Elvis: The Ultimate Live Top Ten Hits (Part 3)

This is Part 3 of a series of 4 posts covering Elvis Presley’s best officially-released live recording of each of his US top ten hits.

[Read Part 2]

Today’s post features hits included on Side C of The Top Ten Hits (1987), all of which were studio masters on the original album.

01. Stuck On You (hit version recorded 1960)
Ultimate Live Version: March 26, 1960, Miami, FL, A Life In Music
Three weeks after Elvis finished his two-year stint in the US Army, he taped a television special with the legendary Frank Sinatra, The Frank Sinatra Timex Show: It’s Nice To Go Traveling – Welcome Home Elvis. The program also starred Sammy Davis, Jr., Joey Bishop, and Nancy Sinatra. In front of the studio audience, Elvis performed both sides of his new single. A strong rendition, this is the only live version of “Stuck On You” to have surfaced to date.

Elvis Presley performs “Stuck On You” on March 26, 1960, as part of the WELCOME HOME ELVIS special (ABC)

02. It’s Now Or Never (hit version recorded 1960)
Ultimate Live Version: February 23, 1970, Closing Show, Las Vegas, NV, The On Stage Season: The Opening And Closing Shows 1970
When seeing Elvis in Las Vegas, some of the best shows to catch were either the Opening Show that began a concert engagement or the Closing Show that ended one. In the Closing Show that concluded his January 26-February 23 concert series at the International Hotel in 1970, Elvis sang an off-the-cuff yet solid version of “It’s Now Or Never.”

03. Are You Lonesome Tonight (hit version recorded 1960)
Ultimate Live Version: August 26, 1969, Midnight Show, Las Vegas, NV, Elvis Aron Presley
In one segment of each of his 1969 live shows, Elvis played electric guitar on a few songs. During this portion at the August 26 Midnight Show, Elvis begins a version of “Are You Lonesome Tonight” that sounds fairly normal at the beginning before he makes a humorous lyric replacement and breaks down into fits of laughter as soaring soprano Cissy Houston of the Sweet Inspirations continues diligently to sing in the background without missing a note. This only makes Elvis more hysterical. Elvis often had fun with “Are You Lonesome Tonight” on stage, but this version, which I refer to as “Are You Laughing Tonight,” by far, is the most endearing. If you want a “serious” version, though, I point you to the August 25, 1969, Midnight Show, from the previous night – first released on Hot August Night.

04. Surrender (hit version recorded 1960)
Ultimate Live Version: August 21, 1969, Midnight Show, Las Vegas, NV, Collectors Gold
Sure, it lasts less than 30 seconds and consists only of Elvis singing “la-da-da-da-da-da-da-daah”‘s instead of the actual lyrics to “Surrender,” but it is the longer of the only two live versions officially released. Oddly enough, I enjoy listening to it.

05. I Feel So Bad (hit version recorded 1961)
Ultimate Live Version: None available
If only Elvis had attempted “I Feel So Bad” during one of the 1968 “Sit Down” shows or rehearsals for the ELVIS special.

06. Little Sister (hit version recorded 1961)
Ultimate Live Version: August 12, 1970, Midnight Show, Elvis Aron Presley
Rare in his 1970 shows (and permanently absent by 1972, as far as I know), Elvis includes a segment where he plays electric guitar at this show – my favorite concert ever released. He kicks that portion off with a great version of “Little Sister.”

07. His Latest Flame (hit version recorded 1961)
Ultimate Live Version: None available
“His Latest Flame” surely would have been terrific had he performed it at that same August 12, 1970, concert.

08. Can’t Help Falling In Love (hit version recorded 1961)
Ultimate Live Version: June 29, 1968, 6 PM Show, Burbank, CA, ELVIS-TV Special
Almost as good as the studio master.

09. Good Luck Charm (hit version recorded 1961)
Ultimate Live Version: None available
While I enjoy the studio recording for what it is, it is no big loss that Elvis apparently never performed “Good Luck Charm” live.

10. She’s Not You (hit version recorded 1962)
Ultimate Live Version: None available
During rehearsals captured for Elvis On Tour (1972), Elvis made a surprise attempt at “Young And Beautiful” from 1957’s Jailhouse Rock. Unfortunately, it appears he never performed that one live. Along the same lines, I imagine “She’s Not You” would have suited his voice just as well in 1972.

Next time, we’ll wrap up our look at Elvis’ best officially released live recordings of his hit songs. Until then, take care. Thank you for reading.

Blessings,
TY


“Never pay back evil with more evil. Do things in such a way that everyone can see you are honorable. Do all that you can to live in peace with everyone.”
Romans 12:17-18

Elvis: The Ultimate Live Top Ten Hits (Part 2)

This is Part 2 of a series of 4 posts covering Elvis Presley’s best live recording, of those officially released, for each of his US top ten hits.

[Read Part 1]

Today’s post features hits included on Side B of The Top Ten Hits (1987), all of which were studio masters on the original album.

01. Don’t (hit version recorded 1957)
Ultimate Live Version: None available
Though a live version of “Don’t” has never been released, there is a rehearsal version from July 29, 1970, that can be used to imagine what it might have been like. The rehearsal was first released on 1992’s Elvis: The Lost Performances VHS and Laserdisc. It appeared in last year’s That’s The Way It Is: Collector’s Edition book & CD set. A truncated version of the “Don’t” rehearsal also appeared on the A Life In Music CD set (1997) and the That’s The Way It Is: Deluxe Edition CD & DVD set (2014).

