Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Raised On Rock Revisited

Raised On Rock by FTD was released in 2007.
When released five years ago, the FTD classic album version of Raised On Rock made many fans, me included, revaluate Elvis’ 1973 July recording session at Stax. And listening to all the outtakes once again the last couple of days, they do present these recordings in a much more positive light than was the case on the original 1973 album.

One of my favorite tracks from Raised On Rock has always been the fast and bouncy “Find Out What’s Happening,” and it’s an interesting journey to follow the development of the song leading to the master (take 9). Elvis seems to be in a good mood throughout, but uses a lot of bad language as he messes up the lyrics on many of the takes. “Goddamn it! I want to find the writer of this and crush his fingers … break all of his pens,” he mutters after abandoning take 8. Take 9 is the master, but I’ve preferred the funky take 6 ever since I first heard it on Rhythm And Country back in 1998.

Another highlight is “For Ol’ Times Sake,” the alternate take 4, also released on Rhythm And Country, sounding even better than the master, conveying genuine feelings of loneliness in a way that only Elvis can. “Boy, that’s a good one, it had a great feeling to it” says producer Felton Jarvis, and Elvis obviously agrees. “That’s pretty, James,” he says before tackling a couple of more takes. Unfortunately he messes up the ending of a lovely take 7, but then breezes through the master (take 8).

An underrated song, in my opinion, is the pretty ballad “I Miss You,” recorded two months later at Elvis’ home in Palm Springs. Elvis went through no less than 15 takes of the song, so he must have felt some attraction to it. Featuring just piano, guitar and bass together with vocals by Voice, Elvis delivers some beautiful versions, and the composite of takes 10 and 11 is an absolute delight.

Another song Elvis tried out 15 times is “Three Corn Patches,” but in this case it’s more difficult to understand why he didn’t quit earlier. “You can’t kick this motherfucker if you … stick a dynamite in its ass,” he sums it up after a first false start. Listening to all the outtakes, I have to give him right; this is a song where no spark is ever evident, although the musicians do their best to light some fire to it. Take 14 does sound better than the master, especially the ending that has Elvis shouting “Take it home!” and the band then kicking in a higher gear.

No alternate takes are included of the title track “Raised On Rock” (the master is take 10), so no clue is offered as to what Elvis thought of the song. My guess is he shared Ernst Jorgensens opinion as expressed in the book A Life In Music: “the lyrics to ‘Raised on Rock’ (which had Elvis growing up on the music he himself had helped create) were downright silly.”

“If You Don’t Come Back” is better, a funky song featuring a wah-wah guitar, a pumping organ and some great backing-vocals provided by Kathy Westmoreland, Mary Greene and Mary and Ginger Holladay. Although Elvis sound a bit tired at times, he seems committed from the start. “The tempo was a little bit slower than the demo record,” he points out after take 3. I wonder how the song would have sounded, had he recorded it five months later, during the more successful December session at Stax. That goes for “Just A Little Bit” as well, which Elvis nailed after one false start.

The ballad “Girl Of Mine” shows Elvis in a good mood, the outtakes sounding much better than the heavily overdubbed master (take 11). Take three is quickly abandoned, due to a popping sound. “We got a pop on that pillow,” Felton Jarvis explains, Elvis shooting back, “How can you say ‘pillow’ without a ‘p’?” This is followed by take 4 where Elvis breaks down after omitting a “p,” singing “Your hand upon the ‘illow’, then laughingly saying, “That stops that shit, don’t it?

As “Girl Of Mine” was to be the last song Elvis recorded during the July session, Felton Jarvis recorded a couple of instrumental tracks for Elvis to overdub at a later date. Only “Sweet Angeline” was finally completed, at Elvis’ home in Palm Springs. The other three, “Color My Rainbow,” “The Wonders You Perform” and “Good, Bad But Beautiful” were left unfinished, but listening to them I can’t help thinking “what if?” How would they have sounded? Good, bad or beautiful? The rehearsal of “It’s Different Now” has me thinking along the same lines.

Elvis also recorded “Are You Sincere” at his California home, and take 1 is a real treat. Lasting for more than three minutes (the master clocks at 1:58) it has Elvis repeating the second half of the spoken part, as well as the ending.

Last, but certainly not the least, I have to mention the rough mixes on CD 2. Including six of the tracks from the Raised On Rock album, they lack the echo featured on the final mixes, sounding much clearer than the original version, and also running a bit longer.

Now, what if those mixes had been used instead, and if Elvis hadn’t insisted that “I’ve Got A Thing About You Baby” and “Take Good Care Of Her” (both recorded in July as well) be taken of the album for a future single release instead. Then the track listing would have looked like this (as written on a note featured in the accompanying booklet):

Side I
Take Good Care of Her
Find Out What’s Happening
For Ol’ Times Sake
If You Don’t Come Back
Sweet Angeline

Side II
I’ve Got A Thing About You Baby
Just A Little Bit
Raised On Rock
Girl Of Mine
Three Corn Patches

Although certainly not in the league of Good Times or Promised Land, it would have made for a stronger album than the original one. Maybe with the title Take Good Care Of Her instead?

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