Thank You, Mac: The Last Verse

I want to pause a few moments to celebrate entertainer Mac Davis, who passed away on Tuesday. The songwriter/singer/actor/musician was 78.

Among Elvis fans, Davis is best known as the writer of the hits “In Ghetto” and “Don’t Cry Daddy,” both of which Elvis recorded at his 1969 American Sound Studio sessions in Memphis. Standing with “If I Can Dream” (1968) as one of the few socially conscious Elvis songs, “In The Ghetto” broke Elvis’ four-year drought of top ten hits when it made it to #3 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart in 1969. “Don’t Cry Daddy” made its chart debut later the same year and eventually peaked at #6.

As a teenager in the 1950s, Davis became an Elvis fan and attended concerts in Texas. When, as an adult, he attended Elvis’ August 25, 1969, Midnight Show at the International Hotel in Las Vegas, Elvis introduced Nancy Sinatra to the audience. He then had Davis stand up as well:

“There’s a guy sitting in her booth that’s one hell of a songwriter, ladies and gentlemen. He has written some beautiful stuff, and he wrote one of my biggest records. I’d like you to say hello to Mac Davis. He wrote ‘In The Ghetto,’ ladies and gentlemen.”

After introducing a number of other celebrities, Elvis went on to perform “In The Ghetto” and threw in a “Thank you, Mac” after the song concluded. These moments are captured on CD 9 of Sony’s Elvis Live 1969 boxed set, which I just finished reviewing here last week, as well as on FTD’s Hot August Night CD.

Davis co-wrote with Billy Strange several other Elvis songs, all recorded in 1968, including “A Little Less Conversation” for the film Live A Little, Love A Little. In Ken Sharp’s Writing For The King: The Stories Of The Songwriters (FTD, 2006), Davis notes that he actually had Aretha Franklin in mind when he wrote the song and then worked with Strange to change the lyrics to better suit Elvis when submitting it for use in the movie.

After appearing in the 2001 version of Ocean’s Eleven, an alternate take of “A Little Less Conversation” found a surprising new life in 2002 when a JXL remix for a Nike commercial during the World Cup became an international hit. In Writing For The King, Davis notes he was shocked to hear the song during the 2001 movie, and his kids in 2002 were even more shocked their dad wrote the “Elvis vs. JXL” hit. When a friend called him and told him the song had been remixed and had hit number one:

“I mentioned something about it to my boys and they both jumped up and down. They said, ‘Wait a minute, are you talking about the song in the commercial?’ And I said, ‘Yeah.’ They said, ‘God, well, all the kids in school are singing that. You wrote that Dad?’ They were totally impressed. I had never impressed them with anything before that.”

The Elvis recording would go on to serve as the opening theme to the 2003-2008 TV series Las Vegas, starring James Caan, Josh Duhamel and Nikki Cox. It has been used in countless other movies and trailers as well.

Davis and Strange composed two numbers that the singer recorded for his 1968 ELVIS special, “Memories” and “Nothingville.” That same recording of “Memories” later featured in the film Elvis On Tour (1972) as well as various posthumous documentaries, including 1981’s This Is Elvis.

They also wrote “Clean Up Your Own Backyard,” featured in the movie The Trouble With Girls, and the title song of the movie Charro.

After spending the early parts of his career writing songs for others, Davis went on in the 1970s to become a star in his own right, with multiple hits, including “Baby, Don’t Get Hooked On Me” and “I Believe In Music.” In Davis’ 1980 Greatest Hits album, he included the note: “A special thanks to Billy Strange for starting it all & all those who believed: Elvis Presley, Clive Davis & especially Sandy Gallin.”

Davis also began an acting career in the 1970s that extended all the way to 2019. In 1979, he appeared with Nick Nolte in the sports comedy North Dallas Forty. In 1993, Davis hosted two television specials about Elvis, America Comes To Graceland and Elvis: His Life And Times – a re-edit of a 1987 BBC documentary, I Don’t Sing Like Nobody/Cut Me And I Bleed. Both versions are memorable as being among the best of such productions about Elvis.

Among a long list of other television credits, Davis appeared in a 1995 episode of ABC’s Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman. My niece and I never missed an episode on Sunday nights. Though he ostensibly played a villain on the show, Davis’ affable personality shined through.

As a huge fan of the comeback era, I cannot overstate Davis’ contributions to that portion of Elvis’ career. The movie songs he co-wrote with Strange brought Elvis fresh material that was of a quality unheard in his films since King Creole (1958) and Jailhouse Rock (1957) a decade earlier. We usually have to grade Elvis’ 1960s movie tunes on a curve, but the Davis-Strange compositions are among Elvis’ best songs, period, movie or otherwise. The same, of course, goes for “In The Ghetto” and “Don’t Cry Daddy.”

I want to leave the last word on Davis to Davis. From Writing For The King:

“I loved Elvis’ version of ‘Don’t Cry Daddy.’ I thought it was really poignant and really sweet. […] I do remember thinking that I should have written another verse for it. But that was me. That’ll be on my tombstone, ‘I was still working on that last verse.'”

Mac Davis as cult leader Larry Smiley in LOIS & CLARK: THE NEW ADVENTURES OF SUPERMAN – “Just Say Noah” (1995, Warner Brothers)


I’m praying for Davis, his family, and friends.

Blessings,
TY


“Don’t let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God, and trust also in me.”
John 14:1

Dreams You Won’t Recapture: A journey through Sony’s 10-disc THAT’S THE WAY IT IS: DELUXE EDITION

Introduction: Woven In My Soul

Three months–June, July, and August 1970–contain, for me, the very best of Elvis Presley. It is the Elvis of 1970, specifically of That’s The Way It Is, that my mind normally conjures up first when thinking of him.

Not the Elvis of 1956, 1960, 1968, 1969, or any other Elvis.

1970. That is my Elvis. That is the Elvis I connect to more than any other Elvis. Scratch that, more than any other entertainer, period. Even though I was not on this planet for nearly another five years after the events of That’s The Way It Is. Even though I did not make it to three-years-old before Elvis was gone, and the universe had robbed me, like most of my generation, from ever having the privilege of seeing the man in person.

His voice remained with us, though, on countless recordings. The universe granted that much, at least.

Released on August 5, the eight CDs of Sony’s That’s The Way It Is: Deluxe Edition include almost nine hours of music recorded by Elvis Presley during those three months.

The set also contains two DVDs of material filmed for the 1970 documentary Elvis: That’s The Way It Is and an 80-page book. All of this is packaged in a 12×12 box that harkens back to the days of vinyl LPs from which the album in question originally sprang.

Released at the same time is That’s The Way It Is: Legacy Edition, a more economical option that features two of the same CDs.

Three months. One might be tempted to think that the eight CDs of the Deluxe Edition are surely enough to contain the entire recorded output of Elvis in the timeframe covered by this set. The truth is, it would take more than eight CDs. A lot more. In terms of professional recordings made, when accounting for formal studio sessions, rehearsals, and live performances, this is the most-documented three-month span of his life.

Three months. Take them away, and I am not as big of an Elvis fan as I am today. I would not say that about losing any other three-month span of his career.

I state all of this by way of introduction, to lay my cards right out on the table for you, patient reader, that this boxed set means something to me. This is not just another Elvis release for me, and this is not just another review for my little blog.

That’s The Way It Is: Deluxe Edition is a boxed set 44-years in the making. His record label has tried to capture this period many times in the past, yet never quite achieved the last word on the potential of this material.

In the latest and most expansive attempt, has Sony made that definitive statement? Has Sony at last made a release that honors the brilliance of this material?

Settle back for a long journey, and we’ll find out together. Don’t want all the details? Then skip straight to the Final Verdict.

Disc One [CD]

[Also Disc One of That’s The Way It Is: Legacy Edition]
That's The Way It Is (1970)
The original That’s The Way It Is album makes up the first twelve tracks of this CD. My favorite album released during Elvis’s lifetime is That’s The Way It Is, but it could have been so much better.

Unfortunately, That’s The Way It Is tries to be two things at once–a live album and a studio album. While this hybrid approach combining Nashville studio masters from June with Las Vegas live masters from August brings variety to the listening experience, it ultimately detracts from the overall album.

The compiler of the original album passed over strong studio cuts of “I’ve Lost You” and “Patch It Up” in favor of inferior live versions. While the live versions were certainly a bonus to fans that collected the songs in 45-RPM format via their studio singles, the album as a whole suffered from an artistic standpoint because of this decision.

To make matters worse, RCA overdubbed applause at the end of Elvis’s incredible studio version of “Bridge Over Troubled Water” in order to bookend the album with “live” songs. RCA did not release a clean version of the song until nearly 25 years later.

