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The Sound and the Fury

July 1, 2019

All Things Elvis

The Singer Presents Elvis television special aired in December 1968

The Follow That Dream label offers live and expanded Elvis recordings

IT’S THE 50TH ANNIVERSARY OF ONE of the most important years in Elvis Presley’s life: 1969. Still riding high on the success of his Singer Presents Elvis television special that aired in December 1968, he booked his first sessions in Memphis since the fifties, at Chips Moman’s legendary American Sound Studios. In January and February 1969, he recorded some of his best material, including classics like “Suspicious Minds,” “In the Ghetto,” and “Kentucky Rain.” And then he topped it all off by returning to live performance that July and August at the International Hotel in Las Vegas (later the Las Vegas Hilton, and today the Westlake Las Vegas).

RCA/Legacy is planning an anniversary package commemorating those live shows, “covering all of the August 1969 live recordings,” as the label puts it. This past Record Store Day offered a teaser for what’s in store with the release of the double album The International Hotel, Las Vegas, Nevada, August 23, 1969 (which also included a download of the album). It’s a previously unreleased performance, the dinner show from that date, coming near the end of Elvis’s record-breaking engagement, which closed on August 28.

Elvis was in fine form during the run, eager to get back to live performance after drifting through the previous decade in a series of increasingly execrable movies. Indeed, he sounds positively manic in the show’s opener, “Blue Suede Shoes.” The set lists were pretty standard, with a focus on his ‘50s classics, moving into the modern era at the halfway point. He was also pretty talkative, again sounding hyperactive and actually rather nervous as he continually cracks jokes. This August 23 show sounds much like the ones that have been released over the years (both officially and otherwise), with a great cover shot showing just how kinetic the performances were. It will be interesting to see if RCA/Legacy manages to find any surprises for the upcoming box.

Elvis 4

Serious Elvis fans are undoubtedly well acquainted with the Follow That Dream official collector’s label, which offers live recordings and expanded versions of Elvis’s albums. Having released expanded editions of his movie soundtracks, they’re now started to release what you might call “enhanced” expanded editions, going from one CD to three (some releases have later appeared on vinyl). The first soundtrack to get this treatment was The Viva Las Vegas Sessions, released last year. Now comes The Fun In Acapulco Sessions. This 1963 film was one of Elvis’ kitschier efforts. He plays a former trapeze artist, traumatized by an accident that led to his brother’s death during their act, seeking refuge at a resort in Acapulco, where he works as a lifeguard and nightclub singer.

“Elvis Sings 13 Great Songs” promised the copy on the original album’s front cover. Well, not quite. There is one excellent number, “Bossa Nova Baby,” a fun slice of Latin-tinged pop that became a Top 10 hit (the liner notes scrupulously point out that the comma after the word “Nova” in the title only appeared on the original album label and sheet music, and was then dropped). The rest is decidedly a mixed bag. Elvis can’t even keep a straight face as he works his way through seventeen takes of “The Bullfighter was a Lady,” in one instance reworking the chorus into something that was definitely not family friendly:

“The bullfighter was a lady

It was true love at first sight

Her red cape was waving

But Pedro was shaving

He wanted to fuck her that night!”

That version didn’t make the final cut.

I actually enjoy this film for its camp value. “Guadalajara” has a production number to rival “Bossa Nova Baby,” and both “Bullfighter” and “El Toro” benefit from his elegant costumes he wears when performing the songs in the film. Then there are more pedestrian numbers, like “Mexico” (nonetheless, a Top 10 hit in Europe), “I Think I’m Gonna Like It Here,” and “You Can’t Say No in Acapulco” (and we will only mention “[There’s] No Room to Rhumba in a Sports Car” once, never to speak of it again). The original album also added two non-soundtrack cuts, the pretty, but unremarkable “Love Me Tonight” and forgettable “Slowly But Surely.”

Which makes this set something of mixed blessing. You get apparently everything Elvis recorded in the quick two-day session (including interesting takes of Ernesto Lecuona’s classic instrumental “Malaguena”). But you’d have more appreciation for that if the songs were stronger. Still, it’s nice to see FTD continuing to dig out more material from the vaults. The set has a more substantial booklet than FTD’s other releases (though I miss the “In And Outtakes” listing, that identified where each track first appeared), with some good essays by Alan Hanson, one of the better Elvis writers (check out his blog, elvis-history-blog.com). Presumably there are more in the Sessions series to come; I eagerly await The King Creole Sessions. (Available from shopelvis.com)

The clever folks at Memphis Recording Service have put together another nice Elvis collection: Made in Germany: The Complete Private Recordings. This four CD set (the vinyl is already sold out) looks at the home recordings Elvis made for his own amusement while he was serving his time in the army, in Germany. When he was off duty, Elvis loved to relax by singing songs with his friends, especially hymns and religious music. What’s especially fascinating is hearing Elvis working on songs he later released, including “Danny Boy,” “I’ll Take You Home Again Kathleen,” “His Hand in Mine,” and “Like a Baby.” You hear his father Vernon making some contributions to “I’m Beginning to Forget You.” And it’s exciting to hear early renditions of “Are You Lonesome Tonight,” and “There’s No Tomorrow,” which, with new lyrics, would become “It’s Now or Never.”

Some of this material has been previously released. But while FTD’s For LP Fans Only featured edited highlights of the recordings, the second CD on Made in Germany presents the entire tape of the same home session. This is true throughout the set; much of the third CD appeared on FTD’s A Date With Elvis — but Made in Germany has twenty minutes that didn’t appear on that release. So it’s well worth picking up this set, even if you have the FTD releases. There are also some brief interviews with Elvis just prior to his embarking for Germany.

For some reason, the set covers Elvis’ recording sessions in 1957 and ’58, and one of the CDs features the master recordings from those years. To me, that feels superfluous, and takes away from the “Made in Germany” aspect of the set, and I would’ve preferred the accompanying text taking a more extensive look at the home demo songs. I’ve also found it difficult to get the CDs out of the packaging, due to its unusual design, which holds the discs down so tightly I fear I’m going to snap them in two (after taking them out once, I store them elsewhere). Nonetheless, it’s still a very nice package, illustrated with numerous photos from the era. Definitely a set that gives FTD a run for its money. (Available from memphisrecordingservice.com).






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