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3 perfect Elvis recordings

Mon Sep 04, 2006 8:26 pm

So many times I will finish listening (usually in the car) to a song from our man and I’ll say, “Elvis, mate, that was brilliant”.

Because studio recordings were worked on, in terms of successive takes, in order to get the best possible end-product, we end up with many dozens of superb performances from all concerned in the process. But how many of them reached true perfection ? I have chosen three, more as examples than anything else.


Hound Dog

To me, this is perfection from start to finish. Elvis’s voice, D J Fontana’s machine-gun drumming, Scotty’s lead guitar, and the Jordanaires’ immaculate vocals and handclapping. If Elvis knew what he wanted, boy did he achieve it ! It’s such a pity that the tapes are lost, but maybe their discovery might somehow destroy the magic.

(How sad that Elvis, in his determination to “move on”, reduced the song to worse than a parody. “I looked her square in the eye”, is not for me, thanks)


Surrender

Because it is faster paced, and of shorter duration than its more majestic big brother, It’s Now Or Never, Surrender is largely forgotten by the world at large. Yet I believe it is arguably Elvis’s finest vocal performance and the arrangement, with its incessant rhythm, is irresistible. “All the stars will tell the story, Of our love and all its glory”. The timbre to Elvis’s voice is ideally suited to the lyric and mood of the song.

Avoid the E1 re-master. The mandolin becomes too prominent on the last two notes and distracts from Elvis’s crowning high notes.

I often wonder why Elvis seemingly never had the courage to tackle this on stage (other than in Memphis, 1961?). He was very reticent about doing It’s Now Or Never until around 1971, but then seemed to enjoy it as one of his party pieces.


Any Day Now

To borrow a well-used phrase, this should be available on the National Health. It is an object lesson in the singing of a rock ballad with a tempo change. The bridge, “I know I shouldn’t want to keep you, if you don’t want to stay” is mind-blowing - especially Elvis’s voice on “don’t” and “stay-yeah”. The orchestration is magnificent. Nuff said !

I would be interested in hearing other people’s choices of “perfect” recordings. I’ll close by throwing in another - but without comment - “Twenty Days and Twenty Nights”.

Incidentally, if there are any factual errors in the above, I am writing this away from my reference books.

Steve Morse

Mon Sep 04, 2006 8:31 pm

A Big Hunk Of Love was made perfect after the splice! Great!! :)

Mon Sep 04, 2006 8:58 pm

The first time I ever heard "Such a Night" was on the radio.

I was in awe of his vocal abilities. This performance is simply perfect.

Mon Sep 04, 2006 9:14 pm

Perfection is a big word, but Devil in Disguise does it for me.

Mon Sep 04, 2006 9:21 pm

hello Streve
i agree that the 3 are perfect. SURRENDER is divine, elvis sings opera :wink:
Others perfet songs included by me:
You'll Think of Me
In the ghetto
Dont Cry Daddy
Rargs To riches ( what a great voice...)
enjoy listening to the king everybody
sincerely
LIOR

Mon Sep 04, 2006 9:24 pm

In 69 and 70 i take it you were refering to the version in 69(she was weird too-square eye etc) well these versions fcn rock the TCB band is so good Elvis' vocal sears and Lung power is so strong--nah you just cannot class this as a Parody.Now later versions with the tired voice Yes they smack Paraody.

Mon Sep 04, 2006 9:37 pm

Nearly every recording on "Elvis Is Back" is masterful. In particular, "Such A Night", "Surrender" and "Reconsider Baby" are flawless performances -- from Elvis and the band. It's hard for me to say which of the three I like more. Perhaps I like them equally. These tracks show Elvis and his fellow muscians at their peak -- better than anything he/they recorded in the 50's, if not as culturally groundbreaking, and better than anything he/they recorded in 1969 under Chips Moman (though both eras have some utterly fantastic material). The only thing I hesitate on is comparing them to the best of the Comeback Special. "One Night", "Trying To Get To You", "Lawdy Miss Clawdy", "Baby, What You Want Me To Do" and "If I Can Dream" are inspired, though the instrumental performances of all but the last song are really too spare to seriously compare with the best cuts on "Elvis Is Back" (even if Elvis' guitar playing is seriously mean and dirty), and "If I Can Dream" is drenched with orchcestral -- even lyrical -- excess.

Another two songs that are ABSOLUTELY PERFECT are the masters to "Are You Lonesome Tonight?" and "That's Someone You Never Forget". Absolutely, by far, the most tasteful and haunting recordings ever made, arguably in the history of mankind! Well, OK, if that might charitably be called "hyperbole" on my part, it's a very weak form of hyperbole -- how many other recordings from the 20th and 21st centuries sound that good? Incredulously, a lot of people forget about the latter, and a fair few take the former cut for granted, but they are both astonishing beyond words. Elvis caresses each and every syllable -- nay, every phoneme -- and the band are right there with him, practically caressing their instruments in unison. Those songs aren't just music; they're not even songs -- they're spiritual realms that furl and unfurl between the moment you press "play" and the moment the sound fades.

