Saturday, December 31, 2011

What A Wonderful Elvis Year

As 2011 draws to an end I find myself thinking about what a good Elvis year it has been. And browsing through the blog posts I've written during the last 12 months, here are some of my most memorable moments:

The absolute highlight was the release of my blog book, The Elvis Today Blog Book, in which I'd collected the 271 posts I penned from August 16, 2007 to January 8, 2010. As I'd worked hard with it since August the year before, it was a great feeling to finally hold the real thing in my hands.

Record wise it's been a fantastic year as well. The Follow That Dream label began the year with the fine release Live In Vegas, featuring the August 26 dinner show from Elvis' first Las Vegas engagement in 1969. Then, after the "what if" album Elvis Sings Guitar Man, the label took a dive with the two summer releases Stage Rehearsal and Amarillo '77. But Ernst Jorgensen and Roger Semon then made more than up for that, and closed the year with some excellent releases, such as 48 Hours To Memphis, He Touched Me, Promised Land and Elvis Sings The Wonderful World Of Christmas.

On the Sony main label, Ernst Jorgensen compiled and produced the critically acclaimed 5 CD deluxe set Young Man With The Big Beat, that put focus on Elvis in 1956. The highlight on the set was Elvis' final show for the Louisiana Hayride on December 15, 1956, previously unreleased. And speaking of Louisiana Hayride, I must also mention Memphis Recording Service's release The Complete Louisiana Hayride Archives 1954-1956, collecting all of the surviving Louisiana Hayride material with Elvis on one disc.

I recall I was a bit nervous one day in March when I was interviewed by the editor of the official news magazine for the University of Gothenburg where I'm currently holding a position as a public relations officer. Two months later the magazine was published, featuring an article spread over two pages titled A Life With Elvis under the heading In My Spare Time. Soon I found out I wasn't the only fan in the building where I work.

Another Elvis experience I remember really made me feel good. One evening in April, I gave a presentation about his religious music in a church. it was a fantastic feeling being able to present and listen to Elvis' gospel music in its right element.

Finally, I have to mention the pleasant correspondence I had with a veteran from the U.S. Navy and its Patrol Squadron VP-45 regarding an "Elvis ... if he's out there we'll find him!" crew patch I bought many years ago.

So, what does 2012 hold in store? I for one hope we'll see From Elvis Presley Boulevard, Memphis, Tennessee and Moody Blue released in FTD's Classic Album Series. After all, Jungle Room Sessions from 2000 is one of their most popular titles, and the interest for the bootleg series Welcome To The Jungle proved that the demand among the fans for more outtakes from 1976 is high.

Oh, I almost forgot. On March 24 I'll attend Elvis Presley In Concert when the show is playing Copenhagen, and two weeks later, on April 7, when The Original Elvis Tribute (featuring Bobby Wood and Duke Bardwell, among others) is performing in Vara, Sweden, I'll be in the audience as well. So, surely looks like I'm in for another great Elvis Year!

Happy New Year!

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Promised Land - A Review

Ever since Good Times was released by the Follow That Dream label two years ago I've been looking forward to Promised Land getting the classic album treatment as well, and earlier this month it finally arrived. After listening to the two CD's packed with alternate takes and interesting studio dialog as well as some rehearsals and undubbed masters, I can say that it was definitely worth the wait.

I've always liked Promised Land with its mix of rock, pop, ballads, country, funk and gospel, all songs recorded during a session at Stax Studios in Memphis, December 10-16, 1973. The FTD version follows the by now well known pattern with the original album and session highlights on disc 1 (including "the alternate album") and more outtakes on disc 2. It's a proven concept that works well this time as well.

The original album takes off with Chuck Berry's great rocker "Promised Land," and with the help of takes 2 to 6 we are offered a fly-on-the-wall experience of how it sounded when Elvis and his musicians recorded the song. One example of this is David Briggs trying out the intro on his electric piano, while Elvis asks if guitarist James Burton knows it. Another is the ending of the same take, having Elvis exclaiming, "Don't look at me. There's no more verses!" as the second guitar solo goes on and on. As for the outtakes, I love the longer take 5 (the one before the master), which has Elvis singing nearly the whole song again after the second solo.

Take 1 of the moving country number "There's A Honky Tonk Angel (Who Will Take Me Back In)" offers a more "naked" version than later takes, mainly due to Elvis emotional singing. Just listen to the line "Oh, when there's an old friend out there and she's waiting, yes she is" and you'll see what I mean. For some reason Elvis throws in an "I love you" in falsetto after the line " You never look at me and say I love you," destroying a nearly complete, beautiful take 7. But Elvis and the musicians share a laugh, and so do I.

Elvis nails "Help Me" in one take, and according to Jerry Hopkins in his book Elvis: The Final Years, he dropped to his knees to sing it. The false start and remixed master offers no clues to if this statement is true, but Elvis does say "Puh!" after the ending, something that can't be heard on the original master.

I've always thought of "Mr. Songman" as the weakest track on Promised Land, and I guess Ernst Jorgensen feels the same, as no outtakes have been made available until the release of this version of the album. The four outtakes (three of them complete) does nothing to change my opinion, but all the studio dialog makes for an interesting listening experience all the same. There's playful banter between the musicians, Elvis and Kathy Westmoreland as David Briggs plays the electric piano for Felton Jarvis' benefit before the first take, and it's interesting to hear someone in the studio halting the third take with the words, "Hold it, excuse me, I did it ... once again!" as he somehow makes a mistake at the beginning of the song.

Another song that hasn't been offered in any other format than the master before is "Love Song Of The Year," (probably not a favorite of Ernst Jorgensen either, it isn't even mentioned when he describes the sessions in his book A life In Music). But here we get the complete recording session, from the rehearsal and all through takes 1 to 7 (8 is the master). I haven't been a great admirer of this song either, but I have to admit that listening to the alternate takes has made me change my opinion. Without the heavy overdubs, it's like a veil has been lifted from the song, exposing the real meaning of the lyrics. Take one is a great example of this, it sounds more sincere than the master as Elvis sings with great feeling, accompanied by a much more prominent sounding piano. And the rehearsal is really funny, with Elvis changing the lyrics, for example the line "So I confess my loneliness" to "So I confess I made a mess."

