My Head Is Spinning: Elvis Trivialities #17

Welcome to another terrifying edition of Elvis Trivialities, here on The Mystery Train Blog. In our universe, Elvis Presley never released a Halloween album. However, he recorded a number of songs that could suit that theme, including the four below.

Name the Elvis songs represented by the following scrambled characters:

1.) ULBE MONO
2.) HICTRTWACF
3.) YTYEMRS RNTIA
4.) VEIDL NI GSUDEISI

The first person to get all four right in the comments below will have her or his treat bag filled with chocolate-covered bragging rights. The rest of you will get rocks. Only one set of answers per person, please. I’ll leave the light on for you.

Who will be first to unscramble the Elvis songs?


“Walk with the wise and become wise; associate with fools and get in trouble.”
Proverb 13:20

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

Gospel Elvis #1: “I Believe”

Today, I am beginning Gospel Elvis, a new, occasional series on The Mystery Train Blog. Gospel Elvis will examine songs of faith and inspiration that Elvis released during his lifetime. To be clear, each song won’t necessarily be “strictly” Gospel, but “Gospel Elvis” has a better ring to it than “Songs of Faith and Inspiration Elvis.” While I decided to start in 1957 for this first post, we won’t necessarily go in chronological order, either.


Elvis Presley in LOVING YOU (1957, Paramount)

Kicking off his first session of the new year, Elvis Presley recorded “I Believe” on January 12, 1957, at Radio Recorders in Hollywood. It was his first formal recording of a song of faith. The same session also produced the smash hit “All Shook Up,” which ruled atop the Billboard Top 100 chart for eight weeks to become the number one single of 1957.

RCA first released “I Believe” on the Peace In The Valley Extended Play (EP) album in April 1957. The song made its Long Play (LP) album debut on Elvis’ Christmas Album six months later. In October 1970, RCA released a reconfigured version of Elvis’ Christmas Album on its budget Camden label, leaving out “I Believe.” Instead, a reissue of “I Believe” appeared on the March 1971 Camden LP You’ll Never Walk Alone – one of the best of the Elvis budget releases.

Take a listen to Elvis’ recording of “I Believe” below or over on Youtube.

Credit: Vevo’s Elvis Presley channel (YouTube)

Ervin Drake, Irvin Graham, Jimmy Shirl, and Al Stillman wrote “I Believe” in 1952 for singer/actress Jane Froman. The most popular version, however, belongs to Frankie Laine‘s 1953 recording.

Elvis’ interpretation of the song did not seem to draw from Laine, however. Elvis named Roy Hamilton among his influences, and he no doubt had Hamilton’s 1955 version of “I Believe” in mind when he recorded it. Check it out on Youtube or below.

Credit: Roy Hamilton – Topic channel (YouTube)

What strikes me when listening to Hamilton’s sublime recording is that I can hear not only the influence on Elvis’ “I Believe” in particular, but also on Elvis’ vocals in general. Elvis had many influences, but most of them I do not hear as directly as that of Hamilton.

Now that we have heard two versions of “I Believe,” I want to attempt personally to interpret a couple lines of the lyrics within a Biblical context.

“I believe for everyone who goes astray, Someone will come to show the way.”

The truth is, as humans, all of us go astray. Jesus died so that our sins would be forgiven, however, and Heaven would still be available to us. He already paid for all of our sins, but our contribution to the admission ticket to Paradise is belief in Him (see John 3:16), for Jesus is literally the “way” to Heaven.

“Jesus told him, ‘I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one can come to the Father except through me.'”
John 14:6 NLT

Early Christians were even called “followers of the Way,” including in Acts of the Apostles in the New Testament.

“I believe above the storm the smallest prayer can still be heard.”

I was surprised to discover in the course of research for this post that there is actually some debate among Biblical scholars about whether God truly hears every prayer. To be clear, I do not claim to be a Bible expert. Though I have read it cover-to-cover four times, and currently working on two more read-throughs, the Bible is a dense work. However, in my humble opinion, there is no debate here. Of course God hears every prayer. He’s God! He’s omniscient. Does he grant every request? Of course not, but that’s a whole other discussion.

