Blogs! Blogs! Blogs!

Today, The Mystery Train’s spotlight shines on some of the other Elvis Presley blogs out there in Internetland.

First up, I want to acknowledge a milestone over at ElvisBlog. Phil Arnold today published his 1,000th post! ElvisBlog began back in 2005, and Phil has really kept up with his writing since then. Lately, he has been thinking about retiring from his blog, but I’m happy to report that he still plans to post on occasion for at least the next year or so. Phil was once a contributing writer to the now-defunct Elvis International Forum magazine. He also wrote the foreword to Alfred Wertheimer’s 2010 photography book Elvis: The Early Years. In 2015, Phil published Big E and the Santa Man: A Rock & Roll Christmas Fantasy, a novel about a rock ‘n’ roll singer who gives up his former life and joins Santa Claus at the North Pole. Check out ElvisBlog #1000. Congratulations to Phil.

Speaking of books, Kees Mouwen last month released Elvis Day By Day 2020: The Year In Review, which compiles last year’s Elvis news stories from his Elvis Day By Day Blog as well as features additional content from Elvis Information Network and other Elvis fans worldwide. It is a follow-up to his first book, which covered 2019. Kees was one of the founders of what is now the ElvisNews.com site back in 1999. In 2010, Kees branched off to create the Elvis Day By Day Blog. Since that time, he has published over 3,370 blog posts about Elvis! 2020 ties with 2010 for his highest number of posts at 352. That’s almost one post a day, and it should certainly make for a fantastic read. Congratulations to Kees on his latest book. Find out more over on Elvis Day By Day.

ELVIS DAY BY DAY 2020 (Poplar Tunes Publishing and the Memphis Mansion, 2021) | Click image for full-color version | Original image credit: Kees Mouwen

Incidentally, I am honored to have contributed in a small way to Kees’ book. While some of my past posts have appeared in other Elvis books over the years, this is the first book to include an original piece from me. Thank you to Kees for the opportunity.

Finally, I want to say a hearty “Welcome back!” to Thomas Melin over at Elvis Today Blog. Last month, he quietly returned to blogging after an absence of more than three years. So quiet that I totally missed it until he recently emailed me. Thomas began the Elvis Today Blog back in 2007. By 2012, he had amassed over 500 posts. Though he’s slowed down since then due to other priorities, he says he plans to continue writing a post now and then. That’s the way to do it, and I’m definitely glad to hear he’ll still be around. Thomas published compilations of his first 500 posts on Elvis Today Blog in book form back in 2011 and 2012. Congratulations to Thomas on his return.

I don’t know about you, but I’m impressed by all three of these fellow Elvis fans. Keep up the good work, gentlemen!

Your conductor,
TY


“Pride ends in humiliation, while humility brings honor.”
Proverb 29:23

2020 Songs of the Year

Thank you for riding The Mystery Train. Welcome to 2021!

Every year at about this time, I like to unleash my analytical side on my digital music data.

According to iTunes, out of 4,797 Elvis Presley tracks in my digital collection, the one I played most often in 2020 across all devices was a live recording of “Mystery Train/Tiger Man” from the August 22, 1969, Midnight Show in Las Vegas, Nevada, as released on Disc 3 of Elvis Live 1969. I played this rockin’ track 17 times, making it my fifth-most played song of the year overall. Here it is on YouTube:

Credit: Elvis Presley channel (YouTube)

I listened to 7,059 Elvis songs on my devices in 2020 (including duplicates). That is an average of 19 Elvis songs a day. I listened to 2,221 different Elvis tracks during the year.