"It's Midnight" was the first track on Side B of the original album, a dramatic ballad that Elvis clearly identified with, wringing every ounce of emotion out of it. (The previously unreleased takes 7 and 9 are good examples of this.) But that didn't stop him from having a good time while recording it, something that becomes apparent while listening to the outtakes, especially the first ones. "I've been rich since I was 21, it don't matter. I told you J.D., I've been a millionaire since 21, I don't care if we make it or not. It's just a hobby to me. Felton's working hard. (Laughing) You're all just starting to get rich and I'm blowing it for you," he jokes after the third take has been abandoned.

A song that took on a whole new meaning to me about a year ago is "Your Love's Been A Long Time Coming," when my daughter was born. Thanks to a guest blog by Troy Y. who runs the Mystery Train Elvis Blog I learned that the lyrics were about the songwriter's newborn daughter, and not a woman. No new complete outtakes are included here, but a couple of long false starts once more show us what a good mood Elvis was in. About two minutes into take 3 he sings a "be" instead of "do" resulting in "And I'm gonna tell everyone what good love can be-do-be-do-be-do-be-dooo" and then completely loosing it, exclaiming, "What's the difference between a 'be' and 'do' among friends?"

I've always counted "If You Talk In Your Sleep" as one of the highlights on the original album, and take 5 is a firm favorite, with funky guitars, lots of bass and drums, electric piano, an organ sneaking up from behind, shouting girls, and above it all Elvis in firm command. The incomplete take 6 offers yet another chance to study Elvis at work in the studio, listening to him singing snippets of "Find Out What's Happening" before the take and then hearing him cutting the take short with the words "I lost my earphones, the earphones are gone to hell and back."

"Thinking About You" is another great song from the album, and here we are treated with a rehearsal that leads to a swinging version ("Better quit Felton, they start playing jazz, man!"), as well as five alternate takes, three of them complete. In all fairness, the different outtakes sound very similar to my ears, but the previously unreleased take 6 is a real treat, a driving version that features two guitar solos at the end, with Elvis doing the chorus after each solo. The other takes only has Elvis singing the chorus once.

The original Promised Land album closed with the country flavored "You Asked Me To," and the FTD treatment of the album includes no less than four complete outtakes. Two of them are previously unreleased, the first one, take 3A, once again showing Elvis in a good mood. "Give me a key, or a sign," he says, as there is no intro in the song. Then follows the sound of a piano, bass and guitar, as the musicians try to be helpful. "OK, that's enough, not to many keys, shit, I get confused," he laughs, then launches himself into yet another session highlight.

As you've probably guessed by now, Promised Land is another winner from FTD. But what's a review without some criticism? First and foremost, the first take of the title track is missing, probably due to the fact that Elvis changes the line "And the poor boy is on the line"” into "And the mother****** is on the line." In a way this is a strange decision, as Elvis sings exactly the same thing on the second rehearsal version of "Promised Land" included on the FTD release From Sunset To Las Vegas. Another questionmark is the composite version of "There's A Honky Tonk Angel," spliced together from takes 5, 3 and 8. I think it would have been better to include the nearly complete take 3 instead, a take which apparently ends in a hilarious way. My third complaint is that the unedited master of "Thinking About You" is missing. The edited master used on the original album was faded out before Elvis started to sing the chorus, something that became apparent when a longer edit was released on Our Memories Of Elvis Volume 2 in 1979.

These minor complaints out of the way, Promised Land is without a doubt one of the best releases from the Follow That Dream label this year. It's one that I will return to many times, together with Good Times and Raised On Rock, the other two classic albums making up what could be called "The Stax Trilogy." Highly recommended.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Elvis plays Santa Claus ... with sly grin on face

The following article by James Kingsley is reprinted with permission from The Commercial Appeal, where it was originally published in December, 1971. Merry Christmas!

Elvis Presley, the multi-millionaire squire of Graceland, is well known as the “practical joker.” He pulled off one of his best at his annual Christmas Eve get-together when he usually hands out envelopes stuffed with money and sometimes gold-plated automobile keys to employers and friends. Everybody remembered that last year some of his gifts included expensive Mercedes-Benz automobiles and the usual cash gifts that he likes to share.

As Elvis began to play Santa Claus this year he was in ha happy-go-lucky mood as everyone gathered in his den and living room expecting the usual gifts and maybe a “little something special.” With a sly grin on his face, the singer turned to his father, Vernon Presley, and asked: “Where are the envelopes please?”

Vernon reached into his coat pocket and produced the envelopes. “Well, it’s been a mighty lean year,” said Elvis, whose income probably exceeded four million dollars in 1971 with two appearances at the Las Vegas Hilton International Hotel, two tours of the country, and record royalties.

He had built them up for the kill. He knew inside the envelopes was a gift that would be worth a hamburger, french fries and a soft drink. As the envelopes began to be opened, the room felt silent. His special gift for 1971 was a 50-cent gift certificate to McDonald’s Hamburgers. His joke over, Elvis later distributed his real gifts which included envelopes stuffed with cash for his employees.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Elvis Sings The Wonderful World Of Christmas - A Review

One of the latest classic albums to get the FTD treatment is Elvis Sings The Wonderful World Of Christmas, released timely earlier this month. 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. (A remake of one of the songs, "I'll Be Home On Christmas Day," was done one month later but not used on the original album.)

Maybe it was the great big decorated Christmas tree that was placed in the middle of RCA's Studio B that got Elvis in the right mood for the session. Maybe Lamar Fike dressed up as Santa Claus did the trick. Whatever the reason Elvis seems to be having a good time from the start.

While producer Felton Jarvis and the musicians discuss the beginning of "It Won't Seem Like Christmas (Without You)" featuring a celeste, Elvis throws in a line of "Merry Christmas Baby." David Briggs follows suit, hammering away on the celeste. "I gotta hold you guys down, man," Elvis laughs.

Admittedly, he sounds a bit annoyed when the second take breaks down, complaining that the lyrics aren't written out, but then works hard through a couple of more takes before settling on take 7 as the master. The previously unreleased take number 5 is a highlight, with Elvis pushing the boundaries of the song, the result a more loose and less polished version than the master. Unintentionally or not, he even changes the line "Far too many miles are between" to "Far too many years come between" at the end of the song.

