2021 Songs of the Year

Well, folks, congratulations for making it to 2022!

My traditional first post of each year is an analysis of my music listening trends for the previous year. I know you have been waiting anxiously to learn about these numbers, and there were a few surprises in the 2021 data.

Out of exactly 5,000 Elvis Presley tracks in my digital collection on iTunes, the one I played most often in 2021 across all devices was a shocker…

Credit: Vevo’s Elvis Presley channel (YouTube)

I did not backup the undubbed/unedited version of “Merry Christmas Baby,” as released on Back In Nashville, to iTunes until December 8, 2021, and I stopped playing Christmas music after December 25 – so it was at a huge disadvantage to Elvis tracks that I have been playing all year. However, it still took the prize for my most-played song of the year with 14 plays.

In a tie for second place with 13 plays each were the master versions of “Mystery Train” (1955), which of course inspired the name of my blog, and “Any Day Now” (1969).

The win for the alternate version of “Merry Christmas Baby” is even more remarkable considering the track clocks in at over 8 minutes, whereas “Mystery Train” is about 2 and a half minutes, and “Any Day Now” is about 3 minutes.

This means the alternate “Merry Christmas Baby” played for about 114 minutes total in 2021, while runners-up “Mystery Train” came in at about 33 minutes and “Any Day Now” at 39 minutes for the whole year.

I listened to 3,333 Elvis songs on my devices in 2021 (including duplicates). That is an average of 9 Elvis songs a day. I listened to 1,747 different Elvis tracks during the year.

Out of 6,663 non-Elvis tracks in my collection, my most played song overall in 2021 was Bethel Music’s “It Is Well,” with lead vocals by Kristene DiMarco. Featured on the 2014 album Live At The Civic: You Make Me Brave, this recording played 11 times on my various devices this year.

Credit: Bethel Music channel (YouTube)

My other top-played songs by artists not named Elvis Presley were:

  • Joy” by for KING & COUNTRY, Burn The Ships, 2018, 10 plays.
  • God Only Knows” by for KING & COUNTRY, Burn The Ships, 2018, 9 plays.
  • “Fine Fine Life” by for KING & COUNTRY, Crave, 2011, 9 plays.

Overall, I listened to 6,350 recordings using my digital devices last year (including duplicates). That works out to 17 songs a day. I listened to 3,751 different tracks during the year.

My music listening was way down in 2021 compared to previous years. These numbers are about half of what they were in 2020. I would chalk it up to the ongoing global pandemic (i.e., not having a commute to work greatly reduces my music listening time), but this was also true of 2020. So, I am not sure what is going on in my music listening habits. I know I still love music, though, especially by Elvis!

As we continue to face the surging virus, I pray that you and your family have a 2022 full of health and peace.

Blessings,
TY


“Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a huge crowd of witnesses to the life of faith, let us strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily trips us up. And let us run with endurance the race God has set before us. We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus, the Champion who initiates and perfects our faith. Because of the joy awaiting Him, he endured the cross, disregarding its shame. Now He is seated in the place of honor beside God’s throne.”
Hebrews 12:1-2

An Elvis Presley Christmas Countdown

Elvis Presley performs “Blue Christmas” during taping of 1968’s ELVIS special (NBC)

Well, folks, it’s been quite awhile since I’ve posted. In case you don’t remember me, I’m the once and future conductor of this little blog we like to call The Mystery Train.

Christmas is my favorite time of year, which is one of the reasons I wanted to write. In fact, believe it or not, I had actually planned to write anywhere from 6 to 25 posts this month. I’m definitely a dreamer. In one form or another, I’ve been trying to start this one post since Thanksgiving. Yes, Christmas is my favorite time of the year, but also one of the busiest.

“Next week this time it will be all over,” my uncle tells me. As much as I love the Christmas season, I do almost dread the actual day coming because he is right, it means it is just about over. My mom loved Christmas as much as I do, and I remember it making her sad when everything went back to “normal.”

One thing I’ve done the last few years that helps, though, is leaving up some of my Christmas lights throughout the inside of my home. Turning those colored lights on can bring back some of the magic, even if it is March!

