March 1992: The Elvis Beat #1

And now, one from the archives. I first started writing about Elvis back in 1992. Thirty years ago now, I began an official fan club whose sole purpose was to allow me to write an Elvis newsletter. Not wanting to compete with any existing clubs in my area, I named mine “The Elvis Beat: International Elvis Presley Fan Club.”

The “International” part reflected the lofty ambitions of 16-year-old me. Though The Elvis Beat never obtained any members from outside of the United States, I see The Mystery Train Elvis Blog as a realization of the dream to connect with fellow Elvis fans from all over the world.

I published the newsletter sporadically over the next five years. Most of the time, I printed a master copy using a PC and an ink jet printer. Early issues included literal cut and paste jobs on the paper to include photos, as I did not have a scanner. Then, I would have copies made. Unfortunately, my original master copies have disappeared, but I still have my archive of newsletter copies.

At first, I charged a nominal fee to join, but I soon made it free with the request that members send postage stamps if they could to offset some of the costs. To their credit, most members did send stamps. Still, I would have been in trouble had membership ever exploded much beyond 50 at any given time.

Eventually, I decided to end the club, mostly because I was unable to keep any kind of schedule going on the newsletter. Soon after releasing the last issue in 1997, I began to learn how to create web pages. My first web site would be devoted not to Elvis, though, but to Star Trek.


The Elvis Beat #1 (Cover)

The Elvis Beat #1 (Cover)

Elvis stamp unveiled

On February 24, at the Las Vegas Hilton in Nevada, the dream of millions of Elvis fans finally became reality. United States Postmaster General Anthony Frank, along with Milton Berle and Barbara Eden, officially unveiled two possible versions of an Elvis Presley stamp, one of which will become an official U.S. postage stamp.

The two stamp finalists were chosen from more than 50 entries, according to Frank. One is a circa-1950’s Elvis and the other is circa-1970’s. The public will be given the opportunity to select their favorite through the use of five million ballot cards which will be available at post offices in the month of April. The ballot cards must be mailed with the appropriate postage.

The winning stamp is expected to be announced in May at Graceland, and will be issued in 1993 as the first in a series of American music legends expected to be issued over several years. “He broke new ground,” said Frank, who went on to say that Elvis was the obvious choice to begin the series.

Elvis fans have been lobbying for this recognition for years. Pat Geiger of Vermont began the “Elvis Presley Postage Stamp Campaign” in 1983, and thought that having the stamp passed would be a “simple thing.” In 1987, the first year Elvis became eligible, she quickly found that it wouldn’t be that easy. But after the initial rejections, Elvis is finally to be honored six years later than she had planned.

The Elvis fans have won, and now it is up to the general public to pick their favorite Elvis.


Now (2022)

Elvis Stamp Official Ballot (1992)

Elvis Stamp Official Ballot (United States Postal Service, 1992; from Tygrrius’ collection)

It’s amusing for me to remember how seriously I took the whole Elvis stamp business. If it were taking place now, I would probably only give a brief mention here of the stamp.

Not long before the release of this first issue, I even wrote a “letter to the editor” that appeared in both of our local newspapers in which I defended the 1973 stamp design against typically vicious media portrayals of it as “fat” and “old.” No need to get into that here, because if there’s one thing Elvis fans can agree on is that he was not overweight or old in Aloha From Hawaii.

After releasing this newsletter, I can remember going to the post office the first day the stamp ballots became available. I grabbed three of them: One to vote and two to keep. You see, I considered it wrong to vote more than once. Remember, this was serious business. Turns out, I should have used all three ballots, as my choice was beaten rather handily. But that’s a topic for the next issue!


Then

Back to 1992, here’s a look at some of the other content from that first issue.

In A Flash (page 2): Covered three additional news stories (“That’s The Way It Is and Elvis On Tour outtakes to be released,” “Graceland is named a national historical landmark,” and “Five disc set to be released for fifteenth anniversary”).

Editor’s Corner: (page 3): Included a brief welcome to the first issue and a re-print of my defense of the 1973 stamp.