When released on the original album back in 1971, Felton Jarvis had just about used every trick in the book when it came to making overdubs on "If I Get Home On Christmas Day," adding strings, horns and a lot of backing vocals, creating what I like to call a "bombastic Elvis sound." Listening to the alternate takes, especially the early ones, you can almost be fooled into thinking it's another song, it sounds so much more intimate. No less than three complete takes are previously unreleased, all of them having Elvis singing "Somehow I know I'll get my chance this time" instead of "I know I'll get my chance with you this time" as used on the master.

Another intimate and sensitive song is the pretty "Holly Leaves And Christmas Trees," written by Red West and featuring a simple but effective arrangement for acoustic guitars and organ. The phrasing is a bit different at places on the previously unreleased takes 2 and 3. It must have been a treat for Red watching Elvis working with his song in the studio, recording no less than five complete takes of it.

One of the highlights of the album is the blues classic "Merry Christmas Baby," and here we get the complete studio performance as released on Memories Of Christmas in 1982, preceded by about 30 seconds worth of rehearsal, previously unreleased. 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.

For some unknown reason this unedited version 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. This was also the case on the version found on Memories Of Christmas, but not on the slightly shorter edit (7:19) included on Reconsider Baby released in 1985. It would be interesting if Ernst Jorgensen could shed some light on this.


A song that offers some interesting studio dialog and rehearsal is "Silver Bells," the last song to be recorded on the first night. Before tackling the first take Elvis says, "Charlie, why don't you guys do harmony with me and help me sing?" After a false start, Elvis tells engineer Al Pachucki that he don't want the harmony to be on the record, just hear it to get it right. In his book A Life In Music Ernst Jorgensen describes this episode as "an uncomfortable impasse," but listening closely, I don't hear anything suggesting this, Elvis sounds polite and Al doesn't seem to take offense. "OK, that's very good," he answers back, asking Charlie to turn an amplifier down.

The second night of recordings kicked off in great style with Michael Jarrett's "I'll Be Home On Christmas Day." Elvis seems relaxed and jokes around between takes. When Felton Jarvis suggests they need a sandpaper effect, one of the musicians jokingly remarks "He wants to do his fingernails!" to which Elvis responds laughingly, "Do that shit on your own time, Felton. You can get a manicure tomorrow, hell!"

As for the song itself, takes 3 (with extra verse) and 4 have been released before, on I Sing All Kinds (2007) and Platinum - A Life In Music (1997) respectively, but the studio banter between them has not. "Before we were doing eight verses, we'll cut it down to six," Elvis says, and you can almost hear him cross out a couple of them on his lyrics sheet as he mutters, "one, two, three ... let's see..."

Take 6 is previously unreleased, recorded after Elvis did his informal rendition of "The Lord's Prayer." It's a beautiful version, thankfully lacking the unnecessary overdubs found on the master. Elvis is in fine voice, conveying the message of the song perfectly. Another highlight.

The seasonal standard "Winter Wonderland" is on the other side of the spectrum. After a spiritless take 7 (the first six takes were on a reel that was erased) that finishes abruptly after the guitar solo when Elvis messes up the lyrics, laughingly throwing in some explicit language, he exclaims, "I'm getting tired of this damn song. Tired of it!" Do his credit, he then tries hard to get it right, rehearsing together with pianist David Briggs on how to come in after the solo.

Fortunately, "O Come, All Ye Faithful" proves a return to the better and a much more inspirational Christmas performance. The previously unreleased take 2 has Elvis making a mistake as he begins to sing the second verse too early, but is otherwise beautifully performed. It also runs longer than the master (take 1), featuring the first verse one more time at the end (this verse was spliced with take 1 on Memories Of Christmas). The voices singing with Elvis are unidentified, but according to the booklet it's most likely some members of Elvis' band and entourage, like Charlie Hodge and Red West. Incidentally, this is a song that I actually think benefited from the overdubbs made a little more than a month later, giving it a more "churchly" sound.

Of the remaining three Christmas songs recorded on the second night, no outtakes exists. "On A Snowy Christmas Night" was recorded on the same reel that included the first six takes of "Winter Wonderland" and was erased. And another reel, used while recording "The First Noel" and "The Wonderful World Of Christmas," is missing.

Compensation comes in the form of all the nine alternate takes (three of them complete) from the remake of "I'll Be Home On Christmas Day," recorded in June. For some reason Elvis wanted to give the song a more solid and heavy beat, the result being a bluesier version. "Rough, very rough," he exclaims after the take 2. The third take, previously unreleased, has Elvis slightly messing up the extra verse featuring Michael Jarrett's children. That doesn't stop him from delivering an enjoyable, funky version, urging the band along and telling them to add another verse. "That's a lot better like that, Elvis," Felton Jarvis can be heard saying right after the ending.

Obviously he's in a good mood here as well, kidding with the producer and the musicians. "I didn't like that, that was too good, he jokes after an abandoned intro. "Nothing went wrong so I couldn't criticize it." For some reason, he breaks up laughing during take 6, and after take 7 says, "Come to think of it, I liked the original version better," evoking laughter. It's hard to tell if he's joking this time, but the master was shelved, and not released until eleven years later on Memories Of Christmas. To finally have all the outtakes from this great remake on one release is worth the price of the album alone.

I also have to mention the booklet that displays some interesting memorabilia, such as an alternate album cover, a document ordering that "Miracle Of The Rosary" is to be deleted from the track list and a sketch stating that the title (or maybe subtitle) should be Christmas Songs For You From Elvis. Unfortunately the In And Outtakes section contains some minor errors as does the track list ("Silver Bells" doesn't include take 2, just take 1). A bit sloppy perhaps, but nothing to get upset about. The main thing is that FTD presents us with another winner in their classic album series - one that shows the 1971 Christmas recordings in a different light.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Blue Christmas UK Single Campaign

Today I spent 9 Swedish crowns (about £0.80p or US$1.20) downloading "Blue Christmas" from iTunes. The reason for this is a campaign orchestrated by the British fan clubs where the goal is to get Elvis high in the UK download singles chart in time for Christmas.

