Elvis Presley

Although Elvis sightings continue to be reported by the tabloids, little notice was given to the Presley CDs that quietly vanished from the BMG catalog in recent months. The conglomerate has been making the Hillbilly Cat's music scarce in anticipation of a six-month campaign to cash in on the 25th anniversary of his demise with a series of CDs, DVDs, books and other merchandise, beginning with the release of the four-disc Elvis: Today, Tomorrow & Forever.

BMG's plan got a supposedly unexpected jump-start when the British public took to a Fatboy Slim-style dance remix by Amsterdam-based DJ JXL of the relatively obscure Billy Strange-Mac Davis tune "A Little Less Conversation." The song, taken from the 1968 film Live a Little, Love a Little, turned up in a Nike commercial during World Cup 2002. BMG quickly issued it as a single, which shot to the top of the English charts, prompting the company's New York office to put out a CD and a 12-inch single domestically. Presley's already echo-enhanced baritone is driven by an incessant four-to-the-bar cowbell and buried in a mire of pseudo-Latin percussion and bass on the JXL version, with only hints of the twangy guitars and chirping distaff vocals from the original still in evidence. "A Little Less Conversation" is being touted as the first remix ever authorized by the Presley estate, though, in fact, a Felton Jarvis remix of the minor 1968 Presley hit "Guitar Man" was issued by RCA in 1981, charting at No. 28, 15 points higher than the original. But whereas the Jarvis mix merely rearranged the balance of the recording's intrinsic components, the JXL remix radically -- perversely, some might argue -- alters Presley's performance. The single's success no doubt signals more such face-lifts to follow.

If the Graceland lawn that covers the King's cadaver is rolling at what JXL has done to his song, his spirit might also be reeling at the hundred alternate takes, live performances and home recordings that constitute Today, Tomorrow & Forever. This is material that, for the most part, was never intended for public consumption. Who but the most compulsive Presley collector would want to hear inferior takes of many already inferior songs from '60s films such as Harum Scarum and Paradise, Hawaiian Style? Duds abound, but there are also numerous diamonds in the rough, including a rendition of "Shake, Rattle, and Roll" from 1956 that's longer and more raucous than the originally issued take, and a poignant "farm version" of "Loving You" from the following year with just guitar and harmonica accompaniment. The pricey, handsomely packaged set provides some new insight into the singer's creative process and is thoughtfully annotated by Canadian pop music historian Colin Escott. The cash register remains the bottom line, however, and BMG is betting that it will be ringing today, tomorrow and forever.

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Lee Hildebrand