02. I Beg Of You (hit version recorded 1957)
Ultimate Live Version: None available
This is shaping up to be a great post, isn’t it?

03. Wear My Ring Around Your Neck (hit version recorded 1958)
Ultimate Live Version: None available
Okay, maybe this wasn’t such a wonderful idea.

04. Hard Headed Woman (hit version recorded 1958)
Ultimate Live Version: None available
Come on, Elvis! Well, for “Hard Headed Woman,” we do at least have a rehearsal version from July 29, 1970. Sure, it is only about 10 seconds long and not very good, but at this point, I’ll take it. This was also on last year’s That’s The Way It Is: Collector’s Edition.

05. One Night (hit version recorded 1957)
Ultimate Live Version: June 27, 1968, 6 PM Show, Rendition #1, Burbank, CA, Memories: The ’68 Comeback Special
Finally! Now, this is more like it. Over a dozen official live versions of “One Night” have been released over the years. His 1968 live versions for the ELVIS special are nearly as good as his 1957 studio master. As with “Jailhouse Rock,” covered last week, Elvis’ raw 1968 voice serves “One Night” well. Though understandable, the smoother vocal approach he used in 1969 and beyond due to the demands of performing up to two shows a night did not serve songs like “Jailhouse Rock” and “One Night” well.

Elvis actually recorded two versions of “One Night” back in 1957. The first used the song’s original lyrics (e.g., “One night of sin is what I’m now paying for”) whereas the released version used modified lyrics to make them slightly less controversial (e.g., “One night with you is what I’m now praying for”). In his 1968 live versions, Elvis intermingles lyrics from both versions of the song.

06. I Got Stung (hit version recorded 1958)
Ultimate Live Version: None available
Sigh.

07. A Fool Such As I (hit version recorded 1958)
Ultimate Live Version: March 25, 1961, Pearl Harbor, HI, Elvis Aron Presley
Here we go! There is only one live version available of “A Fool Such As I,” so it wins by default. It is a strong version, though. Benefiting the USS Arizona Memorial, which was having funding problems despite the approaching 20th anniversary of the Pearl Harbor attack that drew the United States into World War II, this 1961 concert is a must-listen. Elvis’ show raised over $50,000 and turned a spotlight on the issue to encourage contributions from others, including the US Congress. The memorial was dedicated on Memorial Day 1962, 13 years after fundraising efforts began.

08. I Need Your Love Tonight (hit version recorded 1958)
Ultimate Live Version: March 25, 1961, Pearl Harbor, HI, Elvis Aron Presley
This is another winner by default due to being the only live version available. After this Hawaii concert, Elvis did not appear before an audience again until the first “sit-down” show on June 27, 1968, captured for the ELVIS special.

09. A Big Hunk O’ Love (hit version recorded 1958)
Ultimate Live Version: February 16, 1972, Midnight Show, Las Vegas, NV, Walk A Mile In My Shoes
“A Big Hunk O’ Love” is rare among 1950s hits in Elvis’ 1970s concert repertoire in that the arrangement is respectful of the original version and Elvis performs it with care.

Thanks for reading. Next time, we begin taking a look at Elvis’ best live recordings of hit songs first released in the 1960s.

Blessings,
TY

[Read Part 3]

Elvis Presley performs a solid version of “A Big Hunk O’ Love” on January 12, 1973, in Honolulu, HI, captured for the ELVIS: ALOHA FROM HAWAII VIA SATELLITE special (NBC)


“We can make our plans, but the Lord determines our steps.”
Proverb 16:9

Elvis: The Ultimate Live Top Ten Hits (Part 1)

Elvis Presley rocks “Heartbreak Hotel” during taping of 1968’s ELVIS special (NBC)

I was 13 years old during Spring Break of 1988. At that point, I had about a half dozen Elvis Presley albums to my name. At the record store that week, I bought my first 2-record set. The Top Ten Hits was part of an “Elvis Presley Commemorative Issue” series that marked a decade since his 1977 death. I eventually obtained all four of the albums in the series, though I never did mail away for the special bonus album (a future eBay purchase, no doubt).

I had been collecting Elvis records for about a year at that point, and The Top Ten Hits certainly firmed up the foundation of my new obsession by containing all 38 of Elvis’ top 10 hits on Billboard‘s key US charts. These are what I now call mainstream or “general public” Elvis songs in that they are his most famous songs. Back then, these were the ones that various radio stations would still play.

The only two general public Elvis songs that failed to make the US top ten and, thus, this album were “Blue Suede Shoes” (peaked at #20) and “Viva Las Vegas” (peaked at #29). If we include posthumous releases, 1977’s “My Way” (peaked at #22) and 2002’s JXL Radio Edit Remix of “A Little Less Conversation” (peaked at #50) are also general public Elvis songs that are not present on this 1987 release. Except for those few titles and maybe “Blue Christmas,” everything else is here from a mainstream audience perspective. Outside of boxed sets, which really belong in their own category, The Top Ten Hits remains one of the most comprehensive Elvis releases to date when it comes to the general public.

