From Down Under

 

Elvis - The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face  

 by Geoffrey Mc Donnell (Australia)

 

The songwriter for this song  Ewan MacColl was born Jimmie Miller in Salford, Lancashire, in 1915.  In 1956, he met Peggy Seeger and they embarked upon a life-partnership  Peggy and Ewan became a well known singing duo. They gave concerts, conducted workshops and toured in Britain and abroad as singers of traditional and contemporary songs from 1957-1989 .As a songwriter, MacColl is best known as the author of "The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face," "Dirty Old Town," "The Shoals of Herring," "Freeborn Man" and "The Manchester Rambler." He has written more than 300 songs.   On October 22 1989, he died of complications following a heart operation. He was awarded a posthumous honorary degree by the University of Salford in 1991.Apart from ‘The First Time’ ‘Dirty Old Town’ is a song I’ve heard Many Irish bands sing… Roberta Flack achieved huge success with a poignant version of folk-singer Ewan MacColl 's ballad, 'First Time Ever I Saw Your Face'. First Recorded in 1969 on her Album First Take, it was a major international hit (when released)three years later, following its inclusion in the film Play Misty For Me. Further hits came with 'Where Is The Love?' (1972), a duet with Donny Hathaway, and 'Killing Me Softly With His Song' (1973- many Elvis fans will remember that Elvis had VOICE sing this as a part of his act during mostly 1974 but 1975 as well.), AND ‘RARELY had VOICE perform ‘’killing me softly’ as well as himself performing ‘THE FIRST TIME EVER I SAW YOUR FACE’  during the Vegas show on 1st and 3rd February M/S’s and the D/S on 8.2.74. Flack's penchant for sweeter, more MOR-styled compositions gained an ascendancy. Her cool, almost unemotional style benefited from a measured use of slow material, although she seemed less comfortable on up-tempo songs.

 Photographer unknown © Oklahoma City, OK November 16th 1970

Elvis During the November 1970 tour whilst with lover Joyce Bova-Joyce  had begged Elvis to record “The first time ever I saw your Face” and so when in 1971 he did record it he made sure on 16th August 1971 in Las Vegas that he gave Joyce the Demo of his version and wrote on it “To Joyce, with love” on the plain white cardboard cover. Maybe in 1971 he sang it with Joyce in mind, but later on of course he sang it with MANY different women in mind ( Even quite a few times for his Daughter in August 1973 with changed lyrics )and during his last ever version on 29.12.76 it was because of Ginger Alden that he was singing it. Not too many people have the voice that can do this song justice, but clearly Elvis could and for me his BEST version is a ‘live’ one far better than the studio one. In this article I’d like to review over 40 versions of the song by Elvis and as ALWAYS every version by Elvis WAS ‘Special’ a concert ‘highlight’ and well worth seeking out!.

FIRST EVER STUDIO VERSION 15.3.71

This version studio recorded on 15.3.71 went through 12 takes before the master was selected and although it’s good, as a first song in the studio session it lacks the ‘warmth’ of later songs and as such suffers from a stiffness of voice and inflexibility.

Duet Versions:-A couple of ‘duet’ versions too were recorded and on the Bootleg “Rough Cut Diamonds” we have the  r/t 3'23" @ fade out- duet version with Ginger Holloday...apparently also a version recorded with temple riser- but I’ve never heard it. Gingers Duet (recorded ‘live’ in the studio) is ok, but her Earthy/Masculine Voice doesn’t quite suit this song and one can only wonder as to how a version WITH Kathy Westmoreland may have sounded? If done sometime in 74? .This song was later only released as 'b' side of an American trilogy in 1972. later as 'lost single’ on 1980 Box set and again on 70's masters as cd 1 singles.

The 'b' side single release is much longer than the duet version @r/t 3'.43"....Take 12( the chosen master ) apparently their was also some vocal repair work done on this before single release on 10.6.71! Elvis’s version was ‘scheduled’ originally to be the ‘b’ side of ‘Help me make it through the night’ but later in 1972 at Elvis’s own insistence An American Trilogy became the ‘A’ side. It flopped in the charts only reaching #64! A Fake length version of the song was released @ r/t 4.21 on the 1990 ‘Bootleg’ release “For Elvis Fans Only’ I know of around 40 ‘live’ versions to be able to ‘review’( including  a couple of Studio recordings ), but in reality it must have been sung /rehearsed another couple of dozen times as well, and being Take 12 ( THE MASTER ) plenty of studio ‘OUTTAKES’ available too..

