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“if I can dream” album sales passes million mark in the uk

EVERY FEW YEARS the folks in charge of Elvis Pres­ley’s record­ings ei­ther get it right or just get lucky with their han­dling of the archival ma­te­rial. The big one was 30 #1 HITS, which hit #1 on the Bill­board LP chart in 2002. It sold over 5,000,000 units in the US and at least that many more world­wide, making it one of the best-selling Elvis Presley al­bums ever re­leased!

It would be stretching things a bit to say that there is a resur­gence of in­terest in Presley. Nonethe­less, there have been five other com­pi­la­tion al­bums that have been re­leased in the US in the 21st cen­tury that have been cer­ti­fied by the RIAA and re­ceived Gold Record Awards. 1

Our cul­ture and music has changed so dras­ti­cally, I think that we have to keep Elvis right in line and do what­ever we can to keep him cur­rent.

Sev­eral others are re­port­edly on the cusp of “going gold.” And if the record com­pa­nies ever woke up and were willing to shell out a few more dol­lars for au­dits, the RIAA could in­tro­duce a Silver Record Award for sales of 250,000 units in the US.

Should that happen, the Elvis Presley Es­tate could have an­other gala an­nounce­ment like the one in 1992 and an­nounce a hun­dred new Elvis cer­ti­fi­ca­tions!

Other ti­tles have been cer­ti­fied as silver, gold, or plat­inum in other countries—many of whom are keeping of­fi­cial track of these things for the first time. And the vast back cat­alog of hun­dreds of ti­tles keeps selling in­cre­men­tally wher­ever LPs and CDs are still avail­able.

 

Elvis_Phil_poster

This is the poster for a pri­vate af­fair in which IF I CAN DREAM was au­di­tioned for an in­vited au­di­ence at The O2 in London on Au­gust 12, 2015. Un­less the folks at Sony had extra copies printed, this should be one of the few col­lec­tables to emerge from this re­lease.

We have to keep Elvis current

The latest suc­cess story from the people in charge of Elvis’s catalog—here in­cluding Priscilla Presley—is IF I CAN DREAM. This album is sub­ti­tled “Elvis Presley With The Royal Phil­har­monic Or­chestra” for ob­vious rea­sons.

Un­less you’re a fan, few people in the United States even know of the al­bum’s re­lease. But in the United Kingdom, the pres­ence of the royal or­chestra res­onates in a way that it does not in the States. But IF I CAN DREAM re­cently passed a mil­lion in sales in the UK, where the pres­ence of the Royal Phil­har­monic Or­chestra res­onates in a way that it does not in the States.

IF I CAN DREAM con­sists of four­teen pre­vi­ously re­leased tracks (duh!) with Elvis’s vo­cals and most of the orig­inal in­stru­mental tracks by his band. Each track has a new or­ches­tral arrange­ment per­formed by England’s Royal Phil­har­monic Or­chestra.

If I Can Dream was the twelfth best-selling title of 2015, and helped drive a four-percent in­crease in UK music sales over those of 2014!

The ses­sions for the Royal Phil­har­monic Or­chestra were held at Abbey Road Stu­dios in London under the di­rec­tion of classical-crossover pro­ducer Nick Patrick and pop pro­ducer Don Reedman.

Ex­ec­u­tive pro­ducer Priscilla Presley stated, “Our cul­ture and music has changed so dras­ti­cally, I think that we have to keep [Elvis] right in line and do what­ever we can to keep him cur­rent.

This would be a dream come true for Elvis—he would have loved to play with such a pres­ti­gious sym­phony or­chestra. The force that you feel with his voice and the or­chestra is ex­actly what he would have done.”

IF I CAN DREAM was re­leased on Oc­tober 30, 2015, by RCA-Legacy as part of Elvis’s 80th birthday cel­e­bra­tion. It was an im­me­diate suc­cess.

 

Elvis_Philharmonic_CD_black

This is the cover art to the UK album on both the LP and the CD. British fans were also of­fered a deluxe boxed edi­tion that in­cludes the com­pact disc, a large booklet, a fold-open poster, plus a two-record vinyl album that fea­tures three ad­di­tional tracks un­avail­able else­where.