Reading on the Elvis Information Network that hopefully fans from around the world can help them achieve their objective, I decided to do my part. After downloading the song I took a peek at the UK Single Downloads Top 40, but no trace of Elvis and "Blue Christmas" yet.

I for one would be pleasantly surprised if this campaign succeeds in getting Elvis back in the charts. On the other hand: "You'll be surprised what you can do if you will only try."

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Elvis 1967 – That Wild Presley Beat (an imaginary press release)

What if the follow-up to the critically-acclaimed and Grammy-nominated Young Man With The Big Beat box set turned out to be something called That Wild Presley Beat, focusing on 1967? I recently wrote a guest blog in the form of an imaginary press release for The Mystery Train Blog that throughout 2011 has commemorated the 44th anniversary of 1967.

Check it out over at The Mystery Train Elvis Blog

Thursday, December 8, 2011

From Elvis Today To Elvis Australia: Two FTD Reviews

Elvis Australia has posted a review Troy Y. and I wrote of Forty-Eight Hours To Memphis: Recorded Live On Stage In Richmond, Virginia – March 18, 1974, a recent Follow That Dream Records release. The review is a consolidated version of a discussion that first appeared on our blogs, Elvis Today and The Mystery Train.

Speaking of Elvis Australia, about two weeks ago the guy running it e-mailed and told me he would very much like to use my review of FTD's classic album release of He Touched Me. As Elvis Australia is one of the best Elvis sites around I was happy to oblige. And honored.
Check it out here.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Merry Christmas Baby

One of my all time favorite Christmas tracks with Elvis is "Merry Christmas Baby," recorded in Nashville on May 15, 1971. It also ranks high on my list over all the songs Elvis recorded. I remember reading somewhere that the song is so cool that you can enjoy it even on a hot August day.

From the first time I heard it, I've always loved the rhythm provided by bass player Norbert Putnam and drummer Jerry Carrigan, David Briggs strumming on the piano and the bluesy harmonica, courtesy of Charlie McCoy. And above it all, Elvis altogether at home with the song, delivering an impassioned performance, urging his fellow musicians along. This is how Ernst Jorgensen describes the recording in his book A Life In Music:
Pushing everyone else to eke as much emotion out of the song as he was ("Dig in, James," he cajoled; "Wake up, Putt"), he cruised through more than six minutes on the first take. There was ease and menace and delight in Elvis's after-hours performance, and the result has led more than one observer to lament that it wasn't a blues album rather than a Christmas album that had brought them together that night.
In fact, the take lasted about eight minutes, and listening to the complete studio performance as released on Memories Of Christmas (1982) it's evident that Elvis doesn't want to let go of the song, repeating the lyrics over and over. "Well, I'm feeling mighty fine," he sings, and it's obvious that he does.

When originally released on the album Elvis Sings The Wonderful World Of Christmas in October 1971, "Merry Christmas Baby" was edited down to 5 minutes and 45 seconds and featured an overdubbed guitar solo by Eddie Hinton. The single release a month later (coupled with "O Come, All Ye Faithful") was a minute and a half shorter than on the album.

An edited version with strings overdubbed (2:49) was used in the movie This Is Elvis from 1981 and can be found on the soundtrack (not yet released on CD). Four years later, in 1985, "Merry Christmas Baby" closed the excellent blues compilation Reconsider Baby (1985), this time a long edit without guitar overdub running for about 7 minutes and 20 seconds. Interestingly enough, this edit was included instead of the original one when Elvis Sings The Wonderful World Of Christmas was released on CD.

Later this month will see the release of the FTD version of Elvis Sings The Wonderful World Of Christmas. According to the track list the second CD will include "Merry Christmas Baby" - take 1 (unedited version) with a running time of 8 minutes and 29 seconds. My guess is that those extra 30 seconds will turn out to be the studio banter described by Ernst Jorgensen in A Life In Music: "Just run through it a couple of times, Elvis told the rhythm section; "I'll come in somewhere."

Read about two other Christmas favorites with Elvis:
Learn more about why Elvis shouted "Wake up, Putt!":

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Guest Blog: At Your Service

It is inevitable to compare Memphis Recording Service's releases with the ones from Follow That Dream, and what comes to mind regarding their latest album, The Complete Louisiana Hayride Archives 1954-1956 is half the price – twice as good.

It's a simple, yet real classy package, with the format being just a little bigger than a usual digipack, but with a hardback binding including a 92 page book. And what a book! Most of the pictures I have never seen, and with additional stuff like Elvis' first Hayride contract and ads, and a real informative text, it's worth the admission alone. And the layout is nice, too.

My favorite pictures are those from March 1956 with Elvis in a sleeveless shirt. Boy, does he look mean! There are also a lot of photos from December 1956, his last Louisiana Hayride visit. And that brings us to the music, a full CD of all the surviving Louisiana Hayride material.

You can have your doubts about the December 1956 material being included, since it was on Sony's Young Man With The Big Beat just a few months ago, but it runs longer here and it sounds as if everything is from the same source. I can't imagine why Sony left out the classic ”Elvis has left the building” comment, but here it is.

Since the first part of “Heartbreak Hotel” is missing, MRS used the start of the song from the Tupelo concert, recorded half a year earlier. It works fine. The back cover boasts that the show has been speed corrected, and comparing it to Sony's release, I think they are right.

Even without the December 1956 material, this CD would have been great, since it collects all the Hayride material on one disc. Why Sony hasn't done that is way beyond me. (The only previously released live material from 1954-1955 which is not here is the Houston concert from March 1955 and could have been included as a bonus if it hadn't been for the December 1956 songs.)

My favorite part is the August 1955 segment, with Elvis – and Bill Black – all geared up! Their treatment of “Maybelline” is fantastic and it was nice to hear it again. And everything is unedited, like it should be. This was not the case when parts of this material was officially released in 1999 on Sony's Sunrise.

I'll return to this album over and over again. It's Elvis live in the fifties, dammit! Not much can beat that. Or this release.

/MĂ„rtenbrother

Thursday, December 1, 2011

No Christmas From Elvis In Hollywood 2

It totally slipped my mind while writing about Elvis films where it's snowing: there's actually another one where a first glance at the soundtrack could have you believe it had something to do with Christmas - at least if you live where I do. I'm talking about Viva Las Vegas and "Santa Lucia," a song that is closely associated with the celebration of Christmas in Sweden.


