As Recorded At Hampton Coliseum: ELVIS ON TOUR – First Reactions

Some Elvis Presley fans have been waiting over 50 years for his record label to release an extensive collection of audio from MGM’s 1972 concert documentary Elvis On Tour. Though there have been some scattered releases over the years, a comprehensive, six-volume set for Elvis On Tour audio finally appeared last month on digital and this week on CD. It’s been only about 30 years of waiting for me, though, as I wasn’t aware of the amount of Elvis On Tour recordings until the early 1990s.

While much of this material has been bootlegged in varying degrees of quality, the vast majority of it has not been officially released. As I tend to avoid bootleg releases, it appears my patience is finally being rewarded.

I don’t really feel like doing a formal review as I did for 2014’s similar That’s The Way It Is: Deluxe Edition, which covered MGM’s 1970 documentary of the same name. While there is less material here, I also have far less time and energy than I did back then. Instead, I am going to write in a “live” stream-of-consciousness type way. I hope you don’t mind. I plan to cover one CD in this first post.

I am cutting the packing tape off the outer shipping box now. I am really not into unboxing videos, but I’m sure you can find one from someone else out there. The packaging wasn’t the best. The outer case of the actual CD set is slightly bulged out on the top. However, it’s acceptable to me. I am liable to mar it myself at some point anyway. So, I’m proceeding to remove the shrink wrap. Otherwise, this would have been the shortest post ever as I arranged a return and exchange.

ELVIS ON TOUR (Sony, 2023) | Credit: Sony

The box art isn’t bad. I like the vintage style logos. Elvis has always looked a little “off” in Elvis On Tour to me, and that is reflected in many of the related photos.

It’s the music I care about, though, so on with Disc 1. I don’t even know which show is up first! Let’s see…

Well, the disc doesn’t even bother to say. Let me check the booklet.

Disc 1 is the Hampton Coliseum in Virginia, April 9, 1972. This concert formed the bulk of the Elvis On Tour movie, for which the four concerts included in this set were recorded and filmed. Outside of the film footage itself, only “An American Trilogy” from this Hampton show has been officially released on audio until now.

Let me hook up my headphones. I don’t want to blast the family out of the house.

The show is over 66 minutes – pretty long for an Elvis concert. He usually kept them at about an hour, probably due to the influence of his Las Vegas stints on his tour shows. The hotel’s priority in Vegas was to get the audience back out into the casino to gamble, so management did not like when his show lasted over an hour. While that wouldn’t have been a consideration as he criss-crossed the country on multiple tours throughout the 1970s, Elvis was definitely a creature of habit.

Also Sprach Zarathustra: Best known as the theme to MGM’s 1968 movie 2001: A Space Odyssey, “Also Sprach Zarathustra” is an exciting way to begin a concert – perfect for Elvis, despite having been written in 1896! It’s unfortunate that a “sound-alike” piece was used in the film itself in lieu of “Also Sprach Zarathustra” due to rights issues with the composition. The inferior piece, called “2001 Alternate,” was re-used in 1981’s This Is Elvis as well. As proven here, Elvis concerts used the real version, not the one you hear in the Elvis On Tour and This Is Elvis movies.

See See Rider: Right off the bat, Elvis sounds a little off. I know this is a good show, though, based on the movie, so I’m not too concerned. James Burton’s guitar sounds awesome! Matt Ross-Spang, who has a proven track record with Elvis releases, mixed this set, and the sound is exciting. This song was used in the 1972 film.

I Got A Woman: This track has audio issues on Elvis’ vocals. He is in the background only. A disappointing way to start the set, I have to say. This song is used in the movie without these kinds of issues. Okay, about a minute or so in, Elvis is now fully audible. Why wouldn’t they fix this? Some fans have done so, taking minutes. Why not a company with the resources of Sony? I will never understand these kinds of missteps on Elvis releases. Well, no matter, it’s just a minute, and on a lesser song at that.

“I’d like to tell you it’s a pleasure to be here in West Virginia,” Elvis jokes. And then we’re on to the next song.

Never Been To Spain: In the realm of useless trivia, former racecar driver Dale Earnhardt, Jr.’s favorite song is Elvis’ version of “Never Been To Spain” (presumably from the As Recorded At Madison Square Garden album). Here in Hampton, this is a decent version. Again, James Burton on electric guitar is a highlight. This show sounds great!

You Gave Me A Mountain: Oh, Elvis, it’s too early in the set for such a downer song. But here we go. Just a few weeks into his separation from his wife Priscilla, this is where Elvis was at this time in his life, and I respect that he was attempting to heal through his music. “You Gave Me A Mountain” has never been a huge favorite of mine, but this is certainly a decent and committed version. You can hear the pain in his voice as he sings, “My woman got tired of the heartaches.” This rendition appears in the film.

Okay, I got bored during “You Gave Me A Mountain” and looked up what day of the week this concert was held. It was a Sunday.

Until It’s Time For You To Go: Elvis keeps the pace slow. This was one of his singles in 1972, and it wasn’t a good choice. His voice sure is pretty on it, though. I wasn’t even born when Elvis performed this show, but how I wish I could have somehow been there. I was only two when Elvis died, so never had the chance to see him in concert. In some ways, you could say my intense fandom of Elvis Presley is due to him being ripped away from the world too soon… and this has all been my quest to experience what it would have been like to witness Elvis first-hand.

Polk Salad Annie: Here we go! Elvis picks the pace back up. My first complaint as far as the mix on this CD, though, is that Jerry Scheff is way too buried in the mix on this song. This song is a showcase for Jerry on bass, but you can barely hear him. James dominates in the mix. Now, I love some James Burton, but this is Jerry’s song. Anyway, you’ll recognize this performance from the movie, too. It is great to hear the Sweet Inspirations at least – as this is a showcase song at times for them as well.

“I’d like to do a few oldies but goodies for you, ladies and gentlemen,” Elvis says before launching into “Love Me.” I believe this is the first time I’ve heard Elvis use that phrase – and about his own classic songs at that.

Love Me: It’s a typical 1972 version. In the recent past, he did it much better in 1970.

All Shook Up: The video of this one made its debut on Elvis: The Lost Performances VHS in 1992. This is its first official audio release. It’s really not that notable, however.

Teddy Bear/Don’t Be Cruel: Also from Elvis: The Lost Performances, Elvis has fun with Glen D. Hardin by making him begin the song on piano multiple times before finally singing. This medley isn’t a favorite, but it’s a decent version. Unfortunately, the audio of the “Don’t Be Cruel” part of this performance was later used in the 2010 DVD & Blu-ray release of Elvis On Tour to replace “Johnny B. Goode” over the opening credits due to rights issues. New old stock of that release was included in the physical version of this Elvis On Tour set – i.e., the Blu-ray included in this 2023 set has the butchered opening from 2010. The real selling points of this release are the CDs. I see the Blu-ray as a free bonus disc. Best used as a drink coaster. For the proper opening, I recommend watching the movie by buying/renting a digital version or streaming it. Or catch it during a TV broadcast, of course (how quaint!).

Are You Lonesome Tonight: A beautiful rendition of one of my favorite songs. Featured in The Lost Performances, I’m thrilled finally to have this rendition in my collection at this sound quality.

