New and upcoming Elvis releases focus on slices of a diverse career

Get those sound systems (and wallets) ready, folks, new Elvis releases are on the way.

Stay Away, Joe

Stay Away, Joe (concept cover art)

May 2013

Follow That Dream Records, Sony’s collectors label for Elvis fans, is releasing this month:

  • From Elvis In Memphis (2-CD): One of Elvis’ best albums finally receives the FTD Classic Album treatment. This should make an excellent companion to the recent Back In Memphis release. Surely an “imaginary album” will be in the works at some point to feature the rest of the recordings from the 1969 American Sound Studio sessions.
  • Stay Away, Joe (CD): Speaking of imaginary albums, here is one that compiles October 1967 and January 1968 sessions. In addition to the Stay Away, Joe soundtrack, it includes “Too Much Monkey Business” and “US Male.” The January session features Jerry Reed on guitar, which is why I consider this a follow-up of sorts to the fantastic Elvis Sings Guitar Man.
  • On Stage-February 1970 (2-LP): This vinyl release includes the original On Stage-February 1970 album, recorded live in 1969 and 1970, as well as additional material Elvis recorded during his early 1970 Las Vegas engagement.
  • Summer of ’61 (Book & CD): In conjunction with Flaming Star publications, this book primarily focuses on the making of the movie Follow That Dream. A brief CD containing previously released Elvis tracks and two demos for “What A Wonderful Life” is also included.

June 2013

FTD has scheduled the following for release in June:

  • Sold Out! (2-CD): The ambiguous title of this one could refer to almost any Elvis concert from 1956 and beyond. [May 19, 2013, Update: The concerts on this release will be March 1, 1974, Tulsa, Oklahoma and June 21, 1974, Cleveland, Ohio.] This one is from the creative team behind Forty-Eight Hours To Memphis: Recorded Live On Stage In Richmond, Virginia – March 18, 1974 and 3000 South Paradise Road, so a quality presentation is expected.
  • Hot August Night (CD): This one features the August 25, 1969, Midnight Show in Las Vegas. The 1969 shows are all must-haves. Portions of this one contributed to the From Memphis To Vegas/From Vegas To Memphis (Elvis In Person) release in 1969. Many tracks are previously unreleased, however.
  • Elvis Recorded Live On Stage In Memphis (2-LP): This vinyl release features the complete March 20, 1974, Memphis concert, from which selections made up the original 1974 version of this album. I have to admit, I enjoy the truncated version of this show more than the full version. Other than “Steamroller Blues,” the songs edited out of the 1974 1-LP release featured some disappointing performances by Elvis.
  • Best of British: The HMV Years (Book): This is a reprint of the popular book exploring Elvis’ 1956-1958 releases on the HMV label in Great Britain, which sold out upon release in February. Though not noted in the press release, presumably the two CDs of previously released Elvis material from the original printing are also included.

The only physical store in the US authorized to sell FTD releases is Good Rockin’ Tonight, a Graceland gift shop in Memphis. However, FTD products may be obtained online from a variety of other Elvis stores, including Graceland’s ShopElvis.com.

August 2013

Sony has scheduled Elvis At Stax: Deluxe Edition, a 3-CD boxed set, as a main label, wide release in August. The set will include all of the masters Elvis recorded in Memphis at Stax Recording Studio in July and December of 1973. It will also include alternate takes of many of the songs. Here is the track listing:

DISC 1: The R&B and Country Sessions – The Outtakes

1. I Got A Feelin’ In My Body – take 1
2. Find Out What’s Happening – take 8/7
3. Promised Land – take 4
4. For Ol’ Times Sake – take 4
5. I’ve Got A Thing About You, Baby – take 14
6. It’s Midnight – take 7
7. If You Talk In Your Sleep – take 5
8. Loving Arms – take 2
9. You Asked Me To – take 3A
10. Good Time Charlie’s Got The Blues – take 8
11. Talk About The Good Times – take 3
12. There’s A Honky Tonk Angel – take 1
13. She Wears My Ring – take 8
14. Three Corn Patches – take 14
15. I Got A Feelin’ In My Body – take 4
16. If You Don’t Come Back – take 3
17. Promised Land – take 5

