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Interesting irony about Elvis' gospel music

Wed Apr 13, 2005 10:43 am

In the Will Friedwald article that ran in "American Heritage" he made an interesting observation about how Elvis differed in his approach to gospel music than other great artists with roots in the church. Unlike other artists like Sam Cooke, Aretha Franklin and others Elvis did not make his start in gospel music and then switched to pop. Instead, Elvis established himself as a pop artist and then began to explore religious themes on record.

This was a very interesting point I thought and to me one of the most interesting and unlikely sidenotes of Elvis' career. When Elvis laid down his first gospel sides in 1957, RCA could not have been very happy about it. Elvis' rock and roll sides were selling in the multi-millions and the idea of throwing out sides on a niche music must not have seemed like a waste. The same execs that doubted "Heartbreak Hotel" must have doubted they would sell ten copies. After all this was a guy who many people were painting as an instrument of the devil. It was reasonable to think there wasn't much of a market for a gospel market. On the plus side it was a chance to test the hardcore market and as some damage control for that evil image. Really though it was probably done just to appease their top artist.

It turned out to be a qualified success. The record moved less than half of what Elvis' rock records moved which was in comparison to the rest of industry a pretty decent number. The label probably assumed that it was the hardcore fan base. Or was it? At any rate it paved the way for an entry into the Christmas market which was even more successful.

When Elvis got back from the army in 1960, it was indulgence time again. "His Hand in Mine" was Presley product but probably not the product the label wanted. It did well but not nearly so well as the pop albums of the era charting much lower and for half as long. Then a very interesting thing happened. After the album fell from the charts, it kept moving copies eventually piling up numbers that eclipsed all but a few non-greatest hits pop albums.

It sold so well that a followup was demanded. In 1966, Elvis gave them one in "How Great Thou Art" which featured some of his most personal music. The following year RCA dumped the album on the market and it started to move by of all things word of mouth and in an absolute turnaround the record moved in a way his pop records didn't. And in a way that his pop records didn't this record made him a respected pop institution winning Elvis his first major industry awards.

The followup went back to the initial formula of slow but consistent movement.

Slowly but surely Elvis established this alternative career and to a certain extent an alternative fan base. A few year back Ernst Jorgensen told a magazine that Elvis' most consistent sellers were his gospel releases. The sale figures validated that claim. Two of Elvis' gospel releases "How Great" and the two CD set were certified double platinum. He was the only artist to achieve this distinction. Given the other gospel releases that either went gold or platinum, Elvis is probably the top selling artist in the gospel field without even counting a single pop record. The consistent success of these records says to me that when the average American wants to hear gospel music or get musically in touch with his spiritual side, he or she is most likely to get there with Elvis Presley.

This is an amazing turn of events. Who in 1957 could have predicted that the man scandalizing the nation would years later serve as the country's spiritual balm? That's a pretty good record for what started as a superstar perk.

Wed Apr 13, 2005 11:12 am

Don't mean to ramble on but I would like to spur a little discussion here. What is it about this music that makes it so successful? Do people somehow sense this music is real in some way? To me it's very possible that people feel the sincerity of this music and respect that it is made not to sell record but to serve a higher purpose whether that purpose is artistic or spiritual. It's another very likely twist if it is this uncommercial quality that makes the records commercially viable.

Wed Apr 13, 2005 12:33 pm

Ltb -

An interesting post.

But remember, it was public demand which prompted the first Elvis gospel record.

After singing Peace In The Valley on the Ed Sullivan Show in January, 1957, there was such public interest generated that Elvis did a few gospel songs in his next studio visit.

Whether the idea to do it on tv was Ed's or Elvis' it went down really well.

The resultant 4-track extended play release: Peace In The Valley
became the biggest-selling 'sacred' record and remains so to this day.

Wed Apr 13, 2005 3:57 pm

Likethebike, food for thought. A very interesting topic.