Here are the lyrics of his Single Version and these lyrics are virtually the SAME for ‘live’ versions sung during 1971/72 as well.

Single Version:

The first time ever I saw your face

I thought the sun rose in your eyes

And the moon and stars were the gifts you gave

To the dark and the empty skies, my love

To the dark and the empty skies.

 

The first time ever I kissed your mouth

I felt the earth move in my hand

Like the trembling heart of a captive bird

That was there at my command, my love

That was there at my command.

 

Aah hah hah

That was there at my command, my love

That was there at my command

 

The first time ever I kissed your mouth

I felt the earth move in my hand

Like the trembling heart of a captive bird

That was there at my command, my love

That was there at my command. 

Ohh woh...

That was there at my command, my love

That was there at my command

 

1971 Live Versions:-

Obviously questions must be asked here as we KNOW it was recorded in March and ONLY included during the November 1971 tour, but with so little knowledge of the Lake Tahoe 1971 season could it have been sung their? Probably not, but I can’t say DEFINITELY NOT!. 

Baltimore 9.11.71 This is Elvis’s first ‘live’ version I know about and sung during his 1971 tour. Actually there is a ‘brief’ false start and running for 3’20”it is sung slightly faster paced than the single, but word wise THE SAME. Kathy Westmoreland’s Vocal is VERY EVIDENT here as she sang the repeat of the line( That was There’ ) The audience quieten during this song and it’s nice to hear!.

Sean Shaver © Dallas, TX. November 13th 1971 evening

Dallas 13.11.71 E/S A strong drum beat IS very DISTINCTIVE DURING THIS VERSION and Elvis also makes some brief ‘asides’ to the band as well during this version. This is also a MUCH SLOWER version than before and features the unmistakable work of Ron Tutt on Drums running for 3’.55”.To me this is the BEST version from this tour.

This song was DEFINITELY Reported during the Winter Vegas Season-even rehearsed but NO recording has ever surfaced! I strongly suspect that it may have been performed during the first week but have no show tape to prove this.

 

R.C.A. Hollywood, CA. studio March 31st 1972 rehearsal

Elvis briefly performed a Rehearsal version  on 31.3.72 before performing ‘A BIG HUNK O’ LOVE.  ( During the rehearsals for the forthcoming April 72’ Tour ) A very 'brief' 17 seconds was recently released prior to 'A Big Hunk O' Love' from the 2000 boot CD 'Camera and Microphone rehearsals' but the most complete rehearsal I’ve found goes all the way back to Bilko's 1989 release "LOST ON TOUR" where we get around 1.30" of intermittent run through of this song starting with the 3rd line of the 1st verse( in which Elvis can be heard clearly ) before it 'cuts' to the Aah hah hah's at the end of Verse #2(which we get to hear complete), then another 'cut' to the Ohh woh hoh's after the 3rd verse right at the end of the song. MOST Annoying here is comments we hear such as " Bob Thomas has been rolling quite a lot on this" and the song finally cuts just before the very last word!  Well to get 1.30" of this 'rare' rehearsal from 1972 is 'gold' in itself ( the ONLY other rehearsal available coming from 16.8.74 over 2 years later! ) Boy I wish I could hear this run through complete and without Camera man comments! 

Some nice sounds from the band feature in this version with Mandolin /Guitar during the first set of Aah hah hah's and excellent Drumming ( as during 'live' versions from this time period ) from Ron Tutt.If ever this run through could feature in a DVD of 'ON TOUR' I'd be buying it! Incredibly this song doesn't even feature on the track listing performed after Elvis chatting and A Big Hunk O'Love! Given that we only have ever had just 2 rehearsals of this song we deserve to get this rehearsal without all the frustrating 'cut' and complete!? Maybe to SEE this performance would be ‘pure joy?’. As in the 19.4.72 sung version and here it's the lyrics from the Studio version that are used and what appears to be a 'straight' performance without goofing around!.’ LOST' on tour if ever a song was!.

