Before the 15-city, April 1972 concert series chronicled in MGM’s Elvis On Tour documentary even began, Elvis Presley already had a busy year.
In mid-January, Elvis began rehearsals for his next Las Vegas season – his sixth such month-long engagement since 1969. From January 26 to February 23, he performed 57 concerts at the Las Vegas Hilton. RCA recorded portions of various concerts in mid-February. Most of these recordings would go unreleased during Elvis’ lifetime. “An American Trilogy,” however, was released as a single in April, while “It’s Impossible” would appear the following year on the Elvis (Fool) album.
His wife, Priscilla, had moved out of Graceland in late 1971, and the couple formally separated on February 23. A month later, on March 27, Elvis began a recording session at RCA’s Hollywood Studios. The session lasted through March 29 and yielded the following masters:
- Separate Ways (Single A-Side)
- For The Good Times (Studio version unreleased until 1995)
- Where Do I Go From Here (Album cut)
- Burning Love (Single A-Side)
- Fool (Single B-Side)
- Always On My Mind (Single B-Side)
- It’s A Matter Of Time (Single B-Side)
Though Elvis was not a songwriter, many of the songs he chose to record during the session reflected his personal life and featured heartbreaking lyrics about love lost:
Separate Ways: “Someday when she’s older, maybe she will understand why her mom and dad are not together. The tears that she will cry when I have to say goodbye will tear at my heart forever” (written by Red West and Richard Mainegra).
For The Good Times: “Hear the whisper of the raindrops flowing soft against the window, make believe you love me one more time” (written by Kris Kristofferson).
Fool: “Fool, you didn’t have to hurt her. Fool, you didn’t have to lose her. Fool, you only had to love her, but now her love is gone” (written by Carl Sigman and James Last).
Always On My Mind: “If I made you feel second-best, girl, I’m so sorry I was blind” (written by Mark James, Wayne Carson, and Johnny Christopher).
Due to its happy lyrics, the singer had to be goaded into recording “Burning Love,” the only rock ‘n’ roll number of the session. It became his last big hit on the pop charts.
On March 30, MGM’s camera crews arrived at the studio and began rolling for the Elvis On Tour documentary. For two days, Elvis and his band re-created the recording session they had just completed and then rehearsed for the upcoming tour. The majority of these recordings are captured on Discs 5 and 6 of Sony’s new Elvis On Tour set, the focus of today’s post. As I have done with the live recordings, this will mostly be a stream-of-consciousness approach as I listen to the discs for the first time – so bear with me.
Disc 5 kicks off with a slightly slower, gritty-sounding version of “Burning Love.” The sound is fantastic. Unfortunately, this version of “Burning Love” eventually falls apart. I really liked it!
After some studio chatter, another version of “Burning Love” kicks off. Still sounds great! Maybe Elvis will finish this one. I am really surprised how great this sounds. I honestly wasn’t looking forward to the studio discs on the set. I was more focused on the live concerts. Uh oh, a couple minutes in, and it sounds like it might turn into another long false start. All right, Elvis is back on track, maybe he will finish it. Close enough, anyway. I really enjoyed this version.
A third attempt at “Burning Love.” Sounds awesome! Definitely reminiscent of the master so far. Maybe Elvis will stay focused. The band sounds great! We’re closing on the ending. Maybe a complete version. I love it! Good thing I have my headphones on. I can really crank it up. Of course, this is probably why I have developed hearing problems.
Elvis sings a line of “Sweet, Sweet Spirit,” and then they are off into a rehearsal of “For The Good Times.” This is such a beautiful song.
I’m not sure why they never released Elvis’ studio version of “For The Good Times.” The live version recorded a few months later on As Recorded At Madison Square Garden, which is inferior, beat it to record stores, but surely they could have used it on a subsequent studio album? It seemed they were always trying to fill gaps on albums, so why not use a quality recording like this one that was just sitting in the vault?
Elvis sounds so good on this. His voice is perfect for this song. “For The Good Times” is one of those, like 1970’s “How The Web Was Woven,” where it’s fun even to listen to rehearsal snippets. There’s a lot of laughter and clowning around between takes. I’m glad his fellow performers are seemingly able to keep Elvis in good spirits during such a rough period.
“For The Good Times,” at least that I’ve heard so far, doesn’t work nearly as well in a live concert setting as it does here in the studio. While I do wish Elvis had tried “Always On My Mind” on stage, I suspect the same would have been true of that song.
I could listen to “For The Good Times” all day, which is a good thing, because there are apparently a lot of takes of this song on this set. I just like to close my eyes and listen to his voice.
Elvis sings a few lines of “El Paso” between takes, which I remember hearing before on FTD’s Elvis On Tour: The Rehearsals. Too bad he didn’t attempt a full version.
And suddenly they are rockin’ again with “Johnny B. Goode”! It falls apart quick, though. James Burton sounds so awesome on electric guitar. They launch it again, and it falls apart again just as Elvis begins to sing. I don’t know if this was the first session where Elvis is using headphones, but they seem really to bother him.
