From here to there, Elvis is everywhere

A Boy From Tupelo (concept cover art)

A Boy From Tupelo (concept cover art)

Follow That Dream, Sony’s collectors label for Elvis fans, recently announced a slate of new releases for this summer:

  • A Boy From Tupelo: The Complete 1953-55 Recordings [the long awaited SUN project, with a 512-page book and 3 CDs] – August
  • G.I. Blues: Volume 1 [2 CD set] – June
  • From Hawaii To Las Vegas: Recorded Live In Rehearsal, January 25, 1973 [1 CD] – June
  • That’s The Way It Is: Special Edition [2-LP vinyl set (weren’t we just talking about the original album?)] – June
  • From Memphis To Hollywood [book detailing the making of 1960’s G.I. Blues] – June

There’s certainly much to be excited about in these releases, particularly the SUN project. In fact, to save for this expensive book and CD set, I’ve been holding off on Elvis purchases so far in 2012 in hopes that this might finally be the year.

We’ll have plenty of time in coming weeks to examine some of these releases in detail, but today, I want to have fun with titles and location, location, location. Dating back to 1961’s Blue Hawaii, dozens of Elvis albums have mentioned a place in the title.

The “From Here To There” style, though, began with 1969’s 2-LP set From Memphis To Vegas/From Vegas To Memphis (later released separately as Elvis In Person and Back In Memphis). Since then, several subsequent releases on both the main label and FTD have followed this trend.

Put them all together and you get a virtual Elvis travelogue:

  • From Memphis To Vegas/From Vegas To Memphis (recorded/released 1969)
  • From Nashville To Memphis (recorded 1960-1969/released 1993)
  • From Sunset To Vegas (recorded 1974/released 2009)
  • From Hawaii To Las Vegas (recorded 1973/released 2012)
  • From Memphis To Hollywood (covers 1960/released 2012)

So, I wonder if it is possible to put the titles in an order where you can go from location to location without getting stranded?

1.) From Nashville To Memphis
2.) From Memphis To Hollywood
3.) From Sunset To Vegas
4.) From Vegas To Memphis
5.) From Memphis To Vegas
STRANDED in Vegas! Need a ticket to Hawaii.

Trying again…

1.) From Hawaii To Las Vegas
2.) From Vegas To Memphis
3.) From Memphis To Hollywood
4.) From Sunset To Vegas
STRANDED in Vegas again! Need a ticket to Nashville.

It appears there is no solution to this Rubik’s cube of Elvis titles. I might be stranded, but at least there’s good music on the radio.

FTD releases are available from various online stores. They originate in Denmark and then ship to retailers, so there is sometimes a two or three week delay after the release date before the items arrive for those of us in the US.

That’s The Way It Is reveals a different side of Elvis

My favorite album released during Elvis Presley’s lifetime is That’s The Way It Is. First hitting record stores in November 1970, it features studio material from his June recordings in Nashville as well as four live cuts from his August Las Vegas engagement. It serves as a soundtrack of sorts for the excellent documentary of the same name, also released that month.

Despite the status I give it, the album is not perfect. Rock ‘n’ roll fans sometimes dismiss it as an easy-listening bore. One of the causes of that issue, I believe, is the sequencing of songs. Many of them should have been presented in a different order. For instance, the album unfortunately begins with a live version of the sleepy B.J. Thomas hit “I Just Can’t Help Believin'” and establishes the wrong tone.

Adding to the trouble, two of the live performances, “Patch It Up” and “I’ve Lost You,” are not as powerful as their studio counterparts, which should have been used instead. The studio recordings had been released as singles prior to the album, so the live versions were likely considered bonuses for fans that already had the 45s. The artistry of the album should have taken priority, though.

Apparently to complete the “feel” of a live album, RCA overdubbed applause on the end of the studio version of “Bridge Over Troubled Water,” which closed out That’s The Way It Is. Elvis’ vocals on the first verse of the song are also very faint in the mix, either on purpose or due to a technical glitch. You can better hear Elvis’ beautiful performance of this song, with his voice louder on the first verse and without the annoying applause overdubs, on Heart & Soul and the Elvis: Walk A Mile In My Shoes-The Essential 70s Masters boxed set.