I wore this record out in my 7th and 8th grade years, to the point where many of these songs became boring to me for a time. I will at some point cover this and the other Elvis Presley Commemorative Issue albums as part of my ongoing Vinyl Elvis series. Today, however, I want to use The Top Ten Hits as a jumping off point for a series of four posts covering Elvis’ best live performance of each of his hits. As is the norm here on The Mystery Train Blog, the focus will be on officially released recordings. No bootlegs.

Today’s post will feature hits included on Side A of The Top Ten Hits, all of which were studio masters on the original album.

01. Heartbreak Hotel (hit version recorded 1956)
Ultimate Live Version: June 29, 1968, 6 PM Show, Burbank, CA, ELVIS-TV Special
Recorded in front of small studio audience for Elvis’ 1968 NBC television special, ELVIS, this version of “Heartbreak Hotel” rocks more than any of his other takes on the song. It is unfortunately a shortened version, though, due to being part of a medley with “Hound Dog” and “All Shook Up.” I once created a splice with the June 27, 1968, 6 PM Show version of “Heartbreak Hotel” to partially rectify this (inspired by and in the same vein as the “Blue Suede Shoes” splice on the This Is Elvis album, except starting with the June 29 “stand up” show version and ending with the June 27 “sit down” show version).

02. I Want You, I Need You, I Love You (hit version recorded 1956)
Ultimate Live Version: June 5, 1956, Los Angeles, CA, A Golden Celebration
As performed on the Milton Berle Show, following a skit with the host.

03. Hound Dog (hit version recorded 1956)
Ultimate Live Version: December 15, 1956, Shreveport, LA, Young Man With The Big Beat: The Complete ’56 Elvis Presley Masters
The finale of one of Elvis’ greatest recorded concerts, this version of “Hound Dog” is not to be missed.

04. Don’t Be Cruel (hit version recorded 1956)
Ultimate Live Version: January 6, 1957, New York, NY, A Golden Celebration

Credit: The Ed Sullivan Show channel (YouTube)

After Elvis released “Don’t Be Cruel,” he caught an act in Las Vegas that was doing a number of his songs. The lead singer was Jackie Wilson, and Elvis liked his version of “Don’t Be Cruel” better than his own. When Elvis performed the song on his third Ed Sullivan Show appearance in 1957, he incorporated some of Wilson’s upgrades to the song. What I love about this story is that Elvis inspired Wilson, who, in turn, inspired Elvis. Incidentally, this is the infamous “from the waist up” Sullivan performance where TV cameras were ordered not to show Elvis’ hips and legs – which, of course, only added to his legend. Watch it above or over on YouTube.

05. Love Me Tender (hit version recorded 1956)
Ultimate Live Version: June 29, 1968, 8 PM Show, Burbank, CA, ELVIS-TV Special
This live version, recorded for the 1968 ELVIS special, far exceeds Elvis’ original studio recording of the song from 1956. His voice is like velvet.

06. Love Me (hit version recorded 1956)
Ultimate Live Version: June 27, 1968, 6 PM Show, Burbank, CA, Memories: The ’68 Comeback Special
This was a close call with the August 12, 1970, Midnight Show, version of “Love Me,” but I slightly prefer the raw sound of the 1968 version.

07. Too Much (hit version recorded 1956)
Ultimate Live Version: January 6, 1957, New York, NY, A Golden Celebration
This is the only live version officially released of “Too Much,” to my knowledge, so it wins by default. A decent if sloppy version, performed on the Ed Sullivan Show and broadcast from the waist up.

08. All Shook Up (hit version recorded 1957)
Ultimate Live Version: August 26, 1969, Midnight Show, Las Vegas, NV, All Shook Up
The earliest available live version of “All Shook Up,” which is closer to the arrangement of the studio recording, is March 25, 1961, but the performance is tepid compared to his 1968 and 1969 versions.

09. Teddy Bear (hit version recorded 1957)
Ultimate Live Version: January 26, 1970, Opening Show, Las Vegas, NV, The On Stage Season: The Opening And Closing Shows 1970
This live version of “Teddy Bear” was a pleasant surprise on one of my favorite FTD releases.

10. Jailhouse Rock (hit version recorded 1957)
Ultimate Live Version: June 29, 1968, 8 PM Show, Burbank, CA, ELVIS-TV Special

Credit: Vevo’s Elvis Presley channel (YouTube)

As with a few of the others on today’s list, this incredible live version of “Jailhouse Rock” was captured for the 1968 ELVIS special. It almost equals the flawless studio recording. Watch it above or over on YouTube.

If only some of Elvis’ 1957 concerts had been recorded. Perhaps ultimate live versions of “Too Much,” “All Shook Up,” and possibly even “Jailhouse Rock” would have been among them. Every now and then, new recordings are unearthed. I maintain hope that a 1957 concert will eventually see the light of day.

I pray all of you are doing well and staying healthy. Drop a note in the comments below about some of your favorite live versions of these Elvis classics.

Blessings,
TY

[Read Part 2]


“Dear brothers and sisters, when troubles of any kind come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy. For you know that when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow. So let it grow, for when your endurance is fully developed, you will be perfect and complete, needing nothing.”
James 1:2-4

2020 Songs of the Year

Thank you for riding The Mystery Train. Welcome to 2021!

Every year at about this time, I like to unleash my analytical side on my digital music data.