On the British charts

After débuting at #1 in the UK (and an al­most in­con­ceiv­able oc­cur­rence in the US), IF I CAN DREAM tied Presley with Madonna for the most #1 al­bums by a solo artist on the British charts, with each having twelve. It was also Pres­ley’s fiftieth album to reach the UK Top 10.

During its sixth week on the British charts, it sur­passed 500,000 in sales—meaning that it would qualify for an of­fi­cial Gold Record Award in the US if those sales were in the States. It was one of the fastest-selling al­bums of 2015 in the UK.

By the end of its ninth week, IF I CAN DREAM had sold al­most 900,000 units, making it the year’s top-selling album by a non-UK artist. During the first week of the New Year, it passed the mil­lion mark in sales—a feat that no Elvis album has done in America since 30 #1 HITS in 2009. 2

On Jan­uary 5, 2016, The In­de­pen­dent re­ported that IF I CAN DREAM was the 12th best-selling ‘home en­ter­tain­ment title’ of 2015. Along with the suc­cess of al­bums by artists such as Adele and Ed Sheeran, this helped drive a 4% in­crease in UK music sales over those of 2014! This at a time when such sales are de­clining all over the planet!

 

Elvis_Philharmonic_CD_gray

This is the cover art to the US album on both the LP and the CD. And yes, there is a vinyl ver­sion for the Amer­ican market! Alas, there is no boxed set for this market. Note that this is one of the few times where I think that the Amer­ican decision-makers chose su­pe­rior cover art over that of their British coun­ter­parts.

On the American charts

In the US, IF I CAN DREAM débuted at #17 on Bill­board’s clas­sical album chart. This was the first time an Elvis album had made that survey. In its second week, it jumped all the way to #1, stayed at the top for a second week, and then moved down that chart.

It ap­peared on Bill­board’s Top 200 pop­ular album survey at #21, which was also its peak po­si­tion there. It then moved down that chart. Overall do­mestic sales have been modest.

 

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Along with Eng­land’s Royal Phil­har­monic Or­chestra, IF I CAN DREAM fea­tures some other in­ter­na­tional sup­port. Cana­dian jazz-pop singer Michael Bublé ‘duets’ with Elvis on one track, while the Italian vocal group Il Volo back Elvis on an­other track. Ari­zona’s most fa­mous guitar-player Duane Eddy adds his licks to two other tracks.

Guest appearances 

While the ad­di­tion of the Royal Phil­har­monic Or­chestra is a fine con­cept, this album also fea­tures one of those ill-conceived, usu­ally dreadful elec­tron­i­cally cre­ated duets, this time with Michael Bublé on Fever. This was one of Elvis’s tastiest vo­cals ever and a high­light of ELVIS IS BACK (1960), per­haps his best album. Elvis’s Fever is far more sen­suous than Little Willie John’s orig­inal R&B hit from 1956 or Peggy Lee’s more fa­mous pop hit of ’58.

Frankly, here Bublé is not up to keeping up with Presley on this recording. (Who would be? Who could be?) That said, his Johnny-Mathis-meets-hip-hop vo­cals are ex­cel­lent, and Fever should be pulled from the album as a single as soon as pos­sible!

The Italian op­er­atic pop trio Il Volo (“The Flight”) con­sists of Gi­an­luca Gi­noble, Piero Barone, and Ig­nazio Boschetto. They add their voices to It’s Now Or Never. It’s a simple, clean arrange­ment per­formed in a pleasant Jor­danaire­sian manner.

As a spe­cial blast-from-the-past, former RCA Victor label-mate Duane Eddy con­tributed his dis­tinc­tive ‘twangy’ guitar to Bridge Over Trou­bled Water and An Amer­ican Trilogy. Eddy placed six­teen in­stru­mental sides in Bill­board’s Top 40 be­tween 1958 and 1963, which you would never know if you didn’t grow up then or col­lect old records now.

 

Elvis_Phil_RadioSpecial

A one-hour radio spe­cial was pressed on com­pact disc and shipped to radio sta­tion for broad­cast. Like the O2 poster above this may be­come an overnight col­lec­table as press runs for pro­mo­tional discs such as this are usu­ally mi­nus­cule.