My ideal That’s The Way It Is album would present the songs in a different sequence (10, 8, 3, 6, 12, 1; 7, 2, 9, 11, 5, 7), use the studio versions of “I’ve Lost You” and “Patch It Up” instead, and not include overdubbed applause on the studio version of “Bridge Over Troubled Water.”

Forty-four years later, of course, the original album is what it is, and it opens the Deluxe Edition as the historical foundation for the remainder of the set. The album is presented in its vintage mix and, no matter the sequence, you will find some of Elvis’s finest music here.

The pinnacles of the album are studio cuts “How The Web Was Woven” and “Just Pretend,” as well as a live reinvention of “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin'” that destroys all other versions by Elvis or anyone else.

Also strong are Winfield Scott’s “Stranger In The Crowd,” which brings the often slower-paced album some much-needed rhythm, and “Twenty Days And Twenty Nights,” which features beautiful guitar work and an exquisite vocal.

Alleviating some of my criticisms of the original presentation, the CD continues with the singles associated with the album. While the live versions are still present, the studio versions of “I’ve Lost You” and “Patch It Up” are now represented.

Though Elvis began recording in true stereo upon his return from the Army in 1960, most of his singles through 1971 featured dedicated mono mixes. In modern times, Elvis album compilers tend to favor the stereo mixes of these songs–even if identified as a “single”–so many of these mono versions have yet to be released on CD.

It was a listening pleasure to hear the true single mixes of “I’ve Lost You,” “The Next Step Is Love,” “You Don’t Have To Say You Love Me,” and “Patch It Up” in glorious mono. The standouts here are “Patch It Up,” which completely rocks, and “I’ve Lost You,” which is just a tremendous song no matter in stereo or mono.

The first CD concludes with early studio takes of a few songs from the June Nashville session. These alternate takes and accompanying studio chatter provide some insight into the making of the album and singles. The absolute highlight is take 1 of “How The Web Was Woven,” though take 1 of “Patch It Up” also shines.

The sound of his voice in 1970 was just so . . . comforting. There was nothing quite like it in his previous or subsequent years.

Since much of the material on this set is previously released, I decided to randomly choose a track from each CD to compare to a previous release. For the comparisons to be fair, I volume-matched the tracks.

Keep in mind, however, that I am neither an audiophile nor a musician. I also do not own reference grade audio equipment. There are probably subtle, or even some not-so-subtle, audio nuances that I missed. I can only present you my humble opinions as a lifelong Elvis fan.

For Disc One, I chose Track 20, take 1 of “Patch It Up,” and compared it with the same take on the 2008 FTD edition of That’s The Way It Is. No differences noted.

While all of the material on Disc One is previously released, it is extremely well-compiled. This makes for a perfect opening to the set.

Disc Two: August 10 – Opening Night [CD]

August 10, 1970, Opening Show

After an absence of several years, Elvis had returned to performing live in 1969. From July 31 to August 28 of that year, he performed 57 concerts at the International Hotel in Las Vegas. This yielded the Elvis In Person portion of the From Memphis To Vegas/From Vegas To Memphis double album. The set lists from these concerts focused primarily on newly energized versions of his hits.

Just a few months later, he returned to Vegas for another 57-show engagement from January 26 through February 23, 1970. The album On Stage resulted from this series, whose set lists focused primarily on interpreting the hits of others.

MGM’s camera crews were rolling for the Elvis: That’s The Way It Is documentary as he began his third engagement at the International on August 10, 1970. Marketed as the “Elvis Summer Festival,” this one ran through September 8 and included 59 shows.

While MGM stuck around to film visuals through August 15, RCA apparently only recorded audio of the first six concerts–concluding with the August 13 Dinner Show. These six shows make up the majority of That’s The Way It Is: Deluxe Edition.

All six concerts feature new mixes by Steven Rosenthal and Kabir Hernon. The vintage That’s The Way It Is era mixes presumably approved by Elvis appear on tracks 1 through 16 of Disc One, so I have absolutely no issues with new mixes being applied to these concerts. Sometimes, it is nice to hear something a little different–particularly since the majority of this set’s content has been released before anyway.

For the six That’s The Way It Is concerts, Elvis assembled ideal set lists that combined highlights from the first two engagements, material from his recent studio sessions, and a few surprises.

Disc Two presents the full August 10 Opening Show, previously released in 2000 on the FTD One Night In Vegas. This 2014 release includes an introductions segment cut in 2000, however.

The concert begins in dramatic fashion with Ronnie Tutt pounding away on his drums–and I suppose Eddie Graham on the kettle drums, too–as a signal that Elvis is about to take the stage. The drums sound tight, and the new mix is impressive right from the start.

The opening numbers are thrilling. Elvis launches into a rocking version of “That’s All Right,” his very first single, and then moves quickly into the “Mystery Train/Tiger Man” medley. For me, there is no better opening sequence for an Elvis concert than this particular 1-2 punch.

While Elvis delivers a fine version of “I Can’t Stop Loving You,” it feels out of place as the next number and takes away from the momentum created by the previous songs.

After “Love Me Tender,” the remainder of the concert until the “Can’t Help Falling In Love” close focuses on new songs from the Nashville session and recent From Memphis To Vegas/From Vegas To Memphis and On Stage albums. Elvis also debuts his versions of “I Just Can’t Help Believin’,” “Something,” and “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’.”

The microphone feedback problems that plagued this show are no longer as prevalent. It makes for a much more enjoyable listening experience.

Regarding individual performances, the concert features fantastic versions of many songs. This might be Elvis’s best version of “Something,” and it is certainly his best live version of “Patch It Up.” “Polk Salad Annie” benefits as being the least jokey version on this set, though renditions from the earlier 1970 engagement are superior. “Bridge Over Troubled Water” is stunning, and even “I’ve Lost You” stands out despite some mistakes near the end.

Among the six shows, “The Next Step Is Love” is unique to this one. This is one case where I prefer the live version over the studio cut.

I can’t say enough about the sound quality. It is as if Glen Hardin is playing piano in my living room as “Can’t Help Falling In Love” launches.

Is the sound really that different, though? Or am I just fooling myself?

For Disc Two, I decided to compare “I’ve Lost You” (Track 14) against the 2000 One Night In Vegas edition. The 2014 mix favors the piano, and the drums have a lot more punch than on the 2000 mix. The biggest difference is notable at the instrumental break at 1:30, when the 2014 edition brings the orchestral strings up in the mix. Beautiful.

However, taken as a whole, there is something unfulfilling about the Opening Show as a concert experience. As much as I love the new material, I think the lack of previous hits makes this concert feel less than stellar. Even “Suspicious Minds,” a number one hit just a year before, is notably missing. While I am glad that Elvis never turned his concerts into “Oldies Acts,” I prefer a better sprinkling of his past glories than present here.

Disc Three: August 11 – Dinner Show [CD]

August 11, 1970, Dinner Show

Again, the drums knock you back as Ronnie Tutt pounds the opening riff. They are really tight! Disc Three marks the first “complete” release of the August 11 Dinner Show. Elvis immediately kicks into high gear with “That’s All Right.”

“I Got A Woman” is strong, though I definitely miss “Mystery Train/Tiger Man” as the second song.

A breakneck version of “Hound Dog” follows. Despite the speed, this is actually a strong version. From the recordings I have heard, this appears to be the last concert series where “Hound Dog” was not a complete throwaway (yes, even the 1972 versions). For me, “Hound Dog” does not work well as the third song, either, though. Though more suitable than “I Can’t Stop Loving You,” it still seems out-of-place.

“Heartbreak Hotel” is next, which I think Elvis should have traded positions in the set with “Hound Dog.” Then again, who am I to question the likes of Elvis? I like the bluesy “Well, well, well” beginning on this version, and the crowd obviously loves the song once he gets going on it. “Love Me Tender” is an okay version.

“I’ve Lost You” and “I Just Can’t Help Believin'” from this concert were used for the live masters on the original album. It is significant to have them in proper context without overdubbed applause.

The alternate mixes continue to impress. This set seems to be “saving” the live versions of “I’ve Lost You” for me, as I have long ignored them in favor of the studio version. “I Just Can’t Help Believin'” is another alluring version. The funny thing is, I used to dislike this song – but it has very much grown on me over the years.

After a typical version of “Something,” Elvis says, “Forget ‘Patch It Up,’ let’s do ‘Can’t Stop Loving You.'” After a brief reprise of “Something” and clowning around with the band a bit, he launches into an outstanding version of “I Can’t Stop Loving You.”