That's The Way It Is (1970)

Side 1

“I Just Can’t Help Believin'”
Live Master–8/11/1970 Dinner Show (DS): As noted above, the song does not serve well as an album opener. While it is misplaced on the album, the performance is strong. I love the little traces of humor in his voice. He sounds on the verge of laughing a couple of times. Also memorable is his interaction with the Sweet Inspirations throughout (“Sing the song, baby”). Elvis would never be quite as incredible again live as he was in this engagement.

“Twenty Days And Twenty Nights”
Master–Take 9: For me, this song represents the adult Elvis, the recording artist that is too often overlooked. “Twenty Days And Twenty Nights” is about a man who regrets leaving his wife, and Elvis evokes this character through music as well as any actor could on screen. The performance plays through the range of emotions, even striking a hopeful tone (“One day soon I’m going back…”) before falling back into despair as he laments “Oh, how I miss her,” over and over at the end.

“How The Web Was Woven”
Master–Take 3: The highlight of the album, “How The Web Was Woven” is a love song that ranks right up there with the better-known “Can’t Help Falling In Love.” From the acoustic guitar opening to the accompanying piano, the arrangement on this one works very well. “At last, I’m where you want me . . . Don’t you know that’s where, where I wanna be,” he sings with a passion that, for this listener anyway, exceeds even the incredible American Sound sessions in Memphis the year before.

“Patch It Up”
Live Master–8/12/1970 DS: Compared to the excellent studio take, this live version sounds almost like a throwaway. Watching this same energetic performance in the film, though, is an entire other experience.

“Mary In The Morning”
Master–Take 5: This is a pretty, if forgettable, love song. It goes on a bit too long and eventually becomes tiresome.

“You Don’t Have To Say You Love Me”
Master–Take 3: Though it is a fine performance, I would have chosen “How The Web Was Woven” or one of the others as a single over Elvis’ version of the Dusty Springfield hit.

Side 2

“You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin'”
Live Master–8/12/1970 MS: This live performance is the definitive version of this song by anyone. This is Elvis at his best: “It makes me just feel like cryin,’ ’cause baby . . . something beau-ti-ful’s dy-in.'” The Righteous Brothers sound like they are singing a lullaby in the original recording compared to the Elvis version. Even Elvis was never able to equal his own performance again in other concerts.

“I’ve Lost You”
Live Master–8/11/1970 DS: While I love this live performance of “I’ve Lost You,” I prefer the studio version featuring more complicated lyrics and arrangement. That being said, this is still a highlight.

“Just Pretend”
Master–Take 3: Picking up where “Twenty Days And Twenty Nights” left off, this turns the despair of a man who left his lover and turns it back to hope for reconciliation. “Now I know, it was wrong to go, I belong there by your side,” he sings, bordering on the type of apology song that Elvis would perfect a couple of years later with “Always On My Mind.” The impressive “Just Pretend,” with a gospel-inspired arrangement, is another all-time favorite.

“Stranger In The Crowd”
Master–Take 9: This is yet another highlight. The band really cooks on this one. For some, Elvis Presley brings to mind “Hound Dog,” “Don’t Be Cruel,” “All Shook Up,” and similar tunes. While those are all fine, when I think of Elvis, I think of songs like “How The Web Was Woven,” “I’ve Lost You,” and “Stranger In The Crowd.”

“The Next Step Is Love”
Master–Take 11: Here’s one studio song where I actually prefer the live version. “The Next Step Is Love” is a little hokey either way, but the studio arrangement, complete with xylophone(!), does not help matters.

“Bridge Over Trouble Water”
Master–Studio Take 8 (with overdubbed applause): I stopped listening to the original album version of this song once RCA finally released a proper studio track. The one on this album simply does not do justice to his performance. The Heart & Soul version, though, I would contend as the best version of this song by anyone.

