A Squirrel Loose at the Big, Freaky International Hotel (Part 3)

This is Part 3 of a look at Sony’s 2019 Elvis Live 1969 boxed set, which contains all 11 concerts RCA recorded in Elvis Presley’s August 1969 concert engagement at the International Hotel in Las Vegas.

[Read Part 1 | Read Part 2]

International Hotel marquee as displayed on back of a CD holder from Sony Legacy’s ELVIS LIVE 1969 boxed set (2019, from Tygrrius’ collection)

“When I was in the Army, the guys would say […], ‘Watch him, boy, he’s a squirrel, he’s just out of the trees.'”
–Elvis Presley, 1969

I mentioned last week that I prefer Elvis Presley’s overall Summer 1970 Las Vegas shows over the Summer 1969 Vegas shows – even though the 1969 versions of songs performed in both seasons win out in most cases.

One of the reasons I prefer the Summer 1970 engagement is the expanded setlist. Newly added songs like “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin'”, “Just Pretend”, and “I’ve Lost You” expanded the dimensions of the show for his third concert engagement at the International Hotel. Not to mention songs that Elvis retained after first introducing them in his second concert engagement earlier that year, like “Walk A Mile In My Shoes” and the show-stopping “Polk Salad Annie.”

Another reason I prefer the Summer 1970 engagement over the previous year is the amount of talking by Elvis in 1969. Though I prefer a “talkative Elvis” over the “all business Elvis” of, say, June 1972’s Madison Square Garden concerts, where he barely says a word between songs beyond the customary “thank you,” in the 1969 shows Elvis simply talks too much. Way too much.

Don’t believe me? Here are a couple of examples, using the shortest and the longest shows on the 1969 set:

  • The August 23 Midnight Show clocks in at just under 80 minutes (in fact, I wonder if Sony edited any bits out to get it to fit the 80-minute capacity of a CD). The actual musical content on this show is just over 56 minutes. Elvis talks for a whopping 24 minutes during this show – about 30% of the time!
  • The shortest show on the set is actually the very next night, the August 24 Midnight Show. I suspect management complained to Elvis about keeping the audience away from the casino too long the previous night, as he alludes to such conversations a couple days later in the engagement. This show is nearly 63 minutes long and features about 45 minutes of music. Elvis talks for about 18 minutes during this show – about 29% of the time.

The worst offender in driving up the talking times in 1969 is the “monologue” in the middle of each show where Elvis provides a joke-infused retrospective of his career for about ten minutes. While I’m sure it was entertaining to audiences in the showroom, it becomes a tough listen show after show on CD.

I understand he probably needed a cool down after “Tiger Man” or “Johnny B. Goode,” but the energy of the show is completely sapped each time before Elvis finally resumes singing – with an often uninspired version of “Baby, What You Want Me To Do,” completely lacking the raw magic of his versions from the previous year’s ELVIS special. For these Vegas shows, if only Elvis had bought himself a Gibson Super 400 CES like he borrowed from Scotty Moore in the special’s “sit down” shows, as Elvis accompanied himself so well on that electric guitar compared to anything else I have ever heard him play.

Overly long and bizarre introductions to “Hound Dog” and similar bits also detract from the listening experience when heard show after show. Repetitive jokes with the lyrics of “Jailhouse Rock,” “Yesterday,” and others become tiring, too. I imagine poor Felton Jarvis (producer), trying to capture material for the Elvis In Person album, getting his hopes up, thinking, “He’s going to sing it straight this time” and then, “Nope, not this time. Maybe tomorrow night.” Elvis did eventually perform straight versions of each song, probably after being asked to “clean up the act” as he mentions in some of the later shows as well.

Occasional lyrics twists are fun, don’t get me wrong. It is just hearing the same ones over and over that gets old. Of course, Elvis never intended or envisioned that someone like me would be listening to a complete collection of these shows over 50 years after the fact. From Elvis’ perspective, these shows served their purpose at the time in entertaining those audiences (of course) and supplying the 12 songs featured as masters on Elvis In Person. Yet, here I am, blessed to hear them all, so I might as well comment on them.

