Saturday, January 15, 2022

He Touched Me – Undubbed Version?

Front cover of the He Touched Me album.

Having listened to the undubbed Christmas masters from Elvis Back In Nashville all through the Holidays, I decided to turn my attention to the undubbed religious masters on the same CD set.

Just like the Christmas masters, the track order is identical to the original album, in this case He Touched Me released in 1972. The exception is "Amazing Grace" which is included on disc one among The Country/Folk Sides. 

But unlike the Christmas material, the religious songs were recorded with background singers present in the studio. Most of the tracks were then left undubbed for release on the He Touched Me album. I guess this was a decision on producer Felton Jarvis part, mimicking the sound of Elvis singing gospel privately with his friends and backup singers to help unwind after a show.

A look in my well thumbed copy of Elvis Session III by Joe Tunzi revealed that only four of the religious songs on the He Touched Me album were overdubbed: "Amazing Grace" and "I, John" (both with more backup vocals), "He Is My Everything" (with strings) and "A Thing Called Love" (with strings and horns). 

Back cover of He Touched Me.

Still, I was looking forward to the whole undubbed He Touched Me experience, and it started well. The title track and album opener was as moving and soothing as ever, and the sound crystal clear. 

Then followed the more modern up tempo Christian number "I've Got Confidence," sounding fantastic with the electrical guitar more prominent and the song lasting about 25 seconds longer than on the original album, with frantic hand clapping and the band cooking. What a treat! (I recognized snippets of Elvis' voice at the end used to great effect on the version featured on the Where No One Stands Alone album released a couple of years ago, featuring new backing music and vocals.)

Next up was another pleasant surprise. Usually, when I listen to "Amazing Grace," I almost wonder if Elvis is there at all due to all the backing vocals. But in the undubbed format, I noticed that Elvis voice was more up front and the background singers more in the, well, background. The whole thing sounded so much clearer and less muddled. 

I then turned my attention to "Seeing Is Believing," with electrical sparks flying from James Burton's guitar. As always, it reminded me of  "I've Got Confidence," and I noticed another extra seconds at the ending here as well. I bet the writer of the song, Red West, was in the studio listening. How exciting it must have been for him to hear this. 

I was then unexpectedly disappointed. While I listened to "He Is My Everything" without the strings, I noticed that the original backing singers were gone, too. Slightly confused and irritated, my spirits lifted with the help of the next track, "Bosom Of Abraham." I always find it irresistible and infectious, reminding me of some of the spirituals on Elvis' earlier religious albums. The interaction between Elvis and the Imperials is pure joy. 

"Bosom of Abraham" was released as single together with "He Touched Me" in March, 1972. Interestingly it was titled "The Bosom Of Abraham."

In my imagination, I then flipped the album to the B-side. The two first numbers, "An Evening Prayer" and "Lead Me, Guide Me" sounded beautiful as always, maybe even more so in this new mix. But then surprise och disappointment struck again. As was the case of "He Is My Everything," the background vocals had been eliminated on "There Is No God But God." Although a pleasant enough song, in my opinion it really benefits from the backing vocalists responding to Elvis' singing. 

Fortunately, the rest of the tracks from "He Touched Me" were left undubbed as they were recorded in the studio. "A Thing Called Love" without the strings and horns worked well, even though bass singer Armond Morales' vocals were mixed down (in the original recording he is singing in union with Elvis throughout the song). "I, John" sounded more like a gospel quartet song without the overdubbed female singers and "Reach Out To Jesus" ended with the passionate ending I remember so well.

Two more religious tracks were recorded during the Nashville sessions 1971, and they are included after the "He Touched Me" tracks. "Put Your Hand In The Hand" and "Miracle Of The Rosary" were eventually saved for Elvis Now ("Amazing Grace" replaced "Miracle Of The Rosary" when no Folk album materialized), but it's evident they would have fit on Elvis' third religious album as well.

All in all, I enjoyed the undubbed version of He Touched Me. But it annoyed me that two of the tracks had their backing vocals removed. It also rhymes badly with what is written in the booklet:
NOTE: As the vocal interaction between Elvis and the backing singers is deemed fundamental to the gospel performances, they have been left as originally intended by Elvis and A&R man Felton Jarvis.
So, to sum it up. You now have two options to experience the He Touched Me album. You can either listen to the original album, with four overdubbed songs and the eight remaining tracks undubbed, or you can pick the one offered on the Elvis Back In Nashville set with all twelve tracks undubbed but two of them with the original backing singers removed. 

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