ELVIS RECORDED LIVE ON STAGE IN MEMPHIS Legacy Edition to include Richmond, Virginia concert (Conductor’s Reflections #15)

ELVIS RECORDED LIVE ON STAGE IN MEMPHIS (2014 Legacy Edition)

ELVIS RECORDED LIVE ON STAGE IN MEMPHIS (2014 Legacy Edition)

One of my favorite CD releases on the Follow That Dream collectors label for Elvis Presley fans is 2011’s Forty-Eight Hours To Memphis, which captures a March 18, 1974, concert that Elvis performed at the Richmond Coliseum in Virginia.

The confusing album title reflects that Elvis closed out his tour two days after the Richmond concert with a show in Memphis at the Mid-South Coliseum, portions of which became the 1974 album Elvis Recorded Live On Stage In Memphis. Elvis earned his third and final Grammy Award for his stellar performance of “How Great Thou Art” in Memphis on the original 1974 album.

The link between the two shows continues, for Sony announced last week that it will reissue the Richmond concert on the second disc of a Legacy Edition of Elvis Recorded Live On Stage In Memphis. While the FTD collectors label has very limited distribution, this new 2-CD release on the main Sony label hits mainstream retail stores on March 18, the 40th anniversary of the Richmond concert. Amazon and other outlets are accepting pre-orders now.

The Elvis Presley Show crisscrossed back and forth from Virginia to Tennessee on that leg of his tour. Tickets for his March 12 appearance at the Richmond Coliseum sold out so quickly that the tour was re-routed to accommodate a second show there on March 18. Elvis performed four shows in Memphis on March 16 and 17, hit Richmond, Virginia, again on March 18, and then returned to Tennessee for concerts in Murfreesboro and Memphis on March 19 and 20, respectively.

Elvis Presley's March 1974 tour schedule (partial)

Elvis Presley’s March 1974 tour schedule (partial)

For space considerations on the original LP, RCA edited several songs out of the March 20 Memphis concert for the 1-record release in July 1974. The album also featured overdubbed audience reactions that detracted from the sound quality. FTD restored the missing tracks and removed the unnecessary overdubs in a 2004 Classic Albums CD release of the concert, including a new mix. The same label also issued the expanded show in vinyl format as a 2-record set last year.

It turned out that RCA chose well in 1974 which performances to use on the original record, though. The performance quality of many of the excised songs was underwhelming, with the exception of a fine rendition of “Steamroller Blues,” first released on Platinum: A Life In Music over two decades later. The energetic Memphis version was superior to his live recording of the song in Hawaii that served as a single in 1973.

This new Elvis Recorded Live On Stage In Memphis Legacy Edition will also include the previously omitted songs, but whether a new or an existing mix will be featured is unclear.

In fact, Sony’s press release for this album is riddled with errors, an issue far too common these days in the marketing of Elvis music releases, so it is difficult to trust any of its statements. For that reason, I am not even including Sony’s alleged track listing at this point. Suffice it for now to say that Disc 1 will contain the Memphis show, while Disc 2 will contain the Richmond show and some low-fidelity bonus tracks recorded on a personal cassette player of Elvis rehearsing a few months later for yet another Las Vegas stint.

RCA professionally recorded the March 20 Memphis concert for the album project. It is a 16-track recording (audio elements recorded on separate channels) that can be tweaked for optimum sound quality. Though I enjoyed the 2004 FTD mix over the original 1974 version, another new mix could be revealing. The Memphis show is presented in stereo.

Though the background story remains mysterious, the March 18 Richmond concert was supposedly captured as a 16-track recording, too. If so, it remains missing from the Sony vaults – lost, stolen, or erased.

The Richmond concert audio source on both the 2011 and 2014 releases is a tape copy of a mono mix-down of the 16-track recording, with artificial reverb applied. In other words, no further changes can be made to the Richmond mix or reverb since the 16-track original is unavailable. The Richmond concert is not likely to sound very different from Forty-Eight Hours To Memphis on this reissue, if at all.

While Elvis’s sound engineers often made informal reference tapes of his shows from the soundboard mixing console, the Forty-Eight Hours To Memphis liner notes in 2011 only speculated about why RCA apparently recorded the Richmond concert in multitrack.

However, the 2014 Sony press release refers to the Richmond show as a “test run concert” for the subsequent Memphis recording. Some have theorized that the test copy is in mono due to Elvis’s preference for that format over stereo, though his previous live albums had been stereo releases. Perhaps the accompanying Legacy Edition booklet will reveal new information.

Elvis at the Richmond Coliseum, March 18, 1974 (FTD)

Elvis at the Richmond Coliseum, March 18, 1974 (FTD)

In the years leading up to 1974, many of Elvis’s concerts were superior to this particular show in Richmond. However, as with the Memphis show, the fun concert features Elvis in a fantastic mood interacting with fans. Music highlights in Richmond include “Steamroller Blues,” “Polk Salad Annie,” and “Suspicious Minds.”