At the rate I’m going, it may well be March before you see this post. So, I’d better get on with it.

I enjoy doing lists and rankings, so I was really surprised to find that I apparently haven’t done one with a Christmas theme before. Therefore, I present a countdown of Christmas songs by Elvis Presley. This is, of course, one fan’s opinion.


#20 White Christmas (1957)
Elvis’ Christmas Album
Writer: Irving Berlin
Comments: Elvis’ 1957 version of “White Christmas” borrows heavily from the Drifters’ 1954 recording of the song but unfortunately falls short of that high watermark. This is Elvis’ worst Christmas song, so stick with the Drifters, Burl Ives (1965), or Bing Crosby (1940s) for this one.

#19 The Wonderful World Of Christmas (1971)
Elvis Sings The Wonderful World Of Christmas
Writers: Charles Tobias & Albert Frisch
Comments: How did the weakest song on Elvis’ 1971 Christmas album become the title track?

#18 O Little Town Of Bethlehem (1957)
Elvis’ Christmas Album
Writers: Phillips Brooks & Lewis Redner
Comments: There is a childlike yet sincere quality to Elvis’ voice as he tells the story of the birth of Jesus on “O Little Town Of Bethlehem” that makes this recording stand out, despite how it plods along at times. Nat King Cole recorded the best version (1960).

#17 The First Noel (1971)
Elvis Sings The Wonderful World Of Christmas
Writer: (Traditional)
Comments: Fourteen years later, here again we have Elvis telling the story of the birth of Christ – this time in “The First Noel.” While, like its predecessor, it does plod along at times, it is still a solid recording of this classic. Mahalia Jackson (1968) and Frank Sinatra (1957) recorded the best versions of “The First Noel.”

For reasons unknown beyond a CD tie-in, this Elvis version inspired a 1999 children’s book. I remember running into it at a bookstore in a shopping mall back then and being quite surprised. Not enough to buy it, though!

#16 It Won’t Seem Like Christmas [Undubbed Master] (1971)
Back In Nashville
Other notable versions: 1971 Master (Elvis Sings The Wonderful World Of Christmas ), 1971 Rehearsal (preceding Take 6, Elvis Sings The Wonderful World Of Christmas [2011 FTD Edition])
Writer: J.A. Balthrop

Credit: Vevo’s Elvis Presley channel (YouTube)

Comments: One of the things I love about Christmas music is that it actually represents so many different genres that otherwise wouldn’t share the same rotations, playlists, or compilations. Under the “Christmas” banner, you can get everything from Gospel to Rock ‘n’ Roll to the Blues to Country to Electronic to Classical to Jazz to Rap to Children’s Music to Pop to “Oldies” and probably 53 others I am leaving out.

While it doesn’t hit quite that many sub-genres, Elvis music is similar in that Elvis did not restrict himself to one type of music. One of the reasons I love being an Elvis fan is hearing his takes and combinations on so many different styles – the Blues, Gospel, Rock ‘n’ Roll, Pop, Country. As for Elvis Christmas Music, “It Won’t Seem Like Christmas” is the first entry of many on this list that reflects a melancholy view of the holiday. I love sad songs, and Elvis had a way of infusing sadness and regret right into the sound of his voice that really resonates with me.

While I haven’t played the rest of the set, I dipped into the Christmas songs on the recently released and unimaginatively titled Back In Nashville for the sake of completeness on this list. I’m glad I did, because a few of the versions there, as mixed by Matt Ross-Spang, trumped my previous favorites of particular songs. Stripped of its orchestral and background vocal overdubs, “It Won’t Seem Like Christmas” becomes even more poignant.

I now see why these posts take me so long. I originally intended the “Comments” to be one sentence or less per song, but I hope you forgive and enjoy the tangents.

#15 On A Snowy Christmas Night [Undubbed Master] (1971)
Back In Nashville
Other notable versions: 1971 Master (Elvis Sings The Wonderful World Of Christmas )
Writer: Stanley Gelber

Credit: Vevo’s Elvis Presley channel (YouTube)

Comments: Though I wish Elvis had recorded another couple of takes to really nail the song, I still love what we have in “On A Snowy Christmas Night,” a song that reminds us what the season is all about. The undubbed master fittingly gives more prominence to a church-style organ.