DISC 2

Part 1 – The Pop Sessions – The Outtakes

1. Mr. Songman – take 2
2. Your Love’s Been A Long Time Coming – take 4
3. Spanish Eyes – take 2
4. Take Good Care Of Her – takes 1,2,3
5. It’s Diff’rent Now (unfinished recording)
6. Thinking About You – take 4
7. My Boy – take 1
8. Girl Of Mine – take 9
9. Love Song Of The Year – take 1
10. If That Isn’t Love – take 1

Part 2 – The July 1973 Masters

11. Raised On Rock
12. For Ol’ Time Sake
13. I’ve Got A Thing About You, Baby
14. Take Good Care Of Her
15. If You Don’t Come Back
16. Three Corn Patches
17. Girl Of Mine
18. Just A Little Bit
19. Find Out What’s Happening
20. Sweet Angeline

DISC 3: The December 1973 Masters

1. Promised Land
2. It’s Midnight
3. If You Talk In Your Sleep
4. Help Me
5. My Boy
6. Thinking About You
7. Mr. Songman
8. I Got A Feelin’ In My Body
9. Loving Arms
10. Good Time Charlie’s Got The Blues
11. You Asked Me To
12. There’s A Honky Tonk Angel
13. Talk About The Good Times
14. She Wears My Ring
15. Your Love’s Been A Long Time Coming
16. Love Song Of The Year
17. Spanish Eyes
18. If That Isn’t Love

I have mixed feelings on this release. I think it is wonderful for the main label to focus on an overlooked period in the recording career of Elvis Presley. For those fans who do not already have the corresponding FTD Classic Album 2-CD sets (Raised On Rock, Good Times, and Promised Land), this is an excellent, budget-conscious alternative to hear highlights of this material.

However, the first thing I noticed is that Sony really blew the sequencing of these tracks. Why, oh, why would the compiler of this collection choose to kick things off with the dreadful “I Got A Feelin’ In My Body”? Especially when “Promised Land” is sitting there, practically begging to begin this set in the right manner?

Short of starting from scratch, one simple alternative that I can suggest would be the following:

  • Swap Disc 1 with Disc 3
  • Swap Disc 2 – Part 1 with Disc 2 – Part 2

Just making the simple changes above would result in a much better listening experience from start to finish. Again, it is great to see a release focusing on 1973, but it should not just be grudgingly thrown together. While Sony’s Elvis team may disagree, some of us love this material. Treat it right.

Sony is also releasing in August a 1-CD version and a 2-LP version collecting some of the above Stax material.

“The rhythm guitar is John Wilkinson…” (1945-2013)

John Wilkinson and Elvis on stage, January 12, 1973

John Wilkinson and Elvis on stage, January 12, 1973

Sad news in the Elvis world. John Wilkinson, who played rhythm guitar for Elvis on stage from 1969 through 1977, passed away today, January 11, 2013. He was 67.

Wilkinson first joined Elvis Presley’s core rhythm group in July 1969 for the singer’s spectacular Las Vegas return to live performances. He went on to appear with Elvis in the concert documentary films That’s The Way It Is (1970) and Elvis On Tour (1972).

He also appeared in the Aloha From Hawaii (1973) television event – which celebrates its 40th anniversary on Monday. Wilkinson is prominently featured in the television special Elvis In Concert (1977) while playing “Early Morning Rain.”

Wilkinson performed on the Elvis In Person portion of the 1969 double album From Memphis To Vegas/From Vegas To Memphis and has been on scores of Elvis concert albums since that time.

In addition to his live work, Wilkinson played for Elvis in his 1972 and 1975 sessions at RCA’s Studio C in Hollywood as well as in his 1976 sessions at Graceland. Results of those sessions included singles “Burning Love” b/w “It’s A Matter Of Time” and “Separate Ways” b/w “Always On My Mind” and albums Elvis Today, From Elvis Presley Boulevard, and Moody Blue – the last LP released before Elvis’ death.

He remained with the stage band right until the end, through Elvis’ final concert on June 26, 1977, in Indianapolis, Indiana.

John Wilkinson in 1970

John Wilkinson in 1970

John Wilkinson is survived by his wife, Terry. My thoughts and prayers are with his family and friends.

Further Reading

FTD elevates Back In Memphis to essential status

Last month, Sony’s Follow That Dream collectors label for Elvis fans released its Classic Album version of Back In Memphis. With the holidays over, I’ve finally had some time to listen to this 2-CD set.

