Saturday, January 15, 2022

He Touched Me – Undubbed Version?

Front cover of the He Touched Me album.

Having listened to the undubbed Christmas masters from Elvis Back In Nashville all through the Holidays, I decided to turn my attention to the undubbed religious masters on the same CD set.

Just like the Christmas masters, the track order is identical to the original album, in this case He Touched Me released in 1972. The exception is "Amazing Grace" which is included on disc one among The Country/Folk Sides. 

But unlike the Christmas material, the religious songs were recorded with background singers present in the studio. Most of the tracks were then left undubbed for release on the He Touched Me album. I guess this was a decision on producer Felton Jarvis part, mimicking the sound of Elvis singing gospel privately with his friends and backup singers to help unwind after a show.

A look in my well thumbed copy of Elvis Session III by Joe Tunzi revealed that only four of the religious songs on the He Touched Me album were overdubbed: "Amazing Grace" and "I, John" (both with more backup vocals), "He Is My Everything" (with strings) and "A Thing Called Love" (with strings and horns). 

Back cover of He Touched Me.

Still, I was looking forward to the whole undubbed He Touched Me experience, and it started well. The title track and album opener was as moving and soothing as ever, and the sound crystal clear. 

Then followed the more modern up tempo Christian number "I've Got Confidence," sounding fantastic with the electrical guitar more prominent and the song lasting about 25 seconds longer than on the original album, with frantic hand clapping and the band cooking. What a treat! (I recognized snippets of Elvis' voice at the end used to great effect on the version featured on the Where No One Stands Alone album released a couple of years ago, featuring new backing music and vocals.)

Next up was another pleasant surprise. Usually, when I listen to "Amazing Grace," I almost wonder if Elvis is there at all due to all the backing vocals. But in the undubbed format, I noticed that Elvis voice was more up front and the background singers more in the, well, background. The whole thing sounded so much clearer and less muddled. 

I then turned my attention to "Seeing Is Believing," with electrical sparks flying from James Burton's guitar. As always, it reminded me of  "I've Got Confidence," and I noticed another extra seconds at the ending here as well. I bet the writer of the song, Red West, was in the studio listening. How exciting it must have been for him to hear this. 

I was then unexpectedly disappointed. While I listened to "He Is My Everything" without the strings, I noticed that the original backing singers were gone, too. Slightly confused and irritated, my spirits lifted with the help of the next track, "Bosom Of Abraham." I always find it irresistible and infectious, reminding me of some of the spirituals on Elvis' earlier religious albums. The interaction between Elvis and the Imperials is pure joy. 

"Bosom of Abraham" was released as single together with "He Touched Me" in March, 1972. Interestingly it was titled "The Bosom Of Abraham."

In my imagination, I then flipped the album to the B-side. The two first numbers, "An Evening Prayer" and "Lead Me, Guide Me" sounded beautiful as always, maybe even more so in this new mix. But then surprise och disappointment struck again. As was the case of "He Is My Everything," the background vocals had been eliminated on "There Is No God But God." Although a pleasant enough song, in my opinion it really benefits from the backing vocalists responding to Elvis' singing. 

Fortunately, the rest of the tracks from "He Touched Me" were left undubbed as they were recorded in the studio. "A Thing Called Love" without the strings and horns worked well, even though bass singer Armond Morales' vocals were mixed down (in the original recording he is singing in union with Elvis throughout the song). "I, John" sounded more like a gospel quartet song without the overdubbed female singers and "Reach Out To Jesus" ended with the passionate ending I remember so well.

Two more religious tracks were recorded during the Nashville sessions 1971, and they are included after the "He Touched Me" tracks. "Put Your Hand In The Hand" and "Miracle Of The Rosary" were eventually saved for Elvis Now ("Amazing Grace" replaced "Miracle Of The Rosary" when no Folk album materialized), but it's evident they would have fit on Elvis' third religious album as well.

All in all, I enjoyed the undubbed version of He Touched Me. But it annoyed me that two of the tracks had their backing vocals removed. It also rhymes badly with what is written in the booklet:
NOTE: As the vocal interaction between Elvis and the backing singers is deemed fundamental to the gospel performances, they have been left as originally intended by Elvis and A&R man Felton Jarvis.
So, to sum it up. You now have two options to experience the He Touched Me album. You can either listen to the original album, with four overdubbed songs and the eight remaining tracks undubbed, or you can pick the one offered on the Elvis Back In Nashville set with all twelve tracks undubbed but two of them with the original backing singers removed. 

