American music critic/historian Greil Marcus, speaking from his seminal book "Mystery Train" (1975, fourth revised edition 1997), is referring to the famous "sit down" shows given by Elvis for inclusion in his 1968 TV special. This disc contains exactly half of the rock'n'roll that he justifiably praises.
Elvis never looks more handsome, or seems more vibrant than the two weeks in June, 1968 when he taped his TV show. And the most glorious portions of the program, save the opening "Trouble/Guitar Man" and closing "If I Can Dream" segments, are the "sit down" shows. From visionary director Steve Binder's idea to capture informal jamming (done in Elvis' dressing room with original bandmates Scotty Moore and D.J. Fontana), an evening was set aside to simply tape these moments and see if they yielded anything worthwhile. They succeeded beyond anyone's wildest dreams.
This disc, unfortunately taken directly from the original 1978 vinyl release rather than a tape source, remains essential because of its content. Here is Elvis, clothed in black leather, in front of a real audience for the very first time since the March, 1961 Pearl Harbor Benefit show in Hawaii. Tomorrow is a long time, indeed. Sitting on chairs in the now-familiar "boxing ring" stage, Elvis chooses songs more by memory than a script. He is understandably nervous during this first show, although the nervousness melts away as he rocks the house.
Initially, Elvis handles acoustic guitar, Scotty picks electric lead, D.J. taps his sticks on a guitar case (!) and Charlie Hodge sings some harmonies and strums an unamplified electric. But after a few numbers Elvis "switches axes" with Scotty and attacks the electric with the same power he invests in his singing, running his fingers up and down the bass strings just like in the early days. It's simple, basic and magnificent.
For whatever reason, guilt, anger or fear, Elvis Presley sings these songs
with an absolute fury; his voice hits the listener with such force it's
akin to defining the difference being dead and being alive.
After this night he never sung this way again.
The highlights are all over the disc, among them a beautifully mature rendition of "That's All Right, Mama" (Scotty's lead is note perfect -- in a heartbeat Elvis proves he's lost nothing from those classic days at Sun Studios!), three versions of "Baby, What You Want Me To Do", including the stupendous 3:40 unedited version, with Elvis' electric guitar pounding out a rhythmic lead that is the epitome of cool, and two unreal stabs at "One Night", the second nearly blowing down the walls of the Burbank studio!
In comparison to the 8pm gig, RCA only took a few cuts from this 6pm show, but these performances can stand on their own. Elvis is stupendous and, to paraphrase Mr. Marcus, this is music that bleeds.
Every second of each of these shows should be in one's collection, and this cd is a start. It should be noted that one can own the entire 6pm concert officially on the "One Night With You" video, first released back in 1985. Someday the audio may be entirely available, but until then this is essential.
Sound rate ***