Vinyl Elvis #3: HIS HAND IN MINE (1960)

Portions of this post originally appeared in a review I wrote of His Hand In Mine for the album’s 60th anniversary in Kees Mouwen’s Elvis Day By Day 2020: The Year In Review. The 2021 volume is available now.


HIS HAND IN MINE (RCA, 1960; from Tygrrius’ collection) | Click image for full-color version

His Hand In Mine
Label: RCA
Catalog Number: LPM-2328
Recorded: 1960 | Nashville
Released: 1960

1960 was Elvis Presley’s most productive year to that point in his career. He recorded 52 studio masters, released 3 albums, and filmed 3 movies; and all that with being out of commission for almost the entire first 3 months while completing his stint in the U.S. Army.

For the 25-year-old singer, the albums Elvis Is Back! and His Hand In Mine represented artistic achievements on par with his outstanding work in the previous decade. The latter title was his first Long Play (LP) sacred album, a follow-up of sorts to his 1957 Extended Play (EP) sacred album Peace In The Valley.

Elvis recorded the entire His Hand In Mine album the night of October 30, finishing in the early morning hours of October 31, 1960. Amazingly, the record was in stores within a month – presumably rushed to have it ready for the Christmas season. RCA released His Hand In Mine in both mono and stereo formats.

As a second generation Elvis fan, I first heard His Hand In Mine in the early 1990s on CD. As with so many Elvis albums, I have bought it a number of times in different CD configurations over the years since then. When Kees asked me to review the album for its 60th anniversary back in 2020, I sought out a vinyl version – a first pressing of the 1960 mono release.

One of the things I enjoy about collecting used records is pondering their history. I imagine a young Elvis fan in 1960 buying this album at her or his local record shop and taking it home to play it for the first time. What else is happening in November 1960?

Inner sleeve of HIS HAND IN MINE (RCA, 1960; from Tygrrius’ collection) | Click image for color version

How many others owned this particular copy of His Hand In Mine before it made its way into my hands 60 years later? Whose hands will hold it 60 years from now?

The album is in remarkable condition for its age. The outer sleeve, featuring a photo of Elvis at the piano, taken during a break while filming Flaming Star, is still vibrant. Only a small tear beneath the RCA logo on the front cover, where a fan was perhaps too aggressive in removing a price tag, and minor splitting in the bottom seam betray its age. The inner sleeve, promoting Elvis Is Back!, is in great shape. On the vinyl itself, there are but a few little crackles in quiet portions. Whether this is an indication that the original owner(s) did not play this album very often or simply treated it with reverence, there is no way to know.

When I first heard His Hand In Mine nearly 30 years ago, I believed in God but had little understanding of Christianity. While I thought Elvis’ voice sounded beautiful on many of the songs, I really did not connect with them beyond that. I did occasionally play this or one of his other sacred albums on a random Sunday, seeking something.

In 2018, I accepted Jesus into my heart, and I was literally reborn (2 Corinthians 5:17). While I still stumble every day, I now have a personal relationship with Jesus through daily reading of the Bible and prayer that helps me get back on track to becoming who He created me to be.

As for Elvis’ sacred recordings, they began to take on new meaning for me. It is within this context that I want to examine His Hand In Mine.

Side 1 of HIS HAND IN MINE (RCA, 1960; from Tygrrius’ collection) | Click image for full-color version

Side 1

  1. His Hand In Mine
    The album kicks off with the title track, “His Hand In Mine.” Elvis’ voice is full of new confidence and strength on this slow number – as compared to 1956’s more faltering “Love Me Tender,” for instance.
  2. I’m Gonna Walk Dem Golden Stairs
    Up next, the pace picks up with “I’m Gonna Walk Dem Golden Stairs.” This song sounds like Elvis fulfilling his dream of being in a gospel quartet. The line “When Jesus says to me, ‘Well done'” recalls the following verse from the Bible: “His lord said unto him, ‘Well done, thou good and faithful servant: thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things: enter thou into the joy of thy lord'” (Matthew 25:21 KJV). As a Christian, I do not fear death, as I know it is when I will go to meet Jesus. I pray I will live the rest of my life such that He will say, “Well done.”
  3. In My Father’s House
    There is an even more direct Scriptural reference in the next song, “In My Father’s House.” Elvis sings, “In my Father’s house are many mansions; if it were not true He would have told me so.” In the Bible, Jesus states: “In My Father’s house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you” (John 14:2 KJV). Elvis’ vocals are exquisite on lines like, “Jesus died upon the cross to bear my sorrow. Freely died that souls like you might have new life.” A highlight of the album.
  4. Milky White Way
  5. Known Only To Him
    “Known Only To Him” is an interesting 1960 recording by Elvis because it is one of those where portions sound like his later voice from the 1970s. His inspirational and Christmas songs do tend to blend together better across the decades, though, compared to many of his other recordings. It would have been interesting to hear Elvis take another try at this song in 1970 or 1971, even if live. I don’t think he would have been able to better this version, though.
  6. I Believe In The Man In The Sky

