“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.

 

Elvis_Buble

Elvis_IlVolo3

Elvis_Eddy

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!

 

Elvis_Phil_Dream_45_PS

Elvis_Phil_Dream_45_A

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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