Additional reading:

Friday, December 24, 2021

Christmas Songs For You From Elvis

Front cover of Elvis Sings The Wonderful World of Christmas.

Elvis' Christmas songs always play an important role in getting into the Christmas spirit for me. This is especially helpful when living in Gothenburg, Sweden, where rain is more common than snow in the winter. So, since the beginning of December, I have been busy playing the undubbed Christmas tracks on the recently released Elvis Back In Nashville 4-CD set featuring his 1971 Nashville recordings.

Listening to them for the first time, I was reminded of my review of the FTD's treatment of Elvis Sings The Wonderful World Of Christmas, released ten years ago. I looked it up, and, among other things, this is what I had to say:

With the help of outtakes not being overdubbed in any way, it reveals a more intimate and sensitive side of the Christmas recordings that took place in Nashville during two nights in May, 1971. 

The same holds true for the Christmas masters, that without overdubs, form a softer and gentler version of the 1971 seasonal album, as my brother wisely points out in his recent review of the Elvis Back In Nashville set (the track order is the same as on Elvis Sings The Wonderful World Of Christmas). One such an example is "On A Snowy Christmas Night," where an organ and some beautiful acoustic guitar playing that was buried in overdubs on the original release, lends the song a more delicate feel. 

In the same way, "It Won't Seem Like Christmas (Without You)" and "Holly Leaves And Christmas Trees" both work extremely well undubbed, sounding more sorrowful than before. Even the bombastic "If I Get Home On Christmas Day" offers a more sincere listening experience without the strings, horns and backing vocals producer Felton Jarvis used when making the overdubs 50 years ago. 

Elvis as santa on the cover of the single "Merry Christmas Baby."

One of the highlights on the original album is the blues classic "Merry Christmas Baby," and finally we get the complete unedited and undubbed version. For some inexplicable reason, the unedited version released on FTD's Elvis Sings The Wonderful World Of Christmas switches to the original album master mix (with a guitar overdub) approximately four and a half minutes into the song, and then back again to the undubbed mix about one minute and ten seconds later. 

The rehearsal part found on the FTD version is also included on Elvis Back In Nashville, and this is what I wrote about it in my original review in 2011: 

Listening to Elvis saying "Yeah, just run it a couple of times and I'll come in there, you know, somewhere. Let's set the rhythm first," it's easy to imagine him in the middle of the studio with a mike in his hand, his musicians in a semi-circle around him.

Another favorite from Elvis Sings The Wonderful World Of Christmas, and one that I rank among the best Christmas songs Elvis ever recorded, is Michael Jarrett's "I'll Be Home On Christmas Day." I have always had a soft spot for the bluesier June remake version, and that one is included on the Elvis Back In Nashville set as well.

This is what the songwriter Michael Jarrett had to say about Elvis approach to his song, in an interview I did with him in the beginning of 2012:

I believe he approached my song in his own special way, that is to say; he related to what the lyrics were saying and the overall sentiment the song conveyed to him during this time of his life. I believe he chose the song to record because it had personal meaning to him.

"O Come, All Ye Faithful" was the B-side of the single "Merry Christmas Baby."

One song that I actually think benefits from the overdubs Felton Jarvis did is "O Come, All Ye Faithful." Granted, the organ that is now more prominent lends the song a more sacred feel. But I miss the choir as well as the original voices that sang the song with Elvis (unidentified, but most likely Charlie Hodge and Red West). Together with the strings and horns they make the song so much more mightier and powerful.

I still remember buying Elvis Sings The Wonderful World Of Christmas on cassette in the early eighties, then playing it in my room on my new cassette recorder. I shared my memories of that in a post published in Deecember, 2010:

Listening to the cassette, I was mesmerized by Elvis' singing, hearing for the first time the title track as well as the bombastic "If I Get Home On Christmas Day" and the incredible "Merry Christmas Baby."