“Please ‘Release Me,’ baby,” Elvis says, but Glen instead launches into “I Can’t Stop Loving You.” Getting Elvis back for that “Teddy Bear” fun?

I Can’t Stop Loving You: Okay, so I guess the whole segment from “All Shook Up” to “I Can’t Stop Loving You” was in The Lost Performances. Between that release and Elvis On Tour itself, we have most of this concert available in video form. I never thought it would take over 30 years for this audio from The Lost Performances to be released – much less 50 for the audio from the film proper.

Hound Dog: This has the “bluesy” intro, as later featured on the As Recorded At Madison Square Garden album (June 10, 1972). I practically grew up on that album, so I like it. This Hampton version has a little too much “scatting” from Elvis for my taste, though.

Bridge Over Trouble Water: Elvis absolutely conquered this song in 1970. By 1972, it just wasn’t the same, though. His voice sounds thin here. Elvis also had an unfortunate tendency to speed up a song over time. I guess to fit as much into those 60 minutes as possible.

Suspicious Minds: Wow, this feels way too early in the show for this song. This is a fast version, but he sounds good. His best versions are from 1969 and 1970, but if you can put that aside, the 1972 and 1973 versions are good on their own terms. Oh, to have been there! “Suspicious Minds” is one of those songs I always look forward to on a new-to-me concert. This one was a slight let-down due to Elvis playing around a bit with the audience, but still good. This was my Mom’s favorite song (specifically the Alternate Aloha version).

For The Good Times: Better than the sleepy version later recorded at Madison Square Garden.

Comin’ Home, Baby/Introductions By Elvis

An American Trilogy: Dixie/The Battle Hymn Of The Republic/All My Trials – The video and audio from this first appeared in 1981’s This Is Elvis movie and album, albeit with additional instrumental overdubs added after Elvis’ 1977 death. That version is by far my favorite of “An American Trilogy.” The more authentic version here is unfortunately disappointing by comparison. The prominent scream from an audience member prior to the reprise of “The Battle Hymn Of The Republic” is still there, at least (I used to wonder if that was overdubbed as well).

I mean, it’s still a great version, but it loses something in this mix. Or maybe due to not having the overdubs. Anyway, it’s wonderful finally to have it in the context of the full show. A version of this song recorded during a February Las Vegas show was another 1972 single for Elvis. While a powerful and dramatic song in concert, this didn’t make for a great single choice, either.

Love Me Tender: Not a bad version until ruined by Elvis joking near the end of the song.

A Big Hunk O’ Love: By 1972, Elvis wasn’t treating many of his “oldies but goodies” with very much respect. This one is an exception. Fantastic version. This appears in the movie.

How Great Thou Art: Stunning. Probably his best live version. The highlight of this show so far. This can also be viewed on The Lost Performances.

Sweet, Sweet Spirit (J.D. Sumner And The Stamps): I didn’t really “get” this song and thought it was a waste of time in Elvis On Tour until I finally saw the movie on the big screen in 2010. Watching Elvis become lost in the moment while hearing his backing vocalists perform this gospel song at his request was really something special, particularly while being part of the theater audience – and I wasn’t even saved yet at that point of my life.

Lawdy, Miss Clawdy: Oh no, based on what I remember from the movie, the show is nearing its end. No, Elvis, we want more! This is a great version for the 1970s. Probably the best one from that decade, at least of the ones I’ve heard, of course. This one appears in the movie.

Can’t Help Falling In Love: Noooo, the show is indeed ending! This rendition appears in the movie. What a terrific concert. Songs from throughout his career. Different styles. A strong voice.

All in all, a wonderful start to exploring the Elvis On Tour set.

Elvis Presley performing at the Hampton Coliseum on Sunday, April 9, 1972 (MGM)


“After his baptism, as Jesus came up out of the water, the heavens were opened and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and settling on him.”
Matthew 3:16

THAT’S THE WAY IT IS: Six in the Summer of ’70 (Playlist Recipes #9)

Elvis Presley performs “Polk Salad Annie” at the August 12, 1970, Midnight Show, in Las Vegas, Nevada, captured for the ELVIS: THAT’S THE WAY IT IS documentary film (MGM)

About seven years ago, I wrote a review of That’s The Way It Is: Deluxe Edition. The 2014 Elvis Presley boxed set included 8 CDs and 2 DVDs, and my review rambled on about them for nearly 10,000 words.

Despite the length of that review, there are some loose ends that I would finally like to begin tying up regarding my all-time favorite Elvis event. I don’t know how many posts this will actually take, and they won’t necessarily run sequential to one another, either. Such is the way of things when you ride The Mystery Train.

By the time of the That’s The Way It Is project, Elvis had already performed two month-long engagements at the International Hotel in Las Vegas. From July 31 to August 28, 1969, he performed 57 concerts, 11 of which RCA recorded in full near the end of the series and compiled into the Elvis In Person half of the From Memphis To Vegas/From Vegas To Memphis double album.

Elvis performed another 57-show engagement from January 26 through February 23, 1970. RCA recorded portions of nine shows from the middle of this engagement, which resulted in the core of the album On Stage.

MGM’s camera crews were rolling for the Elvis: That’s The Way It Is documentary as he began his 3rd engagement on August 10, 1970. Marketed as the “Elvis Summer Festival,” this one ran through September 8 and included 59 shows. RCA recorded the first 6 concerts in full–concluding with the August 13 Dinner Show. Only four of the live songs found their way onto the That’s The Way It Is album, which acted as a tie-in to the film but otherwise featured studio songs Elvis had recorded in June.

These first three engagements at the International Hotel include some of the greatest live performances of Elvis’ career, but the vast majority of the recordings languished away in RCA’s vaults until long after his death. While performances of individual songs were often superior in the two previous engagements, to the extent there was overlap, the overall shows in the third engagement, as captured for That’s The Way It Is, are better than any that preceded or followed them.

All right, if I’m not careful, I’ll be on the way to another unreadable 10,000 word post. I love this topic, but let’s get on with it.

To assist with today’s post, I created the following infochart covering the six concerts RCA recorded for That’s The Way It Is. The numbers in the concert columns represent the sequence he performed those songs in that particular show.

Elvis Presley Summer 1970 Setlists Infochart | Compiled by Tygrrius

Focusing on the 6 shows that RCA recorded in the course of 4 days, Elvis performed only 6 of the songs at every single concert:

  • That’s All Right
  • Love Me Tender
  • You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’
  • Polk Salad Annie
  • Bridge Over Troubled Water
  • Can’t Help Falling In Love

All of these are strong highlights, with only a couple of exceptions in individual shows.

The following songs appeared in 5 of the 6 concerts:

  • Hound Dog
  • I Just Can’t Help Believin’
  • Heartbreak Hotel
  • Suspicious Minds

Of these, the highlights are tremendous versions of “Suspicious Minds” and “I Just Can’t Help Believin'”. While the “Suspicious Minds” live performances are not quite as good as his August 1969 renditions, the August 1970 versions are still stellar and far better than the ones captured in February 1970. Though again inferior to 1969, “Hound Dog” and “Heartbreak Hotel” remain entertaining at this point and are not yet the throwaways they would unfortunately soon become – particularly “Hound Dog.”