Albuquerque 19.4.72 This was the last show from the tour and Elvis sang this song on this night! Unfortunately their has been NO EVIDENCE that any of this was ever filmed for “ON TOUR”. This version is very lengthy-NOT rushed at all and a good version running for 4’.05” and EXACTLY the same lyrics/format as his single version.

Despite a couple more Tours in 1972 and a very long Summer 1972 Vegas Season it appears Elvis dropped this song until August 1973!.

Linda Jackson © Memphis, TN. July 1973 Stax Studio

During his Las Vegas Summer 1973 Engagement we find 55% of his versions! A real ‘FEATURED’ song this Season! Many times he might sing the song for Dee Presley or Linda Thompson, but for fans too and at around a Dozen Shows from 27th August till 1st September he especially sung it for his Daughter Lisa in The Audience. Typically for Elvis he gave this a sensitive reading and would change the 1st line in the 3rd verse from “And the first time ever I lay with you” to “And the first time ever I held you close” making a touching song for his Daughter. Whilst during the SAME shows he ONLY sang the song ‘MY BOY’ 6 times at half of these shows  being sung at the 28th, 29th BOTH  shows and ONLY on 31st August and 1st September Dinner shows ONLY.

Of the greatest Interest is that as I can find NO EVIDENCE of it being sung until August 1973 , this means that in obvious REHEARSALS before this Vegas 1973 Summer Season at some time Elvis instead of repeating the 2nd verse( as he had done previously during 71/72 ) he sang a ‘new’ 3rd verse:-

 

And the first time ever I lay with you

And felt your heartbeat close to mine

I knew a joy would fill the earth

And would last 'till the end of time, my love

And would last 'till the  end of time.

 

Also he would vary whether he simply sang his Who ohh ooh’s at the end of the 2nd verse or after the 3rd verse and sometimes BOTH! Making yet another format for his performance of this song.Las Vegas Summer Season 1973 was Elvis’s YEAR for performing this song! Sporadically performed up until 23rd August he actually performed it during EVERY SHOW after that right up until the Midnight Closing show on 3rd September. Joe Guercio was conducting and found conducting this particular song the “The most boring of all Elvis songs and seemed to go on forever”. in fact Joe admits he HATED conducting this song! Once Elvis found out Joe didn’t like it he just sang it all the time! And drove Joe absolutely NUTS! Probably Joe found only the finale of the song interesting to conduct!?

1973 versions:-

11.8.73 M/S This is the FIRST TIME he sang this song during this stand and It was Dedicated to Dee Presley( who was present with Vernon ) Very interesting version this one as basically he now uses the Lyrics( quoted below from the 27.5.74 3am show ) but here does VOCALISING after both the 2nd & 3rd Verses! Also after the 3 verses he again cuts in with half of verse 3 again till the end of the song! Quite an ‘experimental version!’ However he pulls it off and at 3’.58” it is a long version and very enjoyable! After the song Elvis himself says “What a Beautiful Song!”.

23.8.73M/S Elvis says this time that he’d like to do the song for some people from Jacksonville, Florida and sings it straight after the intros( mostly this song would be either 4th or 2nd to last song performed in shows )Elvis starts with a funny false start after which he says he was getting tangled in your eyes!. Once again he experiments with the format and vocalizes after BOTH verse 2 and 3 and also after verse 2 does half of the first verse AGAIN! This makes another great long version @ 3’.54” and also Kathy Westmoreland’s vocal is obvious as well.

 25.8.73 D/S Without any tapes from 24th August 73' this is the next available version to hear and at 3'18" it's another 'good' version singing 'The first time ever I Lay with You' in verse 3 and the ooh haha hah's also not until after verse #3.

Judy Palmer © Las Vegas, NV. August 1973


25.8.73 M/S This was dedicated to Dee Presley and follows exactly the SAME FORMAT as during the Dinner Show 3.08 nice version.
26.8.73 D/S An excellent version! 3.09" Kathy's Vocal strong singing ( That was There ) and finishes on the line "That was there till the end of time my love"
26.8.73 M/S Released on the 'boot' VEGAS FEVER in 1987 and Elvis praises up the Orchestra before this version.It's sung for Linda Thompson and once again Kathy's vocal is strong in this 3.02" version Same format now for the song as last few days of the Aah hah hah's only being done AFTER verse #3.


