About seven years ago, I wrote a review of That’s The Way It Is: Deluxe Edition. The 2014 Elvis Presley boxed set included 8 CDs and 2 DVDs, and my review rambled on about them for nearly 10,000 words.
Despite the length of that review, there are some loose ends that I would finally like to begin tying up regarding my all-time favorite Elvis event. I don’t know how many posts this will actually take, and they won’t necessarily run sequential to one another, either. Such is the way of things when you ride The Mystery Train.
By the time of the That’s The Way It Is project, Elvis had already performed two month-long engagements at the International Hotel in Las Vegas. From July 31 to August 28, 1969, he performed 57 concerts, 11 of which RCA recorded in full near the end of the series and compiled into the Elvis In Person half of the From Memphis To Vegas/From Vegas To Memphis double album.
Elvis performed another 57-show engagement from January 26 through February 23, 1970. RCA recorded portions of nine shows from the middle of this engagement, which resulted in the core of the album On Stage.
MGM’s camera crews were rolling for the Elvis: That’s The Way It Is documentary as he began his 3rd engagement on August 10, 1970. Marketed as the “Elvis Summer Festival,” this one ran through September 8 and included 59 shows. RCA recorded the first 6 concerts in full–concluding with the August 13 Dinner Show. Only four of the live songs found their way onto the That’s The Way It Is album, which acted as a tie-in to the film but otherwise featured studio songs Elvis had recorded in June.
These first three engagements at the International Hotel include some of the greatest live performances of Elvis’ career, but the vast majority of the recordings languished away in RCA’s vaults until long after his death. While performances of individual songs were often superior in the two previous engagements, to the extent there was overlap, the overall shows in the third engagement, as captured for That’s The Way It Is, are better than any that preceded or followed them.
All right, if I’m not careful, I’ll be on the way to another unreadable 10,000 word post. I love this topic, but let’s get on with it.
To assist with today’s post, I created the following infochart covering the six concerts RCA recorded for That’s The Way It Is. The numbers in the concert columns represent the sequence he performed those songs in that particular show.
Focusing on the 6 shows that RCA recorded in the course of 4 days, Elvis performed only 6 of the songs at every single concert:
- That’s All Right
- Love Me Tender
- You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’
- Polk Salad Annie
- Bridge Over Troubled Water
- Can’t Help Falling In Love
All of these are strong highlights, with only a couple of exceptions in individual shows.
The following songs appeared in 5 of the 6 concerts:
- Hound Dog
- I Just Can’t Help Believin’
- Heartbreak Hotel
- Suspicious Minds
Of these, the highlights are tremendous versions of “Suspicious Minds” and “I Just Can’t Help Believin'”. While the “Suspicious Minds” live performances are not quite as good as his August 1969 renditions, the August 1970 versions are still stellar and far better than the ones captured in February 1970. Though again inferior to 1969, “Hound Dog” and “Heartbreak Hotel” remain entertaining at this point and are not yet the throwaways they would unfortunately soon become – particularly “Hound Dog.”
Not including snippets, the following songs appeared in only 1 of the 6 concerts:
- The Next Step Is Love
- Don’t Cry Daddy/In The Ghetto
- Stranger In The Crowd
- Make The World Go Away
- Twenty Days And Twenty Nights
- The Wonder Of You
- Don’t Be Cruel
- Little Sister/Get Back
- I Was The One
- Are You Lonesome Tonight
All of the one-off songs have something to offer. One of the great “misses” of the time period, in my opinion, is “Stranger In The Crowd” not being chosen and promoted as a single for That’s The Way It Is, in lieu of “You Don’t Have To Say You Love Me.” The “Stranger In The Crowd” studio track is amazing, and his subsequent rehearsals with his core rhythm group for the live show prove it could have been dynamite. Unfortunately, the sole live version is marred by featuring too much of the Imperials vocal group and the orchestra’s horns. If only the Elvis team had worked out a simpler arrangement that was closer to those early rehearsals.
As it was his most recent hit at the time of these concerts, it is interesting that Elvis performed “The Wonder Of You” only once during the six shows.
Featuring Elvis on electric guitar, “Little Sister/Get Back,” “I Was The One,” “Love Me” (August 12 version only), and “Are You Lonesome Tonight” are all top-notch. Even the non-guitar version of “Love Me” (August 11) is a stand-out and far better than any post-1970 version.