A third attempt… will they keep going this time? Oh, yes they will! This is the version which is excerpted at the beginning of the Elvis On Tour documentary and appears in full on the Elvis On Tour: The Rehearsals CD. It sounds great! The mix on this CD is incredible! Credit to Matt Ross-Spang.
Then we pick up in progress on a rehearsal of “Always On My Mind.” This is one of my favorite songs, specifically the version from This Is Elvis – which was recorded during this mock session. Though the term wasn’t in use back then, that version was a bit of a remix in that it had some 1981 overdubs, but the untampered version was later released on The Great Performances and Elvis On Tour: The Rehearsals. Though I still tend to gravitate towards the This Is Elvis version, I’m curious as how it will sound on this disc considering how incredible this session has sounded so far.
Elvis has started a proper version of the song now. It’s not the This Is Elvis take yet, but it sounds beautiful. It turns out to be a long false start, unfortunately. The song begins again, but the band is not together, so it stops.
Take 3, and it’s the one from This Is Elvis. It sounds good. I love James’ guitar part on this, rather than the steel guitar of the master version. This gives it more of a pop and less of a country feel. In the realm of lost Elvis opportunities after his death, one of the biggest is that the This Is Elvis remix version of “Always On My Mind” was not released as a single in 1981. Instead, Willie Nelson got the hit when he recorded and released his version in 1982. Nelson’s version became so popular that many people think the song originated with him.
Now we are on to “Separate Ways.” I was typing about “Always On My Mind” and missed it. I need to back the CD up. Okay, here we go. Track 16. This feels slower than usual. Too slow. This might be one of the takes used in the Elvis On Tour movie. Let’s see if he cuts it for being too slow.
I don’t know how Elvis sang the lines about Lisa Marie, which I excerpted above. I wouldn’t have been able to get through it.
“I think I can do it better,” Elvis says after the song concludes. How many times is he going to torture himself?
Some of the dialogue from Elvis On Tour is here, including Elvis saying, “Ronnie, it seems a little bit slow in the beginning.” It appears he didn’t actually cut the song in progress like the movie makes it appear, though. This next take still seems a bit too slow. It was also used in the movie.
Elvis Presley recording at RCA Hollywood Studios on Thursday, March 30, 1972 (MGM)
On to “Proud Mary” – so presumably the concert rehearsals have begun. It’s an okay version. Lots of microphone feedback at times. This is one where it works better in concert, I guess because Elvis played off the energy of the crowd. Ronnie Tutt is great on drums, of course.
“Never Been To Spain” is next, much like in the live show. Elvis did not do a studio version of a number of these songs, including “Proud Mary” and “Never Been To Spain,” so these rehearsals could have filled that gap – but Elvis is simply not focused enough. This portion of the CD is disappointing – though not unexpected. I’m glad the mock studio session portions were so great, at least.
Hmm…the rest of this disc and then all of another disc with this? Come on Elvis, get on it, man.
“You Gave Me A Mountain” is next. I’ve been enjoying the live versions from this set, even though it’s normally not a standout song for me. The first attempt is a false start due to more microphone feedback. This is another one without a formal studio version. Elvis sounds tired or slightly out of it. He stops the song early on.
And then we’re on to “Until It’s Time For You To Go,” which has been tiring on the live shows and is really no better here. I wish they had finished “You Gave Me A Mountain” instead.
I hope there aren’t ten takes of “Until It’s Time For You To Go” on here. Otherwise, it might be time for me to go!
Yay, “Polk Salad Annie” is next. Hopefully it’ll have some bass. The live discs I’ve played so far (Discs 1 & 4) have had a disappointing mix on this song, which features Jerry Scheff on bass guitar. Elvis doesn’t sound great here, I unfortunately have to say. I guess something happened between the excellent mock session on the 30th and the lackluster rehearsal so far on the 31st.
Well, I guess the rehearsal version doesn’t have the Scheff solo like the live versions do. I have played it back a couple of times, but I keep getting distracted in the middle of it by how Elvis sounds. So, it is actually possible I missed it. I don’t have the heart to play it again.
“Love Me” is next. He sounds a little better here. At least at the beginning. I don’t know. If only Elvis had taken some time off to get his life together instead of making this movie – but he just wasn’t like that. The Elvis Presley Show must go on.
That’s the end of CD 5. A strong start and a poor finish. I can’t say I’m too excited anymore about CD 6, which picks up where this one left off.
All right, I took a little break and put some LEGOs together with my bride. Now, on with the rehearsal.
Up first is “All Shook Up.” At least Elvis has some spunk in him at the beginning of this song. Then, it’s time for “Heartbreak Hotel.” Elvis continues to sound a little better, and James Burton is terrific as always on electric guitar. The “Teddy Bear/Don’t Be Cruel” medley is up next. Elvis seems slightly more engaged with “Teddy Bear” than usual. Elvis then launches into the bluesy “Hound Dog” intro before accelerating into the full-speed version. You can tell he’s holding back here, which I think is fine for a rehearsal, actually. This is a song that thrives on an audience, so doing it with the band and a camera crew, I can see how it’s not that inspiring.