[Side Note: An interesting oddity about the Elvis version of “I Believe” is that he sings “the smallest prayer can still be heard” whereas the other half dozen or so versions I listened to by various singers for this post, including Hamilton, sing, “the smallest prayer will still be heard.” As this is The Mystery Train, I naturally used the Elvis version of the lyrics.]

One of the wonderful aspects of prayer is that you need not shout for God to hear you. He does, indeed, hear the quietest voice. In fact, you need not speak your prayer at all. You can think to God at any time, and He hears you. For believers, this is taken even a step further. If we can’t pray or don’t know what to pray, the Holy Spirit even steps in and prays for us (Romans 8:26-27).

In life, all of us encounter many storms. As a follower of Jesus, I now find comfort in Him through any such disturbances. I went through multiple life-changing events last year, for instance, many of which could have turned into tumultuous storms, but I approached each of them with much prayer, and Jesus brought me peace (John 14:27) and calm.

“The ropes of death entangled me; floods of destruction swept over me. The grave wrapped its ropes around me; death laid a trap in my path. But in my distress I cried out to the LORD; yes, I prayed to my God for help. He heard me from his sanctuary; my cry to him reached his ears.”
Psalm 18:4-6 NLT

My first exposure to “I Believe” was probably Elvis’ You’ll Never Walk Alone album. When I was a teenager in the 1980s, my family and I were on vacation somewhere or other. Anytime we went to a different place, I would always scour any store we happened to visit for Elvis items not available at home. At a Kmart or similar store, I found a cassette tape version of You’ll Never Walk Alone.

By this time, I had my first Walkman. This was about the third pre-recorded Elvis tape I ever owned. I would go on to acquire less than a dozen total, as my focus was on records and, later, CDs. Tapes were usually either releases I couldn’t find on record or gifts from others. Of course, I probably made well over a hundred Elvis mix tapes for my own use, which was the real appeal of cassette decks.

Anyway, I knew nothing about You’ll Never Walk Alone when I bought it. I just saw it had a lot of song titles I didn’t recognize. It was actually the first Elvis gospel album I ever owned. I can remember playing it on my Walkman in the car ride home from that vacation. Headphones allow for such an intimate listening experience, and they were perfect for You’ll Never Walk Alone.

I didn’t have any Elvis reference books at the time, so I thought the songs were all recorded around the same time. It sounded like a coherent album. In reality, the compilation included songs from throughout the range of 1957-1969. Elvis’ gospel and Christmas songs from various decades mix together better than his other music.

“I Believe” kicked off Side 2 of the cassette. As with many other songs on that release, it became a favorite. What I love about Elvis’ version of the song is how his voice eases back and forth effortlessly between gentle innocence and assertive conviction. I should note that I believed in God for as long as I could remember, but I was more skeptical about the Jesus aspect. However, I would explore and encounter Him in different ways over the years, including through Elvis’ many gospel recordings. It wasn’t until 2018 that all the puzzle pieces came together for me, and I was led to Jesus.

At that point, as a new creation (2 Corinthians 5:17), I began to experience the world in fresh ways. For instance, I was never an “outdoors” person. Now, I am often drawn to it. Walking in parks has become a favorite activity.

Music I had heard for decades began to take on new meanings. Suddenly, Elvis’ catalog of gospel was not just a collection of beautifully performed songs, but the most compelling and personal statements of his entire career.

My best friend taught me something she calls, “finding signs of Him.” What she means by that is taking a few minutes to stop, breathe, listen, look, and find God. There are signs of Him everywhere. “I Believe” understands this as well with the lyrics, “Every time I hear a newborn baby cry or touch a leaf or see the sky, then I know why I believe.” Evidence of God literally surrounds us.

To conclude our look at “I Believe” today, I want to sign off with my favorite version. This is Mahalia Jackson, 1953. Listen to her voice, surely evidence of God.

Credit: Mahalia Jackson – Topic channel (YouTube)


“And it is impossible to please God without faith. Anyone who wants to come to him must believe that God exists and that he rewards those who sincerely seek him.”
Hebrews 11:6

Sammy takes all the chips in Elvis Trivialities #16

A trickily-worded question did not fool Sammy, and he became a first-time winner when he correctly answered Elvis Trivialities #16 yesterday.

