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 masters 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: 1982’s MEMORIES OF CHRISTMAS Inspires Nostalgia

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

Gospel Elvis #1: “I Believe”

Today, I am beginning Gospel Elvis, a new, occasional series on The Mystery Train Blog. Gospel Elvis will examine songs of faith and inspiration that Elvis released during his lifetime. To be clear, each song won’t necessarily be “strictly” Gospel, but “Gospel Elvis” has a better ring to it than “Songs of Faith and Inspiration Elvis.” While I decided to start in 1957 for this first post, we won’t necessarily go in chronological order, either.


Elvis Presley in LOVING YOU (1957, Paramount)

Kicking off his first session of the new year, Elvis Presley recorded “I Believe” on January 12, 1957, at Radio Recorders in Hollywood. It was his first formal recording of a song of faith. The same session also produced the smash hit “All Shook Up,” which ruled atop the Billboard Top 100 chart for eight weeks to become the number one single of 1957.

RCA first released “I Believe” on the Peace In The Valley Extended Play (EP) album in April 1957. The song made its Long Play (LP) album debut on Elvis’ Christmas Album six months later. In October 1970, RCA released a reconfigured version of Elvis’ Christmas Album on its budget Camden label, leaving out “I Believe.” Instead, a reissue of “I Believe” appeared on the March 1971 Camden LP You’ll Never Walk Alone – one of the best of the Elvis budget releases.

Take a listen to Elvis’ recording of “I Believe” below or over on Youtube.

Credit: Vevo’s Elvis Presley channel (YouTube)

Ervin Drake, Irvin Graham, Jimmy Shirl, and Al Stillman wrote “I Believe” in 1952 for singer/actress Jane Froman. The most popular version, however, belongs to Frankie Laine‘s 1953 recording.

Elvis’ interpretation of the song did not seem to draw from Laine, however. Elvis named Roy Hamilton among his influences, and he no doubt had Hamilton’s 1955 version of “I Believe” in mind when he recorded it. Check it out on Youtube or below.

Credit: Roy Hamilton – Topic channel (YouTube)

What strikes me when listening to Hamilton’s sublime recording is that I can hear not only the influence on Elvis’ “I Believe” in particular, but also on Elvis’ vocals in general. Elvis had many influences, but most of them I do not hear as directly as that of Hamilton.

Now that we have heard two versions of “I Believe,” I want to attempt personally to interpret a couple lines of the lyrics within a Biblical context.

“I believe for everyone who goes astray, Someone will come to show the way.”

The truth is, as humans, all of us go astray. Jesus died so that our sins would be forgiven, however, and Heaven would still be available to us. He already paid for all of our sins, but our contribution to the admission ticket to Paradise is belief in Him (see John 3:16), for Jesus is literally the “way” to Heaven.

“Jesus told him, ‘I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one can come to the Father except through me.'”
John 14:6 NLT

Early Christians were even called “followers of the Way,” including in Acts of the Apostles in the New Testament.

“I believe above the storm the smallest prayer can still be heard.”

I was surprised to discover in the course of research for this post that there is actually some debate among Biblical scholars about whether God truly hears every prayer. To be clear, I do not claim to be a Bible expert. Though I have read it cover-to-cover four times, and currently working on two more read-throughs, the Bible is a dense work. However, in my humble opinion, there is no debate here. Of course God hears every prayer. He’s God! He’s omniscient. Does he grant every request? Of course not, but that’s a whole other discussion.

[Side Note: An interesting oddity about the Elvis version of “I Believe” is that he sings “the smallest prayer can still be heard” whereas the other half dozen or so versions I listened to by various singers for this post, including Hamilton, sing, “the smallest prayer will still be heard.” As this is The Mystery Train, I naturally used the Elvis version of the lyrics.]

One of the wonderful aspects of prayer is that you need not shout for God to hear you. He does, indeed, hear the quietest voice. In fact, you need not speak your prayer at all. You can think to God at any time, and He hears you. For believers, this is taken even a step further. If we can’t pray or don’t know what to pray, the Holy Spirit even steps in and prays for us (Romans 8:26-27).

In life, all of us encounter many storms. As a follower of Jesus, I now find comfort in Him through any such disturbances. I went through multiple life-changing events last year, for instance, many of which could have turned into tumultuous storms, but I approached each of them with much prayer, and Jesus brought me peace (John 14:27) and calm.

