This is the finale of a 4-part look at Sony’s 2019 Elvis Live 1969 boxed set, which contains all 11 concerts RCA recorded during Elvis Presley’s August 1969 engagement at the International Hotel in Las Vegas.
To paraphrase Elvis, there ain’t no end to this post, baby! I have committed not to push this review to five parts, however, as to move on to other topics next week.
That said, I still want to delve into some song and show specifics for the 1969 engagement, so today’s post is going to run long, amounting to a double ride. No extra charge. To help with this portion of the discussion, my analytical side provided the following infochart.
Though not part of the 11-CD Elvis Live 1969 boxed set, which focuses on RCA’s multitrack recordings, I included the informal soundboard recording from the early days of the engagement for reference as well. To date, its only official CD release as a more-or-less “full” show remains FTD’s The Return To Vegas. It would have made a great bonus disc on the Elvis Live 1969 set, as the overall feel of this show is slightly different than a few weeks later, and it even features an extended version of “Mystery Train” and a couple of alternate arrangements. Perhaps it was a cost-saving measure.
Anyway, focusing on the 11 shows that RCA recorded, Elvis performed 13 of the songs every single night – most of which formed the beginning and end of the shows. Of these, the strongest are “Suspicious Minds,” “Can’t Help Falling In Love,” “Runaway,” “In The Ghetto,” “Blue Suede Shoes,” and “All Shook Up.” With the studio version released as a single during this engagement and destined to become Elvis’ last number one hit, “Suspicious Minds” is particularly stunning. The 1969 live version stands as an incredible example of how Elvis reinvented his sound for these shows.
Most disappointing among the core songs are “Jailhouse Rock/Don’t Be Cruel” and “Baby, What You Want Me To Do.” “Jailhouse Rock” pales in comparison to the 1957 studio master as well as the 1968 live master. Both it and “Baby, What You Want Me To Do” notably lack the raw power and punch of the ELVIS television special performances from the previous summer. Understandably, there is a difference between performing 4 shows in 2 nights for a television special versus 57 shows in 29 nights for this Vegas engagement. Elvis no doubt needed to save his voice, but these performances in particular come up short.
Though many others are nearly as good, the one song Elvis improves in 1969 over his 1968 rendition is the “Tiger Man” portion of “Mystery Train/Tiger Man,” fueled by James Burton on lead guitar and Ronnie Tutt on drums. Like “Suspicious Minds,” the powerhouse “Mystery Train/Tiger Man” is a true highlight of this engagement. Unfortunately, Elvis drops it in favor of “Johnny B. Goode” for a couple of the shows. Now, one of those “Johnny B. Goode” performances was quite incredible and made it onto Elvis In Person, but I wish Elvis had dropped something else on those two occasions to make room for it, such as “Runaway.” That is no slam on “Runaway,” which I absolutely love and is among the highlights of the engagement for me.
A better substitution that Elvis provides on four nights is replacing the weak “Memories” with “I Can’t Stop Loving You.” I enjoy the studio versions of “Memories,” as recorded for the 1968 ELVIS special, but it just never worked live.
Additional highlights of the overall 11-concert span include three performances of “My Babe” and several of “Are You Lonesome Tonight.”
Of the one-off songs, the only one that really stands out from a performance perspective is “Reconsider Baby,” the blues song that Elvis returned to time and again over the years. “Rubberneckin’,” “Inherit The Wind,” and the abysmal “This Is The Story” are notable solely because these are the only live versions available. “Rubberneckin'” would have worked better with an arrangement closer to the funky studio master.
Though released as a limited edition 2-record set earlier in 2019, the August 23 Dinner Show makes its CD debut here. Not a single performance had previously been released on CD from this show – the only such concert on the set. The show is also unusual in that the Imperials backing group is not present, leaving full duties to the Sweet Inspirations – my preference, anyway. The show features exceptional versions of “Mystery Train/Tiger Man,” “Are You Lonesome Tonight,” “I Got A Woman,” and “What’d I Say” – the last of which benefits from a shorter rendition than the other shows.
“I had sideburns. Long hair. Fourteen years ago, it was weird. You think it’s weird now? Fourteen years ago, I couldn’t walk around the street: ‘Get him! Get him! […] He’s a squirrel.’ So I was […] shaking. In fact, that’s how I got in this business was shaking. It may be how I get out of it, too.”
–Elvis Presley, 1969
Four weeks ago now, I decided to write a post where I would share what I consider the best version of every song that RCA recorded during the Summer 1969 engagement. “I will kick it off by mentioning the Elvis Live 1969 boxed set from last year,” I thought – not intending to write a review. It would be a couple paragraphs and then the song list. Done. An easy post to warm up the engine of The Mystery Train Blog again.
Well, here we are, 4 weeks, 4 posts, and over 4,500 words later, and I am finally coming to the original intent of that very first post (after, of course, having written a rather haphazard review after all).
Before I backed up these shows to iTunes, I separated out the majority of the talking portions as their own tracks (oh, if only Sony would do this, it would save me so much time). This allows me to create playlists more focused on the music – which improves the 1969 experience to a huge degree. To an extent, you can replicate this by pressing skip at the end of most tracks, as Sony normally places all of the talking at the end of a track (even if that talking introduces the next song, another pet peeve of mine — but that’s why I just save them the way I want them).
Here is my “August 1969 Ultimate Show” playlist recipe for this concert engagement. As we just discussed, Elvis’ setlist varied to some extent each night, so no single show actually contained all of these songs.