And the answer is…

Elvis Presley included the song “What’d I Say” from Viva Las Vegas, his 1964 movie with Ann-Margret, in 1969 concerts at the International Hotel in Las Vegas.

Elvis’ take on the Ray Charles tune was the B-Side of “Viva Las Vegas.” As for the A-Side, Elvis never once performed “Viva Las Vegas” live in Las Vegas or anywhere else, as far as has been documented. He did reference the movie title on occasion during his career monologues in his 1969 shows.

Ann-Margret and Elvis Presley in VIVA LAS VEGAS (1964, MGM)

For whatever reason, “What’d I Say,” the B-Side of the 1964 single, got slightly more traction, though it was inferior to the A-Side, “Viva Las Vegas.” “What’d I Say” hit #21 and “Viva Las Vegas” unfortunately only made it to #29 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart. “Viva Las Vegas” and “Blue Suede Shoes” are probably Elvis’ best-known songs that failed to become top ten hits upon initial release.

Sammy takes home a big bucket of chips from the bragging rights table. He also becomes a member of that esteemed group of certified Elvis trivia experts, The Mystery Train’s Night Riders. Congratulations to Sammy!

You never know when the next Elvis Trivialities question will arrive. Will it be in seven minutes? Seven days? Seven years? Hedge your bets now by subscribing to The Mystery Train Blog. Then, you will be notified whenever there is a new post. “All you need’s a strong heart and a nerve of steel” to win Elvis Trivialities.


The Mystery Train’s Night Riders

  • October 7, 2020: Sammy (3:18)
  • June 14, 2013: Alec (0:18) | Honorable Mention: Wellsy (3:01)
  • February 22, 2013: Thomas (13:36)
  • January 11, 2013: George Millar (4:19)
  • December 23, 2012: Thomas (0:36)
  • October 9, 2012: David (14:38) | Honorable Mention: John (22:06)
  • February 4, 2012: Thomas (13:52)
  • February 3, 2012: Thomas (2:18)
  • December 21, 2011: Wellsy (2:37)
  • October 31, 2011: Thomas (17:32)
  • October 1, 2011: Jimmy Cool (1:01)
  • September 9, 2011: Steve Brogdon (0:17)*
  • August 6, 2011: Thomas (2:26)
  • July 9, 2011: Thomas (5:26)
  • June 23, 2011: Fred Wolfe (0:18)
  • June 22, 2011: Ty stumps the train (no winner)

*Record time


“Wait for the LORD; Be strong and let your heart take courage; Yes, wait for the LORD.”
Psalm 27:14

Elvis Trivialities #16

Welcome back to Elvis Trivialities! It has been over seven years since our last question. Here we go again!

Elvis Trivialities On TheMysteryTrainBlog.com

Your question is…

What song from a 1964 movie with Ann-Margret did Elvis Presley include in 1969 concerts at the International Hotel in Las Vegas?

If you’re the first person to answer this question correctly in the comments below, you will win more bragging rights than you can imagine.

Only one answer per person, so make it a good one.

Good luck!


“Walk with the wise and become wise; associate with fools and get in trouble.”
Proverb 13:20

Thank You, Mac: The Last Verse

I want to pause a few moments to celebrate entertainer Mac Davis, who passed away on Tuesday. The songwriter/singer/actor/musician was 78.

Among Elvis fans, Davis is best known as the writer of the hits “In Ghetto” and “Don’t Cry Daddy,” both of which Elvis recorded at his 1969 American Sound Studio sessions in Memphis. Standing with “If I Can Dream” (1968) as one of the few socially conscious Elvis songs, “In The Ghetto” broke Elvis’ four-year drought of top ten hits when it made it to #3 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart in 1969. “Don’t Cry Daddy” made its chart debut later the same year and eventually peaked at #6.