“The ropes of death entangled me; floods of destruction swept over me. The grave wrapped its ropes around me; death laid a trap in my path. But in my distress I cried out to the LORD; yes, I prayed to my God for help. He heard me from his sanctuary; my cry to him reached his ears.”
Psalm 18:4-6 NLT

My first exposure to “I Believe” was probably Elvis’ You’ll Never Walk Alone album. When I was a teenager in the 1980s, my family and I were on vacation somewhere or other. Anytime we went to a different place, I would always scour any store we happened to visit for Elvis items not available at home. At a Kmart or similar store, I found a cassette tape version of You’ll Never Walk Alone.

By this time, I had my first Walkman. This was about the third pre-recorded Elvis tape I ever owned. I would go on to acquire less than a dozen total, as my focus was on records and, later, CDs. Tapes were usually either releases I couldn’t find on record or gifts from others. Of course, I probably made well over a hundred Elvis mix tapes for my own use, which was the real appeal of cassette decks.

Anyway, I knew nothing about You’ll Never Walk Alone when I bought it. I just saw it had a lot of song titles I didn’t recognize. It was actually the first Elvis gospel album I ever owned. I can remember playing it on my Walkman in the car ride home from that vacation. Headphones allow for such an intimate listening experience, and they were perfect for You’ll Never Walk Alone.

I didn’t have any Elvis reference books at the time, so I thought the songs were all recorded around the same time. It sounded like a coherent album. In reality, the compilation included songs from throughout the range of 1957-1969. Elvis’ gospel and Christmas songs from various decades mix together better than his other music.

“I Believe” kicked off Side 2 of the cassette. As with many other songs on that release, it became a favorite. What I love about Elvis’ version of the song is how his voice eases back and forth effortlessly between gentle innocence and assertive conviction. I should note that I believed in God for as long as I could remember, but I was more skeptical about the Jesus aspect. However, I would explore and encounter Him in different ways over the years, including through Elvis’ many gospel recordings. It wasn’t until 2018 that all the puzzle pieces came together for me, and I was led to Jesus.

At that point, as a new creation (2 Corinthians 5:17), I began to experience the world in fresh ways. For instance, I was never an “outdoors” person. Now, I am often drawn to it. Walking in parks has become a favorite activity.

Music I had heard for decades began to take on new meanings. Suddenly, Elvis’ catalog of gospel was not just a collection of beautifully performed songs, but the most compelling and personal statements of his entire career.

My best friend taught me something she calls, “finding signs of Him.” What she means by that is taking a few minutes to stop, breathe, listen, look, and find God. There are signs of Him everywhere. “I Believe” understands this as well with the lyrics, “Every time I hear a newborn baby cry or touch a leaf or see the sky, then I know why I believe.” Evidence of God literally surrounds us.

To conclude our look at “I Believe” today, I want to sign off with my favorite version. This is Mahalia Jackson, 1953. Listen to her voice, surely evidence of God.

Credit: Mahalia Jackson – Topic channel (YouTube)


“And it is impossible to please God without faith. Anyone who wants to come to him must believe that God exists and that he rewards those who sincerely seek him.”
Hebrews 11:6

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Side 1

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

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

Side 2

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

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

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


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

From sea to shining sea

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. That to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.” –From The Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson, July 4, 1776

America The Beautiful: A History of Elvis Presley Releases

  • December 6, 1975, Live, Las Vegas, Midnight Show: Live In Las Vegas
  • December 13, 1975, Live, Las Vegas, Dinner Show: Dinner At Eight
  • December 13, 1975, Live, Las Vegas, Midnight Show: Single, b/w “My Way”
  • December 14, 1975, Live, Las Vegas, Midnight Show: Fashion For A King
  • February 8, 1976, Memphis: The Jungle Room Sessions (incomplete)
  • April 22, 1976, Live, Omaha: America
  • July 3, 1976, Live, Fort Worth: Rocking Across Texas
  • July 30, 1976, Live, New Haven: New Haven 76
  • October 18, 1976, Live, Sioux Falls: A Minnesota Moment

[Information source: Elvis In Norway Session Notes]

Cover of America The Beautiful, 1977 single

Oh beautiful,
For spacious skies,
For amber waves of grain,
For purple mountains, majesty,
Above the fruited plains,
America, America,
God shed His grace on thee,
And He crowns thy good,
With brotherhood,
From sea to shining sea

–From “America The Beautiful,” Elvis Presley song, 1975 (written by Katharine Lee Bates & Samuel Ward)

America The Beautiful, 1977 single


UPDATE: Check out today’s entry of The Sheila Variations blog for another look at Elvis Presley’s “America The Beautiful.”