Walk a mile in his shoes (page 4): Speaking of things I find funny that I cared about back then, I devoted two whole pages to reviewing various portrayals of Elvis in movies or TV shows, ranging from 1979’s Elvis, starring Kurt Russell, up to the 1990 Elvis TV series, starring Michael St. Gerard (with lots of mostly bad ones in between). If you are curious, I determined Gerard as being the best of the lot. I pretty much stay away from these kinds of movies now, but I’d probably still pick Gerard as the best. We’ll see if Austin Butler can deliver the goods in the upcoming ELVIS movie.

Reader’s Comments and Memories (page 6): I wanted The Elvis Beat to be interactive and inclusive, so this page consisted of me begging for people to send content.

Elvis Super Trivia Challenge (page 7): Twenty questions, with the answers printed upside down at the bottom of the page (probably another literal cut and paste job to achieve the upside down text, but I honestly don’t remember). Questions ranged from, “What song is played at the conclusion of ELVIS (1968 TV Special)?” to “Which LP albums did Elvis record in the ‘Jungle Room’ at Graceland?”

The 1956 Albums (page 8): This was a word search containing the songs from the albums Elvis Presley and Elvis. It was a nod towards the types of content I had seen in other Elvis newsletters at the time. I soon dropped this concept.

In Dreams Of Yesterday…1971 (page 9): I could think of no better way to conclude the first issue of The Elvis Beat than to include Elvis’ entire acceptance speech for being recognized as one of the ten outstanding young men of 1970 by the national Junior Chamber of Commerce (Jaycees). I still find his words from that moment inspiring:

“Thank you very much, ladies and gentlemen. I’d like to thank the Jaycees for electing me as one of the Outstanding Young Men.

When I was a child, ladies and gentlemen, I was a dreamer. I read comic books, and I was the hero of the comic book. I saw movies, and I was the hero in the movie. So every dream that I ever dreamed has come true a hundred times.

These gentlemen over here, it is these type people who care, who are dedicated. You realize that it is […] possible that they might be building the Kingdom of Heaven. It’s not too far-fetched from reality.

I’d like to say that I learned very early in life that:

‘Without a song, the day would never end,
Without a song, a man ain’t got a friend,
Without a song, the road would never bend,
Without a song.’

So I keep singing a song. Goodbye. Thank you.”

[Originally Published March 3, 2012; revised March 24, 2022]

Elvis Movies: DOUBLE TROUBLE

Guy Lambert (Elvis Presley) departs for Belgium in 1967's DOUBLE TROUBLE (MGM)

Guy Lambert (Elvis Presley) departs for Belgium in 1967’s DOUBLE TROUBLE (MGM)

“[F]or the most part, Elvis movies take place in Elvis Land, a time outside of time, a time where Elvis is King, there is no outside world, there is no larger context – because when you have Elvis, that’s all the context you need. He justified films merely by being in them. You can imagine how that could be a disheartening experience for someone so competitive as Elvis, someone so determined to do well, but it is just one of the elements that make him fascinating as a performer.”
-Sheila O’Malley, 2012, The Sheila Variations

In his lifetime, Elvis Presley released 31 narrative movies and 2 documentaries. At the height of his film career in the 1960s, he was cranking out 3 movies a year.

When I was a teen, the local video rental store had dedicated sections for Action, Drama, Romance, Musicals, Horror, Science Fiction, and the like. It also had an entire section called Elvis Movies, with shelves full of VHS tapes of many of his films and concerts. Like Monster Movies or Superhero Movies, Elvis Movies really are their own genre. As writer Sheila O’Malley aptly notes above, they also occur in their own little reality.

As a second generation Elvis fan, and a child of the late 1970s and 1980s, my first exposure to Elvis Movies was not in the theater or even on VHS, but on broadcast television. A local, independent UHF channel would show a mini-marathon of themed movies on Saturday afternoons. On some Saturdays, for instance, I watched a double or triple feature of Monster Movies like King Kong vs. Godzilla (1963). On other Saturdays, I watched two or three Elvis Movies on this station. I can still hear the announcer excitedly proclaiming, “Up next, more Elvis in Harum Scarum!”