Some 40 years have passed since I first heard Elvis singing about the wonderful world of Christmas, and every year I return to it so that Elvis can help me get into the Holiday mood. This year was no exception, but a little different, listening to it in another format without all the overdubs. It worked just as well, though, and with that I'd like to take the opportunity to wish you all a Merry Christmas.  

Additional reading:

Sunday, November 28, 2021

Guest Blog: Elvis Back In Nashville – A Review

The natural follow-up to last year's From Elvis In Nashville 4-CD set is out, and although I haven't yet received the physical product, I've listened quite a lot to it on Spotify. Containing masters and outtakes from Elvis’ 1971 Nashville session, Elvis: Back In Nashville presents the 43 masters on the first two CD’s and the outtakes on the final two discs.

The sound is great, no doubt about it. Instruments that previously have been buried in the mix now sound crystal clear. The drums in ”It's Only Love” for example, without the horns to drown them out, are really moving the song forward.

I've always had a soft spot for these 1971 recordings. Elvis' voice is not as good as in 1970, actually it is sometimes quite weak, but it morbidly fits well with so many of these lost love/broken man songs. Like on ”I'm Leavin’,” one of my favorite Elvis recordings. So I was so much looking forward to this box set.

The idea of presenting the tracks without overdubs, as they were recorded in the studio, is a great one. Many of these songs were really suffering from overuse of horns and strings (although one could argue that they were recorded with overdubs in mind). And I have no problems either with new mixes, making some instruments more prominent than before, and some less so.

But on the first CD the producers have made a strange decision: About half of the masters are presented with the background singers removed. Yes, the singers that were in the studio with Elvis! This was one of the big differences compared to the 1970 Nashville sessions where no other singers than Elvis and Charlie Hodge were present. And now, The Nashville Edition, The Imperials, Mille Kirkham and the Holladays, are gone.

If this had been properly made, maybe I could have accepted it. But often the background singing is bleeding through, and with earphones you sometimes can hear it quite clear. It's like it's there, but far, far away. And even without the bleeding-through, this makes for some strange listening. On ”The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face,” Ginger Holladay is very much audible during the false start. Then during the master, she is not there anymore.

The first CD actually reminded me of the two Our Memories of Elvis albums from 1979 where the same kind of removal mixes were made. It didn't make sense then, and it doesn't make sense now.

It's a greater delight to listen to the second disc, with songs that would form the albums Elvis Sings The Wonderful World Of Christmas and He Touched Me. The background voices are luckily intact on the gospel material and a lot of the instruments that you couldn't hear before are really up front. "I've Got Confidence" really rocks! The background singers were not present during the recording of the Christmas songs (I guess the Christmas tree that was put up in the studio took up too much space!) and without overdubs, the songs form a softer and gentler version of the 1971 seasonal album. Unlike some of the folk and pop tracks from CD 1, the Christmas recordings often work without additional singers.

The outtakes discs (where the producers thankfully have not removed the background singers) work well, although there are too many false starts and too much studio banter to really make it a great listening experience. But there are some gems here, including a previously unreleased take on one of the best Christmas songs, Michael Jarrett's ”I'll Be Home On Christmas Day.”

In all fairness, the big problem with this release is the first CD. Unfortunately, that was the disc I looked forward to the most, as it collects all the pop and folk masters from these sessions for the first time. The undubbed Christmas masters are, a bit surprising, the big win for me, and I will play that portion of CD 2 a lot come Christmas time.

Despite my objections, it's terrific that box sets like this are still produced. However, I hope the producers get it together for the next volume in this series, containing Elvis' 1972 and 1975 masters. I have a great title for that release: Back In Hollywood (Well, he was there a lot in the 60's, right?). And an advice: Do not remove instruments and vocals recorded in the studio. Please.


Additional reading:

Friday, November 5, 2021

In Memory Of Hard-Working Ronnie Tutt

One of my favorite shots of Ronnie Tutt and Elvis together. "I emulated and accented everything that he did just instinctively," Ronnie later said in an interview.
Just like other fans all around the world, I was saddened to learn about the death of Elvis' drummer Ronnie Tutt on October 16. At the same time, I found comfort in the fact that I saw him perform during five "live on screen" concerts; in 1999, 2000 (twice), 2010 and 2012, respectively. 