Grading the tracks

Since grading things like this is fun and can at­tract new readers, here are my re­sponses to IF I CAN DREAM. Keep in mind that rock & roll is rock & roll be­cause it ain’t easy-listening! Part of the charm of Elvis’s orig­inal reading of Love Me Tender is par­tially based on the bare­bones arrange­ment, which was ba­si­cally a country & western arrange­ment be­cause no one in their right mind in 1956 would have blas­phemed by putting strings on Elvis the Pelvis. 3

In the or­ches­trated ver­sion of Love Me Tender on this album, much of that charm is lost in the sweep of the strings. Sev­eral other tracks sound like they would be at home on an Andy Williams record—and we didn’t buy Elvis be­cause he sounded like Andy. 4

 

We didn’t buy Elvis Presley records be­cause they sounded or felt like Andy Williams records—but that was then and this is now!

 

Felton Jarvis took over the du­ties of Elvis’s of­fi­cial pro­ducer in 1966 and in­tro­duced him to string arrange­ments. So many of the Presley tracks had strings over­dubbed at the time of their re­lease.

In al­most every case, the orig­inal arrange­ments are prefer­able to the ones by Patrick and Reedman. To me.

That is no doubt due to the fact that the person re­spon­sible for the strings in the ’60s and ’70s, Felton Jarvis, brought a rock & roll-pop sen­si­bility to the arrange­ments. The pro­ducers for IF I CAN DREAM do not—and that no doubt is why they were hired. So here are the grades:

♦♦♦  Three stars means the arrange­ment and recording is ex­cep­tional and dif­ferent enough to make the track seem unique. 5

♦♦     Two stars means it’s good, if un­ex­cep­tional.

        One star does not mean bad, just why waste time with this?

I am NOT grading the se­lec­tion of ma­te­rial, or the strengths of the songs as songs, or the orig­inal Presley tracks. I am just as­sessing whether the or­ches­trated track works, and whether it was worth my time to listen. 6

Burning Love                                                                 ♦♦♦
It’s Now Or Never                                                            
♦♦
Love Me Tender                                                                   

Fever                                                                                   
♦♦

Bridge Over Trou­bled Water                                        ♦♦
And The Grass Won’t Pay No Mind                             ♦♦
You’ve Lost That Loving Feeling                                  ♦♦
There’s Al­ways Me                                                           ♦♦
Can’t Help Falling In Love                                                
In The Ghetto                                                                 ♦♦♦
How Great Thou Art                                                       ♦♦
Steam­roller Blues                                                         ♦♦♦
An Amer­ican Trilogy                                                      ♦♦
If I Can Dream                                                                 ♦♦
Any­thing That’s Part Of You                                           

What Now My Love                                                           
Heart­break Hotel                                                              

I couldn’t find a link to ei­ther Any­thing That’s Part Of You or Heart­break Hotel, hence no stars. Oddly, the three record­ings that ben­efit the most from the or­ches­tral arrange­ments are the three one would least ex­pect: the two rockers and the so­cial com­ment song.

In the end, though, if this album and these arrange­ments get new people to listen to and hope­fully “dis­cover” Elvis, then let’s make more of them!

 

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The first single pulled from the album was If I Can Dream / Any­thing That’s Part Of You, the latter track not a part of the reg­ular album. The single was is­sued as a 45 rpm vinyl record with a small LP-sized spindle hole and is­sued in an at­trac­tive sleeve.

Another voice with another perspective

If you want other re­views of IF I CAN DREAM, they are out there and readily found via your pre­ferred search en­gine. Most of them are boring and offer little in­sight or even an en­ter­taining read. Not so with Randy Lewis’s  “Elvis Presley ‘If I Can Dream’ with or­chestra misses the mark” for The Los An­geles Times (Oc­tober 30, 2015). While I rec­om­mend reading his piece in its en­tirety, here is the sec­tion that I wish that I had written:

“The problem with [IF I CAN DREAM] is that the or­ga­nizing prin­ciple equates bigger with better, as­suming that a boat­load of strings, wind, and per­cus­sion in­stru­ments au­to­mat­i­cally en­hances Presley hits. By and large, they don’t.

Per­haps an orchestrator-arranger on the order of a Randy Newman, Van Dyke Parks, or David Camp­bell might have crafted arrange­ments that add a new level of in­trigue and di­men­sion to Presley’s old ma­te­rial, but that never ma­te­ri­al­izes here.