“Sweet Caroline” is good, very energetic. Microphone feedback near the beginning of “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin'” causes Elvis to restart the song. It is fortunate he did not do that on the Opening Show or he never would have finished the concert. “That squealing just ruined our mood completely,” he says.

Sony chooses to correct a minor lyric flub on “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’,” despite the fact that it can still be heard in the accompanying DVDs. The unaltered version is also available on CD One of FTD’s Writing For The King.

He plays around at the beginning of “Polk Salad Annie” but ultimately delivers a decent version.

“When I first came to Las Vegas, I was like 19-years-old, and I played the New Frontier, or the Last Frontier, whatever you call it, and I bombed, boy, you wouldn’t believe how I bombed, really” Elvis notes after introducing the band.

This is the only time I can recall Elvis discussing his May 1956 Vegas engagement at the New Frontier Hotel (he was actually 21)–the last show of which can be heard on a number of releases, including Elvis Aron Presley, ELVIS: The King of Rock ‘n’ Roll – The Complete 50s Masters, and Live In Las Vegas. This was one of the few misfires of Elvis’s early career.

Elvis turns in another wonderful rendition of “Bridge Over Troubled Water,” certainly a contender for his greatest live version. The power of his 1970 voice is ideal for his take on this song.

“Suspicious Minds” is another winner, second only to the August 12 Midnight Show for this engagement. It definitely makes for a more compelling conclusion to the concert versus the Opening Show.

After all of that, “Can’t Help Falling In Love” disappoints by being only an okay version. It is certainly better than subsequent years, but not as strong as on some of the other shows represented on the Deluxe Edition.

I compared Disc Three’s “Bridge Over Troubled Water” (Track 14) to its original release on Platinum: A Life In Music from 1997.

The most obvious difference is that the piano is now in the left channel instead of the right. This standardizes the recording to where the piano was placed on stage, so this makes sense.

Elvis also sounds slightly left of center in the Platinum version, while here his vocals sound more centered to me.

I lean towards the 2014 mix, but there really are not striking differences beyond the placement of the piano and, possibly, Elvis.

Overall, this is a very enjoyable show. Offering no unique performances, it is essentially the “standard” That’s The Way It Is show, which I do not intend as an insult since I love these concerts.

Disc Four: August 11 – Midnight Show [CD]

August 11, 1970, Midnight Show

I always seem to gravitate towards Elvis’s Midnight Shows over his Dinner Shows, and this engagement is no exception. I assume it is because, as a night owl, Elvis truly seemed to come alive during the later shows.

First released on the Live In Las Vegas boxed set, the August 11 Midnight Show represented here on Disc Four is easily the finest of the three That’s The Way It Is shows recorded to that point.

“That’s All Right” and “I Got A Woman” are both magnificent. Elvis is obviously very much engaged in both songs. Up next is another super-fast but entertaining version of “Hound Dog.”

In the first nod to his upcoming Elvis Country album, recorded at the same session as the That’s The Way It Is studio tracks, Elvis sings “There Goes My Everything.”

This show features the greatest live version of “Just Pretend.” It is right up there with the studio version. One of my all-time favorite Elvis songs.

Before singing Joe South’s “Walk A Mile In My Shoes,” which Elvis had introduced in his On Stage album, he recites from the song “Men With Broken Hearts,” first recorded by Hank Williams, Sr., under the name of Luke the Drifter.

Elvis states, “There was a guy who said one time, he said, ‘You never stood in that man’s shoes or saw things through his eyes; or stood and watched with helpless hands while the heart inside you dies. So, help your brother along the way, no matter where he starts, for the same God that made you made him, too–these men with broken hearts.’ I’d like to sing a song along the same line–‘Walk a Mile.'”

I love that Elvis makes this thematic connection between a 1969 rock number and a 1950 country song. The sound of his voice during the recitation is inspiring. Even when talking, there was sometimes this musical quality. The first time I heard this portion was on 1992’s Elvis: The Lost Performances video – which I credit as making me the obsessive Elvis fan I am today. Sure, I was an Elvis fan before that video, but everything was different after that.

Unfortunately, the version of “Walk A Mile In My Shoes” that follows is abbreviated compared to the February version, but it is still enjoyable.

“Okay, we’re gonna get dirty now,” Elvis says, which cues the band into “Polk Salad Annie.” He keeps the introductory joking to a minimum, so this turns out to be a solid version–definitely among the top three of these six shows.

“We start doing those, man, we’ll be up here all night,” says Elvis after a loose version of “One Night.” He then launches into an acceptable version of “Don’t Be Cruel,” which would all too soon become a throwaway.

Next up is “Love Me,” which Elvis introduces as one of his favorite songs. In this engagement, I tend to believe him. In future years, he unfortunately put less effort into this song. Outstanding version here, though.

Elvis performs another quality version of “Heartbreak Hotel” to close out this segment of the show. As the audience continues to shout requests, he even makes a brief reference to “U.S. Male,” his 1968 single.

This show finishes in spectacular fashion, with top-notch versions of “Bridge Over Troubled Water,” “Suspicious Minds,” and “Can’t Help Falling In Love.”

I compared “I Just Can’t Help Believin'” from Disc Four (Track 7) against the version on 2001’s Live In Las Vegas. One difference right away is that there is a buzzing sound while Elvis is introducing the song on the 2001 version, whereas the 2014 edition has eliminated this.

As far as the actual song, the main difference is that Charlie Hodge’s harmony vocals have been either eliminated or significantly reduced on the 2014 mix. The 2001 mix also seems to feature Elvis’s vocal ever-so-slightly higher in the mix. I prefer the 2001 mix for this performance, but it is a close call.

Unique to this show among the six are the “Men With Broken Hearts” recitation and “Don’t Be Cruel.”

You can’t ask for a better concert than this, yet . . . Elvis still had more to give for That’s The Way It Is.

Disc Five: August 12 – Dinner Show [CD]

[Also Disc Two of That’s The Way It Is: Legacy Edition]

August 12, 1970, Dinner Show

This set also marks the debut of the “complete” August 12 Dinner Show. Things get off to a rousing start and then they stop. The opening riff begins with the jungle rhythm, the band kicks into “That’s All Right,” but Elvis does not join in.

Are there audio problems? Is Elvis late coming to the stage? Sony does not bother to provide answers, never mentioning the incident in the accompanying book.

Eventually, a shortened version of the opening riff begins again and Elvis jokingly starts to sing “Love Me Tender” before tearing into “That’s All Right.” A bizarre start to the show and this is the one Sony chose as Disc Two of the Legacy Edition–meaning more mainstream/general public audiences will hear this, rather than just the obsessive types like me.

As for me, I enjoy having a stand-alone version of the opening riff. It is a fun novelty, and one that could be used to re-create in a fashion the original That’s The Way It Is documentary ending–which featured a reprise of the riff shortly after “Can’t Help Falling In Love.” It did not reflect how the shows actually ended back then, but was still pretty cool.

“I Got A Woman” is an okay version. He lowers the pitch and then raises it near the end, and while it is an interesting approach, the song loses something.

“Hound Dog” is another fast version, though maybe not quite as fast as the previous two concerts. Elvis plays around a bit after the song, and whatever is going on makes the audience laugh.

A satisfactory version of “Heartbreak Hotel” eventually follows. Sony then edits out the wireless microphone issues that occurred prior to “Love Me Tender.” Given that the previous joking segment was left in, this is a strange choice.

First, though the moment certainly works more in a visual context, it would have been very evident from the audio that there were microphone issues.

Second, the moment is captured on the 1970 theatrical version of That’s The Way It Is, presented on DVD as Disc Ten of this very set. People who watch the movie might wonder why they do not hear this humorous moment in any of the “complete” shows included here.

After “Heartbreak Hotel,” Sony picks back up with Elvis quipping, “I made my first movie . . . I’m gonna bring in the Supremes tomorrow night, you know, with Mahalia Jackson singing lead with them,” to the Sweet Inspirations who were laughing at him for holding two microphones.

Anyway, “Love Me Tender” turns out to be a pretty exciting version in the sense that the audience is going absolutely wild. Unfortunately, it has been edited to remove Elvis in the crowd. Portions of this can be seen in the Special Edition of the That’s The Way It Is movie, included in this set as Disc Nine–so it is certainly yet another odd decision to cut it. While I am sure the intent was to make for a better listening experience, there are other overly long tracks on this release. Why not truly make this a “complete” show, especially on the Deluxe Edition?

“How do you like it so far?” asks Elvis of the audience as the piano intro of his latest record, “I’ve Lost You,” begins. It is nice finally to have this particular version on CD, which is well-known from the 1970 documentary.