As a teenager in the 1950s, Davis became an Elvis fan and attended concerts in Texas. When, as an adult, he attended Elvis’ August 25, 1969, Midnight Show at the International Hotel in Las Vegas, Elvis introduced Nancy Sinatra to the audience. He then had Davis stand up as well:

“There’s a guy sitting in her booth that’s one hell of a songwriter, ladies and gentlemen. He has written some beautiful stuff, and he wrote one of my biggest records. I’d like you to say hello to Mac Davis. He wrote ‘In The Ghetto,’ ladies and gentlemen.”

After introducing a number of other celebrities, Elvis went on to perform “In The Ghetto” and threw in a “Thank you, Mac” after the song concluded. These moments are captured on CD 9 of Sony’s Elvis Live 1969 boxed set, which I just finished reviewing here last week, as well as on FTD’s Hot August Night CD.

Davis co-wrote with Billy Strange several other Elvis songs, all recorded in 1968, including “A Little Less Conversation” for the film Live A Little, Love A Little. In Ken Sharp’s Writing For The King: The Stories Of The Songwriters (FTD, 2006), Davis notes that he actually had Aretha Franklin in mind when he wrote the song and then worked with Strange to change the lyrics to better suit Elvis when submitting it for use in the movie.

After appearing in the 2001 version of Ocean’s Eleven, an alternate take of “A Little Less Conversation” found a surprising new life in 2002 when a JXL remix for a Nike commercial during the World Cup became an international hit. In Writing For The King, Davis notes he was shocked to hear the song during the 2001 movie, and his kids in 2002 were even more shocked their dad wrote the “Elvis vs. JXL” hit. When a friend called him and told him the song had been remixed and had hit number one:

“I mentioned something about it to my boys and they both jumped up and down. They said, ‘Wait a minute, are you talking about the song in the commercial?’ And I said, ‘Yeah.’ They said, ‘God, well, all the kids in school are singing that. You wrote that Dad?’ They were totally impressed. I had never impressed them with anything before that.”

The Elvis recording would go on to serve as the opening theme to the 2003-2008 TV series Las Vegas, starring James Caan, Josh Duhamel and Nikki Cox. It has been used in countless other movies and trailers as well.

Davis and Strange composed two numbers that the singer recorded for his 1968 ELVIS special, “Memories” and “Nothingville.” That same recording of “Memories” later featured in the film Elvis On Tour (1972) as well as various posthumous documentaries, including 1981’s This Is Elvis.

They also wrote “Clean Up Your Own Backyard,” featured in the movie The Trouble With Girls, and the title song of the movie Charro.

After spending the early parts of his career writing songs for others, Davis went on in the 1970s to become a star in his own right, with multiple hits, including “Baby, Don’t Get Hooked On Me” and “I Believe In Music.” In Davis’ 1980 Greatest Hits album, he included the note: “A special thanks to Billy Strange for starting it all & all those who believed: Elvis Presley, Clive Davis & especially Sandy Gallin.”

Davis also began an acting career in the 1970s that extended all the way to 2019. In 1979, he appeared with Nick Nolte in the sports comedy North Dallas Forty. In 1993, Davis hosted two television specials about Elvis, America Comes To Graceland and Elvis: His Life And Times – a re-edit of a 1987 BBC documentary, I Don’t Sing Like Nobody/Cut Me And I Bleed. Both versions are memorable as being among the best of such productions about Elvis.

Among a long list of other television credits, Davis appeared in a 1995 episode of ABC’s Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman. My niece and I never missed an episode on Sunday nights. Though he ostensibly played a villain on the show, Davis’ affable personality shined through.

As a huge fan of the comeback era, I cannot overstate Davis’ contributions to that portion of Elvis’ career. The movie songs he co-wrote with Strange brought Elvis fresh material that was of a quality unheard in his films since King Creole (1958) and Jailhouse Rock (1957) a decade earlier. We usually have to grade Elvis’ 1960s movie tunes on a curve, but the Davis-Strange compositions are among Elvis’ best songs, period, movie or otherwise. The same, of course, goes for “In The Ghetto” and “Don’t Cry Daddy.”

