Monday, December 27, 2010

A Sweet, Sweet Inspiration

When I told my wife on Christmas Eve that I'd just read that Myrna Smith was very, very sick, she pulled out the CD Estelle, Myrna and Sylvia by the Sweet Inspirations. "To play it now seems appropiate," she said, and I agreed. When I read the sad news on Christmas Day that Myrna had passed away, we listened to the CD again.

I had the privilege to see Myrna Smith on stage five times, four of them when she toured together with the Elvis Presley In Concert show, in 1999, 2000 (two times) and 2010 respectively. But the one occasion I treasure the most took place in 2005 when the American Sound Studio Band performed in the Swedish town Uddevalla together with the Sweet Inspirations.

It was obvious that Myrna Smith, as well as the two other members of the Sweet Inspirations, Estelle Brown and Portia Griffin, had a great time on stage and were enjoying themselves. And that was something that rubbed off on the audience. Elvis knew what he was talking about when he used to say "They sure live up to their name," while introducing the group.

After the show the singers and musicians signed records and photos. In the printed program was a picture from That's The Way It Is showing Elvis rehearsing together with the Sweet Inspirations. The problem with that picture was that only Myrna Smiths' hairstyle was visible, while her face was hidden behind a music stand.

She solved that by writing "(Sorry!)" and drawing an arrow that pointed to her head in the picture. She then penned "Love, Myrna." It's a nice, personal memory of Myrna Smith that I treasure.

For more information about the Sweet Inspirations and their work with Elvis, check out The Mystery Train Elvis Blog and the post Sweet Inspiration Myrna Smith, 1941-2010.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Christmas Message From Elvis Today

Thank you for reading Elvis Today. I’d like to wish you a merry Christmas and a wonderful New Year.

/Thomas, The Elvis Today Blog

Thursday, December 23, 2010

The Alternate World Of Christmas

Unfortunately Elvis Sings The Wonderful World Of Christmas didn't get the FTD treatment this year. My bet is that it will be released in October 2011, when the album celebrates its 40th anniversary.

Until then (or whenever it will be) we'll have to make do with what has already been released when it comes to outtakes from the sessions that gave us Elvis' second Christmas LP. And thanks to iTunes I've been able to create my own “FTD light version” of Elvis Songs The Wonderful World Of Christmas.

O Come, All Ye Faithful
The First Noel
On A Snowy Christmas Night
Winter Wonderland
The Wonderful World Of Christmas
It Won't Seem Like Christmas (Without You)

I'll Be Home On Christmas Day
If I Get Home On Christmas Day
Holly Leaves And Christmas Trees
Merry Christmas Baby
Silver Bells

I'll Be Home On Christmas Day (remake)

It Won't Seem Like Christmas (Without You) – take 3
I'll Be Home On Christmas Day – take 3
If I Get Home On Christmas Day – take 1
Holly Leaves And Christmas Trees – take 4
I'll Be Home On Christmas Day (remake) – take 2
O Come, All Ye Faithful – take 2
Silver Bells – take 1
I'll Be Home On Christmas Day – take 4
The Lord's Prayer (Informal Recording)
It Won't Seem Like Christmas (Without You) – take 6
Holly Leaves And Christmas Trees – take 8
I'll Be Home On Christmas Day (remake) – take 9

Merry Christmas Baby

The First Noel*
If I Get Home On Christmas Day*
Winter Wonderland*

* Bonus tracks from Christmas Duets, featuring additional instrumentation.

The “FTD light version” of Elvis Sings The Wonderful World Of Christmas was done by using all of the alternate takes that have been officially released so far. They can be found on Memories Of Christmas, If Every Day Was Like Christmas, Platinum: A Life In Music, Today, Tomorrow And Forever, I Sing All Kinds and A Hundred Years From Now – Essential Elvis Volume 4.

I really enjoy it, and I'm looking forward to the full version. Please bring it on next year, FTD, it would make for a nice early Christmas present!

Monday, December 20, 2010

Guest Blog: Elvis Is Not Just For Christmas Anymore

Outside of Oldies stations and incidental music, I never hear Elvis on the radio here in the United States anymore - except at Christmas time. This phenomenon is not unique to Elvis, though. The same applies to Frank Sinatra, Nat King Cole, Dean Martin, and many other legends who seemingly turn up in the collective consciousness only during this season. There is something universal about Christmas music that spans across generations and genres.