Not including snippets, the following songs appeared in only 1 of the 6 concerts:

  • The Next Step Is Love
  • Don’t Cry Daddy/In The Ghetto
  • Stranger In The Crowd
  • Make The World Go Away
  • Twenty Days And Twenty Nights
  • The Wonder Of You
  • Don’t Be Cruel
  • Little Sister/Get Back
  • I Was The One
  • Are You Lonesome Tonight

All of the one-off songs have something to offer. One of the great “misses” of the time period, in my opinion, is “Stranger In The Crowd” not being chosen and promoted as a single for That’s The Way It Is, in lieu of “You Don’t Have To Say You Love Me.” The “Stranger In The Crowd” studio track is amazing, and his subsequent rehearsals with his core rhythm group for the live show prove it could have been dynamite. Unfortunately, the sole live version is marred by featuring too much of the Imperials vocal group and the orchestra’s horns. If only the Elvis team had worked out a simpler arrangement that was closer to those early rehearsals.

As it was his most recent hit at the time of these concerts, it is interesting that Elvis performed “The Wonder Of You” only once during the six shows.

Featuring Elvis on electric guitar, “Little Sister/Get Back,” “I Was The One,” “Love Me” (August 12 version only), and “Are You Lonesome Tonight” are all top-notch. Even the non-guitar version of “Love Me” (August 11) is a stand-out and far better than any post-1970 version.

With revised arrangements, “Words” and “I Can’t Stop Loving You” are two songs Elvis improves in Summer 1970 over his Summer 1969 performances.

Other highlights of the overall six-concert span include “Mystery Train/Tiger Man” (of course) and “Just Pretend.”

These are darn-near perfect shows. The only major Elvis categories they are lacking are gospel and the blues. It is unfortunate that Elvis did not perform “Oh Happy Day” at any of these concerts, despite having rehearsed it at the last minute, as he surely would have recorded a superlative version at this time in his career. However, the gospel sound is certainly present on a few of the secular recordings, including showstoppers “I Just Can’t Help Believin'” and “Bridge Over Troubled Water.” As for the blues, some of that influence can certainly be heard in the aforementioned electric guitar segment from the August 12 Midnight Show.

Here is my “August 1970 Ultimate Show” playlist recipe for this concert engagement. As noted, Elvis’ setlist varied widely each night, so no single show actually contained all of these songs. In fact, such a concert would have been longer than any show Elvis actually gave in his entire life, to my knowledge.

  1. Opening Riff/That’s All Right (August 10, 1970, Opening Show [OS])
  2. Mystery Train/Tiger Man (August 12, 1970, Midnight Show [MS])
  3. I Got A Woman (August 13, 1970, Dinner Show [DS]
  4. Hound Dog (August 11, 1970, MS)
  5. Love Me Tender (August 11, 1970, MS)
  6. The Next Step Is Love (August 10, 1970, OS)
  7. Just Pretend (August 11, 1970, MS)
  8. Don’t Cry Daddy/In The Ghetto (August 13, 1970, DS)
  9. Men With Broken Hearts/Walk A Mile In My Shoes (August 11, 1970, MS)
  10. I’ve Lost You (August 11, 1970, DS)
  11. There Goes My Everything (August 11, 1970, MS)
  12. I Just Can’t Help Believin’ (August 12, 1970, DS)
  13. Stranger In The Crowd (August 13, 1970, DS)
  14. Words (August 12, 1970, MS)
  15. Something (August 11, 1970, MS)
  16. Make The World Go Away (August 13, 1970, DS)
  17. Patch It Up (August 10, 1970, OS)
  18. Sweet Caroline (August 12, 1970, MS)
  19. I Can’t Stop Loving You (August 11, 1970, DS)
  20. Twenty Days And Twenty Nights (August 12, 1970, DS)
  21. You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’ (August 12, 1970, MS)
  22. You Don’t Have To Say You Love Me (August 10, 1970, OS)
  23. Polk Salad Annie (August 12, 1970, MS)
  24. The Wonder Of You (August 13, 1970, DS)
  25. Heartbreak Hotel (August 12, 1970, MS)
  26. One Night (August 12, 1970, MS)
  27. Don’t Be Cruel (August 11, 1970, MS)
  28. Blue Suede Shoes (August 12, 1970, MS)
  29. All Shook Up (August 12, 1970, MS)
  30. US Male (August 11, 1970, MS)
  31. Little Sister/Get Back (August 12, 1970, MS)
  32. I Was The One (August 12, 1970, MS)
  33. Love Me (August 12, 1970, MS)
  34. Are You Lonesome Tonight (August 12, 1970, MS)
  35. Bridge Over Troubled Water (August 11, 1970, DS)
  36. Suspicious Minds (August 12, 1970, MS)
  37. Can’t Help Falling In Love (August 12, 1970, MS)

Though I did not structure it this way on purpose, all 6 shows are represented in this “best of” playlist. If you want an even fuller compilation, you could even include “Introductions By Elvis” from the August 12 Midnight Show after “Polk Salad Annie” and before “The Wonder Of You.”

As you can probably predict from the above playlist, my favorite show of the Summer 1970 engagement is the August 12 Midnight Show (disc 6 of 2014’s That’s The Way It Is: Deluxe Edition and disc 2 of 2000’s That’s The Way It Is: Special Edition). In fact, this is my favorite Elvis concert ever. It features an impeccable setlist, Elvis in top form, and the fun electric guitar segment.

Though he still had many stellar recordings and accomplishments ahead of him, Elvis was never quite as awesome again as he was in Summer 1970. I am grateful we have so much material from that time period to enjoy. I wouldn’t be as strong an Elvis fan without the magic of That’s The Way It Is.

Blessings,
TY


“We put our hope in the LORD. He is our help and our shield. In him our hearts rejoice, for we trust in his holy name. Let your unfailing love surround us, LORD, for our hope is in you alone.”
Psalm 33:20-22

REVIEW: Elvis – The Complete Masters Collection (Part 7)

This is Part 7 of an occasional series reviewing Elvis: The Complete Masters Collection.

[Read Part 6]

ELVIS: THE COMPLETE MASTERS COLLECTION – VOLUME 9 CD sleeve (2009, from Tygrrius’ collection) | Click image for full-color version

CD Vol. 9: Rhythm & Blues

One of the fun parts about bringing back The Mystery Train Blog is the potential to continue old series, such as Elvis Trivialities, and to revisit other loose ends from the first iteration of this blog.

One of those loose ends was my ongoing review of Elvis: The Complete Masters Collection. At first, however, I hesitated to continue reviewing a 36-CD set that came out 11 years ago and is now long out-of-print. Then, I realized, if I were to apply a “newness” rule to potential topics here on The Mystery Train Blog, we’d have little left to discuss. After all, Elvis Presley created his most recent recordings over 43 years ago now. With that in mind, on with the review!

Since it has been over 7 years since I wrote Part 6 of this review, I first want to reset the stage. Back in 2007, Sony digitally remastered for optimum sound quality all 711 of the recordings Elvis released during his lifetime. With various exceptions, the mixes matched the original vinyl releases. Vic Anesini performed the mastering work. These upgraded digital masters slowly began popping up on various compilations and re-releases.

