This is Part 3 of a look at Sony’s 2019 Elvis Live 1969 boxed set, which contains all 11 concerts RCA recorded in Elvis Presley’s August 1969 concert engagement at the International Hotel in Las Vegas. [Read Part 1 | Read Part 2]
“When I was in the Army, the guys would say […], ‘Watch him, boy, he’s a squirrel, he’s just out of the trees, man.'”
–Elvis Presley, 1969
I mentioned last week that I prefer Elvis Presley’s overall Summer 1970 Las Vegas shows over the Summer 1969 Vegas shows – even though the 1969 versions of songs performed in both seasons win out in most cases.
One of the reasons I prefer the Summer 1970 engagement is the expanded setlist. Newly added songs like “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin'”, “Just Pretend”, and “I’ve Lost You” expanded the dimensions of the show for his third concert engagement at the International Hotel. Not to mention songs that Elvis retained after first introducing them in his second concert engagement earlier that year, like “Walk A Mile In My Shoes” and the show-stopping “Polk Salad Annie.”
Another reason I prefer the Summer 1970 engagement over the previous year is the amount of talking by Elvis in 1969. Though I prefer a “talkative Elvis” over the “all business Elvis” of, say, June 1972’s Madison Square Garden concerts, where he barely says a word between songs beyond the customary “thank you,” in the 1969 shows Elvis simply talks too much. Way too much.
Don’t believe me? Here are a couple of examples, using the shortest and the longest shows on the 1969 set:
- The August 23 Midnight Show clocks in at just under 80 minutes (in fact, I wonder if Sony edited any bits out to get it to fit the 80-minute capacity of a CD). The actual musical content on this show is just over 56 minutes. Elvis talks for a whopping 24 minutes during this show – about 30% of the time!
- The shortest show on the set is actually the very next night, the August 24 Midnight Show. I suspect management complained to Elvis about keeping the audience away from the casino too long the previous night, as he alludes to such conversations a couple days later in the engagement. This show is nearly 63 minutes long and features about 45 minutes of music. Elvis talks for about 18 minutes during this show – about 29% of the time.
The worst offender in driving up the talking times in 1969 is the “monologue” in the middle of each show where Elvis provides a joke-infused retrospective of his career for about ten minutes. While I’m sure it was entertaining to audiences in the showroom, it becomes a tough listen show after show on CD.
I understand he probably needed a cool down after “Tiger Man” or “Johnny B. Goode,” but the energy of the show is completely sapped each time before Elvis finally resumes singing – with an often uninspired version of “Baby, What You Want Me To Do,” completely lacking the raw magic of his versions from the previous year’s ELVIS special. For these Vegas shows, if only Elvis had bought himself a Gibson Super 400 CES like he borrowed from Scotty Moore in the special’s “sit down” shows, as Elvis accompanied himself so well on that electric guitar compared to anything else I have ever heard him play.
Overly long and bizarre introductions to “Hound Dog” and similar bits also detract from the listening experience when heard show after show. Repetitive jokes with the lyrics of “Jailhouse Rock,” “Yesterday,” and others become tiring, too. I imagine poor Felton Jarvis (producer), trying to capture material for the Elvis In Person album, getting his hopes up, thinking, “He’s going to sing it straight this time” and then, “Nope, not this time. Maybe tomorrow night.” Elvis did eventually perform straight versions of each song, probably after being asked to “clean up the act” as he mentions in some of the later shows as well.
Occasional lyrics twists are fun, don’t get me wrong. It is just hearing the same ones over and over that gets old. Of course, Elvis never intended or envisioned that someone like me would be listening to a complete collection of these shows over 50 years after the fact. From Elvis’ perspective, these shows served their purpose at the time in entertaining those audiences (of course) and supplying the 12 songs featured as masters on Elvis In Person. Yet, here I am, blessed to hear them all, so I might as well comment on them.
Anyway, it is actually a lyric twist on “Are You Lonesome Tonight” during the August 26 Midnight Show that results in one of my all-time favorite Elvis recordings – the “laughing version” of the song or, as I like to call it, “Are You Laughing Tonight.” If only movie cameras had been rolling like they were the next summer. Incidentally, the other eight versions of “Are You Lonesome Tonight” on this set are serious. I suspect if he performed a laughing version night after night, it would have lost much of its appeal.
I first heard “Are You Laughing Tonight” on the radio for what would have been Elvis’ 50th birthday in 1985. I recorded a radio special with a little cassette tape player my older sister gave me a Christmas or two before that, so Mom and I must have listened to that tape 500 times in the car before I finally found and bought a proper version of the song in 1991 (Collectors Gold).
I don’t have a tape player anymore, but I still have that cassette (below). It was one of the cheapest tape brands you could buy, yet it has survived all these years. I even played it several years ago so I could write down the song titles (of course, I have lost that list).
Mom went to see Jesus over a year ago now, but every time I hear “Are You Laughing Tonight,” I remember her laughing right along with Elvis. I still feel her with me sometimes, and I turn this one up for her.
Next week, (I promise) I’ll wrap up my unintended review of Elvis Live 1969, and we’ll even get to my original idea for this post!
“You have turned my mourning into joyful dancing. You have taken away my clothes of mourning and clothed me with joy, that I might sing praises to you and not be silent. O LORD my God, I will give you thanks forever!”