February 28, 2017
Many people are unaware that Elvis Presley’s biggest selling studio album was his late 1950’s Christmas release. It also expanded his commercial appeal beyond his rock and roll teenage base as millions of adults bought the album which veered from his rock roots toward a more traditional pop sound.
Lately, there has been an increasing vinyl resurgence and while Elvis’ Christmas material has been released dozens of times and it many formats; Merry Christmas Baby is a vinyl-only release issued on red and green vinyl. So crack up those record players because Elvis is coming to town.
The music was remastered from the original tapes and modern technology gives it a clarity of sound missing from many of the previous releases. When played on the proper equipment, it provides a superior listening experience.
As Elvis’ career progressed, his albums became more haphazard and inconsistent but he never issued a poor or even an average Christmas, gospel, or sacred album. He always seemed more connected and invested with this type of material.
The 17 tracks travel from hymns such as “O Come All Ye Faithful” and “Silent Night” to the light hearted “Santa Claus Is Back In Town” and “Here Comes Santa Claus” to such classics as “I’ll Be Home For Christmas” and “White Christmas.”
“Blue Christmas” has a bit of a kick to it as it pays homage to his rock and roll roots. He captures the wistful and nostalgic nature of “I’ll Be Home For Christmas” just right. He even manages to turn light-weight material such as “If Everyday Was Like Christmas” and “Holly Leaves and Christmas Trees” into acceptable holiday fare.
There is still a vast Elvis fan base that will purchase just about any new release. However, if you have never been exposed to his holiday material or want to listen to some Elvis the way it was originally intended, then Merry Christmas Baby is an album for you.
August 6, 2014
When Elvis Presley’s “Good Luck Charm” reached number one on the Billboard Magazine pop Singles Chart, it was the seventh consecutive year he had a single reach the top of the charts, which was a record at the time. The Beatles would equal it, 1964-1970.
By 1962, Elvis had reached a transition point in his career. His military service was in the past and now he was concentrating on films. His music was moving from rock ‘n’ roll to more of a pop sound that would increasingly appear on his movie soundtracks.
Elvis entered the RCA Nashville recording studio, October 15-16, under the direction of co-producers Steve Sholes and Chet Atkins. Some of the musicians present were guitarists Jerry Kennedy & Scotty Moore, bassist Bob Moore, pianist Floyd Cramer, drummer D.J. Fontana, and sax player Boots Randolph.
“Good Luck Charm” was a mix of rock and pop that, despite all the backing musicians, kept the main focus upon Elvis’ voice. It was a simple story type song that dominated the pre-Beatles era. It was a mid-tempo tune that bubbled along and was perfect for radio play at the time as it just stayed in your mind. Background vocals were by the Jordanaires and female singer Millie Kirkham. Gordon Stoker of the Jordanaires provided the duet vocals.
The song Elvis replaced was “Johnny Angel” by Shelley Fabares of the Donna Reed Show fame. She would later co-star in three movies with him. The song would also signal a downturn in Elvis’ career. While he would continue to have hit songs, he would not have another chart topper for seven years when “Suspicious Minds” reached number one during 1969.
“Good Luck Charm” may not be Elvis’ most memorable or best single release but it was very good in its own right. Over one million Elvis fans thought it good enough to purchase the seven inch 45 back in 1962, which enabled it to become the number one song in the United States on April 21, 1962 for two weeks.
July 13, 2014
The music world came to a halt during late December, 1958, when Elvis received his draft notice. Fans suffered without him until March 5, 1960, when he received his honorable discharge, and all was right with the world again.
His manager, Colonel Parker, welcomed him back by booking studio time and during several marathon sessions; he produced enough material for his Elvis Is Back album and a number of singles which he released during the course of the next year. At the time, his singles were not released as a part of his studio albums. They had a life of their own and the only way to own the music was to purchase these small 7” vinyl 45s.
These early post army recording sessions produced several number one singles. “Stuck On You,” “It’s Now Or Never,” and “Are You Lonesome Tonight” all topped the Billboard Magazine Pop Singles Chart during 1960 for a combined 17 weeks. The fourth number one single of his post army career reached the top of the charts March 20, 1961, where it remained for two weeks.
Doc Pomus and Mort Shuman wrote 25 songs for Elvis, but to be honest they stole this one. “Surrender” was taken from a 1902 Italian Neopolitan song named “Come Back To Sorrento.” It was an up-tempo love ballad that reminds me of Spanish bull fighting, complete with castanets. It was straight pop and would look ahead to Elvis’ movement away from rock ‘n’ roll toward a more slick sound. It would top the American charts for two weeks. It was also one of the shorter number one singles in American music history as it clocked in at just less than two minutes.
For better or worse, Elvis’ career would quickly move in a movie star direction, which would combine good material with some not so good. But back in 1961, the sun was shining, “Surrender “was number one, and Elvis ruled the music world.