Anyway, it is actually a lyric twist on “Are You Lonesome Tonight” during the August 26 Midnight Show that results in one of my all-time favorite Elvis recordings – the “laughing version” of the song or, as I like to call it, “Are You Laughing Tonight.” If only movie cameras had been rolling like they were the next summer. Incidentally, the other eight versions of “Are You Lonesome Tonight” on this set are serious. I suspect if he performed a laughing version night after night, it would have lost much of its appeal.

I first heard “Are You Laughing Tonight” on the radio for what would have been Elvis’ 50th birthday in 1985. I recorded a radio special with a little cassette tape player my older sister gave me a Christmas or two before that, so Mom and I must have listened to that tape 500 times in the car before I finally found and bought a proper version of the song in 1991 (Collectors Gold).

I don’t have a tape player anymore, but I still have that cassette (below). It was one of the cheapest tape brands you could buy, yet it has survived all these years. I even played it several years ago so I could write down the song titles (of course, I have lost that list).

1985 cassette tape of “Elvis On The Air” radio special, including “Are You Laughing Tonight”

Mom went to see Jesus over a year ago now, but every time I hear “Are You Laughing Tonight,” I remember her laughing right along with Elvis. I still feel her with me sometimes, and I turn this one up for her.

Next week, (I promise) I’ll wrap up my unintended review of Elvis Live 1969, and we’ll even get to my original idea for this post!

Blessings,
TY

[Read Part 4]


“You have turned my mourning into joyful dancing. You have taken away my clothes of mourning and clothed me with joy, that I might sing praises to you and not be silent. O LORD my God, I will give you thanks forever!”
Psalm 30:11-12

Vinyl Elvis #1: Building Dreams on 1982’s SUSPICIOUS MINDS

Although I have restored about 85% of the posts from the first iteration of The Mystery Train Blog, I still have many Elvis posts that I first published on my pop-culture blogs. Since those blogs are now retired, I will occasionally revisit, brush off, and update one of those Elvis entries as a “Special Edition Bonus Post” here on The Mystery Train Blog. As a Labor Day Special, here is the first such bonus post. I am starting with this one because I want to begin adding new posts in the Vinyl Elvis series soon.


For some modern fans, enjoying the music of Elvis Presley is a family experience. This has certainly been the case with me. Mom became a fan in 1956. She later passed her “Elvis gene” on to both my older brother and me. Some of my best memories involve listening to Elvis music with my family. By the time I was in middle school, my brother allowed me to borrow his Elvis records. I would take albums one at a time from his bedroom and carefully play them.

I heard so many Elvis songs for the first time via my brother’s albums. As much as I enjoy listening to CDs and iTunes, there is nothing quite like hearing Elvis on vinyl. These days, my brother no longer has a turntable. Since he felt they would be in good hands, he gave me all of his Elvis albums. His touching generosity more than doubled my Elvis record collection. It has also inspired this series of posts that will examine a variety of Elvis records – starting today with one I received from my brother.

SUSPICIOUS MINDS (Camden, 1982; from Tygrrius’ collection) | Click image for full-color version

Suspicious Minds
Label: Camden
Catalog Number: CDS 1206 (Label) / CDSV 1206 (Outer Sleeve)
Recorded: 1956-1969 | Nashville, Hollywood, Memphis
Released: 1982

Since the title song is one of my brother’s favorites (mine as well), I have decided to kick off this series with Suspicious Minds, a 1982 compilation album released by the United Kingdom’s Pickwick International on the Camden label.

I remember loving the “in your face” cover of this album when I first played it around 1988.

As far as I have been able to determine, there was not a United States version of this album. This appears to be a German pressing that somehow made its way here to the US.