But just like Live A Little, Love A Little and Girl Happy, Christmas and snow is nowhere in sight when Elvis sings "Santa Lucia" in Italian, just summer and sun. In fact, Elvis isn't visible either, just his shadow, as he is standing behind a curtain, singing to Ann-Margret in his rival Count Elmo Mancini's hotel room.

Being a Swedish-American maybe she, for the briefest of moments, got a bit of a "christmassy feeling" while humming along, who knows? (If she did, all thoughts of Christmas must've gone out the window as Elvis then entered the room belting out "If You Think I Don't Need You.")

If you want to know more about this "missing" Christmas song, I wrote about it last December. I was happy to see that Troy Y., who's running The Mystery Train Elvis Blog, included it this year in his post Christmas Dreams 2011: An Elvis Playlist for the Holiday Season.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

No Christmas From Elvis In Hollywood

Tomorrow is the first Sunday of Advent, but I cheated and started celebrating the Christmas season today, listening to my favorite Elvis Christmas compilation album If Every Day Was Like Christmas. Elvis' Christmas songs play an important role in helping me get in the "Christmas mode," and while listening to them it struck me that the same certainly can't be said about his movies.

Come to think about it, isn't it a bit strange that no Elvis movie ever took place around Christmas? After all, a lot of pictures do. But in the case of Elvis, sand was a lot more common property than snow.

At the top of my head, I can only recall two Elvis films where it's snowing, and in one of them the snow isn't even the real thing. In Live A Little, Love A Little, Elvis charachter and fashion photographer Greg Nolan has a busy time working two full-time jobs for separate magazines.


One of them is called Classic Cat Magazine, and in one scene Elvis is shooting studio photos of a lightly dressed model standing on a stump in a landscape covered in snow. Fake snowflakes are whirling around the model, thanks to a giant fan. (When Elvis orders the model's skirt raised, the guy handling the fan gets a little too excited and unintentionally sets it at full blast, leading to the destruction of the whole set.)

In Girl Happy, made four years earlier, real snow is falling down in Chicago. Rusty Wells (aka Elvis Presley) and his combo is playing at the nightclub 77 Club, and the snow is clearly visible outside the big windows as they perform the title track at the beginning of the movie.


Not that it's Christmas, though. No, it's Easter, and Elvis will soon have changed the snow for–yes, you guessed it–sand, and sunny Fort Lauderdale, Florida. There he and his three band members have to secretly chaperon the daughter of their employer, the nightclub's owner. About as far from a Christmas story as it gets.

No, if you want to get in the Christmas spirit with the help of Elvis, you'd better stick to his Christmas recordings. And while you're at it, why don't you try out Christmas Dreams 2011: An Elvis Playlist for the Holiday Season, by Troy Y. over at his The Mystery Train Blog.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

He Touched Me - A Review

Unlike Elvis' first two religious albums, His Hand In Mine and How Great Thou Art, his third and last one, He Touched Me, was a mix of traditional gospel and more contemporary Christian music. Recorded in Nashville in March, May and June 1971, the recently released FTD treatment of the album opens the door to RCA's Studio B to let us experience these recording sessions first hand. It makes for a fascinating visit.

Listening to Elvis and his musicians at work, one gets the feeling that it was the modern Christian material that demanded their attention the most. (With the exception of the rocking "I've Got Confidence" that Elvis nailed in two takes.) Maybe not that big a surprise, as Elvis was probably already familiar with the traditional gospel songs selected for the album, such as "Bosom Of Abraham" and "I, John."

One example of a song that stretched the bounds of the strictly sacred is "Seeing Is Believing," written by Red West. Elvis runs through 14 takes with his players and singers to record a master to his satisfaction, and ten of the outtakes (four of them complete) are included. This really gets you an idea of how Elvis worked with a song, from discussing the intro, ("No man, the drummer was right ... yeah, I like that bass thing") to working out how the female backup singers should sing with him. ("I think if you do it straight ... seeing, seeing, seeing is believing ... yeah right!) and deciding on a new ending ("We just fade this thing out, let's not do that stop ending"). Of the complete outtakes (two of them previously released), my favorite remains take 7, more funky than the master, and released by FTD on I Sing All Kinds in 2007.

"Reach Out To Jesus" is another treat. Here we get to hear no less than seven abandoned starts of the song. Not that Elvis minds, he is in a laughing mood, throwing in an "Oh happy day" now and then after a failed introduction, evoking laughter from him as well as the musicians. When they finally get past the piano introduction, what follows is a beautiful gospel performance (take 9, the one before the master).

A third chance to study Elvis craft is offered through the seven takes of Jerry Reed's "A Thing Called Love" as well as the rehearsal, where producer Felton Jarvis decides to let bass singer Armond Morales of the Imperials have his own mike. The reason for this is that he's singing in unison with Elvis throughout the song. Elvis is in good spirits here as well, throwing in a verse of "Listen To The Bells" before the forth take. It's also interesting listening to Felton Jarvis blaming Joe Moscheo of the Imperials ("A bad chord on the piano") after a take falls to pieces. "I didn't make that mistake," Joe answers back, and as far as I can tell he's right.

Many of the takes included on the two CD's have been released before, but not with as much studio banter. The second take of "He Touched Me" illustrates this, as we for the first time get to hear the Imperials and Elvis working out the introduction together. Elvis exclaiming "god damn" after the ending because his voice gave out was a new listening experience as well.

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.

A third song that offers some interesting studio banter not heard before is "Bosom Of Abraham." "You're the rhythm section," one of the Imperials says after take two falters and comes to a sudden stop. "You're supposed to get it right. We're the singers."

In one instance, the opposite is true as well. When originally released on FTD's Easter Special (2001), the first take of "He Is My Everything" had Elvis singing a bit of "Mean Woman Blues" before trying out the beginning of the song. Here that part is gone.

FTD's He Touched Me follows the formula for the classic album series with the outtakes evenly spread out among each other, that is, not all the outtakes from one song placed after one another. "Makes for more listening pleasure," I think Ernst Jorgensen's explanation was when asked about it sometime. In this case I'm glad for that line of reasoning, as it would have been a bit demanding to listen to five complete, very similar outtakes of "An Evening Prayer" in a row, no matter how sincere Elvis sounds.

