RE:VERSIONS

In 2008, after five straight years without a single official remix project, EPE finally announced a new remix from a well-known Italian DJ who goes by the name of Spankox. Speculation in Elvis world wondered if they would have authorized another obscure song in the manner of “A Little Less Conversation” and “Rubberneckin’,” perhaps the long-time fan requested remix of “Let Yourself Go” or another similar late 60’s movie song.

Instead, it was Baby Let’s Play House, Elvis’ fourth original single at SUN Records. Fans were utterly speechless. “How could they let this so-called DJ ruin a SUN masterpiece?” They asked. And then, it was released – with an official video clip.

Spankox had taken the same route that JXL had taken – he had left the integrity of the original song intact while adding modern dance club beats and effects. In fact, the Scotty Moore guitar riff plays a more prominent role in this version than in the original master recording.

The song was an instant international smash hit. In Spankox’s native country, the song was a number one hit for five consecutive weeks before being overtaken by Timbaland and OneRepublic’s “Apologize,” but then took the throne again the following week. In some other European countries, it made the top 10 – a true testament to Elvis’ staying power in the world, considering he’d had been dead for 31 years and the original recording itself was 53 years old.

Spankox was mostly praised in the Elvis community for the remix, as it was far more difficult to remix a 50+ year old mono track than a more modern multitrack song. However, Spankox and EPE released a statement that in Europe, they would be releasing Elvis’ first full remix album, to be entitled “Elvis Re:Versions.” However, the album would not be released in the US. The reason? The entire tracklist was made up of songs originally released prior to 1957, meaning that the copyright on them had expired in the European Union, but not in the United States.

And the songs on the tracklist split the gap between remix lovers and traditionalist Elvis fans even further. Older Elvis fans were in shock. Half the album was made up of “sacred” SUN tracks. That’s All Right, Blue Moon of Kentucky, Just Because, You’re A Heartbreaker, and of course the lead single Baby Let’s Play House.

Once was a gimmick, twice was too far. Elvis fans took to the messageboards and comment sections of the articles regarding the release of the album and began filling them with hate messages before having even heard the album.

Viva Elvis

Ohhhhhhhhhh brother. 2010 was a very exciting year for Elvis remix enthusiasts. This was the year that the Cirque du Soleil show “Viva Elvis” opened in Las Vegas. Controversial from the start, with reports from behind the scenes that the show was falling apart at its seams, with entire sequences being created, choreographed, then chucked out the window, no one was sure how Viva Elvis would turn out.

And in February 2010, the world found out. It’s an exciting show that celebrates the life and music of the King, and has been highly praised for exciting a young crowd that would usually scoff at the mention of Elvis’ name, thinking of that long-publicly held image of a fat, jumpsuited has-been wiggling his hips, curling his lips and singing “Uh-huh-huh.”

Gone is that image, and in its place, the rough and rowdy rocker.

But for remix enthusiasts, the hype about the show was nothing in comparison to the anticipation of how Viva Elvis would SOUND. Cirque’s “LOVE,” which featured the music of the Beatles, had a soundtrack of over and hour and a half of remixed Beatles music, using only the original elements in the master tracks.

The music of Viva Elvis was produced differently, however. With support from Cirque, Sony, and EPE, Erich van Toureau, a French-Canadian record producer, oversaw the project and watched every Elvis-related film, listened to every home recording, outtake, master track and live show available, and tried to put in as many Elvis-world samples as possible. Then, each song in the show received a completely 21st century arrangement, in genres ranging from hip-hop to gospel to punk rock to easy listening. Some of the music would be prerecorded, most of the new arrangements would be performed live on stage by a real rock band.

The results were astounding. From the raunchy version of Blue Suede Shoes that opens the show (which borrows chord progression from a deleted song from “Girls! Girls! Girls!,” “Plantation Rock”) to the U2-inspired easy rock version of Suspicious Minds that closes the show, Viva Elvis encompasses so many genres it’s almost unbelievable. And for the most part, the tracks stick fairly close to their source, with a few notable exceptions: That’s All Right Mama sounds like late 80’s punk rock, It’s Now or Never is transformed into a Spanish-influenced tango, and King Creole into a jazz and hip-hop crossover, like old New Orleans meets new.

There are upsides and downsides to the remixing of Elvis. Many older fans felt it was a violation of the original recordings, but those younger fans in supported the project, who saw “the big picture” pointed out that the original recordings are still there, not being replaced or diminished. This is no worse than a cover version, and perhaps better, since this at least features direct elements of Elvis.