Side 1 of SUSPICIOUS MINDS (Camden, 1982; from Tygrrius’ collection) | Click image for full-color version

Side 1

  1. Suspicious Minds (1969)
    Though a great choice to open the album, the sound is slightly “muddy.” This is the stereo version, which actually had only first been released a year earlier on Greatest Hits, Volume One. I remember noticing the horns and the double fade-out on this version way back when, as the only studio version I had probably heard to that point was on The Number One Hits and The Top Ten Hits. Rather than use the vintage mono or stereo mixes, those albums used a 1987 mix with an early fade and no horns that was created for The Memphis Record.
  2. Got A Lot O’Livin’ To Do (1957)
    This one sounds great! I cleaned up the record prior to playing it, and I have yet to hear a crackle or static on it at all. Though it was recorded in mono, I suspect this version is electronically processed to simulate stereo. If so, I am surprised to admit that I actually do not mind the effect at all.
  3. Return To Sender (1962)
    Good sound quality continues. Definitely a nice series of opening selections for this album – despite being all over the map in terms of when recorded. That is actually part of the fun of some of these older compilations, though. The only theme here is “Elvis Music,” and that is enough. There seems to be a little edit or something on the sax solo as the song fades that I am not used to hearing.
  4. A Big Hunk O’ Love (1958)
    This one sounds really loud! It also sounds like the treble is turned way up. Welcome to the 1980s, Elvis. Really loving this album, though.
  5. In The Ghetto (1969)
    The pace finally lets up, with the beautiful “In The Ghetto.” The treble still sounds high to me, oddly enough.
  6. One Night (1957)
    One of Elvis’ best songs, and it sounds incredible here. What an extraordinary first side to a record.

Side 2 of SUSPICIOUS MINDS (Camden, 1982; from Tygrrius’ collection) | Click image for full-color version

Side 2

  1. Good Luck Charm (1961)
    Another hit opens this side of the record, though not nearly as perfect as “Suspicious Minds.” This also marks the first time I have heard any popping noises on this record.
  2. U.S. Male (1968)
    This is a fun song. Sound quality slightly lower here than I am used to, though. It is kind of “tinny.” This might be another instance of the treble being increased. I am pretty sure this record was the first time I had ever heard this song. I remember getting a kick out of it back then, and I still do. “You’re talkin’ to the U.S. male. The American U.S. male,” Elvis says in his best country voice.
  3. Party (1957)
    And it is back to 1957 with this rocker from Loving You. This was also “new to me” back when I first played this record. Still sounds great all these years later.
  4. Fever (1960)
    In 1988, I only knew “Fever” from the live Aloha From Hawaii version (1973). I remember not liking the studio version nearly as much, though finding the additional lyrics of interest.
  5. Old Shep (1956)
    This song about a loyal dog can be a difficult listen for dog lovers like me. It does exemplify the variety of songs included on Suspicious Minds.
  6. You’re The Devil In Disguise (1963)
    Though it gets repetitive, it is hard not to like “Devil In Disguise.” It is an odd choice to close this album, though. I was ready for another song!

Back cover of SUSPICIOUS MINDS (Camden, 1982; from Tygrrius’ collection) | Click image for original black & white version

While Suspicious Minds did not contain any previously unreleased material, it is an entertaining album that is well worth picking up if you ever come across it in vinyl format. Thank you to my brother for giving me the Elvis records that inspired this series of posts.


“A friend is always loyal, and a brother is born to help in time of need.”
Proverb 17:17

One for Mom, the rock ‘n’ roll rebel (Playlist Recipes #6)

Elvis Aloha Finale

Elvis, 1973

I am a second-generation Elvis fan. My mom first heard Elvis in 1956, during the initial wave of his national success. By the end of that year, after multiple television appearances and a movie role in Love Me Tender, Elvis had earned millions of new fans. Mom was one of them.

Through marriage and kids, good times and bad times, she stuck with Elvis over the years. By the time I came along in the mid-1970s, both my mom and my brother were fans. You could say I was born an Elvis fan.

Many of the first records I ever heard were Mom’s old 45s from the 1950s and 1960s. Though I remember listening to them when I was about two-years-old, I cannot recall specific songs. The earliest ones that I can remember are “My Way” and “America The Beautiful,” two sides of a single that came out in the months after Elvis’ death in 1977.

I have told stories here before about Mom blasting cassette tapes of As Recorded At Madison Square Garden and Elvis In Concert in the car when I was young. Though she has upgraded to CDs and expanded her selection of albums, she still does this.

Though Mom is a first-wave Elvis fan, she does not turn her nose up at his post-Army work like some of her contemporaries. She actually prefers his 1970s music above all.

That being said, she also prefers songs with a beat. This makes my work difficult when trying to buy her a CD, as Elvis had evolved beyond rock ‘n’ roll in her favorite time period.