Though there are occasional exceptions, Elvis Movies are usually not remarkable achievements from an artistic perspective. Near the end of his film career, Elvis admitted that his movies made him “physically ill.” Though I cannot confirm the authenticity of this next quote, Elvis is also purported to have once said, “The only thing worse than watching a bad movie is being in one.”

As a child, though, I loved watching Elvis Movies with my family. They were fun, and Elvis played any number of characters of interest to an 8-year old: A racecar driver, a cowboy, a boxer, an Army man, etc. Elvis was the ultimate action hero, destined to win every fight and every girl. Elvis had a natural comedic flair, and there were also action scenes, often involving karate, that kept me interested as well. Of course, music was ever-present. The quality of many of his movie tunes were subpar, to say the least, but I didn’t really notice this back then, either. Elvis Movies were complete fantasy packages, as entertaining to young me as watching Godzilla and King Kong duke it out.

At some point, I suppose in my early adulthood, I began to see Elvis Movies in a different light. Maybe it was slogging through those dreadful movie tunes as I began exploring his entire catalog of music. Maybe it was reading about how much he disliked making them. Maybe it was the constant re-running of his movies on cable stations every January and August. At some point, I began to find it harder to sit through Elvis Movies. The completist in me has collected all of them on DVD, and I have watched each at least once. I don’t return to most of them too often, though. I love movies almost as much as I love music. I watched nearly 100 movies last year, but only one Elvis Movie.

In the spirit of that 8-year-old who watched a string of Elvis Movies on Saturday afternoons so long ago, I’ve decided to rewatch Elvis Movies over the next few years. I’m going to approach this in a random fashion, for that is how I first watched them. Along the way, I plan to blog about them. While I won’t go as deep into the details of these movies as someone like Gary Wells over at the Soul Ride blog might, I’ll hit what I consider the highlights as well as quirky tidbits that jump out at me, often on a personal level. Up first is Double Trouble.


“Elvis takes mad mod Europe by song as he swings into a brand new adventure filled with dames, diamonds, discotheques, and danger!!”

Double Trouble

Double Trouble (MGM)
Wide Release: April 5, 1967 (United States)
Starring: Elvis Presley, John Williams, Yvonne Romain, Annette Day
Screenplay By: Jo Heims
Story By: Marc Brandel
Music Score By: Jeff Alexander
Produced By: Judd Bernard and Irwin Winkler
Directed By: Norman Taurog
Running Time: 92 Minutes


You would be forgiven if, based on the movie’s title or the fact that he appears twice on its poster, you expected Elvis Presley to play dual roles in Double Trouble, his 24th film to be released. Alas, this is not the case, for he had already performed that schtick a few years earlier in Kissin’ Cousins (1964). The double in the trouble represents our hero, singer Guy Lambert (Elvis), being torn between two love interests – the innocent but zany Jill (Annette Day) and the seductive Claire (Yvonne Romain). The movie isn’t really about any of that, though. While Guy seems intrigued by Claire, his heart is obviously with Jill – despite his own misgivings, including a subplot involving Jill’s age that is cringe-worthy by today’s standards.

Instead, Double Trouble tries to be a madcap comedy/thriller. Most of the comedy external to Elvis doesn’t really work (I’m looking at you, Wiere Brothers).

Annette Day is Jill Conway and Elvis Presley is Guy Lambert in 1967's DOUBLE TROUBLE (MGM)

Annette Day is Jill Conway and Elvis Presley is Guy Lambert in 1967’s DOUBLE TROUBLE (MGM)

Double Trouble doesn’t really work as a thriller, either. Someone wants Guy and/or Jill dead. Though the ultimate mastermind of the murder plot might come as a surprise, this revelation comes about through the hackneyed explanation of a hired killer right before he is going to off his victim. Guy, of course, saves the day, and the would-be killer ends up succumbing to the very trap he had planned for his target. Death is rare in Elvis Movies, but it does happen.

1967’s DOUBLE TROUBLE includes multiple murder attempts (MGM)

Double Trouble is also rare among Elvis Movies in that it takes place in Europe. The film opens in London, England, and then takes us to Belgium. Not really, though, as Double Trouble was filmed in Culver City, California.