Over the course of 21 years, Elvis performed 15 concerts in Richmond. The 14th of these shows was captured on Forty-Eight Hours To Memphis and, from what I have read, this was Elvis’s last great concert in Richmond. He performed in Richmond one final time in 1976, but, by that point, his rising prescription drug addiction and abuse had diminished the power of his shows. Therefore, I consider the March 18, 1974, appearance to be Elvis’s true “last hurrah” in Richmond.

Legacy Questions

I am looking forward to the reissues of both the Richmond and Memphis concerts. Despite my personal enthusiasm as an Elvis fan, I find myself wondering whether these two concerts are appropriate choices for mainstream release in 2014.

I fear that the repetitive nature of these shows compared to other recent Sony releases will use up some of the goodwill shown by music critics in reviews of Elvis At Stax, Prince From Another Planet, and certain other titles released in the last few years.

Will mainstream critics and listeners understand Elvis’s sense of humor? For instance, will some misinterpret his joke in Richmond about it being a pleasure to be back in Hampton Roads as an out-of-it singer not knowing which town he was playing?

By following up 2012’s As Recorded At Madison Square Garden reissue with 2013’s Aloha From Hawaii via Satellite reissue and now 2014’s Elvis Recorded Live On Stage In Memphis reissue, is Sony simply committing the same release blunders in the 2010s that RCA made in the 1970s? Has locking into an “anniversary” theme for release choices doomed them to repeat history’s mistakes going forward?

Keep in mind that the 40th anniversary of Having Fun With Elvis On Stage is later this year as well.

Keepers of the Elvis Presley phenomenon (Conductor’s Reflections #14)

Elvis rehearsing in 1970

Elvis rehearsing in 1970

Into the fray

I literally have dozens of post ideas for The Mystery Train Blog ready to go at any given time. In fact, I find Elvis to be such a fascinating subject that I have more ideas than I will ever be able to use here. When it comes to this blog, I often lack for time, but never for ideas.

Earlier this week, I threw in a “bonus” post when I came across an opinion by a fellow Elvis blogger to which I just had to respond. This blogger’s belief is that if one never had a chance to see Elvis Presley perform in person, then watching an imitator is the next best thing.

I was two-years-old when Elvis died, so I’m one of those people who never saw Elvis in person. My dissenting post was an unplanned, off-the-cuff piece which generated responses on both sides of the issue. You can read it here: “As close as I’ll ever get.”

Essentially, my thoughts on the matter boiled down to two key positions:

1.) Watching footage and listening to audio of the real Elvis in concert is the next best thing to seeing him in person – not imitators

2.) Elvis Presley Enterprises should maintain focus on the real Elvis and stay out of the Elvis imitator business

One of the responses was a well-reasoned comment by fellow Elvis fan Jim Kendall:

“[Elvis Tribute Artists] and impersonators serve a purpose. They keep the memory of Elvis alive and continue to expose him to new generations. Everything has a shelf life and I believe the Elvis phenomena only has about 25-35 years left on the shelf. Everyone who knew Elvis personally will be dead and the majority of fans will be too old to care. Despite your misgivings about the imitators you’re missing out on some great shows, more importantly you’re missing out on meeting people who know Elvis and fans who have seen him in concert. Their eyes light up, often misted by holding back tears, when they share their memories and for a moment you are closer to Elvis then you can ever get from a DVD.

If the ETAs and EPE stop what they are doing then the memory of Elvis will be regulated to the books of music history.”

Rather than reply to Jim at the original post, I’ve decided to create a new post on this subject and bump what I originally planned to post this weekend to next weekend.

First of all, I want to thank Jim for taking the time to voice his opinion in such a thoughtful way and inspiring today’s post. Being human, we’re all going to disagree at times, but I’m always impressed when someone can articulate a contrary position without resorting to attacking the other person. Jim raises many good points that I would like to address today.

The end of the Elvis Presley phenomenon

People have been predicting the end of the “Elvis Presley phenomenon” since the mid-1950s. “He can’t last. I tell you flatly, he can’t last,” Jackie Gleason is reported to have said of Elvis in 1956, and that is but one example from that time period.

When Elvis was drafted into the US Army in 1958, many more thought the phenomenon was finished, but he came back with a bang after his two-year stint.

When he was seemingly lost in Hollywood for much of the 1960s, the phenomenon again seemed to have reached its end.

Elvis, however, tore back on the scene in the late 1960s in a comeback that propelled him well into the next decade. In 1977, Elvis’ prescription drug addiction and abuse contributed to his untimely death at the age of 42. Surely, the phenomenon was over at this point, many said.

Elvis in 1962

Elvis in 1962

Yet, it turned out, that not even Elvis could destroy the Elvis Presley phenomenon. Year after year, fans old and new alike around the world have continued to enjoy his music. Annually, over 600,000 people visit his home and final resting place, Graceland. Elvis also has the somewhat dubious distinction of being one of the top-earning dead celebrities each year. His earnings power actually stacks up quite well against many living celebrities, too.