In 2009, the Franklin Mint licensed the upgraded digital masters from Sony to release Elvis: The Complete Masters Collection on CD. At the time, there were two ways to buy the set – as a monthly subscription (3 discs a month for a year, “cancel anytime!”) or as an outright purchase of the entire set (36 discs) at a lower price than the combined total of all the monthly subscription fees. Each CD represented a theme, so the majority of the discs featured new sequencing and combinations compared to previous releases of this material. Unfortunately, within each individual disc, Franklin Mint generally sequenced the songs in recording order. I do appreciate the creativity behind dividing Elvis’ vast catalog into themes, but I wish they had taken this a step further and applied such creativity to more of the track sequencing as well. The Franklin Mint set also included a 24-page booklet, a record-player style display case, and a reproduction of Elvis’ first record, “That’s All Right” b/w “Blue Moon of Kentucky” on the Sun label.

In 2010, Sony released a high-end boxed set called The Complete Elvis Presley Masters. It featured the same 711 upgraded digital masters as the Franklin Mint set, but in 27 CDs – due to using more space per CD than Franklin Mint (for which, obviously, the higher disc count benefited them for their subscription program). The Sony set included three additional discs of “bonus material” in lesser sound quality, featuring various previously released tracks that came out after Elvis’ death. For the most part, the 711 masters were presented in “recording order” on the Sony set, which also included a 240-page book covering all of Elvis’ recording sessions. The first run of the Sony set was limited to 1,000 copies, numbered. It rapidly sold out, so a second, unnumbered run of 1,000 was produced in 2011 and eventually sold out as well. The luxurious Sony set cost about twice as much as the comparatively low-budget approach of the Franklin Mint set. Yet, I could never get out of my head that the underlying “complete masters” on both sets were exactly the same. The massive difference in price was solely due to the Sony set’s premium presentation and book, not the music itself.

As I already had nearly all of Elvis’ lifetime masters in varying sound quality on a myriad of CDs dating back to the late 1980s, I passed on both the Franklin Mint and Sony sets at the time of release. They were both out of my price range, anyway. In 2012, Franklin Mint began offering their entire set at a substantially reduced price. Wanting the opportunity to own all of Elvis’ lifetime masters in consistent and upgraded sound quality, I jumped on it and, naturally, started reviewing it here. At first, I would only allow myself to listen to a CD from the set for the first time when I wrote a review about it. Fortunately, my impatient side won out over my procrastination side, and I dropped that concept, or I suppose I would only now be listening to disc 9 for the first time! Not to mention the other 27 discs that would have been waiting behind it.

In 2016, Sony re-released the upgraded masters in yet another boxed set. The 60 CD Elvis Presley: The Album Collection featured essentially the same masters spread over even more discs than Franklin Mint did, but this time, for the most part, in sequence of their original album releases. As I backed up the Franklin Mint set to iTunes, I can sequence the songs in any way I please, so I passed on this Sony release, too. Of the three sets, this is the one that is the easiest to obtain in 2020, however, and is relatively affordable given the contents. Be sure to read reviews by Elvis fans before investing, though, as Elvis Presley: The Album Collection has its own eccentricities you should know about – much like Elvis: The Complete Masters Collection and The Complete Elvis Presley Masters do as well. Bottom line is, unless you are simply an obsessive collector that wants to own every single Elvis CD release, there is really no reason to obtain more than one of these three sets. Were I in the market for these masters today, I would go for Elvis Presley: The Album Collection, simply because it is the easiest to find at a reasonable price.

With that out of the way, the theme and title of the ninth volume of Franklin Mint’s Elvis: The Complete Masters Collection is Rhythm & Blues. This should be a treat!

ELVIS: THE COMPLETE MASTERS COLLECTION – VOLUME 9 CD (2009, from Tygrrius’ collection) | Click image for full-color version

01. My Baby Left Me: Now, this is how you kick off an Elvis CD! Due to its similarity to “That’s All Right” (both written by Arthur “Big Boy” Crudup), I think “My Baby Left Me” gets lost in the shuffle sometimes. This is unfortunate, as it is an incredible recording – one of my favorites from Elvis’ breakout year. (Recorded: 1956)

02. So Glad You’re Mine: “So Glad You’re Mine” is another Crudup number, but this one is not nearly as effective as “That’s All Right” or “My Baby Left Me.” Elvis sounds bored. I am thankful Elvis happened to record “My Baby Left Me” prior to “So Glad You’re Mine” or Franklin Mint certainly would have started the CD with this song instead of the superior “My Baby Left Me.” (Recorded: 1956)

03. Anyplace Is Paradise: While Elvis’ performance is sometimes lacking on “Anyplace Is Paradise,” I love the lyrics, including: “Whether we’re standing on your doorstep or sitting in a park or strolling down a shady lane or dancing in the dark, where I can take you in my arms and look into your pretty eyes, anyplace is paradise when I’m with you.” If only this song had a better arrangement and approach, it could have been a classic love song. (Recorded: 1956)

04. Tell Me Why: Recorded at the same session as “All Shook Up,” “I Believe,” and others, “Tell Me Why” is hardly a standout with a sleepy performance by Elvis – similar to “So Glad You’re Mine.” (Recorded: 1957)

05. When It Rains, It Really Pours: Things get back on track here in a big way with “When It Rains, It Really Pours.” This is Elvis at his raw, powerful best. (Recorded: 1957)

06. Ain’t That Loving You Baby: When I visited Graceland in 1990, “Ain’t That Loving You, Baby” was one of the three songs that seemed to play on a constant loop at the various facilities and souvenir shops. This was long before the days of SiriusXM’s Elvis Radio channel broadcasting from Graceland, so I guess all they had was this little loop of three songs (the other two were “Playing For Keeps” [1956] and “For The Heart” [1976]). Anyway, for that reason, “Ain’t That Loving You, Baby” is memorable to me. Otherwise, it is just an okay performance. (Recorded: 1958)

07. A Mess Of Blues: The CD kicks into stereo mode with the awesome “A Mess Of Blues.” I love hearing all of the claps, finger snaps, and other noises. Just a fun song. No surprise, since it was written by Doc Pomus and Mort Shuman. (Recorded: 1960)

08. It Feels So Right: “It Feels So Right” is another good one. The CD is plugging along just fine now. (Recorded: 1960)

09. Like A Baby: “Like A Baby” is another often overlooked Elvis track. This is another of my favorites, and it fits perfectly on this CD. Not only is the Elvis vocal perfect, I love the saxophone accompaniment by Boots Randolph. (Recorded: 1960)

10. Fever: I have to say, “Fever” feels completely out of place here. I suspect it was deposited here by the compiler after not finding a suitable spot for it on another disc. It is also the one song on this CD that is not in recording order, as “Reconsider Baby” preceded it. In any event, I am not a big fan of Elvis’ studio recording of this song. (Recorded: 1960)

11. Reconsider Baby: Here it is, friends, Elvis’ best blues performance – his 1960 studio version of Lowell Fulson’s “Reconsider Baby,” and again accompanied by the incredible Boots Randolph on sax. One of Elvis’ greatest recordings and certainly the highlight of this CD. Not to be missed. (Recorded: 1960)