The informal performance "The Lord's Prayer" is also included, as is the incomplete "Johnny B. Goode" jam, after which Elvis fools around with a couple of lines from "The First Noel." It would have been nice to get this jam in its continuity, that is, together with the religious song that then followed. Maybe the jam was just found as a snipet on a tape in the way it's presented and that just wasn't possible. Neither the CD's, nor the cover or booklet offers any leads.

Speaking of the cover and booklet, here I have to lodge my only complaint. The track list mentions that "He Touched Me" (take 3) and "He Is My Everything" (take 4) are incomplete, but fails to do so with "I, John" (take 1) as well as "A Thing Called Love" (take 7). I also have a hard time understanding why stage photos of Elvis not wearing the same jumpsuit as on the cover of He Touched Me are featured so prominently.

These are minor details, however. If you're interested in Elvis' religious songs and how he recorded the album that won him his second Grammy, He Touched Me in the classic album series is for you.

One final note. In his book Careless Love, Peter Guralnick writes that Elvis' "attention continued to wander" during the sessions when the songs for He Touched Me was recorded. Maybe that was the case, but it's not something I found evidence of while listening to the outtakes provided by FTD's treatment of He Touched Me.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Reviews From The Past 2

Reading the other day that Elvis Country will be the next Elvis legacy release from Sony (coupled with Love Letters From Elvis) made me remember my brother telling me of the high praise the album received in a review by Rolling Stone's Peter Guralnick when it was originally released.

My brother had read the review after bying a box set called Rolling Stone Cover To Cover, featuring a searchable digital archive on DVD, from the first issue in 1967 through 2007. He recently gave me the box set as a gift, which enabled me to study the review first hand. I'd like to quote one of the passages Peter Guralnick wrote in issue 77, published on March 4, 1971:
It's the singing, the passion and engagement most of all which mark this album as something truly exceptional, not just an exercise in nostalgia but an ongoing chapter in a history which Elvis' music set in motion. All the familiar virtues are there. The intensity. The throbbing voice. The sense of dynamics. That peculiar combination of hypertension and soul. There is even, for those who care to recall, a frenzied recollection of what the rock era once was, as Elvis takes on Jerry Lee Lewis' masterful "Whole Lotta Shakin'" and comes out relatively unscathed. He has never sung better.
While reading this, I imagined how exciting it must have been being an Elvis fan back then, reading the review and then buying the record and listening to songs such as "Tomorrow Never Comes," "Funny How Time Slips Away," "I Really Don't Wan't To Know" and last but not least, the hard-driving "I Washed My Hands In Muddy Water."

Four months later, though, I bet it wasn't as fun to read what reviewer Jon Landau had to say about Love Letters From Elvis in Rolling Stone issue 87, from July 22, 1971:
The first cut is "Love Letters" and it's a beautiful song. Presley's voice is all there and then in comes the schizoid background, half funk and half muzak. And thus it goes for two sides of Presley's latest. The voice is there, some of the material is OK, James Burton is picking away, the rhythm sounds passable, but oh those strings, horns, background voices, and what not. It's enough to drown a grown man - precisely what it does to Elvis on this album. Love Letters is the most discouraging event of the last three years of Presley's career.
So, do you agree with these reviews from the past? After reading the one by Peter Guralnick I gave Elvis Country a spin, and have to concur with what he wrote: Elvis has never sung better.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

From Sweden To Richmond/From Richmond To Sweden: A Little More Conversation

Welcome to the first ever simultaneous post of Elvis Today Blog and The Mystery Train Blog. We're going to try something a little different and present a discussion of Forty-Eight Hours To Memphis: Recorded Live On Stage In Richmond, Virginia – March 18, 1974, one of the latest CDs from Sony's Follow That Dream Records collectors label for Elvis fans.

The Forty-Eight Hours To Memphis title reflects that Elvis closed out his tour two days after the Richmond concert with a show in Memphis - portions of which became the 1974 album Recorded Live On Stage In Memphis.

Troy [The Mystery Train Blog]
I'm glad you thought of this idea, Thomas. I've probably lost all sense of objectivity on this particular release, since it was recorded in my hometown of Richmond, Virginia.

Thomas
[Elvis Today Blog]
Yeah, well, it must have been exciting when you heard of this release. What was your first impression when you listened to it?

Troy

That this was obviously the best Elvis Presley release in history, as I'm sure you'll agree! Just kidding... The first time I played it, I just tried to imagine being there, in the Richmond Coliseum that night.

Thomas
I would've loved to be there, that's for sure. The atmosphere during that particular tour in the southern states obviously was an indescribably electric one, and the shows were of high quality. Have you noticed the joyful laughter from one person in the audience when "Also Sprach Zarathustra" begins? A safe bet is he's one excited man.

Troy
That almost nervous laughter was the first thing I noticed. My other first impression, I was really happy to hear Elvis make Richmond-related references not once, not twice, but three times during the show. I think you've heard more Elvis concerts than I have, Thomas, but I believe it is rare for him to mention what city he is in - outside of Las Vegas, that is.

Thomas
And multiple times at that! Also, I was pleased that he mentioned Sweden as well!

Troy
This is probably the only concert where he mentions both Richmond and Sweden. That's another reason for us to do this post as a joint effort. Now that I think about it, I suppose he very well could have mentioned both during the March 12 show in Richmond, too. This March 18 Richmond show was added because the March 12 one sold out so quickly. So there might be two concerts where he mentions both Richmond and Sweden

Thomas
The reason Elvis mentioned my country is because Sweden's Per-Erik "Pete" Hallin was playing piano for the group Voice at the time. I actually interviewed him once, but that's another story.

Troy
He was a second piano player on the stage at the same time as Glen Hardin? Or just when Voice was opening?

Thomas
I think he was just playing the piano when Voice was opening, and then sang together with them on stage while Elvis was on. Elvis actually mentions Pete at the end of this concert, during "Can't Help Falling In Love," when he sings "... some things, you know, Pete, are meant to be..." He did this two days later in Memphis as well, where he also introduced Pete and the other members of Voice individually.

