Amarillo ’77 for completists only

Amarillo '77I originally planned to write a full review of Follow That Dream’s Amarillo ’77, but I just don’t have the heart to do it. I enjoy much of the 1977 material on Elvis In Concert, Spring Tours 77, and Unchained Melody, so I was looking forward to this release.

I’ve played it twice now, and I’m going to have to put it away for awhile. It pains me to write this, but Amarillo ’77 is the worst Elvis concert album I’ve ever heard. I don’t own every FTD release, so perhaps there are some worse ones out there. If so, I don’t need to hear them. I have never felt like this after listening to an Elvis album. Unless this is the last CD you need to complete your collection, I can’t recommend Amarillo ’77.

Despite its misleading title, Amarillo ’77 is actually a compilation of songs from five different concerts. While it could be said that the performances on Spring Tours 77 were cherry-picked to cover only highlights, I believe the opposite is true of Amarillo ’77.

This is one of only four official albums ever released that is devoted to 1977 material. Given how rarely this Elvis year is visited, why were these particular performances chosen? Rather than picking cherries, I believe someone intentionally plucked a bunch of sour grapes this time.

I don’t believe in kicking a man while he is down, even if it is 34 years after the fact, so I’m just going to leave my thoughts on this depressing disc at the above.

I can really use a good laugh right now, so I’m going to pull out FTD’s All Shook Up, which covers Elvis’ August 26, 1969, Midnight Show at the International Hotel in Las Vegas. It features Elvis in good spirits and at the top of his game.

Where Elvis never stood alone

I enjoy exploring all different areas of Elvis’ career. With Follow That Dream’s recent announcement that Amarillo ’77 will be among its June CD releases, I thought this would be a good time to take a look back at the 1977 recordings officially available to this point.

Not including the post-midnight tracks on FTD’s New Year’s Eve audience recording, there have been three key official releases of 1977 concert material in the years since the death of Elvis:

  • Unchained Melody (2007, FTD, covering February)
  • Spring Tours 77 (2002, FTD, covering March through May)
  • Elvis In Concert (1977, RCA, covering June; serves as soundtrack to TV special of same name)

All three of these releases have something to offer fans who are willing to listen.

Unchained Melody contains one of my favorite Elvis performances from any time, a stirring rendition of “Where No One Stands Alone,” with Elvis leading the way on piano. Recorded February 16 in Montgomery, Alabama, this marks the only known instance of Elvis performing this song live.

I actually prefer this nearly heart-wrenching version over his 1966 studio master of the song, recorded for How Great Thou Art. After hearing the raw emotions of this live version, the studio version sounds almost antiseptic – as if in 1966 Elvis had not really lived enough to fully convey the song compared to eleven years later.

Just a few days later, on February 21 in Charlotte, North Carolina, Elvis pulls out a blues number that he seemed to always have ready in his back pocket – “Reconsider Baby.”

Though Elvis formally recorded the song in 1960 for Elvis Is Back!, a 1956 version of the song from “The Million Dollar Quartet” jam at Sun Records made its debut on The King of Rock ‘n’ Roll in 1992. Live versions from 1961, 1969, and 1972 have also been released, all of which, like this 1977 track and its predecessor on New Year’s Eve, feature a committed Elvis. Lowell Fulson first recorded the song in 1954, around the same time that Elvis recorded “Good Rockin’ Tonight.” In Charlotte, “Reconsider Baby” is a good performance. Elvis never lost his feel for the blues.

At that same February 21, concert, Elvis also performs the only known live version of “Moody Blue” (outside of giving up after a false start in the same city the night before). This is another good performance. It is sometimes amazing how well Elvis could sing a song that he admittedly did not know. It is also a testament to the work of the TCB Band, that they could carry him when all he had was a lyric sheet. Lyric sheet or not, this is still a worthy listen.

At a Valentine’s Day show in St. Petersburg, Elvis takes over the piano momentarily from Tony Brown to show him how to play the intro to “Blueberry Hill.” What follows is a fantastic, though all too brief, take on the song – which Elvis first recorded in 1957.

A February 18 performance of “Release Me” in Columbia, South Carolina, is another highlight. For the briefest of moments, it sounds like it could be 1970 – but only a moment.

The highlight of Spring Tours 77 is beyond a doubt his March 26 performance of “Blue Christmas” in Norman, Oklahoma. The song takes on a different tone here than his bluesier 1968 live versions or his 1957 studio version. He sounds desperately sad, which is only underscored by our knowledge that he has already celebrated his final Christmas by this point. While I like the performance, this is not something I’ve added to my normal Christmas rotation. It’s just too sad.

The often-underrated Elvis In Concert contains a number of fine performances, including one of his best ever versions of “My Way” on June 21 in Rapid City. A brief snippet of “I Really Don’t Want To Know” from that same show also illustrates that he could still tap into his power. Even Omaha on June 19, sometimes described by others as one of his worst concerts, offers up a decent version of “How Great Thou Art” and an entertaining performance of “And I Love You So.”

My original intent in all of this was not to go through track-by-track highlights of 1977, but to point out that even one of Elvis’ lesser years can still hold magic. It is a mistake to focus only on certain aspects of Elvis’ career and to ignore the rest. While 1968-1971 may indeed be my personal favorite span, I would not want that to be the only Elvis I ever hear.

It is also unfair to use peak moments like 1968-1972 or 1954-1958 as the measuring sticks for everything else. Of course, everything is going to pale in comparison to those very special times in his life, but that does not mean that it lacks value. 1977 should not be ignored, not by Elvis Presley Enterprises, not by Sony & FTD, and most of all, not by us – his fans. I commend FTD for deciding to release Amarillo ’77.

So, pull out those 1977 recordings and give them a spin. He was on that stage for his fans, and he left these and other recordings as part of his legacy. They are an essential part of understanding the whole Elvis.

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The Amarillo ’77 concert took place on March 24, 1977. Below is the track listing:

01 That’s All Right
02 Are You Lonesome Tonight
03 Reconsider Baby (intro only)
04 Love Me
05 If You Love Me
06 You Gave Me a Mountain
07 Jailhouse Rock
08 O Sole Mio/It’s Now or Never
09 Little Sister
10 Teddy Bear/Don’t Be Cruel
11 My Way
12 Band Introductions/Early Mornin’ Rain
13 What’d I Say/Johnny B. Goode
14 Band Introductions
15 School Days
16 Hurt
17 Hound Dog
18 Can’t Help Falling in Love
Bonus Tracks
19 And I Love You So
20 Fever
21 Love Me Tender
22 Blue Suede Shoes
23 Steamroller Blues
24 Help Me
25 Why Me, Lord
26 Bosom of Abraham
27 You Better Run
28 How Great Thou Art
29 Trying to Get to You