Back In Memphis, 2012 FTD Edition

Back In Memphis, 2012 FTD Edition

Original Album

Elvis loved Memphis, and no matter which of his eras you reference, he made some of his best music there.

The original Back In Memphis album was actually a 1970 re-release of Record 2 of the 1969 2-LP set From Memphis To Vegas/From Vegas To Memphis. Record 1 of that set was also re-released in 1970, as Elvis In Person.

Back In Memphis was a follow-up to the impeccable From Elvis In Memphis, recorded during the same 1969 sessions at American Sound Studio in Memphis. Unfortunately, the results were not nearly as strong.

In fact, Back In Memphis was one of the only disappointments I encountered in my first few years of collecting Elvis music. I was a huge fan of The Memphis Record, a 1987 retrospective album for the American sessions – compiling the entirety of From Elvis In Memphis, most of the singles, and selections from Back In Memphis.

While sound quality has come a long way since then, The Memphis Record was definitely a huge influence on me becoming the borderline obsessive Elvis fan I am today. I couldn’t wait to hear the remaining songs when RCA re-released Back In Memphis in the early 1990s on CD.

It turned out, though, that every “new-to-me” song on the album (i.e., those that weren’t on The Memphis Record) bordered on horrible. A bad Elvis CD, and from 1969 at that… I was shocked. I rarely played it.

Since that time, I’ve come to appreciate at least one of those Back In Memphis recordings that I initially hated: “Do You Know Who I Am,” which is a beautiful song.

If I play Back In Memphis these days, I prefer to kick it off by playing Elvis In Person. To me, Back In Memphis holds up better as Record 2 of a 2-LP set than it does as a stand-alone title. Elvis In Person, on the other hand, is powerful enough on its own.

Back In Memphis begins with “Inherit The Wind,” a great song written by Eddie Rabbitt – who also wrote “Kentucky Rain.” While I enjoy “Inherit The Wind,” I do not believe it was a good choice for first song.

Up next is “This Is The Story,” which sounds like a leftover – leading to an abysmal feeling for the beginning of Back In Memphis.

Fortunately, “Stranger In My Own Home Town” revs things into high gear. This is one of Elvis’ best performances from the American sessions, and it should have been the lead-off song for Back In Memphis. In fact, RCA wisely used it to kick off The Memphis Record. Say what you will about the sound, The Memphis Record had flawless sequencing.

Back In Memphis downshifts into low gear again with “Just A Little Bit Of Green.” Though better than “This Is The Story,” this is still lesser material. Elvis’ performance, as with just about everything he touched in 1969, is commendable, but the song itself is simply not worthwhile.

“Side 1” of the original album closes out with a real stinker, Neil Diamond’s “And The Grass Won’t Pay No Mind.” This is one of the few Elvis songs that I find nearly unlistenable. Keep in mind that this is coming from a guy who is a fan of “Old MacDonald.” To say that I give Elvis songs the benefit of the doubt is an understatement. This one is horrible, by far the worst on the album.

“Side 2” kicks off with “Do You Know Who I Am,” a very moving performance that always gets to me when I take the time to feel the words.

“I remember you said that you had to forget about me and be free. Do you know who I am, or have you forgot about me?”

Then we are back to sub-mediocre material with “From A Jack To A King.” Perhaps better than a typical movie song, but not by much.

Back In Memphis finishes strong, though. “The Fair’s Moving On,” “You’ll Think Of Me,” and, to a lesser extent, “Without Love” are all terrific songs.

All in all, it makes for an uneven album that pales in comparison to From Elvis In Memphis.

Bonus Song

As a bonus, FTD includes the stereo version of “Suspicious Minds,” which was not released until a few years after Elvis’ death. The original single released in 1969 was mono and can be found on the 2009 Legacy Edition of From Elvis In Memphis.

What else can be said about “Suspicious Minds” beyond that it is one of Elvis Presley’s true masterpieces?

Some have argued that RCA should have included it on the original Back In Memphis, but that would have been problematic because a live version of “Suspicious Minds” was included on the Elvis In Person portion of the original release.