After “I’ve Lost You,” Elvis acknowledges a group in the audience. “Before I go any further,” he says, “I’d like to say hello to all the people from the Ford Company with us here tonight. I understand there’s about 400 of you out there. Thank you for coming in, thank you. I expect a new Lincoln outside of my thing tomorrow.”

He then sings a beautiful version of “I Just Can’t Help Believin'” that makes the set for me. I love the portion of the instrumental break that begins at about 2:30, featuring orchestral strings higher in the mix than normal. Then, there is the ending with Elvis whisper-singing along with the Sweet Inspirations, which is nothing short of astonishing. Listen to this with headphones, and it is as if Elvis is whispering right in your ears. How could this have gone unreleased for 44 years?

Next is the version of “Patch It Up” that was used for the live master on the original album. Here, of course, it has an alternate mix. The audio is very clear, and Elvis pulls off another fine version of this lightweight number.

“I gotta explain to you something,” says Elvis after a “Twenty Days And Twenty Nights” false start, “We had to learn like 50 songs for this show. We were supposed to learn 50 songs; we only learned 5. So, we were short about 45 songs. Anyway, this is one of them that we don’t know.” This is another moment that I loved from The Lost Performances video, and on homemade concert compilations, this often crops up as song number six. Though Elvis jokes that he doesn’t “really particularly dig singing it,” I sure dig hearing it. Among the six shows, it is unique to this concert.

Up next is a nice “in the groove” version of “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’.” “Polk Salad Annie” is one of the “hup two three four” joking versions. Presumably, Elvis was starting to get bored with the opening narration of this song. He would eventually drop the narration all together in favor of a new arrangement. While this is not the strongest version, it is still enjoyable. “Polk Salad Annie” is just a likable song, particularly in 1970.

Elvis improvises “don’t you step on my white glove shoe” when singing a lackluster “Blue Suede Shoes.” There is not much time for reminiscing at this show, though, for he then kicks right into “You Don’t Have To Say You Love Me.” I enjoy the 1970 live versions of this song more than the studio cut.

Elvis turns in another strong “Bridge Over Troubled Water” then revs up the pace with another killer version of “Suspicious Minds.” Unfortunately, “Can’t Help Falling In Love” is unremarkable, for he sounds distracted.

Though noted as previously released on FTD’s The Way It Was, this version of “Bridge Over Troubled Water” is actually previously unreleased. The flip side of Sony’s mistake, though, is that, though noted as previously unreleased, this version of “Blue Suede Shoes” was actually previously released on The Way It Was.

I compared Disc Five’s “Twenty Days And Twenty Nights” (Track 9) to the version found on 2000’s That’s The Way It Is: Special Edition CD set. While Elvis is introducing the song, as well as a bit during the song, there is a buzzing sound on the 2000 edition, which the 2014 edition has resolved.

Individual components–Elvis, the bass guitar, the Sweet Inspirations, etc.–sound crisper on the 2014 mix. The bass guitar is much more prominent than in 2000. Charlie Hodge’s harmony vocals are now lower in the mix, though still there. The orchestra also seems a bit lower in the mix for 2014. Overall, I prefer the 2014 mix, though the orchestra could be a tad louder for my tastes.

Either of the two previously unreleased concerts would have worked as Disc Two of the Legacy Edition. I am sure Sony chose this one because it had more unreleased songs than the other had. The main drawback of this one being presented to mainstream audiences is the aforementioned false start on the opening song. Considering the other questionable edits on this set, that is one that probably should have been edited–at least for the Legacy Edition, if not for the Deluxe Edition. Kudos to Sony, by the way, for providing one of the two unreleased concerts in the economical Legacy Edition to fans unable or unwilling to splurge on the Deluxe Edition. Classy move.

Disc Six: August 12 – Midnight Show [CD]

August 12, 1970, Midnight Show

Elvis had now performed four strong shows, captured by both MGM and RCA. If That’s The Way It Is had ended right here, it would still have been an excellent project.

Elvis was not done yet, though. For the August 12 Midnight Show, first released in audio form on the 3-CD set That’s The Way It Is: Special Edition in 2000, Elvis performed what I consider the greatest concert of his career.

For this show, after another heart-pounding opening with “That’s All Right,” Elvis returns to the “Mystery Train/Tiger Man” medley for the last time among the That’s The Way It Is shows. Outstanding version. Unfortunately, he never quite did either song justice again after this engagement.

“Welcome to the International, my name is Fats Domino,” Elvis says before launching into just a half-line of “Blueberry Hill.”

Not long after another lightning-fast “Hound Dog,” an irritating audience member begins growling a request to Elvis for “Trouble.” The growling man can be heard making this demand between most songs of this show, in fact.

Elvis eventually deals with him, though, and not by singing “Trouble.”

The ultimate version of “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin'” is found on this show. RCA wisely used it as the That’s The Way It Is album master, but here it also contains a nice reprise. This was a wonderful surprise back in 2000, and I am glad that it remains intact here.

While he messes around on the opening, “Polk Salad Annie” is Elvis’s best rendition of this engagement. Incidentally, the “authentic” opening (“What are you looking at back there, huh?”) makes its CD debut on this Deluxe Edition, as the 2000 edition used a few seconds from the Opening Show (“Yeah, lord!”) instead.

After “Polk Salad Annie,” Sony cuts out a long segment with Elvis in the crowd. Though I would have preferred at least an edited version of this be included, I will not fault them too much on this one since there would not have been enough space on the CD to include the complete crowd walk.

Instead, Sony skips straight to the introductions, which also made their CD debut here after having been unnecessarily left out of the 2000 version. After calling himself “Fats Domino” earlier, Elvis accordingly makes up new names for some of the band on this one, so it is definitely worth a listen.

Elvis now begins the nostalgic portion of the show with “Heartbreak Hotel.” A sensational performance and the sound is so crisp. The “off-the-cuff” feel for this segment is what makes it work so well. The band had to be ready to play whatever came to Elvis’s mind.

On “One Night,” the band and Elvis sound much tighter than when attempting the song the previous night. This is the top version of “One Night” of the 1970s. 1957 and 1968 versions are untouchable, though.

Check out James Burton on “Blue Suede Shoes,” he really rocks it.

Though not evident on the audio, by the time he has finished “All Shook Up,” Elvis appears absolutely exhausted on film. He still seems to be recovering from his grueling “Polk Salad Annie” workout as well as his walk through the crowd.

To this point, it has been a top-notch show – though not necessarily anything above and beyond the previous night’s Midnight Show, as captured on Disc Four.

If this had been any other That’s The Way It Is show, Elvis would have started closing out the concert by going into “Bridge Over Troubled Water,” “Suspicious Minds,” and, finally, “Can’t Help Falling In Love.”

Elvis does not do this, though, for this is not just any other show. This is not just any other night.

Instead, he says, “Get my little stool over here for a second.” While Charlie Hodge helps get things in place, Elvis picks up his electric guitar and takes a seat as the audience applauds.

He strums the guitar, but it is barely audible. “It’s not loud enough, Charlie,” he says. Meanwhile, he introduces “Little Sister” as the next song, but his electric guitar is still barely audible. “No volume on it, man. . . No, it’s up there,” Elvis says, trying to help Charlie.

Charlie makes the proper adjustment, and then, Elvis strums a loud chord.

“Hot damn, boy, there it is!” he exclaims and launches into a medley of “Little Sister” combined effortlessly with “Get Back.” It is an incredible version, never matched by him again.

Continuing to play the guitar, he moves into “I Was The One,” the flip-side of “Heartbreak Hotel” in 1956. He forgets some of the words, but the lyrics are not the point by now. He is having a wonderful time.

Still not done with the guitar, he then performs his best 1970s version of “Love Me.”

Continuing to play the guitar while sitting on his little stool, Elvis next tries out “Are You Lonesome Tonight,” even including the “Do you gaze at your bald head and wish you had hair?” ad-lib that had helped throw him into fits of laughter on the very same stage just a year before. Tonight, he keeps his composure, though, turning in a short but fun version.

Finally, he is done with his mini jam session. “Well, we got that out of the way, now we can go on with the show,” he says, either being humble or not realizing what he had just achieved.

He also mentions that there are about 26 songs that he has forgotten to sing.

“Do ‘Trouble’!” insists the ever-present growling man. Even back then, Elvis fans could be demanding and feel entitled.

“Punt! We’ll punt is what we’ll do,” Elvis tells him, once and for all silencing the growling man.

Meanwhile, Elvis treats the rest of the audience to “Bridge Over Trouble Water.” This is possibly the ideal live version, though it is really hard to make that distinction because of how solid all five versions have been to this point in the engagement.

