and sales of their music, alive for generations too young to have experienced them firsthand.

If it succeeds, can an interactive Elvis Presley be far behind?

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