One of 6,454 non-Elvis tracks in my collection, my most played song overall in 2020 was Jesus Culture‘s “Break Every Chain,” with lead vocals by Kristene DiMarco. Featured on the 2011 album Awakening – Live From Chicago, this live recording played 27 times on my various devices this year. Again from YouTube, here it is:

Credit: Jesus Culture channel (YouTube)

The other three songs that beat out Elvis in number of plays in 2020 for me were:

  • It Is Well With My Soul” by Bethel Music, also featuring lead vocals by DiMarco, Live At The Civic: You Make Me Brave, 2014, 21 plays.
  • Oh Happy Day” by The Edwin Hawkins Singers, Let Us Go Into The House Of The Lord, 1968, 18 plays.
  • Burn The Ships” by for KING & COUNTRY, Burn The Ships, 2018, 18 plays.

Overall, I listened to 11,650 recordings using my digital devices this year. That works out to 32 songs a day. I listened to 4,621 different tracks during the year.

2020 was a challenging year for everyone, full of surprises. As a new year dawns, I pray that all of you have health, peace, and strength.

Blessings,
TY


“I am about to do something new. See, I have already begun! Do you not see it? I will make a pathway through the wilderness. I will create rivers in the dry wasteland.”
Isaiah 43:19

Vinyl Elvis #2: 1982’s MEMORIES OF CHRISTMAS Inspires Nostalgia

This re-post was first published on one of my pop-culture blogs, now retired.


MEMORIES OF CHRISTMAS (RCA, 1982; from Tygrrius’ collection) | Click image for full-color version

Memories Of Christmas
Label: RCA
Catalog Number: CPL1-4395
Recorded: 1957-1971 | Nashville, Hollywood
Released: 1982

Memories Of Christmas is a perfectly named album for me, because it indeed fills me with nostalgia for many special Christmases growing up in the 1980s. When my brother gave me the album, along with the rest of his Elvis records, it marked the first time I had played Memories Of Christmas on vinyl in over 20 years.

Side A of MEMORIES OF CHRISTMAS (RCA, 1982; from Tygrrius’ collection) | Click image for full-color version

Side A

  1. O Come, All Ye Faithful (1971)
    This previously unreleased version is a splice between the master (Take 1) and Take 2. It actually proves to be better than either take alone, making it my “go to” version of the song by Elvis. Fantastic performance and a perfect opener to the album. Sound quality on the record itself is excellent.
  2. Silver Bells (1971)
    Another stellar Christmas performance, first heard on Elvis Sings The Wonderful World Of Christmas (1971). I love the acoustic guitar here.
  3. I’ll Be Home on Christmas Day (1971)
    Here it is, the highlight of the album–the previously unreleased re-recording of “I’ll Be Home On Christmas Day.” Attempted in June 1971, this is a bluesier take on the Michael Jarrett song than the May 1971 version that became the official master on The Wonderful World Of Christmas. For my money, this is Elvis at his best.
  4. Blue Christmas (1957)
    It is apparently unlawful for RCA to release an Elvis Christmas compilation without this worn-out tune, featuring the grating background vocals of Millie Kirkham. I would have preferred the use of a live version from 1968. In fact, what would have been at the time the previously unreleased June 27 6 PM Show performance captured for the ELVIS special would have been perfect.
  5. Santa Claus Is Back in Town (1957)
    Side A finishes up in style with the greatest Elvis Christmas song of all, the down and dirty “Santa Claus Is Back In Town,” arguably the only real competition against “Reconsider Baby” (1960) as his finest blues performance.

Side B of MEMORIES OF CHRISTMAS (RCA, 1982; from Tygrrius’ collection) | Click image for full-color version