Without a doubt, though, Elvis next performs his greatest 1970s versions of “Suspicious Minds” and “Can’t Help Falling In Love.”

It was, in many ways, the perfect show, and much of it was captured on film.

This time, I decided to compare “Heartbreak Hotel” (Track 13) from Disc Six of this 2014 That’s The Way It Is: Deluxe Edition set against the 2000 That’s The Way It Is: Special Edition CD set.

The 2014 mix has now placed the piano in the left channel and the lead guitar in the right channel, whereas they were reversed in 2000. This, again, matches how the band was arranged if facing the stage, so I support this change. Other than that, sound quality is about the same.

Overall, this concert runs about five minutes longer than the previous edition. About half of the extra time is the introductions track, but the other half is made up of additional dialogue scattered throughout the show. Though still not quite unedited, it is at least closer than before.

Unique to this show among the six concerts are “Little Sister/Get Back,” “I Was The One,” and “Are You Lonesome Tonight.”

I call this concert his “greatest,” but of course, a caveat is that it the best for which I have heard audio. Perhaps he performed even better shows at other times, but I can only base it on what I have heard. For the record, here is my current top five:

#1 August 12, 1970 Midnight Show, Las Vegas
#2 June 27, 1968 6 PM Show, Burbank
#3 December 15, 1956, Shreveport
#4 August 25, 1969 Midnight Show, Las Vegas
#5 February 23, 1970 Closing Show, Las Vegas

Disc Seven: August 13 – Dinner Show [CD]

August 13, 1970, Dinner Show

It’s another high-octane opening as the drums sound and Elvis arrives. Now, I have already stated that the previous concert was the greatest of his career, so, of course, this one is not up to that par.

This show, first released in full on FTD’s The Wonder Of You, still has much to offer, though, including a few songs not present on the other five concerts.

Though each is a complete version, Elvis performs “Don’t Cry Daddy” in a medley with “In The Ghetto”–the common threads being both were written by Mac Davis and hits for Elvis that he recorded in 1969 at American Sound Studio in Memphis. The sound quality is impressive here, and the mix features some different instruments.

Though it does not reach the heights of the studio version, “Stranger In The Crowd” is an exciting live performance that Elvis should have kept in his repertoire.

Elvis mentions his upcoming country album before singing a heartfelt rendition of “Make The World Go Away.”

“You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin'” sounds nice, even if he does sing the wrong words.

Be sure to listen through the introductions track to hear Elvis introduce television legend Art Carney (The Honeymooners) in the audience.

Elvis had released a live version of “The Wonder Of You” as a single in April, which had risen into the Top Ten. Here, just four months later, he introduces it as, “I had a record out last year that–this year . . . this year, wasn’t it–that did pretty good for me. I’d like to sing it for you.” Not as powerful as the single version from the previous engagement, but definitely a treat to have. It is surprising, actually, that he did not perform this one at any of the other five shows.

The nostalgic segment of the show is mostly disappointing this time, with “Blue Suede Shoes” being a particularly poor version. “One Night” stands out, though, in a slightly slower version.

The audience cheers when Elvis tells them, “We’ve only got 42 more to go.” He quickly follows this up with, “Not really!”

Elvis closes out the show with adequate versions of “Suspicious Minds” and “Can’t Help Falling In Love.”

Among the six shows, “Don’t Cry Daddy/In The Ghetto,” “Stranger In The Crowd,” “Make The World Go Away,” and “The Wonder Of You” are all unique to this concert.

For Disc Seven, I decided to compare “Stranger In The Crowd” (Track 8) against one of its previous releases on FTD’s The Wonder Of You. This 2009 CD was actually the most recent full release of a That’s The Way It Is concert.

The drums are in the left channel on the 2009 release, reflecting a vintage style, but are centered in the 2014 release, reflecting their approximate stage position. One of the guitars has switched from the right channel to the left channel. The horns are more prevalent in the 2014 mix during James Burton’s guitar solo about two-thirds of the way through the song than the 2009 edition. With only about a minute to go, additional guitar work is much more prevalent in the 2014 edition than the 2009 edition. Overall, the 2014 release has a “fuller” sound. For my listening preferences, it manages to be much improved over what I already considered a quality mix.

Vocally, Elvis is not nearly as powerful during this concert as the previous ones. He had truly given all during the August 12 Midnight Show, and he still seems to be recovering. Of course, the show has to go on, and he does a commendable job. The rarities also add something special to this concert.

Upon first hearing it in full a few years ago, I actually considered this the second-best show of That’s The Way It Is. Opinions change, of course, and I also believe some of my previous enthusiasm for this concert was built on hearing the rarities in context.

Hearing all six shows so close together and in comparable sound quality now, though, reveals that this show overall is weaker than the others. Ask me again in a few years and I might tell you different, but as I write this, I would rank them:

#1 August 12 Midnight Show (Disc Six)
#2 August 11 Midnight Show (Disc Four)
#3 August 12 Dinner Show (Disc Five)
#4 August 11 Dinner Show (Disc Three)
#5 August 10 Opening Show (Disc Two)
#6 August 13 Dinner Show (Disc Seven)

All six concerts are amazing, though, so it is not really worth debating the order.

In the course of only 3 days, Elvis had performed live 36 different songs in 106 individual versions. For those who mistakenly believe that the set lists are too similar on a collection like this, Elvis performed only the following at all six of the shows:

  • 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

Listen out after “Can’t Help Falling In Love” on Disc Seven and you’ll hear Elvis yelling, “Bye!” An appropriate way to end the live portion of this Deluxe Edition.

Disc Eight: The Rehearsals [CD]

August 4, 1970, Rehearsal

Just five weeks after Elvis’s marathon studio sessions in Nashville, filming began for That’s The Way It Is on July 14. At their Culver City studios in California, MGM captured Elvis in rehearsal with his band. The film crew was also on hand for rehearsals there on July 15 and 29. Away from the MGM cameras, Elvis also rehearsed on July 24 at RCA’s studio in Hollywood.

On July 31, Elvis took a chartered jet to Las Vegas, where rehearsals continued at the International Hotel’s Convention Center on August 4, with background vocalists now joining in–also captured by MGM.

On August 7, MGM’s cameras were still rolling as Elvis conducted a rehearsal on stage of the Showroom Internationale, where the actual concerts would soon take place. The stage rehearsals included the orchestra, now led by Joe Guercio for the first time. All elements of the Elvis Presley Show were in place.

About three hours worth of That’s The Way It Is rehearsal material has been officially released on audio to this point. Based upon lists of recorded songs, there is probably about three more hours of material still sitting in the vaults.

For this Deluxe Edition, Sony chose to release no new rehearsal material. In addition, this rehearsal CD contains only 50 minutes of the previously available material. A full 30 minutes of capacity remained on this CD in which either new or more interesting performances should have been included.

Sony selected most of the tracks here not because they represent the cream of the crop of rehearsals previously released, but simply because they are different songs than already represented on Discs One through Seven.

As far as what Sony deigned to actually give us, despite my misgivings, the jam quality of “Alla En El Rancho Grande” going into “Ghost Riders In The Sky” actually works as an amusing way to start Disc Eight, which would have been better named as “Foolin’ Around” than “The Rehearsals.”

Any momentum is lost by including “Cotton Fields” as the next track. Other than showing what Elvis could achieve with subpar or outdated material, why does this belong on yet another boxed set?

“Cotton Fields” seems like gold in comparison to the next track, though. “Froggy Went A-Courtin’”, one of the much-heralded “new songs” of 1995’s ELVIS: Walk A Mile In My Shoes – The Essential 70s Masters, makes an extremely unfortunate appearance here as well. It is okay for a single listen, and made sense for warming up the band, but this is one of the few Elvis tracks that I detest. Incidentally, the end of the “Froggy” track includes an uncredited instance of “The Cattle Call.”

Things finally get going with “Baby, Let’s Play House” as Elvis performs a string of his hits and other recordings on July 29. The effect is still more of a jam than a rehearsal, but at least the material is quality. I love hearing Elvis review his career in his 1970 voice. The lyrics are half-remembered, but it is a treat–perhaps even more so than if he had did “proper” versions.

A poor run-through of “Yesterday” from July 15 is unfortunately inserted in the middle of the July 29 jam, though, likely to tie in with part of the medley on the next track. It appears that Elvis’s only decent version of “Yesterday” was the 1969 live master released for On Stage. At least Elvis does not tag “Hey Jude” at the end of the song here as he did on his 1969 live versions.

