Portions of this post originally appeared in a review I wrote of His Hand In Mine for the album’s 60th anniversary in Kees Mouwen’s Elvis Day By Day 2020: The Year In Review. The 2021 volume is available now.
His Hand In Mine
Catalog Number: LPM-2328
Recorded: 1960 | Nashville
1960 was Elvis Presley’s most productive year to that point in his career. He recorded 52 studio masters, released 3 albums, and filmed 3 movies; and all that with being out of commission for almost the entire first 3 months while completing his stint in the U.S. Army.
For the 25-year-old singer, the albums Elvis Is Back! and His Hand In Mine represented artistic achievements on par with his outstanding work in the previous decade. The latter title was his first Long Play (LP) sacred album, a follow-up of sorts to his 1957 Extended Play (EP) sacred album Peace In The Valley.
Elvis recorded the entire His Hand In Mine album the night of October 30, finishing in the early morning hours of October 31, 1960. Amazingly, the record was in stores within a month – presumably rushed to have it ready for the Christmas season. RCA released His Hand In Mine in both mono and stereo formats.
As a second generation Elvis fan, I first heard His Hand In Mine in the early 1990s on CD. As with so many Elvis albums, I have bought it a number of times in different CD configurations over the years since then. When Kees asked me to review the album for its 60th anniversary back in 2020, I sought out a vinyl version – a first pressing of the 1960 mono release.
One of the things I enjoy about collecting used records is pondering their history. I imagine a young Elvis fan in 1960 buying this album at her or his local record shop and taking it home to play it for the first time. What else is happening in November 1960?
- Elvis releases “Are You Lonesome Tonight” as a single. Did the fan pick up this soon to be #1 hit as well when buying His Hand In Mine?
- Belgium, the Netherlands, and Luxembourg form the Benelux Economic Union when a 1958 treaty takes effect.
- John F. Kennedy is elected President of the United States in a narrow victory over Richard Nixon.
- Legendary actor Clark Gable dies of a heart attack just days after completing work on The Misfits.
How many others owned this particular copy of His Hand In Mine before it made its way into my hands 60 years later? Whose hands will hold it 60 years from now?
The album is in remarkable condition for its age. The outer sleeve, featuring a photo of Elvis at the piano, taken during a break while filming Flaming Star, is still vibrant. Only a small tear beneath the RCA logo on the front cover, where a fan was perhaps too aggressive in removing a price tag, and minor splitting in the bottom seam betray its age. The inner sleeve, promoting Elvis Is Back!, is in great shape. On the vinyl itself, there are but a few little crackles in quiet portions. Whether this is an indication that the original owner(s) did not play this album very often or simply treated it with reverence, there is no way to know.
When I first heard His Hand In Mine nearly 30 years ago, I believed in God but had little understanding of Christianity. While I thought Elvis’ voice sounded beautiful on many of the songs, I really did not connect with them beyond that. I did occasionally play this or one of his other sacred albums on a random Sunday, seeking something.
In 2018, I accepted Jesus into my heart, and I was literally reborn (2 Corinthians 5:17). While I still stumble every day, I now have a personal relationship with Jesus through daily reading of the Bible and prayer that helps me get back on track to becoming who He created me to be.
As for Elvis’ sacred recordings, they began to take on new meaning for me. It is within this context that I want to examine His Hand In Mine.
- His Hand In Mine
The album kicks off with the title track, “His Hand In Mine.” Elvis’ voice is full of new confidence and strength on this slow number – as compared to 1956’s more faltering “Love Me Tender,” for instance.
- I’m Gonna Walk Dem Golden Stairs
Up next, the pace picks up with “I’m Gonna Walk Dem Golden Stairs.” This song sounds like Elvis fulfilling his dream of being in a gospel quartet. The line “When Jesus says to me, ‘Well done'” recalls the following verse from the Bible: “His lord said unto him, ‘Well done, thou good and faithful servant: thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things: enter thou into the joy of thy lord'” (Matthew 25:21 KJV). As a Christian, I do not fear death, as I know it is when I will go to meet Jesus. I pray I will live the rest of my life such that He will say, “Well done.”
- In My Father’s House
There is an even more direct Scriptural reference in the next song, “In My Father’s House.” Elvis sings, “In my Father’s house are many mansions; if it were not true He would have told me so.” In the Bible, Jesus states: “In My Father’s house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you” (John 14:2 KJV). Elvis’ vocals are exquisite on lines like, “Jesus died upon the cross to bear my sorrow. Freely died that souls like you might have new life.” A highlight of the album.