Side 2 of HIS HAND IN MINE (RCA, 1960; from Tygrrius’ collection) | Click image for full-color version

Side 2

  1. Joshua Fit The Battle
    My first complete read-through of the Bible in 2018 had a secondary and unexpected benefit of filling in details for me on a number of songs. For instance, in the upbeat “Joshua Fit The Battle,” I had always heard the lyrics as, “I know you’ve heard about Joshua, he was the son of none.” Yes, for 25 years I thought Joshua was an orphan until I finally learned that his father’s name was Nun. The song recounts the battle of Jericho, which is featured in chapter 6 of Joshua in the Old Testament. In his later years, Joshua was one of only two adults from Moses’ original followers to make it to the Promised Land.
  2. Jesus Knows What I Need
    “Jesus Knows What I Need” is one of those songs that speaks Truth whenever I need comfort. I can imagine Elvis singing this one around the piano with friends. A bit of trivia: In subsequent pressings of His Hand In Mine, this song’s title was corrected to “He Knows Just What I Need.”
  3. Swing Down Sweet Chariot
    The humorous “Swing Down Sweet Chariot” takes us back to the Old Testament. Called “Zeke” in the song, the prophet Ezekiel’s encounter with the chariot of God is described in chapter 1 of Ezekiel. Though I love this song, I much prefer the alternate version of Elvis’ 1968 re-recording that features the Blossoms as the backing vocalists.
  4. Mansion Over The Hilltop
    Like “In My Father’s House” on Side 1, “Mansion Over the Hilltop” and “If We Never Meet Again” on Side 2 provide beautiful illustrations of the Perfect Place, Heaven. In “Mansion,” a favorite line is, “Someday yonder we will never more wander, but walk on streets that are pure as gold.” I just love the sound of Elvis’ voice as he paints this picture.
  5. If We Never Meet Again
    Elvis’ mother, Gladys, passed away in August 1958 at the age of 46, and I’m sure Elvis had her in mind while recording “If We Never Meet Again,” which states: “If we never meet again this side of Heaven, as we struggle through this world and its strife, there’s another meeting place somewhere in Heaven, by the side of the River of Life – where the charming roses bloom forever and ever, and separations come no more.” The “River of Life” is from Revelation 22:1 in the Bible, which describes God’s throne in Heaven. Elvis was only 23 when he lost his mother. At a September 1958 press conference before leaving to be stationed in Germany until his return to the U.S. and civilian life in March 1960, he had this to say about her, captured on the Elvis Sails EP: “My mother, I suppose since I was an only child, that we might have been a little closer. Everyone loves their mother, but I was an only child, and Mother was always right with me, all my life. It wasn’t only like losing a mother, it was like losing a friend, a companion, someone to talk to. I could wake her up any hour of the night, and if I was worried or troubled about something, she’d get up and try to help me.”
  6. Working On The Building
    I first heard the energetic “Working On The Building” on the 1988 album Elvis In Nashville and loved it right away. Take 2, released on the 2006 FTD edition of His Hand In Mine, is also a favorite. In the gospel segment of the 1968 ELVIS television special, wheelbarrows can be seen as part of the set decoration – reminding me of this 1960 song, which was unfortunately not performed on the show. “I’m working on the building, it’s a true foundation,” sings Elvis. In Matthew 7:24-27, Jesus talks about the importance of building a strong spiritual foundation. “Working On The Building” serves as a perfect conclusion to His Hand In Mine.

Back cover of HIS HAND IN MINE (RCA, 1960; from Tygrrius’ collection) | Click image for color version

I enjoy looking at album covers while playing records. His Hand In Mine includes liner notes on the back by Robert Kotlowitz. He explores Elvis’ early faith through attending the First Assembly Church of God in Tupelo, Mississippi.