The highlight of Disc Eight is the “Little Sister/Get Back” medley from July 29. It is awesome! Clocking in at nearly six minutes, the full jam is included. This is even better than the shorter version that he would perform at the August 12 Midnight Show.

For some reason, 15-seconds of “Don’t It Make You Wanna Go Home” earns a separate track this time out, while it was uncredited at the end of the “Little Sister/Get Back” track on 2000’s That’s The Way It Is: Special Edition CD set. Perhaps this was to pad out the overall number of song titles on this Deluxe Edition set or to pad out the number of tracks on Disc Eight.

“Stranger In My Own Home Town” is still edited for language, while “Farther Along” still features all of the acoustic quality of a tape recording made in a restroom. While the performance is of interest, the poor sound just takes away from it.

I enjoy “Oh Happy Day,” and it is too bad he never introduced it during one of the six shows, but I sure wish it were in improved sound quality here.

For Disc Eight, I compared “Little Sister/Get Back” (Track 14) against its previous CD release on 2000’s That’s The Way It Is: Special Edition. No differences noted.

Overall, this disc is a missed opportunity. Even if limiting to previously released performances, a longer and better disc could have easily been made. For example, here is a compilation I might have assembled in that scenario:

Disc Eight (Imaginary Version)

Foolin’ Around
01. Johnny B. Goode [July 24, Hollywood]
02. That’s All Right [July 15, Culver City]
03. Baby, Let’s Play House [July 29, Culver City]
04. Money Honey [July 29, Culver City]
05. I Was The One [July 29, Culver City]
06. Love Me [July 15, Culver City]
07. Don’t [July 29, Culver City]
08. A Fool Such As I [July 29, Culver City]
09. Little Sister/Get Back [July 29, Culver City]
10. What’d I Say [July 29, Culver City]
11. Ghost Riders In The Sky [July 15, Culver City]
12. I Washed My Hands In Muddy Water [July 29, Culver City]
13. Stranger In My Own Home Town [July 24, Hollywood]
Rehearsing
14. I’ve Lost You [July 24, Hollywood]
15. Just Pretend [July 24, Hollywood]
16. I Can’t Stop Loving You [July 15, Culver City]
17. I Just Can’t Help Believin’ [July 29, Culver City]
18. Twenty Days And Twenty Nights [August 4, Las Vegas]
19. Oh Happy Day [August 7, Las Vegas]
20. Words [August 4, Las Vegas]
21. Polk Salad Annie [August 7, Las Vegas]
22. You Don’t Have To Say You Love Me [August 10, Las Vegas (Version 1)]
23. You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’ [August 10, Las Vegas]
24. Bridge Over Troubled Water [August 10, Las Vegas]

Disc Nine: 2001 Special Edition [DVD]

Elvis: That's The Way It Is - Special Edition (2000)

Other than the disc art, this DVD is the same as Disc One of the Warner Brothers 2007 re-issue–which was the same as the 2001 stand-alone disc.

Disc Ten: 1970 Original Theatrical Version [DVD]

Elvis: That's The Way It Is (1970)

Other than the disc art, this DVD is the same as Disc Two of the Warner Brothers 2007 re-issue.

Inclusion of the 2007 DVDs on this set is of questionable value, though I still suspect there is a behind-the-scenes negotiation reason between Sony and Warner Brothers that resulted in adding the Warner Brothers movies to this Sony audio set. I will say that I bought That’s The Way It Is: Deluxe Edition only for the eight CDs, so having backup copies of the DVDs was simply a bonus to me.

Book

The main reasons I love the 80-page Elvis: That’s The Way It Is softcover book included with the set are the pictures. While I had seen many of the Elvis photos before, there were still quite a few that were new to me. In addition, it is nice having even familiar photos together in one place. The images of vintage That’s The Way It Is memorabilia and record sleeves from all over the world also contribute immensely to the book, and most of these items I had not seen before.

Another highlight of the book is hearing from Denis Sanders (1929-1987), director of the Elvis: That’s The Way It Is documentary. A September 1970 interview of Sanders by Ann Moses is included, as well as a 1970 promotional piece called “What’s Elvis All About?” that was written by Sanders. From his interview with Moses, here are some of the director’s thoughts on Elvis:

“Every time the cameras were rolling [Elvis] knew it. He’s very suave about it. He’s made too many movies to not know whether the camera is on or off. […] I think he’s fantastic [as a performer]. I knew he was fantastic the very first time I saw him in rehearsal. I knew where he was. From then on I knew what I wanted to go after. He’s got what Brando had at that perfect moment in his career where you couldn’t anticipate Brando as an actor. That’s what Presley has. The audience can’t anticipate him. […] To the extent that I’m ever a fan, I’d say, yes, I am [an Elvis] fan. […] I’m a professional fan. He moves me as a member of an audience. I admire his great sense of theatrics, and so I’m a fan in that sense. But I don’t fall in love with entertainers.”

The book also contains more contemporary quotes from members of Elvis’s band and writers of many of the key That’s The Way It Is songs. All of this serves to provide more insight into the material presented within the set.

An opening essay by Ernst Jorgensen and Roger Semon places the material within the context of Elvis’s overall comeback. The book’s primary essay, by Warren Zanes, offers little of value until near the end, where Zanes gives some personal thoughts on why That’s The Way It Is might seem so special and different from much of Elvis’s other work.

The book ambitiously includes song lists for the complete rehearsals and concerts captured for the documentary and album. The That’s The Way It Is portions of the Nashville sessions are also covered. When applicable, the first audio and visual release for each performance is noted.

The full track listing for each CD is also included, where the first audio release is noted again for each performance.

While I did not fact-check these sections closely, some errors jumped out at a glance. For instance, the “Introductions” tracks on the August 10 Opening Show and the August 12 Midnight Show are actually previously unreleased, yet the book notes they first appeared on One Night In Vegas and That’s The Way It Is: Special Edition respectively. Is it a big deal? No, but I would prefer the information be correct in a book of this nature. As it is, it is an absorbing picture book but a questionable reference book.

Art Design & Packaging

With art design by Amy Knowles of Peacock, That’s The Way It Is: Deluxe Edition represents, at long last, an Elvis boxed set for the 1970s that looks as cool as what I consider the “gold standard” of Elvis releases in terms of art design–the vinyl LP version of 1992’s ELVIS: The King of Rock ‘n’ Roll – The Complete 50s Masters. It seems the 1970s always gets shafted in terms of art design, but this time, they got it right.

With a striking cover and excellent art design throughout–including the book, the CD holder, the CDs, and the DVD holder–the overall Deluxe Edition package is stunning.

I do wish Sony could find a better way to protect the actual discs on these multi-disc sets, though, but that is my only complaint about the packaging.

Final Verdict: Closer Than We’ve Ever Been

There is no question that Sony has lived up to the title of “deluxe” in the 10-disc That’s The Way It Is: Deluxe Edition. However, is this the definitive release?

When it comes to the live concerts, this release finally offers a definitive examination. While I would have preferred that each show be truly “complete” and that a lyric flub by Elvis on the August 11 Dinner Show version of “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin'” not be edited, the presentation is otherwise flawless.

Sound quality is phenomenal and uniform across the six shows, and they will each become my “go-to” versions. I especially love how the drums and bass sound on each concert, evident right from the start on the opening riffs of each show.

The rehearsals disc unfortunately fails to be definitive, even within the acknowledged confines of a single disc. The liner notes indicate that priority was given to rarity of performance, but perhaps some other criteria should have been used. The disc does not feel representative of what it pretends to portray.

The studio masters are presented as pristine as the day they first rolled off the record plant in 1970. Given the space constraints, the studio outtakes are well-selected and as definitive as can be. For this Deluxe Edition, though, I regret that more space was not available for exploring the That’s The Way It Is portions of the June session. I would have preferred a second disc devoted to this, for instance, over the half-baked rehearsals disc.

Both versions of the documentary are included on the two DVD discs, so the film portion of this set can certainly be viewed as definitive–even if I would have preferred high-definition Blu-ray presentations for both films and a third Blu-ray full of high-quality outtakes. Unfortunately, we are at the mercy of Warner Brothers on the documentary footage, so I am not going to waste more space on this review of what is primarily a Sony product complaining about the inadequacies of Warner Brothers when it comes to handling Elvis.

The Deluxe Edition may not be perfect, but it delivers where it counts. The original album and singles are finally given the spotlight they deserve as artistic achievements. The six concerts, including some of the best of his career, shine in their new mixes.

I now have the That’s The Way It Is set that I have longed for since first discovering this material in the late 1980s. This one makes up for the shortcomings of the past.

For a number of reasons, Elvis was never quite the same after the events of That’s The Way It Is. It is only a fortunate twist of fate that June, July, and August 1970 were documented in such a comprehensive way.