I will share a couple of recent examples. I was playing a bit of A Boy From Tupelo for her. This is the ultimate boxed set collecting his 1953 to 1955 recordings. I wanted her to hear the “dry” 45-RPM SUN version of “That’s All Right.”

Ty: Listen to this. Isn’t this cool? This is how it sounded back in 1954, before RCA changed it.
Mom: I never did like that song.
Ty: You don’t like “That’s All Right”? That was his first record. The one that started it all!
Mom: I just never liked it.
Ty: You like the 1970s versions, though, right? Like on Madison Square Garden?
Mom: No, not even that one.
Ty: I can’t believe you don’t like it. I never knew that, after all of these years.
Mom: I’m sorry.
Ty: All I can say is… that’s all right, Mom.

I also gave her the FTD compilation Our Memories of Elvis, which contains alternate mixes of various 1970s songs. I had enjoyed the release the first time I heard it, so I thought the unique mixes would be a sure-fire winner.

Ty: What did you think of Our Memories of Elvis?
Mom: Oh, I liked it. I think I played it once.
Ty: Wait. You played it once? Are you sure you liked it?
Mom: It was okay. It just wasn’t fast enough. Too many slow songs.
Ty: I know, it didn’t have “Suspicious Minds” on it. [Any album that has a 1970 or later version of “Suspicious Minds” on it is an instant hit for Mom.]
Mom: I like a beat!
Ty: I know, Mom. I know!

I am actually picking on her a little here, which is not a nice thing to do on Mother’s Day. For one thing, even I did not not enjoy Our Memories of Elvis as much the second time through. I must have been in a fantastic mood the first time I played it. I actually thought it was one of the best releases ever. I am sure glad I did not review it, because then my initial overreaction would be preserved on the Internet for all to see.

For every example like the above, I should point out, there are dozens of examples of Elvis recordings and albums that Mom does love. Her favorite album is Aloha From Hawaii via Satellite. Her favorite song, as you might have guessed, is “Suspicious Minds,” especially the version on The Alternate Aloha, which has the drums more prominent in the mix.

Though she may not enjoy 1950s recordings as much anymore, Mom still has a rebellious streak in her. She likes to do things her way, no matter what anyone says. I have inherited that trait, I must admit.

Another funny thing is, while most moms are after their sons to get haircuts, my mom thinks I get my hair cut too short.

We joke around often. I love talking about Elvis and other topics with her. Elvis music is but one of many gifts she has given me. I am very proud to have such a gentle and loving woman as my mom.

With much love, here is a playlist in her honor.

Elvis: Sweet Rock ‘n’ Roll

  • Burning Love [Burning Love And Hits From His Movies, Volume 2]
  • Johnny B. Goode (Rehearsal) [Elvis On Tour: The Rehearsals]
  • Proud Mary (Live) [Close Up]
  • Suspicious Minds (Live) [Prince From Another Planet (Disc 1)]
  • Polk Salad Annie (Live) [3000 South Paradise Road]
  • One Night (Live) [Memories]
  • Blue Suede Shoes (Live) [Burbank 68]
  • Jailhouse Rock (Live) [Burbank 68]
  • Don’t Be Cruel (Live) [Burbank 68]
  • Stranger In The Crowd (Master, Rough Mix) [That’s The Way It Is (2008 FTD Edition)]
  • Baby, Let’s Play House (Rehearsal) [A Life In Music]
  • A Fool Such As I (Rehearsal) [That’s The Way It Is (2000 Special Edition)]
  • Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On [Walk A Mile In My Shoes]
  • Wearin’ That Loved-On Look (Alternate) [Memphis Sessions]
  • Rubberneckin’ [Almost In Love]
  • Hey Jude [Elvis Now]
  • Power Of My Love (Alternate) [A Life In Music]
  • After Loving You [From Elvis In Memphis]
  • Any Day Now (Alternate) [Memphis Sessions]
  • Runaway (Live) [Elvis: Viva Las Vegas (2007 Limited Edition)]
  • My Babe (Live) [Today, Tomorrow & Forever]
  • Baby, What You Want Me To Do (Live) [Elvis At The International]
  • All Shook Up (Live) [Live In Vegas: August 26, 1969 Dinner Show]
  • Hound Dog (Live) [Live In Vegas: August 26, 1969 Dinner Show]
  • Mystery Train/Tiger Man (Live) [Live In Vegas: August 26, 1969 Dinner Show]
  • A Big Hunk O’ Love (Live) [Aloha From Hawaii via Satellite]
  • Promised Land [Promised Land]
  • Steamroller Blues (Live) [A Life In Music]

Thank you, Mom.

