ELVIS PRESLEY > From Elvis in Memphis

Videos by American Songwriter

Videos by American Songwriter

Recorded at the dawn of 1969 at American Sound Studios, From Elvis In Memphis is considered one of Elvis’s very best records, if not the best.

From Elvis in Memphis

ELVIS PRESLEY

From Elvis in Memphis

(RCA/LEGACY)

[Rating: 5 Stars]

Recorded at the dawn of 1969 at American Sound Studios, From Elvis In Memphis is considered one of Elvis’s very best records, if not the best. It was his first non-soundtrack album in six years, and followed on the heels of the King’s triumphant NBC comeback special that brought his career out of the doldrums.

The reissue contains remastered versions of every track to come out of the storied sessions. Elvis poured all of his passions into each cut, including the #3 hit “In the Ghetto,” the story of “a hungry little boy with a runny nose” who turns to a life of crime, written by Mac Davis. An ace backing band and inspired production by Memphis legend Chip Moman helped set the stage for Presley’s return to glory, 34 albums into his career. Country, blues, and soul are the predominant styles here. The raw-voiced opener “Wearin’ that Loved On Look” (a somewhat risqué image from the King) announces a departure from Presley’s smooth-voiced crooner role from the movies. Elsewhere, he puts his back into Jerry Butler’s 1968 r&b hit “Only the Strong Survive” and the classic country songs “I’ll Hold You in My Heart” and “I’m Movin’ On,” a No. 1 hit for Hank Snow in 1950. His pitch-perfect cover of Burt Bacharach’s “Any Day Now” is an attempt to get with the times. The first disc of the reissue also includes covers of “I’ll Be There” and The Beatles’ “Hey Jude,” well worth a listen for any Elvis fan.

The songs are quirkier on disc two, which offers ten tracks that didn’t make the LP. “Like my dad, there’s a dream in my brain,” Presley sings on the melodramatic “Inherit the Wind,” written by Eddie Rabbitt, “In the morning I’ll have to leave again. That’s how it is when you inherit the wind.” The bitter blues “Stranger in My Own Hometown,” which concerns “so-called friends who stop being friendly,” gets to the heart of Elvis’ pain, and he gives it all he has on the country classic “From a Jack to a King.” The lead guitar mimics a sitar on “You Think of Me,” a subtle reminder of the year in which it was cut. Audiophiles will appreciate the 10 bonus mono singles that come with disc two, including non-album tracks like “Kentucky Rain,” and “Mama Like the Roses.” The Memphis sessions also produced the unforgettable “Suspicious Minds” (included here), which would be released as a single that summer, and gave Presley the last chart-topping hit of his lifetime.

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  1. The ‘From Elvis In Memphis’ Legacy Edition is a superb record of the sessions held at the American Recording Studios in 1969. Following hot on the heels of his triumphant comeback to live appearances at the International (now Hilton) Hotel Elvis showed he could still sing with the best of them.

    Track such as ‘Gentle On My Mind’; ‘Suspicious Minds’; ‘In The Ghetto; ‘Only The Strong Survive’ ; I’m Movin’ On’; ‘Do You Know Who I Am’ and ‘Stranger In My Own Home Town’ among many others are outstanding.

    Elvis never sounded better and proved that there was nobody to challenge him when he was on top form and motivated by the producer Chips Moman and the House Band. This double album has stood the test of time and deserves to be part of everyone’s record collection.

  2. The track “Stranger in my own home town” , in itself, is worth the price of the set. Unilike the blue eyed r&b singers who came out on the late fifties, and became quite known to white and blues markets alike in the mid, to the late sixties with voices resembling their blues idols, Presley tackles this composition from by Percy Mayfield, whose nickname was “the poet of the blues”, with so much gusto, and identification with the lyrics (after all, albeit being born in Tupelo, Presley nevertheless considered Memphis his home town), that after heating it one is left with the realization that both Joe Cocker and Janis Joplin were right on target when they, individually, and separately, were later quoted in major publications as referring to Presley as the world’s best blues singer, of the ones who were not African Americans. In this masterpiece, which was recorded in one single take, Presley’s voice is truly his, yet it delivers the sincerity one associates immediately with blues singers, old and young. When he shouts” Blow your brains out”, near the end of the song, one feels his own pain in trying to recapture the magic from his Sun days. And he does…