The Elvis Presley phenomenon continues. Jim believes we will finally see the end of it about 30 years from now – which would be about 2043. If he’s right, what an incredible run that would have been.

Given the history of such predictions, though, I’m not even going to venture a guess as to whether Jim is right on when it will end. The phenomenon has changed and adapted over the years, and that will no doubt continue.

Life after Elvis

While Elvis obviously sustained it in life, who or what has kept that phenomenon going so strong since 1977?

Jim claims Elvis imitators have kept the memory alive and exposed Elvis to subsequent generations.

This may surprise you, but I think Jim may be on to something. I actually agree with him, but only from a certain perspective.

People express themselves as fans of anything in different ways. There are sports fans who paint their bodies in team colors when attending each game, while other fans obsess over statistics or even manage fantasy teams.

There are Star Wars fans who dress as Imperial stormtroopers and raise large sums of money for charity, and there are fans who pore over the details of the makings of the films.

There are art fans who enjoy taking in the occasional museum, while others are true connoisseurs who know the details of any work from a particular era.

The point is that people express their interests in different ways, and there is no “right way” to be a fan.

In the Elvis world, a fan might express herself through incredible writing, while another might express himself through compiling and sharing detailed notes on Elvis’ recordings. One fan might create beautiful art, while another might occasionally sing his songs. Some fans might just listen to his music, and, yes, some true fans might even impersonate him in tribute.

While the work of Ernst Jorgensen, Peter Guralnick, Todd Morgan, and so many others have also contributed in no small part, I believe Elvis fans are the ones primarily responsible for keeping his memory alive and this phenomenon going in the more than 35 years that have gone by since his death.

I believe that only a certain percentage of Elvis imitators are actually Elvis fans. Among us Elvis fans, I believe only a small percentage are Elvis imitators (in public, anyway).

So, yes, some Elvis imitators who also happen to be Elvis fans have helped keep his memory alive. However, they are just a small part of the overwhelming force of Elvis fans who have done that. Imitators are simply not the primary reason the world still talks about and is still interested in Elvis.

Defending the legacy

I also contend that there are many Elvis imitators that actually damage the legacy of Elvis Presley. In fact, I believe that Elvis imitators are second only to “Elvis faked his death” hucksters in responsibility for turning Elvis into a frequent punchline.

Elvis fans have to battle against misconceptions that many imitators cause. I am happy to defend why I am a fan of Elvis to anyone who cares to know, but the first step in that is always to get that person to understand that the Elvis music I know and respect has absolutely nothing to do with the imitators that he or she sees spotlighted in various places.

The fans, including some of the imitators, may be driving the Elvis Presley phenomenon now, but it is the music, television appearances, and movies that Elvis left behind that still fuel it.

If Elvis Presley’s legacy is to survive or wither away in coming years, it should do so on this cherished source material. As long as people look to Elvis’ authentic body of work to make the judgment, I believe his legacy will meet that test – every single time.

Circus of imposters

I was forced to endure the show of an Elvis imitator in the lobby of a movie theater while in line to see a screening of Elvis On Tour a few years ago. This imitator had an authentic jumpsuit, a decent voice, and some okay moves. I’m sure he was a fan, not just an imitator.

I made no connection with his show, though. In fact, they could not open up the cinema doors fast enough for me so that I could get out of that lobby and let the real Elvis on the big screen wash that imitation away. I have avoided returning to that theater for subsequent Elvis screenings because I do not like being made part of a captive audience.

It’s fine if other people enjoy these shows, but imitators are just not for me. When I want to see live musical performances, I go to concerts of people who perform as themselves. When I want to see an Elvis performance, I watch one of the multitudes of releases with authentic footage and music of the real Elvis.

Elvis is not a fictional character. This is not like some new actor taking over the role of James T. Kirk, Superman, or James Bond to continue the adventure for subsequent generations. There is only one Elvis Presley.

It may seem that I am making sweeping statements about imitators that lump together the very best of the tribute artists with the very worst of the disgraceful buffoons. I realize there is a vast difference.

However, even the greatest Elvis tribute artist of all time (whoever) is not Elvis Presley. The closest thing to seeing Elvis in person is to watch and listen to actual footage and music of him performing live. No one will ever convince me otherwise on this point.

Elvis in 1956

Elvis in 1956

As close as I’ll ever get (Conductor’s Reflections #13)

My buddy Phil Arnold recently posted a piece about Elvis impersonators over on his ElvisBlog. Against my better judgment, I’ll link you to it – but with the strong warning that many of the photos there may cause permanent eye damage.

In any event, Phil concludes his post as follows:

“If you never saw Elvis in concert, [Ultimate Elvis Tribute Artist Contest winner] Shawn’s show is as close as you’ll ever get.”