According to iTunes, out of 4,797 Elvis Presley tracks in my digital collection, the one I played most often in 2020 across all devices was a live recording of “Mystery Train/Tiger Man” from the August 22, 1969, Midnight Show in Las Vegas, Nevada, as released on Disc 3 of Elvis Live 1969. I played this rockin’ track 17 times, making it my fifth-most played song of the year overall. Here it is on YouTube:

Credit: Elvis Presley channel (YouTube)

I listened to 7,059 Elvis songs on my devices in 2020 (including duplicates). That is an average of 19 Elvis songs a day. I listened to 2,221 different Elvis tracks during the year.

One of 6,454 non-Elvis tracks in my collection, my most played song overall in 2020 was Jesus Culture‘s “Break Every Chain,” with lead vocals by Kristene DiMarco. Featured on the 2011 album Awakening – Live From Chicago, this live recording played 27 times on my various devices this year. Again from YouTube, here it is:

Credit: Jesus Culture channel (YouTube)

The other three songs that beat out Elvis in number of plays in 2020 for me were:

  • It Is Well With My Soul” by Bethel Music, also featuring lead vocals by DiMarco, Live At The Civic: You Make Me Brave, 2014, 21 plays.
  • Oh Happy Day” by The Edwin Hawkins Singers, Let Us Go Into The House Of The Lord, 1968, 18 plays.
  • Burn The Ships” by for KING & COUNTRY, Burn The Ships, 2018, 18 plays.

Overall, I listened to 11,650 recordings using my digital devices this year. That works out to 32 songs a day. I listened to 4,621 different tracks during the year.

2020 was a challenging year for everyone, full of surprises. As a new year dawns, I pray that all of you have health, peace, and strength.

Blessings,
TY


“I am about to do something new. See, I have already begun! Do you not see it? I will make a pathway through the wilderness. I will create rivers in the dry wasteland.”
Isaiah 43:19

REVIEW: Elvis – The Complete Masters Collection (Part 7)

This is Part 7 of an occasional series reviewing Elvis: The Complete Masters Collection.

[Read Part 6]

ELVIS: THE COMPLETE MASTERS COLLECTION – VOLUME 9 CD sleeve (2009, from Tygrrius’ collection) | Click image for full-color version

CD Vol. 9: Rhythm & Blues

One of the fun parts about bringing back The Mystery Train Blog is the potential to continue old series, such as Elvis Trivialities, and to revisit other loose ends from the first iteration of this blog.

One of those loose ends was my ongoing review of Elvis: The Complete Masters Collection. At first, however, I hesitated to continue reviewing a 36-CD set that came out 11 years ago and is now long out-of-print. Then, I realized, if I were to apply a “newness” rule to potential topics here on The Mystery Train Blog, we’d have little left to discuss. After all, Elvis Presley created his most recent recordings over 43 years ago now. With that in mind, on with the review!

Since it has been over 7 years since I wrote Part 6 of this review, I first want to reset the stage. Back in 2007, Sony digitally remastered for optimum sound quality all 711 of the recordings Elvis released during his lifetime. With various exceptions, the mixes matched the original vinyl releases. Vic Anesini performed the mastering work. These upgraded digital masters slowly began popping up on various compilations and re-releases.

In 2009, the Franklin Mint licensed the upgraded digital masters from Sony to release Elvis: The Complete Masters Collection on CD. At the time, there were two ways to buy the set – as a monthly subscription (3 discs a month for a year, “cancel anytime!”) or as an outright purchase of the entire set (36 discs) at a lower price than the combined total of all the monthly subscription fees. Each CD represented a theme, so the majority of the discs featured new sequencing and combinations compared to previous releases of this material. Unfortunately, within each individual disc, Franklin Mint generally sequenced the songs in recording order. I do appreciate the creativity behind dividing Elvis’ vast catalog into themes, but I wish they had taken this a step further and applied such creativity to more of the track sequencing as well. The Franklin Mint set also included a 24-page booklet, a record-player style display case, and a reproduction of Elvis’ first record, “That’s All Right” b/w “Blue Moon of Kentucky” on the Sun label.

In 2010, Sony released a high-end boxed set called The Complete Elvis Presley Masters. It featured the same 711 upgraded digital masters as the Franklin Mint set, but in 27 CDs – due to using more space per CD than Franklin Mint (for which, obviously, the higher disc count benefited them for their subscription program). The Sony set included three additional discs of “bonus material” in lesser sound quality, featuring various previously released tracks that came out after Elvis’ death. For the most part, the 711 masters were presented in “recording order” on the Sony set, which also included a 240-page book covering all of Elvis’ recording sessions. The first run of the Sony set was limited to 1,000 copies, numbered. It rapidly sold out, so a second, unnumbered run of 1,000 was produced in 2011 and eventually sold out as well. The luxurious Sony set cost about twice as much as the comparatively low-budget approach of the Franklin Mint set. Yet, I could never get out of my head that the underlying “complete masters” on both sets were exactly the same. The massive difference in price was solely due to the Sony set’s premium presentation and book, not the music itself.

As I already had nearly all of Elvis’ lifetime masters in varying sound quality on a myriad of CDs dating back to the late 1980s, I passed on both the Franklin Mint and Sony sets at the time of release. They were both out of my price range, anyway. In 2012, Franklin Mint began offering their entire set at a substantially reduced price. Wanting the opportunity to own all of Elvis’ lifetime masters in consistent and upgraded sound quality, I jumped on it and, naturally, started reviewing it here. At first, I would only allow myself to listen to a CD from the set for the first time when I wrote a review about it. Fortunately, my impatient side won out over my procrastination side, and I dropped that concept, or I suppose I would only now be listening to disc 9 for the first time! Not to mention the other 27 discs that would have been waiting behind it.

