I’ve done a lot of driving this week. My life is getting nuts. I’ve got Elvis Presley on the shuffle. Thought I’d give you a taste of it. It’s very weird to listen to him on Shuffle. It’s vaguely schizophrenic, the material is often wildly uneven, but there is also a thruline which is his voice and also – I guess I would call it joy. He seems happy to be doing what he’s doing. The Elvis Shuffle of the last couple of driving days:
“You Gave Me a Mountain” – Live, from the Aloha From Hawaii show. He sings the shit out of this song. It obviously meant a lot to him. I have a couple different versions and it’s always an anthem.
“Good Rockin’ Tonight” – Elvis at his most dirty and deviant. He is up to no good. Thank God.
“Flaming Star” – theme song for Flaming Star, a cowboy song
“Mansion Over the Hilltop” – from the giant double gospel album Amazing Grace. He’s gentle and a bit somnolent here.
“You’re the Only Star In My Blue Heaven” – from the Million Dollar Quartet session on December 4, 1956. Jerry Lee Lewis, Elvis, Johnny Cash, and Carl Perkins happen to be in the studio at the same time, and they jammed, and someone had enough smarts to turn on the damn tape recorder. Hard to believe that this event actually occurred. The recordings are a joy, with a real sense of the impromptu pushing-each-other-on vibe that had to be in that room, but the best part is you don’t sense competition. Just happiness. Fun. They’re laughing, making fun of each other, and then they also get down to business. This song features Jerry Lee Lewis.
“I Asked the Lord” – from the home recordings tapes. Elvis messing around on the piano. At one point he starts banging out Jingle Bells. He can’t really play the piano, but he always means it. I love hearing him banging out chords.
“That’s All Right” – Elvis’ first single, only this one is a live version from much later in his life. Jamming riffing band, huge energy, big choruses behind him.
“Good Time Charlie’s Got the Blues” – from his 1974 album Good Times. A melancholy country number. He’s in very good voice. I love it when he goes country.
“Aloha Oe” – from Blue Hawaii. I love this entire ridiculous album.
“Hawaiian Wedding Song” – see above
“Frankfort Special” – from G.I. Blues. I know his movie soundtracks get short shrift, and sometimes for good reason. But there are wee gems. This is one of them.
“In Your Arms” – I love this song. It’s from his album with the horrible title Something for Everybody, which is indicative of the messed-up energy in his managing team at that time. But this is old-school. Love it.
“Mystery Train” – he’s got that almost whine and then sexy grumble to his voice here, from his most classic period. Nice song.
“Baby, Let’s Play House” – he’s so good here, he’s almost parodying himself, all the little grunts and squeals. A racy song, the lyrics were controversial at the time. He’s not saying “let’s make a home together, darling,”, he’s saying “let’s PLAY house” which is a very different thing altogether. Great guitar line too.
“The Girl of my Best Friend” – from his album Elvis is Back, put out when he returned from his two years in Germany in the Army. A sweet early 60s sound. Crooner.
“She Wears My Ring” – He sings the shit out of this dumb song.
“Paralyzed” – from his second album. I love it in these early albums when there’s a little bit of echo on his voice. There’s space surrounding him. Air. You really get the sense that he is located in space, with his band. It’s not perfectly mixed, so it has a live feel, the musicians in the same space, jamming together. I’m not describing it right.
“Fame and Fortune” – from Elvis is Back as well. A doo-wop number with Presley really going for a different sound, fuller, Dean Martin-ish – he’s doing a lot of interesting things with his voice here. Frankly, he’s to die for.
“Little Cabin Home on the Hill” – the Million Dollar Quartet again. They’re goofing off here, you can feel how much fun they’re having.
“Merry Christmas Baby” – from Elvis’ Christmas album. A boozy slow blatantly sexual Christmas song. It’s hilarious.
“Bosom of Abraham” – another one of Elvis’ gospel songs, with a rockin’ gospel quartet singing with him. Glorious.
“Tweedlee Dee” – early early Elvis, a rough live recording, with the audience going nuts. It’s just him and a piano it sounds like.
“Let Yourself Go” – from Speedway. Elvis turning on the sex, reassuring his inexperienced lover that she needs to just “do like I do”. Uh-huh. My favorite version of this is actually from his ’68 comeback special. The scene in the movie looks like everyone is on speed and hasn’t slept for weeks, which is probably true. He hugs one redhead and she looks like she’s been visiting Dr. Roberts on an hourly basis.