The Viva Elvis version of Suspicious Minds sounds like a U2-inspried track.

Burning Love was converted into a near-clone of The Hives’ “Walk Idiot Walk,” which is a surprisingly pleasant transformation.

And in multiple international versions of the album, “Love Me Tender” was included as a bonus track as a duet with regionally successful musicians from those countries.

A Note (on amateur Elvis Remixes)

Over the past ten years that Elvis remixes have been in existence online, I have watched as technology has evolved to allow amateur and professional DJs alike create their own twists on the music of a man who changed all of our lives.

The earliest remixes were few and far between, and all very well-produced. However, as more and more remixes spring up (practically on a daily basis, especially on YouTube,) it’s important to be aware that there has to be some sort of criteria used to classify whether a track should truly be considered a “remix.”

In coming up with my collection that I have, I have searched long and hard to find and document what I consider to be “true” remixes.

There are several amateur “DJ’s” like DJ Ethan or Dr. K, whose work, though admirable and very much listenable (and I certainly do recommend you find their compilation online,) they do not currently count as true remixes. (These are not the only two, just some of the more prominent ones.)

The definition of a remix, as far as this website is concerned, is a track that changes or adds elements not originally in the original master track, or dynamically changes the arrangement of a song.

These so-called “remix albums” online are merely re-edited masters. Whatever overdubs they might have are minimal at best, and I have read of some remixes on these compilation albums being miscredited (whether intentional or not) to someone who did not create them. This is completely and utterly unacceptable and there is too much risk with amateur audio editors who create HUNDREDS of “remixes” to count them on this website’s list.

Also not included, by the way, are bootleg albums which compile remixes found elsewhere (not created specifically FOR that CD.) It’s easy to find mp3s online, and burn a hundred CD-R’s with Lightscribed or printed labels and mocked-up album covers. I could do that with this very website, but I do not. I find it reprehensible and a mockery of the art of remixing.

But if you find anything, certainly send it my way and I’ll see about adding it to the list.

Bootleg Remixes, Part One

When the “A Little Less Conversation” and “Rubberneckin'” remixes were released in 2002 and 2003, respectively, the underground mix scene quickly picked up on the scene and several remixes were released without the authorization of Sony/BMG or Elvis’s estate.

Underground remixes began where most people would think they would: in clubs. DJ’s mixed and “mashed” songs together or added their own sound effects or loops to an already existing master they had in their possession and would create their own customized version of the song.

With the rise of the internet, bootleg remixes, not just of Elvis, but of any artist in general, rose quickly into popularity, especially with easily obtainable and easy-access audio editing programs, and quick means of release, like video sites like YouTube.

The earliest of some of these “boot” remixes were alternate mixes of the already-released tracks “Little Less Conversation” and “Rubberneckin’.” Skeewiff, a duo of DJs, were the first to make an unofficial remix of “ALLC,” and instead of following JXL’s lead and using the Comeback Special rerecording, they used the original master take from “Live a Little, Love a Little.” The different in tone is astounding. Where JXL’s mix has serious bite and begs to be danced to, Skeewiff’s is far more laid back.

A “mash-up” is when you take one song’s vocal track and lay it over a different song’s background track, or vice-versa. Some results are disastrous, where others are surprisingly similar and work very well together, usually due to similarities in key changes. Simple audio editing can be used to match tempo together. An early bootleg Elvis mix mashed up the “Little Less Conversation” film master (I guess the remixers didn’t realize that JXL used a different master) and combines it with the dance hit “Pump Up the Volume” by M/A/R/R/S.

A second underground mash-up, done around the same as the offical Rubberneckin’ remixes, mashed up said track with Pink’s “Feel Good Time” from the soundtrack to the film Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle. Arguably the most “danceable” of all the tracks, it’s a good combination of two very different songs.

This remix of Rubberneckin’, interestingly enough, was created just PRIOR to release of the official remix by Paul Oakenfold and actually did chart in the UK, which is especially surprising, considering it wasn’t offically endorsed by EPE or Sony. This remix is perhaps the most intriguing of all though, not just for that reason. The mix was created completely from elements within the multi-track tapes of the master recording. Nothing was added, everything simply rearranged. The other remixes here were likely done using an mp3 of a master track and editing that. However, this mix was created by Joseph Pirzada, who later became famous in the Elvis world for his UK-exclusive releases under the “Memphis Recording Studios” label that was basically an independent answer to Sony’s Elvis-exclusive Follow That Dream label, which is headed by longtime Elvis recording “master,” Ernst Jorgensen.