In 2016, Sony re-released the upgraded masters in yet another boxed set. The 60 CD Elvis Presley: The Album Collection featured essentially the same masters spread over even more discs than Franklin Mint did, but this time, for the most part, in sequence of their original album releases. As I backed up the Franklin Mint set to iTunes, I can sequence the songs in any way I please, so I passed on this Sony release, too. Of the three sets, this is the one that is the easiest to obtain in 2020, however, and is relatively affordable given the contents. Be sure to read reviews by Elvis fans before investing, though, as Elvis Presley: The Album Collection has its own eccentricities you should know about – much like Elvis: The Complete Masters Collection and The Complete Elvis Presley Masters do as well. Bottom line is, unless you are simply an obsessive collector that wants to own every single Elvis CD release, there is really no reason to obtain more than one of these three sets. Were I in the market for these masters today, I would go for Elvis Presley: The Album Collection, simply because it is the easiest to find at a reasonable price.

With that out of the way, the theme and title of the ninth volume of Franklin Mint’s Elvis: The Complete Masters Collection is Rhythm & Blues. This should be a treat!

ELVIS: THE COMPLETE MASTERS COLLECTION – VOLUME 9 CD (2009, from Tygrrius’ collection) | Click image for full-color version

01. My Baby Left Me: Now, this is how you kick off an Elvis CD! Due to its similarity to “That’s All Right” (both written by Arthur “Big Boy” Crudup), I think “My Baby Left Me” gets lost in the shuffle sometimes. This is unfortunate, as it is an incredible recording – one of my favorites from Elvis’ breakout year. (Recorded: 1956)

02. So Glad You’re Mine: “So Glad You’re Mine” is another Crudup number, but this one is not nearly as effective as “That’s All Right” or “My Baby Left Me.” Elvis sounds bored. I am thankful Elvis happened to record “My Baby Left Me” prior to “So Glad You’re Mine” or Franklin Mint certainly would have started the CD with this song instead of the superior “My Baby Left Me.” (Recorded: 1956)

03. Anyplace Is Paradise: While Elvis’ performance is sometimes lacking on “Anyplace Is Paradise,” I love the lyrics, including: “Whether we’re standing on your doorstep or sitting in a park or strolling down a shady lane or dancing in the dark, where I can take you in my arms and look into your pretty eyes, anyplace is paradise when I’m with you.” If only this song had a better arrangement and approach, it could have been a classic love song. (Recorded: 1956)

04. Tell Me Why: Recorded at the same session as “All Shook Up,” “I Believe,” and others, “Tell Me Why” is hardly a standout with a sleepy performance by Elvis – similar to “So Glad You’re Mine.” (Recorded: 1957)

05. When It Rains, It Really Pours: Things get back on track here in a big way with “When It Rains, It Really Pours.” This is Elvis at his raw, powerful best. (Recorded: 1957)

06. Ain’t That Loving You Baby: When I visited Graceland in 1990, “Ain’t That Loving You, Baby” was one of the three songs that seemed to play on a constant loop at the various facilities and souvenir shops. This was long before the days of SiriusXM’s Elvis Radio channel broadcasting from Graceland, so I guess all they had was this little loop of three songs (the other two were “Playing For Keeps” [1956] and “For The Heart” [1976]). Anyway, for that reason, “Ain’t That Loving You, Baby” is memorable to me. Otherwise, it is just an okay performance. (Recorded: 1958)

07. A Mess Of Blues: The CD kicks into stereo mode with the awesome “A Mess Of Blues.” I love hearing all of the claps, finger snaps, and other noises. Just a fun song. No surprise, since it was written by Doc Pomus and Mort Shuman. (Recorded: 1960)

08. It Feels So Right: “It Feels So Right” is another good one. The CD is plugging along just fine now. (Recorded: 1960)

09. Like A Baby: “Like A Baby” is another often overlooked Elvis track. This is another of my favorites, and it fits perfectly on this CD. Not only is the Elvis vocal perfect, I love the saxophone accompaniment by Boots Randolph. (Recorded: 1960)

10. Fever: I have to say, “Fever” feels completely out of place here. I suspect it was deposited here by the compiler after not finding a suitable spot for it on another disc. It is also the one song on this CD that is not in recording order, as “Reconsider Baby” preceded it. In any event, I am not a big fan of Elvis’ studio recording of this song. (Recorded: 1960)

11. Reconsider Baby: Here it is, friends, Elvis’ best blues performance – his 1960 studio version of Lowell Fulson’s “Reconsider Baby,” and again accompanied by the incredible Boots Randolph on sax. One of Elvis’ greatest recordings and certainly the highlight of this CD. Not to be missed. (Recorded: 1960)

12. I Feel So Bad: After his release from the US Army, Elvis was on fire in the early 1960s. “I Feel So Bad” is another stellar blues number from this period, written by Chuck Willis. More great sax work from Boots. Be sure to listen for the sax switching from the left to the center channel during his solo. According to legend, Elvis walked up to Boots to enjoy the moment, accidentally picking up the sound of the sax with his handheld vocal microphone. Elvis knew what he was after, and the feel of the take was perfect, so the sound oddity was left in. (Recorded: 1961)