And perhaps even better, I also had a chance to say hello to him in 2016 after a show called Aloha from Copenhagen that celebrated Elvis' 81st birthday and the 44th anniversary of the historical Aloha From Hawaii Via Satellite concert. On stage were, besides Ronnie Tutt, two other members of the TCB Band (James Burton and Glen D. Hardin) as well as Terry Blackwood from the Imperials and Austrian singer Dennis Jale.

As Ronnie signed my copy of the double LP Aloha From Hawaii Via Satellite, I remember my brother asking him if the TCB necklace he wore was the original one given to him by Elvis. Turned out it wasn't.

When we sat on the train taking us home to Sweden, we told each other that we would probably never have the opportunity to see the TCB Band play live again. Unfortunately, that proved to be true.

But as I look at Ronnie Tutt's autograph right now, I am reminded of how much he, like the rest of the TCB Band, meant not only to Elvis, but to me as well. And I'd like to end where it all began for Elvis and Ronnie, back in 1970, during the auditions for the 1969 Las Vegas engagement. In an interview that Arjan Deelen conducted in 1999, Ronnie Tutt had, among other things, this to say when he was asked why Elvis picked him as his drummer:

It wasn't just a matter of expertise, but a matter of rapport. It was a matter of sensing, and watching his eyes, and watching everything he did. I emulated and accented everything that he did just instinctively. Every move, almost like a glorified stripper! And he loved that.

Additional reading:

Sunday, October 10, 2021

Elvis Sings For Children And Grownups Too! Volume 2

In an alternative universe: Elvis Sings For Children And Grownups Too! Volume 2

FTD has announced three new releases for next month: The Pot Luck Sessions 5 CD set, a 2 CD soundboard titled South Bound Tampa/Atlanta '75 and the double vinyl Raised On Rock: I've Got Rhythm In My Soul

In an alternative universe a fourth album was added for a December release with the following announcement:

43 years after its original release FTD is pleased to announce the Classic Album version of Elvis Sings For Children And Grownups Too! Packaged in 7" format with a full color 16-page memorabilia booklet, this 1-CD set also includes a previously unknown master tape featuring the second volume in the series. 

Newly found documentation (included in the booklet) reveals that a planned Elvis Sings For Children And Grownups Too! Volume 2 was scrapped due to the first volume's poor sales figures and weak #130 on Billboard's Top LPs chart during its 11 weeks on the chart (although it fared much better on the Country LPs chart with #5 and 16 weeks). 

Of special interest is the inclusion of an alternate take of "Your Time Hasn't Come Yet, Baby," which suggests that producer Joan Deary had access to the Speedway session tapes which has never been found since. 

Elvis Sings For Children And Grownups Too!

The Original Album
01. Teddy Bear 02. Wooden Heart 03. Five Sleepyheads 04. Puppet On A String 05. Angel 06. Old MacDonald 07. How Would You Like To Be 08. Cotton Candy Land 09. Old Shep 10. Big Boots (MO-04, alternate take) 11. Have A Happy

Volume 2
12. Lover Doll 13. Datin´14. Queenie Wahine's Papaya 15. Mexico 16. Earth Boy 17. Confidence 18. Your Time Hasn't Come Yet, Baby (take 4, previously unreleased) 19. Take Me To The Fair 20. It's Carnival Time 21. Don't Cry Daddy 22. House Of Sand 23. Sing You Children

Bonus Songs (considered for Volume 2 but dropped in favor of "Don't Cry Daddy" and "House Of Sand")
24. Carny Town 25. A Dog's Life 

Duet versions
26. Datin' (duet with Donna Butterworth) 27. Queenie Wahine's Papaya (duet with  Donna Butterworth) 28. Mexico (duet with Larry Domasin)

Back in this reality, of course no second volume of Elvis Sings For Children And Grownups Too! was ever planned by Colonel Tom Parker who schemed to put out the original album as early as 1975. Or who could really tell? One thing is for sure though: there were certainly enough songs for a sequel. 

PS: I originally thought of posting this on April 1 next year but couldn't wait that long. 