Never say goodbye to Aloha From Hawaii

Elvis on NBC, 1973

NBC aired the Elvis: Aloha From Hawaii special on April 4, 1973

Welcome to a rare “full-color edition” of The Mystery Train Blog. Yesterday marked the 40th anniversary of the United States television broadcast of Elvis: Aloha From Hawaii on NBC. The special had been taped in January 1973 during a “live via satellite” broadcast to certain parts of the world. With all of the hype surrounding the first live satellite broadcast by an entertainer, many Americans to this day wrongly believe they saw 38-year-old Elvis perform the show live. Little did they know that he was watching the TV special, too.

The NBC version of Elvis: Aloha From Hawaii aired from 8:30 PM to 10:00 PM on April 4, 1973. It became the most-watched show of the week. Among the viewers was indeed Elvis himself, who tuned-in from his home in Los Angeles. This edition of the show included the one-hour January 14 concert as well as four post-concert insert songs that Elvis recorded after the audience emptied from the venue.

Among Elvis fans today, the show receives mixed reviews. Some see it as the pinnacle of his career and success, while others see it as one of the first indicators of his decline. My Mom is one of those who adores Aloha From Hawaii. An Elvis fan since 1956, Aloha From Hawaii represents her ideal version of Elvis. I have a hard time getting her to watch anything else Elvis-related with me, unless we look at this one first.

As a second-generation fan, I wasn’t even born when Aloha first aired. In fact, I’m now the same age (almost to the day) Elvis was when he performed this show. While I prefer the ’68 ELVIS special and 1970’s That’s The Way It Is, I definitely enjoy Aloha From Hawaii. Though it was not his best show ever, in many ways it represented his final triumph in the eyes of the world.

Elvis Aloha From Hawaii, 2004 Deluxe Edition

Elvis Aloha From Hawaii, 2004 Deluxe Edition

Though the show had appeared on home media several times before, Elvis Presley Enterprises and BMG released an ultimate version in 2004 as the 2-DVD set Elvis: Aloha From Hawaii – Deluxe Edition. Here are the contents:

DVD 1
1. January 9, 1973: Elvis Arrives and Greets Fans (17:30)
2. January 12, 1973: Rehearsal Concert (56:39)
3. January 14, 1973: Elvis: Aloha From Hawaii Concert (1:04:18)

DVD 2
1. January 14, 1973: Post-Concert Insert Songs Session (27:00)
2. April 4, 1973 (broadcast): Elvis: Aloha From Hawaii NBC TV Special Version (01:16:39)

Contents of Elvis Aloha From Hawaii, 2004 Deluxe Edition

Contents of Elvis Aloha From Hawaii, 2004 Deluxe Edition

2004 was a milestone year for Elvis fans. On the same day as the above, EPE and BMG also released the 3-DVD ELVIS: ’68 Comeback Special – Deluxe Edition set. I could barely contain my excitement when both sets arrived at my house nearly a decade ago now.

Executive Produced by Gary Hovey and the late Todd Morgan, both of these deluxe sets turned out to be among the most important Elvis releases ever. For obsessive Elvis fans like me, these DVDs represent essential viewing. I return to them often.

Though DVD 2 also holds interest, when it comes to Elvis: Aloha From Hawaii – Deluxe Edition, I tend to watch DVD 1 most often. The 2004 re-edits of the rehearsal and satellite shows represent the best releases of this material to date.

Last night, however, I plopped in DVD 2 in order to watch the April 4, 1973, version of Aloha From Hawaii. Before “Burning Love” could even finish, to my horror, the image on my screen began pixelating. It finally froze. An examination of the disc revealed scratches. I skipped ahead to the next song, but the problem kept occurring. I ended up watching about twenty minutes of the show in fits and starts.