“I Beg Of You” – This is my favorite Elvis, of all of the available phases of Elvis. It’s this one I love the best. He sounds, alternately, like a spoiled brat, a fallen angel, and a hell of a lot of fun. His voice rocks, swings, and cajoles. Love it.
“I’m Left, You’re Right, She’s Gone” – one of his earliest recordings at Sun. You can hear the weird mix he had going on: the country feel, the guttural rock of his voice. It’s very interesting. Elvis loved this song.
“I Understand Just How You Feel” – a song he recorded by himself at home. You can hear people laughing and talking in the background. Elvis messing around on the piano, singing in a funny operatic voice, sometimes dropping to a sincere whisper. He really can’t play the piano. You can hear a baby start to cry, a mother saying, “He was sleeping”, someone laughing, and all through it, Elvis messing around by himself. Weird. Fascinating.
“Gently” – from Something for Everybody. I like this song. Again, he’s going in the Dino direction. He’s very soft here, melodic.
“Crazy Arms” – Million Dollar Quartet. You can hear them messing around, laughing, forgetting the lyrics.
“Don’t” – One of my favorite vocal performances from him. From 1958.
“Can’t Help Falling in Love” – Live, from his Aloha from Hawaii show. A new arrangement, with kind of manic music-box-ish piano at the start. His voice sounds a bit weak, but along with that, he also sounds easy and happy. Big chorus behind him.
“Love Me Tender” – Elvis, live, he’s very young here. It’s early on in his career. Girls are absolutely losing their collective shit all the way through. You can barely hear him. You can hear him spoofing himself at times, too. The situation had to have been rather amusing. Girls are screaming nonstop throughout the whole thing.
“I Will Be Home Again” – from Elvis is Back. Pretty traditional country song.
“Trying to Get to You” – from his first album. He always “went there” with this song, it seemed to bring something out of him. He’s wailing here. And then to compare it to the crazy intense version in his 1968 comeback special – you can see how he kept revisiting songs to experience them again. Go deeper into them.
“We Call On Him” – from his gospel album. I love his gospel stuff, although I prefer the more lively ones. This one is a bit of a snooze, although his voice sounds fragile (in a good way) and gentle. Almost falsetto.
“Girls! Girls! Girls!” – from the movie of the same name. So dumb, and I love it to DEATH. “Big and brassy, small and sassy, just give me one of each kind … I’m just a red-blooded boy and I can’t stop thinkin’ about girls, girls, girls …” Rockin’ male chorus behind him.
“No More” – from Blue Hawaii. He’s singing high here, gentle and high. But he’s got power behind it. He’s in total control of his voice and its effects.
“I Forgot to Remember to Forget” – from A Date with Elvis. He’s all twitchy energy here, with the vocal ticks that so defined him early on. Little grunts and hiccups. It’s so country somehow.
“You’ll Think Of Me” – from From Elvis in Memphis. These were some pretty extraordinary sessions, a re-imagining of the whole Elvis thing. New songs, new sounds. I love this. He’s a bit HIP here. I never think of him as “hip”, he’s more “cool” – even in the 60s, he had a 50s vibe. It was his milieu (in my opinion). He’s having a lot of fun with this song.
“Love Me” – live from Hawaii. Doing his old stuff, screams in the audience. He’s jazzing it up, fun quartet in the background.
“Show Me Thy Ways, O Lord” – a recording from his home. Elvis on piano, singing with passion and emotion. Guys in the background singing along, harmonizing. I love when he gets all spiritual. It’s very personal. And then at the end, suddenly, he starts guffawing with laughter and can’t finish. Totally charming, you feel like you’re there.
“O Little Town of Bethlehem” – A traditional arrangement. There’s an organ, a church choir, and then Elvis’ voice. It sounds like you’re in church. This is one of my favorite Christmas songs.
“Trying to Get to You” – this version is from his Vegas show. It starts with a little patter, about how this was the first song he recorded, and his voice was much higher back then and he has to be careful now or he’ll hurt his leg. hahahaha. Great version. He’s at the top of his game. Big band sounds behind him, horns, etc. It doesn’t quite have the intense almost interior attack of the ’68 Comeback Special, but then again, what does.
“Working on the Building” – a rockin’ gospel song, one of my favorites that Elvis performed. He’s so in it. Great quartet behind him.
“After Loving You” – from From Elvis in Memphis. I guess you’d call this r&b, although with him it’s hard to say. There’s a country feel too. I love his “I’m no good I’m no good I’m no good” refrain that gets crazier every time he does it. Sexy.