Then there is the enchanting beauty and majesty of "It Hurts Me", a recording that deserved to be Number One, and a song that just drips with a kind of restrained operatic power and emotional ache. It's a staggering showcase of Elvis' ability to shade simple lyrics with the most complex of feelings, and with the simple piano and gentle lilting of his backing singers, this is a true timeless recording.

Now, call me crazy, but because I regard 1960-1964, and especially 1960-1962, as Elvis' finest years as a singer, almost anything from that period shimmers with unearthly elegance. Even "lightweight" albums/sessions like those for "G.I. Blues" and "Blue Hawaii" have magnificent performances, despite the fact that the arrangements aren't anywhere near the level of those songs mentioned in the preceding paragraphs. I mean, Elvis' voice is simply UNBELIEVABLE on "Aloha Oe", for example, and you wonder how ANYONE could ever sound that good (his pitch/breath control even gives Mario Lanza a run for his money on this track). Then, on something like "Frankfurt Special", when he goes "whoa-whoa-whoa-whoa-whoa-whoa-whoa", smoothly gliding between notes with the precision of the Planck length itself, you just think, "OK, Elvis, you can stop borrowing God's vocal chords any time now!" This period is simply extraordinary. No one else sang this good. It really is like the guy has the universe at his command. Shame it didn't last, but it invariably could not.
Last edited by Cryogenic on Mon Sep 04, 2006 10:00 pm, edited 1 time in total.

Mon Sep 04, 2006 9:45 pm

The frustrating thing is the missing or non existent session tapes for Hound Dog. I mean, who is to know the master is indeed the best recorded take! 8)

Mon Sep 04, 2006 10:07 pm

Matthew wrote:The frustrating thing is the missing or non existent session tapes for Hound Dog. I mean, who is to know the master is indeed the best recorded take! 8)



Presumably Elvis Presley thought so. But what did he know?

Mon Sep 04, 2006 10:10 pm

Spellbinder wrote:
Matthew wrote:The frustrating thing is the missing or non existent session tapes for Hound Dog. I mean, who is to know the master is indeed the best recorded take! 8)



Presumably Elvis Presley thought so. But what did he know?


Indeed, because there are no alternate takes from other sessions that can sound as good if not better than the released masters. Oh wait....

Mon Sep 04, 2006 10:21 pm

Jordanaires’ immaculate vocals


Didn't Gordon Stoker say that this was the worst they ever sounded? He's explained that he was fulfilling piano duties so his voice wasn't heard as part of the usual quartet blend.

It's a shame they had to ooh and aah over Scotty's supremely exciting guitar solos, too. But despite that 'Hound Dog' is still in the top 3. 8)

Mon Sep 04, 2006 10:21 pm

Cryogenic wrote:Then there is the enchanting beauty and majesty of "It Hurts Me", a recording that deserved to be Number One, and a song that just drips with a kind of restrained operatic power and emotional ache. It's a staggering showcase of Elvis' ability to shade simple lyrics with the most complex of feelings, and with the simple piano and gentle lilting of his backing singers, this is a true timeless recording.

How could I forget this one!

Mon Sep 04, 2006 10:25 pm

Steve,

Good choices, and I'm not sure how to limit this to just 3.

I also love the soulful feel to Any Day Now, and it is perfect, but I'd also add Only The Strong Survive, as another example of a nailed master - this couldn't ever be improved upon.

There are so many wonderful cuts from the early 60's, and I'm torn between There's Always Me, Anything Thats Part of You and The Girl Of My Best Friend, but I'll go for the latter as a beautifully sung pop song with an astonishingly good backing.

Finally, something from the 70's. Again, so many excellent masters to choose from. The June 70 rendition of Bridge Over Troubled Water? I've Got A Thing About You Baby? Good Time Charlie, or maybe Pieces Of My Life? All are so well sung, and are woven with the Presley Magic. One I keep coming back to time, and time again is Bridge, as it's a dramatic rendition, sung with power in places, but also, when he sings "I will comfort you", you know he means it. This one has left even my most ardent anti Elvis mates totally blown away, once even bring a round of applaude in the car!

Great post Steve, and I agree - Elvis, mate, they were so often bloody brilliant!

Mon Sep 04, 2006 10:48 pm

I know some people are going to pull a face upon reading this, but one of Elvis' early masterpieces, to me, is "Old Shep". There is absolutely nothing remarkable about this song -- except for the gorgeously understated and completely honest way Elvis sings it. He doesn't stumble or faulter for a millisecond, despite the length of the song, and sings it like it was written just for him, or barely even "written" at all (the definition of any great Elvis song). One can well imagine that, since he allegedly sang it as a boy, earning a prize of one description or another, he'd had years of practise behind him. And does it pay off! If you allow yourself to become drawn in, then this is a truly sad song, and gets to be extremely moving. But maybe I'm just a sentimental fool. :wink:

There are some wonderful cuts from 1954-1958 and 1969/1970 (I struggle to think of a true masterpiece after then). But, as I argued earlier, nothing can quite touch that period between 1960 and 1964. Then again, since I've named "Old Shep", it would only be fair to at least give honourable mentions to "Blue Moon", "Heartbreak Hotel", "Loving You", "Jailhouse Rock", "A Big Hunk O' Love", "Indescribably Blue", "I'll Hold You In My Heart (Till I Can Hold You In My Arms)", "Kentucky Rain", "In The Ghetto", "Don't Cry Daddy", "Bridge Over Troubled Water", "Just Pretend", "Twenty Days and Twenty Nights" and, wait for it... "Snowbird". Yes, "Snowbird". I don't know what it is about this last record, and while the melody and arrangement is too simplistic to rightfully call this a "great" song in any sense of the word, Elvis' vocal is so tender and controlled that I can't help but have the highest affection for it. It's a personal -- if not musical -- favourite of mine. There are many guilty pleasures in Elvis' enormous catalogue; that's one of mine.