12. I Feel So Bad: After his release from the US Army, Elvis was on fire in the early 1960s. “I Feel So Bad” is another stellar blues number from this period, written by Chuck Willis. More great sax work from Boots. Be sure to listen for the sax switching from the left to the center channel during his solo. According to legend, Elvis walked up to Boots to enjoy the moment, accidentally picking up the sound of the sax with his handheld vocal microphone. Elvis knew what he was after, and the feel of the take was perfect, so the sound oddity was left in. (Recorded: 1961)

13. Witchcraft: What I love about “Witchcraft” is how it starts off as this unassuming little song with cutesy rhymes, and then kicks into a rockin’ chorus. Each time Elvis goes into “my head is spinning,” he gets a little more forceful. More Boots on sax. This is a killer song. (Recorded: 1963)

14. Down In The Alley: “Down In The Alley” was a bit of an acquired taste for me, but it is a decent blues number and fits well on this CD. (Recorded: 1966)

15. Big Boss Man: Thanks to Jerry Reed on guitar, “Big Boss Man” seems a hybrid of blues and country. Elvis sounds committed, but this is not a huge favorite of mine. (Recorded: 1967)

16. Hi-Heel Sneakers: I love the raw sound of Elvis’ voice on “High Heel Sneakers,” a fun blues number – which sounds like a contradiction in terms! But how can you not love lyrics like, “Put on your red dress, baby, ’cause we’re going out tonight. Well, wear some boxing gloves, in case some fool might start a fight.” (Recorded: 1967)

17. U.S. Male: What is “US Male” doing on a rhythm and blues compilation? This belongs on one of the country compilations instead. Anyway, this is a fun, if dated, song, featuring songwriter Jerry Reed on guitar. Completely out of place here, though. (Recorded: 1968)

18. Stranger In My Own Home Town: Elvis recorded Percy Mayfield’s “Stranger In My Own Home Town” at his first Memphis sessions in 14 years. I first discovered this song when it served as the power opener to The Memphis Record (1987). I have loved it ever since. I am partial to The Memphis Record mix, but this original mix is decent, especially in improved sound quality over previous CD releases. I’m with Elvis, who says, “Play it again, play it again” during one of the instrumental breaks. This is another one where I really love the lyrics: “My so-called friends stopped being friendly, but you can’t keep a good man down.” (Recorded: 1969)

19. Got My Mojo Working/Keep Your Hands Off Of It: This is an off-the cuff jam that was captured during Elvis’ “marathon” session in Nashville in June 1970. A heavily edited and overdubbed version of “Got My Mojo Working/Keep Your Hands Off Of It” was used on the ill-advised Love Letters From Elvis album, which essentially gathered scraps left over by two of the very best albums of his career, That’s The Way It Is and Elvis Country. Among left-overs, this song is a standout. As for this CD, it drags down the quality after “Stranger In My Own Home Town.” (Recorded: 1970)

20. If You Don’t Come Back: Though written by Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller, who penned many of Elvis’ best songs in the 1950s, “If You Don’t Come Back” is a bit of a departure for Elvis. It is an interesting listen, and I particularly enjoy the vintage 1970s wakka-chukka guitar licks. (Recorded: 1973)

21. Just A Little Bit: Continuing the groove of “If You Don’t Come Back,” “Just A Little Bit” is another fun song. Both were recorded at Stax Studio in Memphis. (Recorded: 1973)

22. Shake A Hand: I have to say, Franklin Mint really lucked out on the sequencing of this one. Since they are intent on recording order, “Shake A Hand” just happened to fall last, yet is actually the perfect song to close this CD. I love this performance by Elvis, and the sound is crystal clear. This is a bass-heavy song in terms of sound, and the drums really drive it. (Recorded: 1975)

What a great CD! Of Franklin Mint’s unique, themed compilations (I am excluding Volume 4: Christmas With Elvis, Volume 5: Complete Aloha From Hawaii Concert and Volume 7: Complete 1968 Comeback Special from that label), this is my favorite so far. This is actually a CD or playlist that I would routinely enjoy. Sony should put this compilation out as a single CD, maybe as a budget release.

Let’s see, up next would be Volume 10: Live In Las Vegas. It compiles the albums Elvis In Person and On Stage, which we already know are among the best albums of his career. Seeing as how I recently devoted four posts to Elvis’ 1969 Las Vegas shows, I will either skip to another CD for the next review in this occasional series or wait another seven years to write Part 8. You just never know with me.

Blessings,
TY


“The rich and poor have this in common: The LORD made them both.”
Proverb 22:2

A Squirrel Loose at the Big, Freaky International Hotel (Part 4: The Epic Conclusion) [Playlist Recipes #7]

This is the finale of a 4-part look at Sony’s 2019 Elvis Live 1969 boxed set, which contains all 11 concerts RCA recorded during Elvis Presley’s August 1969 engagement at the International Hotel in Las Vegas.

[Read Part 1 | Read Part 2 | Read Part 3]

To paraphrase Elvis, there ain’t no end to this post, baby! I have committed not to push this review to five parts, however, as to move on to other topics next week.

That said, I still want to delve into some song and show specifics for the 1969 engagement, so today’s post is going to run long, amounting to a double ride. No extra charge. To help with this portion of the discussion, my analytical side provided the following infochart.

Elvis Presley Summer 1969 Setlists Infochart | Click image for larger version | Compiled by Tygrrius

Though not part of the 11-CD Elvis Live 1969 boxed set, which focuses on RCA’s multitrack recordings, I included the informal soundboard recording from the early days of the engagement for reference as well. To date, its only official CD release as a more-or-less “full” show remains FTD’s The Return To Vegas. It would have made a great bonus disc on the Elvis Live 1969 set, as the overall feel of this show is slightly different than a few weeks later, and it even features an extended version of “Mystery Train” and a couple of alternate arrangements. Perhaps it was a cost-saving measure.

Anyway, focusing on the 11 shows that RCA recorded, Elvis performed 13 of the songs every single night – most of which formed the beginning and end of the shows. Of these, the strongest are “Suspicious Minds,” “Can’t Help Falling In Love,” “Runaway,” “In The Ghetto,” “Blue Suede Shoes,” and “All Shook Up.” With the studio version released as a single during this engagement and destined to become Elvis’ last number one hit, “Suspicious Minds” is particularly stunning. The 1969 live version stands as an incredible example of how Elvis reinvented his sound for these shows.

Most disappointing among the core songs are “Jailhouse Rock/Don’t Be Cruel” and “Baby, What You Want Me To Do.” “Jailhouse Rock” pales in comparison to the 1957 studio master as well as the 1968 live master. Both it and “Baby, What You Want Me To Do” notably lack the raw power and punch of the ELVIS television special performances from the previous summer. Understandably, there is a difference between performing 4 shows in 2 nights for a television special versus 57 shows in 29 nights for this Vegas engagement. Elvis no doubt needed to save his voice, but these performances in particular come up short.