27.8.73 D/S "This is a song we like to do for Linda"- changes lines in 3rd verse to 'First time ever I Held you Close", 3.16" nice version.
27.8.73 M/S ‘Lay with you ‘line, not rushed 3’.05” good version.
28.8.73 D/S 'Give me a chord'-Sings 'Felt your heartbeat in my hand' as Elvis quips about forgetting the words! and goes on to sing 'The first time ever I Held you close’. runs for 3.11"
28.8.73 M/S As released on the Boot CD  'TAKE THESE CHAINS FROM MY HEART' -'give me an "E" and a "G",Elvis gets slightly mixed up by singing the 2nd line of the 3rd verse in the 2nd line of the 2nd verse! 3.00 version
29.8.73 D/S 3.16" another 'first time ever I Held you close' version with nice trumpet  sound.


29.8.73 M/S 3.04" 'Ever I Lay with you line" Daughter not always present during the midnight shows. quite nice version.
30.8.73 D/S After the intros of Red & Sonny West Elvis sings this again for his Daughter and the 'held you close line', 3'10" Elvis says give me a chord "E", "F" augmented 5th...
30.8.73 M/S sung after a 1 liner of 'Lady of Spain' beautifully sung ’Lay with you ‘ line and nice strings and not rushed 3’.13”
31.8.73 D/S(as partially released on the cdr 'getting down to business in 2002) sung/dedicated for his Daughter 3.18" and 'held you close line',  as introducing the song he says 'I'd like to do a song for my little daughter-she's 5 years old'.


31.8.73 M/S 'give me a key-, give me an "E" and "A" 3.12" nice flute and piano and a 2 times repeat of verse 3 last 2 lines.
1.9.73 D/S After introducing his Father & Daughter Elvis says this is one of his Fathers favorite songs.3.36" and very slowly sung, 'held you close' lyrics and Kathy's Vocal and drum beat very prominent here.
1.9.73 M/S Elvis says 'one of my favorite songs' -3.09" and sings in the 3rd verse 'first time ever I held your mouth' changing the words in the 2nd verse.

Virginia Arnesen © Las Vegas, NV. Sept. 2nd 1973 Special 3:00 a.m. show


2.9.73 3AM show 'like to sing one of our favorite songs ' 3.06" 'that was there till the end of time x  2 till end.
2.9.73 D/S 'I’d like to do a song we like to sing'- 3.11" 'would last till the end of time x 2' end.
2.9.73 M/S 'I’d like to sing a song-one of my favorite songs, hope you like it', 3.00" long and after Elvis exclaims :- "I like that song!".
3.9.73 D/S 3.19"  nice version slight word changes at the end 'that would last till the end of time'. usual post 3rd verse Aah hah hah's.
3.9.73 M/S 3.13" 'I felt your heartbeat close to mine' and after he says 'I like that song!'.

 

 

 Chris Trant © Las Vegas, NV. January 1974 

1974:- After 1973 this song wasn’t featured as much at all and makes it’s inclusion during a show very ‘Special’ Given the fact SO MANY of these Winter 1974 shows have been recorded and we haven’t had any ‘live’ version YET as a FTD show I’d certainly welcome one of these Winter 1974 shows listed below as a FTD release!?.

1.2.74 M/S 'first time' (big applause from the audience) ooh ooh's after verse #2 Kathy's vocal great (that was there) shorter faster versions this season only 2.57" long. but still good.
3.2.74 M/S 'I had a request for this song from some friends of mine', ooh's after verse @2 and very slight word changed also again 2.57" long.
8.2.74 D/S 'It's just a song that I kinda like', great guitar playing and ooh's after verse #2 2.57 " running time just like the May 74 Tahoe version!.
 

Lake Tahoe 1974


27.5.74 3AM
3.08" long, (see lyrics below) 'lets do the first time';-,nice violins and trumpet playing in a good version.

 

27.5.74 3am 'live' version:-

The first time ever I saw your face

I thought the sun rose in your eyes

And the moon and stars were the gifts you gave

To the dark and the empty skies, my love

To the dark and the empty skies.

