An Elvis Presley Christmas Countdown

Elvis Presley performs “Blue Christmas” during taping of 1968’s ELVIS special (NBC)

Well, folks, it’s been quite awhile since I’ve posted. In case you don’t remember me, I’m the once and future conductor of this little blog we like to call The Mystery Train.

Christmas is my favorite time of year, which is one of the reasons I wanted to write. In fact, believe it or not, I had actually planned to write anywhere from 6 to 25 posts this month. I’m definitely a dreamer. In one form or another, I’ve been trying to start this one post since Thanksgiving. Yes, Christmas is my favorite time of the year, but also one of the busiest.

“Next week this time it will be all over,” my uncle tells me. As much as I love the Christmas season, I do almost dread the actual day coming because he is right, it means it is just about over. My mom loved Christmas as much as I do, and I remember it making her sad when everything went back to “normal.”

One thing I’ve done the last few years that helps, though, is leaving up some of my Christmas lights throughout the inside of my home. Turning those colored lights on can bring back some of the magic, even if it is March!

At the rate I’m going, it may well be March before you see this post. So, I’d better get on with it.

I enjoy doing lists and rankings, so I was really surprised to find that I apparently haven’t done one with a Christmas theme before. Therefore, I present a countdown of Christmas songs by Elvis Presley. This is, of course, one fan’s opinion.


#20 White Christmas (1957)
Elvis’ Christmas Album
Writer: Irving Berlin
Comments: Elvis’ 1957 version of “White Christmas” borrows heavily from the Drifters’ 1954 recording of the song but unfortunately falls short of that high watermark. This is Elvis’ worst Christmas song, so stick with the Drifters, Burl Ives (1965), or Bing Crosby (1940s) for this one.

#19 The Wonderful World Of Christmas (1971)
Elvis Sings The Wonderful World Of Christmas
Writers: Charles Tobias & Albert Frisch
Comments: How did the weakest song on Elvis’ 1971 Christmas album become the title track?

#18 O Little Town Of Bethlehem (1957)
Elvis’ Christmas Album
Writers: Phillips Brooks & Lewis Redner
Comments: There is a childlike yet sincere quality to Elvis’ voice as he tells the story of the birth of Jesus on “O Little Town Of Bethlehem” that makes this recording stand out, despite how it plods along at times. Nat King Cole recorded the best version (1960).

#17 The First Noel (1971)
Elvis Sings The Wonderful World Of Christmas
Writer: (Traditional)
Comments: Fourteen years later, here again we have Elvis telling the story of the birth of Christ – this time in “The First Noel.” While, like its predecessor, it does plod along at times, it is still a solid recording of this classic. Mahalia Jackson (1968) and Frank Sinatra (1957) recorded the best versions of “The First Noel.”

For reasons unknown beyond a CD tie-in, this Elvis version inspired a 1999 children’s book. I remember running into it at a bookstore in a shopping mall back then and being quite surprised. Not enough to buy it, though!

#16 It Won’t Seem Like Christmas [Undubbed Master] (1971)
Back In Nashville
Other notable versions: 1971 Master (Elvis Sings The Wonderful World Of Christmas ), 1971 Rehearsal (preceding Take 6, Elvis Sings The Wonderful World Of Christmas [2011 FTD Edition])
Writer: J.A. Balthrop

Credit: Vevo’s Elvis Presley channel (YouTube)

Comments: One of the things I love about Christmas music is that it actually represents so many different genres that otherwise wouldn’t share the same rotations, playlists, or compilations. Under the “Christmas” banner, you can get everything from Gospel to Rock ‘n’ Roll to the Blues to Country to Electronic to Classical to Jazz to Rap to Children’s Music to Pop to “Oldies” and probably 53 others I am leaving out.

While it doesn’t hit quite that many sub-genres, Elvis music is similar in that Elvis did not restrict himself to one type of music. One of the reasons I love being an Elvis fan is hearing his takes and combinations on so many different styles – the Blues, Gospel, Rock ‘n’ Roll, Pop, Country. As for Elvis Christmas Music, “It Won’t Seem Like Christmas” is the first entry of many on this list that reflects a melancholy view of the holiday. I love sad songs, and Elvis had a way of infusing sadness and regret right into the sound of his voice that really resonates with me.

While I haven’t played the rest of the set, I dipped into the Christmas songs on the recently released and unimaginatively titled Back In Nashville for the sake of completeness on this list. I’m glad I did, because a few of the versions there, as mixed by Matt Ross-Spang, trumped my previous favorites of particular songs. Stripped of its orchestral and background vocal overdubs, “It Won’t Seem Like Christmas” becomes even more poignant.

I now see why these posts take me so long. I originally intended the “Comments” to be one sentence or less per song, but I hope you forgive and enjoy the tangents.