  3. Since this is a songwriting site, this album stands as an almost unique testament to what Elvis Presley did, and what he might have gone on to do, but for misfortune. First, I will say that his treatment of many of these songs is so powerful and autobiographical {more than one was apparently censored previously, but Presley was not just kidding: he sang with a lot of bitterness on these pieces}. On “It Keeps Right On A-Hurtin'” he not only changed some of the lyrics, but later that year apologized to {sorry, the spelling eludes me!} Johnny [Till . . .] for doing so! “the pillow where you lay your head *now holds my empty dreams instead.*” I think that was about it, but there may have been a few more changes to that one. On other songs, his ad-libs hold more weight that many writer’s “official” lyrics. And the music was completely revamped in the studio on many cuts. The writer was stunned at the apology. He shouldn’t have been. Elvis was one of the most insecure musicians the world has ever known: at Sun, he changed a jingle-based country tune to an original blues called “My Baby’s Gone” {only available on the vinyl of “The Complete Sun Sessions” for the many great takes}. Phillips sent the disc to radio, and pulled it in less than a week. Elvis was either 19 or 20, and after signing a strangling contract that tied his recording career to a song publishing company, he was actively discouraged from any writing, and he did ask several songwriters for suggestions, and was always told he didn’t “need” to write. His name was not even entered into BMI: that tells you what they had in mind for him from the beginning. He often still tried, though, but most often raised up defense mechanisms stronger than Star Trek “shields.” On this album, the songs, some of them well-known, some obscure, were so perfectly chosen and so boldly autobiographical that if he had written every note, word, and chord of say, “Long Black Limosine,” he would come up with EXACTLY the same thing. That’s how great this is. Certainly, it should have one the Grammy for album of the year for 1969, but was not even nominated, to my knowledge.
    Elvis was not the greatest “white blues singer”; he was one of the greatest bluesmen of all time, no matter how much melanin he inherited from his parents. A new documentary narrated by Kris Kristofferson {sp? again} called “Return to Tupelo” shows how he “came by it honest” as southerners say {and I was one as an adolescent}. He lived in black neighborhoods in Tupelo, had black ‘running buddies’ and went to the movies regularly with these friends and deliberately sat with them. He tried hard to drag them to “that old sanctified church” on Sundays when they wanted to just play {Elvis, like the others, were all btw 11 and 13 at the time}, and “was fanatical” about the tent revivals that came through town, right near where the Presleys lived at the time. One thing remembered by a man older than Elvis {“onliest way I remember Elvis was as a little kid”} is that he did things even his little friends would not do: he would go out late at night on weekends to “peek” at the string bands that played at juke joints, and the “fish fries” where they played the blues, and did, uh, other things. Children were prohibited because the man remembers “the men and women would . . .” he didn’t really elaborate, but children were not allowed, no matter their color. Elvis checked it out, anyway, despite any consequences at home from his mother.
    So there are reasons why Elvis became “Elvis.” Sam Bell, a “former child friend” lived near on land owned by Bell’s father, who permitted whites who had nowhere else to go but to the shacks between the Fairgrounds and Shake Rag were it not for his father’s willingness to allow whites to live on his land. Other Aftican-Americans gave the Presley’s food {corroborated long ago, by whites: when told black folk reported that “the Presleys were always on our side, a white Tupelo resident cynically said: “they had better: they would’ve starved without ’em.”} Elvis’ later comfort with black music and musicians is easily understandable. He did not hire black people to be his paid sycophants. “The guys” laughed at every joke, and pretended to agree with what he said; he also felt the pressure of abandonment, so he sometimes made poor choices of “so-called friends.” According to an epochal NY Times piece by Peter Guralnick in 2007, while Elvis and some guys were eating barbecue across from Graceland, Elvis hailed the person bussing tables by saying “Mister” and waving. “A pal” asked “why’d you can him ‘mister’; he’s just a barbecue guy?” The fellow was African-American. Elvis replied, simply, “he’s a man.”
    On this album, you get the chance to hear one of history’s all-time great bluesmen {sorry we cannot hear ALL the lyrics, but BMG did NOT want a “warning label”}, period. Like his late son-in-law put it: “I ain’t gonna spend my life bein’ a color.” And Elvis, from childhood, tried his best to do his best on this front. There’s more history, but ’nuff said.
    On this album, he does some of his very, very best work. You don’t want to miss it. Elvis’s talent was nurtured early in life under nearly unique circumstances, and with his youthful ambition re-ignited by tough but caring producers {Chips Moman and ’68 TV director Steve Binder}, he dug deep and gave us this imperishable work of art. Enjoy.
    All the best,
    rm

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