13. Witchcraft: What I love about “Witchcraft” is how it starts off as this unassuming little song with cutesy rhymes, and then kicks into a rockin’ chorus. Each time Elvis goes into “my head is spinning,” he gets a little more forceful. More Boots on sax. This is a killer song. (Recorded: 1963)

14. Down In The Alley: “Down In The Alley” was a bit of an acquired taste for me, but it is a decent blues number and fits well on this CD. (Recorded: 1966)

15. Big Boss Man: Thanks to Jerry Reed on guitar, “Big Boss Man” seems a hybrid of blues and country. Elvis sounds committed, but this is not a huge favorite of mine. (Recorded: 1967)

16. Hi-Heel Sneakers: I love the raw sound of Elvis’ voice on “High Heel Sneakers,” a fun blues number – which sounds like a contradiction in terms! But how can you not love lyrics like, “Put on your red dress, baby, ’cause we’re going out tonight. Well, wear some boxing gloves, in case some fool might start a fight.” (Recorded: 1967)

17. U.S. Male: What is “US Male” doing on a rhythm and blues compilation? This belongs on one of the country compilations instead. Anyway, this is a fun, if dated, song, featuring songwriter Jerry Reed on guitar. Completely out of place here, though. (Recorded: 1968)

18. Stranger In My Own Home Town: Elvis recorded Percy Mayfield’s “Stranger In My Own Home Town” at his first Memphis sessions in 14 years. I first discovered this song when it served as the power opener to The Memphis Record (1987). I have loved it ever since. I am partial to The Memphis Record mix, but this original mix is decent, especially in improved sound quality over previous CD releases. I’m with Elvis, who says, “Play it again, play it again” during one of the instrumental breaks. This is another one where I really love the lyrics: “My so-called friends stopped being friendly, but you can’t keep a good man down.” (Recorded: 1969)

19. Got My Mojo Working/Keep Your Hands Off Of It: This is an off-the cuff jam that was captured during Elvis’ “marathon” session in Nashville in June 1970. A heavily edited and overdubbed version of “Got My Mojo Working/Keep Your Hands Off Of It” was used on the ill-advised Love Letters From Elvis album, which essentially gathered scraps left over by two of the very best albums of his career, That’s The Way It Is and Elvis Country. Among left-overs, this song is a standout. As for this CD, it drags down the quality after “Stranger In My Own Home Town.” (Recorded: 1970)

20. If You Don’t Come Back: Though written by Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller, who penned many of Elvis’ best songs in the 1950s, “If You Don’t Come Back” is a bit of a departure for Elvis. It is an interesting listen, and I particularly enjoy the vintage 1970s wakka-chukka guitar licks. (Recorded: 1973)

21. Just A Little Bit: Continuing the groove of “If You Don’t Come Back,” “Just A Little Bit” is another fun song. Both were recorded at Stax Studio in Memphis. (Recorded: 1973)

22. Shake A Hand: I have to say, Franklin Mint really lucked out on the sequencing of this one. Since they are intent on recording order, “Shake A Hand” just happened to fall last, yet is actually the perfect song to close this CD. I love this performance by Elvis, and the sound is crystal clear. This is a bass-heavy song in terms of sound, and the drums really drive it. (Recorded: 1975)

What a great CD! Of Franklin Mint’s unique, themed compilations (I am excluding Volume 4: Christmas With Elvis, Volume 5: Complete Aloha From Hawaii Concert and Volume 7: Complete 1968 Comeback Special from that label), this is my favorite so far. This is actually a CD or playlist that I would routinely enjoy. Sony should put this compilation out as a single CD, maybe as a budget release.

Let’s see, up next would be Volume 10: Live In Las Vegas. It compiles the albums Elvis In Person and On Stage, which we already know are among the best albums of his career. Seeing as how I recently devoted four posts to Elvis’ 1969 Las Vegas shows, I will either skip to another CD for the next review in this occasional series or wait another seven years to write Part 8. You just never know with me.

Blessings,
TY


“The rich and poor have this in common: The LORD made them both.”
Proverb 22:2

A Squirrel Loose at the Big, Freaky International Hotel (Part 3)

This is Part 3 of a look at Sony’s 2019 Elvis Live 1969 boxed set, which contains all 11 concerts RCA recorded in Elvis Presley’s August 1969 concert engagement at the International Hotel in Las Vegas.

[Read Part 1 | Read Part 2]

International Hotel marquee as displayed on back of a CD holder from Sony Legacy’s ELVIS LIVE 1969 boxed set (2019, from Tygrrius’ collection)

“When I was in the Army, the guys would say […], ‘Watch him, boy, he’s a squirrel, he’s just out of the trees.'”
–Elvis Presley, 1969

I mentioned last week that I prefer Elvis Presley’s overall Summer 1970 Las Vegas shows over the Summer 1969 Vegas shows – even though the 1969 versions of songs performed in both seasons win out in most cases.

One of the reasons I prefer the Summer 1970 engagement is the expanded setlist. Newly added songs like “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin'”, “Just Pretend”, and “I’ve Lost You” expanded the dimensions of the show for his third concert engagement at the International Hotel. Not to mention songs that Elvis retained after first introducing them in his second concert engagement earlier that year, like “Walk A Mile In My Shoes” and the show-stopping “Polk Salad Annie.”