Troy
I had always wondered who "Pete" was on the Memphis show, so that clears it up. Funny that he gets the exact same mention here on the Richmond concert. As far as I could tell, it is just Elvis doing the same joke, not an audio repair or anything where they pulled it from the Memphis show.

Thomas
I agree, it's the same joke. Elvis obviously liked to recycle his jokes, like the "I saw J.D., with baldheaded Sally" that was used both in Richmond and in Memphis during the "Rock Medley."

Troy

I'm also pretty sure, outside of Vegas, I've never heard Elvis reference the hotel where he stayed. After the introductions on Forty-Eight Hours To Memphis, he thanks Richmond's John Marshall Hotel.

Thomas
Yes, I was actually surprised to hear him mention the hotel. That is unusual.

Troy
So, that first time through, I was really happy with this CD. I was all kinds of worried that I would be disappointed with either the sound or the show itself.

Thomas
Glad you liked the show as well as the sound. Now there's been a lot written about the sound, this being a newly discovered 2-track copy of a 16-track tape.

Troy
Right, we should address the sound controversy. I was already excited about this release when it was first announced. This represents the first official release of an Elvis concert in Richmond, after all. However, when the news later came out that the source of this concert was a 16-track professional recording, rather than the expected soundboard, I think that brought the rest of the Elvis World to where I already was in anticipating this CD.

Thomas

Yes, I was excited when I heard of this, also. A newly discovered 16-track professional recording, where did that one come from?
Troy
That's right. All the fans were excited until FTD essentially said, "Oops, did we mention this was mono?" Then, I think FTD took a lot of heat for that. Some of it deserved, for poor communication. At the same time, I think the reaction by some fans was way overblown. But, hey, I guess that's what Elvis fans do. How did you feel when you found out Forty-Eight Hours To Memphis would actually be in mono?

Thomas
At first, a little disappointed, maybe, but I was looking forward to the album anyway, and I have to say I was pleasantly surprised when I listened to the show for the first time. I think the sound is great!

Troy

I agree, the sound is incredible, especially considering that it is from a mono tape. I was glad to be able to put that concern to rest. I'm not someone who hates mono recordings, though. After all, Elvis has quite a few more mono songs that maybe a few of the complainers should try hearing someday. Such "unknowns" as "Mystery Train," "Jailhouse Rock," "One Night," "Baby, Let's Play House," "Love Me," "Santa Claus Is Back In Town," and "Don't Be Cruel" - to name but a few. There are also some 1960s movie soundtrack songs that I think sound better in mono than their stereo counterparts. "Viva Las Vegas" is one that immediately comes to mind. You can never please everyone, though.

Thomas
Yes, they should give them a spin. I remember when RCA made "electronically created stereo" out of a lot of the mono albums - they sounded terrible!

Troy

I'm glad they didn't try that here.

Thomas
Yeah, me too. Thinking about it, it's really incredible that a show in this sound quality surfaces so many years after it was recorded.

Troy
That is the real mystery here, and the liner notes really do nothing to clear that one up. Just the same kinds of speculation all of us were doing when we first heard.

Thomas
Anyway, I bet you're happy it was Richmond they choose.

Troy
37 years late, but yeah!

Thomas
So, what about the actual show, Troy? No doubt Elvis is in good spirits and enjoying his work, wouldn't you agree? He sounds happy and close to laughter on many occasions. "Fever" is probably as close to a laughing version as it gets. "That's a fun song to do!" he says. At the same time, he delivers good, solid renditions of many of the songs. "Steamroller Blues" is one of the highlights to me, as is "Polk Salad Annie" and "An American Trilogy." Not to mention "Trying To Get To You," where he really uses his voice to the fullest.

Troy
Well, jumping right into "Fever," I've never been a big fan of the "I light up when you call my name... ELVIS!" versions of this song, for some reason. So, that is my least favorite track on the album.

Thomas
In a way I agree, but I think the version two days later in Memphis is even worse.

Troy
I agree that the Richmond Fever is better than the Memphis Fever, but it's a bad bug, either way. At times, "Let Me Be There" also grates on my nerves, and don't even get me started on J.D. Sumner's "Amen" dive-bomb routine. However, those are just about the only negatives I ultimately found about this show.

Thomas
Maybe that was a song that was more fun to watch than only hear.

Troy
I was also worried about "Suspicious Minds" - a favorite of mine. I was really disappointed by the Memphis live version of that one when it finally came out a few years ago. So, I was worried that I wouldn't like the Richmond version, either. But it's great, very energetic. It would've been great to see.

Thomas
Yes, by this time he'd performed "Suspicious Minds" for five years or something, and I always thought he was tired of it, when I heard the version from Memphis. But in Richmond he does sound happier with it, that's true, Troy!

Troy
The other highlights for me were "Also Sprach Zarathustra"/"See See Rider," for the excitement of imagining Elvis taking the Richmond Coliseum stage by storm. "Steamroller Blues," which I might like even better than Memphis version, my favorite rendition until this point.

Thomas
I just love the way he shouts "Aargh!" at the intro of "Steamroller Blues," and what then follows really lives up to the song's name.

Troy
Let's see, I also enjoyed the "Rock Medley" - what a great idea for Elvis to link together all those songs. Rather than just do the typical "Hound Dog" throwaway, I think it worked somewhat better like this, at the tail end of the medley. It's still too fast, but not as disappointing as most of the other post-1970 Hound Dogs.

Thomas
For some reason I thought the "Rock Medley" rocked even more than it did in Memphis, and I love the tail end too!

Troy
Yes, the "Rock Medley" was another one that Elvis performed better than its Memphis counterpart. No doubt due to the incredible crowd of Richmonders there to inspire him!
"Polk Salad Annie" was one I didn't care for on Memphis, but loved it in Richmond.

Thomas
I always enjoy hearing Elvis saying things I've never heard in songs before, like during the guitar solo in "Polk Salad Annie" by James Burton where he says something like "Sneak up on him, Ronnie!" I can just imagine him casting a glance in Tutt's direction while saying this.

Troy
Yeah! I guess because we've heard so many of his shows, that's the kind of stuff that stands out to us. While the general public would say, "Why do I need another 'Polk Salad Annie'?"

Thomas
The two songs that got the most serious renditions were the gospel songs, "Why Me, Lord" and "Help Me."

