Portions of this post were first published on one of my pop-culture blogs, now retired.
Today marks the 45th anniversary of the July 19, 1977, release of Moody Blue, an album that turned out to be the last Elvis Presley record before his death four weeks later.
Catalog Number: AFL1-2428
Recorded: 1974-1977 | Memphis, TN; Ann Arbor, Michigan; Kalamazoo, Michigan
Before I had Elvis records of my own, I remember checking out a couple of his albums from the public library. I must have been about ten-years-old.
The two records I took home that day in 1985, which I believe represented the entirety of the library’s Elvis music collection, were The Sun Sessions and Moody Blue. The fact that I had borrowed both his very last record and a compilation of his very first records escaped me.
I enjoyed both albums, but the one that really drew me in was Moody Blue. For one thing, the record was pressed on blue vinyl. I had never seen anything like that. Plus, I just loved the sound of the album — particularly “Way Down,” which I played over and over.
I played “Way Down” for my older brother later that day to show off knowing a “new” Elvis song, only for him to inform me that he had his very own copy of Moody Blue.
At that time, I was not allowed to touch my brother’s records (and rightly so, as I was often unintentionally destructive of his things). Today, as he generously gave me all of his Elvis records several years ago, his copy of Moody Blue is mine.
- Unchained Melody (1977)
A compelling live version of “Unchained Melody” leads off the record. I normally prefer to open with a rocker, but this choice works perfectly for Moody Blue. Incidentally, this is my beloved bride’s favorite Elvis song she has heard so far, and she notes Elvis’ emphasis on the word “God” versus versions of this song by others. Indeed, in Elvis’ hands, the lyric “God speed your love to me” can be heard as “God, speed Your love to me.” Similarly, “I’ll be coming home, wait for me,” can be interpreted as “I’ll be coming Home, wait for me” in Elvis’ version. Elvis seems to be calling out not to a lost love, but to God.
- If You Love Me (Let Me Know) (1977)
When I was listening to the library’s copy as a 10-year-old, I distinctly remember recognizing this live song from the Elvis In Concert album and wondering why this one sounded better. Part of the reason was that it was actually recorded a couple of months earlier than the version on Elvis In Concert. Some debate whether this song, made popular by Olivia Newton-John, should have been in his setlist. No matter, this is his best version of a song that obviously spoke to him.
- Little Darlin’ (1977)
Next up is another live recording, Elvis’ fun take on the 1950s classic, “Little Darlin'”, which also provides a much-needed change in tempo. I love his ad-lib of “To hold in mine…your little foot…uh, hand!”
- He’ll Have to Go (1976)
The tempo slows back down for “He’ll Have To Go,” the last studio recording ever made by Elvis. In addition to the resonance of the Elvis vocals, I love the guitar work of James Burton here. Six of the songs on this album were recorded at Graceland in 1976 in an effort to make the artist feel more comfortable, as Elvis in later years had become reluctant to record in a formal studio setting. Two sessions at a makeshift studio in his den resulted in sixteen songs, ten of which had already been used on the From Elvis Presley Boulevard album by the time RCA was assembling Moody Blue.
- Let Me Be There (1974)
In early 1977, Elvis backed out of a planned session in Nashville to finish the Moody Blue album. Instead, a few live performances were recorded that April. Only three suitable songs were captured, however, which brought the album’s total to nine. In desperation, RCA re-released “Let Me Be There” from 1974’s Recorded Live On Stage In Memphis album to round out Side A of Moody Blue. Another Olivia Newton-John hit, “Let Me Be There” fits well on Moody Blue, despite being slightly older than the other recordings. In addition to the Newton-John connection tying it to “If You Love Me,” it was also recorded in Memphis like the majority of the other songs on this album.
- Way Down (1976)
All of the songs on Side B of Moody Blue were recorded at Graceland. I probably have the master of “Way Down” on at least a half dozen CDs. None of them sound as incredible as listening to this record. Is it all in my head? Possibly, but if it is, do not tell me. “Way Down” really rocks, making it an appropriate A-side for what turned out to be Elvis’ last single before his death.
- Pledging My Love (1976)
“Pledging My Love” is another terrific performance by Elvis. He might have lost much of the joy in his life by this point, but you can still hear it on this song.
- Moody Blue (1976)
I find it cool that the album’s title song is buried in the middle of Side B. “Moody Blue,” another great song, almost sounds like disco. Compare the guitar licks on “Moody Blue” with Kool & the Gang’s “Celebration” (1980), for instance.
- She Thinks I Still Care (1976)
Elvis recorded many country songs, particularly in the 1970s. “She Thinks I Still Care” is a stellar performance. At the end, he just will not let the song go, either.
- It’s Easy For You (1976)
“It’s Easy For You” was written by Broadway legends Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice, bringing to a close an album that was almost as varied as Elvis’ entire career: Adult Contemporary, Country, and Rock ‘n’ Roll. It is hard to ask for more in an Elvis album, and I still consider Moody Blue one of his best. A fun bit of trivia: Note the misspelling of Webber’s name on the Moody Blue Side B label in the image above. Proofreading has apparently never been a strong point for Elvis’ music label.
I mentioned that my brother did not let me touch his records when I was young. This turned out to be a good thing for me, as Moody Blue sounds flawless. Not a crackle or a pop to be heard on either side.
The interesting thing about Moody Blue is that such a fantastic album could result from not only a hodgepodge of recordings but also such a low point in Elvis’ life. “You don’t have to face the music, you don’t have to face the crowd,” he laments on “It’s Easy For You.” Depression, loneliness, and various personal demons were consuming his life by this point. Years of prescription drug addiction and abuse were beginning to take a public toll.
Part of the credit for the unlikely strength of Moody Blue must go to producer Felton Jarvis. While he occasionally went too far with overdubs on previous Elvis projects, Moody Blue is all the better for his extra work and attention to detail–particularly on the 1977 live recordings. Credit must also go to the musicians and vocalists who worked with Elvis on the album. On occasion, they carry Elvis. Finally, credit is due to Elvis as well, who managed to pull these performances from somewhere inside himself, despite not being in the right frame of mind to record.
I love the inner sleeves on vintage Elvis albums. Check out the ads for other albums, which must have acted as combination check lists and wish lists for fans of the time. In some cases, it was also a way to see some alternate cover designs. For example, note the Moody Blue concept artwork in the bottom left of the image below.
The fall of the curtain came much too early for Elvis, but Moody Blue certainly made for an impressive last act. If you collect Elvis on vinyl, this one is a must.
“Anyone who believes in Me may come and drink! For the Scriptures declare, ‘Rivers of living water will flow from His heart.'”