In Double Trouble, the Belgian police drive Volkswagen Beetles. The interesting thing about this, for me, is that, as a child, I was obsessed with wanting a red VW Beetle. I drew pictures of one throughout my elementary school years, often including a police siren on top and other special devices, like spotlights and ejection seats. Though I have no memory of picking up this particular fascination from an Elvis Movie, sure enough, a red VW Beetle police car appears during a chase sequence.

A Volkswagen Beetle police car appears in 1967’s DOUBLE TROUBLE (MGM)

Double Trouble marks the acting debut of Annette Day (Jill). You wouldn’t know it from the film, as she does a commendable job in both comedic and dramatic scenes. I love watching her observe and then mimic Elvis’ movements as he sings “Old MacDonald” to her. Unfortunately, this is Day’s only movie.

Jill Conway (Annette Day) snaps along as Guy Lambert (Elvis Presley) sings "Old MacDonald" in 1967's DOUBLE TROUBLE (MGM)

Jill Conway (Annette Day) snaps along as Guy Lambert (Elvis Presley) sings “Old MacDonald” in 1967’s DOUBLE TROUBLE (MGM)

I enjoyed watching many of the songs in the context of this film far more than I do listening to the soundtrack album in isolation. Elvis does appear quite stiff at times, though, particularly during his opening number, the title song. Incidentally, I really enjoyed the funky instrumental opening to the film and wish that ambience had been present on the actual Elvis music.

I admitted long ago that I’m a fan of Elvis’ version of “Old MacDonald” but the beautiful “City By Night” and “Could I Fall In Love” are Double Trouble‘s musical highlights.

A child (portrayed by Laurie Lambert) and Guy Lambert (Elvis Presley) ride a carousel as he sings “I Love Only One Girl” in 1967’s DOUBLE TROUBLE (MGM)

If you go with the flow, as is necessary with most Elvis Movies, Double Trouble is entertaining.


Boldly Go

Stanley Adams plays Captain Roach in Double Trouble. Adams is known to fellow Trekkies for his portrayal of Cyrano Jones in the Star Trek episode “The Trouble With Tribbles” (1967) and the animated Star Trek follow-up episode “More Tribbles, More Troubles” (1973).

Stanley Adams is Captain Roach in 1967's DOUBLE TROUBLE (MGM)

Stanley Adams is Captain Roach in 1967’s DOUBLE TROUBLE (MGM)

Leonard Nimoy is Mister Spock, Stanley Adams is Cyrano Jones, and William Shatner is Captain James T. Kirk in the 1967 STAR TREK episode "The Trouble With Tribbles" (Desilu)

Leonard Nimoy is Mister Spock, Stanley Adams is Cyrano Jones, and William Shatner is Captain James T. Kirk in the 1967 STAR TREK episode “The Trouble With Tribbles” (Desilu)


Double Trouble Tote Board

  • Kisses: 13
  • Karate Chops: 9
  • Songs: 8
  • Karate Kicks: 4
  • Broken Windows: 2
Elvis Presley is Guy Lambert in 1967's DOUBLE TROUBLE (MGM)

Elvis Presley is Guy Lambert in 1967’s DOUBLE TROUBLE (MGM)

Songs In Double Trouble

  1. “Double Trouble” (1966), written by Doc Pomus & Mort Shuman
  2. “Baby, If You’ll Give Me All Of Your Love” (1966), written by Joy Byers
  3. “Could I Fall In Love” (1966), written by Randy Starr
  4. “Long Legged Girl” (1966), written by J. Leslie McFarland & Winfield Scott
  5. “City By Night” (1966), written by Bill Giant, Bernie Baum, & Florence Kay
  6. “Old MacDonald” (1966), written by Randy Starr, based on the traditional composition
  7. “I Love Only One Girl” (1966), written by Sid Tepper & Roy C. Bennett, based on the traditional composition “Auprès de ma blonde
  8. “There Is So Much World To See” (1966), written by Sid Tepper & Ben Weisman