I want to leave the last word on Davis to Davis. From Writing For The King:

“I loved Elvis’ version of ‘Don’t Cry Daddy.’ I thought it was really poignant and really sweet. […] I do remember thinking that I should have written another verse for it. But that was me. That’ll be on my tombstone, ‘I was still working on that last verse.'”

Mac Davis as cult leader Larry Smiley in LOIS & CLARK: THE NEW ADVENTURES OF SUPERMAN – “Just Say Noah” (1995, Warner Brothers)


I’m praying for Davis, his family, and friends.

Blessings,
TY


“Don’t let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God, and trust also in me.”
John 14:1

A Squirrel Loose at the Big, Freaky International Hotel (Part 4: The Epic Conclusion) [Playlist Recipes #7]

This is the finale of a 4-part look at Sony’s 2019 Elvis Live 1969 boxed set, which contains all 11 concerts RCA recorded during Elvis Presley’s August 1969 engagement at the International Hotel in Las Vegas.

[Read Part 1 | Read Part 2 | Read Part 3]

To paraphrase Elvis, there ain’t no end to this post, baby! I have committed not to push this review to five parts, however, as to move on to other topics next week.

That said, I still want to delve into some song and show specifics for the 1969 engagement, so today’s post is going to run long, amounting to a double ride. No extra charge. To help with this portion of the discussion, my analytical side provided the following infochart.

Elvis Presley Summer 1969 Setlists Infochart | Click image for larger version | Compiled by Tygrrius

Though not part of the 11-CD Elvis Live 1969 boxed set, which focuses on RCA’s multitrack recordings, I included the informal soundboard recording from the early days of the engagement for reference as well. To date, its only official CD release as a more-or-less “full” show remains FTD’s The Return To Vegas. It would have made a great bonus disc on the Elvis Live 1969 set, as the overall feel of this show is slightly different than a few weeks later, and it even features an extended version of “Mystery Train” and a couple of alternate arrangements. Perhaps it was a cost-saving measure.

Anyway, focusing on the 11 shows that RCA recorded, Elvis performed 13 of the songs every single night – most of which formed the beginning and end of the shows. Of these, the strongest are “Suspicious Minds,” “Can’t Help Falling In Love,” “Runaway,” “In The Ghetto,” “Blue Suede Shoes,” and “All Shook Up.” With the studio version released as a single during this engagement and destined to become Elvis’ last number one hit, “Suspicious Minds” is particularly stunning. The 1969 live version stands as an incredible example of how Elvis reinvented his sound for these shows.

Most disappointing among the core songs are “Jailhouse Rock/Don’t Be Cruel” and “Baby, What You Want Me To Do.” “Jailhouse Rock” pales in comparison to the 1957 studio master as well as the 1968 live master. Both it and “Baby, What You Want Me To Do” notably lack the raw power and punch of the ELVIS television special performances from the previous summer. Understandably, there is a difference between performing 4 shows in 2 nights for a television special versus 57 shows in 29 nights for this Vegas engagement. Elvis no doubt needed to save his voice, but these performances in particular come up short.

Though many others are nearly as good, the one song Elvis improves in 1969 over his 1968 rendition is the “Tiger Man” portion of “Mystery Train/Tiger Man,” fueled by James Burton on lead guitar and Ronnie Tutt on drums. Like “Suspicious Minds,” the powerhouse “Mystery Train/Tiger Man” is a true highlight of this engagement. Unfortunately, Elvis drops it in favor of “Johnny B. Goode” for a couple of the shows. Now, one of those “Johnny B. Goode” performances was quite incredible and made it onto Elvis In Person, but I wish Elvis had dropped something else on those two occasions to make room for it, such as “Runaway.” That is no slam on “Runaway,” which I absolutely love and is among the highlights of the engagement for me.

A better substitution that Elvis provides on four nights is replacing the weak “Memories” with “I Can’t Stop Loving You.” I enjoy the studio versions of “Memories,” as recorded for the 1968 ELVIS special, but it just never worked live.

Additional highlights of the overall 11-concert span include three performances of “My Babe” and several of “Are You Lonesome Tonight.”