Another reason I prefer the Summer 1970 engagement over the previous year is the amount of talking by Elvis in 1969. Though I prefer a “talkative Elvis” over the “all business Elvis” of, say, June 1972’s Madison Square Garden concerts, where he barely says a word between songs beyond the customary “thank you,” in the 1969 shows Elvis simply talks too much. Way too much.

Don’t believe me? Here are a couple of examples, using the shortest and the longest shows on the 1969 set:

  • The August 23 Midnight Show clocks in at just under 80 minutes (in fact, I wonder if Sony edited any bits out to get it to fit the 80-minute capacity of a CD). The actual musical content on this show is just over 56 minutes. Elvis talks for a whopping 24 minutes during this show – about 30% of the time!
  • The shortest show on the set is actually the very next night, the August 24 Midnight Show. I suspect management complained to Elvis about keeping the audience away from the casino too long the previous night, as he alludes to such conversations a couple days later in the engagement. This show is nearly 63 minutes long and features about 45 minutes of music. Elvis talks for about 18 minutes during this show – about 29% of the time.

The worst offender in driving up the talking times in 1969 is the “monologue” in the middle of each show where Elvis provides a joke-infused retrospective of his career for about ten minutes. While I’m sure it was entertaining to audiences in the showroom, it becomes a tough listen show after show on CD.

I understand he probably needed a cool down after “Tiger Man” or “Johnny B. Goode,” but the energy of the show is completely sapped each time before Elvis finally resumes singing – with an often uninspired version of “Baby, What You Want Me To Do,” completely lacking the raw magic of his versions from the previous year’s ELVIS special. For these Vegas shows, if only Elvis had bought himself a Gibson Super 400 CES like he borrowed from Scotty Moore in the special’s “sit down” shows, as Elvis accompanied himself so well on that electric guitar compared to anything else I have ever heard him play.

Overly long and bizarre introductions to “Hound Dog” and similar bits also detract from the listening experience when heard show after show. Repetitive jokes with the lyrics of “Jailhouse Rock,” “Yesterday,” and others become tiring, too. I imagine poor Felton Jarvis (producer), trying to capture material for the Elvis In Person album, getting his hopes up, thinking, “He’s going to sing it straight this time” and then, “Nope, not this time. Maybe tomorrow night.” Elvis did eventually perform straight versions of each song, probably after being asked to “clean up the act” as he mentions in some of the later shows as well.

Occasional lyrics twists are fun, don’t get me wrong. It is just hearing the same ones over and over that gets old. Of course, Elvis never intended or envisioned that someone like me would be listening to a complete collection of these shows over 50 years after the fact. From Elvis’ perspective, these shows served their purpose at the time in entertaining those audiences (of course) and supplying the 12 songs featured as masters on Elvis In Person. Yet, here I am, blessed to hear them all, so I might as well comment on them.

Anyway, it is actually a lyric twist on “Are You Lonesome Tonight” during the August 26 Midnight Show that results in one of my all-time favorite Elvis recordings – the “laughing version” of the song or, as I like to call it, “Are You Laughing Tonight.” If only movie cameras had been rolling like they were the next summer. Incidentally, the other eight versions of “Are You Lonesome Tonight” on this set are serious. I suspect if he performed a laughing version night after night, it would have lost much of its appeal.

I first heard “Are You Laughing Tonight” on the radio for what would have been Elvis’ 50th birthday in 1985. I recorded a radio special with a little cassette tape player my older sister gave me a Christmas or two before that, so Mom and I must have listened to that tape 500 times in the car before I finally found and bought a proper version of the song in 1991 (Collectors Gold).

I don’t have a tape player anymore, but I still have that cassette (below). It was one of the cheapest tape brands you could buy, yet it has survived all these years. I even played it several years ago so I could write down the song titles (of course, I have lost that list).

1985 cassette tape of “Elvis On The Air” radio special, including “Are You Laughing Tonight”

Mom went to see Jesus over a year ago now, but every time I hear “Are You Laughing Tonight,” I remember her laughing right along with Elvis. I still feel her with me sometimes, and I turn this one up for her.

Next week, (I promise) I’ll wrap up my unintended review of Elvis Live 1969, and we’ll even get to my original idea for this post!

Blessings,
TY

[Read Part 4]


“You have turned my mourning into joyful dancing. You have taken away my clothes of mourning and clothed me with joy, that I might sing praises to you and not be silent. O LORD my God, I will give you thanks forever!”
Psalm 30:11-12

A Squirrel Loose at the Big, Freaky International Hotel (Part 2)

This is Part 2 of a look at Sony’s Elvis Live 1969 boxed set (2019), which contains all 11 concerts RCA recorded in Elvis Presley’s August 1969 engagement at the International Hotel in Las Vegas.

[Read Part 1.]

“It’s getting loose at the International, boy!”
–Elvis Presley, 1969

The 11-disc Elvis Live 1969 is unfortunately housed in an 8-inch format box, such as used for 2012’s 3-disc Prince From Another Planet, rather than the 12-inch style, such as used for 2014’s 10-disc That’s The Way It Is: Deluxe Edition or 2018’s 6-disc ELVIS: ’68 Comeback Special – 50th Anniversary Edition. The 12-inch style harkens back to the days of LP record albums, while the 8-inch style is out of place on both CD and record shelves. Use of the 8-inch box was evidently a cost-saving move, but the set would have benefited so much from the larger format. Even at 8-inches, the set at a glance appears beautiful, but looks can be deceiving.

