Sunday, January 24, 2010

Swing Down, Sweet Chariot (Dubbed Version)

I haven't bought the box set I Believe - The Gospel Masters released last year. Already owning the excellent 1994 2 CD set Amazing Grace - His Greatest Sacred Performances as well the as the 3 CD set Peace In The Valley - The Complete Gospel Recordings from 2000 (including more songs than the I Believe 4 CD set!), I thought it unnecessary, to say the least.

But reading Piers Beagley's review over at the Elvis Information Network made me curious about one of the songs featured on this the latest gospel set. The song in question was" Swing Down, Sweet Chariot" from the movie The Trouble With Girls, and this is what caught my eye:

Of real interest to collectors will be the fact that "Swing Down, Sweet Chariot" here is a very different mix. From the very start it is The Blossoms female vocal group that take the lead and follow Elvis’ vocal throughout. On the previous version – which is the same Elvis vocal track - it has always been The Mello Men doing these gospel backing-vocals.

This was interesting, indeed, but now what? Did I have to buy the whole set just to listen to this one song? Maybe not. I visited the Itunes store, and lo and behold! There it was, among the Elvis albums, the whole I Believe box set, but also with the choice to buy individual tracks from it. This was more like it! A moment later the song was safely downloaded in my Ipod.

It sure is a different mix, with an arrangement far from the one featured on The Mello Men version, which is much closer to the original from 1960. Not only is the phrasing from the female backing group done in a different way, but one of the girls is also singing high voice at the end. And lots of horns and trumpets can be heard, too. A real highlight, according to Piers Beagley, and I agree.

In his review, he also refers to Jorgensen's book A Life In Music, where it states that The Blossoms were overdubbed on "Clean Up Your Own Backyard" at an unknown date, and speculates that maybe the group also overdubbed "Swing Down, Sweet Chariot."

That seems as a good guess, as "Clean Up Your Own Backyard" as well as "Swing Down, Sweet Chariot" and "Almost" were overdubbed with horns on May 8, 1969 by Felton Jarvis, "in an attempt to improve their commercial potential," as Ernst Jorgensen puts it. Even so, two questions remain unanswered:

  1. Why wasn't this mix included on the Elvis' Double Features Live A Little, Love A Little/Charro/The Trouble With Girls/Change Of Habit released in 1995?

  2. Why didn't Felton Jarvis use the female backup vocalists used the day before, on May 7, 1969, including Ginger and Mary Holladay? Or is it in fact them singing on "Swing Down, Sweet Chariot?"

As I don't own I Believe - The Gospel Masters I don't know if Ernst Jorgensen provides any answers in the accompanying booklet. If you have this gospel set in your collection and he does, please let me know. If he doesn't, well then I guess it is up to others to find out. Mr Tunzi?


Troy Y. said...

Oddly enough, the "I Believe" set does not seem to be available on the US version of iTunes - unless I am totally overlooking it.

I did find the set with individual downloads over on Amazon, though. Thanks for spotlighting this song. Great version that I would've otherwise never known about.

Rocker said...

Hello Thomas,

I own the Boxset and checked the booklet. There's nothing written about the song in the liner notes. But there's a remark in the tracklist saying, that the song was taken from "A Legendary Performer Vol. 3".
About the vocals: "The Mello Man, Jack Halloran, Ronald Hicklin, Marylin Mason, Overdubbed vocals: The Blossoms."

Besides mentioning the musicians that's all information about the song in the booklet.

MĂ„rtenbrother said...

If the version is said to be from the "A Legendary Performer" set (which is the version available on Double Features) - could it be that this version was released by mistake? It has happened before.

Thomas said...

Thanks for sharing that information, Rocker! My bet, too, is that this version was released by mistake, as the song isn't listed as unreleased in the booklet. No doubt it will turn up on an FTD album sometime in the future, maybe when it's time for the soundtrack from The Trouble With Girls.