Unlike the July 16 or 29th rehearsals held on MGM's sound stage in Culver
City, this was obviously a much more serious undertaking by Presley and his
core band. The RCA studio is the same one the 1960 "G.I. Blues" soundtrack
was recorded at, and would later yield "Burning Love" in '72 and the entire
'Elvis Today' album in 1975. Long-time engineer Al Pachucki handled this
session, which might explain why the stereo mix is superb (perhaps
Pachucki's MGM counterparts didn't understand what needles going into the
red on recording equipment meant, or didn't care; in any case, this is the
only July rehearsal that sounds awesome).
The songs here are performed as if they are doing "the set"; it's easy to
imagine that, whereas the other daytime rehearsals were for the documentary
cameras, this evening at RCA (without anyone filming it) was for Elvis to
take home and listen to. His singing, for the most part, is much more
focused; this is Presley the artist, deciding what will and won't work in
The second volume of the night's work comprises 16 tunes, including lots of
surprises. Elvis runs down Ernest Tubb's "Tomorrow Never Comes," again
done in the same very Roy Orbison-like manner of his June'70 studio cut,
but here he adds a full verse of "Running Scared" at the end. Hearing it
makes one ache that he didn't ever try out a full version of that classic.
Although Presley wasn't really capable of big-note endings a la Orbison
(perhaps that's why "Tomorrow" didn't make the live set), his '76
performances of "Hurt" came pretty close. "I Just Can't Help Believin'" is
a treat in three nice'n'easy run-throughs; his affection for this B.J.
Thomas hit is very evident; it's a treat to hear him warm up lines like
"her tears are shining, honey-sweet with love". No wonder the live cut
available on RCA's 'That's The Way It Is' album was so damn good; he worked
hard to make it right!
On the other hand, virtually the only 50's number heard here is an fast,
brief parody of "Love Me Tender" right after "Sweet Caroline" (Elvis says
"We did 'Love Me Tender' Joe, so put that one down"); sadly, Elvis had
grown to see much of his early work as irrelevant to the "modern scene."
Conversely, he and the band let rip later on with a tough, funky, wah-wah
filled version of "Johnny B. Goode," recorded in 1957 by Chuck Berry
("that's a GOOD number, boy" notes EP).
Presley gives his all to fine ballads like "Mary In The Morning" and
"Twenty Days and Twenty Nights," neither of which seem any less enjoyable
lacking additional strings or backing vocals! "Make The World Go Away" is
absolutely superb, with Presley's tired and strained voice cracking during
the choruses in a most attractive manner. This may well be the best
Presley rendition of the Hank Cochran classic; he ad libs after the main
chorus "long time ago baby" and mentions that recording the song in
Nashville a month earlier was rough ("I blew my lungs out ... I didn't sing
any more that night"). Listen out for a bit of Tom Jones' "Delilah" at the
end, too. "Memories" lacks the tenderness of the original '68 studio
recording, although there's a delightfully sweet ad lib (" ... and purple
eyes and frightened ways and scary nose and twinkle toes with me ...") and
lots of full-blooded Presley laughter.
As proceedings begin to wind down, the Presley "naughty-meter" begins to
register with a somewhat nasty version of "Heart Of Rome" ("I'll take a
piss in every fountain ...") and grows to Titanic proportions on a maximum
blues version of "Stranger In My Own Hometown." This track, released on
the 70's box after some careful tape editing, foreshadows the sound of
1971's "Merry Christmas Baby;" however, Elvis goes much further, his voice
rough and edgy as he provides some ironic revelations about his life ("I'm
goin' back to Memphis, I'm gonna start driving that motherfuckin' truck
again ... yeah, ol' Joe, Charlie and Richard gonna starve to death, yeah
Sonny'll be in the pen ... ") and much more. The proceedings conclude with
a goofy "I Washed My Hands In Muddy Water" that is as fun as it is ragged.
One wonders why this never made his live set, as it really moves.
When all is said and done, two things are really striking about the July'70
rehearsals. First is the absolute joy that radiates from every moment
Elvis is making music; how and why it seemed to disappear within a year of
these recordings is a mystery, but it did. Compare the Presleys seen in
1992's "The Lost Performances" video: in 1970 one observes a thin, tanned
and in control artist; in 1972 the same person is pale, pudgy and
histrionic (and the jumpsuits are uglier, too).
Just as noteworthy is Presley's apparent rejection of his ground-breaking
work at Memphis' American Studios. The July 24th tape shows just a few
American songs being rehearsed, "Don't Cry Daddy," Suspicious Minds" and
"Stranger In My Own Hometown," none of which seem to engage the artist as
valid songs. It's worth noting that most of the released studio material
from July'69 to July'70 came from his American sessions and did quite well
for him both commercially and artistically. Elvis, what happened?
In any case, both volumes of 'The Brightest Star On Sunset Boulevard' are
well worth the time and effort to find them. Fort Baxter has once again
done an outstanding job filling in yet another piece of the puzzle, helping
us comprehend the most influential singer of the 20th century.
Sound rate **** 1/2