An interesting tidbit in the liner notes, which I do not recall reading elsewhere, is, “Gladys and Vernon Presley, with their small son [Elvis] standing between them, became a popular trio singing hymns at camp meetings, revivals and church conventions.” Truth or legend?

The liner notes also include a quote from Elvis’ mother: “When Elvis was just a little fellow, he would slide off my lap, run down the aisle, and scramble up to the platform of the church. He would stand looking up at the choir and try to sing with them. He was too little to know the words, of course, but he could carry the tune.”

Except for a quick session in June 1958, which was a couple of months before his mother’s death, Elvis made no formal recordings while serving in the Army. While Elvis Is Back! and the G.I. Blues soundtrack afforded no such opportunities, I firmly believe His Hand In Mine is a “labor of love” by Elvis in tribute not only to Jesus but, as Kotlowitz states, to Gladys Presley.

Back inner sleeve of HIS HAND IN MINE (RCA, 1960; from Tygrrius’ collection) | Click image for color version


“The eyes of the LORD are everywhere, keeping watch on the wicked and the good.”
Proverb 15:3

Elvis: The Ultimate Live Top Ten Hits (Part 4)

This is the finale of a four post series covering Elvis Presley’s best officially-released live recording of each of his US top ten hits.

[Read Part 3]

Released as a 2-LP set in 1987, The Top Ten Hits contained all 38 of Elvis’ top 10 hits on Billboard‘s key US charts. Other than a few outliers that failed to make the top 10 and are not on the set (“Blue Suede Shoes,” “Blue Christmas,” “Viva Las Vegas,” “My Way,” and “A Little Less Conversation”), it includes all of his most famous songs for the general public. Indeed, outside of boxed sets, The Top Ten Hits remains one of the most comprehensive Elvis releases to date when it comes to mainstream songs.

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

01. Return To Sender (hit version recorded 1962)
Ultimate Live Version: August 1, 1976, Hampton Roads, VA, New Haven ’76
Per request, Elvis performs “Return To Sender” off the top of his head at a concert in Hampton Roads, Virginia. Included as a bonus track on New Haven ’76, this is the only officially released live version of the song. Considering it was recorded in 1976, the nadir of Elvis concert years, it actually isn’t horrible.

02. Devil In Disguise (hit version recorded 1963)
Ultimate Live Version: None available
It is unfortunate that Elvis never performed live in the mid-1960s. This song would surely have resulted in a classic rendition at that time.

03. Bossa Nova Baby (hit version recorded 1963)
Ultimate Live Version: None available
A medley of “Return To Sender” and “Bossa Nova Baby” might have been fun in his 1969 live shows to acknowledge a couple of hit songs from his 1960s movies.

04. Crying In The Chapel (hit version recorded 1960)
Ultimate Live Version: None available
Voice-wise, 1968 probably would have been the best time for Elvis to have performed “Crying In The Chapel” live. I don’t see where it would really fit in any of his four shows captured for the ELVIS special, though. August 1970 probably would have been a good vocal opportunity for it, too. I would love to hear the Blossoms or the Sweet Inspirations backing Elvis on this instead of the Jordanaires.

Elvis Presley performs “The Wonder Of You” at the August 13, 1970, Dinner Show, in Las Vegas, Nevada, captured for the ELVIS: THAT’S THE WAY IT IS documentary film (MGM)

05. In The Ghetto (hit version recorded 1969)
Ultimate Live Version: August 26, 1969, Dinner Show, Las Vegas, NV, From Memphis To Vegas/From Vegas To Memphis [Elvis In Person]
Elvis’ live versions of “In The Ghetto” never quite lived up to the studio versions. While he usually performed it strongly, he never seems as “into” the song. A stripped-down version, with just Elvis and an acoustic guitar would have been ideal.

06. Suspicious Minds (hit version recorded 1969)
Ultimate Live Version: August 25, 1969, Midnight Show, Hot August Night
An apparent mistake is actually what gives this live version of “Suspicious Minds” an edge over other stellar versions recorded in the same concert series. After James Burton’s opening guitar solo, Elvis fails to begin singing, so Burton continues the solo. Overall, this live version is even better than the studio master.

07. Don’t Cry Daddy (hit version recorded 1969)
Ultimate Live Version: February 18, 1970, Dinner Show, Las Vegas, NV, Greatest Hits, Volume One
While I love “Don’t Cry Daddy,” it does not work as well in a live concert setting, and I can understand why Elvis dropped it by 1971. That said, this live version is top-notch.

