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LONDON, Oct 11, (AFP): Priscilla Presley closes her eyes and bites her lip as she listens to a new album of Elvis songs, with the king of rock and roll’s voice backed by Britain’s Royal Philharmonic Orchestra. “I am emotional because I watched him singing each one of these songs,” his ex-wife told AFP at London’s Abbey Road Studios, where the album was recorded and where The Beatles made most of their hits.
“I visualise everything that he’s doing: his facial expressions, the point where he gets the chills or when he’s really feeling it. I’m reliving all that”. Due out on October 30, the album, entitled “If I Can Dream”, gives Presley’s songs the sort of huge backing he always wanted in studio recordings but only got during his 1970s Las Vegas concerts, Priscilla said. “Elvis loved bigness,” she told reporters.
She recounted how his manager Colonel Tom Parker would, on studio recordings, sneakily insist that the backing track volume be turned down and Presley’s voice brought up front. “When Elvis heard this was happening, he went ballistic. So this is what the songs would have sounded like. He wanted it dramatic, he wanted to feel it,” the 70-year-old said. “We’ve just added to it to make it the sound that Elvis truly would have loved to have had.
“Because if you ever saw him on the stage in Las Vegas, this is what you heard.” The album mixes hits with lesser-known tracks deemed ripe for a string arrangement. The 14 songs are drawn from throughout his career, which spanned from the early 1950s to his death in 1977 aged 42. The project to give Elvis’s recordings a full orchestral backing was a 15-month labour of love for Priscilla and producers Don Reedman and Nick Patrick.
“Elvis didn’t really use big orchestras in the recording studios,” said Reedman, who came up with the idea. “I just felt this man needs a big orchestra to complement this amazing voice he’s got and take it right through the roof.” “We really did set out to make a fresh album. It wasn’t just redoing the past.”
Priscilla said Elvis had wanted to perform in Europe from as early as 1959, but Parker felt he could not guarantee his security outside North America. Making this album in London is “kind of our way of saying thank-you” for the popular support he received in Britain, she said. Elvis would have done it “in a minute”, she added.
The album includes “It’s Now Or Never”, “You’ve Lost That Loving Feeling”, “Bridge Over Troubled Water”, “Can’t Help Falling In Love”, “In The Ghetto”, “How Great Thou Art” and “An American Trilogy”.
“Fever” is reformulated as a duet with Canadian crooner Michael Buble, over a powerful new backdrop that swells like a James Bond movie theme. Hours of painstaking work went into extracting Presley’s voice from the original tapes, using modern technology to paint out the music that leaked from his loud headphones onto the vocal microphone. Nonetheless, the producers kept the original backing track around for the orchestra so they could play along to the same sounds as Presley did.
“When other people do this with Elvis, they rip his voice out, they put on their backing track, it no longer sounds like Elvis. They bastardise it. It really upsets me. We weren’t going to let that happen,” Reedman told AFP.
“I was very conscious of keeping his spirit in the record, not just his voice.” In a reversal of the regular process, the orchestra worked around the singer’s vocals, which Patrick compared to fitting “the most exquisite Savile Row suit around the most exquisite singer imaginable”. A vinyl version will be released on November 6, while a deluxe edition contains three extra tracks.