Re: 3 perfect Elvis recordings

Tue Sep 05, 2006 12:16 am

Steve Morse wrote:...how many of them reached true perfection ?
I have chosen three, more as examples than anything else.

Hound Dog

Surrender

Any Day Now


Would have to agree about the studio version of Hound Dog.

There is a great 'pop' song waiting to be written using the tune, but Surrender isn't it !

Yes Any Day Now is great.

For me, Elvis' rendition of Love Me is perfection itself.

And Heartbreak Hotel could hardly be improved on.

Re: 3 perfect Elvis recordings

Tue Sep 05, 2006 12:29 am

ColinB wrote:For me, Elvis' rendition of Love Me is perfection itself.


*smacks head*

LOVE ME!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

And again: Love Me!

(That's not an imperative, Colin) :wink:

How could I forget this astonishing record? Elvis MUTILATED this in all his live performances, save the Comeback Special (and even that didn't get close to the perfection of the master), but we'll always have this stunning studio cut. It's interesting that Norah Jones recently took this on, and despite her musical training and not insignificant talent, she didn't come CLOSE to Elvis' version. EP displays a maturity and grasp of the song totally beyond the realm of reason. It's a recording evidently made by Elvis tapping into something elusive. Something so elusive that even he wasn't able to draw upon it again. A real gem.

Tue Sep 05, 2006 12:46 am

Mystery Train

Tue Sep 05, 2006 12:49 am

Nice topic. You're three-for-three, Steve -- both "Hound Dog" and "Any Day Now" are in my all-time top ten, too.

Non-fans really have no idea how many times Elvis scored a 10/10 on a recording, only the Beatles rival him in that respect. And we're talking about studio perfection from July 1954 ("That's All Right" -- how much better can your debut single be?) to March 1975 ("T-R-O-U-B-L-E" -- should've been a #1 single that year).

Cryogenic, you're right on the money about the incredible, untouchable prowess Elvis displayed on every single track cut between 1960 and 1962. He could do it ALL, and he knew it. If only the material had kept pace ...

Tue Sep 05, 2006 1:02 am

Are You Lonesome Tonight: The studio master is perfection in every way. The voice, the backing, the naration - the lot.

Love Me Tonight: One of the few tracks where an outtake is better. The master is flawless but the version on Collectors Gold is one of the most beautiful pieces of recorded music ever made.

I'm Leavin': Chills down the spine. Faultless.

There are only a handful of perfect recordings by any artist. Visions by Cliff Richard is one, True Love Ways by Buddy Holly is another and Love Hurts by Gram and Emmy Lou springs to mind. Elvis has the distinction of having recorded countless perfect recordings. Working out a concise list would take all night.

Tue Sep 05, 2006 1:24 am

The Purple Gang wrote:It's a shame they had to ooh and aah over Scotty's supremely exciting guitar solos, too. But despite that 'Hound Dog' is still in the top 3. 8)


I kinda agree with you, but the jordanaires vocals during Scottys solo ads to the song I think, but maybe they are a little to close to the mike...


But who am I to complain? The song is timeless, and PERFECT....

Tue Sep 05, 2006 1:43 am

Rockin_John wrote:... the jordanaires vocals during Scottys solo ads to the song ...

Exactly right -- the excitement level on "Hound Dog" goes off the charts when the Jordanaires harmonize over Scotty's guitar solo. It's an amazing choice of arrangement, and it works even now, 50 years later.

Tue Sep 05, 2006 2:02 am

drjohncarpenter wrote:
Rockin_John wrote:... the jordanaires vocals during Scottys solo ads to the song ...

Exactly right -- the excitement level on "Hound Dog" goes off the charts when the Jordanaires harmonize over Scotty's guitar solo. It's an amazing choice of arrangement, and it works even now, 50 years later.


And don't forget their handclaps, too !

Tue Sep 05, 2006 2:04 am

ColinB wrote:And don't forget their handclaps, too !



Thats right, thats right!

Tue Sep 05, 2006 2:12 am

And let's not forget his perfect live recordings also.

I nominate "Trilogy" from Afternoon In The Garden

Tue Sep 05, 2006 2:14 am

Keggyhander wrote:And let's not forget his perfect live recordings also.

I nominate "Trilogy" from Afternoon In The Garden


One thing is certain, there'll never be agreement as to Elvis' best live song performances [not from the members of this MB, anyway].