I beg to differ, with all due respect to Phil and even to Shawn Klush – who I’m sure puts on a good show for those that are into that sort of thing.

I never saw Elvis in concert, but the following essential DVDs allow me to get much closer to that experience than watching any imitator:

Elvis: The Ed Sullivan Shows

  • September 9, 1956
  • October 28, 1956
  • January 6, 1957

ELVIS: ’68 Comeback Special – Deluxe Edition

  • June 27, 1968, Sit-down Show #1
  • June 27, 1968, Sit-down Show #2
  • June 29, 1968, Stand-up Show #1
  • June 28, 1968, Stand-up Show #2

Elvis: That’s The Way It Is

  • August 1970 live performances

Elvis: That’s The Way It Is – Special Edition

  • August 1970 live performances

Elvis On Tour

  • April 1972 live performances

Elvis: Aloha From Hawaii – Deluxe Edition

  • January 12, 1973, rehearsal show
  • January 14, 1973, satellite broadcast show

On a 73-inch screen with surround sound kicked up, the above DVDs – and others featuring the real Elvis – allow me briefly to believe I am really there at these events. Even the best imitator cannot do that. Why watch an imitation when you can watch the genuine article?

Though the visual component is missing for most of them, I could also cite dozens upon dozens of electrifying concerts on CD that help bring the real Elvis back for an encore, including:

  • December 15, 1956 (Young Man With The Big Beat)
  • March 25, 1961 (Elvis Aron Presley)
  • August 26, 1969, Dinner Show (Live In Vegas)
  • August 26, 1969, Midnight Show (All Shook Up)
  • August 12, 1970, Midnight Show (That’s The Way It Is [2000 Special Edition])
  • April 18, 1972 (Close Up)
  • March 18, 1974 (Forty-Eight Hours To Memphis)
  • December 14, 1975, 10 PM Show (Fashion For A King)

I am 37 years old. If I had been exposed to imitators growing up rather than the real Elvis via recordings and videos (on a 13-inch black & white TV with mono sound, so it is not the equipment that matters), then I would not be an Elvis fan today. He would not even be on my radar.

I say this not to knock imitators – at least not the few who attempt to put on respectful, quality shows. However, Elvis Presley Enterprises should get out of the imitator business. It should never have gone there in the first place. EPE does a disservice to Elvis’ legacy by endorsing imitations. EPE should maintain focus on the real Elvis.

There is only one Elvis Presley. I accept no imitations. Neither should EPE.

Elvis on stage in 1970

Elvis on stage in 1970

I Am An Elvis Fan (So Why Can’t I Choose My Own Songs?) [Conductor’s Reflections #12/Playlist Recipes #5]

In case you haven’t noticed, I am an Elvis fan. Maybe you are, too.

Of late, marketing campaigns by Elvis Presley Enterprises and Sony Music Entertainment have centered around the phrase “I Am An Elvis Fan.” You can buy an “I Am An Elvis Fan” t-shirt or even an “I Am An Elvis Fan” poster – an image of Elvis formed by a mosaic of fan photos.

The centerpiece of this campaign, though, is a new CD that Sony will release on July 31. As you have probably guessed, the title of the album is I Am An Elvis Fan.I Am An Elvis Fan

This one is different than most albums because an online vote last month determined the contents. Next week, Sony unveils the winning tracks.

Elvis released over 700 different recordings in his lifetime. Since then, thousands more have escaped the vaults. Rather than being able to vote for any Elvis song, fans were unfortunately constrained to choosing from pre-determined lists of songs in seven different categories. For each category, a fan had to choose three out of thirteen songs. Some of the songs even showed up in multiple categories.

While a few rarities made the process, most songs were of the typical “Heartbreak Hotel,” “Hound Dog,” and “All Shook Up” variety. I’m sure those will be the types of songs to make the CD as well. In any event, it was still fun to choose songs. For the record, here is how I voted (bold), given the available choices:

’50s
1. That’s All Right
2. Good Rockin’ Tonight
3. Baby Let’s Play House
4. I Got A Woman
5. Hound Dog
6. Don’t Be Cruel
7. Mystery Train [naturally!]
8. Blue Suede Shoes
9. Money Honey
10. Heartbreak Hotel
11. Shake, Rattle & Roll
12. All Shook Up
13. Lawdy, Miss Clawdy

’60s
1. In The Ghetto
2. Suspicious Minds
3. Gentle On My Mind
4. Don’t Cry Daddy
5. Surrender
6. Good Luck Charm
7. Devil In Disguise
8. She’s Not You
9. Suspicion
10. The Girl Of My Best Friend
11. His Latest Flame
12. Love Letters
13. Memories

GOSPEL
1. Peace in the Valley
2. Crying in the Chapel
3. How Great Thou Art
4. If I Can Dream [gospel?]
5. Amazing Grace
6. Swing Down Sweet Chariot
7. Joshua Fit The Battle
8. Take My Hand Precious Lord
9. Lead Me, Guide Me
10. He Touched Me
11. Milky White Way
12. You’ll Never Walk Alone
13. Where Could I Go But To The Lord