08. The Wonder Of You (hit version recorded live, February 18, 1970, Midnight Show, Las Vegas, NV, On Stage)
Ultimate Live Version (after hit recorded):
August 13, 1970, Dinner Show, Las Vegas, NV, The Way It Was
I have found that time behaves inconsistently in certain situations and for certain people. Elvis’ entire career, for instance, was compressed into about 21 years, yet he left a wealth of material behind that continues to forge his musical legacy. Elvis released his February 1970 live version of “The Wonder Of You” as a single in April 1970, and it peaked at number nine on June 27, 1970. Less than two months later, during one of the concerts captured for the MGM documentary movie Elvis: That’s The Way It Is, he introduces this August 1970 live recording by stating, “I had a record out last year that–-this year . . . this year, wasn’t it?–-that did pretty good for me. I’d like to sing it for you.” In this case, two to four months in “Elvis time” was like a year in normal time.

09. Burning Love (hit version recorded 1972)
Ultimate Live Version: April 18, 1972, San Antonio, TX, Close Up
Featured in the documentary movie Elvis On Tour (MGM, 1972), this rockin’ version of “Burning Love” exceeds any other live renditions released thus far. The March 1972 studio master remains the best, however.

Well, that about wraps things up for our look at Elvis’ best officially released live recordings of his hit songs. Over 43 years after his death, Elvis Presley concert recordings continue to surface. With that in mind, we may have to check in on these live hits again in a few years.

Thanks for reading.

Your Conductor,
TY


“Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in me.”
John 14:1

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Credit: The Ed Sullivan Show channel (YouTube)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Credit: Vevo’s Elvis Presley channel (YouTube)

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

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

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

Blessings,
TY

[Read Part 2]


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

Vinyl Elvis #2: MEMORIES OF CHRISTMAS (1982)

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


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

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

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

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

Side A

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

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

Side B

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

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

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

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


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

Gospel Elvis: “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: SUSPICIOUS MINDS (1982)

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Side 1

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

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

Side 2

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

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

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


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

New and upcoming Elvis releases focus on slices of a diverse career

Get those sound systems (and wallets) ready, folks, new Elvis releases are on the way.

Stay Away, Joe

Stay Away, Joe (concept cover art)

May 2013

Follow That Dream Records, Sony’s collectors label for Elvis fans, is releasing this month:

  • From Elvis In Memphis (2-CD): One of Elvis’ best albums finally receives the FTD Classic Album treatment. This should make an excellent companion to the recent Back In Memphis release. Surely an “imaginary album” will be in the works at some point to feature the rest of the recordings from the 1969 American Sound Studio sessions.
  • Stay Away, Joe (CD): Speaking of imaginary albums, here is one that compiles October 1967 and January 1968 sessions. In addition to the Stay Away, Joe soundtrack, it includes “Too Much Monkey Business” and “US Male.” The January session features Jerry Reed on guitar, which is why I consider this a follow-up of sorts to the fantastic Elvis Sings Guitar Man.
  • On Stage-February 1970 (2-LP): This vinyl release includes the original On Stage-February 1970 album, recorded live in 1969 and 1970, as well as additional material Elvis recorded during his early 1970 Las Vegas engagement.
  • Summer of ’61 (Book & CD): In conjunction with Flaming Star publications, this book primarily focuses on the making of the movie Follow That Dream. A brief CD containing previously released Elvis tracks and two demos for “What A Wonderful Life” is also included.

June 2013

FTD has scheduled the following for release in June:

  • Sold Out! (2-CD): The ambiguous title of this one could refer to almost any Elvis concert from 1956 and beyond. [May 19, 2013, Update: The concerts on this release will be March 1, 1974, Tulsa, Oklahoma and June 21, 1974, Cleveland, Ohio.] This one is from the creative team behind Forty-Eight Hours To Memphis: Recorded Live On Stage In Richmond, Virginia – March 18, 1974 and 3000 South Paradise Road, so a quality presentation is expected.
  • Hot August Night (CD): This one features the August 25, 1969, Midnight Show in Las Vegas. The 1969 shows are all must-haves. Portions of this one contributed to the From Memphis To Vegas/From Vegas To Memphis (Elvis In Person) release in 1969. Many tracks are previously unreleased, however.
  • Elvis Recorded Live On Stage In Memphis (2-LP): This vinyl release features the complete March 20, 1974, Memphis concert, from which selections made up the original 1974 version of this album. I have to admit, I enjoy the truncated version of this show more than the full version. Other than “Steamroller Blues,” the songs edited out of the 1974 1-LP release featured some disappointing performances by Elvis.
  • Best of British: The HMV Years (Book): This is a reprint of the popular book exploring Elvis’ 1956-1958 releases on the HMV label in Great Britain, which sold out upon release in February. Though not noted in the press release, presumably the two CDs of previously released Elvis material from the original printing are also included.