Instead, RCA should have considered using “Don’t Cry Daddy,” “Rubberneckin'”, “Kentucky Rain,” and even “My Little Friend” to bolster this lackluster album. The problem with those, however, is that they had not yet been released as singles prior to From Memphis To Vegas/From Vegas To Memphis hitting stores.

Anyway, the “Suspicious Minds” bonus song is welcome here, particularly since it allows the meat of this 2-CD edition to include every take of this classic.

Sound quality on this release is amazing, by the way. I probably don’t mention that enough anymore, because I have gotten used to this level of quality over the last few years of Elvis releases.

First Takes

Inherit The Wind (Take 1; rehearsal; Take 4/master with vocal overdub #1): Take 1 and the rehearsal are instrumental only, both short. Vocal overdub #1 that Elvis performed against Take 4 is a gem. This is one of those where it is so clear that it sounds as if he is standing in your living room while performing the song. I’m thrilled to add this one to my collection. Previously unreleased.

A Little Bit Of Green (Take 1): Elvis sounds great here, of course, but I still don’t care very much for the song. This is a previously unreleased take. I think I like it better than the master, though that may just be the fact that it is “new” compared to that one. It is possible that this take could make the song grow on me. I like the stripped-down nature of it.

And The Grass Won’t Pay No Mind (Takes 1-3; 5): This is a collection of previously unreleased false starts that did not change my opinion of this awful song.

Do You Know Who I Am (Take 1): This is a nice alternate, though I prefer the master. Previously released on Memphis Sessions.

From A Jack To A King (Takes 1-3): Takes 1 and 2 are false starts. Take 3 is worse than the master. Previously released on Memphis Sessions.

You’ll Think Of Me (Takes 1-6): Takes 1 through 5 are false starts. Take 6 is pleasant, but feels somewhat plodding at times compared to the master. Previously unreleased.

Without Love (Take 1): This alternate, which is very similar to the master, was previously released on Suspicious Minds.

Suspicious Minds (Takes 1-4; rehearsal; Take 5; rehearsal): This one track is the reason I had to have this CD upon release, rather than picking it up at some point down the road in 2013. Here are Elvis Presley’s first five attempts at “Suspicious Minds,” all blown takes. Elvis swears on some of his mistakes, and FTD has not edited his language. I commend this decision, since this is a collectors label. Anyway, I love hearing “Suspicious Minds” start to come together. Other than parts of the rehearsal segments, most of this track is previously unreleased.

Suspicious Minds (Take 6): This track begins with two more previously unreleased false starts before Elvis finally nails a complete take – as previously released on ELVIS: From Nashville To Memphis – The Essential 60s Masters I.

Back In Memphis - FTD Booklet Cover

Back In Memphis – FTD Booklet Cover

Rehearsals

For some reason, FTD includes the undubbed “Stranger In My Home Town” master in this rehearsal section. This version was available before on Reconsider Baby and Memphis Sessions. “Stranger In My Own Home Town” is a song where I strongly prefer the dubbed version.

There is also a true rehearsal of “A Little Bit Of Green.” Elvis sings it very slow at first but eventually moves it closer to the familiar speed. I like this previously unreleased informal version better than the master.

January Outtakes

Up next are three takes of “You’ll Think Of Me.” Take 8, though previously released on Made In Memphis, is new to me. Take 14 was previously released on Memphis Sessions. Take 16 was previously released on Suspicious Minds. All three takes are enjoyable.

Then, it’s back to “A Little Bit Of Green” for takes 2 and 3. Take 2 consists of a couple of false starts, while take 3 is actually the undubbed master with Elvis’ original vocals (he re-recorded his vocals to the song at a September session later that year in Nashville). He struggles with it in the January session. Fascinating, and exactly the kind of previously unreleased track that a collectors label should provide.

The previously unreleased vocal overdub #2 for “Inherit The Wind” proves interesting because Elvis spends part of it joking around, including use of his mock country voice.

Two false starts of “Without Love” are followed by Take 4 – previously released on Memphis Sessions. It’s a decent take, but this song wears on me after awhile. Too much style, not enough substance.

Take 7 of “Suspicious Minds” quickly re-energizes me, though. How I love this song. This take was previously released on Platinum: A Life In Music, though there are some extra talking bits before and after the song here.

February Outtakes

Up first is the master Take 6 of “And The Grass Won’t Pay No Mind”, undubbed except for Elvis vocal repairs. While I still detest the underlying song, I do find this version better than the master.