“Tomorrow Night” – from his earliest recording sessions at Sun. Again, with that big echo on his voice. A simple bass line underneath him, and his young young voice crooning all over the place, free, uncontrolled, almost funny sounding. Lovely.
“Blue Moon of Kentucky” – one of his earliest recordings, this is a live version, 1956. Rough, rockin’, with screaming girls.
“She’s Not You” – written by Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller – recorded in 1962 in Nashville, it was a huge hit for Presley.
“Rip It Up” – from Elvis’ second album. Currently, this is my #1 favorite Elvis song. Can’t get past it actually.
“Lawdy Miss Clawdy” – from Elvis’ first album. The whole song is still startling, even though so much time has passed you know now where it came from. But even now – it’s still not clear where the hell it came from. You don’t even know WHAT it is. It defies classification. That was a no-no in music then, and it’s a no-no now. There’s a rockabilly thing going on, but it transcends that. It’s a crazy song. And I haven’t even discussed his performance. It’s free-wheeling, you can almost hear him smiling, he’s rocking, jiggling, it’s primal, and bizarre. It sounds like nothing else.
“Miracle of the Rosary” – from Elvis’ gospel album. I personally love the “Hail Mary” as a prayer, I think of it is as my prayer, but this song is a bit of a snooze.
“I’ll Be There” – from From Elvis in Memphis. The King is totally in charge here. The background’s a bit weak, in my opinion. Want to hear more engagement from the band, but there’s something a bit muted about the arrangement, or the mix with his voice.
“Any Day Now” – also from From Elvis in Memphis. Are there people out there who don’t like him in this? Because I think its a phenomenal performance. Yes, it’s not the bumping-grinding-teenager-in-the-back-of-his-Chevy-Impala-with-a-girl-from-church from the late 50s. This is an adult. It’s a new style, more orchestral, and very melodramatic, which Presley seemed to like. But I love him here.
“I Got a Woman” – from his Vegas show. This was one of Elvis’ earliest songs. The band is great here. The song is fast, way faster than the first time he recorded it. Elvis is lost in the song, great backup chorus. Rockin’. I love when he gets that rasp in his voice. It’s raunchy, real, from the gut.
“This Time / I Can’t Stop Loving You” – from From Nashville to Memphis. Elvis messing around with the lyrics, cracking himself up, about how he “forgot to wear his cup”.
“Shoppin’ Around” – from G.I. Blues. Starts with the unfortunate lyric: “You’ve got the hugging-est arms …” Rather dumb song, it sounds like every other song, but Presley is having a lot of fun with it.
“It’s No Fun Being Alone” – a lugubrious home recording, with Elvis and his friends. Elvis on piano. It sounds like it’s about 4 o’clock in the morning, people busting up laughing, and then bursting into song again. Trying to imagine the passed-out wives and girlfriends in other rooms who couldn’t take it anymore and had to go to sleep.
“He Is My Everything” – a full-bodied gospel number. Big chorus behind him.
“Polk Salad Annie” – live from Vegas. This song is naaaaaaasty. That is a compliment. It’s almost embarrassing. I’m not embarrassed by sex, but this pretty much pushes me against my limit, and I need some private time when I listen to this song. The song is campy and over-the-top. “Now that’s polk – ” (drum) “salad” (then Elvis murmurs, “Lord have mercy”.) It’s country, it’s dirty, it’s pure sex. Like Mitchell says, “Elvis was Sex On a Stick.”
“My Baby Left Me” – from Elvis’ first album. Again, a sound that had to have been so original and bizarre at the time of its release. And his voice is almost unearthly, high and young, restless and pained. It’s fascinating. You also get the sense that all the guys are in the recording studio at the same time, you can feel their presence. It’s a live take.
“I’m Beginning to Forget You” – Elvis at home again. This time he’s playing the guitar. I love these home recordings, as rough as they are.
“Don’t Be Cruel” – the Million Dollar Quartet. A great track because Elvis is raving about [edited] Jackie Wilson, lead of Billy Ward and the Dominoes doing this number in Vegas, and Elvis is basically doing an imitation of the guy doing an imitation of him, and explaining to the other three guys how he did it. “He was a Yankee, you know,” Elvis jokes. But he loved what the guy did with his stuff. Lots of chatter, accents so thick you could spread it on toast.
“Do Not Disturb” – from Girl Happy. He’s sexy here, soft and persuasive. Dumb song. Goes nowhere. Has nothing to it.
“Datin’” – from Paradise Hawaiian Style. Now I realize this song is beneath Elvis Presley. But I still think it’s a tiny bit adorable. DUMB. Who could sing such a dumb song and escape the dumbness of the song? He can. Still, I cringe for the dirty rebel being stuck with this material.