#15 On A Snowy Christmas Night [Undubbed Master] (1971)
Back In Nashville
Other notable versions: 1971 Master (Elvis Sings The Wonderful World Of Christmas )
Writer: Stanley Gelber

Credit: Vevo’s Elvis Presley channel (YouTube)

Comments: Though I wish Elvis had recorded another couple of takes to really nail the song, I still love what we have in “On A Snowy Christmas Night,” a song that reminds us what the season is all about. The undubbed master fittingly gives more prominence to a church-style organ.

#14 If Every Day Was Like Christmas (1966)
If Every Day Was Like Christmas/How Would You Like To Be [RCA Single]
Writers: Red West & Glen Spreen

Credit: Vevo’s Elvis Presley channel (YouTube)

Comments: The powers-that-be chose to slot 1966’s “If Every Day Was Like Christmas” one-off on a 1970 budget reconfiguration of 1957’s Elvis’ Christmas Album, but for me it fits far better with his powerful 1970s style. The lyrics even reference “a wonderful world,” making it a natural for 1971’s Elvis Sings The Wonderful World Of Christmas. (Note that this album cover is shown in the official video above, so perhaps the song indeed appeared on a subsequent reissue of Elvis Sings The Wonderful World Of Christmas as well.) A number of popular artists later hit similar themes in their Christmas songs (e.g., Bon Jovi’s “I Wish Everyday Could Be Like Christmas,” 98 Degrees’ “If Every Day Could Be Christmas”), but Elvis did it best.

#13 Silver Bells [Undubbed Master] (1971)
Back In Nashville
Other notable versions: 1971 Master (Elvis Sings The Wonderful World Of Christmas )
Writers: Jay Livingston & Ray Evans

Credit: Vevo’s Elvis Presley channel (YouTube)

Comments: “Siver Bells” paints a Norman Rockwell-esque portrait of a bustling city during Christmas. The Back In Nashville version far exceeds the original Elvis release due to the absence of the overpowering male background singers that plagued so many of his masters from 1956 onwards. I respect that Elvis originally wanted to be a member of a gospel quartet, so it was part of the sound he sought. However, many (not all) of his recordings sound so much better to these ears without the Jordanaires, the Imperials, the Stamps, Voice, whoever.

#12 Santa Bring My Baby Back (1957)
Elvis’ Christmas Album
Writers: Aaron Schroeder & Claude DeMetrius

Credit: Vevo’s Elvis Presley channel (YouTube)

Comments: The fun “Santa Bring My Baby Back” was a favorite of my mom, so I think of her dancing along whenever I hear it.

#11 If I Get Home On Christmas Day (1971)
Elvis Sings The Wonderful World Of Christmas
Other notable version: 1971 Undubbed Master (Back In Nashville)
Writers: Tony Macaulay & John MacLeod

Credit: Vevo’s Elvis Presley channel (YouTube)

Comments: Elvis recorded three different songs about seeking home on Christmas. “If I Get Home On Christmas Day” sounds the most optimistic in terms of his chances of actually getting there: “Though I’m half a world away, if we’re patient and we pray, I know I’ll get my chance with you this time.” A beautiful song that leaves us wondering, year-in and year-out, did he make it home this time?

#10 Blue Christmas [Unedited Live Master] (1968)
Tiger Man
Other notable versions: 1968 Live (June 27, 6 PM, Memories), 1957 Master (Elvis’ Christmas Album)
Writers: Billy Hayes & Jay Johnson
Comments: Elvis was on fire during taping of the 1968 ELVIS television special for NBC and delivered in a live setting improved versions of a number of his classics, including 1957’s “Blue Christmas.” RCA truncated the live master first released on ELVIS-TV Special, so 1998’s Tiger Man CD is my go-to version since it is unedited. What I love about this version from the June 27, 8 PM “Sit Down Show” is that Elvis sounds like he doesn’t want to let the song go, repeating its simple lyrics again and again as he strums away on electric guitar.

#9 O Come All Ye Faithful [Take 1 & Take 2 Splice] (1971)
Memories Of Christmas
Other notable versions: 1971 Master (Elvis Sings The Wonderful World Of Christmas), 1971 Undubbed Master (Back In Nashville)
Writer: (Traditional)
Comments: Elvis only recorded two takes of “O Come All Ye Faithful.” He laid down a great performance on Take 1, but tried an extended version for Take 2 that added 75 seconds to the song. Unfortunately, portions of Take 2 were not as strong as his Take 1 performance. Take 1 became the master. 1982’s Memories Of Christmas album brilliantly spliced Takes 1 & 2 to make the definitive version of this Christmas classic. Get used to that word, “definitive,” because I will be using it often from here on out. While I love the recently released undubbed versions, “O Come All Ye Faithful” actually benefits from majestic orchestral and background vocal overdubs that serve to herald the arrival of our Lord.