LOVE SONGS
1. I Want You, I Need You, I Love You
2. Any Way You Want Me
3. You Don’t Have To Say You Love Me
4. One Night
5. Can’t Help Falling In Love
6. Love Me Tender
7. Always On My Mind [actually, a love lost song]
8. Are You Lonesome Tonight?
9. Unchained Melody
10. Loving You
11. You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling [again, a love lost song]
12. It’s Now Or Never
13. The Wonder Of You

MOVIES
1. King Creole
2. Jailhouse Rock
3. Trouble
4. Return To Sender
5. A Little Less Conversation
6. Viva Las Vegas
7. G.I Blues
8. Follow That Dream
9. Bossa Nova Baby
10. Rubberneckin’
11. Blue Hawaii
12. Loving You
13. Teddy Bear

COUNTRY
1. I Washed My Hands In Muddy Water
2. Kentucky Rain
3. For The Good Times
4. Guitar Man
5. Blue Moon of Kentucky
6. Just Because
7. Long Black Limousine
8. I’ll Hold You In My Heart (Until I Can Hold You in My Arms)
9. She Thinks I Still Care
10. I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry
11. Welcome to My World
12. Funny How Time Slips Away
13. There Goes My Everything

IN CONCERT
1. Polk Salad Annie
2. Suspicious Minds
3. Just Pretend
4. You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling [to help ease the split vote, since it is in two categories]
5. Bridge Over Troubled Water
6. See See Rider
7. Walk A Mile In My Shoes
8. I Can’t Stop Loving You
9. You Gave Me A Mountain
10. An American Trilogy
11. Burning Love
12. My Way
13. A Big Hunk of Love

You will notice that even I chose some “typical” songs. Certain Elvis songs have personal, sentimental associations for me, and I just couldn’t skip them when they were on the list.

Even if you buy into this whole select by category business, they left out a couple of important categories. Where is the ’70s category for songs like “Promised Land,” “Stranger In The Crowd,” and “I’ve Lost You”? Where is the Blues category for songs like “Reconsider Baby” and “Baby, What You Want Me To Do”?

In a sense, Sony loaded the deck. The opportunity to present a truly unique Elvis CD will probably just devolve into releasing yet another typical compilation. Even casual Elvis fans will already have the majority of the winning songs. Is the intent of this disc to attract new fans, then? If so, maybe they should have called it I Might Be An Elvis Fan instead.

While the rest of us cannot be trusted to choose our own songs, Australian Elvis fans, on the other hand, will get to do an Elvis CD up right. The content for Sony Music Australia’s Elvis By Request album will also be determined by online fan voting (still in progress through July 13). Except this time, there is just one vote, and it is from the full list of recordings released during his lifetime, as well as many tracks released since then.

Australian fans who pre-order the CD by July 13 will even have their names included on a poster. While you have to live in Australia to get your name on the poster, you don’t have to live there to vote or buy the CD. In fact, I’ve already cast my ballot for my favorite song. Elvis By Request is due out on August 16.

Both concepts are reminiscent of the 1976 album Elvis In Demand, a project where members of the Official Elvis Presley Fan Club of Great Britain mailed in lists of five songs to vote for the content. The resulting record album made it to number 12 on the UK charts.

My main complaint about Elvis compilations tends to be that the same fifty or so songs are used in various combinations over and over. While I Am An Elvis Fan may end up looking like yet another similar compilation, Elvis By Request has the potential to be something special. It may very well turn out to be this generation’s Elvis In Demand.

* * *

While writing this post, I started thinking about what kind of Elvis compilation I would put together if Sony knocked on my door looking for help (someday, right?). Limiting myself to only masters released during his lifetime, it would probably look something like this.

Strangers No More

  • Money Honey
  • Like A Baby
  • For The Heart
  • How The Web Was Woven
  • Indescribably Blue
  • Clean Up Your Own Backyard
  • Early Morning Rain
  • Power Of My Love
  • Blue Moon
  • Stranger In The Crowd
  • Thinking About You
  • Baby, I Don’t Care
  • I Was The One
  • My Babe (Live)
  • Wearin’ That Loved-On Look
  • Witchcraft
  • I’ve Lost You
  • Make The World Go Away
  • Let Yourself Go
  • As Long As I Have You
  • Run On
  • Bringing It Back

Advice for Eric Bana as he takes on the role of Elvis (Conductor’s Reflections #11)

[Revised October 28, 2011]

Variety reported earlier this week that Eric Bana will play Elvis Presley in a new movie, Elvis & Nixon.

To be honest, at this point, I have no interest in watching someone try to play Elvis. Instead, I would prefer to see a decent series of documentaries produced about his life.

The only reason Elvis & Nixon even hits my radar at all is because Bana appeared in the 2009 movie Star Trek – a fantastic film. Bana played the Romulan villain, Nero. I can’t imagine Bana playing Elvis – but, then, suitability for the role has never been part of the criteria when it comes to productions about Elvis, has it?