Elvis Live 1969 includes a 50-page booklet documenting the 1969 Vegas engagement. The opening Foreword, as with some of the marketing material associated with this set, quotes Elvis from his 1972 press conference for his Madison Square Garden appearances three years later about why he returned to performing live. As he tells the same story no less than 11 times on this very set, I would have preferred the use of 1969 quotes.

Reading like one of the over-the-top press releases that Sony lately uses to promote Elvis CDs, the unsigned Foreword also notes:

“After Elvis’ disastrous two-week 1956 Vegas engagement at the New Frontier Hotel, thirteen years later, his victorious live return in the same city made the meteoric success of his sold-out run (July 31-August 28, 1969/29 shows in total) that much sweeter.”

I call this out not to sicken you with the syrupy language, but to highlight an error. Elvis performed 57 shows during the date ranges of this engagement, not 29. The singer performed two shows a night throughout the month-long engagement (July 31 consisted only of the Opening Show). Even the very boxed set that the Foreword introduces features 11 shows recorded in the course of 6 days (beginning with the August 21 Midnight Show and concluding with the August 26 Midnight Show).

A bigger guffaw occurs in the tracklisting at the end of the booklet. Both CD 5 and CD 9 are listed as the “August 25, 1969, Midnight Show.” CD 5 actually contains the August 23 Midnight Show. Thankfully, the disc contents and label are correct.

Regarding such mistakes, you might ask, “Who cares?” Apparently not those responsible for Elvis releases. Allowing myself to veer off track just for a moment, Sony’s Follow That Dream (FTD) collectors label for Elvis fans routinely releases such errors. Two of the most embarrassing examples when it comes to text are misspelling “Presley” on the spine of 2008’s Wild In The Country and misspelling “Burning Love” on the back cover of this year’s St. Louis/Spokane. On the same St. Louis/Spokane release, the back cover numbers tracks 15-20 as: 15, 16, 16, 16, 21, 20. Though collectors pay premium prices for these releases compared to mainstream CDs, FTD is a small, boutique label with minimal resources and a limited target market. Sure, most 5-year-olds could have caught the counting errors, but let’s not talk about that.

Getting back to Elvis Live 1969, I note the two sloppy examples in the booklet (and there are others, but that is not the focus of this review) as unfortunate indicators that the carelessness condoned at the small FTD label has bled over into a full-fledged release like this one on the main Sony Legacy label.

Sony Legacy’s ELVIS LIVE 1969 boxed set – booklet in foreground of CD holders (2019, from Tygrrius’ collection)

The rest of the booklet consists primarily of excerpts from Ken Sharp‘s excellent Elvis: Vegas ’69 book from 2009. Those who were there, including Elvis himself, tell the story of the concert engagement through first-hand accounts. If you are a fan of the era, as I am, the full book is definitely worth seeking. However, the booklet as presented in Elvis Live 1969 provides a nice, abridged version to go with the CDs.

The 11 CDs are packaged in two cardboard holders. “Packaged” is a polite term. They are mercilessly wedged into two cardboard holders. Use caution extracting a CD to prevent damaging the disc, the holder, or both. Why Sony continues to use ridiculous forms of packaging, which so often fail to serve the singular purpose of protecting the discs, is beyond me. While I backed mine up to iTunes, if you plan routinely to play the original discs I would suggest you place them in more accessible cases as to avoid almost certain damage over time.

Use of imagery from vintage International Hotel menus and advertising in the holder for CDs 1-5 is fun, and I wish that concept had been extended to both holders. Some of the interior Elvis photo choices for the holders are baffling, including two, count them, two photos of Elvis apparently raising his armpit to the audience in the holder for CDs 6-11. These are, of course, shots capturing a split moment in time while Elvis is in motion, but why spotlight such awkward photos when better ones are available elsewhere in this very same set?

I must remind you that I did not set out to write a review when I began this post a week ago. I, therefore, have gone about this in a different manner than if I planned it out in a logical fashion. So, I have covered thus far mixing and packaging, but what I have mostly left out to this point is the star of the show, Elvis Presley.

When it comes to the Elvis aspects of Elvis Live 1969, I must admit to a small degree of disappointment. I have enthusiastically reviewed a number of previous releases of individual concerts from this engagement in the past, so I was surprised at this reaction.

Compared to That’s The Way It Is: Deluxe Edition, which similarly compiles 6 of his shows from his 3rd engagement at the same Vegas hotel the following summer, Elvis Live 1969 feels like a slight let-down.

While Summer 1969 wins out in head-to-head comparisons of the same songs in just about every case (“Words” and “I Can’t Stop Loving You” being the only two exceptions that come immediately to mind), the overall Summer 1970 shows are superior, if that makes any sense, at least during the filming of That’s The Way It Is, with better/more varied setlists and a more polished performer. In both seasons, Elvis is at the very top of his game, to be clear, but Summer 1970 is more entertaining than Summer 1969. How blessed we are, as fans, to have his two best concert series so well documented.

Next week, we’ll dive into more of the Elvis details as we continue and possibly conclude our look at Elvis Live 1969.

Blessings,
TY

[Read Part 3]


“He holds in his hands the depths of the earth and the mightiest mountains. The sea belongs to him, for he made it. His hands formed the dry land, too.”
Psalm 95:4-5