#14 If Every Day Was Like Christmas (1966)
If Every Day Was Like Christmas/How Would You Like To Be [RCA Single]
Writers: Red West & Glen Spreen

Credit: Vevo’s Elvis Presley channel (YouTube)

Comments: The powers-that-be chose to slot 1966’s “If Every Day Was Like Christmas” one-off on a 1970 budget reconfiguration of 1957’s Elvis’ Christmas Album, but for me it fits far better with his powerful 1970s style. The lyrics even reference “a wonderful world,” making it a natural for 1971’s Elvis Sings The Wonderful World Of Christmas. (Note that this album cover is shown in the official video above, so perhaps the song indeed appeared on a subsequent reissue of Elvis Sings The Wonderful World Of Christmas as well.) A number of popular artists later hit similar themes in their Christmas songs (e.g., Bon Jovi’s “I Wish Everyday Could Be Like Christmas,” 98 Degrees’ “If Every Day Could Be Christmas”), but Elvis did it best.

#13 Silver Bells [Undubbed Master] (1971)
Back In Nashville
Other notable versions: 1971 Master (Elvis Sings The Wonderful World Of Christmas )
Writers: Jay Livingston & Ray Evans

Credit: Vevo’s Elvis Presley channel (YouTube)

Comments: “Siver Bells” paints a Norman Rockwell-esque portrait of a bustling city during Christmas. The Back In Nashville version far exceeds the original Elvis release due to the absence of the overpowering male background singers that plagued so many of his masters from 1956 onwards. I respect that Elvis originally wanted to be a member of a gospel quartet, so it was part of the sound he sought. However, many (not all) of his recordings sound so much better to these ears without the Jordanaires, the Imperials, the Stamps, Voice, whoever.

#12 Santa Bring My Baby Back (1957)
Elvis’ Christmas Album
Writers: Aaron Schroeder & Claude DeMetrius

Credit: Vevo’s Elvis Presley channel (YouTube)

Comments: The fun “Santa Bring My Baby Back” was a favorite of my mom, so I think of her dancing along whenever I hear it.

#11 If I Get Home On Christmas Day (1971)
Elvis Sings The Wonderful World Of Christmas
Other notable version: 1971 Undubbed Master (Back In Nashville)
Writers: Tony Macaulay & John MacLeod

Credit: Vevo’s Elvis Presley channel (YouTube)

Comments: Elvis recorded three different songs about seeking home on Christmas. “If I Get Home On Christmas Day” sounds the most optimistic in terms of his chances of actually getting there: “Though I’m half a world away, if we’re patient and we pray, I know I’ll get my chance with you this time.” A beautiful song that leaves us wondering, year-in and year-out, did he make it home this time?

#10 Blue Christmas [Unedited Live Master] (1968)
Tiger Man
Other notable versions: 1968 Live (June 27, 6 PM, Memories), 1957 Master (Elvis’ Christmas Album)
Writers: Billy Hayes & Jay Johnson
Comments: Elvis was on fire during taping of the 1968 ELVIS television special for NBC and delivered in a live setting improved versions of a number of his classics, including 1957’s “Blue Christmas.” RCA truncated the live master first released on ELVIS-TV Special, so 1998’s Tiger Man CD is my go-to version since it is unedited. What I love about this version from the June 27, 8 PM “Sit Down Show” is that Elvis sounds like he doesn’t want to let the song go, repeating its simple lyrics again and again as he strums away on electric guitar.

#9 O Come All Ye Faithful [Take 1 & Take 2 Splice] (1971)
Memories Of Christmas
Other notable versions: 1971 Master (Elvis Sings The Wonderful World Of Christmas), 1971 Undubbed Master (Back In Nashville)
Writer: (Traditional)
Comments: Elvis only recorded two takes of “O Come All Ye Faithful.” He laid down a great performance on Take 1, but tried an extended version for Take 2 that added 75 seconds to the song. Unfortunately, portions of Take 2 were not as strong as his Take 1 performance. Take 1 became the master. 1982’s Memories Of Christmas album brilliantly spliced Takes 1 & 2 to make the definitive version of this Christmas classic. Get used to that word, “definitive,” because I will be using it often from here on out. While I love the recently released undubbed versions, “O Come All Ye Faithful” actually benefits from majestic orchestral and background vocal overdubs that serve to herald the arrival of our Lord.