Side B

  1. Merry Christmas Baby (1971)
    Speaking of bluesy Elvis Christmas songs, here is another fine entry. This is the previously unreleased extended version of “Merry Christmas Baby,” over two minutes longer than the album master (Wonderful World Of Christmas) and nearly five minutes longer than the single version. As a kid, I loved hearing Elvis ad-lib, “Gave me a diamond ring for Christmas; now I’m putting it through Al’s mike.” Unfortunately, there are a couple of pops/crackles on the record on this song, but nothing too distracting. Side A had no noise at all! Like the 1969 live versions of “Suspicious Minds,” “Merry Christmas Baby” just goes on forever. In both cases, a very, very good thing.
  2. If Every Day Was Like Christmas (1966)
    This is the previously unreleased “undubbed” version of the master. The piano is beautiful here, and I believe more prominent than on the CD version I have of this performance. There is a “raw” sound to this version, but it makes for a very beautiful and effective performance.
  3. Christmas Message from Elvis/Silent Night (1967/1957)
    The opening message was recorded for Season’s Greetings From Elvis, his 1967 Christmas special that aired on radio stations across the United States. My only gripe here is that the message originally flowed into “I’ll Be Home For Christmas” (1957). The compilation producers decided to splice “Silent Night” on instead. I am assuming it is because they wanted to “bookend” the album with traditional Christmas songs. You can actually hear “I’ll Be Home For Christmas” begin during Elvis’ message before the segue into “Silent Night.” Unfortunately, this has never been corrected on subsequent releases of the message. The label has even released “Silent Night” on at least one Christmas compilation since then that did not contain the message, yet had the beginning of the song chopped off due to apparently using this version. Sloppy. I knew and recognized none of this when I first heard this album back in the 1980s. I loved hearing the message from Elvis, and I must admit, I still find it pretty cool today. Overall, this record sounds incredible, with the only extraneous noise being those two pops on “Merry Christmas Baby.”

Back cover of MEMORIES OF CHRISTMAS (RCA, 1982; from Tygrrius’ collection) | Click image for full-color version

Elvis recorded less than 25 Christmas songs during his entire career. Every year, though, it seems there is a “new” Elvis Christmas compilation that rearranges those songs with a new, cheap cover. Memories Of Christmas offers not only beautifully conceived cover art, but unique album content that is truly worthy of standing alongside the two Christmas albums that Elvis released in his lifetime, Elvis’ Christmas Album (1957) and Elvis Sings The Wonderful World Of Christmas.

Calendar insert from MEMORIES OF CHRISTMAS (RCA, 1982; from Tygrrius’ collection) | Click image for full-color version


“All right then, the Lord himself will give you the sign. Look! The virgin will conceive a child! She will give birth to a son and will call him Immanuel (which means ‘God is with us’).”
Isaiah 7:14

Tmydee scares away the competition in Elvis Trivialities #17

Tmydee not only won Elvis Trivialities #17 yesterday, but did it in record time! Steve’s 17-minute response time had stood for over nine years, but Tmydee has established the new standard – 15 minutes! It took me longer than that to write the post, Tmydee.

Tmydee receives a Halloween treat bag full of bragging rights of every flavor and a spot among The Mystery Train’s Night Riders, legendary Elvis trivia masters.

And the answer is…

1.) “Blue Moon”
2.) “Witchcraft”
3.) “Mystery Train”
4.) “Devil In Disguise”

are the Elvis songs represented by the following scrambled characters:

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

As mentioned yesterday, in our universe, Elvis never had a Halloween album. In 1963, he did have two spookier-themed singles in a row, though. In June, he released “Devil In Disguise” b/w “Please Don’t Drag That String Around.” “Devil In Disguise” went to #3 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart. In October, he released “Bossa Nova Baby” b/w “Witchcraft.” The A-Side went to #8.

If only “Devil In Disguise” had been paired with “Witchcraft” instead, and Elvis would’ve at least had a Halloween single!

Over on the For Elvis CD Collectors Forum, film expert Greystoke spotted that Vevo recently released an official music video for “Devil In Disguise.” For an Elvis video, it is a little out there, even though it takes the lyrics quite literally. It is certainly fun on Halloween and worth checking out.

Credit: Vevo’s Elvis Presley channel (YouTube)


The Mystery Train’s Night Riders

  • October 30, 2020: Tmydee (0:15)*
  • 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


“Satan disguises himself as an angel of light.”
from 2 Corinthians 11:14

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