Though many others are nearly as good, the one song Elvis improves in 1969 over his 1968 rendition is the “Tiger Man” portion of “Mystery Train/Tiger Man,” fueled by James Burton on lead guitar and Ronnie Tutt on drums. Like “Suspicious Minds,” the powerhouse “Mystery Train/Tiger Man” is a true highlight of this engagement. Unfortunately, Elvis drops it in favor of “Johnny B. Goode” for a couple of the shows. Now, one of those “Johnny B. Goode” performances was quite incredible and made it onto Elvis In Person, but I wish Elvis had dropped something else on those two occasions to make room for it, such as “Runaway.” That is no slam on “Runaway,” which I absolutely love and is among the highlights of the engagement for me.

A better substitution that Elvis provides on four nights is replacing the weak “Memories” with “I Can’t Stop Loving You.” I enjoy the studio versions of “Memories,” as recorded for the 1968 ELVIS special, but it just never worked live.

Additional highlights of the overall 11-concert span include three performances of “My Babe” and several of “Are You Lonesome Tonight.”

Of the one-off songs, the only one that really stands out from a performance perspective is “Reconsider Baby,” the blues song that Elvis returned to time and again over the years. “Rubberneckin’,” “Inherit The Wind,” and the abysmal “This Is The Story” are notable solely because these are the only live versions available. “Rubberneckin'” would have worked better with an arrangement closer to the funky studio master.

Though released as a limited edition 2-record set earlier in 2019, the August 23 Dinner Show makes its CD debut here. Not a single performance had previously been released on CD from this show – the only such concert on the set. The show is also unusual in that the Imperials backing group is not present, leaving full duties to the Sweet Inspirations – my preference, anyway. The show features exceptional versions of “Mystery Train/Tiger Man,” “Are You Lonesome Tonight,” “I Got A Woman,” and “What’d I Say” – the last of which benefits from a shorter rendition than the other shows.


“I had sideburns. Long hair. Fourteen years ago, it was weird. You think it’s weird now? Fourteen years ago, I couldn’t walk around the street: ‘Get him! Get him! […] He’s a squirrel.’ So I was […] shaking. In fact, that’s how I got in this business was shaking. It may be how I get out of it, too.”
–Elvis Presley, 1969

Four weeks ago now, I decided to write a post where I would share what I consider the best version of every song that RCA recorded during the Summer 1969 engagement. “I will kick it off by mentioning the Elvis Live 1969 boxed set from last year,” I thought – not intending to write a review. It would be a couple paragraphs and then the song list. Done. An easy post to warm up the engine of The Mystery Train Blog again.

Well, here we are, 4 weeks, 4 posts, and over 4,500 words later, and I am finally coming to the original intent of that very first post (after, of course, having written a rather haphazard review after all).

Before I backed up these shows to iTunes, I separated out the majority of the talking portions as their own tracks (oh, if only Sony would do this, it would save me so much time). This allows me to create playlists more focused on the music – which improves the 1969 experience to a huge degree. To an extent, you can replicate this by pressing skip at the end of most tracks, as Sony normally places all of the talking at the end of a track (even if that talking introduces the next song, another pet peeve of mine — but that’s why I just save them the way I want them).

Here is my “August 1969 Ultimate Show” playlist recipe for this concert engagement. As we just discussed, Elvis’ setlist varied to some extent each night, so no single show actually contained all of these songs.

Disc references are to the Elvis Live 1969 set, but of course, you could use any available previous release as well. This playlist clocks in at about 71 minutes, keeping in mind my iTunes versions of the tracks have most of the talking trimmed out to separate tracks.

  1. Opening Riff/Blue Suede Shoes (8/25/1969 Dinner Show [DS]) 2:36 (Disc 8)
  2. I Got A Woman (8/23/1969 DS) 3:05 (Disc 4)
  3. All Shook Up (8/26/1969 Midnight Show [MS]) 1:32 (Disc 11)
  4. Love Me Tender (8/26/1969 MS) 2:21 (Disc 11)
  5. Jailhouse Rock/Don’t Be Cruel (8/24/1969 DS) 2:12 (Disc 6)
  6. Heartbreak Hotel (8/24/1969 DS) 1:56 (Disc 6)
  7. Hound Dog (8/22/1969 DS) 1:48 (Disc 2)
  8. Memories (8/25/1969 DS) 2:50 (Disc 8)
  9. I Can’t Stop Loving You (8/25/1969 MS) 2:36 (Disc 9)
  10. My Babe (8/22/1969 MS) 2:00 (Disc 3)
  11. Mystery Train/Tiger Man (8/22/1969 MS) 3:21 (Disc 3)
  12. Johnny B. Goode (8/24/1969 MS) 2:10 (Disc 7)
  13. Baby, What You Want Me To Do (8/25/1969 MS) 1:52 (Disc 9)
  14. Funny How Time Slips Away (8/22/1969 MS) 2:21 (Disc 3)
  15. Surrender (8/21/1969 MS) 0:29 (Disc 1)
  16. Runaway (8/23/1969 MS) 2:16 (Disc 5)
  17. Loving You (8/23/1969 DS) 0:21 (Disc 4)
  18. Are You Laughing Tonight (8/26/1969 MS) 2:53 (Disc 11)
  19. Reconsider Baby (8/23/1969 MS) 3:28 (Disc 5)
  20. Words (8/24/1969 MS) 2:31 (Disc 7)
  21. Yesterday/Hey Jude (8/25/1969 DS) 4:15 (Disc 8)
  22. Inherit The Wind (8/26/1969 DS) 2:52 (Disc 10)
  23. Rubberneckin’ (8/26/1969 MS) 2:21 (Disc 11)
  24. This Is The Story (8/26/1969 MS) 2:46 (Disc 11)
  25. In The Ghetto (8/25/1969 DS) 2:47 (Disc 8)
  26. Suspicious Minds (8/25/1969 MS) 7:14 (Disc 9)
  27. What’d I Say (8/23/1969 DS) 1:57 (Disc 4)
  28. Can’t Help Falling In Love (8/26/1969 DS) 2:10 (Disc 10)

While it was not my intent, nor even a consideration in crafting this list, it turns out that all 11 shows are represented – an indication of Elvis’ strength and consistency during this Vegas engagement (though the August 21 Midnight Show barely squeaks in with a short version of “Surrender”).

For those of you who want to include them (you know who you are), you could slot in the “Monologue” career retrospective from the August 24 Dinner Show before “Baby, What You Want Me To Do” and add “Introductions By Elvis” from the August 21 Midnight Show prior to “In The Ghetto.” This adds less than nine minutes, resulting in a total length of just under 80 minutes for the August 1969 Ultimate Show. That’s right in line with the length of the August 23 Midnight Show, but with nine more songs due to less talking throughout.

After careful analysis, my favorite show of the 1969 engagement is the August 25 Midnight Show, disc 9 of Elvis Live 1969 and previously released on FTD’s excellent Hot August Night. It features top-notch versions of “Mystery Train/Tiger Man,” “Suspicious Minds,” “Runaway,” “My Babe,” “Are You Lonesome Tonight,” “Hound Dog,” “Blue Suede Shoes,” “All Shook Up,” “I Can’t Stop Loving You,” among others. In fact, 7 of the 12 masters that RCA chose for Elvis In Person came from this show. That is probably the only reason it is not better represented in my August 1969 Ultimate Show playlist above, as I was tending to avoid master versions in the event of a tie with another version. Elvis may have put a little extra into this particular show due to the celebrities in attendance, including Tom Jones, Nancy Sinatra, Lightnin’ Hopkins, Buddy Hackett, and Shelley Fabares.