“The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face” is up next. He had recorded the song in Nashville in 1971, and it would soon be the B-Side of “An American Trilogy” in April. I like the arrangement here better than the single version. The Ronnie Tutt drumming adds an extra dimension to it. It’s not one of my favorite songs, but it is better than “Until It’s Time For You To Go” – particularly in this arrangement.
“A Big Hunk O’ Love” picks the pace back up. It sounds good! I love how this arrangement is so respectful of his original 1958 version. After a decent version, Elvis has them run through it again. And it still sounds good! Elvis seems much better now than at the beginning of the rehearsal. I love this song, especially the 1972 and 1973 versions.
The band then tears into a great version of “See See Rider.” Elvis seems quite engaged on the song, even without an audience.
Next in the rehearsals for the live show, they run through “For The Good Times” – the first overlap with the mock session. It’s not as fantastic as the previous day, but it still sounds good. A second attempt sounds better, though it eventually falls apart. They go a third time. Elvis still sounding good. His voice really suits this song. He doesn’t like something, though, and he stops it early on, and they go a fourth time. I still like even these rehearsal versions better than the live versions I’ve heard thus far. That voice. Wow.
Elvis had recorded a studio version of “Funny How Time Slips Away” in 1970, after running through it live the previous year. They rehearse it next. The 1972 versions just don’t compare at all to the stellar 1970 studio version or even the 1969 live version. For 1972, this rehearsal isn’t a bad version, though. I like it better than the live versions I’ve heard of that year, at least.
Elvis rocks into “Burning Love” next, another overlap with the mock session of the previous day. And again, he doesn’t sound as good here. However, it’s still a fun version. This feels faster than the previous day as well. The first rehearsal attempt falls apart near the end, so they go a second time. Elvis sounds good. I love this mix.
I wish they would keep going with “Burning Love,” but instead they move to “Help Me Make It Through The Night,” which Elvis had recorded in 1971. It appeared the previous month on the album Elvis Now. It’s not a bad song, and Elvis is engaged on it.
“Can’t Help Falling In Love” is next. Too fast for my taste. An unremarkable version.
Elvis dips way back into his past with “Young And Beautiful,” a song from the movie Jailhouse Rock (1957). I would love to know how this one came about as a contender for his 1972 setlist. It has a decent arrangement and everything. Unfortunately, he did not put the song in the live show. This would have been far better than “Until It’s Time For You To Go,” for instance. I first heard this “Young And Beautiful” rehearsal on Elvis On Tour: The Rehearsals, and I have loved it ever since.
“Lawdy Miss Clawdy” sounds good. Elvis could still rock ‘n’ roll when he wanted. “Release Me” is next and sounds good as well. Elvis first recorded the song live during his early 1970 Las Vegas engagement. He sings slightly different lyrics in 1972, though. In 1970 he sings, “To live a lie would be a sin,” whereas in 1972 he sings, “To live a lie would bring us pain.” They run through “See See Rider” again for some reason. It sounds as good as earlier in the rehearsal. “See See Rider” is another song that made its debut in the early 1970 Vegas season. “Proud Mary,” again from the early 1970 Vegas season, is rehearsed a second time as well. This is much better than the version from the beginning of the rehearsal. Fantastic mix, too.
They run through “Never Been To Spain” again, too. Again, he sounds better than earlier in the rehearsal. I’m glad he hit these songs again so that we can have decent versions in this sound quality. If only they had done “Polk Salad Annie” again.
The rehearsals, which took place on Good Friday, close out with a number of inspirational songs. Up first is “I, John,” which Elvis had recorded in 1971 and would release on the He Touched Me album in April, which would earn Elvis his second Grammy award. It’s a fun version of the song. Next is a brief rendition of “Bosom of Abraham,” which has a similar feel and also appears on He Touched Me. This performance appears in the Elvis On Tour movie.
The group then sings “You Better Run.” There is real joy in this music, and I’m glad this aspect of Elvis was captured.
A great version of “Lead Me, Guide Me,” also from He Touched Me, is next. This performance appears in the Elvis On Tour movie as well.
The group closes out the rehearsal and the CD with a medley of additional inspirational songs: “Must Jesus Bear The Cross Alone/Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus/Nearer My God To Thee.” This is the kind of music Elvis sang when he was unwinding with friends, and it’s the perfect way to end the rehearsals.
These rehearsals had a rocky start, but finished strong. Overall, CDs 5 and 6 end up being winners.
- Elvis Presley: A Life In Music – The Complete Recording Sessions by Ernst Jorgensen, St. Martin’s Press, New York, 1998.
- Elvis Day By Day: The Definitive Record Of His Life And Music by Peter Guralnick and Ernst Jorgensen, Ballantine Books, New York, 1999.
- Elvis Presley In Concert, accessed February 12, 2023.
- Keith Flynn’s Elvis Presley Pages, accessed February 12, 2023.
- ELVIS: His Life From A To Z by Fred Worth and Steve Tamerius, Wings Books, New York, 1992.
“Lead me, O LORD, in thy righteousness because of mine enemies; Make thy way straight before my face.”