#8 Winter Wonderland (1971)
Elvis Sings The Wonderful World Of Christmas
Other notable version: 1971 Take 10 (Master, Alternate Mix, Back In Nashville)
Writers: Dick Smith & Felix Bernard

Credit: Vevo’s Elvis Presley channel (YouTube)

Comments: Sometimes I don’t understand my fellow Elvis fans. One such instance is that I would guess that roughly 90% of those fans who post online trash Elvis’ performance of “Winter Wonderland.” I must admit, I don’t get it. At all. Elvis puts a rock-n-roll spin on “Winter Wonderland,” complete with a “signature Elvis ending,” and creates, yes, the definitive version. I’m a proud member of the 10% who love Elvis’ take on this song, which is why it ranks so high on this list.

#7 Merry Christmas Baby [Single Edit] (1971)
Merry Christmas Baby/O Come All Ye Faithful [RCA Single]
Other notable versions: 1971 Undubbed/Unedited Master (Back In Nashville), 1971 Master (Album Edit, Elvis Sings The Wonderful World Of Christmas)
Writer: Lou Baxter & Johnny Moore
Comments: While the album edit (5:45) of “Merry Christmas Baby” as well as the unedited performance (8:08) are surely of interest to us Elvis fans, the single edit (3:15) of this jam feels just about right. As much as I love Elvis’ rendition of “Merry Christmas Baby,” it was not the best choice for the A-Side of a single, though. Ironically, RCA was sitting on another recording that could have proven much better.

#6 Here Comes Santa Claus (1957)
Elvis’ Christmas Album
Writers: Gene Autry & Oakley Halderman
Comments: With all due respect to Gene Autry, Elvis’ recording of “Here Comes Santa Claus” is, that’s right, the definitive version. I love how the world’s foremost rock ‘n’ roll star practically swings the lyrics, “Here comes Santa Claus, here comes Santa Claus,” near the end of the song.

Credit: Vevo’s Elvis Presley channel (YouTube)

#5 Holly Leaves And Christmas Trees [Undubbed Master] (1971)
Back In Nashville
Other notable versions: 1971 Master (Elvis Sings The Wonderful World Of Christmas), 1971 Take 4 (Back In Nashville), 1971 Take 2 (Elvis Sings The Wonderful World Of Christmas [2011 FTD Edition]), 1971 Take 8 (If Every Day Was Like Christmas)
Writers: Red West & Glen Spreen

Credit: Vevo’s Elvis Presley channel (YouTube)

Comments: Full of a sad nostalgia for Christmases past, the quiet “Holly Leaves And Christmas Trees” shines as an example of Elvis at his best. Perhaps that is because the song “gets” Elvis, for it was written by his friend and bodyguard Red West, who also penned 1966’s “If Every Day Was Like Christmas” earlier in this list. West, who passed away in 2017, wrote a number of solid songs for Elvis, including 1972’s “Separate Ways” – which mirrored the singer’s collapsing marriage and concern about the impact to his daughter, Lisa Marie. West seems like he was a tough guy, and I guess you’d have to be to protect a man like Elvis, but many of his lyrics reveal a sensitive side and obviously appealed to Elvis.

#4 I’ll Be Home For Christmas (1957)
Elvis’ Christmas Album
Writers: Walter Kent, Kim Gannon, & Buck Ram

Credit: Vevo’s Elvis Presley channel (YouTube)

Comments: Elvis was only 22-years-old when he recorded “I’ll Be Home For Christmas” in 1957. By comparison, Bing Crosby recorded the song at the age of 40 (1943) and Frank Sinatra recorded it at the age of 42 (1957). While the versions of Crosby and Sinatra are classics in their own rights, the Elvis version sounds more heartfelt – and world-weary – making it the definitive version.

