In Part I of this review of Elvis Costello’s super deluxe vinyl-only boxed set The Complete Armed Forces — celebrating his 1979 masterpiece, Armed Forces — we explored the new original album remaster included in this collection. In case you missed that essential introduction, please click here to jump back to it.
In Part II we listened to the first time vinyl appearance of a full album presentation of Elvis’ legendary Live at Hollywood High and Pinkpop festival performances from that period. If you didn’t see that part of the series, please click here to read it.
If you thought that wasn’t enough to tempt you into getting this new boxed set, let me put on my late night TV commercial announcer voice and say: but wait… there’s more!
The 10-Inch Mini Albums
Included in The Complete Armed Forces are three — count ‘em, 3! — 10-inch mini LPs containing special rarities.
Live At The Dominion
These recordings are from a 1978 end-of-year holiday UK show featuring four songs captured at the Dominion Theater in London. It is a fascinating document showing Elvis and The Attractions sounding remarkably relaxed and jovial even (far removed from the angry young man persona that was being propagated in the media).
Here Elvis plays some tracks from his debut including a very true-to-the-original-album’s-pace “(The Angels Want To Wear My) Red Shoes” and a fun quazi-disco version of “No Dancing” (for reals kids, imagine if Abba was covering that song!).
They break out a very early version of “I Stand Accused” (which appeared two years later on Get Happy!!) and the soon-to-be classic “(What’s So Funny ‘Bout) Peace, Love & Understanding.” This album comes pressed on lovely white vinyl and sounds great. I only wish it was longer!
Riot At The Regent
Recorded at The Regent Theater on the band’s Australian leg of the 1978 tour, this is a fabulous little taste of just how powerful Elvis and The Attractions had grown as a unit. The show is notable for early versions of “Oliver’s Army” and “Big Boys.” The latter is especially powerful.
There are also great versions of tunes from This Years Model including “This Year’s Girl,” “You Belong To Me” and the instant-classic-concert-closer, “Pump It Up.” Oh, and by the way the concert was so good that the audience rioted and tore up the place — apparently there was no encore so the crowd responded in kind and trashed the venue! Thus, the album’s title…
Sketches For Emotional Fascism
The original working title for Armed Forces was Emotional Fascism and this album includes eight songs that didn’t make it onto the final LP but are no doubt tied to the recording.
I can certainly appreciate that they needed to be included in this set for the sake of completeness, but all of these tracks have been issued previously.
They were, however, scattered over a variety of singles, a soundtrack, CDs and most significantly on the US-only compilation Taking Liberties and the UK-only counterpart Ten Bloody Marys & Ten How’s Your Fathers (initially a cassette-only release, later issued on LP).
These include one of Elvis’ greatest early rockers, “Tiny Steps” and the always-stunning steamroller “Clean Money” (the latter effectively an early incarnation of “Love For Tender” which later appeared on Get Happy). It also includes Elvis’ sweet solo rendition of “My Funny Valentine.”
The more unique tracks here are the (as far as I can tell) first time vinyl appearances of the alternate version of “Big Boys” and the demo of “Green Shirt” (both of which appeared on the Rhino Records expanded CDs of Armed Forces and This Year’s Model, respectively).
This mini LP looks so pretty too, what with its striking pink cover and opaque red/black splatter vinyl that happily sounds good. A wonderful way to include these important tracks in the set.
If you are like me, you’ve been collecting all of Elvis’s singles and other rarities over the years and you might fret that your original versions are somehow irrelevant now. Worry not.
While you do get reproductions of the original period UK singles, the B-sides are completely different and they not quite identical (which is totally fine…).
Universal did a laudable job of re-creating the look and feel of the original recordings, however the label designs are inevitably slightly different so you will want to hold onto your first pressings. These new editions include “Oliver’s Army” and the split single with Nick Lowe featuring his A-side “American Squirm” backed with Elvis’ version of “(What’s So Funny ‘Bout) Peace, Love & Understanding” — the latter written by Lowe.
Arguably the coolest rarity here is that for the first time we get to see the reversed-cover version of the “Accidents Will Happen” single re-reversed. Back in the day, the original editions came in a white sleeve with the printed design on the inside of the single! So now it is out in the open for all to appreciate and cherish.
But Do I Really Need This Collection?
Of course the big question comes up: do you need such an expensive deluxe package? Ultimately that answer is personal. Clearly this is a collection for the super fan and if you are like me, chances are you may think you have “everything” and thus might hesitate on your need for this set.
I think you do need it, but not only because of the remaster, the live recordings and rarities. The Complete Armed Forces includes wonderful liner notes and memorabilia presented in unique booklets modeled after classic publications from the past — pulp fiction, comic books, vintage magazine ads, even a children’s science book (for “Chemistry Class”). Elvis had these wonderful designs custom-commissioned and they are a fun treat.
I’m still working my way through them all but there are personal notes from Elvis as well as reproductions of many of his original lyric notebooks from this period of his career.
As a fan of Armed Forces, I think it is a quite grand collection. Of course, it may be the ideal gift for the Elvis Costello fan on your list. If you don’t want to spring for the colored vinyl version there is also black final version of this set available that is a bit less costly.
The Complete Armed Forces makes me wonder — and hope! — if there will be a Super Deluxe Edition celebration set for Elvis’ next album, Get Happy. That happens to be my all-time favorite Elvis Costello record and is in my Top 10 favorite albums of all time. It will be curious to see what happens as we move forward into the next couple of years.
Right now I’m grateful that Elvis has taken the time to curate such a wonderful set for his fans. Save up your pennies, kids and buy this when you can!