Non-fans in the general public often seem to enjoy Christmas music by Elvis, even if they listen to little else by him the rest of the year. As an Elvis fan, it's actually hard for me to relate to that point of view. It seems to me, if they enjoy his Christmas music, they could just as easily enjoy his other music all year long, just like we do. The next time one of your friends asks you to recommend some Elvis Christmas music, consider giving her or him both some Christmas and year-round music selections. They might be surprised to learn that Elvis is not just for Christmas anymore.

With that in mind, I started thinking of non-seasonal songs with similar vibes as his Christmas music.

  • Trade "Blue Christmas" (1957) for "One Night" (1957)
  • Trade "White Christmas" (1957) for "Such A Night" (1960)
  • Trade "Here Comes Santa Claus" (1957) for "Treat Me Nice" (1957)
  • Trade "Silent Night" (1957) for "Love Me" (1956)
  • Trade "O Little Town of Bethlehem" (1957) for "Young And Beautiful" (1957)
  • Trade "Santa Bring My Baby Back" (1957) for "Got A Lot O' Livin' To Do" (1957)
  • Trade "Santa Claus Is Back In Town" (1957) for "Reconsider Baby" (1960)
  • Trade "I'll Be Home For Christmas" (1957) for "Don't" (1957)
  • Trade "Santa Lucia" (1963) for "It's Now Or Never" (1960)
  • Trade "If Every Day Was Like Christmas" (1966) for "I'll Remember You" (1966)
  • Trade "Blue Christmas" (Live-1968) for "One Night" (Live-1968)
  • Trade "It Won't Seem Like Christmas" (1971) for "Where Did They Go, Lord" (1970)
  • Trade "If I Get Home On Christmas Day" (1971) for "It's A Matter Of Time" (1972)
  • Trade "Holly Leaves And Christmas Trees" (1971) for "Separate Ways" (1972)
  • Trade "Merry Christmas Baby" (1971) for "Don't Think Twice, It's All Right" (1971)
  • Trade "Silver Bells" (1971) for "Stranger In The Crowd" (1970)
  • Trade "I'll Be Home On Christmas Day" (1971) for "I'm Leavin''" (1971)
  • Trade "On A Snowy Christmas Night" (1971) for "How The Web Was Woven" (1970)
  • Trade "Winter Wonderland" (1971) for "Jailhouse Rock" (Live-1968)
  • Trade "O Come All Ye Faithful" (1971) for "Always On My Mind" (1972)
  • Trade "The First Noel" (1971) for "We Can Make The Morning" (1971)
  • Trade "The Wonderful World Of Christmas" (1971) for "Help Me Make It Through The Night" (1971)

So, there you have it, a non-seasonal playlist designed to feel like Elvis' Christmas music. Maybe next year, Sony can release a double CD Christmas gift set with this kind of theme. It would give them a chance to put a slightly different twist on their annual Elvis Christmas music re-release.

My thanks to Thomas for letting me ramble on here on Elvis Today. Have a wonderful Christmas and a merry New Year, everyone!

/Troy Y., The Mystery Train Elvis Blog

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Memories Of Christmas

Sixteen years after its release, I still think If Every Day Was Like Christmas is the best Christmas compilation with Elvis. Featuring all the 20 Christmas songs Elvis recorded, as well as a couple of alternate versions it's the ultimate Elvis Christmas CD.

But no one or nothing is perfect. That's why I'd like to recommend the album Memories Of Christmas as well. Released on LP back in 1982 and then on CD five years later, it has a running time of only 28 minutes, but it features some great gems not available elsewhere.

I still remember the first time I heard track number one, take 2 of "O Come, All Ye Faithful". Running more than a minute longer than the original version, it has Elvis singing the first verse one more time, to the accompaniment of an organ, lending the song an almost sacred character. And the ending is dynamic, with Elvis raising his voice one octave higher than on the original.

Another highlight on Memories of Christmas is the third track, the (then) unreleased master of the remake of "I'll Be Home On Christmas Day." I recall the feeling of listening to this track for the first time as well, it just blew me away. From then on I've always preferred this bluesier June 71 version over the one recorded a month earlier, and it has of course been released elsewhere.

A track that can't be found anywhere else is the unedited/undubbed master of "Merry Christmas Baby" running for about eight minutes and outlasting the one found on If Every Day Was Like Christmas with over two minutes. Elvis just keeps pushing the band along, and I'm amazed the song hasn't been released in this format since.