Additional reading:

Saturday, October 2, 2021

Amazing Grace: Elvis Back In Nashville

The bluesy take 2 of "Amazing Grace" is the third digital single promoting the Elvis: Back in Nashville set due for release on November 12.
Barely had I written about the second promo/preview/digital single from the upcoming 4 CD set Elvis: Back In Nashville when the third one was released yesterday. This time the spotlight is put on the first (incomplete) and second take of "Amazing Grace." Take 2 was first made available on the Walk A Mile In My Shoes – The Essential 70's Masters back in 1995, while the whole sequence containing both takes found its way onto the FTD version of He Touched Me (2011).  

I actually reviewed the latter in a post here on my blog back in November 2011 (was it really that long time ago?!), so I revisited that and read what I had written about the two first takes of "Amazing Grace." Apparently I focused a lot on the studio banter: 

Another example is the banter before the second take of "Amazing Grace" (following the first abandoned one) which has Elvis saying "I hit the wrong words, I was singing 'Love Me Tender'," and one of the musicians answering, "You was singing the hell out of it, whatever it was." I think he's right. I actually prefer the bluesy take 2 over the more conservative master.

Listening to the audio promo today made me realize this still holds true. Ernst Jorgensen puts it well in his excellent book Elvis Presley: A Life In Music (1998):

For this voice piece the rhythm section set a slow, solid, unobtrusive beat, while Chip Young added some bluesy acoustic slide guitar and David Briggs contributed flashy piano runs straight out of the showy gospel music tradition. 

But for some reason, after the second take producer Felton Jarvis told Chip Young to run a straighter course, resulting in a more traditional master of the song (take 5). For the first time this can now be heard on the promo (it wasn't included on FTD's version of He Touched Me). The dialogue runs something like this:

Felton Jarvis: Chip, don't play that funky stuff there man, really just straight.

Chip Young:  Alright.

Felton Jarvis: Simplicity you know.

Then another person says: Jerry, you're not gonna play on your kick drum, are you?

Jerry Carrigan: Ah, not much, no.

The other person: OK. 

So there went the bluesy version out of the window in favor of the master that we know from the He Touched Me album. I like that one too, but take 2 has the edge. In my book, yet another excellent choice to help promote Elvis: Back In Nashville.

Additional reading:

Wednesday, September 29, 2021

Until It's Time For You To Go: Elvis Back In Nashville

"Until It's Time For You To Go" (take 5) has been released as an offical lyric video.

So far I have been pleased with the the audio promos/digital singles RCA have chosen to promote the upcoming Elvis: Back In Nashville 4 CD set. In August the first attempt of the stunning "I'm Leavin'" was released (including a new rehearsal part), and a month later we were treated with take 5 of the beautiful "Until It's Time For You To Go." 

I thought it would be interesting to see what some of my favorite Elvis books have to say about "Until It's Time For You To Go" that was originally released as a single in January 1972, coupled with "We Can Make The Morning." First out is Robert Matthew-Walker and his book Elvis Presley: Studies in Modern Music (1979):

"Until It's Time For You To Go" became a classic hit for Presley and this performance is one of his best. He infuses each word with an added meaning.

In 1982 a book called The Complete Elvis edited by Martin Torgoff came out. Among other things, it included an A-Z section, that my brother and I loved to study. Today he sent me a mobile photo of what was written about "Until It's Time For You To Go":

Elvis turned Buffy's 1970 version of her own folksy composition into a ballad with piano and strings nicely complemented by the Imperials. The lyrics are stretched and phrased beautifully. 

Moving on to my well thumbed copy of Elvis Presley: A Life In Music from 1998 (if I could keep only one of my Elvis' books this would be the one) Ernst Jorgensen paints this picture of the recording of "Until It's Time For You To Go" on May 17, 1971:

Buffy Sainte-Marie's "Until It's Time For You To Go" was the next folk number to which Elvis gave his full attention. This kind of material might have been suitable for a pop album, less so for a single – but Elvis was throwing himself into his performances with abandon now, and all anyone could do was stand back and watch.

It's obvious Elvis cared for "Until It's Time For You To Go." Not only did he try to better his May version with a remake of the song at the June sessions (although it was the May recording that was eventually chosen for release as a single), he also included it in his live repertoire. 

I have to confess I like it too. It's a tender song that always strikes a chord when I listen to it. That leaves you, dear reader. What do you think of Elvis' version(s) of "It's Time For You To Go"? 

Additional reading: