RCA 07863 67612-2
Track listing :
CD #1TROUBLE/GUITAR MAN/HEARTBREAK HOTEL/ HOUND DOG/ ALL SHOOK UP/ CANīT HELP FALLING IN LOVE/ JAILHOUSE ROCK/ DONīT BE CRUEL/ BLUE SUEDE SHOES/ LOVE ME TENDER/ TROUBLE/GUITAR MAN/ BABY WHAT YOU WANT ME TO DO/ GOSPEL MEDLEY: WHERE COULD I GO BUT TO THE LORD-UP ABOVE MY HEAD-SAVED/ MEMORIES/ A LITTLE LESS CONVERSATION/ ROAD MEDLEY :NOTHINGVILLE-BIG BOSS MAN-LET YOURSELF GO-IT HURTS ME-GUITAR MAN/LITTLE EGYPT-TROUBLE/ IF I CAN DREAM.
WHEN IT RAINS IT REALLY POURS/ LAWDY MISS CLAWDY/ BABY WHAT
YOU WANT ME TO DO/
THATīS ALL RIGHT/ HEARTBREAK HOTEL/ LOVE ME/ BABY WHAT YOU WANT ME TO DO/ LAWDY MISS CLAWDY/ ARE YOU LONESOME TONIGHT/ WHEN MY BLUE MOON TURNS TO GOLD AGAIN/ BLUE CHRISTMAS/ TRYING TO GET TO YOU/ ONE NIGHT/ BABY WHAT YOU WANT ME TO DO/ ONE NIGHT/ MEMORIES/ IF I CAN DREAM.
MEMORIES: A BRIEF HISTORY OF THE NBC TV-SPECIAL.
by Anthony Britch (November 11/98)
Before actually reviewing this 2-disc set and it's companion TIGER MAN, I feel that a little background is in order for those that don't know some of the history behind these recordings.
As the summer of 1967 drew to a close Elvis Presley could sit back in his plush home, Graceland, and reflect how his career, since his return from the army in March 1960, had taken many turns.
From the heights of artistic and commercial success with recordings like "It's Now or Never", "Are You Lonesome Tonight" and "Reconsider Baby" to the emptiness of success without any artistic merit, immortalised in recordings like, "Do The Clam", "Harem Holiday' and "Petunia, The Gardener's Daughter".
The career saving changes started in May 1966 with the recording of the How Great Thou Art album, which won Elvis his first Grammy, and continued a year and a half later with a session in Nashville where he recorded, "Guitar Man", "Big Boss Man", "High Heel Sneakers" and "You'll Never Walk Alone" amongst others. But with the overexposure of his
deteriorating film career none of the singles were the hit Elvis was hoping for.
The next step in early 1968, was to showcase Elvis on television, where he hadn't been seen since May 1960. It was the exposure on television in the 1950's that had helped Elvis become the King of Rock and Roll in a few short months, only time and effort would tell if he could reclaim his crown thru the same means.
The deal was made with NBC and a sponsor was found in the Singer Sewing Company. If all went well, according to the Colonel's plan, by December 1968 Elvis would appear in several different Christmas settings belting out everyones' Christmas favourites.
If that had happened Elvis would have been lost to history as another casualty of the British Invasion and psychedelia, someone who was great in the fifties but couldn't survive the musical changes of the new decade.
In a unbeknownst stroke of genius the NBC brain trust assigned production of the special to a young producer named Steve Binder. Binder, just 23, was hip to the music scene at the time and had already successfully produced many music specials. His idea was to build a special that was all Elvis. Music specials at the time very rarely concentrated on the star. The norm was to have as many guest stars as possible to attract the greatest audience. The only question in Binders' mind wasn't whether or not Elvis could hold his own, but could the Colonel be persuaded to drop the Seasonal theme in favour of a one man Rock and Roll show?
In the initial meetings with the Colonel the young producer soon realised that it wasn't going to be easy to push for a the kind of show that he envisioned as the seasonal theme had been pretty much decided between the NBC brass and the Colonel. Steve Binder would have to wait until he actually met with Elvis to see if his ideas would fly or not.
When they did meet he was delighted to find that Elvis agreed with him and much to his surprise had said not to worry about what had already been talked about. They were going to do what they wanted to do and that was that.
It was about the only time in his career that Elvis went against the Colonel in favour of someone from outside and it worked. It helped that the representative of the sponsor also agreed with Binder. So the idea of the seasonal theme was dropped and new idea began to take shape.
As Elvis entered the Western Recorders recording studios on June 21/68 for studio work on the production number sequences he knew it was do or die, and he sang like it was.
The Special, broadcast in December 1968 was highly rated and widely praised as the rebirth of the King of Rock and Roll. It put Elvis near the top of the charts, where he hadn't been since 1962's "Good Luck Charm" , with the singles "If I Can Dream" and "Memories" and the Soundtrack LP.
Now ,30 years later RCA/BMG has released the definitive collection of these recordings over two releases, MEMORIES:THE '68 COMEBACK SPECIAL and TIGER MAN.
Listening to these recordings one can hear what Rock and Roll is, was and was always meant to be.
MEMORIES:THE '68 COMEBACK SPECIAL
This two disc set opens, as the special does, with the "Trouble/Guitar Man" medley and from the outset, the listener can hear that Elvis was singing for his artistic life.
What follows is quite incredible.
The next ten songs were recorded before a small live audience on June 29 , 1968 at 6pm (known as the first stand up show) with the exception of "Blue Suede Shoes" and "Trouble/Guitar Man (end version)" which have been lifted from the 8pm show on the same night. Elvis storms thru some of his biggest hits like a hurricane hitting a small island.
Elvis, placed on a small boxing ring type stage alone performs"Heartbreak Hotel", "Hound Dog", "All Shook Up', "Can't Help Falling In Love" etc so passionately, and with a vitality not heard from Elvis in several years, that they sound as if they were being recorded for the first time. The only drawback now, in 1998, might be the orchestra backing chosen, it works on some songs but not on all.
As most fans are aware one of the many highlights from the stand-up shows was Elvis impromptu version of "Baby What You Want Me to do" on guitar, this is included on these discs but was left out of the original show. This song, as with many other songs, should put to rest all those rumours that Elvis couldn't play this instrument. He is no Jimi Hendrix or Keith Richards but could hold his own playing the three chord interpretation of rock and roll.
The makeshift stand-up show is followed by the complete Gospel Medley, this includes Darlene Love singing "Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child" and an extended version of "Saved" with a wind up joked ending from the mastertapes recorded in the studio. It was fitting that the special included a gospel segment, as Elvis' style was influenced by the spiritual groups he listened to as a child. It's here that Elvis belts out "Where Could I Go But To The Lord", "Up Above My Head" and "Saved" with the passion of a revival preacher and the suggestiveness of a burlesque show performer. The very combination that got the world into a frenzy 12 years earlier.
The next track is the small disappointment I have with this release. The wonderful Mac Davis penned "Memories" was one of the singles released at the time and was one of Elvis' favourites, but when RCA released the single they overdubbed applause at the beginning and end of the song. On this release they didn't correct the mistake. I was hoping for the pure studio recorded track, but we have the overdubbed track again, a minor miscue.
Another highlight of the disc is the rerecording of "A Little Less Conversation" released for the first time. This tune, originally recorded for the MGM picture, "Live a Little, Love a Little" just prior to the NBC Special, was to be used as the link between segments of the show. It was the Colonel's idea as a way of promoting the new MGM film. It was something that neither Elvis or Steve Binder wanted, as illustrated by the fact that Elvis recorded a new vocal to the same backing track recorded for the film. It was cut from the special prior to filming but the track does show an exuberant Elvis having fun with the lyric.