Finally, there's the unreleased version of "If Every Day Was Like Christmas," that I always thought was another take. But according to Joe Tunzi and his book Elvis Sessions III it's the master with overdubs done by David Briggs on celest. Comparing the two this evening, I have to say he's probably right. But it sound different nonetheless, more "Christmas like."

To sum it up: No doubt the longer versions of "O Come, All Ye Faithful" and "Merry Christmas Baby" will be made available when Elvis Sings The Wonderful World Of Christmas gets the FTD treatment. Until then Memories Of Christmas is the only place on earth where you'll find them. And David Briggs' celest.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Santa Lucia – The Missing Christmas Song

Did you know there's one particular song missing on every Christmas compilation with Elvis? At least if you're from Sweden like I am, there is.

You see, on December 13, Saint Lucia's Day (or Lucia for short) is celebrated in Sweden. Together with Advent, it marks the beginning of the Christmas celebration, and everyone knows the (Swedish) words to the traditional song "Santa Lucia," which was recorded, among others, by a certain Elvis Presley.

Of course, he sang the original Italian lyrics, in a completely different context, in the movie Viva Las Vegas. But the fact remains that it's a song very much associated with Christmas in Sweden. With that in mind, for Swedish fans it would probably have made more sense to include "Santa Lucia" than "Mama Liked The Roses" on the re-issue of Elvis' Christmas Album in 1970.

So far I haven't seen any "new" Christmas album with Elvis featuring "Santa Lucia" and I guess I never will. But in my Christmas compilation with Elvis it has a given place. (I also included it in the Elvis Christmas program Merry Christmas Baby that I did for the Swedish Radio about ten years ago.)

Sul mare luccica
L'astro d'argento
Placida e' l'onda
Prospero e' il vento

Venite all'agile
Barchetta mia
Santa Lucia
Santa Lucia...

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Christmas In May

Spending a lot of time with Elvis' 1971 Christmas recordings in December always helps me get into the Holiday mood, and this year is no exception. Of course, all the snow we have here in Sweden right now helps, too.

It must have been a lot harder for Elvis to catch the spirit of the season in 1971, arriving at RCA's Studio B on May 15 to record a new Christmas album. Not only was Christmas more than seven months away, I guess the weather was as far from snowy as it could get.

But according to Peter Guralnick Elvis' associates did their best to help Elvis along the way. This is how he describes it in his book Careless Love:

The studio had been transformed by Felton into a Christmas scene with brightly wrapped boxs (all empty) under a gaily decorated Christmas tree. Lamar even dressed up as Santa Claus, and the Colonel sent Elvis a Christmas card with
a picture of himself as Santa standing next to Frosty the Snowman...
I have no idea if this helped or not, but I do know that Elvis' 1971 Christmas recordings are played all around the globe every Christmas. Granted, the best songs are the ones that aren't strictly classic Yuletide music, like "Merry Christmas Baby" and "I'll Be Home On Christmas Day," both blues numbers Elvis obviously enjoyed singing, Christmas or not.

But that doesn't stop me from liking the more traditional Christmas material such as "Holly Leaves And Christmas Trees" and "If I Get Home On Christmas Day" as well. After all, Elvis knew what the wonderful world of Christmas was all about, and his Christmas music is the best.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

The Wonderful World Of Christmas

Listening to Elvis' Christmas music, like I always do on December 1 each year, made me remember the time when I bought Elvis Sings The Wonderful World Of Christmas.

It must have been in the early eighties. Christmas was a couple of months away but in my favorite record store I stumbled upon the album on cassette. I had never seen it on LP before, but the cassette version suited me just fine, as I'd just bought my very own cassette recorder. The problem was, there was just one copy of the cassette, and as I was afraid somebody else was going to buy it, I had to make my move.

Grabbing the cassette, I approached the counter and handed it over to the salesman. "Isn't it a bit early for Christmas music," he asked and smiled at me. I guess he wasn't an Elvis fan, or else he would've understood the importance of that one cassette. After all, it was the only one available in the whole of Stockholm featuring Elvis Sings The Wonderful World Of Christmas. I mumbled something inaudible, paid for my find and and left.

At home, it was my turn to smile. 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."

Since then I've picked up both the LP and the CD version of the album, the latter one featuring "If Every Day Was Like Christmas" and the remake of "I'll Be Home On Christmas Day" as bonus songs. I had been hoping for a FTD release in time for the Holidays this year, but maybe next Christmas my wish will come true.