Of the one-off songs, the only one that really stands out from a performance perspective is “Reconsider Baby,” the blues song that Elvis returned to time and again over the years. “Rubberneckin’,” “Inherit The Wind,” and the abysmal “This Is The Story” are notable solely because these are the only live versions available. “Rubberneckin'” would have worked better with an arrangement closer to the funky studio master.

Though released as a limited edition 2-record set earlier in 2019, the August 23 Dinner Show makes its CD debut here. Not a single performance had previously been released on CD from this show – the only such concert on the set. The show is also unusual in that the Imperials backing group is not present, leaving full duties to the Sweet Inspirations – my preference, anyway. The show features exceptional versions of “Mystery Train/Tiger Man,” “Are You Lonesome Tonight,” “I Got A Woman,” and “What’d I Say” – the last of which benefits from a shorter rendition than the other shows.


“I had sideburns. Long hair. Fourteen years ago, it was weird. You think it’s weird now? Fourteen years ago, I couldn’t walk around the street: ‘Get him! Get him! […] He’s a squirrel.’ So I was […] shaking. In fact, that’s how I got in this business was shaking. It may be how I get out of it, too.”
–Elvis Presley, 1969

Four weeks ago now, I decided to write a post where I would share what I consider the best version of every song that RCA recorded during the Summer 1969 engagement. “I will kick it off by mentioning the Elvis Live 1969 boxed set from last year,” I thought – not intending to write a review. It would be a couple paragraphs and then the song list. Done. An easy post to warm up the engine of The Mystery Train Blog again.

Well, here we are, 4 weeks, 4 posts, and over 4,500 words later, and I am finally coming to the original intent of that very first post (after, of course, having written a rather haphazard review after all).

Before I backed up these shows to iTunes, I separated out the majority of the talking portions as their own tracks (oh, if only Sony would do this, it would save me so much time). This allows me to create playlists more focused on the music – which improves the 1969 experience to a huge degree. To an extent, you can replicate this by pressing skip at the end of most tracks, as Sony normally places all of the talking at the end of a track (even if that talking introduces the next song, another pet peeve of mine — but that’s why I just save them the way I want them).

Here is my “August 1969 Ultimate Show” playlist recipe for this concert engagement. As we just discussed, Elvis’ setlist varied to some extent each night, so no single show actually contained all of these songs.

Disc references are to the Elvis Live 1969 set, but of course, you could use any available previous release as well. This playlist clocks in at about 71 minutes, keeping in mind my iTunes versions of the tracks have most of the talking trimmed out to separate tracks.

  1. Opening Riff/Blue Suede Shoes (8/25/1969 Dinner Show [DS]) 2:36 (Disc 8)
  2. I Got A Woman (8/23/1969 DS) 3:05 (Disc 4)
  3. All Shook Up (8/26/1969 Midnight Show [MS]) 1:32 (Disc 11)
  4. Love Me Tender (8/26/1969 MS) 2:21 (Disc 11)
  5. Jailhouse Rock/Don’t Be Cruel (8/24/1969 DS) 2:12 (Disc 6)
  6. Heartbreak Hotel (8/24/1969 DS) 1:56 (Disc 6)
  7. Hound Dog (8/22/1969 DS) 1:48 (Disc 2)
  8. Memories (8/25/1969 DS) 2:50 (Disc 8)
  9. I Can’t Stop Loving You (8/25/1969 MS) 2:36 (Disc 9)
  10. My Babe (8/22/1969 MS) 2:00 (Disc 3)
  11. Mystery Train/Tiger Man (8/22/1969 MS) 3:21 (Disc 3)
  12. Johnny B. Goode (8/24/1969 MS) 2:10 (Disc 7)
  13. Baby, What You Want Me To Do (8/25/1969 MS) 1:52 (Disc 9)
  14. Funny How Time Slips Away (8/22/1969 MS) 2:21 (Disc 3)
  15. Surrender (8/21/1969 MS) 0:29 (Disc 1)
  16. Runaway (8/23/1969 MS) 2:16 (Disc 5)
  17. Loving You (8/23/1969 DS) 0:21 (Disc 4)
  18. Are You Laughing Tonight (8/26/1969 MS) 2:53 (Disc 11)
  19. Reconsider Baby (8/23/1969 MS) 3:28 (Disc 5)
  20. Words (8/24/1969 MS) 2:31 (Disc 7)
  21. Yesterday/Hey Jude (8/25/1969 DS) 4:15 (Disc 8)
  22. Inherit The Wind (8/26/1969 DS) 2:52 (Disc 10)
  23. Rubberneckin’ (8/26/1969 MS) 2:21 (Disc 11)
  24. This Is The Story (8/26/1969 MS) 2:46 (Disc 11)
  25. In The Ghetto (8/25/1969 DS) 2:47 (Disc 8)
  26. Suspicious Minds (8/25/1969 MS) 7:14 (Disc 9)
  27. What’d I Say (8/23/1969 DS) 1:57 (Disc 4)
  28. Can’t Help Falling In Love (8/26/1969 DS) 2:10 (Disc 10)