The "Amazing Grace" CDs should be onsale ALL the time, and this side of Elvis's career publicised far more.

Many in Europe did not see the Ed Sullivan shows and it was the fabulous "Elvis' Christmas Album", which surprised us all in 1957.
Last edited by MauriceinIreland on Mon Feb 27, 2006 10:13 pm, edited 1 time in total.

Wed Apr 13, 2005 4:04 pm

Maurice -

You wrote:
Many in Europe did not see the Ed Sullivan shows and it was the fabulous "Elvis' Christmas Album", which surprised us all in 1957.


We may not have seen Ed Sullivan in the UK & Europe, but we got the Peace In The Valley extended play record before the Christmas Album !

I worked in a record shop at the time.

Wed Apr 13, 2005 4:22 pm

ColinB, Granted.

That was your experience. Depends where you were living at the time I expect. Not all record shops were well stocked with Elvis material at the time.

I don't remember seeing the EP till later in 1958. It may have been on sale in record shops in the Centre of Manchester? But in the outskirts...........?

When I went to get the Famous first Elvis Album I was told by a sales assistant that it was already deleted, 1957!

But they had six Elvis HMV 78s in!!! Almost just like today:-) Still have not seen "Crying in the Chapel" on sale here:-)
Last edited by MauriceinIreland on Mon Feb 27, 2006 10:14 pm, edited 1 time in total.

Wed Apr 13, 2005 7:28 pm

Gospel music was Elvis' true love (musically speaking) and this is what comes through in his gospel performances. Elvis sang all types of music with credibility, but there was something extra there when he sang gospel. A sense of devotion. My own personal feeling I come away with when I listen to Elvis' gospel performances is that when he sang gospel he was communing with the Divine. Even a disbeliever can be moved by Elvis' gospel singing. He could practically make a believer out of you! At the very least you have no doubt that Elvis believed every word of what he sang.
A performance such as "Stand By Me" has more spiritual power in it than 20 preachers preaching from the pulpit!

I truly believe that if Elvis had done like Al Green and turned his back on pop music, recorded gospel exclusively, studied the Bible at a decent Bible college and became an ordained minister, with his incredible charisma and voice he could have brought thousands to Christ.

Wed Apr 13, 2005 8:38 pm

Pete -

You wrote:
Even a disbeliever can be moved by Elvis' gospel singing.
He could practically make a believer out of you!


Well, yeah - almost !

As you say, Elvis' sincerity and real feeling for this music shine through in his performances.

Wed Apr 13, 2005 8:39 pm

ColinB wrote:Ltb -

An interesting post.

But remember, it was public demand which prompted the first Elvis gospel record.

After singing Peace In The Valley on the Ed Sullivan Show in January, 1957, there was such public interest generated that Elvis did a few gospel songs in his next studio visit.

Whether the idea to do it on tv was Ed's or Elvis' it went down really well.

The resultant 4-track extended play release: Peace In The Valley
became the biggest-selling 'sacred' record and remains so to this day.


According to what I heard, it was Elvis' idea to sing "Peace In the Valley" on the Sullivan show.
According to Gordon Stoker, Elvis had promised his mother that he would sing "Peace In the Valley" on the Sullivan show. During the show rehearsals, there was a little dispute. Sullivan's producers (and I think the brass at CBS too) did not want Elvis singing a religious song on the show. Elvis told Sullivan that he promised his mother that he would sing the song on the show - but was being told that they (the producers) would not allow it. Sullivan told the producers to let Elvis sing what he wanted.

Tom (from Ohio)

Wed Apr 13, 2005 9:25 pm

hounddawgs6499, yes. I think you are right about Elvis choosing the Gospel song. I heard or read that somewhere.

The words to the Gospel songs do not really matter. As Tchaikovsky famously said, "Music begins where words leave off".

Obviously Elvis believed in the words, hence the sincerity of his singing.