Troy

I was relieved that "Why Me" wasn't a laughing/joking version. Not that I mind some joking, but it seems ill-suited for a gospel song. I think I like the Memphis version of "Why Me" better, though.


Troy

You know, that's one of the terrific things about his show, especially from this time period, the way it brings together so many kinds of music - gospel, country, blues, rock 'n' roll. What other so-called "rock star" could do that?

Thomas
That's true, Troy, Elvis sang "Something for Everybody." Speaking of the gospel stuff, I did miss "How Great Thou Art." But hey, that's a minor complaint.

Troy

Funny, I was just about to say the same thing about "How Great Thou Art," which of course featured prominently on the Memphis concert album. I had a slight twinge of disappointment when I saw the Richmond track listing and it wasn't there.

Thomas
I just love it when he sings the ending one more time in Memphis. And his voice, so powerful, it gives me goose bumps!

Troy
At least the Grammys got that one right. So, what did you think about the bonus songs, recorded in Tulsa and Memphis? I thought it was cool to hear "Sweet Caroline" in 1974. I don't remember hearing that one outside of 1970 before. Also, "Johnny B. Goode" is always welcome.

Thomas
I think the most important thing was that they showed what a difference there is in sound quality between a soundboard and the professionally recorded Richmond concert. And once again I was reminded how very similar "My Baby Left Me" and "That's All Right" sound.

Troy
It was really awesome to hear a 1974 version of "That's All Right" in Memphis. That live performance was just a few months shy of the 20th anniversary of Elvis first recording it at Sun Studio there - the record that started it all.

Thomas
I hadn't thought of that. That is indeed awesome!
Troy
What do you think about Forty-Eight Hours To Memphis being presented in the oversized, 7-inch digipack format usually reserved for FTD's Classic Albums series?

Thomas
I thought it was great that it was presented this way. I'm a bit tired of the live material not getting treated as serious as the classic album series.

Troy
Agreed. If I remember correctly, they originally planned this treatment for As Recorded At Boston Garden last year, but a production issue or something caused them to put it in the standard, smaller format.

Thomas

Or was it the latest 1969 concert, I don't remember.
Troy
That's right, it was actually the Live In Vegas release they originally planned for the larger format. Maybe, FTD now intends to use that format more often? Perhaps, at least on "special" releases of live material where the sound and/or show is of a high quality.

Thomas

Here's hoping the last couple of August 1969 and 1970 concerts will get this treatment.

Troy
That would be great. I hope that's the case as well.

Thomas

Hopefully the 1972 concert in Richmond will also get an official release soon, together with the other shows recorded for Elvis On Tour.

Troy
Yes, that is the Richmond show that has the best chance of also getting an official release in my lifetime. I just hope it's sooner, rather than later. Until Forty-Eight Hours To Memphis came out, I always assumed the Elvis On Tour show would be the first Elvis in Richmond concert I would be able to hear. Do you think the release of this 1974 show will mean that there will be less of a chance of the 1972 Richmond show coming soon?

Thomas
I hope not, Troy. I've heard that Ernst Jorgensen is waiting for Turner/Warner Home Video to make a move with the unreleased footage, to do a combo of sorts, but that won't happen anytime soon, I'm afraid. I just hope he realizes this and releases the shows from Elvis On Tour anyway. For now I'm really pleased with FTD for releasing this Richmond show, it's not an album that's going to collect a lot of dust on the shelf for a long time yet.

Troy
I'm definitely happy about this release as well. This is a special CD that I'll be playing often for the rest of my life. What are your final thoughts on this CD? What are you going to remember most about it?

Thomas
You know what I thought halfway into listening to it the first time? It hit me how happy I am being an Elvis fan, and what a pleasure it gives me to listen to a great concert like the one from Richmond. Also, that Elvis was in great shape during the March 1974 tour, delivering the goods in style! But I guess, I'm gonna remember the most how incredible it is that a professionally Elvis concert like this can suddenly make an appearance out of the blue. It was almost as exciting waiting for it as listening to it. Well, not really, but hopefully you see my point.

Troy
Yes . . . it shows hope that there is still more out there, waiting to be discovered. Things not even rumored to exist.
For me, it was really something to finally hear an Elvis concert recorded here in Richmond. This is something I have dreamed of since I was a little boy, reading over the lists of cities that he visited, wishing that there was a Richmond album to go alongside As Recorded At Madison Square Garden, Aloha From Hawaii, and all the others. It's still hard to believe I now hold that album in my hands.
He appeared here 15 times
. This is number 14, yet he still sounds engaged, like he's having a great time. Obviously, everyone here was, too. It was a fantastic show. Though he came back here once more in 1976, my understanding is that this 1974 concert was his last great show in Richmond. The only thing that could potentially top this feeling for me would be Warner releasing Elvis On Tour: Richmond 1972 on Blu-ray.

Thomas
In that way, I envy you, Troy. As he never came to Europe and Sweden, I can't begin to imagine how great that must feel.

Troy
Thanks again, Thomas. This has been a fun little experiment, but I wonder if people will enjoy reading this kind of post?

Thomas
I sure hope so. At least it was enjoyable to write, so thank you, Troy!

Forty-Eight Hours To Memphis

Live At The Richmond Coliseum, March 18, 1974
01) Also Sprach Zarathustra/
02) See See Rider
03) I Got A Woman/Amen [edited with Memphis, March 20, 1974]
04) Love Me
05) Tryin' To Get To You
06) All Shook Up
07) Steamroller Blues
08) Teddy Bear/Don't Be Cruel
09) Love Me Tender
10) Long Tall Sally/Whole Lotta Shakin' Goin' On/Your Mama Don't Dance/Flip, Flop & Fly/Jailhouse Rock/Hound Dog
11) Fever
12) Polk Salad Annie
13) Why Me
14) Suspicious Minds
15) Introductions By Elvis
16) I Can’t Stop Loving You
17) Help Me
18) An American Trilogy
19) Let Me Be There
20) Funny How Time Slips Away
21) Can’t Help Falling In Love/
22) Closing Vamp

Bonus Songs
23) Sweet Caroline [Tulsa, March 1, 1974]
24) Johnny B. Goode [Memphis, March 17, 1974]
25) That’s All Right [Memphis, March 17, 1974]