Upon its original release, That’s The Way It Is faced stiff competition from none other than Elvis himself. In their infinite wisdom, his record label released the following Elvis music in October and November of 1970:

  • Almost In Love album (an excellent “budget” release)
  • “You Don’t Have To Say You Love Me”/”Patch It Up” single
  • Elvis In Person album (re-release of record 1 of the previous year’s From Memphis To Vegas/From Vegas To Memphis double album)
  • Back In Memphis album (re-release of record 2 of From Memphis To Vegas/From Vegas To Memphis)
  • Elvis’ Christmas Album (“budget” repackaging)
  • That’s The Way It Is album
  • “I Really Don’t Want To Know”/”There Goes My Everything” single

Despite the oversaturation, That’s The Way It Is made it to number 21 on the charts and obtained gold record status. It probably would have done even better had fans not been so bombarded with Elvis product in the fall of 1970.

Elvis rehearsing How The Web Was Woven, 1970

Elvis rehearsing How The Web Was Woven, 1970

While a wonderful album, That’s The Way It Is also would have been greatly improved if a couple of different song versions had been used and the album had been sequenced as below in my imaginary version of That’s The Way It Is.

Side 1

  • “Stranger In The Crowd” (studio, as on original)
  • “I’ve Lost You” (substitute studio version)
  • “How The Web Was Woven” (studio, as on original)
  • “You Don’t Have To Say You Love Me” (studio, as on original)
  • “Bridge Over Troubled Water” (substitute Heart & Soul studio version without overdubbed applause)
  • “I Just Can’t Help Believin'” (live, as on original)

Side 2

  • “Patch It Up” (substitute studio version)
  • “Twenty Days And Twenty Nights” (studio, as on original)
  • “Just Pretend” (studio, as on original)
  • “The Next Step Is Love” (studio, as on original)
  • “Mary In The Morning” (studio, as on original)
  • “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin'” (live, as on original)

No matter the order you listen, though, That’s The Way It Is represents a true Elvis masterpiece.

Portions of the above review originally appeared on my now defunct pop culture blog on May 21, 2008.

Elvis Trivialities #1 stumps the whole train

No one correctly answered Elvis Trivialities #1, which means I get to keep this set of bragging rights. And the answer is…

Ned Miller said the following:

I remember going out and buying the album, From Memphis To Vegas, which included “From A Jack To A King.” I brought it home, played it and I was blown away. It thrilled me to death. I thought, I guess I’m a better writer than I thought I was. His version is my favorite, even more than mine. I was just a fan of Elvis, that’s all.”

Source: Writing For The King: The Stories Of The Songwriters by Ken Sharp, FTD Books, Denmark, 2006.

Elvis’ recording of “From A Jack To A King” first appeared on the Back In Memphis portion of From Memphis To Vegas/From Vegas To Memphis. In addition, takes 1, 2, and 3 of the song can be heard on the FTD release Memphis Sessions.

Ned Miller also wrote “Dark Moon,” which Elvis informally recorded. The home recording of the song first appeared on A Golden Celebration.

Next time, I’ll apparently have to make the question a little easier for you folks. Thanks for playing.

Elvis Trivialities #1

Good morning, fellow fans, and welcome to the first edition of Elvis Trivialities. Your question is:

Who said the following?

I remember going out and buying the album, From Memphis To Vegas, which included [a song I wrote]. I brought it home, played it and I was blown away. It thrilled me to death. I thought, I guess I’m a better writer than I thought I was. His version is my favorite, even more than mine. I was just a fan of Elvis, that’s all.”

First one to post the correct answer in the comments below wins an exclusive, limited edition set of bragging rights. If no one gets it, that means I get to keep this set for myself.

Coming Soon: White Knight In Vegas (August 26, 1969, DS)

Follow That Dream Records will release in February White Knight In Vegas, a new CD containing Elvis’ August 26, 1969, Dinner Show (“New FTD Releases” — FTD is Sony’s collectors label for Elvis fans.

Track Listing
01 Blue Suede Shoes*
02 I Got A Woman*
03 All Shook Up*
04 Love Me Tender*
05 Jailhouse Rock/Don’t Be Cruel*
06 Heartbreak Hotel*
07 Hound Dog*
08 Memories*
09 My Babe (previously released: Elvis Aron Presley)
10 Mystery Train/Tiger Man*
11 Monologue*
12 Baby, What You Want Me To Do*
13 Runaway*
14 Inherit The Wind (Collectors Gold)
15 Yesterday/Hey Jude*
16 Introductions*
17 In The Ghetto*
18 Suspicious Minds (Elvis In Person)
19 Can’t Help Falling In Love (Elvis In Person)

* = previously unreleased

Since five full shows from this same engagement have been officially before, some sad and disappointed fans in various places are already whining things like, “If you’ve heard one of these shows, you’ve heard ’em all” and indicating that White Knight is hardly an essential release.