Beautiful!
Last edited by MauriceinIreland on Mon Feb 27, 2006 10:14 pm, edited 1 time in total.

Wed Apr 13, 2005 9:31 pm

Tom -

Thanks !

Guess Sullivan was afraid to upset his prize 'catch' !

Wed Apr 13, 2005 9:51 pm

When Elvis sang gospel, he took it to another level, he was brilliant.

Wed Apr 13, 2005 10:11 pm

ColinB wrote:Tom -

Thanks !

Guess Sullivan was afraid to upset his prize 'catch' !


Yes, or maybe Sullivan was smart enough to let Elvis do his thing - and maybe he figured that Elvis was more talented than the critics gave him credit for.

Tom (from Ohio)

Wed Apr 13, 2005 11:15 pm

Great topic, LTB. It has been inspiring to read the input from everybody on this subject. I’ve been an Elvis fan for twenty-five years, but I really didn’t discover the spiritual side of the man until a few years ago, when I bought the fabulous Peace in the Valley box set. The first disc is outstanding, featuring nearly all my gospel favorites. I don’t believe in God, but I’m on the verge of converting from heathenism each time I hear Elvis singing about the Lord.

Maurice, long time. How have you been?

Ken

Wed Apr 13, 2005 11:21 pm

MauriceinIreland wrote:
The words to the Gospel songs do not really matter. As Tchaikovsky famously said, "Music begins where words leave off".

Obviously Elvis believed in the words, hence the sincerity of his singing.

Beautiful!


Maurice -
Since Elvis believed in the words, and this belief added an extra depth of feeling to his singing, then I'd have to say that the words do matter.

Wed Apr 13, 2005 11:27 pm

I agree 100% Pete. Words can move you, just as music can. In some cases, more.

Tom

Thu Apr 14, 2005 12:43 am

And I agree completely with Pete and Tom. Elvis had a special ability to pour emotion into his songs. He put his soul into his singing. Listen to "Always on My Mind" (preferably the version on 2nd to None). This is a man who believes every word he sings. He really wants a second chance. He is sincere. With this song, knowing that every Tom, Dick, and Harry (sorry, Tom) knew about his marital problems, he walks naked into the world, vulnerable as a toddler. "Separate Ways" and "It’s a Matter of Time" are just weaker versions of the same song. Elvis could have thrown together a bunch of similar songs and released an album entitled Pieces of My Life. My point is that Elvis was the song, and the song became him. A lot of people think that "Always on My Mind" is a beautiful song, and they are right, but it’s also an incredibly sad song. It reveals Elvis’s genuine emotions in a way that could only be fully expressed through his singing.

The above mentioned songs plus "Take Good Care of Her", "She Thinks I Still Care", "You Gave Me a Mountain", and "What Now, My Love?", to name but a few, could only have been sung by a man who just got his heart ripped out of his chest, a man who is eaten alive by remorse, a man who is crippled by his loss.

Outstanding gospel performances such as "Take My Hand, Precious Lord", "He Knows Just What I Need", "Stand by Me", "We Call on Him", "Amazing Grace", "If That Isn’t Love", and any post-1972 live version of "How Great Thou Art", again to name but a few, could only have been done by a man who firmly believes in God.

Elvis had great depths, and he expressed his feelings through his music. People claiming Elvis never sang a message song are way off base. The truth is that he was always personal when he chose songs. I’m talking about songs that moved him, songs that he cared for. All of those songs are small pieces in his audio-biography. He never really wrote a song, but he sure sang them, and he did it like no other. And that is why he is the King of Music. I suspect he will remain so until the end of time.

Ken

Thu Apr 14, 2005 12:51 am

Pete Dube wrote:I truly believe that if Elvis had done like Al Green and turned his back on pop music, recorded gospel exclusively, studied the Bible at a decent Bible college and became an ordained minister, with his incredible charisma and voice he could have brought thousands to Christ.