Elvis 1967: The Once And Future Album (The Edge Of Reality #3)

There are infinite universes, beyond that which is known to man. Imagine, if you will, one such alternate dimension in which an entertainer named Elvis Aaron Presley set a slightly different course for his life. In that universe, one of the entertainer’s fans was also born thirty years sooner. This allowed him to document what happened when the entertainer took a stand in 1967. Submitted for your approval is this brief glance into… the edge of reality.

The Mystery Train Elvis Newsletter (November 1967)

The Mystery Train Elvis Newsletter (November 1967)

THE MYSTERY TRAIN ELVIS NEWSLETTER
Volume XII, Issue 4, Number 48
November 1967
– Page 2 –

Hitchhike all the way down to Memphis with Big El
A review of Elvis Sings Guitar Man by Ty.

Word has it that Elvis had a major blow-up with RCA Records over Elvis Sings Guitar Man, which hit record stores last week. RCA originally planned to issue some of these songs on a soundtrack record for the new Clambake movie, which will be playing at a theater near you later this month.

Elvis insisted on an album with no movie songs, though. If the rumors are true, he apparently even threatened to fire his long-time manager over the debacle until the Colonel worked it out with RCA. Meanwhile, Elvis’ newly hired personal attorney is still reviewing management and recording contracts he signed earlier this year. With two cancelled movie soundtrack albums in as many years, could major shakeups be on the way? Stay tuned.

Ironically, the similarly-titled Elvis Sings Memphis, Tennessee came about due to similar circumstances back in 1963. As you probably recall, the legend goes that Elvis nearly fired the Colonel back then, too. Seems the Colonel wanted to replace that album’s release with a new installment of the Golden Records series. Elvis’ instincts proved right back then, for the platinum-selling Memphis, Tennessee album made it to number three on the charts.

In any event, with the Clambake songs shelved for now, we Elvis fans get this album instead. Was he right to take the same stand for Guitar Man as he did for Memphis, Tennessee? Let’s find out.

SIDE 1

Guitar Man: Elvis has gone Country & Western? That’s what this first song tells us. Musically, this is much better than anything on the Double Trouble LP and the Easy Come, Easy Go EP from earlier this year. In terms of Elvis’ commitment, this is more on par with the How Great Thou Art LP Gospel album that kicked off this year. Can the whole album live up to this first song, though?

Tomorrow Is A Long Time: While writer Bob Dylan has not released this song himself, Folk music fans may have heard it on the Odetta Sings Dylan album that she put out a couple years ago. I must admit, I never expected Elvis to sing Dylan, though! Even more so than “Guitar Man,” this is a very unusual song compared to what we are used to from him. I like it as something different, but hope the entire album isn’t like this.

Big Boss Man: Some people think that Country & Western is about as far apart from the Blues as you can get. Apparently not Elvis, who delivers yet another fine performance. This time, it is a Blues song done in what is almost a Country & Western style. It was combining different styles of music that helped Elvis to create Rock ‘n’ Roll back in the old days anyway. Be sure to listen out for a slight change to the words. Instead of “I want a little drink of water, but you won’t let Jimmy stop,” he sings, “I want a little drink of water, but you won’t let Big El stop.” I like the sound of that. I think I’ll call him that from now on. Of note, RCA originally planned this for release on 45 in the fall. They even put out ads for it, but the single was held back – probably while waiting for the various parties to resolve the whole Clambake album controversy.

Love Letters: After such a start, this is a ballad for the ladies. Not as strong as “Can’t Help Falling In Love,” but more along the lines of “Ask Me.” You might remember that Big El had a bit of a hit last year with this on 45 RPM.

Indescribably Blue: We know this one already, too. It was a 45 earlier this year. Though it didn’t do very well, I still say it is one of his best records. Sounds a lot like a modern take on his early days. I don’t mind hearing it again in the context of what is starting to sound like, dare I think it, his finest album in years.

Fools Fall In Love: Now the B-side of the above single. I didn’t like this one as much. Stick with the Drifters for this one. From the sound of things, Big El might have thought this one was for a movie. Most albums have a little filler, though.

High Heel Sneakers: Finally, back to new songs. Big El takes the Blues head on here and triumphs. A real treat!

SIDE 2

Down In The Alley: Big El starts Side 2 in much the same way that he ended Side 1, with a Blues number. Not as effective as “High Heel Sneakers” and a little whiney for my tastes, but still an enjoyable performance. At least he sounds like he cares about these songs.