This is followed by the complete Road Medley. This medley made up of "Nothingville", "Big Boss Man", "Let Yourself Go", "It Hurts Me", "Guitar Man", "Little Egypt" and "Trouble" takes the listener on a musical journey of a down on his luck guitar player scraping a meagre living in carnivals and back lots to the high paying gigs of the nightclub circuit. Originally these songs were recorded separately in the studio and then spliced together to fit the production number sequence in the show. Because of this, longer instrumental breaks were recorded for the dancers. Personally, I would have preferred this disc to contain the separate tracks from the studio because these instrumental arrangements do seem a bit dated now, but at least it's complete.
Disc one closes with the studio version, released as a single, of "If I Can Dream". Not much has to be said about this song. Elvis was not accustomed to message songs but when the writer played this for him he could not ignore the potent lyrics and the plea for peace in the wake of the Martin Luther King assassination.
It is one of Elvis' greatest recordings.
Disc Two opens with three songs recorded on a cassette tape in Elvis' dressing room, "When It Rains, It Really Pours", "Lawdy Miss Clawdy", and "Baby What You Want Me To Do". These informal recordings with Elvis' sidemen gave Steve Binder the idea of transforming the rehearsal jam onto the stage by placing Elvis on a square stage in from of an audience with his guitarist Scotty Moore, another rhythm guitarist and friend Charlie
Hodge, D.J. Fontana, Elvis' drummer banging a guitar case and another friend, Alan Fortas with a tambourine.
This was a stroke of genius because what resulted was some of the greatest rock and roll ever recorded. It is rock and roll in its' purest form, without the technical perfections of a studio or overdubbing available Elvis simply sat with his buddies and played music and showed the world how it is really done. If the set up sounds familiar this show was the basic formula for the MTV unplugged series of a few years ago that continues to this day.
Songs like, "That's All Right", "Love Me", "Lawdy Miss Clawdy", "When My Blue Moon Turns To Gold Again", "Trying To Get To You", and "One Night" take on a new freedom and are performed with the new found exuberance, that Elvis had lost to Hollywood.This was what rock and roll symbolised a decade earlier as the anthems of a new generation.
This show was the first of two shows performed, the other at 8PM is available on the other new RCA/BMG release TIGER MAN.
The two disc set closes with another version of "If I Can Dream" . This vocal is the one that was recorded on the soundstage during taping of the special and is released on audio for the first time. It closed the show 30 years ago and fittingly closes out this retrospective.
A few comments concerning the packaging and sound of this release. The sound is as good or better than the recent RCA/BMG releases, keep in mind that only the studio cuts are stereo, the live cuts are mono (because of the videotape recording machines at the time).
These recordings have never sounded better.
The packaging and booklet is informative and well thought out. The photographs are well chosen and impressive. The detailed liner notes capsulise the story of the special quite vividly, they are very comprehensive.
The only negative comment i can think of is to point out that there is no mention in the booklet of the impromptu verse of "Tip Toe Thru The Tulips" Elvis launches into during the stand up show waiting for his cue. Also, The liner notes say that there were two nights of dressing room rehearsals, but the three tracks included give three different recording dates. Minor miscues that would only be be noticed by the Elvis fan, not the casual buyer.
Unfortunately for the public at the time the over three hours of material filmed and recorded for the NBC special was edited down to 52 minutes for broadcast. The world would have to wait almost 30 years to hear the majority of what was recorded.
Thank goodness the wait is over.
Anthony Britch (November 11/98)
** A note on unreleased recordings, all that remains to be released from
the NBC TV Special is as follows:
Let Yourself Go (instrumental) Used over the shows end credits
15 or more songs from the dressing room rehearsals
Heartbreak Hotel -6pm stand-up show
One Night - 6pm stand up show
Blue Suede Shoes(unedited) - 6pm stand-up show
Trouble/Guitar Man (end version) - 6pm stand-up show
Heartbreak Hotel-8pm stand-up show
Hound Dog-8pm stand-up show
All Shook Up-8pm stand-up show
Can't Help Falling In Love-8pm stand-up show
Trouble/Guitar Man (reprise)-8pm stand-up show
If I Can Dream was filmed at both stand-up shows but Elvis lip-synched the
vocal to the studio recording.
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