The Mystery Train’s Double Trouble Scorecard

  • Story: 2 (out of 10)
  • Acting: 5
  • Fun: 6
  • Songs: 5
  • Overall: 4 (For Elvis Fans Only)

TMT Files: Guy Lambert

Click image for larger, full-color version

 


“And whatever you do or say, do it as a representative of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through him to God the Father.”
Colossians 3:17

Elvis: The Ultimate Live Top Ten Hits (Part 1)

Elvis Presley rocks “Heartbreak Hotel” during taping of 1968’s ELVIS special (NBC)

I was 13 years old during Spring Break of 1988. At that point, I had about a half dozen Elvis Presley albums to my name. At the record store that week, I bought my first 2-record set. The Top Ten Hits was part of an “Elvis Presley Commemorative Issue” series that marked a decade since his 1977 death. I eventually obtained all four of the albums in the series, though I never did mail away for the special bonus album (a future eBay purchase, no doubt).

I had been collecting Elvis records for about a year at that point, and The Top Ten Hits certainly firmed up the foundation of my new obsession by containing all 38 of Elvis’ top 10 hits on Billboard‘s key US charts. These are what I now call mainstream or “general public” Elvis songs in that they are his most famous songs. Back then, these were the ones that various radio stations would still play.

The only two general public Elvis songs that failed to make the US top ten and, thus, this album were “Blue Suede Shoes” (peaked at #20) and “Viva Las Vegas” (peaked at #29). If we include posthumous releases, 1977’s “My Way” (peaked at #22) and 2002’s JXL Radio Edit Remix of “A Little Less Conversation” (peaked at #50) are also general public Elvis songs that are not present on this 1987 release. Except for those few titles and maybe “Blue Christmas,” everything else is here from a mainstream audience perspective. Outside of boxed sets, which really belong in their own category, The Top Ten Hits remains one of the most comprehensive Elvis releases to date when it comes to the general public.

I wore this record out in my 7th and 8th grade years, to the point where many of these songs became boring to me for a time. I will at some point cover this and the other Elvis Presley Commemorative Issue albums as part of my ongoing Vinyl Elvis series. Today, however, I want to use The Top Ten Hits as a jumping off point for a series of four posts covering Elvis’ best live performance of each of his hits. As is the norm here on The Mystery Train Blog, the focus will be on officially released recordings. No bootlegs.

Today’s post will feature hits included on Side A of The Top Ten Hits, all of which were studio recordings on the original album.

01. Heartbreak Hotel (hit version recorded 1956)
Ultimate Live Version: June 29, 1968, 6 PM Show, Burbank, CA, ELVIS-TV Special
Recorded in front of small studio audience for Elvis’ 1968 NBC television special, ELVIS, this version of “Heartbreak Hotel” rocks more than any of his other takes on the song. It is unfortunately a shortened version, though, due to being part of a medley with “Hound Dog” and “All Shook Up.” I once created a splice with the June 27, 1968, 6 PM Show version of “Heartbreak Hotel” to partially rectify this (inspired by and in the same vein as the “Blue Suede Shoes” splice on the This Is Elvis album, except starting with the June 29 “stand up” show version and ending with the June 27 “sit down” show version).

02. I Want You, I Need You, I Love You (hit version recorded 1956)
Ultimate Live Version: June 5, 1956, Los Angeles, CA, A Golden Celebration
As performed on the Milton Berle Show, following a skit with the host.

03. Hound Dog (hit version recorded 1956)
Ultimate Live Version: December 15, 1956, Shreveport, LA, Young Man With The Big Beat: The Complete ’56 Elvis Presley Masters
The finale of one of Elvis’ greatest recorded concerts, this version of “Hound Dog” is not to be missed.

04. Don’t Be Cruel (hit version recorded 1956)
Ultimate Live Version: January 6, 1957, New York, NY, A Golden Celebration

Credit: The Ed Sullivan Show channel (YouTube)

After Elvis released “Don’t Be Cruel,” he caught an act in Las Vegas that was doing a number of his songs. The lead singer was Jackie Wilson, and Elvis liked his version of “Don’t Be Cruel” better than his own. When Elvis performed the song on his third Ed Sullivan Show appearance in 1957, he incorporated some of Wilson’s upgrades to the song. What I love about this story is that Elvis inspired Wilson, who, in turn, inspired Elvis. Incidentally, this is the infamous “from the waist up” Sullivan performance where TV cameras were ordered not to show Elvis’ hips and legs – which, of course, only added to his legend. Watch it above or over on YouTube.