Come What May: This was the flip side to the “Love Letters” 45. Big El’s version is a little faster than Clyde McPhatter’s from ten years ago. Much like “Fools Fall In Love,” the arrangement here sounds like a movie song. He has to be more careful not to let that sound carry over into his “real” music. After taking his stand against RCA, would he have been better served to demand another recording session to properly finish this album? Maybe that’s expecting too much at once.

Mine: Here we are on the very next song and Big El makes up for “Come What May” and then some. “Mine” is a beautiful song, one of his very best love songs – right up there with “Can’t Help Falling In Love.” Way better than “Love Me Tender.”

Just Call Me Lonesome: And now the album turns Country & Western again! You can’t say you’re not getting variety here. Only Big El could pull off making all of these styles work as one album.

You Don’t Know Me: Ever since I first heard the Ray Charles version of this Eddy Arnold Country & Western song a few years ago, I always wondered what an Elvis version would sound like. Now, I no longer have to wonder. Big El turns in a somber performance that truly conveys the heartache of the lyrics. This is Elvis at his best. Look for a version of this when you go see Clambake. Is it possible that the rest of the Clambake songs were this good? I have a hard time believing that, but I guess we’ll know when the movie comes out.

Singing Tree: Big El stays in the Country & Western neighborhood for this one. While it does not compare to “Mine” or “You Don’t Know Me,” this song about lost love is still interesting and a fine performance.

I’ll Remember You: This one is another surprise, sounding like a cross between “Tomorrow Is A Long Time” from Side 1 and the Blue Hawaii soundtrack. With a little Country & Western thrown in. I’m not kidding! Again, only Big El could pull this off. Another beautiful song.

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I don’t know in what insane universe RCA would waste these songs as filler on movie soundtracks, but I’m sure glad it’s not ours. 1967 has certainly been a year of change for Elvis. As covered in our previous newsletter, he married his longtime sweetheart just a few months ago. Early next year, he and Ann-Margret are expecting their first child (see article on page 1 of this issue). Let’s hope that How Great Thou Art and Elvis Sings Guitar Man mean more good things are on the way in 1968.

So, I know the completists among you are wondering about the songs recorded for the Clambake movie. Will we ever get to hear them on record? Word around the rumor mill (which sure has been busy this year) is that they might be combined with songs from last year’s cancelled Spinout soundtrack album to make an Elvis Double Feature album. Stranger things have happened.

Thanks for reading, everyone. Have a Happy Thanksgiving, a Merry Christmas, and a Happy New Year! See you in 1968!

A fairytale? A fantasy? A careless product of wild imagination? You can believe or disbelieve, accept or reject; but if this isn’t real, then we’re all condemned to… the edge of reality.

[With apologies to Serling.]


Throughout 2011, The Mystery Train is commemorating the 44th anniversary of 1967. Find out why here.

Elvis 1967: Album Release #1 (How Great Thou Art)

How Great Thou Art became Elvis’ first album release of 1967 when it hit record stores that February. The LP, recorded May 1966 in Nashville, featured the following songs:

SIDE 1

  • How Great Thou Art
  • In The Garden
  • Somebody Bigger Than You And I
  • Farther Along
  • Stand By Me
  • Without Him

SIDE 2

  • So High
  • Where Could I Go But To The Lord
  • By And By
  • If The Lord Wasn’t Walking By My Side
  • Run On
  • Where No One Stands Alone
  • Crying In The Chapel (October 1960)

Though he had been nominated ten times in the past, Elvis went on to earn his first Grammy award for the How Great Thou Art album, which won for Best Sacred Performance of 1967. By March 1968, How Great Thou Art had also sold enough copies to earn a gold record.

Billboard article, March 30, 1968

Billboard article, March 30, 1968

After the lean years of 1964 and 1965, arguably the low points of his entire recording career, Elvis fired the opening salvos of what eventually became his comeback during that May 1966 session. How Great Thou Art features many moving performances, perhaps none more so than the title song. It also showcases the raucous energy of “Run On,” a song that rocked more than any of his recent secular efforts.

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Research Sources

  • Elvis Presley: A Life In Music – The Complete Recording Sessions by Ernst Jorgensen, St. Martin’s Press, New York, 1998.
  • Billboard, Vol. 80, No. 13, Billboard Publications, Inc., March 30, 1968.
  • ELVIS: His Life From A To Z by Fred Worth and Steve Tamerius, Wings Books, New York, 1992.

Throughout 2011, The Mystery Train is commemorating the 44th anniversary of 1967. Why? Riders of this train love exploring Elvis’ entire career, not just the 1950s. Find out more here.