#3 Silent Night (1957)
Elvis’ Christmas Album
Writer: John Freeman Young, Joseph Mohr, & Franz Gruber

Credit: Vevo’s Elvis Presley channel (YouTube)

Comments: “Silent Night” is Elvis’ best faith-based Christmas song, but did he record the ultimate version? He’s certainly in the conversation, but with strong competition yet again from Bing Crosby (1930s & 1940s). However, I have to give a slight edge over both men to Nat King Cole’s version (1960). Whether you prefer Elvis, Cole, Crosby, or one of hundreds of other renditions, “Silent Night” perfectly illustrates the birth of Jesus Christ, transporting you there.

#2 I’ll Be Home On Christmas Day [Re-recording] (1971)
Memories Of Christmas
Other notable versions: Nearly all of them, including 1971 Take 4 (Back In Nashville), 1971 Master (Elvis Sings The Wonderful World Of Christmas), 1971 Re-recording Take 9 (Today, Tomorrow & Forever), 1971 Re-recording Take 2 (I Sing All Kinds)
Writer: Michael Jarrett

Credit: Elvis Presley – Topic channel (YouTube)

Comments: Elvis made two separate series of attempts at “I’ll Be Home On Christmas Day.” The first was multiple takes of a country-flavored rendition in May 1971 that resulted in what eventually became the album master. Elvis used a bluesier approach when he tried the song again in June of that year, again going through multiple takes. That the incredible June re-recording was passed over in favor of the May version still boggles my mind. The re-recording of “I’ll Be Home On Christmas Day” languished in RCA’s vaults for over a decade until the excellent Memories Of Christmas album finally brought it to light. By then, Elvis had been dead five years.

In my alternate universe, the bluesier “I’ll Be Home On Christmas Day” would have been Elvis’ A-Side Christmas single of 1971, backed with “Merry Christmas Baby.” What a one-two punch that would have been. They could have even left the original version on the album, making the single even more unique.

The writer of “I’ll Be Home On Christmas Day,” Michael Jarrett, also wrote “I’m Leavin’,” which Elvis released as an A-Side earlier in the same year. Despite Elvis’ belief in the song, it failed to ignite record-buyers. Perhaps that factored into Jarrett’s Christmas song being passed over for single consideration. As much as I love “I’m Leavin’,” though, “I’ll Be Home On Christmas Day” is a far better song. In fact, it is almost the greatest Elvis Christmas song ever, but that honor instead goes to….

#1 Santa Claus Is Back In Town (1957)
Elvis’ Christmas Album
Other notable version: 1968 Live (Tiger Man)
Writers: Jerry Leiber & Mike Stoller

Credit: Vevo’s Elvis Presley channel (YouTube)

Comments: “Santa Claus Is Back In Town” is the quintessential Elvis Christmas song. It is perhaps second only to “Reconsider Baby” as his best blues recording, and even that is almost too close to call. According to Jerry Leiber, he and Mike Stoller wrote “Santa Claus Is Back In Town” in five minutes in the bathroom of the recording studio when Elvis needed another tune for his 1957 Christmas album.


I also have to give an honorable mention to “Santa Lucia,” which Elvis recorded in 1963 for the movie Viva Las Vegas – later released on the Elvis For Everyone! album. Elvis’ version, which uses Italian lyrics, is not technically a Christmas song, but the Swedish version of “Santa Lucia” traditionally kicks off the Christmas season in Sweden. Indeed, I recall waking up early one Christmas morning and seeing some kind of news broadcast or documentary that included footage from Sweden, including “Santa Lucia.”


While I have always loved Christmas, it has taken on even more meaning for me since I was saved in 2018. The observance of the birthday of Jesus Christ should be the solid foundation of a season which otherwise can all too often collapse under the weight of never-ending “Black Friday Sales” and other enticements to shop til you drop in search of the perfect gift.

It turns out that the perfect gift doesn’t need a Black Friday Sale, for it has no cost to you – yet it is priceless. Eternal salvation is yours through accepting Jesus, the Son of God, into your heart. You don’t have to be perfect nor become perfect to accept the perfect gift and follow Jesus. I sure wasn’t perfect then, I’m not perfect now, nor will I ever be perfect. However, my entire life changed, and I gained a new perspective illuminated by His light.

