"Don't believe them!"
"Elvis's fifth live album, Live On Stage In Memphis, is (most people will tell you) his worst. Don't believe them."
Author Paul Simpson ("The Rough Guide To Elvis") then gives a short and sweet review of one of Presley's most underrated and overlooked albums of the 1970ies and explains why it isn't his worst live album. Since "Recorded Live On Stage In Memphis" has recently been discussed superficially in another thread, I'd like to give it some kind of review right here in the review section of this messageboard.
The two strongest arguments for being his worst live album have always been that 1.) the recording was edited and didn't feature all of the songs performed during this concert, and 2.) audience reactions and applause have been overdubbed for release. Well, while the overdubbing surely is not only annoying but completely silly somehow (did Elvis Presley really need fake applause on his first hometown appearance in 13 years??) the other argument doesn't hold: The first two live albums after Presley's 1969 live comeback (In Person
and On Stage
) didn't contain a complete concert also. And in its original release the latter one even had additional audience reactions overdubbed, too.
"Elvis", "Memphis", "Hometown"
So, while Recorded Live On Stage In Memphis
didn't feature the complete performance of March 20th, 1974, it's still a worthwile listen. This isn't Elvis giving the "once in a lifetime" kinda performance he did in Hawaii 14 months earlier to this giving him the last #1 album of his lifetime. On the other hand this is probably more Elvis than "Aloha" was. Being his first concert in his hometown Memphis in 13 years (let's say "his first recorded and released concert in his hometown Memphis in 13 years", 'cause he already had performed there some days before) this release plays with the ideas of "hometown", "Memphis", and hence "early career" and "rock'n'roll" somehow.
With "I Got A Woman", "Trying To Get To You", "My Baby Left Me" and "Lawdy, Miss Clawdy" this album features some of his earliest songs, most of them rarely performed in concert. Track 5, a medley, even contains some other early performances like "Mama Don't Dance" and "Flip, Flop And Fly" (besides the rockers "Long Tall Sallly" and "Whole Lotta Shakin' Goin' On" that have already been issued on "Aloha).
Mainly new material
Focussing somewhat on Elvis' musical roots the album also features three top-notch gospel performances ("Why Me Lord", "How Great Thou Art" and the recently recorded but not yet released "Help Me"). "How Great Thou Art" even provided Elvis with his third Grammy award for a gospel recording in 1974 and is the best version available on record. "Let Me Be There", a recent hit for Olivia Newton-John, was just another new song that hasn't been heard by Elvis before. It remained a part of his show after the Memphis concert as some kind of a shop stopper. Here it's sung with confidence and soul and even a little reprise. When Felton Jarvis was searching for material to add to Elvis 1977 album Moody Blue
it was "Let Me Be There" that was included. It the kind of fun song to sing along with that wasn't there on the New York or Hawaiian concert.
The album opens and closes with "See See Rider" and "Can't Help Falling In Love" but you can't really blame it for doing so since both were regular numbers of his live concerts in 1974. So, "An American Trilogy" and "Love Me" remain the only two songs that have been released on two of his five live albums before. While "Trilogy" really didn't ask for a third release, "Love Me" is performed in a somewhat different mood making the song more enjoyable than on his Madison Square Garden concert.
"I Can't Stop Loving You" has also been released on both his MSG and Hawaiian album. But combined with another early rock song, "Blueberry Hill", by one of Elvis' musical idols, Fats Domino, this is a neat addition. IMO it's better sung than on the two release that preceeded this album.
A "worthwile" performance
Different from both As Recorded At Madison Square Garden
and Aloha From Hawaii
, Recorded Live On Stage In Memphis
presents us a good-humoured Elvis all the way through this performance. After two personally difficult years Elvis finally seemed to have regained fun in live performance in 1974. This album has him joking and chatting with the audience like he did only on In Person
and On Stage
His voice had matured during the years giving him the opportunity to sing songs like "Why Me Lord" or "How Great Thou Art". Still the oldies are performed in a no less than amazing way. "Trying To Get To You", "My Baby Left Me" and "Lawdy Miss Clawdy" alone are worth buying this CD. When he goes into the high notes with "Wheeen I read your loving le-he-teeeeeer, then my heaaaaart began to si-hi-hiiiing", it makes your heart flutter. The same goes for "There was nothin' that could hold meeeee, oooooooor could keep me away from you", presented with a roughness that only the King Of Rock'n'Roll or Mick Jagger could come up with without seeming totally silly at the age of 39 or fifty-something respectively. During "Lawdy, Miss Clawdy" he encourages his piano player ("Play it, Glen!") and obviously seems to enjoy the song when he commands his band, a god-damn hunk o' background singers and a whole orchestra with a short: "One more time ..." Folks believe it or not but that's just gorgeous!
Obviously Elvis also enjoys "I Can't Stop Loving You" much more than the years before (1972 and '73) and gives an amazing vocal performance. At one point he incorporates a little joke when he sings "I made up my mind / To live in Tennessee - uh - memory". His laugh only a few notes later shows that it was an Elvis who was feeling pretty well performing his hometown in front of 12,500 people.
The cover of this album is something special, too. For the first time ever it didn't feature a picture of Elvis but his Memphis mansion "Graceland" instead. When during the last bars of the "Closing Vamp" it is anounced that "Ladies and Gentlemen, Elvis has left for Graceland. Thank you, good night. This concert was recorded live right here in the Midsouth Coliseum in Elvis's hometown Memphis, Tennessee ...", this is something special somehow. Though overdubbed later it never fails to give me some great goose bumps.
For its CD release the concert has been "digitally remastered" and provides a pretty good sound (forget the overdubbed applause) and made Recorded Live On Stage In Memphis
one of my favorite concert albums ever. All in all a pretty "worthwile" concert experience. I pretty much prefer it to the Madison Square Garden concert that's just sounding terribly IMO and "Aloha" which features some rare and unique material but doesn't even have a spark of fun or enjoyment.
"It's always been said that a person cannot return to their hometowns but you have just disproven that theory completely - and you really made it worthwile."
So, if you still think this is "is worst live album" - it really isn't.