Pete, I know a few people (including myself) who strongly feel this same way.

It's become a common theory (probably not among liberals, non-believers and their ilk) of how Elvis might have survived longer and been healthier and happier. - becoming an ordained minister, and singing only for the Lord - not for the Hilton, not for the Colonel, not for rockin' oldies ol' times sake.

He certainly made his mark and then some on the Pop/Rock scene.
OK fine.
But there, at 40 years of age, and beyond, he should've turned away from secular music (was he planning a 1978 gospel tour?) and done gospel exclusively.
Sing from his heart - for real.

Cleaned up his act. Put on a real suit - not a jumpsuit.
AVOIDED LAS VEGAS like the plague.
and fired Parker. and fired Dr. Nick.
Cleaned up - body and mind and spirit.

I've said it here on this mb before - today, right now, in a perfect world, Elvis should be a respected white-haired elder statesmen retired long ago from the regular music biz and doing a music ministry.
Reverend Presley.
Sunday evening services and such in a Tennessee church.



--- but I'm sure there'd be people complaining - "Hey! You're Elvis! Where's your spangled cape?! You're supposed to be singing "Hound Dog" and "Burning Love" for the 13,000th time!"
Last edited by Graceland Gardener on Thu Apr 14, 2005 1:10 am, edited 1 time in total.

Thu Apr 14, 2005 1:08 am

If only GG.......If only :cry:

Thu Apr 14, 2005 1:21 am

Sadly, there's alot of fans who would have a problem with Rev. Presley, and his church.

:? why does it have to be a church where he sings now?!
I don't want to go there. :?
Why can't he keep singing in the casino showroom - in between the showgirls and the magician
?!?
gripe gripe gripe.


Elvis should've had a wake-up call that as a singer he can stop trying to please his label (who was ripping him off anyway) and trying to please his manager (who was ripping him off anyway) and even stop trying to please fans (who expect him to sing the same hit setlist over and over til he dies anyway)

Thu Apr 14, 2005 2:10 am

ken, Hello to you too. I've been fine thank you.

I'm sure non english speaking people enjoy the emotion in the Elvis Gospel songs just as they enjoy Beethoven's "Ode to Joy" or Wagners "anti-semetic" music.

As for religion, I was raised a Roman Catholic, know the bible stories inside out, studied histories of the Hebrews/jews and the Eastern religions so I do understand other peoples views on the subject.

I love Elvis's Gospel singing, and I'm an atheist! Funny old world isn't it?

Getting religion is child's play, getting out of it is another matter altogether!
Last edited by MauriceinIreland on Mon Feb 27, 2006 10:16 pm, edited 2 times in total.

Thu Apr 14, 2005 4:32 am

I loved the comments by Ken Jensen.

God does move in mysterious ways! I'm not so sure that Elvis missed his calling as a preacher. I think maybe he did pretty much exactly what he was supposed to. I don't believe he was too terriby far off the mark. God did have a purpose for him. He was blessed with very special and rare gifts. I do believe God spoke to him and at times Elvis did listen. Elvis set the world on FIRE, changed history, touched lives, continues to do so, and, as Ken stated, will do so till the end of time....

Thu Apr 14, 2005 7:02 am

Did the gospel albums sell because America was largely a secular, god fearing country in the sixties?
Xmas albums sales in December are as reliable as the sun coming up when nightfall ends.
Christian music was always a slow but steady Easter sell ... I believe the Colonel pushed for heavy releases and airplay each Easter ... a sure bet!

Thu Apr 14, 2005 7:39 am

A lot of interesting points made here.

The main problem with Reverend Elvis was Elvis himself. If the '68 TV Special proved anything it was that Elvis could not and would not tolerate the diminishment of his public recognition. This was a man who enjoyed being famous. And as with everything else from blues to love songs to rock and roll, gospel was only one part of him. It was cherished and personal part but it wasn't the whole show.