Elvis accepted that perfect gift, too. He even passed his blessings on to us with songs about it, including some of the ones we have discussed today. Despite his God-given talents, Elvis wasn’t perfect, either. It seems his every shortcoming has been documented multiple times over. Yet, God still loved him and welcomed him to Heaven.

He has places for all of us there, too. Don’t leave yours empty.

The dreamer side of me thinks I might sneak another post in before Christmas, but the realistic side of me knows that is highly unlikely. With that in mind, I want to take a moment to thank you for reading The Mystery Train Elvis Blog. I pray you and your family have a Merry Christmas and a Blessed New Year!

TY

“Give thanks for all you’ve been blessed with and hold your loved ones tight, for you know the Lord’s been good to you on a snowy Christmas night.”
–From “On A Snowy Christmas Night” by Stanley Gelber; Elvis Presley song, 1971


“No one has ever gone to Heaven and returned. But the Son of Man has come down from Heaven. And as Moses lifted up the bronze snake on a pole in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, so that everyone who believes in Him will have eternal life. For this is how God loved the world: He gave His one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him will not perish but have eternal life. God sent His Son into the world not to judge the world, but to save the world through Him.”
John 3:13-17 NLT

(Now and Then There’s) An April Fool Such as I

This fool is rushing in to bring you a ranking of Elvis’ greatest fool songs! (Or should that be his most foolish songs?)

#1 A Fool Such As I (1958)
50,000,000 Elvis Fans Can’t Be Wrong: Elvis’ Gold Records Volume 2
Other notable versions: 1970 rehearsal (That’s The Way It Is [2000 Special Edition]); 1961 live (Elvis Aron Presley).

#2 The Fool (1970)
Elvis Country
Other notable version: 1959 informal (A Golden Celebration).

#3 Fool (1972)
Elvis (Fool)

The cover of Elvis' "Fool" single (released March 1973)

The cover of Elvis’ “Fool” single, released March 1973 (RCA)

#4 Fools Rush In (Informal-1966)
In A Private Moment
Other notable version: 1971 master (Elvis Now).

#5 Fools Fall In Love (1966)
I Got Lucky

#6 If I’m A Fool (1969)
Let’s Be Friends

#7 Fool, Fool, Fool (Demo-1955)
The King of Rock ‘n’ Roll

BONUS: Love Me (“Treat Me Like A Fool”) (1956)
Elvis
Other notable versions: 1956 Live (Young Man With The Big Beat), 1968 Live (Memories), 1956 Live (A Golden Celebration), 1970 Live (That’s The Way It Is [2000 Special Edition]), 1968 Rehearsal (Burbank 68), 1970 Live (Live In Las Vegas)

“Love Me” is a late add, suggested by Thomas in the comments. While I’m showing it as a bonus “fool” song, it would actually come in at #1 on this list, pushing all of the others down by one position.

[Originally Published April 1, 2010; revised April 1, 2013, April 1, 2021, & April 2, 2021]


“Even fools are thought wise when they keep silent; with their mouths shut, they seem intelligent.”
Proverb 17:28

Elvis: The Ultimate Live Top Ten Hits (Part 4)

This is the finale of a four post series covering Elvis Presley’s best officially-released live recording of each of his US top ten hits.

[Read Part 3]

Released as a 2-LP set in 1987, The Top Ten Hits contained all 38 of Elvis’ top 10 hits on Billboard‘s key US charts. Other than a few outliers that failed to make the top 10 and are not on the set (“Blue Suede Shoes,” “Blue Christmas,” “Viva Las Vegas,” “My Way,” and “A Little Less Conversation”), it includes all of his most famous songs for the general public. Indeed, outside of boxed sets, The Top Ten Hits remains one of the most comprehensive Elvis releases to date when it comes to mainstream songs.

Today’s post will feature hits included on Side D of The Top Ten Hits, most of which were studio recordings on the original album.

01. Return To Sender (hit version recorded 1962)
Ultimate Live Version: August 1, 1976, Hampton Roads, VA, New Haven ’76
Per request, Elvis performs “Return To Sender” off the top of his head at a concert in Hampton Roads, Virginia. Included as a bonus track on New Haven ’76, this is the only officially released live version of the song. Considering it was recorded in 1976, the nadir of Elvis concert years, it actually isn’t horrible.