What really conspired to erode away the absolute exuberance Elvis took in making music and touching his fans, as documented by That’s The Way It Is?

“Softly, without pain, the joy is over, though why it’s gone, we neither of us know,” Elvis once sang.

Maybe that is the only answer we will ever have.

Cover of THAT'S THE WAY IT IS: DELUXE EDITION (2014)

For additional analysis of this release by Elvis fans from all over the world, be sure to check out the “That’s The Way It Is 8 CD (SONY) Box Set” thread on the For Elvis CD Collectors Forum.

Tracks for Elvis: That’s The Way It Is – Deluxe Edition

Disc One [CD]

The Original Album
01. I Just Can’t Help Believin’
02. Twenty Days And Twenty Nights
03. How The Web Was Woven
04. Patch It Up
05. Mary In The Morning
06. You Don’t Have To Say You Love Me
07. You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’
08. I’ve Lost You
09. Just Pretend
10. Stranger In The Crowd
11. The Next Step Is Love
12. Bridge Over Troubled Water
The Original Singles
13. I’ve Lost You (single version)
14. The Next Step Is Love (single version)
15. You Don’t Have To Say You Love Me (single version)
16. Patch It Up (single version)
The Outtakes
17. How The Web Was Woven (take 1)
18. I’ve Lost You (take 1)
19. You Don’t Have To Say You Love Me (take 2)
20. Patch It Up (take 1)
21. Bridge Over Troubled Water (take 1)

Disc Two [CD]

August 10 – Opening Night
01. That’s All Right
02. Mystery Train/Tiger Man
03. I Can’t Stop Loving You
04. Love Me Tender
05. The Next Step Is Love
06. Words
07. I Just Can’t Help Believin’
08. Something
09. Sweet Caroline
10. You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’
11. You Don’t Have To Say You Love Me
12. Polk Salad Annie
13. Introductions *
14. I’ve Lost You
15. Bridge Over Troubled Water
16. Patch It Up
17. Can’t Help Falling In Love

Disc Three [CD]

August 11 – Dinner Show
01. That’s All Right
02. I Got A Woman *
03. Hound Dog
04. Heartbreak Hotel
05. Love Me Tender *
06. I’ve Lost You
07. I Just Can’t Help Believin’
08. Something
09. I Can’t Stop Loving You *
10. Sweet Caroline *
11. You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’
12. Polk Salad Annie *
13. Introductions *
14. Bridge Over Troubled Water
15. Suspicious Minds *
16. Can’t Help Falling In Love *

Disc Four [CD]

August 11 – Midnight Show
01. That’s All Right
02. I Got A Woman
03. Hound Dog
04. Love Me Tender
05. There Goes My Everything
06. Just Pretend
07. I Just Can’t Help Believin’
08. Something
09. Men With Broken Hearts
10. Walk A Mile In My Shoes
11. You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’
12. Polk Salad Annie
13. One Night
14. Don’t Be Cruel
15. Love Me
16. Instrumental Vamp
17. Heartbreak Hotel
18. Introductions
19. Bridge Over Troubled Water
20. Suspicious Minds
21. Can’t Help Falling In Love

Disc Five [CD]

August 12 – Dinner Show
01. That’s All Right *
02. I Got A Woman *
03. Hound Dog *
04. Heartbreak Hotel *
05. Love Me Tender *
06. I’ve Lost You *
07. I Just Can’t Help Believin’ *
08. Patch It Up
09. Twenty Days And Twenty Nights
10. You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’ *
11. Polk Salad Annie *
12. Introductions *
13. Blue Suede Shoes
14. You Don’t Have To Say You Love Me
15. Bridge Over Troubled Water *
16. Suspicious Minds *
17. Can’t Help Falling In Love *

Disc Six [CD]

August 12 – Midnight Show
01. That’s All Right
02. Mystery Train/Tiger Man
03. Hound Dog
04. Love Me Tender
05. Just Pretend
06. Walk A Mile In My Shoes
07. There Goes My Everything
08. Words
09. Sweet Caroline
10. You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’
11. Polk Salad Annie
12. Introductions *
13. Heartbreak Hotel
14. One Night
15. Blue Suede Shoes
16. All Shook Up
17. Little Sister/Get Back
18. I Was The One
19. Love Me
20. Are You Lonesome Tonight?
21. Bridge Over Troubled Water
22. Suspicious Minds
23. Can’t Help Falling In Love

Disc Seven [CD]

August 13 – Dinner Show
01. That’s All Right
02. I Got A Woman
03. Hound Dog
04. Love Me Tender
05. Don’t Cry Daddy/
06. In The Ghetto
07. I Just Can’t Help Believin’
08. Stranger In The Crowd
09. Make The World Go Away
10. Sweet Caroline
11. You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’
12. Polk Salad Annie
13. Introductions
14. The Wonder Of You
15. Heartbreak Hotel
16. Blue Suede Shoes
17. One Night
18. All Shook Up
19. Bridge Over Troubled Water
20. Suspicious Minds
21. Can’t Help Falling In Love

Disc Eight [CD]

The Rehearsals
01. Alla En El Rancho Grande [July 15, Culver City]
02. Ghost Riders In The Sky [July 15, Culver City]
03. Cotton Fields [July 15, Culver City]
04. Froggy Went A-Courtin’ [July 29, Culver City]
05. Baby Let’s Play House [July 29, Culver City]
06. I Was The One [July 29, Culver City]
07. Money Honey [July 29, Culver City]
08. Don’t [July 29, Culver City]
09. (Now And Then There’s) A Fool Such As I [July 29, Culver City]
10. Such A Night [July 29, Culver City]
11. It’s Now Or Never [July 29, Culver City]
12. What’d I Say [July 29, Culver City]
13. Yesterday [July 15, Culver City]
14. Little Sister/Get Back [July 29, Culver City]
15. Don’t It Make You Wanna Go Home [July 29, Culver City]
16. I Washed My Hands In Muddy Water [July 29, Culver City]
17. Stranger In My Own Home Town [July 24, Culver City]
18. Farther Along [August 4, Las Vegas]
19. Santa Claus Is Back In Town [August 4, Las Vegas]
20. Oh Happy Day [August 7, Las Vegas]

Disc Nine [DVD]

2001 Special Edition
Restoration Featurette: Patch It Up
Presley Career Highlights
Director / Restorer Filmographies
Theatrical Trailer

Disc Ten [DVD]

1970 Original Theatrical Version
Outtakes

* Previously unreleased

ELVIS: THAT’S THE WAY IT IS – DELUXE EDITION (2014)

REVIEW: Elvis – The Complete Masters Collection (Part 5)

This is Part 5 of an ongoing series reviewing Elvis: The Complete Masters Collection. Read Part 4.

I’m planning to significantly scale back this review series. I’m actually up to Volume 17 now in listening, as I gave up trying to review them as I go. This is mostly because I was not patient enough to wait. The process was just going too slow and taking away from the enjoyment. However, since I already had a draft of the below review for weeks now, I figured I might as well share it with you.


CD Vol. 7: Complete 1968 Comeback Special

This volume of The Franklin Mint‘s 36-disc Elvis: The Complete Masters Collection (mastered by Vic Anesini) presents songs recorded for the ELVIS television special in June 1968.

Elvis: The Complete Masters Collection - Volume 7

01. Trouble/Guitar Man: This was the perfect way to open both the ELVIS special and the accompanying soundtrack album. Culled from 1958’s King Creole, “Trouble” has never sounded better than it does in this performance a decade later.

In the setting of the special, “Guitar Man” bares little resemblance to Elvis’ 1967 country recording. This version rocks.

Though true to the original album, I would have preferred that the overdubbed applause at the end of this studio track had been omitted for this release. Exceptions were made for other recordings on this set, including on this very CD, and this is another exception I would have welcomed.

02. Lawdy, Miss Clawdy [Live]: In the live, “sit down” segment of the show, Elvis tears into “Lawdy, Miss Clawdy.” This is a terrific rendition that helps set the tone for the entire album. Elvis is back.

Baby, What You Want Me To Do [Live]: Elvis performs a brief snippet of “Baby, What You Want Me To Do” and then launches into a fun bit of reminiscing.

Heartbreak Hotel/Hound Dog/All Shook Up [Live]: The album then transitions to the “stand up” segment with a rocking “Heartbreak Hotel,” combined with strong versions of “Hound Dog” (I love the Native-American-inspired percussion) and “All Shook Up.”