#8 Winter Wonderland (1971)
Elvis Sings The Wonderful World Of Christmas
Other notable version: 1971 Take 10 (Master, Alternate Mix, Back In Nashville)
Writers: Dick Smith & Felix Bernard

Credit: Vevo’s Elvis Presley channel (YouTube)

Comments: Sometimes I don’t understand my fellow Elvis fans. One such instance is that I would guess that roughly 90% of those fans who post online trash Elvis’ performance of “Winter Wonderland.” I must admit, I don’t get it. At all. Elvis puts a rock-n-roll spin on “Winter Wonderland,” complete with a “signature Elvis ending,” and creates, yes, the definitive version. I’m a proud member of the 10% who love Elvis’ take on this song, which is why it ranks so high on this list.

#7 Merry Christmas Baby [Single Edit] (1971)
Merry Christmas Baby/O Come All Ye Faithful [RCA Single]
Other notable versions: 1971 Undubbed/Unedited Master (Back In Nashville), 1971 Master (Album Edit, Elvis Sings The Wonderful World Of Christmas)
Writer: Lou Baxter & Johnny Moore
Comments: While the album edit (5:45) of “Merry Christmas Baby” as well as the unedited performance (8:08) are surely of interest to us Elvis fans, the single edit (3:15) of this jam feels just about right. As much as I love Elvis’ rendition of “Merry Christmas Baby,” it was not the best choice for the A-Side of a single, though. Ironically, RCA was sitting on another recording that could have proven much better.

#6 Here Comes Santa Claus (1957)
Elvis’ Christmas Album
Writers: Gene Autry & Oakley Halderman
Comments: With all due respect to Gene Autry, Elvis’ recording of “Here Comes Santa Claus” is, that’s right, the definitive version. I love how the world’s foremost rock ‘n’ roll star practically swings the lyrics, “Here comes Santa Claus, here comes Santa Claus,” near the end of the song.

Credit: Vevo’s Elvis Presley channel (YouTube)

#5 Holly Leaves And Christmas Trees [Undubbed Master] (1971)
Back In Nashville
Other notable versions: 1971 Master (Elvis Sings The Wonderful World Of Christmas), 1971 Take 4 (Back In Nashville), 1971 Take 2 (Elvis Sings The Wonderful World Of Christmas [2011 FTD Edition]), 1971 Take 8 (If Every Day Was Like Christmas)
Writers: Red West & Glen Spreen

Credit: Vevo’s Elvis Presley channel (YouTube)

Comments: Full of a sad nostalgia for Christmases past, the quiet “Holly Leaves And Christmas Trees” shines as an example of Elvis at his best. Perhaps that is because the song “gets” Elvis, for it was written by his friend and bodyguard Red West, who also penned 1966’s “If Every Day Was Like Christmas” earlier in this list. West, who passed away in 2017, wrote a number of solid songs for Elvis, including 1972’s “Separate Ways” – which mirrored the singer’s collapsing marriage and concern about the impact to his daughter, Lisa Marie. West seems like he was a tough guy, and I guess you’d have to be to protect a man like Elvis, but many of his lyrics reveal a sensitive side and obviously appealed to Elvis.

#4 I’ll Be Home For Christmas (1957)
Elvis’ Christmas Album
Writers: Walter Kent, Kim Gannon, & Buck Ram

Credit: Vevo’s Elvis Presley channel (YouTube)

Comments: Elvis was only 22-years-old when he recorded “I’ll Be Home For Christmas” in 1957. By comparison, Bing Crosby recorded the song at the age of 40 (1943) and Frank Sinatra recorded it at the age of 42 (1957). While the versions of Crosby and Sinatra are classics in their own rights, the Elvis version sounds more heartfelt – and world-weary – making it the definitive version.

#3 Silent Night (1957)
Elvis’ Christmas Album
Writer: John Freeman Young, Joseph Mohr, & Franz Gruber

Credit: Vevo’s Elvis Presley channel (YouTube)

Comments: “Silent Night” is Elvis’ best faith-based Christmas song, but did he record the ultimate version? He’s certainly in the conversation, but with strong competition yet again from Bing Crosby (1930s & 1940s). However, I have to give a slight edge over both men to Nat King Cole’s version (1960). Whether you prefer Elvis, Cole, Crosby, or one of hundreds of other renditions, “Silent Night” perfectly illustrates the birth of Jesus Christ, transporting you there.