02. Devil In Disguise (hit version recorded 1963)
Ultimate Live Version: None available
It is unfortunate that Elvis never performed live in the mid-1960s. This song would surely have resulted in a classic rendition at that time.

03. Bossa Nova Baby (hit version recorded 1963)
Ultimate Live Version: None available
A medley of “Return To Sender” and “Bossa Nova Baby” might have been fun in his 1969 live shows to acknowledge a couple of hit songs from his 1960s movies.

04. Crying In The Chapel (hit version recorded 1960)
Ultimate Live Version: None available
Voice-wise, 1968 probably would have been the best time for Elvis to have performed “Crying In The Chapel” live. I don’t see where it would really fit in any of his four shows captured for the ELVIS special, though. August 1970 probably would have been a good vocal opportunity for it, too. I would love to hear the Blossoms or the Sweet Inspirations backing Elvis on this instead of the Jordanaires.

Elvis Presley performs “The Wonder Of You” at the August 13, 1970, Dinner Show, in Las Vegas, Nevada, captured for the ELVIS: THAT’S THE WAY IT IS documentary film (MGM)

05. In The Ghetto (hit version recorded 1969)
Ultimate Live Version: August 26, 1969, Dinner Show, Las Vegas, NV, From Memphis To Vegas/From Vegas To Memphis [Elvis In Person]
Elvis’ live versions of “In The Ghetto” never quite lived up to the studio versions. While he usually performed it strongly, he never seems as “into” the song. A stripped-down version, with just Elvis and an acoustic guitar would have been ideal.

06. Suspicious Minds (hit version recorded 1969)
Ultimate Live Version: August 25, 1969, Midnight Show, Hot August Night
An apparent mistake is actually what gives this live version of “Suspicious Minds” an edge over other stellar versions recorded in the same concert series. After James Burton’s opening guitar solo, Elvis fails to begin singing, so Burton continues the solo. Overall, this live version is even better than the studio master.

07. Don’t Cry Daddy (hit version recorded 1969)
Ultimate Live Version: February 18, 1970, Dinner Show, Las Vegas, NV, Greatest Hits, Volume One
While I love “Don’t Cry Daddy,” it does not work as well in a live concert setting, and I can understand why Elvis dropped it by 1971. That said, this live version is top-notch.

08. The Wonder Of You (hit version recorded live, February 18, 1970, Midnight Show, Las Vegas, NV, On Stage)
Ultimate Live Version (after hit recorded):
August 13, 1970, Dinner Show, Las Vegas, NV, The Way It Was
I have found that time behaves inconsistently in certain situations and for certain people. Elvis’ entire career, for instance, was compressed into about 21 years, yet he left a wealth of material behind that continues to forge his musical legacy. Elvis released his February 1970 live version of “The Wonder Of You” as a single in April 1970, and it peaked at number nine on June 27, 1970. Less than two months later, during one of the concerts captured for the MGM documentary movie Elvis: That’s The Way It Is, he introduces this August 1970 live recording by stating, “I had a record out last year that–-this year . . . this year, wasn’t it?–-that did pretty good for me. I’d like to sing it for you.” In this case, two to four months in “Elvis time” was like a year in normal time.

09. Burning Love (hit version recorded 1972)
Ultimate Live Version: April 18, 1972, San Antonio, TX, Close Up
Featured in the documentary movie Elvis On Tour (MGM, 1972), this rockin’ version of “Burning Love” exceeds any other live renditions released thus far. The March 1972 studio master remains the best, however.

Well, that about wraps things up for our look at Elvis’ best officially released live recordings of his hit songs. Over 43 years after his death, Elvis Presley concert recordings continue to surface. With that in mind, we may have to check in on these live hits again in a few years.

Thanks for reading.

Your Conductor,
TY


“Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in me.”
John 14:1

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 recordings 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. Captured for Elvis: That’s The Way It Is, 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

[Read Part 4]


“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 recordings 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 14, 1973, 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 recordings 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