I think I am very careful with my discs, so I’m not sure how these phantom scratches sometimes occur. I guess I have to chalk it up to equipment oddities. Either that or my dog plays my CDs and DVDs when I’m not around.

In any event, the reason I was horrified was not due to having to halt my 40th anniversary viewing of Aloha From Hawaii, but because I knew Elvis: Aloha From Hawaii – Deluxe Edition was now hard-to-find.

In fact, only a few months ago I had searched for it as a potential Christmas gift for someone. At that time, it was only available from third-party sellers at three times the original price. I love Elvis, but I refuse to pay exorbitant prices to such speculators. A quick check last night revealed the pricing to be the same.

Naturally, I did what any self-respecting fan would do in such a situation. I took to twitter to whine.

By this time, it was around midnight. I do not always get along with the twitter late at night, so I managed to tweet the following message to myself: My 2004 Aloha From Hawaii Deluxe Edition is giving out. If only @ElvisPresley would re-release this essential 2-DVD set.

Tweeting to myself

Tweeting to myself

I wish I could blame tweeting to myself on having a few too many, but I never drink. I don’t need to imbibe in order to do stupid things, it seems.

Fortunately, my message somehow managed to get through to @ElvisPresley, the official Elvis Presley Enterprises twitter account. Apparently the people over there at EPE actually know how to work twitter, for they sent me a link via direct (private) message to where the Deluxe Edition was still available on ShopElvis.com.

Now, why didn’t I think of that? I spend more money than I will ever admit on ShopElvis.com, but missed checking for the Elvis: Aloha From Hawaii – Deluxe Edition in this most obvious of places last night. Sure enough, it was there, in stock, and at a fair price.

  • Replacement copy of Elvis: Aloha From Hawaii – Deluxe Edition? Ordered.
  • Backup copy of ELVIS: ’68 Comeback Special – Deluxe Edition? Ordered. [This one is also now “hard-to-find” and is at crazy prices from third-party sellers.]

There is an Aloha From Hawaii for everyone. If you are not quite as obsessive as me when it comes to wanting to view all possible footage, 2006’s Elvis: Aloha From Hawaii – Special Edition DVD features only the 2004 edit of the January 14 main show. It is less expensive than the 2-DVD version and will certainly satisfy more casual fans.

Last month, Sony released the Legacy Edition of the Aloha From Hawaii via Satellite soundtrack album as a 2-CD set. Note that this is only the music, no video.

I’ve not picked this one up as of yet, but be sure to read this fantastic review of the Legacy Edition of Aloha From Hawaii via Satellite over on The Second Disc.

Here are the contents of the Legacy Edition:

CD 1
January 14, 1973: Aloha From Hawaii via Satellite (original album, 1973 vintage mix, remastered by Vic Anesini)

CD 2
1. January 12, 1973: Rehearsal Concert (2013 mix and mastering by Steve Rosenthal and Rob Santos)
2. January 14, 1973: Post-Concert Insert Songs

Elvis Aloha From Hawaii via Satellite, 2013 Legacy Edition

Elvis Aloha From Hawaii via Satellite, 2013 Legacy Edition

From 1956 to 2012: Follow Elvis’ journey through Richmond

Despite his enduring popularity, Elvis Presley is rarely given his due as an artist. Though this has improved considerably over the last ten to twenty years, the general public still tends to latch on to things like wacky souvenirs, bad impersonators, and “alive” hoaxes.

My favorite Elvis writer of late has been Sheila O’Malley of the Sheila Variations blog. With a fresh voice, she presents new perspectives on Elvis the artist. Rarely fluff pieces like you might see on other blogs (including this one), Sheila’s posts tend to be demanding reads. Invest the time and there are always insightful payoffs.

I discovered the Sheila Variations not through Elvis but through baseball. A few years ago, I was writing a post about baseball movies for my now-extinct pop culture blog. One of my favorites is Field Of Dreams, adapted from W.P. Kinsella’s Shoeless Joe. While researching the film, I came across Sheila’s blog and a number of extremely helpful posts.

