Elvis the "studio professional" would be a good way to categorize his early
sixties work. He made movies, gave a few live appearances, and recorded
music for both film and non-film use. As we know, the musical balance
would tip in unfortunate favor of soundtracks while the song quality
diminished. On disc one we get a bunch of alternates from the May 1963
sessions (later to be referred to as the "lost" studio album, as the songs
were relegated to various soundtrack albums as "bonus" tracks), as well as
material from 1960-61 and 1964-67. We hear a super-fine singer, with an
awesome studio and session musicians at his command, slaving over very
mediocre songs. I'll take the weakest track from the "Elvis Is Back"
sessions over things like "Finders Keepers" any day. "Western Union" is
infuriating, it is such a shameless rip-off of "Return To Sender", while
the bossa-nova styled "You'll Be Gone" (one of Elvis' only attempts to
songwrite) is pleasant enough. "Blue River" does rock, in a goofy sort of
way, and take two is the official cut (with a bit more distortion). Listen
for the Jordanaires goofing up their backing vocals near the end of the
tune --this was how it was released on 45 (as the flip to "Tell Me Why") in
There's good alternate material from 1961's "Something For Everybody"
sessions like"I'm Coming Home", the jaunty Charlie Rich number, which
features terrific lead guitar from Hank Garland and from the "Flaming Star"
sessions of August 1960. "Summer Kisses, Winter Tears" is a haunting
ballad (even better out of the context of the film it was intended for) --
on take 26 Elvis coughs in the middle but they still play all the way
through! The best studio recording of the three (!) he made for the
amazing year of 1964 (remember the Beatles?), "It Hurts Me", is rendered
beautifully in an earlier take -- only the ending needs refinement. What a
waste of a collossal talent. Had he recorded more goodies like this one,
the Beatles impact on Elvis' reign might've been at least a bit muted. For
the hardcore, the September 11th take of "Singing Tree" is here for first
time anywhere; it's just about as tedious as the released version recorded
the next day (and not very different either).
Disc two offers us some more of the crazy "US Male" sessions from January
1968 -- EP was never sillier or naughtier than this! There's lots of rough
language between (and during) takes, just for the fun of the musicians
assembled ("Do two more like that and we'll have a complete party album,"
says Felton Jarvis to Elvis over the talk-back speaker). It has to be
pointed out that NO ONE back then knew that anyone would ever hear this
stuff -- "underground" releases were virtually non-existant (at least until
the Dylan "Great White Wonder" double album put out in 1969). Thus,
borderline-bad taste material like the "Wings Of An Angel" jam would never
have been played, even for laughs. RCA/BMG is right to withhold this from
the general public -- it would be misconstrued by the unknowing masses as
"proof" Elvis was a racist. As it is, the outtakes show a loose and
swinging rocker, rediscovering himself during these sessions (and I love
Bob Moore's stand up bass); takes 1, 2 and 5 of "Guitar Man" from September
1967, feel the same way.
Bilko saves the best for last with material I thought we'd never hear --
outtakes from the American studios visit in February 1969! As they say,
"this is the shit"! We get full dubs from the actual session reels with
studio chat (some more of the "nasty" Elvis), flubs, and changing
arrangements! His singing is so soulful and committed on these sessions,
his first in Memphis since 1955, it's a thrill and an honor to be privy to
this material. "After Loving You" rolls along for eight plus minutes,
Elvis playing guitar along with the house band on this one (a la "One
Night"). The crisp snare drum sound of Gene Chrisman is a hallmark of
these sessions -- and I love hearing how perfectly placed his fills are on
this song -- just listen to his playing during the first verse of the song
-- precision, care and passion! Awesome!
"Do You Know Who I Am", not one of the best songs of all time, is
illuminating nonetheless. For nearly a half hour (!) you are standing next
to Elvis as he tries to master this song! They change the key ("Better for
me" he says) and producer Chips Moman reveals himself as a take charge guy,
right down to letting Elvis know when he's flat or fine (how often did that
EVER happen at an Elvis session?) -- Elvis: "I still miss that fuckin'
modulation!" Chips: "No, you hit it!" This is great stuff, even Elvis'
comment about masturbation (right around the ten minute mark) -- I kid you
Chips Moman is clearly to Elvis at American what Sam Phillips was to
Presley during the Sun sessions fourteen years earlier -- a visionary who
knew how to get the best out of his artist, musicians, studio and material.
He's running the show and we all know what a great result he got. Wonder
why Elvis or the Colonel didn't want to work with him again? We get to
work with Elvis through "Any Day Now" and hear how close it was in
arrangement to the 1963 Chuck Jackson original before the string overdubs.
Critic Greil Marcus says Elvis sings this number "with a naked piety ...
that cannot be heard in any of his other recordings". "Power Of My Love"
is the one found on the great "From Elvis In Memphis" album, sans the
overdubbed backing vocals -- he's loose as a goose here!
The "There's Always Me" series presents an excellent study of Elvis
Presley, artist, at work; with the American Studios material you can
upgrade that to genius at work. Volume 2 contains two essential discs for
the serious Elvis fan. Thanks, as always, Bilko!
Sound quality ****