Thursday, May 29, 2008

More Love Letters From Elvis

Oups, I must have been more tired than I thought last night, writing about Love Letters From Elvis. The "pissing" version of "Heart Of Rome" does NOT originate from the June 1970 recordings, obviously, but instead from the rehearsals Elvis did on July 24 the same year for his forthcoming Las Vegas engagement.

Still, you never know, maybe he did the same thing with the lyrics on an alternate take back in Nashville. If not, you have to make do with the July version available on the bootlegs The Brightest Star On Sunset Boulevard, Vol 2 and Cut Me & I Bleed.

Speaking of Love Letters From Elvis, have you noticed what I think has to be Elvis chair creaking in "This Is Our Dance" about 20 seconds into the song? It starts when Elvis sings "Wait till everybody has gone" and lasts a couple of seconds.

Elvis does mention a problem with his chair on take 1 of "Mary In The Morning" recorded the day before and available on the recently released That's The Way It Is from FTD: "Wait a minute, the chair keeps popping, man," he laughs. So maybe I'm onto something, right?

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

From Festival to Love Letters From Elvis

It's been a long time since I played Love Letters From Elvis, but reading it's one of the upcoming classic album releases from FTD I decided to give it a spin. I never understood why it was one of the first Elvis LPs released on CD, and after listening to this the "what was left from the 1970 Nashville tapes" album I still have no answer to that one.

Admittedly, many of the tracks are among the weakest from this productive session. "When I'm Over You" is totally unforgettable and so is "If I Were You." After all, what can you expect with lyrics like "If I were you I'd know that I love me?" And "Only Believe" must be Elvis most boring inspirational song.

That said, there are some fine moments, including the title track and the beautiful ballad "I'll Never Know." And then we have the highlight, the jam "Got My Mojo Working/Keep Your Hands Off Of Her" which is way above the rest and helps save the day.

By the way, did you know Love Letters From Elvis was originally titled Festival? According to Ernst Jorgensen's book A Life In Music the title was changed when "The Sound Of Your Cry" and "Sylvia" were removed from the album and "Love Letters" added instead. Also, Colonel Parker wanted to add "Something" while Felton Jarvis thought "Hey Jude" would be better.

Finally, they decided to include the Easter single "Life"/"Only Believe" instead. Personally, I think Love Letters From Elvis would have been a stronger album with both "The Sound Of Your Cry," "Sylvia" and "Something" on it (and "When I'm Over You," "If I Were You" and "Only Believe" out of it).

Still, I'm kind of looking forward to the FTD release. It will be fun to have the "I'll take a piss in every fountain" take of "Heart of Rome" as well as the unedited, complete version of "Got My Mojo Working."

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Easy Come, Easy Go - the "what if" EP

Last Friday me and my wife went to Stockholm to see Alison Krauss and Robert Plant in concert. One could say my wife was there because of Krauss while I was more interested in the hard rock icon from Led Zeppelin.

I enjoyed the show, and though it had nothing to do with Elvis it made me think of him anyway. The second number turned out to be "Leave My Woman Alone," the Ray Charles song recorded for the Easy Come, Easy Go soundtrack back in 1966, but only as a backing track (released by FTD last year).

It was great hearing how it sounded with vocals and home again I read about the Easy Come, Easy Go session in Ernst Jorgensen’s A Life In Music. While Jorgensen has no answer to why Elvis never recorded a vocal to "Leave My Woman Alone" he puts forward some other interesting information:

1. "Saved" was pushed by Bienstock for inclusion in the movie but not cut by Elvis at the time.

2. "We Call On Him" was also rejected because it did not have the revival spirit called for by the script.

This made me think in the lines of "what if." What if Elvis had recorded "Leave My Woman Alone" as well as "Saved" and "We Call On Him" for the soundtrack? Then maybe the EP wouldn't have been an all-time low for Elvis, selling only a little more than 30 000 units.

Or maybe it wouldn't have mattered. After all, Elvis doesn't sound all that inspired during the recording of the soundtrack, and a song such as "Saved" would've probably lacked a lot of the excitement so evident on the version from his TV special two years later. Still, the following track list does tickle your imagination, doesn't it? It sure does mine.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

The cloth, Elvis and me

The other day I went through some boxes with stuff I haven't looked at for years. A lot of it were things I wrote when I studied journalism at the university, and one text from a workshop caught my eye. Here it is, newly translated from Swedish for your reading pleasure:

The cloth, Elvis and me

I have a special cloth. It's from one of Elvis Presley's clothing. Yes, I don't lie. It came with a LP box set that was released in the early 70's. I could write the title down, but that doesn't seem very important. After all, it was the cloth I was going to talk about.