ELVIS LIVE 1969 (Sony, 2019) | Click image for larger, full-color version | Original image credit: Sony

“If I take time out to drink water, just look at me and say, ‘Is that him? I thought he was bigger than that. Squirrelly-looking guy.'”
–Elvis Presley, 1969

If you’re not in for the whole Elvis Live 1969 boxed set, 2010’s On Stage: Legacy Edition (Sony) is probably sufficient for casual or budget-minded fans, as it neatly highlights Elvis’ Summer 1969 and Winter 1970 Vegas engagements on 2 CDs and can still be found for about $12 US. CD 2 features Elvis In Person as well as additional songs recorded live in 1969. Keep in mind that both “Runaway” and “Yesterday” on the On Stage album, featured on CD 1, are from August 1969 as well.

If you are more on the obsessive side like me, but don’t already have most of these shows, I can definitely recommend Elvis Live 1969. Just be sure to shop around, as Elvis Live 1969 can often be found quite reasonably priced – considering the number of included shows. For example, Graceland is charging full list price as of this writing, but you can find it elsewhere for less than 60% of that price.

Among Elvis’ Las Vegas engagements at the International/Hilton Hotel, Summer 1969 ranks second only to Summer 1970 for me. I place Winter 1970 third. While the number of available shows in official releases is significantly less and disallows detailed comparisons, subsequent Vegas seasons in 1971-1976 are nowhere close to the 3 of 1969 & 1970.

To see one of these 1969 shows must have been something really special.

Blessings,
TY


“You can make many plans, but the LORD’s purpose will prevail.”
Proverb 19:21

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

A Squirrel Loose at the Big, Freaky International Hotel (Part 2)

This is Part 2 of a look at Sony’s Elvis Live 1969 boxed set (2019), which contains all 11 concerts RCA recorded in Elvis Presley’s August 1969 engagement at the International Hotel in Las Vegas.

[Read Part 1.]

“It’s getting loose at the International, boy!”
–Elvis Presley, 1969

The 11-disc Elvis Live 1969 is unfortunately housed in an 8-inch format box, such as used for 2012’s 3-disc Prince From Another Planet, rather than the 12-inch style, such as used for 2014’s 10-disc That’s The Way It Is: Deluxe Edition or 2018’s 6-disc ELVIS: ’68 Comeback Special – 50th Anniversary Edition. The 12-inch style harkens back to the days of LP record albums, while the 8-inch style is out of place on both CD and record shelves. Use of the 8-inch box was evidently a cost-saving move, but the set would have benefited so much from the larger format. Even at 8-inches, the set at a glance appears beautiful, but looks can be deceiving.

Elvis Live 1969 includes a 50-page booklet documenting the 1969 Vegas engagement. The opening Foreword, as with some of the marketing material associated with this set, quotes Elvis from his 1972 press conference for his Madison Square Garden appearances three years later about why he returned to performing live. As he tells the same story no less than 11 times on this very set, I would have preferred the use of 1969 quotes.

Reading like one of the over-the-top press releases that Sony lately uses to promote Elvis CDs, the unsigned Foreword also notes:

“After Elvis’ disastrous two-week 1956 Vegas engagement at the New Frontier Hotel, thirteen years later, his victorious live return in the same city made the meteoric success of his sold-out run (July 31-August 28, 1969/29 shows in total) that much sweeter.”

I call this out not to sicken you with the syrupy language, but to highlight an error. Elvis performed 57 shows during the date ranges of this engagement, not 29. The singer performed two shows a night throughout the month-long engagement (July 31 consisted only of the Opening Show). Even the very boxed set that the Foreword introduces features 11 shows recorded in the course of 6 days (beginning with the August 21 Midnight Show and concluding with the August 26 Midnight Show).

A bigger guffaw occurs in the tracklisting at the end of the booklet. Both CD 5 and CD 9 are listed as the “August 25, 1969, Midnight Show.” CD 5 actually contains the August 23 Midnight Show. Thankfully, the disc contents and label are correct.

Regarding such mistakes, you might ask, “Who cares?” Apparently not those responsible for Elvis releases. Allowing myself to veer off track just for a moment, Sony’s Follow That Dream (FTD) collectors label for Elvis fans routinely releases such errors. Two of the most embarrassing examples when it comes to text are misspelling “Presley” on the spine of 2008’s Wild In The Country and misspelling “Burning Love” on the back cover of this year’s St. Louis/Spokane. On the same St. Louis/Spokane release, the back cover numbers tracks 15-20 as: 15, 16, 16, 16, 21, 20. Though collectors pay premium prices for these releases compared to mainstream CDs, FTD is a small, boutique label with minimal resources and a limited target market. Sure, most 5-year-olds could have caught the counting errors, but let’s not talk about that.

Getting back to Elvis Live 1969, I note the two sloppy examples in the booklet (and there are others, but that is not the focus of this review) as unfortunate indicators that the carelessness condoned at the small FTD label has bled over into a full-fledged release like this one on the main Sony Legacy label.

Sony Legacy’s ELVIS LIVE 1969 boxed set – booklet in foreground of CD holders (2019, from Tygrrius’ collection)

The rest of the booklet consists primarily of excerpts from Ken Sharp‘s excellent Elvis: Vegas ’69 book from 2009. Those who were there, including Elvis himself, tell the story of the concert engagement through first-hand accounts. If you are a fan of the era, as I am, the full book is definitely worth seeking. However, the booklet as presented in Elvis Live 1969 provides a nice, abridged version to go with the CDs.

The 11 CDs are packaged in two cardboard holders. “Packaged” is a polite term. They are mercilessly wedged into two cardboard holders. Use caution extracting a CD to prevent damaging the disc, the holder, or both. Why Sony continues to use ridiculous forms of packaging, which so often fail to serve the singular purpose of protecting the discs, is beyond me. While I backed mine up to iTunes, if you plan routinely to play the original discs I would suggest you place them in more accessible cases as to avoid almost certain damage over time.

Use of imagery from vintage International Hotel menus and advertising in the holder for CDs 1-5 is fun, and I wish that concept had been extended to both holders. Some of the interior Elvis photo choices for the holders are baffling, including two, count them, two photos of Elvis apparently raising his armpit to the audience in the holder for CDs 6-11. These are, of course, shots capturing a split moment in time while Elvis is in motion, but why spotlight such awkward photos when better ones are available elsewhere in this very same set?

I must remind you that I did not set out to write a review when I began this post a week ago. I, therefore, have gone about this in a different manner than if I planned it out in a logical fashion. So, I have covered thus far mixing and packaging, but what I have mostly left out to this point is the star of the show, Elvis Presley.

When it comes to the Elvis aspects of Elvis Live 1969, I must admit to a small degree of disappointment. I have enthusiastically reviewed a number of previous releases of individual concerts from this engagement in the past, so I was surprised at this reaction.

Compared to That’s The Way It Is: Deluxe Edition, which similarly compiles 6 of his shows from his 3rd engagement at the same Vegas hotel the following summer, Elvis Live 1969 feels like a slight let-down.