While it was not my intent, nor even a consideration in crafting this list, it turns out that all 11 shows are represented – an indication of Elvis’ strength and consistency during this Vegas engagement (though the August 21 Midnight Show barely squeaks in with a short version of “Surrender”).

For those of you who want to include them (you know who you are), you could slot in the “Monologue” career retrospective from the August 24 Dinner Show before “Baby, What You Want Me To Do” and add “Introductions By Elvis” from the August 21 Midnight Show prior to “In The Ghetto.” This adds less than nine minutes, resulting in a total length of just under 80 minutes for the August 1969 Ultimate Show. That’s right in line with the length of the August 23 Midnight Show, but with nine more songs due to less talking throughout.

After careful analysis, my favorite show of the 1969 engagement is the August 25 Midnight Show, disc 9 of Elvis Live 1969 and previously released on FTD’s excellent Hot August Night. It features top-notch versions of “Mystery Train/Tiger Man,” “Suspicious Minds,” “Runaway,” “My Babe,” “Are You Lonesome Tonight,” “Hound Dog,” “Blue Suede Shoes,” “All Shook Up,” “I Can’t Stop Loving You,” among others. In fact, 7 of the 12 masters that RCA chose for Elvis In Person came from this show. That is probably the only reason it is not better represented in my August 1969 Ultimate Show playlist above, as I was tending to avoid master versions in the event of a tie with another version. Elvis may have put a little extra into this particular show due to the celebrities in attendance, including Tom Jones, Nancy Sinatra, Lightnin’ Hopkins, Buddy Hackett, and Shelley Fabares.


ELVIS LIVE 1969 (Sony, 2019) | Click image for larger, full-color version | Original image credit: Sony

“If I take time out to drink water, just look at me and say, ‘Is that him? I thought he was bigger than that. Squirrelly-looking guy.'”
–Elvis Presley, 1969

If you’re not in for the whole Elvis Live 1969 boxed set, 2010’s On Stage: Legacy Edition (Sony) is probably sufficient for casual or budget-minded fans, as it neatly highlights Elvis’ Summer 1969 and Winter 1970 Vegas engagements on 2 CDs and can still be found for about $12 US. CD 2 features Elvis In Person as well as additional songs recorded live in 1969. Keep in mind that both “Runaway” and “Yesterday” on the On Stage album, featured on CD 1, are from August 1969 as well.

If you are more on the obsessive side like me, but don’t already have most of these shows, I can definitely recommend Elvis Live 1969. Just be sure to shop around, as Elvis Live 1969 can often be found quite reasonably priced – considering the number of included shows. For example, Graceland is charging full list price as of this writing, but you can find it elsewhere for less than 60% of that price.

Among Elvis’ Las Vegas engagements at the International/Hilton Hotel, Summer 1969 ranks second only to Summer 1970 for me. I place Winter 1970 third. While the number of available shows in official releases is significantly less and disallows detailed comparisons, subsequent Vegas seasons in 1971-1976 are nowhere close to the 3 of 1969 & 1970.

To see one of these 1969 shows must have been something really special.

Blessings,
TY


“You can make many plans, but the LORD’s purpose will prevail.”
Proverb 19:21