#2 I’ll Be Home On Christmas Day [Re-recording] (1971)
Memories Of Christmas
Other notable versions: Nearly all of them, including 1971 Take 4 (Back In Nashville), 1971 Master (Elvis Sings The Wonderful World Of Christmas), 1971 Re-recording Take 9 (Today, Tomorrow & Forever), 1971 Re-recording Take 2 (I Sing All Kinds)
Writer: Michael Jarrett

Credit: Elvis Presley – Topic channel (YouTube)

Comments: Elvis made two separate series of attempts at “I’ll Be Home On Christmas Day.” The first was multiple takes of a country-flavored rendition in May 1971 that resulted in what eventually became the album master. Elvis used a bluesier approach when he tried the song again in June of that year, again going through multiple takes. That the incredible June re-recording was passed over in favor of the May version still boggles my mind. The re-recording of “I’ll Be Home On Christmas Day” languished in RCA’s vaults for over a decade until the excellent Memories Of Christmas album finally brought it to light. By then, Elvis had been dead five years.

In my alternate universe, the bluesier “I’ll Be Home On Christmas Day” would have been Elvis’ A-Side Christmas single of 1971, backed with “Merry Christmas Baby.” What a one-two punch that would have been. They could have even left the original version on the album, making the single even more unique.

The writer of “I’ll Be Home On Christmas Day,” Michael Jarrett, also wrote “I’m Leavin’,” which Elvis released as an A-Side earlier in the same year. Despite Elvis’ belief in the song, it failed to ignite record-buyers. Perhaps that factored into Jarrett’s Christmas song being passed over for single consideration. As much as I love “I’m Leavin’,” though, “I’ll Be Home On Christmas Day” is a far better song. In fact, it is almost the greatest Elvis Christmas song ever, but that honor instead goes to….

#1 Santa Claus Is Back In Town (1957)
Elvis’ Christmas Album
Other notable version: 1968 Live (Tiger Man)
Writers: Jerry Leiber & Mike Stoller

Credit: Vevo’s Elvis Presley channel (YouTube)

Comments: “Santa Claus Is Back In Town” is the quintessential Elvis Christmas song. It is perhaps second only to “Reconsider Baby” as his best blues recording, and even that is almost too close to call. According to Jerry Leiber, he and Mike Stoller wrote “Santa Claus Is Back In Town” in five minutes in the bathroom of the recording studio when Elvis needed another tune for his 1957 Christmas album.


I also have to give an honorable mention to “Santa Lucia,” which Elvis recorded in 1963 for the movie Viva Las Vegas – later released on the Elvis For Everyone! album. Elvis’ version, which uses Italian lyrics, is not technically a Christmas song, but the Swedish version of “Santa Lucia” traditionally kicks off the Christmas season in Sweden. Indeed, I recall waking up early one Christmas morning and seeing some kind of news broadcast or documentary that included footage from Sweden, including “Santa Lucia.”


While I have always loved Christmas, it has taken on even more meaning for me since I was saved in 2018. The observance of the birthday of Jesus Christ should be the solid foundation of a season which otherwise can all too often collapse under the weight of never-ending “Black Friday Sales” and other enticements to shop til you drop in search of the perfect gift.

It turns out that the perfect gift doesn’t need a Black Friday Sale, for it has no cost to you – yet it is priceless. Eternal salvation is yours through accepting Jesus, the Son of God, into your heart. You don’t have to be perfect nor become perfect to accept the perfect gift and follow Jesus. I sure wasn’t perfect then, I’m not perfect now, nor will I ever be perfect. However, my entire life changed, and I gained a new perspective illuminated by His light.

Elvis accepted that perfect gift, too. He even passed his blessings on to us with songs about it, including some of the ones we have discussed today. Despite his God-given talents, Elvis wasn’t perfect, either. It seems his every shortcoming has been documented multiple times over. Yet, God still loved him and welcomed him to Heaven.

He has places for all of us there, too. Don’t leave yours empty.

The dreamer side of me thinks I might sneak another post in before Christmas, but the realistic side of me knows that is highly unlikely. With that in mind, I want to take a moment to thank you for reading The Mystery Train Elvis Blog. I pray you and your family have a Merry Christmas and a Blessed New Year!

TY

“Give thanks for all you’ve been blessed with and hold your loved ones tight, for you know the Lord’s been good to you on a snowy Christmas night.”
–From “On A Snowy Christmas Night” by Stanley Gelber; Elvis Presley song, 1971


“No one has ever gone to Heaven and returned. But the Son of Man has come down from Heaven. And as Moses lifted up the bronze snake on a pole in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, so that everyone who believes in Him will have eternal life. For this is how God loved the world: He gave His one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him will not perish but have eternal life. God sent His Son into the world not to judge the world, but to save the world through Him.”
John 3:13-17 NLT

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: SUSPICIOUS MINDS (1982)

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!