When I find a new blog I love, I tend to search it for other topics of interest. Though it was only one post, I was delighted to find a reference to Elvis there as well. The 2005 post promised of more to come, eventually. “I’ll know when I’m ready,” she said at the time.

I bookmarked the blog and checked it every now and then. Always finding something to enjoy while patiently waiting for the topic of Elvis to return. It took over six years for Sheila to know she was ready to write about Elvis, but when she was, the resulting series of Elvis Essays that began last August 16 and continue to this day have been nothing short of astounding. I’m hoping that she will eventually compile her observations into a book, a documentary, a multi-media experience, or all of the above.

I was quite happy, therefore, when Sheila last month posted a short preview of a future Elvis post centered around Richmond, Virginia. Inspired by the excellent “In Search Of Elvis In Richmond, VA” posts on the Smithsonian’s Elvis At Twenty One blog, Sheila took a road trip from New Jersey to visit some of Richmond’s Elvis sites in person – as well as take in the Elvis At 21 exhibition at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts. This turned out not to result in just one post, but four.

The Sheila Variations: The Richmond Saga

Part I June 30, 1956: Elvis Presley in Richmond, Virginia – Moment By Moment

Part II The Jefferson Hotel

Part III The Mosque and The Monuments

Part IV The Train Station, the Water Tower, and “Elvis at 21″ at VMFA

Sometimes, I’ll read something and think, “I wish I had written that.” This is definitely one of those times.
The Sheila Variations
My favorite random moments:

  • “I showed the really nice guy at the front desk the things I wanted to see. […] I asked him if it was ‘walkable’. He said, ‘Oh, no. It’s about two miles.’ Just one of the many cultural differences between living in NYC and living somewhere else which is more of a car culture.” (from Richmond Snapshots)
  • “Peter Guralnick, in his introduction to his second volume of Elvis’ biography, says that the years from 1958 until 1977 were all about ‘the disappearance’ of Elvis Presley, a sentiment I disagree with entirely. He did not disappear. He was always there. It’s just we didn’t get to see him anymore, unless we went to the movies, or, in the 70s, saw him in concert. […] I know Guralnick means “disappeared” on another level, but I disagree with THAT level as well. How you can say that someone who put out the two gospel albums he did in the 60s […] disappeared is a mystery to me. How you can feel he disappeared when you consider his record-breaking appearances in Vegas [and] at Madison Square Garden, the albums from the 70s, especially Promised Land […] the continued innovation in his music, the continued personal aspect of it […] The nerve of that Elvis guy to follow his own path.” (from Part I) [This segment, which should be read in context in its entirety in the original post for full effect, literally left me wanting to cheer. –Ty]
  • “The Jefferson Hotel certainly isn’t hurting for customers, but they do say on their website: ‘Stay where Elvis stayed!'” (from Part II)
  • “New York often doesn’t honor its history, architecturally anyway. I never even saw the original Penn Station, but it is like a wound in my soul to think of what was torn down. […] But there the Mosque stands, now called The Landmark, with a giant Lion King banner, and the ghosts of Duke Ellington and Ethel Barrymore and Frank Sinatra and Elvis Presley literally shimmering in the foreground.” (from Part III)
  • “What would Elvis at 21, strolling down that hallway, have thought if he knew that one day an entire exhibit devoted to his time in Richmond would be on display at the Museum there? It’s all so strange. And beautiful. And perfect. Elvis couldn’t know, he couldn’t predict. He could just believe in himself, and keep launching himself out there into the spotlight. That is what he did.” (from Part IV)

* * *

Today was the final day of the Elvis At 21 exhibition here in Richmond. Though I regret not being able to make it out to see photographer Alfred Wertheimer when he visited the museum for an Elvis panel discussion in January, I did at least have the opportunity to take in the exhibition one more time a couple weekends back.

For my return visit, I brought along my Mom, who became an Elvis fan in 1956. It was nice to walk through the exhibit without having to worry about writing a review this time. We followed the museum visit up by watching Elvis ’56 and my Mom’s all-time favorite, Aloha From Hawaii. It was a perfect day.

Elvis At 21 is not over, though. The tour continues at the Dwight D. Eisenhower Presidential Library and Museum in Abilene, Kansas, starting April 7 (more info here).