 

The first time ever I kissed your mouth

I felt the earth move in my hand

Like the trembling heart of a captive bird

That was there at my command, my love

That was there at my command.

 

Woh ohh...

That was there at my command, my love

That was there at my command

 

And the first time ever I lay with you

And felt your heartbeat close to mine

I knew a joy would fill the earth

And would last 'till the end of time, my love

And would last 'till the  end of time.

Hiy,hiy,hiy,hiy,hiy. Right on!

 

Sue McCasland © Lake Tahoe, NV. May 1974

Las Vegas

16.8.74 Rehearsal version 'The first time ever I saw your friggin face!', ooh's after 2nd verse and Elvis has to clear his throat as well on the 2nd line of the 3rd verse ( spoiling this version ) and also ooh's after 3rd verse as well. A nice slower version throughout and very lengthy @ 4.11" long.


21.8.74 M/S Linda Thompson present but not announced, @ 3.03" this might even be my favorite version. it was first released on the bootleg ;'A command performance', then later on the CD ‘Sunlight in Vegas’. It’s a beautiful version with Elvis’s voice reaching angelic heights during the vocalizing at the end of verse #2 Violins and Trombone are also worth mentioning.
22.8.74 M/S 3.22" slower than yesterday and at the end of verse #2 he doesn't sing up high, but still an excellent version.


1975
29.3.75 M/S 3.47" lengthy and sung up high and after going up high after verse #2 repeats the up high vocalizing after 4 lines of the 3rd verse again!-nice version!.
  

Judy Palmer © Las Vegas, NV. March 30th 1975 midnight show

30.3.75 D/S  A slow/long version over 4 minutes in Length (4.06)and very nicely sung for a Fan Susan Filcedric, beautiful Strings from the Orchestra in ‘quiet’ Vegas showroom

15.12.75 a very slight 'jokey' intro 3.11" no 6th line end here or high vocal as it's a straight version till the end on this night. 

Sue McCasland © Las Vegas, NV. December 15th 1975 closing show

1976
San Diego 24.4.76
Well reported in the San Diego 'news'  and referred to in the text as 'Too delicate a flower for the overblown Orchestration'! The report seems genuine enough and it's certainly possible Elvis sang it here but cannot be 100% confirmed without a tape of the show!?.


Lake Tahoe 9.5.76 10PM Again n o ooh's after the 2nd verse and a very short version @ only 2.42" which is much shorter due to the extra vocalizing missed out at the end of verse 2 or 3,Features a strong piano sound and quite flowery playing! reasonable version but not as good as in the past.


Birmingham 29.12.76 This was Elvis's FINAL VERSION of the song sung to a very large Audience and especially for Ginger Alden!. @ 3.36" it's of good length and has a thin sound with guitar and keyboard. After the 2nd verse Elvis asks for everyone else ( except  David Briggs ) to lay out as he finishes the song just with David for accompaniment  before the end of the 3rd verse he says "shut up" to someone in the audience and then vocalizes with the usual Aah hahaha 's after verse 3 with a final 'yeah!' quite different from the other 1976 versions and very delicate arrangement in front of such a large auditorium and definatly a 'highlight' version from 1976!.  

George Hill © Birmingham, AL. December 29th 1976

Memories of the FIRST TIME:- I always remember my first listening (in 1986)to this song ‘live’ on the  ‘Command Performance’ bootleg( one of the finest quality boot releases ever! ) and being impressed. Not many performers have the voice to do a good job on this song-yet Elvis was one of those very few. Except for late August 1973 this song was rarely performed and that makes each time it was all the more ‘special’ to hear raising the standard of any show it was sung in. In no way does that diminish the versions that Elvis sang in August 73’ as every night he sang a good version! For all the lucky people out their who are going to hear Elvis for THE FIRST TIME – how lucky you are! Compared to the studio version ALL of Elvis’s live versions are an improvement, a show ‘highlight’ and never a throwaway version given. A great song for a great vocal performer and must have been ashtonisishing delight to witness ‘live!’. 

I’d like to dedicate this article to Alison Southan for the inspiration to write it.