A new compilation will attempt to prove that Elvis Presley was more than just the King of Rock & Roll. The album, If I Can Dream: Elvis Presley With the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra (out this fall), pairs one of the most recognizable voices of the past half-century with classical arrangements that don’t so much overtake the original versions that fans hold near and dear as sweeten them.
The record’s first single, exclusively streaming here, is “If I Can Dream,” the plea for a better world that Presley sang as the closing number of his legendary ’68 Comeback Special. In the context of that performance, the song came off as a dramatic showstopper. The updated track, which adds some tasteful strings and a smart horn arrangement that beefs up the one on the original, isn’t a different so much as a fuller version of the song.
“This is the album I think he always would have wanted to do,” Priscilla Presley, the singer’s former wife, caretaker of Presley’s estate and an executive producer on If I Can Dream, tells Rolling Stone. “The label would have never allowed him to have an orchestra. And if it was up to [manager] Colonel Parker, he would have had Elvis just singing — no background, no nothing. I think we have given him the freedom here to experiment with all the orchestras he would have loved in the pieces.”
Priscilla, who is seated in the Manhattan conference room of Sony, the label putting out the album, asserts that Elvis was actually a big classical music and opera fan. “When he’d see a band on television, he’d get up and imitate the maestro and get serious,” she says. Elvis, she says, greatly admired opera singers like Mario Lanza and Caruso. “He loved their drama, their voices, their power,” she says. “When you hear ‘It’s Now or Never,’ that’s Mario Lanza.” He was also especially fond of the 1924 operetta The Student Prince, a work over which Elvis and Priscilla bonded. “That’s how we got together, basically,” she says. “He couldn’t believe a 14-year-old kid had seen The Student Prince and loved Mario Lanza. He was fascinated by that.”
When it came to picking the songs for If I Can Dream, Priscilla purposely chose tunes that weren’t “the obvious songs,” even if it’s hard to avoid some of his biggest hits. So alongside “Love Me Tender” and “Burning Love,” the new collection features the Aloha From Hawaii standout “Steamroller Blues,” the 1962 single “Anything That’s Part of You” and the Neil Diamond–penned “And the Grass Won’t Pay No Mind.” It also features a new guitar line by Duane Eddy on “An American Trilogy,” operatic vocals by Il Volo on “It’s Now or Never” and Michael Bublé singing half of a feisty duet on “Fever.” “One of the main concerns was not having an artist that would compete with Elvis,” Priscilla says. “This was thought out. This was not putting his name on something. Michael was so professional and such a perfectionist. Elvis loved great talent and talented people, and I know Michael would have been one of them.”