White Knight will actually mark the first full release of a show that contributed songs to the original Elvis In Person (From Memphis To Vegas/From Vegas To Memphis) live compilation album. Plus, the songs “My Babe” and “Inherit The Wind” have never been featured on any full show release before.

The 1969 Vegas season represents Elvis at the top of his game. Whether first, sixth, or fifty-seventh, every 1969 (and 1970, for that matter) show is essential upon release from the vaults. How many of them do I want? All of them. (And I’m not a “buy every concert no matter what” collector, either. These shows are special.)

Also coming in February is a vinyl version of the recent How Great Thou Art classic albums release.

FTD releases are available from and other online Elvis retailers.

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Additional Sources

For The Heart: An Elvis New Year Workout Playlist (Playlist Recipes #2)

Happy New Year, everyone! I hope that 2011 is full of health and prosperity for all of you.

This is the time of year when many of us set resolutions to do (or not do) various things. I often resolve to write my first novel. Hasn’t happened yet, but one of these years, I’m gonna get that one done! Maybe this will be the one. A popular resolution for many people is to become more physically fit. To that end, frequent commenter Ray Faithfull recently requested an Elvis playlist for working out.

Ray’s suggestion solved my dilemma of what to post here for New Year’s Day. This playlist is designed to start slow, get really revved up, and then taper off to nothing. Though you should feel like a king at the beginning, you may very well need somebody to lean on by the end of this high octane set.

Exercise, Elvis Style

Exercise, Elvis Style

For The Heart: An Elvis Workout (AKA Elvis Shakes His Excess Off)

  • King Of The Whole Wide World [C’mon Everybody]
  • Any Day Now (Alternate) [Memphis Sessions]
  • For The Heart [From Elvis Presley Boulevard, Memphis, Tennessee]
  • A Little Less Conversation (Remix) [Elvis vs. JXL]
  • Polk Salad Annie (Live) [Close Up]
  • My Baby Left Me [For LP Fans Only]
  • His Latest Flame [Elvis’ Golden Records, Volume 3]
  • Jailhouse Rock [Elvis’ Golden Records]
  • Mystery Train/Tiger Man (Live) [Collectors Gold]
  • Power Of My Love [From Elvis In Memphis]
  • My Babe (Live) [From Memphis To Vegas/From Vegas To Memphis]
  • Hey Little Girl [Harum Scarum]
  • A Big Hunk O’ Love [50,000,000 Elvis Fans Can’t Be Wrong: Elvis’ Gold Records Volume 2]
  • Big Boss Man [Clambake]
  • Blue Suede Shoes (Remix) [Viva Elvis: The Album]
  • Heartbreak Hotel/Hound Dog/All Shook Up (Live) [ELVIS-TV Special]
  • Got A Lot O’ Livin’ To Do [Loving You]
  • Little Sister [Elvis’ Golden Records, Volume 3]
  • Good Rockin’ Tonight [A Date With Elvis]
  • Johnny B. Goode (Live) [From Memphis To Vegas/From Vegas To Memphis]
  • Rubberneckin’ [Almost In Love]
  • Bossa Nova Baby [Fun In Acapulco]
  • Hard Headed Woman [King Creole]
  • The Fool [Elvis Country]
  • Suspicious Minds (Live) [All Shook Up]
  • Follow That Dream (Alternate) [Today, Tomorrow & Forever]
  • Funny How Time Slips Away (Rehearsal) [Elvis On Tour: The Rehearsals]
  • I Need Somebody To Lean On [I Got Lucky]

I tried something new and published this playlist on iTunes as For The Heart: An Elvis Workout. If you have iTunes, you should be able to see it there by following the link (I am not sure if this will work for those outside of the US). Not all of the same versions were available, so I had to do a few substitutions.