“A Boy Like Me, A Girl Like You” – from Girls! Girls! Girls!. These movie soundtrack ballads kill me, and not in a good way. They’re generic. He always performs them well, I always love listening to his voice, but he deserved better material.
“Shake That Tambourine” – from Harum Scarum, one of the dumbest movies I’ve ever seen (but not as dumb as Moment by Moment, because even though Harum Scarum is stupid and lazy, it at least has some life to it, whereas Moment to Moment has none, so that it acts like a black hole of anti-matter sucking you into its deadened vortex). Here is where he joins the harem-girl dance troupe, because that’s what you do when you’re a movie star trapped in Arabia. This song is pretty fun, though. Stupid. Not as stupid as his lime-green sweat pants, however.
“See See Rider” – from his Vegas show. The great shrieking female chorus echoing him, with crazy, “YEAH, YEAH YEAH”. This is a great performance, the band pushing him on, him pushing the band on, you can feel the energy in those shows.
“Have I Told You Lately That I Love You” – Elvis is hamming it up here. There’s still an air of plausible deniability about it, you couldn’t win your case against him in a court of law, but he’s doing things with his voice that strike me as almost ironic, a “take” on his own style. A real moseying country song, with the sex-subtext of Elvis’ voice altering the purity of it all. Good stuff.
“We’ll Be Together” – from Girls! Girls! Girls!. Sigh. No. Just stop.
“Blue Moon” – Elvis recorded this very early on, it’s on his first album. I love it so much. We all know the song. Elvis sounds alone, isolated, sensitive – and underneath him is a clip-clop country beat, like horse hooves. His voice swoops up high, swooping around freely, he’s unembarrassed at his falsetto. His version of the song is romantic, private, and sad. There’s barely a beat here. Just the horse-hooves clop-clop, a hint of guitar, and Elvis’ swooping voice. It’s a private monologue.
“So Close, Yet So Far, From Paradise” – from Harum Scarum. This is the “Close Every Door To Me” number from the movie, where Presley, dressed in Bedouin garb, stares out prison bars, and sings longingly. Tremendously stupid, HOWEVER: this is the best song in the film, and I wish he had re-visited it later, in live shows, or wherever. It’s a melodramatic tune, and he sings the crap out of it. It requires a full-throated belt from him. It’s passionate. Would have loved to hear this song again, but as far as I know, this is the only time he sang it. Maybe he wanted to do everything he could to forget Harum Scarum, and I don’t blame him.
“Bossa Nova Baby” – from Fun in Acapulco. It has a go-go dance feel to its orchestrations which are very annoying, mixed with mariachi music and a rockabilly guitar solo, and who knows what else, the song is a mess, but Elvis’ voice here is in its prime. Love this performance.
“What’d I Say” – from Viva Las Vegas. Again, Sex On a Stick. The “mmm” “oh” “uh” sections, with the hip girl group echoing him in the background … You know. It’s hot.
“We’re Coming in Loaded” – from Girls! Girls! Girls!. Elvis Presley had nearly three octaves in his voice. You can hear that range here, and how free he could be with it.
“If We Never Meet Again” – from his gospel album. He’s so fragile and sincere here, with the gentle male chorus behind him, and the churchy piano accompanying them. Beautiful.
“And the Grass Won’t Pay Me No Mind” – from From Elvis in Memphis. A soft love song, which doesn’t really do anything for me.
“Poison Ivy League” – from Roustabout. “They’re gonna have panty raids and make their own lemonade …” Shameless.
“Blessed Jesus (Hold My Hand)” – the Million Dollar Quartet session. God, the harmonies, the guitar, the strengthening of their belief in what they’re doing. You can hear them all kick in, finding their way through it. So moving.
“Clean Up Your Own Backyard” – Elvis getting all funky. This was from his 1969 film The Trouble With Girls. Love the girls in the background.
“Lawdy Miss Clawdy / Baby What You Want Me To Do” – from the NBC Comeback Special in 1968, the informal sit-down sessions. Elvis is out of control here. It’s almost scary. You can hear the other musicians calling out encouragement, “All right!” “All right!” It’s exhilarating.
“Judy” – from Something for Everybody. Conventional song. He’s adorable, though.
“Reconsider Baby” – Yes, sir. I’d reconsider anything if you ask me THAT way.
“Memories” – from the 68 Comeback Special. I know Elvis loved this song, I know, I know, but it puts me to sleep.
“Gentle On My Mind” – from From Elvis in Memphis. This is 1969. You can hear his new-found energy and purpose in how he sings here.