05. Love Me Tender (hit version recorded 1956)
Ultimate Live Version: June 29, 1968, 8 PM Show, Burbank, CA, ELVIS-TV Special
This live version, recorded for the 1968 ELVIS special, far exceeds Elvis’ original studio recording of the song from 1956. His voice is like velvet.

06. Love Me (hit version recorded 1956)
Ultimate Live Version: June 27, 1968, 6 PM Show, Burbank, CA, Memories: The ’68 Comeback Special
This was a close call with the August 12, 1970, Midnight Show, version of “Love Me,” but I slightly prefer the raw sound of the 1968 version.

07. Too Much (hit version recorded 1956)
Ultimate Live Version: January 6, 1957, New York, NY, A Golden Celebration
This is the only live version officially released of “Too Much,” to my knowledge, so it wins by default. A decent if sloppy version, performed on the Ed Sullivan Show and broadcast from the waist up.

08. All Shook Up (hit version recorded 1957)
Ultimate Live Version: August 26, 1969, Midnight Show, Las Vegas, NV, All Shook Up
The earliest available live version of “All Shook Up,” which is closer to the arrangement of the studio recording, is March 25, 1961, but the performance is tepid compared to his 1968 and 1969 versions.

09. Teddy Bear (hit version recorded 1957)
Ultimate Live Version: January 26, 1970, Opening Show, Las Vegas, NV, The On Stage Season: The Opening And Closing Shows 1970
This live version of “Teddy Bear” was a pleasant surprise on one of my favorite FTD releases.

10. Jailhouse Rock (hit version recorded 1957)
Ultimate Live Version: June 29, 1968, 8 PM Show, Burbank, CA, ELVIS-TV Special

Credit: Vevo’s Elvis Presley channel (YouTube)

As with a few of the others on today’s list, this incredible live version of “Jailhouse Rock” was captured for the 1968 ELVIS special. It almost equals the flawless studio recording. Watch it above or over on YouTube.

If only some of Elvis’ 1957 concerts had been recorded. Perhaps ultimate live versions of “Too Much,” “All Shook Up,” and possibly even “Jailhouse Rock” would have been among them. Every now and then, new recordings are unearthed. I maintain hope that a 1957 concert will eventually see the light of day.

I pray all of you are doing well and staying healthy. Drop a note in the comments below about some of your favorite live versions of these Elvis classics.

Blessings,
TY

[Read Part 2]


“Dear brothers and sisters, when troubles of any kind come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy. For you know that when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow. So let it grow, for when your endurance is fully developed, you will be perfect and complete, needing nothing.”
James 1:2-4

Vinyl Elvis #2: MEMORIES OF CHRISTMAS (1982)

This re-post was first published on one of my pop-culture blogs, now retired.


MEMORIES OF CHRISTMAS (RCA, 1982; from Tygrrius’ collection) | Click image for full-color version

Memories Of Christmas
Label: RCA
Catalog Number: CPL1-4395
Recorded: 1957-1971 | Nashville, Hollywood
Released: 1982

Memories Of Christmas is a perfectly named album for me, because it indeed fills me with nostalgia for many special Christmases growing up in the 1980s. When my brother gave me the album, along with the rest of his Elvis records, it marked the first time I had played Memories Of Christmas on vinyl in over 20 years.