Thanks to Ray for the idea. Good luck with your fitness goals, buddy. I’ll be right in there fighting, too.

Keep those suggestions coming, everyone. Have a fantastic 2011!

Sweet Inspiration Myrna Smith, 1941-2010

The Sweet Inspirations (1967)

The Sweet Inspirations (1967)

There is more sad news this month. Myrna Smith, a member of the Sweet Inspirations vocal group, has passed away. She was 69.

The Sweet Inspirations backed Elvis on stage from his return to live performances in 1969 through his death in 1977, performing with him in over a thousand concerts. Before becoming an integral part of Elvis’ live show, the Sweets were already a Grammy-winning gospel group that had backed Aretha Franklin, among others. Outside of their time with Elvis, their best known hit as a group was “Sweet Inspiration,” which was released as a single in 1968.

Myrna appears with Elvis in the documentary movies That’s The Way It Is (1970) and Elvis On Tour (1972). She also appears with him in the television specials Aloha From Hawaii (1973) and Elvis In Concert (1977). “They help me get a feeling and get to my soul,” Elvis said of the group in 1969.

She can be heard on the following Elvis albums released during his lifetime:

  • From Memphis To Vegas/From Vegas To Memphis (Elvis In Person At The International Hotel, Las Vegas, Nevada) [1969]
  • On Stage-February 1970 [1970]
  • That’s The Way It Is
  • Worldwide Gold Award Hits, Volume 2 [1971]
  • Elvis As Recorded At Madison Square Garden [1972] (includes Elvis introducing Myrna)
  • Aloha From Hawaii Via Satellite [1973]
  • Elvis (Fool)
  • Elvis Recorded Live On Stage In Memphis [1974]
  • Pure Gold [1975]
  • Elvis: A Legendary Performer, Volume 2 [1976]
  • From Elvis Presley Boulevard, Memphis, Tennessee
  • Welcome To My World [1977]
  • Moody Blue

She also can be heard on countless other Elvis albums released since his death.

She loved Elvis “like a brother”

In a 2005 interview available on Elvis Australia, Myrna shared a special memory of Elvis:

This is when we first met him, y’know. [Elvis] had us up at the penthouse, and he was playing 45s. We were having a little party, a little get-together – drinks at the bar and stuff. [He] came up to me and said, ‘Do you wanna dance?’ It was a slow record. So I said, ‘O.K.’

“And I don’t think that Elvis had ever danced with a black woman before, because he started dancing with me, [and] I felt like just grabbing him and holding him, ’cause his whole body was trembling.

“And, but he was, y’know, he was shy anyway. But all these girls, y’know, that he’d been around, and he’s this macho lover, whatever, and he was [really] just a little boy […] that’s what he was, y’know.

“I looked upon him, a part of my family, like. [W]hen he died and I was screaming, my mother said, ‘He’s not in the family. [Why] are you cry[ing], [why] are you breaking up?’

“Because I love him, he’s like a brother.”

Myrna dated Jerry Schilling, one of Elvis’ best friends, for a number of years. After Elvis’ death, the two married. Schilling went on to manage the Beach Boys, and Myrna co-wrote many of the songs on Beach Boy Carl Wilson’s 1981 self-titled solo album. Her marriage with Schilling ended in 1985 after five years, but the two remained friends.

In recent years, the Sweet Inspirations have continued to record albums and have performed in the Elvis Presley In Concert touring show.

Myrna, thank you for sharing your incredible voice with all of us. You will be missed, but always remembered.

My thoughts and prayers are with her family and friends during this time.

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Sylvia Shemwell, another member of the Sweet Inspirations, passed away earlier this year.

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Additional Research Sources

  • The Elvis Encyclopedia by Adam Victor, Overlook Duckworth, New York, 2008.
  • Elvis Presley: A Life In Music – The Complete Recording Sessions by Ernst Jorgensen, St. Martin’s Press, New York, 1998.
  • Me And A Guy Named Elvis: My Lifelong Friendship With Elvis Presley by Jerry Schilling with Chuck Crisafulli, Gotham Books, New York, 2006.
  • ELVIS: His Life From A To Z by Fred Worth and Steve Tamerius, Wings Books, New York, 1992.