The only physical store in the US authorized to sell FTD releases is Good Rockin’ Tonight, a Graceland gift shop in Memphis. However, FTD products may be obtained online from a variety of other Elvis stores, including Graceland’s ShopElvis.com.

August 2013

Sony has scheduled Elvis At Stax: Deluxe Edition, a 3-CD boxed set, as a main label, wide release in August. The set will include all of the masters Elvis recorded in Memphis at Stax Recording Studio in July and December of 1973. It will also include alternate takes of many of the songs. Here is the track listing:

DISC 1: The R&B and Country Sessions – The Outtakes

1. I Got A Feelin’ In My Body – take 1
2. Find Out What’s Happening – take 8/7
3. Promised Land – take 4
4. For Ol’ Times Sake – take 4
5. I’ve Got A Thing About You, Baby – take 14
6. It’s Midnight – take 7
7. If You Talk In Your Sleep – take 5
8. Loving Arms – take 2
9. You Asked Me To – take 3A
10. Good Time Charlie’s Got The Blues – take 8
11. Talk About The Good Times – take 3
12. There’s A Honky Tonk Angel – take 1
13. She Wears My Ring – take 8
14. Three Corn Patches – take 14
15. I Got A Feelin’ In My Body – take 4
16. If You Don’t Come Back – take 3
17. Promised Land – take 5

DISC 2

Part 1 – The Pop Sessions – The Outtakes

1. Mr. Songman – take 2
2. Your Love’s Been A Long Time Coming – take 4
3. Spanish Eyes – take 2
4. Take Good Care Of Her – takes 1,2,3
5. It’s Diff’rent Now (unfinished recording)
6. Thinking About You – take 4
7. My Boy – take 1
8. Girl Of Mine – take 9
9. Love Song Of The Year – take 1
10. If That Isn’t Love – take 1

Part 2 – The July 1973 Masters

11. Raised On Rock
12. For Ol’ Time Sake
13. I’ve Got A Thing About You, Baby
14. Take Good Care Of Her
15. If You Don’t Come Back
16. Three Corn Patches
17. Girl Of Mine
18. Just A Little Bit
19. Find Out What’s Happening
20. Sweet Angeline

DISC 3: The December 1973 Masters

1. Promised Land
2. It’s Midnight
3. If You Talk In Your Sleep
4. Help Me
5. My Boy
6. Thinking About You
7. Mr. Songman
8. I Got A Feelin’ In My Body
9. Loving Arms
10. Good Time Charlie’s Got The Blues
11. You Asked Me To
12. There’s A Honky Tonk Angel
13. Talk About The Good Times
14. She Wears My Ring
15. Your Love’s Been A Long Time Coming
16. Love Song Of The Year
17. Spanish Eyes
18. If That Isn’t Love

I have mixed feelings on this release. I think it is wonderful for the main label to focus on an overlooked period in the recording career of Elvis Presley. For those fans who do not already have the corresponding FTD Classic Album 2-CD sets (Raised On Rock, Good Times, and Promised Land), this is an excellent, budget-conscious alternative to hear highlights of this material.

However, the first thing I noticed is that Sony really blew the sequencing of these tracks. Why, oh, why would the compiler of this collection choose to kick things off with the dreadful “I Got A Feelin’ In My Body”? Especially when “Promised Land” is sitting there, practically begging to begin this set in the right manner?

Short of starting from scratch, one simple alternative that I can suggest would be the following:

  • Swap Disc 1 with Disc 3
  • Swap Disc 2 – Part 1 with Disc 2 – Part 2

Just making the simple changes above would result in a much better listening experience from start to finish. Again, it is great to see a release focusing on 1973, but it should not just be grudgingly thrown together. While Sony’s Elvis team may disagree, some of us love this material. Treat it right.

Sony is also releasing in August a 1-CD version and a 2-LP version collecting some of the above Stax material.