- Milky White Way
- Known Only To Him
“Known Only To Him” is an interesting 1960 recording by Elvis because it is one of those where portions sound like his later voice from the 1970s. His inspirational and Christmas songs do tend to blend together better across the decades, though, compared to many of his other recordings. It would have been interesting to hear Elvis take another try at this song in 1970 or 1971, even if live. I don’t think he would have been able to better this version, though.
- I Believe In The Man In The Sky
- Joshua Fit The Battle
My first complete read-through of the Bible in 2018 had a secondary and unexpected benefit of filling in details for me on a number of songs. For instance, in the upbeat “Joshua Fit The Battle,” I had always heard the lyrics as, “I know you’ve heard about Joshua, he was the son of none.” Yes, for 25 years I thought Joshua was an orphan until I finally learned that his father’s name was Nun. The song recounts the battle of Jericho, which is featured in chapter 6 of Joshua in the Old Testament. In his later years, Joshua was one of only two adults from Moses’ original followers to make it to the Promised Land.
- Jesus Knows What I Need
“Jesus Knows What I Need” is one of those songs that speaks Truth whenever I need comfort. I can imagine Elvis singing this one around the piano with friends. A bit of trivia: In subsequent pressings of His Hand In Mine, this song’s title was corrected to “He Knows Just What I Need.”
- Swing Down Sweet Chariot
The humorous “Swing Down Sweet Chariot” takes us back to the Old Testament. Called “Zeke” in the song, the prophet Ezekiel’s encounter with the chariot of God is described in chapter 1 of Ezekiel. Though I love this song, I much prefer the alternate version of Elvis’ 1968 re-recording that features the Blossoms as the backing vocalists.
- Mansion Over The Hilltop
Like “In My Father’s House” on Side 1, “Mansion Over the Hilltop” and “If We Never Meet Again” on Side 2 provide beautiful illustrations of the Perfect Place, Heaven. In “Mansion,” a favorite line is, “Someday yonder we will never more wander, but walk on streets that are pure as gold.” I just love the sound of Elvis’ voice as he paints this picture.
- If We Never Meet Again
Elvis’ mother, Gladys, passed away in August 1958 at the age of 46, and I’m sure Elvis had her in mind while recording “If We Never Meet Again,” which states: “If we never meet again this side of Heaven, as we struggle through this world and its strife, there’s another meeting place somewhere in Heaven, by the side of the River of Life – where the charming roses bloom forever and ever, and separations come no more.” The “River of Life” is from Revelation 22:1 in the Bible, which describes God’s throne in Heaven. Elvis was only 23 when he lost his mother. At a September 1958 press conference before leaving to be stationed in Germany until his return to the U.S. and civilian life in March 1960, he had this to say about her, captured on the Elvis Sails EP: “My mother, I suppose since I was an only child, that we might have been a little closer. Everyone loves their mother, but I was an only child, and Mother was always right with me, all my life. It wasn’t only like losing a mother, it was like losing a friend, a companion, someone to talk to. I could wake her up any hour of the night, and if I was worried or troubled about something, she’d get up and try to help me.”
- Working On The Building
I first heard the energetic “Working On The Building” on the 1988 album Elvis In Nashville and loved it right away. Take 2, released on the 2006 FTD edition of His Hand In Mine, is also a favorite. In the gospel segment of the 1968 ELVIS television special, wheelbarrows can be seen as part of the set decoration – reminding me of this 1960 song, which was unfortunately not performed on the show. “I’m working on the building, it’s a true foundation,” sings Elvis. In Matthew 7:24-27, Jesus talks about the importance of building a strong spiritual foundation. “Working On The Building” serves as a perfect conclusion to His Hand In Mine.
I enjoy looking at album covers while playing records. His Hand In Mine includes liner notes on the back by Robert Kotlowitz. He explores Elvis’ early faith through attending the First Assembly Church of God in Tupelo, Mississippi.
An interesting tidbit in the liner notes, which I do not recall reading elsewhere, is, “Gladys and Vernon Presley, with their small son [Elvis] standing between them, became a popular trio singing hymns at camp meetings, revivals and church conventions.” Truth or legend?
The liner notes also include a quote from Elvis’ mother: “When Elvis was just a little fellow, he would slide off my lap, run down the aisle, and scramble up to the platform of the church. He would stand looking up at the choir and try to sing with them. He was too little to know the words, of course, but he could carry the tune.”
Except for a quick session in June 1958, which was a couple of months before his mother’s death, Elvis made no formal recordings while serving in the Army. While Elvis Is Back! and the G.I. Blues soundtrack afforded no such opportunities, I firmly believe His Hand In Mine is a “labor of love” by Elvis in tribute not only to Jesus but, as Kotlowitz states, to Gladys Presley.
“The eyes of the LORD are everywhere, keeping watch on the wicked and the good.”