From an art museum to a Presidential library . . . maybe Elvis really is starting to get his due.

“Slow versions” support Theory of Relativelvisity

The Theory Of RelativelvisityHow we perceive something is often relative to our starting point. For instance, people who became fans when Elvis first rose to fame in the mid-1950s often view him differently than those who became fans after his comeback of 1968 or his death in 1977.

Many of those earliest fans seem to favor the 1950s recordings. That is, after all, how they first discovered Elvis. Being the rebel that she is, my mom is actually an exception to that generalization. She became an Elvis fan in 1956, but she definitely favors his 1968-1977 recordings – often to the exclusion of anything else.

I’ve mentioned before that the first Elvis record I can remember listening to is “My Way” backed with “America, The Beautiful,” recorded live in 1977 and 1975 respectively. I had definitely heard Elvis music before that record came out, but those are the earliest specific songs I can remember.

After that, the next major Elvis recording in my life was a cassette tape of 1972’s As Recorded At Madison Square Garden. My mom played that tape just about every time we went for a car ride in the early-to-mid-1980s. It may still hold the record as the concert I’ve heard most often.

She would always crank it up when certain songs came on, especially “Suspicious Minds.” She still does that, in fact. If you are ever in my town and a car drives past you blaring Elvis, it is far more likely to be my mom than me behind the wheel.

Eventually, the Madison Square Garden tape began to wear thin. She next switched to a tape copy of the 1977 album Elvis In Concert. Though it lost a few points for not including “Suspicious Minds,” she played that one almost as much as she did Madison Square Garden.

For the longest time, other than the occasional radio song or record album that my family played around the house, those two live concerts tapes were Elvis to me.

Eventually, I started to collect my own albums. One of the first ones I acquired was Elvis’ Golden Records, which compiles some of his hits from 1956 and 1957.

Keeping in mind that my perception of most of them was based almost entirely on As Recorded At Madison Square Garden and Elvis In Concert, I was sure in for a shock when I played the original studio versions of some of the songs from those live albums:

  • Hound Dog
  • All Shook Up
  • Heartbreak Hotel
  • Jailhouse Rock
  • Love Me
  • Don’t Be Cruel
  • Teddy Bear
  • Love Me Tender

Though I loved the overall sound of the record, many of the songs initially seemed “off” to me. I began to think of them as the “slow versions.” It took years for my perception of those songs to change.

While I came to love and appreciate the 1950s material, I am glad that my Elvis journey started like it did. I believe it allowed me to be much more sympathetic towards his later years than I otherwise might have been.

Besides, I wouldn’t trade those memories for anything. Thanks, Mom. Keep cranking it up!

Elvis On Tour, VHS Style

Elvis On Tour Countdown: 20 days to theater event, 25 days to Blu

You may find this hard to believe, but I often associate Elvis On Tour with Christmas. That’s because the first time I ever saw the movie was on Christmas Day 1989. I was 14-years-old, and Elvis On Tour on VHS tape was one of the gifts my Mom gave me that day.

Elvis On Tour VHS box, 1988

Elvis On Tour VHS box, 1988

While waiting for my family to finish unwrapping their presents, I studied the box art. I noticed that the box featured images from That’s The Way It Is. As soon as all the presents were done, I placed the VHS tape in the VCR and fired it up.

Elvis On Tour was the first Elvis video I ever owned. The ’68 Comeback Special, One Night With You, That’s The Way It Is, and Aloha From Hawaii videos that I had already so often watched actually belonged to my brother.

Elvis On Tour was different from the others, though. It featured Elvis on the road across the country, performing in sold-out coliseums. While the crowds in the other videos were often reserved, these fans treated Elvis to thunderous applause and cheers. During a montage sequence, we were all shocked to see images of our hometown.

Seeing Elvis On Tour for the first time was special to me. Now that it is going to show in US theaters as well as be released for the first time on Blu-ray and DVD, there are other Elvis fans out there who have never seen it before who will finally get the chance. Christmas or otherwise, they will be in for a real treat.

Elvis On Tour Countdown

  • 20 days until Elvis On Tour 75th Anniversary Celebration theater event
  • 25 days until Elvis On Tour Blu-ray and DVD releases

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