It's kind of dimestore psychology to say Elvis would have been so much happier if he had done this or that. He had a lot of problems and there was no one quick fix.

By the end of his life as an artist, Elvis pretty much was doing what he wanted at least in the recording studio. Even on stage, he still cared about the fans but on another level he spent too large of a part of the show just indulging his whims.

I like the comments about even songs and gospel being message songs because that's what they are. You can say something very profound within those contexts. They are very personal songs.

It is a good argument that Elvis gave these songs such power because he so firmly believed the words. However, it is easy to see how the music could cross religious barriers. The music is so deeply felt and aspires to a higher meaning and understanding. It's akin to the elevated feeling a doo wop song can give you even though it may be only about getting a date with a dream girl. The mood of elevation and aspiration is what really cuts to the core of you.

Colin- As for the original EP, I'm not sure there was a popular "DEMAND" for the record. I think some Elvis authors thought that up as some revisionist history. The record sold well but compared to the pop records of the time, the sales were tame. "Love Me Tender" was a record where there was a real pre-release public frenzy as it moved something like a million copies before it was released and made #1 in three weeks.

Thu Apr 14, 2005 9:34 am

Elvis had a calling

- as it's said, many are called....

he was shined upon in this dark cloudy world

after army, entering Sixties
he had a young senatoresque public service about him,
an outward helping sense with underpriveleged children and charities,
a physical fitness unpeered in his generation,
and yes he was thanking heaven literally for his good fortune and bounty while doing gospel albums like "His Hand in Mine"
It wasn't product, It was personal.

he sorta lost moral compass, going more off course,
after mother's passing, step family settled in,
and that aint-had-a-big-hit top 40 charts jinxed era of
hitting his thirties, now tucking her away in the upstairs,
bride on lay-away while dating hollywood hotties, life of the party!
and shooting more flix, a more cyclical schedule of
movie star treatment and tans

well, he lived like a king.

King Elvis Aron, a popular culture athropological canon reigning figure over a human kingdom, in the newest testament.

And an openly candid believer too.

"Reverend Presley" wouldn't offend me
not one bit at all
or disappoint me either

I wouldn't superimpose an image of past product on him with demands that he must do some middle-of-the-road music and predicted golden oldies...in studded wear

would a 1984, for example, have seen Elvis booked again, in a cocktail-dinner showroom, scheduled between jugglers and comedians,
taking the stage in a jumpsuit designed in part for a big top cannonball shot and still doing "I Got A Woman" right out of the See See vamp ?

that, well into his fifties?

Hey, it was chic in heady kneivel seventies
but come on, snap out of it!
(gee wiz, your label has more than enough of these same setlists!)

Hey take a break from that scene - for your own good and well-being!

Pick up an acoustic, buddy, and load up a bus with ol' J.D, Stamps, and Gaithers and friends
and tour churches, auditoriums and park picnics,
and sing praises - shout with a joyful noise!

wrote something new too? great, play it.

no hill & range material - zilch -

no pre-imposed-upon look, sound and style

entering his fourth decade of making music
and making a difference

come on, it t'would-a been nice to have him experience the eighties and nineties with us,
a Grandpa Elvis with his family, a Minister Elvis with his congregation,
and a retired ELVIS TM with overkill overdone material, exploitation, and production line.

plus have paparazi stand down and leave him be.
Wanna see him?
You're welcome to come in sit down and be a part of the service.

every time, Mr. Presley opens with a prayer, closes with a prayer

Been to Rev. Presley's service?
(Shelby County Ministy or whatever)
at the Whitehaven home church building?

Been there four times now...
shook his hand and said hello to him four times too.

it's that simple to meet him nowadays

Now, that's getting in touch

He sang "Standy By Me" last weekend.

when they do "He Touched Me"
so many are slain in the spirit.


Love songs and Inspirational songs are near and dear to the spirit and the heavenly father's ears ?
And a little Rock-a my Soul !

Amen?