With revised arrangements, “Words” and “I Can’t Stop Loving You” are two songs Elvis improves in Summer 1970 over his Summer 1969 performances.
Other highlights of the overall six-concert span include “Mystery Train/Tiger Man” (of course) and “Just Pretend.”
These are darn-near perfect shows. The only major Elvis categories they are lacking are gospel and the blues. It is unfortunate that Elvis did not perform “Oh Happy Day” at any of these concerts, despite having rehearsed it at the last minute, as he surely would have recorded a superlative version at this time in his career. However, the gospel sound is certainly present on a few of the secular recordings, including showstoppers “I Just Can’t Help Believin'” and “Bridge Over Troubled Water.” As for the blues, some of that influence can certainly be heard in the aforementioned electric guitar segment from the August 12 Midnight Show.
Here is my “August 1970 Ultimate Show” playlist recipe for this concert engagement. As noted, Elvis’ setlist varied widely each night, so no single show actually contained all of these songs. In fact, such a concert would have been longer than any show Elvis actually gave in his entire life, to my knowledge.
- Opening Riff/That’s All Right (August 10, 1970, Opening Show [OS])
- Mystery Train/Tiger Man (August 12, 1970, Midnight Show [MS])
- I Got A Woman (August 13, 1970, Dinner Show [DS]
- Hound Dog (August 11, 1970, MS)
- Love Me Tender (August 11, 1970, MS)
- The Next Step Is Love (August 10, 1970, OS)
- Just Pretend (August 11, 1970, MS)
- Don’t Cry Daddy/In The Ghetto (August 13, 1970, DS)
- Men With Broken Hearts/Walk A Mile In My Shoes (August 11, 1970, MS)
- I’ve Lost You (August 11, 1970, DS)
- There Goes My Everything (August 11, 1970, MS)
- I Just Can’t Help Believin’ (August 12, 1970, DS)
- Stranger In The Crowd (August 13, 1970, DS)
- Words (August 12, 1970, MS)
- Something (August 11, 1970, MS)
- Make The World Go Away (August 13, 1970, DS)
- Patch It Up (August 10, 1970, OS)
- Sweet Caroline (August 12, 1970, MS)
- I Can’t Stop Loving You (August 11, 1970, DS)
- Twenty Days And Twenty Nights (August 12, 1970, DS)
- You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’ (August 12, 1970, MS)
- You Don’t Have To Say You Love Me (August 10, 1970, OS)
- Polk Salad Annie (August 12, 1970, MS)
- The Wonder Of You (August 13, 1970, DS)
- Heartbreak Hotel (August 12, 1970, MS)
- One Night (August 12, 1970, MS)
- Don’t Be Cruel (August 11, 1970, MS)
- Blue Suede Shoes (August 12, 1970, MS)
- All Shook Up (August 12, 1970, MS)
- US Male (August 11, 1970, MS)
- Little Sister/Get Back (August 12, 1970, MS)
- I Was The One (August 12, 1970, MS)
- Love Me (August 12, 1970, MS)
- Are You Lonesome Tonight (August 12, 1970, MS)
- Bridge Over Troubled Water (August 11, 1970, DS)
- Suspicious Minds (August 12, 1970, MS)
- Can’t Help Falling In Love (August 12, 1970, MS)
Though I did not structure it this way on purpose, all 6 shows are represented in this “best of” playlist. If you want an even fuller compilation, you could even include “Introductions By Elvis” from the August 12 Midnight Show after “Polk Salad Annie” and before “The Wonder Of You.”
As you can probably predict from the above playlist, my favorite show of the Summer 1970 engagement is the August 12 Midnight Show (disc 6 of 2014’s That’s The Way It Is: Deluxe Edition and disc 2 of 2000’s That’s The Way It Is: Special Edition). In fact, this is my favorite Elvis concert ever. It features an impeccable setlist, Elvis in top form, and the fun electric guitar segment.
Though he still had many stellar recordings and accomplishments ahead of him, Elvis was never quite as awesome again as he was in Summer 1970. I am grateful we have so much material from that time period to enjoy. I wouldn’t be as strong an Elvis fan without the magic of That’s The Way It Is.
“We put our hope in the LORD. He is our help and our shield. In him our hearts rejoice, for we trust in his holy name. Let your unfailing love surround us, LORD, for our hope is in you alone.”