On a tech­nical level, the feat is im­pres­sive, the new or­chestra and vocal parts blending seam­lessly with the orig­inal record­ings. But the whole project brings to mind a cor­ner­stone ex­change from the orig­inal Jurassic Park movie, in which the sci­en­tist be­hind the cloning of di­nosaurs for a new gen­er­a­tion theme park boasts, Our sci­en­tists have done things which nobody’s ever done be­fore.

That’s when Jeff Goldblum’s char­acter, Dr. Ian Mal­colm, of­fers the reply that should be the op­er­a­tive thought con­cerning all things Elvis as well: Your sci­en­tists were so pre­oc­cu­pied with whether or not they could, that they didn’t stop to think if they should.”

Bravo, Mr. Lewis!

 

If I Can Dream (With the Royal Phil­har­monic Or­chestra) [Of­fi­cial Audio] (Audio)

This video fea­tures the title track from the album and sums up the album for me: the or­chestra is lovely but un­der­mines the fire of the orig­inal.

Where do we go from here

In terms of rock and re­lated music, we may have lived through the “golden age” of that music. If so, then we are going to see more projects like this in the fu­ture to keep the greats in front of new au­di­ences. We shouldn’t be too far from someone de­signing intelligent/intuitive soft­ware that will be ca­pable of recording the com­plete Miles Davis Quintet ses­sions for Pres­tige in 1955–56 and ‘lis­tening’ to them. 7

Then the soft­ware could ‘learn’ how the mu­si­cians played cer­tain notes, cer­tain rhythms, cer­tain melodies, and ‘un­der­stand’ it and ex­trap­o­late from there. It would then be pos­sible to have the soft­ware take any group of songs and have them arranged and ‘played’ ex­actly the way Miles’s group would have played them in the mid-’50s!

So we could have the al­bums like The Miles Davis Quintet Plays Pet Sounds or Miles Plays Jimi or have the 1956 Miles Davis Quintet back a 2026 jazz singer like, say, Michael Bublé!

And why not?

 

Elvis Presley - Burning Love (Audio)

This track from IF I CAN DREAM is a lot more fun! The rockers on the album ben­e­fited the most from this project: both Burning Love and Steam­roller Blues (along with In The Ghetto) are a very dif­ferent and very worth­while lis­tening ex­pe­ri­ence from the orig­i­nals. They should cause to ask the pro­ducers to do a second album with the Royal Phil­har­monic Or­chestra with all rock & roll and rhythm & blues num­bers!

No more duets!

I re­main unim­pressed with the decades-long ef­forts of people who just don’t seem to get it to make Elvis anew by f*cking—and that’s what they are doing!—with the orig­inal record­ings. Nonethe­less, ain’t no­body paying at­ten­tion to my opinion and if they’re going to do it, at least keep it as tasteful as this one—and avoid any more of those dreadful, tacky “duets” …

 


FOOTNOTES:

1   The other cer­ti­fied al­bums are Second To None (2003), Ul­ti­mate Gospel (2004), Blue Christmas (2006), The Es­sen­tial Elvis Presley (2006), and The Very Best Of Love (2007).

2   The top three best-sellers were Adele’s 25, Ed Sheer­an’s x, and Sam Smith’s In The Lonely Hour, the latter two ac­tu­ally being 2014 re­leases and there­fore having con­sid­er­ably more time to amass those sales.

3   Of course, the other side of grading these things is that I risk looking like a real oar­sw­hole.

4   And this is not in­tended as a slight against Mr Williams, pos­sessor of one of the most beau­tiful and ver­sa­tile voices in all of pop music his­tory. But that’s “pop” like in Tin Pan Alley pop, not like in Bea­tles and Beach Boys pop.

5   Okay, they’re di­a­monds, which are much easier to ac­cess on Word­Press than stars.

6   Of course my opinion could change with re­peated lis­ten­ings, but the like­li­hood of me lis­tening to these more than a few times is slight in­deed.

7   The Miles Davis Quintet con­sisted of Miles on trumpet with John Coltrane on tenor sax­o­phone, Red Gar­land on piano, Paul Cham­bers on bass, and Philly Joe Jones on drums. A more awe­some band has yet to be as­sem­bled in this Uni­verse …

 

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