Take 4 of “Do You Know Who I Am” was first released on Made In Memphis, but it is new to me and, thus, a highlight of this release. Elvis seems really into the song. He begins to clown around at the end and states afterwards, “You’re gonna save that last take, aren’t you? Because the first part of the take was pretty good.”

Unfinished Masters

“This Is The Story” kicks off with a false start Take 1, followed by the undubbed Take 2 – previously released in shorter form on Memphis Sessions. This simpler version is far preferable to the master. I also enjoy the live version (Collectors Gold) due to Elvis injecting some humor into this melodramatic piece.

More “You’ll Think Of Me”, this time the undubbed master Take 23. This is a terrific track.

Back to “A Little Bit Of Green.” This time, it is master Take 3 with Elvis’ vocal overdub replacement, but without the other dubs. Accordingly, Elvis sounds much stronger here than in the “January Outtakes” instance of this track. Also, the song is admittedly much improved in its simpler form without the other overdubs. Oh what confusing webs ensnare Elvis fans.

Two false starts from Take 4 kick off “From A Jack To A King,” followed by the undubbed and unedited master Take 5 – previously unreleased. I prefer it over the released master, though this still won’t be a favorite. I may play it a little more often, though.

Next is the undubbed master (Take 5) of “Without Love,” previously unreleased and mostly unremarkable.

Here, at last, is the undubbed/unedited master Take 8 of “Suspicious Minds.” Boy, was it worth the wait. You’ll want to crank this one up and wake up your neighbors, folks. Wow. It is incredible to hear this song in its stripped-down form. While it is not better than the official master, I believe it will stand right alongside it for me. There are plenty of other great tracks on FTD’s Back In Memphis, but this one alone is worth the cost of admission.

From “Suspicious Minds” to “And The Grass Won’t Pay No Mind” (master Take 6 with vocal overdub). Maybe this illustrates as well as any other two examples of the contradictory nature of Elvis’ career. So much incredible talent that is alternatively poured into a treasured work or into utter dreck. Yet, in both cases, the talent is always there.

Further proving my point, after “And The Grass Won’t Pay No Mind” comes another great track, Take 7 (master, with vocal overdub) of “Do You Know Who I Am”. I love this one, too – including more fooling around by Elvis near the end. I can’t wait to go back and listen again to all of these “Do You Know Who I Am” takes.

Finally, “The Fair’s Moving On” (Take 1 master, with vocal overdub) provides an approriate album closer as Elvis sings, “Yes, the fair’s moving on, and I’ll soon be gone…” Another delightful track.

Cover & Booklet

As when FTD released Elvis In Person in the Classic Album series, the front cover art duplicates the reissue version of Back In Memphis, leaving out the From Vegas To Memphis title. At least they were consistent, but I would have preferred both use the From Memphis To Vegas/From Vegas To Memphis cover variants, as the odds of the original 2-LP version getting a re-release on its own are slim to none.

From Memphis To Vegas/From Vegas To Memphis actually would have made a great Legacy Edition release, but both Elvis In Person and Back In Memphis have already been part of separate releases in that series as supporting titles for On Stage and From Elvis In Memphis respectively.

The Back In Memphis FTD booklet cover is fantastic. I like to think of these as the album covers for the FTD editions, and this is one of their best alternate designs – right up there with the booklet cover for That’s The Way It Is FTD Classic Album edition.

The liner notes reveal no new information and often sound awkward. For example:

“One of the new songs Elvis performed at his shows was an extended seven-minutes plus arrangement of a yet to be released song from the Memphis Sessions, a Mark James penned song about the break-up of a relationship titled ‘Suspicious Minds’.”

I also wish the “In And Outtakes” notes had been more informative about the various takes, overdubs, etc. Instead, I had to use the Elvis Presley Recording Sessions section of the excellent Keith Flynn’s Elvis Presley Pages to unravel some of my personal confusion when compiling this review. Compared to initial releases, FTD has come a long way in the amount of information provided – but there is still room to grow.


When I first heard the original Back In Memphis, over twenty years ago, I was surprised by my disappointment. After listening to this expanded FTD release of the album, I am surprised yet again. Not by disappointment this time, but by how much I enjoyed it.

Verdict: 10 (out of 10)

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.