It lies in an envelope with a window, so you can see it. “Something from Elvis’ wardrobe for you” is printed on the envelope. Oh, yes.

The cloth is from a suit Elvis wore in the picture Clambake from 1967. All 10 centimeters of it. It’s toothed on the sides and black. Jet-black, as Elvis probably would have called it. Just like his hair.

It doesn't look like much, the cloth. Yet, it was a part of Elvis' wardrobe once. “It smells like Elvis,” my brother used to say and then bury his nose in it. Thankfully, he didn't blow his nose.

Sometimes I take out the black piece of cloth, touch it and close my eyes. Then I'm there. In the beginning of the movie when Elvis stops at the gas station in his sports car och jumps out. "Would you fill her up while I’ll grab something to eat," he tells the attendant. And walks up to the cafe where I'm busy trying to get a date with the waitress. "A ham sandwich and a cop of coffee, please," he tells her och ruins my chances.

But it's worth it. After all, it isn't everyday you're defeated by the King.

Guess what my teacher wrote? "The funny thing with this text is that it continues after the cloth and into the private chamber of your secret dreams. But with such good humour! It reminded me a little of Woody Allen."

I don't know about that. What I do know is that Elvis' suit in Clambake is mainly white and that I didn't own a piece of Elvis' wardrobe back then. But as I writer, you can always take the liberty of doing some dramaturgical changes, right? As a journalist… well that's another matter altogether.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

How That's The Way It Is Was Woven

The last two weeks I've been traveling a lot, and thanks to the company of the That's The Way It Is FTD classic album on my iPod, it's been a pleasant journey. So now, being home for the weekend before I hit the road again, here are my thoughts on the latest FTD release.

First of all, it's not an easy task to transfer an album such as That's The Way It Is to the FTD two CD format. Unlike the other classics so far TTWII is the first one to include both studio och live material. Therefore you have to decide where the focus should be: on the studio songs, the live performances, or both.

I think Ernst Jorgensen and Roger Semon did the right thing when they concentrated on the studio tracks. After all, the majority of the songs originate from the first "Nashville Marathon," while only four are from Las Vegas.

I've always thought TTWII is a fantastic album with a lot of strong songs. I love Elvis version of "I Just Can’t Help Believin'" as well as the frantic rocker "Patch It Up" and the beautiful ballad "Twenty Days And Twenty Nights." "Stranger In The Crowd" is another personal favourite. Come to think of it, there isn't one track of the bunch you could call weak, is there?

Therefore, it's interesting listening to Elvis working with the songs, although it seems he's pretty sure where he wants to go even on the first takes. There are few surprises, and early takes of songs such as "Twenty Days And Twenty Night," "Mary In The Morning" and "How The Web Was Woven" are delivered very much like the masters.

But there are always exceptions to the rule. "The Next Step Is Love" is causing Elvis some trouble: he isn't sure when to start and has problemes with a few lines later on. An interesting detail is you can hear the demo with Paul Evans singing at the beginning of the track (This one was released on the second CD included with the FTD book Writing For The King.)

As I've stated in an earlier posting, I think the idea to include studio versions of the live songs where such exists ("I've Lost You" and "Patch It Up") is a good one (after all, these studio tracks were released as singles in 1970). The highlight here, and on the whole set, is hearing Elvis working himself and the band through nine takes of "Patch It Up" before he gets what he's looking for.

At one time he practically explodes when he messes up the phrasing: "God damn, that motherfucker, god damn!" he exclaims. You can hear Elvis use some more profanities on other tracks, and although I'm not a big fan of bad language I'm glad there's no censorship. After all, this is how it sounded at the time and Elvis was after all, only human.

All in all, I think Jorgensen och Semon have done a very good job. I guess one could argue that "Something", "Little Sister/Get Back" and the "Tiger Man" jam don't belong, as they weren't on the original album. Indeed, it would be interesting hearing the reason for them being included. ("Something" was also one of the bonus songs on the 3 CD Special Edition of TTWII released in 2000.)

If it were up to me, I would've included the live versions of "Stranger In The Crowd" and "The Next Step Is Love" instead. Or maybe "Just Pretend," "You Don't Have To Say You Love Me" or "Twenty Days And Twenty Nights." But these are minor points. I highly recommend the That’s The Way It Is set from FTD, it's one of their best so far!

PS: I've never understood why RCA chose to overdub applause on "Bridge Over Troubled Water." If they wanted a "live" feeling, why didn't they simply release the live version instead?