(NOTE: The audio on this video is the “Cognito” remix that charted in the UK, however, much like so many remixes online, and especially on YouTube, has been misattributed in its video description.)

Pirzada actually has, over time, acquired several master tapes and sources that are not only usually public unavailable, but sometimes even unavailable to even Sony/BMG. From a copy of the original master tracks of “Rubberneckin’,” he created what became known as the “Rubberneckin’ Groove Mix.”

And a year later, when Elvis remix fans were begging for a new remix, when Sony/BMG didn’t deliver, Joseph Pirzada did.

Second to None: The Rubberneckin’ Saga

Elvis’s 21st century comeback compilation, “Elv1s: 30 #1 Hits,” was a massive seller, helped in large part by the popularity of the “A Little Less Conversation” remix and by a huge marketing scheme by Sony/BMG.

But the scope of Elvis’s musical career was far too large for one 70 minute disc, so a follow-up was in order. Elvis: 2nd to None was released in 2003 in an attempt to ride the wave of Presley’s newfound popularity with a younger generation who had known him only as the mockery their parents had made of him.

Elvis was everywhere again. In movies, on TV, and most important, on the radio, and not just on the oldies stations. Contemporary artists were speaking out about how Elvis had influenced them and their music. From hip-hop and punk to pop and soul, everyone seemed to be feeling the Elvis buzz.

Where the goal of #1 Hits was to make the end-all compilation of Elvis’s top-charting hits from the US and UK, 2nd to None was definitely to show off the obscure side of Elvis. Many of the songs had long been ingrained in pop culture, like the movie song “Viva Las Vegas,” or “Blue Suede Shoes,” while others were less so, like “I Feel So Bad,” and late 70’s “Moody Blue.”

The main two draws of the album were the long-lost master recording of an alternate theme song for Elvis’s film “Roustabout,” and the Paul Oakenfold remix of “Rubberneckin’.”

The track was originally recorded during the 1969 Memphis recording sessions, when Elvis had recorded legendary tracks like “Suspicious Minds” and “In The Ghetto.” The sessions are frequently hailed as Elvis’s best in his entire career, and compared with his early sessions at Sun Records. Elvis had, for a year then, been riding a high brought on by the success of the NBC “Comeback” Special that had thrust him into the limelight again. The song itself, penned by Dory Jones and Bunny Warren, was a very 60’s song, with groovy lyrics essentially about going on a drug trip, was recorded in a meager two takes, (three if you include a false start,) and originally relegated to the B-side of “Don’t Cry Daddy.” (Another Mac Davis song, for those into tidbits.)

However, it was also incorporated in the movie that was part of the deal Col. Parker and Elvis had signed with NBC for the TV Special, 1969’s “Change of Habit,” in which Elvis played a hip doctor who worked in the deep urban city and co-starred with Mary Tyler Moore. The song, with its driving bass beat, actually influenced the tone of the other movie’s songs. “Change of Habit,” “Let Us Pray,” and “Have a Happy” all have a similar prominent bass part, though they were recorded at sessions far different from the Memphis sessions.

When, in 2003, Sony/BMG and EPE teamed up for a second hits compilation to follow “30 #1 Hits,” they sent the word out to many successful DJ’s that they wanted to include another remix, this time with “Rubberneckin’,” which was from around the same timeframe as “A Little Less Conversation” had been recorded, and had pretty much the same level of obscurity.

They received several submissions back, and from three that they endorsed, only one became the official single that was released to the mainstream public and included on the 2nd to None package, and that was the one produced by veteran DJ Paul Oakenfold. The song became an overseas hit again, much like “A Little Less Conversation,” only this time, the King himself was actually included in the promo video that went with it.

The video itself stirred up minor controversy within the Elvis community due to the female dancer flashing her panties at the camera, but the song enjoyed decent radio play and gained fairly good ground on the charts around the world. The song was later included in several films and TV shows, much like “ALLC” was. But what very few people were aware of, was that Sony/BMG had approved the release of two of the other remixes done at the time.

One remix, produced by DJ Jason Nevins, was released online as a digital-download only. It featured a heavy beat and a more prominent guitar riff, focusing less on the “groove” and more on the “grit.” For some unknown reason, the remix was even released with a “Parental Advisory: Explicit Content” notice, although there’s nothing in the track to indicate any reason for that designation.

The other was released through a website accessible only by purchasing a special Elvis-themed phone card available only at Wal-Mart and Sam’s Club in the United States. A special code on the back allowed you to enter a site that had a few exclusive videos, desktop backgrounds, and two preview tracks from 2nd to None, “Viva Las Vegas,” “Blue Suede Shoes,” and this remix, produced by a Canadian duo called DNA Project.

This version of the song, interestingly, has not been found anywhere else online and is actually my personal mp3. The original .wma file was lost when the computer I downloaded it on crashed, and my only backup of the song was a cassette tape I had made from holding a tape recorder up to the speakers of my computer. (I was 14 years old at the time, mind you!) This is a digitized version of that cassette tape recording, and from what I can find, the only copy of the song available on the internet.

“Rubberneckin'” was certainly a very obscure track that was prime for remixing, and after it came out, some Elvis fans kept crying for another remix of another late 60’s track, while others, steeply opposed to the concept of remixes, begged Sony/BMG and EPE not to release another. And they wouldn’t… for another long five years…

The One That Started It All…

In 1968, a young and aspiring singer-songwriter was just beginning his career. Another, more veteran performer was beginning to pull his from the depths of a decade-long slump.

The singer-songwriter was Mac Davis, who hailed from Lubbock, Texas, and had yet to cut a full-fledged record yet. He would later put out several hit albums as a country-pop crossover act in the seventies and eighties.

The performer was, of course, the legendary Elvis Presley, having just come out of a very un-creative year, at least publicly speaking. 1967 had him star in three films: Clambake, Speedway, and Stay Away, Joe. In the same year, Elvis had recorded “He’s Your Uncle, Not Your Dad” and the Jerry Reed classic “Guitar Man.” Guitar Man was relegated to B-Side of the Clambake soundtrack album as one of Col. Parker’s “bonus tracks.”

But 1968 was a turning point for both men. Earlier that year, Elvis starred in “Live A Little, Love A Little,” a trippy film based on the novel “Kiss My Firm But Pliant Lips.” The sole single release from the film was the bland ballad “Almost in Love,” sided with a song Mac Davis had co-written with Billy Strange, titled “A Little Less Conversation.” Davis had originally written the song with Aretha Franklin in mind, as a bluesier pace than Elvis later recorded it.

But when the opportunity came up to write a song for a scene in which Elvis seduces a woman obsessed with horoscopes and fateful alignments, Davis submitted the song with hopes for its inclusion. The other song that Elvis actually recorded for this scene was a ballad called “Let’s Forget About The Stars,” but it was moved to the soundtrack of the western film “Charro!,” was subsequently dropped from that, and later simply relegated to the compilation album “Let’s Be Friends.”

Later that year, Elvis starred in his now-classic “Comeback” NBC television special. Though Col. Parker wanted a Christmas-themed show exclusively, director Steve Binder had different ideas for Elvis, and, hiring Billy Strange as musical arranger for the special, set out to help the King reclaim his career.

The last section of the show was a mini-movie featuring a medley of some of Elvis’ previous songs in a semi-autobiographical order. The original concept of the special was to intersperse this content with live concert footage, linking it all together with a re-recording of “A Little Less Conversation.” In the end, the idea was dropped and the recording remained unreleased until 1998’s “Memories: The Comeback Special” CD.

In 2002, preparing for the Nike Football (Soccer in the United States) World Tournament, Nike funded a massive international marketing campaign featuring the world’s best football players going head to head in caged matches. For the background track, they hired Dutch DJ Junkie XL (Real Name Tom Holkenberg) to create a hip dance track that would be open and accessible to fans of football around the world. He had heard the master track of “A Little Less Conversation” a year earlier when it had been used in the soundtrack of the remake of “Ocean’s Eleven,” and, with Elvis’s estate’s approval, used the ’68 Comeback Re-recording to create the track that changed the entire public’s perception of Elvis in the 21st century.

The track shot up the charts around the world, hitting number one in over 16 European nations, including the UK. In the United States, the song topped a singles sales list (as US charts have now converted to basing their stats on radio airplay rather than actual consumer purchase of singles.)

Since its release, it has been featured in at least ten feature films and several television programs, most notably the show “Las Vegas,” in which the remix serves as the show’s theme song and the popularized song, which had only reached #69 on the charts when first released on 1968, became the song practically synonymous with Elvis Presley and the public image of Elvis, a fat singer in a jumpsuit, changed practically overnight again to a young, hip, talented artist that left the world a great cultural legacy.