“Pocketful of Rainbows” – from G.I. Blues. Please stop.
“(Such an) Easy Question” – I love the song, I love the performance, I love everything about it. What he does with his voice on “such – an – easy question” – is so naughty-sounding. Very bratty. But then immediately smooth afterwards.
“Blue Suede Shoes” – this is the version from G. I. Blues, which lacks the crazy fire of his original recording. There’s something more studied about this one, it’s not as much an invitation to rumble as the original.
“One Night” – from the 68 Comeback Special. It’s insane. INSANE.
“In the Ghetto” – This song put Elvis Presley back in the #1 spot on the billboard charts. He always resisted being political in his work, but he did make notable exceptions. This was one of them. It’s smooth as butter, and love the simple almost Simon & Garfunkel guitar riff that accompanies him.
“Milk Cow Boogie Blues” – from A Date with Elvis. The track starts with him messing around, and he sounds so hillbilly that you can barely understand what he’s saying. Then he stops himself, gathers the band together, and they start wailing. If I recall correctly, A Date with Elvis was put out in 1959, while Elvis Presley was stationed in Germany. His manager, the infamous Col. Tom Parker, had a strict deal with the military as well as with RCA that Elvis would do no new recordings while he was in the Army. It was a gamble: Presley was gone for two years. He was afraid the fans would forget him. A Date with Elvis was previously recorded material, unused tracks, from his other albums, a mish-mash of things to keep the teeny-boppers happy while Presley was in Germany. This song is really fun. Presley is really really country here, you can feel it dripping off him, and his voice has that almost agonized sound with pent-up energy that you can hear so often in his earliest stuff.
“Softly and Tenderly” – the Million Dollar Quartet. The guys are messing around, trying to find the right key. It’s exciting to hear them. Thank God (I repeat) that this was recorded.
“Hound Dog” – Still exciting. Love the claps.
“Your Love’s Been A Long Time Coming” – lyrics by Tammy Wynette. A big orchestral song, with obvious gospel roots. It’s always exciting when Elvis launches his voice up the octave.
“Moonlight Swim” – from Blue Hawaii. J’adore.
“Without Love, There Is Nothing” – from From Elvis in Memphis. It sounds like gospel, then you get a hint of electric guitar, bringing the sex into it. Elvis is in great voice here, never better.
“Down by the Riverside” – the Million Dollar Quartet messing around, throwing their voices in and out of the flow. This one rocks along.
“Trouble” – from King Creole. The song was written as a send-up, kind of making fun of Elvis’ rebel pose, and Elvis did it straight. It’s great. Elvis’ voice is totally primal here. With a big horn section. I love King Creole and I make no apologies. It was Elvis’ favorite of his films.
“Money Honey” – Elvis live, early on, a very rough recording. He sounds like he’s having an orgasm for the entirety of the song. It’s sheer sex, again. The only way to respond to it is to scream and faint and clutch at your hairdo.
“The Wonder of You” – live. I think this is from Vegas. It’s not my favorite Elvis, but listen to him sell this song. It’s a lesson in commitment. I love it for that reason.
“Let It Be Me” – from his Vegas show. Bombastic, operatic, melodramatic. It suits him.
“Just a Little Talk with Jesus” – the Million Dollar Quartet. I am in heaven listening to this.
“How’s the World Treating You” – from Elvis’ second album. That echo again on his voice. I like it. Losing his fear of ballads here. He’s sweet.
“Queenie Wahine’s Papaya” – from Paradise, Hawaiian Style. Jesus Christ. Please make it stop.
“All Shook Up” – from his Vegas show. With a much bigger sound than the original recording. The song is an expression of sex, and it always was from the beginning. The pauses built into the music – meant to build tension, anticipation – his grunts and growls and squeaks … There’s a bit of a manic pace to this version, drums going nuts, and it doesn’t quite pack the punch it should. It’s too much somehow.
“Release Me” – from his Vegas show. Great performance here. The band, the piano, the energy, and him. Also, as they start the song, you can hear Elvis say to the band, “Let’s play it hard now.” That’s hot.
“I’m Movin’ On” – from From Elvis in Memphis. Rollicking country song, like the melody, and how his voice has to swoop down low. Lower than he usually goes. It’s humorous.
“Where Could I Go But to the Lord” – from his gospel album. Piano, snapping fingers, and Elvis’ sexy voice – it’s unbalancing, his voice is so naturally sexual – but when that is poured into a hymn, it’s good stuff. This is one of my favorites of his gospel recordings.