June 26, 2014
“Are You Lonesome Tonight” had a long history before Elvis Presley ever got a hold of the song. It was written by Lou Handman and Roy Turk during 1926. Handman recorded his own version in 1927, with him playing the piano and his sister Edith as the vocalist. Blue Barron, whose real name was Harry Freidman, was an orchestra leader during the big band era. He had a hit with the song in 1950, reaching number 19. Al Jolson recorded a version of the song that same year.
Elvis Presley was released from the Army, March 2, 1960. He was greeted by his manager, Colonel Tom Parker, who ushered him into the recording studio in early April. He recorded a number of singles which were not issued on an album plus the tracks for his Elvis Is Back release.
The session produced two number one singles. “It’s Now Or Never” and “Are You Lonesome Tonight” were vastly different in style but both would signal a more pop direction for the maturing Elvis. Both songs would also top The American singles charts. It’s Now Or Never” would have a five week run at the top during the summer of 1960 and “Are You Lonesome Tonight” would begin its six week stay at the top beginning November 28, 1960. They would rank as the 10th and 8th most popular singles of the decade.
Elvis’ version of “Are You Lonesome Tonight” would become one of his signature songs. He would pattern the music after the Blue Baron interpretation but the vocal would be taken from Al Jolson. It was Elvis’ emotional dialogue that won over many of his fans.
This slow ballad remains instantly recognizable over a half century ago was responsible for Elvis truly being the king.
June 15, 2014
It’s doubtful that Giovanni Capurro could have imagined what lay in store for his composition, “O Sole Mio,” when he wrote the song back in the year 1900. Six decades later, an adapted English version topped the music charts in the United States.
Elvis took the melody of “O Sole Mio,” added English lyrics and turned it into a smooth pop song. Released during the summer of 1960, it topped the BILLBOARD MAGAZINE Pop Singles Chart for five weeks beginning August 15, 1960.
It signaled a change in Elvis’ style and sound as he began to move away from his rockabilly/rock ‘n’ roll roots toward a more pop sound. The public embraced the song and the sound. It reached The Billboard Hot 100 on July 18, 1960, and on August 15, 1960, it claimed the top spot where it remained for five weeks.
“It’s Now Or Never” was one of Elvis’ biggest hits and remains one of his signature songs.
May 25, 2014
March 1, 1960: Farewell party for Elvis by his Army Unit.
March 5, 1960: Elvis is honorably discharged from the Army at Fort Dix.
March 20-21, 1960: Elvis enters the recording studio and records six songs including two future number one singles.
March 1960: Advance orders for the as yet unnamed and unheard single top 1.2 million.
March 26, 1960: Elvis debuts “Stuck On You” on the Frank Sinatra Timex Television Show.
April 4, 1960: “Stuck On You” enters the BILLBOARD Hot 100 Chart.
April 25, 1960: Stuck On You” reaches number one where it remains for four weeks.
April 16, 2014
Elvis has re-entered the building again. The Elvis releases just keep coming as many of his albums have reached the 40 and 50 year mark and are being reissued with all sorts of bonus tracks. The latest album to be resurrected for its 40th anniversary is Elvis Recorded Live On Stage In Memphis.
Elvis was back on top of the music world in 1974. His 1973 Stax sessions had been well received and his Hawaiian television concert had been viewed by close to one billion people and the subsequent album Aloha From Hawaii Via Satellite had topped the American music charts.
Elvis wanted to record a live album in his hometown of Memphis. Elvis Recorded Live On Stage In Memphis was released on vinyl July 7, 1974. The original album was somewhat disjointed as the concert was edited down to basics and clocked in at a meager 41 minutes. The concert is now complete as the missing ten songs have been returned to their rightful places. “Steamroller Blues,” “Suspicious Minds,” “Teddy Bear/Don’t Be Cruel” Medley,” “Polk Salad Annie,” and “Funnny How Time Slips Away” are the best of the missing songs and help to flesh out the performance and make the concert experience complete.
Elvis is in fine voice and the sound has been scrubbed crystal clear. The 24 page booklet with some rare photographs gives a nice history of the tour and homecoming concert. His performance of “How Great Thou Art” would win the Grammy Award for Best Gospel Performance.
As with most of Elvis’ reissues there is a bonus disc. In this case it is what is called The Richmond Test Run Concert recorded March 18; two days before the Memphis performance. While there may only be subtle differences, the complete concert is intact.
The album concludes with five tracks recorded at the Hollywood RCA Studios on August 16. They are referred to as reference recordings for an upcoming Las Vegas engagement. “Down In The Alley,” “Good Time Charlie’s Got The Blues,” “Softly As I Leave You,” “The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face,” and “The Twelfth Of Never” provide an interesting look at Elvis in the studio.
Recorded Live On Stage In Memphis is sometimes underrated in the pantheon of live Elvis albums. The release will certainly appeal to Elvis’ large fan base but if you are a casual fan there are better places to start when exploring his catalogue of music. If you are so inclined, however, this is a very good and interesting release as it fills in some missing elements in his legacy.