Disc references are to the Elvis Live 1969 set, but of course, you could use any available previous release as well. This playlist clocks in at about 71 minutes, keeping in mind my iTunes versions of the tracks have most of the talking trimmed out to separate tracks.
- Opening Riff/Blue Suede Shoes (8/25/1969 Dinner Show [DS]) 2:36 (Disc 8)
- I Got A Woman (8/23/1969 DS) 3:05 (Disc 4)
- All Shook Up (8/26/1969 Midnight Show [MS]) 1:32 (Disc 11)
- Love Me Tender (8/26/1969 MS) 2:21 (Disc 11)
- Jailhouse Rock/Don’t Be Cruel (8/24/1969 DS) 2:12 (Disc 6)
- Heartbreak Hotel (8/24/1969 DS) 1:56 (Disc 6)
- Hound Dog (8/22/1969 DS) 1:48 (Disc 2)
- Memories (8/25/1969 DS) 2:50 (Disc 8)
- I Can’t Stop Loving You (8/25/1969 MS) 2:36 (Disc 9)
- My Babe (8/22/1969 MS) 2:00 (Disc 3)
- Mystery Train/Tiger Man (8/22/1969 MS) 3:21 (Disc 3)
- Johnny B. Goode (8/24/1969 MS) 2:10 (Disc 7)
- Baby, What You Want Me To Do (8/25/1969 MS) 1:52 (Disc 9)
- Funny How Time Slips Away (8/22/1969 MS) 2:21 (Disc 3)
- Surrender (8/21/1969 MS) 0:29 (Disc 1)
- Runaway (8/23/1969 MS) 2:16 (Disc 5)
- Loving You (8/23/1969 DS) 0:21 (Disc 4)
- Are You Laughing Tonight (8/26/1969 MS) 2:53 (Disc 11)
- Reconsider Baby (8/23/1969 MS) 3:28 (Disc 5)
- Words (8/24/1969 MS) 2:31 (Disc 7)
- Yesterday/Hey Jude (8/25/1969 DS) 4:15 (Disc 8)
- Inherit The Wind (8/26/1969 DS) 2:52 (Disc 10)
- Rubberneckin’ (8/26/1969 MS) 2:21 (Disc 11)
- This Is The Story (8/26/1969 MS) 2:46 (Disc 11)
- In The Ghetto (8/25/1969 DS) 2:47 (Disc 8)
- Suspicious Minds (8/25/1969 MS) 7:14 (Disc 9)
- What’d I Say (8/23/1969 DS) 1:57 (Disc 4)
- Can’t Help Falling In Love (8/26/1969 DS) 2:10 (Disc 10)
While it was not my intent, nor even a consideration in crafting this list, it turns out that all 11 shows are represented – an indication of Elvis’ strength and consistency during this Vegas engagement (though the August 21 Midnight Show barely squeaks in with a short version of “Surrender”).
For those of you who want to include them (you know who you are), you could slot in the “Monologue” career retrospective from the August 24 Dinner Show before “Baby, What You Want Me To Do” and add “Introductions By Elvis” from the August 21 Midnight Show prior to “In The Ghetto.” This adds less than nine minutes, resulting in a total length of just under 80 minutes for the August 1969 Ultimate Show. That’s right in line with the length of the August 23 Midnight Show, but with nine more songs due to less talking throughout.
After careful analysis, my favorite show of the 1969 engagement is the August 25 Midnight Show, disc 9 of Elvis Live 1969 and previously released on FTD’s excellent Hot August Night. It features top-notch versions of “Mystery Train/Tiger Man,” “Suspicious Minds,” “Runaway,” “My Babe,” “Are You Lonesome Tonight,” “Hound Dog,” “Blue Suede Shoes,” “All Shook Up,” “I Can’t Stop Loving You,” among others. In fact, 7 of the 12 masters that RCA chose for Elvis In Person came from this show. That is probably the only reason it is not better represented in my August 1969 Ultimate Show playlist above, as I was tending to avoid master versions in the event of a tie with another version. Elvis may have put a little extra into this particular show due to the celebrities in attendance, including Tom Jones, Nancy Sinatra, Lightnin’ Hopkins, Buddy Hackett, and Shelley Fabares.
“If I take time out to drink water, just look at me and say, ‘Is that him? I thought he was bigger than that. Squirrelly-looking guy.'”
–Elvis Presley, 1969
If you’re not in for the whole Elvis Live 1969 boxed set, 2010’s On Stage: Legacy Edition (Sony) is probably sufficient for casual or budget-minded fans, as it neatly highlights Elvis’ Summer 1969 and Winter 1970 Vegas engagements on 2 CDs and can still be found for about $12 US. CD 2 features Elvis In Person as well as additional songs recorded live in 1969. Keep in mind that both “Runaway” and “Yesterday” on the On Stage album, featured on CD 1, are from August 1969 as well.
If you are more on the obsessive side like me, but don’t already have most of these shows, I can definitely recommend Elvis Live 1969. Just be sure to shop around, as Elvis Live 1969 can often be found quite reasonably priced – considering the number of included shows. For example, Graceland is charging full list price as of this writing, but you can find it elsewhere for less than 60% of that price.
Among Elvis’ Las Vegas engagements at the International/Hilton Hotel, Summer 1969 ranks second only to Summer 1970 for me. I place Winter 1970 third. While the number of available shows in official releases is significantly less and disallows detailed comparisons, subsequent Vegas seasons in 1971-1976 are nowhere close to the 3 of 1969 & 1970.
To see one of these 1969 shows must have been something really special.
“You can make many plans, but the LORD’s purpose will prevail.”