This is the best live version of “Heartbreak Hotel.” Too bad it is part of a medley and incomplete. Years ago, I made an edit of this recording and the one at his first sit down show in order to create a “complete” version for my own personal use (inspired by a similar edit of “Blue Suede Shoes” on This Is Elvis, except mine began with the stand up show and ended with the sit down show).

Sound quality is so excellent on Complete 1968 Comeback Special that it makes a recording flaw in this medley more obvious – a microphone or amplifier feedback sound is present in the background through much of the medley, beginning with “Hound Dog.” When I went back to check, I was surprised to find that this actually existed on previous release sources as well – though not as obvious.

Can’t Help Falling In Love [Live]:  Hands-down, this is the best live version of “Can’t Help Falling In Love.” Absolutely beautiful. Again, here we have excellent sound quality, but that feedback tone is also present at times in the background. I fear it is one of those things where, now that I have heard it, I will not be able to “un-hear” it.

Jailhouse Rock [Live]: For my money, there are really only two killer versions of “Jailhouse Rock.” The 1957 original and this 1968 live recording. Even just a year later, Elvis had lost the raw edge to this song.

Unfortunately, there is noticeable distortion near the end of “Jailhouse Rock,” almost like garbled tape (not the feedback tone discussed earlier). What a disappointment. Not present on previous releases, this issue was first introduced on 2008’s ELVIS: The Complete ’68 Comeback Special boxed set (Disc 3, Track 21). Also on that set, the same version of “Jailhouse Rock” can be heard without the distortion on Disc 1 – which presents the original ELVIS-TV Special album. However, the overall recording is in much lesser sound quality. I understand that tapes can be damaged, but surely a better effort could be made for one of the pivotal moments of Elvis’ career? As this also affected The Complete Elvis Presley Masters, a pricier incarnation of the complete masters [7], Sony should be embarrassed.

Love Me Tender [Live]: I have to admit, though some may not be able to comprehend this, I am not a big fan of Elvis’ original 1956 recording of “Love Me Tender.” It bores me to tears. I definitely prefer his 1968 live versions. As with “Can’t Help Falling In Love” earlier in the show, I love the velvet sound of his voice on this.

03. Where Could I Go But To The Lord/Up Above My Head/Saved: This track begins with Elvis discussing the gospel and rhythm & blues origins of rock ‘n’ roll at one of the sit down shows. It then segues into a medley of studio-recorded inspirational songs. In the actual television special, the medley is a huge production number with Elvis surrounded by dancers while the Blossoms, including Darlene Love, provide backing vocals. Though the recording is great, I find this one much more interesting to watch than only hear.

04. Blue Christmas [Live]: In both the original broadcast version of the ELVIS special and its accompanying soundtrack, creative editing inspired a myth. “I’d like to do my favorite Christmas song, of all the ones I’ve recorded,” Elvis says. He then launches into “Blue Christmas.” For years, people justifiably believed that “Blue Christmas” was Elvis’ favorite Christmas song.

It was not until the 1998 release of Tiger Man, containing the unedited version of the sit down show from which the recording was taken, that the truth became known to a wider audience. It turned out that Elvis did not sing “Blue Christmas” as his favorite but “Santa Claus Is Back In Town.” In fact, though he could not remember some of the words, he sang a bluesy version that was a highlight of that particular show. Not only that, but when he did finally launch into “Blue Christmas,” it was an extended version compared to the original master. So, not only did the TV special and original album create the “Blue Christmas” as Elvis’ favorite Christmas song myth, they even artificially shortened said song.

True to the original master as released in Elvis’ lifetime, the recording here on Complete 1968 Comeback Special matches that of the original album. Elvis performs a terrific version of “Blue Christmas,” far exceeding his 1957 studio recording. I’ll stick to the real story and full-length version on Tiger Man, though.

One Night [Live]: “I think I’ll put a strap around this and stand up,” Elvis says near the end of the first sit down show, but there is no strap to be found for the electric guitar he has borrowed from Scotty Moore. Drummer DJ Fontana announces the next song as “No Strap” and Charlie Hodge, also on stage, sings “No strap today. . .” which Elvis immediately turns into a brief parody of “One Night” by picking up with “. . . is what I’m now looking for, the things I did and I saw, would make the dream . . . where, where, where, where’s the strap?”

He then launches into the song proper, including some of the original “One Night Of Sin” lyrics that had been too risque for 1957. He soon stands up, placing one foot on his chair to prop the guitar on his knee, while Charlie (and later Lance LeGault) holds the microphone for him. While some of the “ad-libs” earlier in the night were indeed scripted, Elvis wanting to stand up with the guitar during the sit down show is not one of them. For the second sit down show, though the guitar still had no strap, it was obvious they had worked out more of the logic – including how to adjust the microphone stand, allowing Elvis to stand up a few times. It is this off-the-cuff moment in the first show that holds the real magic, though. All the fun aside, it is also a great, raw performance of “One Night.”

05. Tiger Man [Live]: Though it originally appeared neither on the ELVIS-TV Special album nor the broadcast, “Tiger Man” was actually the first recording released from those made for the 1968 ELVIS special, on the album Singer Presents Elvis Singing Flaming Star And Others. “Tiger Man” was originally slated for the special, but was replaced by “Blue Christmas” at the insistence of Elvis’ manager due to the December air date. “Tiger Man” is another wonderful performance that Elvis drives with the electric guitar. The compiler made a good choice placing it back in context with other songs from the special rather than saving it for a separate disc.

[Side note: Elvis only performed “Tiger Man” on the second sit down show. Near the end of the first sit down show, Elvis states, “We’d like to do one more song for you because we have another audience waiting to come in” and then proclaims, “Man, I just work here,” when the audience sounds disappointed. He then starts looking for the guitar strap as described with “One Night” above. While he was apparently not referring to the closer “Memories” as the “one more song,” I wonder if it was actually “Tiger Man” that he was planning to sing before being inspired to do the impromptu reprise of “One Night”? Most of the renditions on the first sit down show are superior to those of the second, so a first show “Tiger Man” might have been quite the performance if the proper guitar strap had been available.]

06. Memories [Stereo Version]: Though Elvis performed two live versions of “Memories” during the special tapings, they were not nearly as good as his studio master. Rather than use the live recording featured on the television broadcast, the ELVIS-TV Special soundtrack album featured a mono version of the studio recording with overdubbed applause. RCA sure did love faking live versions with overdubbed applause in the late 1960s and early 1970s.

In this instance, the compiler makes an exception and uses a stereo version of the studio recording, fortunately without the fake audience. Technically, this mix was never released in Elvis’ lifetime, though, for even his 1968 single of the studio version was in mono.

Written by Mac Davis, “Memories” is a beautiful song and this is, by far, my favorite version. 1968’s “Memories” would go on to play over the closing credits of 1972’s Elvis On Tour, as well as posthumous documentaries – including This Is Elvis.

07. Nothingville/Big Boss Man: I have often wondered if “Nothingville” was slamming Nashville or Hollywood (“phony little two-bit town where nothing’s real”). If “Nothingville” is about Hollywood and the movies, that puts an interesting spin on this segment of the special – which is more than a little reminiscent of Elvis’ movies anyway.  In any event, the song fits within the context of one of the show’s production numbers, but it is almost too short to really matter. Next up is a carny barker inviting passers-by to experience an exotic dancer. Elvis launches into an altered version of “Big Boss Man” where the one being worked to death is actually the dancer rather than the singer. The song loses most of its blues roots here, but the arrangement is still effective.

Guitar Man/Little Egypt/Trouble/Guitar Man: To be honest, all of track 7 is really a letdown compared to the quality of the rest of the special.

08. If I Can Dream [Stereo Version]: Always a contender for his greatest performance, “If I Can Dream” caps off the special just right – with Elvis moving forward. As with “Memories,” a stereo mix is used here that was not released during Elvis’ lifetime. The album version was in mono and included overdubbed applause on the studio recording, while the single version of the studio recording was in mono as well.

All-in-all, due to the sound issues on “Jailhouse Rock,” and, to a lesser extent, “Hound Dog,” “All Shook Up,” and “Can’t Help Falling In Love,” Complete 1968 Comeback Special turns out to be the most disappointing volume of this set thus far. A real travesty since this is some of his best material. Does anyone bother to listen to Elvis CDs prior to release?

Though a minor issue, the CD also has a misleading title, for it would take several CDs to truly represent the “complete” 1968 “Comeback Special” recordings. This is but a small sampling. Even a few Comeback recordings released during Elvis’ lifetime, if restricted to that, have been left out.

Sources

(7) “Complete Masters compared/contrasted with Franklin Mint” by elvissessions, For Elvis CD Collectors Forum, 2010.


Read Part 6.