While Summer 1969 wins out in head-to-head comparisons of the same songs in just about every case (“Words” and “I Can’t Stop Loving You” being the only two exceptions that come immediately to mind), the overall Summer 1970 shows are superior, if that makes any sense, at least during the filming of That’s The Way It Is, with better/more varied setlists and a more polished performer. In both seasons, Elvis is at the very top of his game, to be clear, but Summer 1970 is more entertaining than Summer 1969. How blessed we are, as fans, to have his two best concert series so well documented.

Next week, we’ll dive into more of the Elvis details as we continue and possibly conclude our look at Elvis Live 1969.

Blessings,
TY

[Read Part 3]


“He holds in his hands the depths of the earth and the mightiest mountains. The sea belongs to him, for he made it. His hands formed the dry land, too.”
Psalm 95:4-5

A Squirrel Loose at the Big, Freaky International Hotel (Part 1)

“Welcome to the big, freaky International Hotel, with these little, weirdo dolls on the walls and these little funky angels on the ceiling. You ain’t seen nothing until you’ve seen a funky angel, boy. I tell you for sure.”
–Elvis Presley, 1969, on the ornate design of the hotel’s concert showroom

Sony Legacy last year released Elvis Live 1969, a boxed set containing all 11 concerts RCA recorded during Elvis Presley’s August 1969 engagement at the International Hotel in Las Vegas, Nevada.

The concert series, which spanned 57 shows from July 31 to August 28, represented the singer’s first appearance on a public stage in nearly 9 years – though he had performed 4 shows in front of small audiences at NBC’s studio in Burbank, California, as part of taping his ELVIS television special the previous summer.

RCA cherry-picked 12 of the strongest performances from 3 of the 1969 shows to form the Elvis In Person portion of the From Memphis To Vegas/From Vegas To Memphis double album, released in November 1969. A year later, RCA re-released Elvis In Person as a stand-alone album with the same content.

As for the rest of the performances, they amazingly remained in the vault until after Elvis’ death. While RCA released several individual songs over the years, including a compilation disc on 1991’s Collectors Gold boxed set, a complete 1969 show did not officially surface until 2001’s Live In Las Vegas boxed set.

By the time of Elvis Live 1969 last year, however, 7 of the 11 shows had already been released in their entireties on CD, with a good portion of songs from 3 of the 4 remaining shows having been released as well – many of them on Sony’s Follow That Dream (FTD) collectors label for Elvis fans.

Elvis Live 1969 stands out among the previous releases because it gathers all of the recordings in one place for the first time, with homogeneous sound quality. The recordings capture the August 21-26 portion of the engagement.

Sony Legacy’s ELVIS LIVE 1969 boxed set (2019, from Tygrrius’ collection)

Mixed by Matt Ross-Spang in what was apparently a marathon session, Elvis Live 1969 features a “slapback” echo effect mimicking the sound of Elvis’ first recordings in 1954 & 1955 at Sun Studio in Memphis. Ross-Spang had applied the same effect to alternate takes on 2016’s Way Down in the Jungle Room, an overview of Elvis’ last formal recordings in 1976 at Graceland.

As it was not representative of the original intent in 1976 or 1969, some fans have been quite critical of Ross-Spang’s slapback effect. As for me, I don’t mind it at all. It breathed some life into the 1976 studio recordings and brought Elvis’ music full-circle, in a sense, with an homage to the Sun sound. Though less effective on the 1969 live recordings, it’s not too distracting. On a few songs, such as “Mystery Train,” which of course originated in the Sun era anyway, the effect can actually be phenomenal.

Where I differ from Ross-Spang on Elvis Live 1969 is on some of his mixing choices, especially as far as which instruments are prominent. For instance, horns overwhelm a portion of James Burton’s lead guitar solo in the middle of the “Blue Suede Shoes” opener on all 11 shows. The horns weren’t even audible at all during Burton’s solo on the original Elvis In Person album and most of the subsequent revisits of this material.

The horns distracting from the lead guitar vaguely reminds me of Elvis’ February 11, 1956, appearance on Stage Show (CBS), the Jackie Gleason-produced television series hosted by Tommy and Jimmy Dorsey. In his third of six appearances on the program, Elvis debuts “Heartbreak Hotel” for the national TV audience. At the point where Scotty Moore would normally rip into his now classic electric guitar solo, a trumpeter improvises a jazz-inspired solo instead. While I enjoy jazz, it did not work in the context of this rock ‘n’ roll song. Fortunately, Moore is able to let loose in performances of “Heartbreak Hotel” on two subsequent shows. The 1969 “Blue Suede Shoes” is thankfully not affected to nearly this extent, though, for Burton is at least playing his solo!

Another example is that Larry Muhoberac’s piano is mixed far too loudly on certain shows, especially the August 26 Midnight Show, the last 1969 concert captured. Was Ross-Spang running out of time or is this truly how he felt the show should sound? “Mystery Train/Tiger Man,” which should be a showcase for the guitar and drums, suffers greatly from the distracting and overbearing piano in this particular show.

The August 25 Dinner Show and August 26 Dinner Show versions of “Mystery Train/Tiger Man” are similarly impacted by too much piano in the mix. Five of the remaining shows that include this medley fortunately keep the piano at low or moderate volumes, while the August 25 Midnight Show version, which was the performance used as the master on Elvis In Person, actually strikes a great balance – having the piano quite present but at an appropriate level.

Of course, it is all a matter of taste. For an Elvis live show, I want the lead guitar (Burton), Elvis guitar (when applicable), drums (Ronnie Tutt), and bass (Jerry Scheff) prominent in the mix among the instruments, generally in that order of priority, but certainly varying to some extent per song.

The rock ‘n’ roll numbers, at least, should heavily feature guitar, drums, and bass. That is the core of rock ‘n’ roll, Elvis style. The piano, other guitars, and orchestra should be present as needed, but not so much as to overwhelm that core. The piano is far less annoying on a slow song like “Love Me Tender,” for instance, where it better suits being prominent in the mix.

To be clear, the mixing on the majority of these shows is great. For example, “Mystery Train/Tiger Man” is mixed to perfection on the August 22 Midnight Show and is of course buoyed by a committed and powerful vocal performance by Elvis, as with many of the songs in this boxed set. This version of “Mystery Train” I can’t help but crank up every single time it comes on, much as I do with the 1955 Sun studio master.

Ross-Spang also tends to favor the Sweet Inspirations over the Imperials, as far as the background vocalists – an approach I heartily support. Millie Kirkham notwithstanding, Elvis sounds better with female voices behind him instead of males, and I love the Gospel-infused quality of the Sweet Inspirations. I should note that I intend no disrespect to any of the musicians and singers involved, all of whom are very talented. I am just talking about how I best feel the music when it comes to Elvis.

Before I get too far off track here, I think that covers it for the technical aspects of the set. I actually wasn’t even intending for this to become a review per se, but I just go where the writing leads me.

Next week, we’ll continue our look at Elvis Live 1969 and, possibly, get to the actual reason I started this post.

Blessings,
TY

[Read Part 2]


“Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves; ensure justice for those being crushed. Yes, speak up for the poor and helpless, and see that they get justice.”
Proverb 31:8-9