Side A of MEMORIES OF CHRISTMAS (RCA, 1982; from Tygrrius’ collection) | Click image for full-color version

Side A

  1. O Come, All Ye Faithful (1971)
    This previously unreleased version is a splice between the master (Take 1) and Take 2. It actually proves to be better than either take alone, making it my “go to” version of the song by Elvis. Fantastic performance and a perfect opener to the album. Sound quality on the record itself is excellent.
  2. Silver Bells (1971)
    Another stellar Christmas performance, first heard on Elvis Sings The Wonderful World Of Christmas (1971). I love the acoustic guitar here.
  3. I’ll Be Home on Christmas Day (1971)
    Here it is, the highlight of the album–the previously unreleased re-recording of “I’ll Be Home On Christmas Day.” Attempted in June 1971, this is a bluesier take on the Michael Jarrett song than the May 1971 version that became the official master on The Wonderful World Of Christmas. For my money, this is Elvis at his best.
  4. Blue Christmas (1957)
    It is apparently unlawful for RCA to release an Elvis Christmas compilation without this worn-out tune, featuring the grating background vocals of Millie Kirkham. I would have preferred the use of a live version from 1968. In fact, what would have been at the time the previously unreleased June 27 6 PM Show performance captured for the ELVIS special would have been perfect.
  5. Santa Claus Is Back in Town (1957)
    Side A finishes up in style with the greatest Elvis Christmas song of all, the down and dirty “Santa Claus Is Back In Town,” arguably the only real competition against “Reconsider Baby” (1960) as his finest blues performance.

Side B of MEMORIES OF CHRISTMAS (RCA, 1982; from Tygrrius’ collection) | Click image for full-color version

Side B

  1. Merry Christmas Baby (1971)
    Speaking of bluesy Elvis Christmas songs, here is another fine entry. This is the previously unreleased extended version of “Merry Christmas Baby,” over two minutes longer than the album master (Wonderful World Of Christmas) and nearly five minutes longer than the single version. As a kid, I loved hearing Elvis ad-lib, “Gave me a diamond ring for Christmas; now I’m putting it through Al’s mike.” Unfortunately, there are a couple of pops/crackles on the record on this song, but nothing too distracting. Side A had no noise at all! Like the 1969 live versions of “Suspicious Minds,” “Merry Christmas Baby” just goes on forever. In both cases, a very, very good thing.
  2. If Every Day Was Like Christmas (1966)
    This is the previously unreleased “undubbed” version of the master. The piano is beautiful here, and I believe more prominent than on the CD version I have of this performance. There is a “raw” sound to this version, but it makes for a very beautiful and effective performance.
  3. Christmas Message from Elvis/Silent Night (1967/1957)
    The opening message was recorded for Season’s Greetings From Elvis, his 1967 Christmas special that aired on radio stations across the United States. My only gripe here is that the message originally flowed into “I’ll Be Home For Christmas” (1957). The compilation producers decided to splice “Silent Night” on instead. I am assuming it is because they wanted to “bookend” the album with traditional Christmas songs. You can actually hear “I’ll Be Home For Christmas” begin during Elvis’ message before the segue into “Silent Night.” Unfortunately, this has never been corrected on subsequent releases of the message. The label has even released “Silent Night” on at least one Christmas compilation since then that did not contain the message, yet had the beginning of the song chopped off due to apparently using this version. Sloppy. I knew and recognized none of this when I first heard this album back in the 1980s. I loved hearing the message from Elvis, and I must admit, I still find it pretty cool today. Overall, this record sounds incredible, with the only extraneous noise being those two pops on “Merry Christmas Baby.”

Back cover of MEMORIES OF CHRISTMAS (RCA, 1982; from Tygrrius’ collection) | Click image for full-color version

Elvis recorded less than 25 Christmas songs during his entire career. Every year, though, it seems there is a “new” Elvis Christmas compilation that rearranges those songs with a new, cheap cover. Memories Of Christmas offers not only beautifully conceived cover art, but unique album content that is truly worthy of standing alongside the two Christmas albums that Elvis released in his lifetime, Elvis’ Christmas Album (1957) and Elvis Sings The Wonderful World Of Christmas.

Calendar insert from MEMORIES OF CHRISTMAS (RCA, 1982; from Tygrrius’ collection) | Click image for full-color version


“All right then, the Lord himself will give you the sign. Look! The virgin will conceive a child! She will give birth to a son and will call him Immanuel (which means ‘God is with us’).”
Isaiah 7:14

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

“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!