Eric Bana as he appeared in Star Trek (2009)

Eric Bana as he appeared in Star Trek (2009)

Oddly enough, there’s already been a movie about the few minutes Elvis spent with President Richard Nixon on December 21, 1970. In 1997, Showtime produced a comedy movie called Elvis Meets Nixon covering the same event.

No word yet on whether the new Elvis & Nixon will be a comedy. One clue, though, may be that it will be the directorial debut of actor Cary Elwes – who has some comedy roles in his background, including Mel Brooks’ Robin Hood: Men In Tights.

So, though I really don’t personally care about this movie, I do care enough about how Elvis is portrayed to the general public to offer Bana some free advice:

1.) Forget everything you think you know about Elvis.
2.) Watch Elvis: That’s The Way It Is, which was filmed four months before the events of Elvis & Nixon.
3.) Repeat #2 until you’re done with your role.

20 reasons to love Elvis after 1972 (Conductor’s Reflections #10)

Elvis rocks the world, 1973

Elvis rocks the world, 1973

If you believe many accounts, exploring the work of Elvis Presley after 1972 is a fruitless journey through five depressing years best left forgotten. While a downward spiral of personal problems certainly affected his music, I cannot agree with the overall sentiment.

Inspired by a recent Elvis Today Blog post, I want to share 20 reasons to love Elvis after 1972.

#1 Promised Land album (recorded 1973)
Any discussion around the greatest albums of Elvis’ career should include Promised Land. Featuring that perfect Elvis blend of rock ‘n’ roll, country, and gospel, this is one of his strongest efforts. Standouts include “Promised Land” – destroying any doubts that Elvis could still rock, “Thinking About You,” “It’s Midnight,” “You Asked Me To,” and the funky “If You Talk In Your Sleep.”

#2 Aloha From Hawaii event (1973)
The magnitude of performing the first worldwide satellite broadcast by an entertainer at times seemed to overwhelm even Elvis, particularly in the first half of the main show. All too easily dismissed by some fans, the overall Aloha From Hawaii event still remains worthy of praise. Beyond the actual television special, there was also a double album that remains a classic representation of the excitement of his 1970s stage show, with standouts including “An American Trilogy,” “A Big Hunk O’ Love,” “I’ll Remember You,” “Fever,” and “What Now My Love.”

The 1988 release of The Alternate Aloha on CD revealed Elvis was much more at ease during the rehearsal/back-up concert. “Burning Love,” despite the fact that Elvis misses some of the words, and “Suspicious Minds” exceed their counterparts on the real show.

Elvis Presley Enterprise’s definitive 2-DVD set Aloha From Hawaii Deluxe Edition (2004) captures both shows in terrific audio and video quality, as well as other footage shot at that time. Though he did not pass away until over four years later, for the mainstream public, Aloha From Hawaii would prove to be Elvis’ last hurrah.

#3 Moody Blue album (1974, 1976-1977)
Moody Blue is an album recorded at Elvis’ home, Graceland, and at Elvis’ second home, on stage in front of his fans. Of the four live numbers, the strongest is a haunting version of “Unchained Melody,” recorded on April 24, 1977, in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Many of the Graceland recordings are also stellar, including “Pledging My Love,” “Way Down,” “Moody Blue,” “She Thinks I Still Care,” and “He’ll Have To Go.” As the final album released before his death, Moody Blue allowed Elvis to finish in style.

#4 “Your Love’s Been A Long Time Coming,” Take 10 (1973)
“Your Love’s Been A Long Time Coming,” which expresses a father’s love for a newborn, never stood out to me until I heard this alternate take, first released on 2002’s Today, Tomorrow & Forever boxed set.

#5 Bringing It Back/Pieces Of My Life single (1975)
Much like “Always On My Mind” backed with “Separate Ways” from 1972, 1975’s “Bringing It Back” backed with “Pieces Of My Life” evokes a complete story on one record. Though the music may not have been as groundbreaking, Elvis recorded songs of a much more personal nature in the 1970s compared to other times of his career. It’s not flashy jumpsuits that draw people to this time, but the sheer honesty of the music.

#6 My Way/America The Beautiful single (1977/1975)
“My Way” backed with “America The Beautiful” is the first Elvis record I can specifically remember playing. Recorded just weeks before his death for the Elvis In Concert television special at a show in Rapid City, South Dakota, “My Way” worked effectively as a farewell of sorts, while 1975’s “America The Beautiful,” recorded live in Las Vegas, spoke to his love of the United States and God. Though rock ‘n’ roll is not to be found on it, this record sums up Elvis Presley about as well as any other contender.

#7 “Pledging My Love,” Take 3 (1976)
One of the pleasant surprises of 1997’s Platinum: A Life In Music was take 3 of “Pledging My Love,” recorded at Graceland. Devoid of subsequent production overdubs, this works as a kind of “stripped-down” version.

