An expensive package hit the streets last week: The Mono Masters 1960-1975. The front reminds me of my first expensive collectable… the Behind Closed Doors box-set. It looks like a jewel case and it turns out to be...
Awesome, I easily could leave it at that. The box is solid, containing a fake bottom with space for the CDs. The heavy book takes up most space and four of the CD sleeves form a puzzle. You can check if you got it right on the fifth sleeve (or the first actually). The layout and text in the book are very comfortable for the eye… easier than so many other books that are almost shouting at you with their busy (and often messy) lay-out.
The book (480 pages) is, as said, heavy, very heavy. The high quality paper is a great soil for the many pictures. The pictures are roughly chronologically sorted. Movie stills, publicity shots, but also many, many candids. A lot of the pictures were new to me (but that can be my declining memory).
Besides the introduction there is not much text. Basic information on all releases (author, artist who first released it, date and place of recording and such) together with the lyrics and the (alternate) sleeves form the backbone.
The main content, the music, already caused some discussion on the internet. I am not a real audiophile, so I stay away from technical discussions. I do know what I like though. The early 1960’s material sound overall great in these mono-versions. It might indeed be the case that - as suggested - the mono mix got more attention than the stereo version. I have my questions with the “new, unreleased” 1970s material. Some of them do sound a bit different, but certainly in general not better than the ones we’re used to.
Here is an overview of what drew my attention on first listen:
Lonely Man and Feel So Bad are certainly not better and His Latest Flame has a weird echo, while Witchcraft sounds a bit muffled. On the positive side of CD 1 are Just Tell Her Jim Said Hello and They Remind Me Too Much (fuller, warmer), while What'd I Say and Viva Las Vegas always sounded better in mono than in stereo to me.
On CD 2 Such a Night and Never Ending get an extra edge. Do the Clam, not exactly my favourite Elvis song sounds very clear in this mix. Crying in the Chapel really comes inside, to speak with Louis van Gaal. Not much difference for Blue Christmas and Santa Claus Is Back In Town ;). Frankie & Johnny sounds much better too, almost as if Elvis is not bored singing it.
Big Boss Man (CD 3) sounds sharp, more aggressive, which is better fitting the lyrics. About Clean Up Your Own Backyard can be said the same, but overall these (late 60s) recordings sounded great in stereo too.
On CD 4 Kentucky Rain sounds very familiar, since I only knew the mono version for a couple of years. The Wonder of You sounds like he was singing it in a stadium instead of a Vegas hotel, very "spacy". I'm Leavin' has a bit of a different feel too, the tambourines seem to be more upfront. Merry Christmas Baby sounds great in any version, even in April. We Can Make The Morning has a lot of echo, but the drums are more present also. I kinda like it.
The last CD brings Bosom of Abraham in the lesser known bathroom version, indeed.. the echo is a bit overdone. The choir at First Time Ever really sounds like a (huge) choir. Burning Love doesn't sound the same either. If You Talk in Your Sleep should be "just" downgraded to mono, but somehow it sounds pretty different too, not only obvious during the intro, but also the backing vocals has another vibe. Promised Land sounds a bit like the original of It's Easy For You... recorded through the telephone.
Personally I do like most of these versions, it is way better than really altered Elvis songs and still something different. The way Elvis recorded them is enough, in mono or stereo!
It looks like a jewel case and it turned out to be one. A beautiful book, for me 3 great CDs and two more than okay ones, combined in a beautiful package. I saw complaints that these expensive packages force people to just copy the CDs. Yeah, of course, as if they need an expensive package as excuse. My collecting years (meaning wanting to have everything released) are way behind me. I refuse to re-buy everything over and over again and just pick some of the cherries. This is definitely one of them!
(a special thank-you for “you know who you are” ;) !)