Dig Dug

RCA unearths 100 "lost" Elvis recordings, just in time to celebrate his death day

Alex Miller, head of BMG's reissue department, says the 100 tracks were collected from myriad disparate sources -- from collectors (the label gets at least one call a day from someone claiming to have a long-lost tape), from the label's estimable vaults, from engineers who worked on sessions, from radio stations that broadcast Elvis concerts in the '50s. Jorgensen and Roger Semon began compiling the box five years ago -- around the time the 300,000-selling Platinumwas released -- in preparation for the 25th anniversary of Presley's death. Theirs would be a revisionist history of sorts: They wanted the world to hear "In the Ghetto," for instance, stripped of its garish ornamentation; they wanted to show the playful Elvis, the thoughtful Elvis, the goofy Elvis, the uninterested Elvis.

It would be a chronological story, much like Platinum, but without the reverence that collection showed. Today, Tomorrow & Yesterdayis almost a blasphemous box; it's like a fête at which the guest of honor shows up a little out of it and makes one hell of a mess. But because Elvis often had little regard for his own legacy -- some 12 years after Elvis stepped into Sun, he wound up recording "Yoga Is as Yoga Does" -- why shouldn't the men charged with maintaining it muck with the myth? The icon is resilient enough to withstand re-evaluation, indestructible enough to stand up to the skeletons falling out of the closet. So, yeah, here's "The Love Machine," indefensible crap. But here, too, is Elvis ripping the guts out of Ray Charles' "I Got a Woman." And, yeah, here's another version of that lousy "Snowbird" (already a hit for Anne Murray when Elvis got to it); but here, too, is a "Pieces of My Heart" done in 1975 that may be the most revelatory and heartbreaking thing the man ever recorded ("Now I'm holding on to nothing/Trying to forget the rest").

"He's not here to protest what we're doing," Jorgensen says. "But since outtakes and even the songs Elvis hated were released when he was alive, I don't think we overstepped any borders. And being such a major influence on the past century -- and this one as well -- I think you get to the point where you're writing history. You wouldn't discard early sketches of Picasso's or early letters of Hitler's because you think that's not what they should be known for. At some point, history takes over. We always keep Elvis' official masters available so people can hear the real thing. It's not that we force them to listen to these 'sloppy' things....There are just conflicts that you have to explain. His was a career of contradictions. He was a contradiction."

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