#8 “Way Down,” Take 2A (1976)
Also from Platinum: A Life In Music, take 2A of “Way Down” is strong for the same reasons as “Pledging My Love” – a stripped-down sound reminiscent of earlier times. The extra band riff near the end is a delight and should have been included on the master.

#9 From Elvis Presley Boulevard, Memphis, Tennessee album (1976)
Recorded at Graceland, From Elvis Presley Boulevard is the saddest album released by Elvis. It is also his most honest. This one gives us a view into the man living in the famous mansion on Elvis Presley Boulevard. Overblown production and all, From Elvis Presley Boulevard is a beautiful and moving album. Highlights include “For The Heart,” “Hurt,” “Never Again,” and “Love Coming Down.”

#10 Good Times album (1973)
Unlike Promised Land, Moody Blue, and From Elvis Presley Boulevard, Good Times is unable to take a spot among the best albums of his career due to a few clunkers that weigh it down. However, “Good Time Charlie’s Got The Blues,” “Lovin’ Arms,” “I’ve Got A Thing About You, Baby,” and “My Boy” are standouts on this worthy album.

#11 “Where No One Stands Alone,” Live Recording (1977)
Whether we are talking 1953, 1977, or anywhere in between, Elvis Presley was always full of surprises. “Where No One Stands Alone,” released on 2007’s Unchained Melody, is one of his most incredible performances. Accompanying himself on piano, he sings the song on stage for what is apparently the only time. This live version from a February 16, 1977, concert in Montgomery, Alabama, exceeds his 1966 original.

#12 “Good Time Charlie’s Got The Blues,” Take 7 (1973)
Part of appreciating Elvis involves understanding that he never took himself as seriously as many others do. This broken up take and the resulting jokes after the fact highlight some of his behind-the-scenes humor. First released on Follow That Dream’s 2009 edition of Good Times.

#13 “She Thinks I Still Care,” Take 2B (1976)
“She Thinks I Still Care” is another alternate from the Graceland sessions. Released on 1995’s Walk A Mile In My Shoes, Take 2B takes the song at a brisker pace and works even better than the master.

#14 “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry,” Home Recording (1973)
Though “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry” seemed almost like album-filler on Aloha From Hawaii, Elvis sings a superior version with only himself on acoustic guitar several months later in private. Fortunately, someone rolled a tape recorder. This is a particularly poignant performance when you consider that it takes place only weeks after his divorce from Priscilla is finalized. This one can be found on 2005’s Elvis By The Presleys.

#15 Elvis Recorded Live On Stage In Memphis album (1974)
Yes, his third live album in three years had some repetitive material, but “How Great Thou Art,” “Lawdy, Miss Clawdy,” and “My Baby Left Me” help to make this one special, not to mention that it was recorded in Memphis. This version of “How Great Thou Art” earned Elvis his third and final Grammy.

#16 Raised On Rock album (1973)
Raised On Rock receives a lot of criticism, yet contains some strong tracks. Two of the best are “For Ol’ Times Sake” and “Sweet Angeline.”

#17 “I Really Don’t Want To Know,” Live Recording (1977)
Like “My Way,” this one was recorded in Rapid City on June 21, 1977, for the Elvis In Concert special, which aired posthumously. This is a great, though all too short, live version of a song he first recorded in 1970 (Elvis Country).

#18 “Reconsider Baby,” Live Recording (1977)
Elvis could always draw inspiration from the blues, even near the end. Recorded February 21, 1977, this is from the Unchained Melody album. Though Elvis formally recorded the song in 1960 for Elvis Is Back, he was playing around with this one at least as far back as 1956.

#19 “Shake A Hand,” Take 2 (1975)
2002’s 6363 Sunset included this stellar alternate of “Shake A Hand,” recorded at RCA’s Hollywood studio.

#20 “Bridge Over Troubled Water,” Live Recording (1977)
On April 29, 1977, in Duluth, Minnesotta, Elvis knocked out a great rendition of “Bridge Over Troubled Water,” though, like many 1977 recordings, it can be a painful listen. Featured on Spring Tours 77.

* * *

Elvis never claimed to be anything special. It seems, at times, people tear him down for being a flawed man rather than the perfect god they wrongly imagined him to be.

“I’m not a king, I’m just a man,” he sang in 1971’s “Until It’s Time For You To Go,” as if pleading for understanding. No one listened.

It turns out that our hero was only human, just like us. I think that makes his many accomplishments shine that much brighter.


October 23, 2011, Update:
In the comments, Joe mentioned that he decided to try all of the songs mentioned above as a playlist. I liked his idea, so here’s what I came up with.

  • For The Heart (From Elvis Presley Boulevard, Memphis, Tennessee)
  • You Asked Me To (Promised Land)
  • Bringing It Back (Today)
  • Love Coming Down (From Elvis Presley Boulevard, Memphis, Tennessee)
  • Lovin’ Arms (Good Times)
  • Pledging My Love (Moody Blue)
  • I’ve Got A Thing About You, Baby (Good Times)
  • For Ol’ Times Sake (Raised On Rock)
  • She Thinks I Still Care [Alternate] (Walk A Mile In My Shoes)
  • Good Time Charlie’s Got The Blues (Good Times)
  • Burning Love [Live] (The Alternate Aloha)
  • What Now My Love [Live] (Aloha From Hawaii Via Satellite)
  • Bridge Over Troubled Water [Live] (Spring Tours 77)
  • A Big Hunk O’ Love [Live] (Aloha From Hawaii Via Satellite)
  • Unchained Melody [Live] (Moody Blue)
  • An American Trilogy [Live] (Aloha From Hawaii Via Satellite)
  • Promised Land (Promised Land)
  • Never Again (From Elvis Presley Boulevard, Memphis, Tennessee)
  • It’s Midnight (Promised Land)
  • Way Down [Alternate] (A Life In Music)
  • He’ll Have To Go (Moody Blue)
  • If You Talk In Your Sleep (Promised Land)
  • Moody Blue (Moody Blue)
  • Your Love’s Been A Long Time Coming [Alternate] (Today, Tomorrow & Forever)
  • My Boy (Good Times)
  • I’ll Remember You [Live] (Aloha From Hawaii Via Satellite)
  • Fever [Live] (Aloha From Hawaii Via Satellite)
  • Lawdy, Miss Clawdy [Live] (Elvis Recorded Live On Stage In Memphis)
  • Suspicious Minds [Live] (The Alternate Aloha)
  • America The Beautiful [Live] (Elvis Aron Presley)
  • How Great Thou Art [Live] (Elvis Recorded Live On Stage In Memphis)
  • Way Down (Moody Blue)
  • Pieces Of My Life (Today)
  • Hurt (From Elvis Presley Boulevard, Memphis, Tennessee)
  • Sweet Angeline (Raised On Rock)
  • Thinking About You (Promised Land)
  • Good Time Charlie’s Got The Blues [Outtake] (Good Times [2009 FTD Edition])
  • I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry [Informal] (Elvis By The Presleys)
  • Pledging My Love [Alternate] (A Life In Music)
  • She Thinks I Still Care (Moody Blue)
  • Shake A Hand [Alternate] (6363 Sunset)
  • Reconsider Baby [Live] (Unchained Melody)
  • My Baby Left Me [Live] (Elvis Recorded Live On Stage In Memphis)
  • I Really Don’t Want To Know [Live] (Elvis In Concert)
  • Where No One Stands Alone [Live] (Unchained Melody)
  • My Way [Live] (Elvis Aron Presley)

“Before you abuse, criticize, and accuse…” (Conductor’s Reflections #9)

“Now your whole world you see around you is just a reflection,
And the law of karma says you’re gonna reap just what you sow, yes you do,
So unless you’ve lived a life of total perfection,
You’d better be careful of every stone that you should throw.”

–From “Walk A Mile In My Shoes” by Joe South, 1969,
Don’t It Make You Want To Go Home

Why do some Elvis fans feel the need to rip apart others in the entertainment industry? This is not all fans, of course, but the ones who do it tend to be very vocal – especially out here in Internetland.

For example, any time one of Elvis’ old records is broken, some fans are there to insult whoever happened to break that record. “Who will remember them in twenty years?” is a common phrase in the comments section of Elvis sites whenever this happens.

The great irony, of course, is that other people said the same kinds of things about Elvis throughout his life and even at his death. Elvis fans should know better.

My sister emailed me a link to a nice story in which highly respected talk show host Oprah Winfrey speaks about people she would have liked to interview. Oprah has been in the news lately due to stepping down from her show after 25 years to launch a television network.

“Who got away was Elvis Presley,” she states. “When I was a kid, I always wanted to talk to Elvis. Another was Jackie Onassis” (Elvis Was “Interview that Got Away” for Oprah — Elvis.com). A brief, innocuous, quote, right?

Not in the Elvis world, of course. Predictably, in the public comments posted beneath the story, that certain subset of fans instead criticized Oprah for apparently daring to think she was good enough to interview Elvis. After all, Elvis did his charitable works in private while Oprah’s are all done in public, seemed to be part of their twisted logic.

Let’s look at reality, though. While it is true that Elvis kept a lot of his charitable work private, I point to the Aloha From Hawaii television special, which benefited cancer research, as an example of a very public work of charity on Elvis’ part. As far as Oprah not keeping her charitable works private, how are we to know what she does privately since, by definition, that information would not be public?

Of those who feel that only charity kept private is genuine, I wonder how many deduct their own charitable donations from their income taxes each year? It is easy to target the rich, but harder to examine our own hearts.

In any event, this incessant need to tear down other successful people does not increase Elvis’ stature. It just makes Elvis fans look bad.