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Je n'aime pas dans les vieux films américains quand les conducteurs ne regardent pas la route. Et de ratage en ratage, on s'habitue à ne jamais dépasser le stade du brouillon. La vie n'est que l'interminable répétition d'une représentation qui n'aura jamais lieu.

Bad Music Reviews: Elvis in Concert (1977) - Elvis Presley!

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Buy Elvis in Concert

*So, this time, as I journey through the canon of bad albums, we’re actually talking about a legendary album, Elvis In Concert by Elvis Presley.  This album documents two of Elvis’ last live performances; it is often erroneously stated to contain his final live performance, but this is in fact not the case.

*But it does contain excerpts from two performances in June of 1977, edited together with the intention of creating a film.  The film was initially scrapped, due to Elvis’ poor health.  After his death, it was resurrected.  This album is the soundtrack to the film, but also contains several songs not featured in the film. 

*So, did the King go out on a high note?  Or does this album serve as a document of his awful decline?  We’ll find out!

*So, the first track is titled Elvis Fans’ Comments/Opening Riff.  It begins with eleven people stating that he’s the king in the first twelve seconds and then we whip into this frantic riff.  Then we go back to the fans talking their fandom.

*This perhaps climaxes in the moment when a woman says she was sexually aroused by touching the gate at Graceland.  Which is not at all weird.  I mean, who hasn’t been turned on by fencing materials?

*Back to the riff.  And then another couple of fan comments.  This track is a minute and a half.

*And then we kick into a one minute track called Introduction/Also Sprach Zarathustra.  Which is this annoying seventies version of the theme from 2001.  I mean this is pretty cheesy.

*I mean, seriously, he’s a great singer, one of the most influential figures of twentieth century music.  He does not signal a significant step upward in humanity’s evolution.  I mean, you don’t get much more pretentious than this.

*Then we move to See See Rider, which starts with that riff which we’ve already heard twice. 

*This is an energetic track.  This isn’t bad at all.

*Then, Elvis introduces That’s All Right, talking about how all he had was one guitar and a bass.  This is a perfectly fine version of a classic.

*Then he does Are You Lonesome Tonight.  And this is one of the more infamous tracks on the album because he just completely blows the spoken word section. 

*Some scholars have referenced the fact that Elvis would often joke around during this section of the song, even very early in his career.  And they are correct.  But, really?  That’s always kind of ticked me off.  I mean, this isn’t the best song in the world.  But it is a sad song and when he wanted to, Elvis could sell the emotion.  So I’ve heard some early live recordings of him joking around in the bridge and it just strikes me that this just wrecks the song.

*So, I suppose I’m a purist.  But the argument that Elvis is essentially just kidding around on this version doesn’t entirely wash because it does begin with a really bad tongue twist up. 

*So, in the interest of letting you decide, I will transcribe the spoken word section of Are You Lonesome Tonight, as Elvis ‘performed’ it on this album.

*I wonder if you’re lonesome tonight.  You know, someone said the world’s a stage and each of us play a part.  Fate plaid me plahplahplahwahplahplah plplplplpl plplpl plus tax.  You read your lines so lever cleverly eh ha ha and never missed a cue ha ha and came back too.  You forgot the words.  You seemed to change, you fool.  Hhhh.  You acted strange and why I’ll never know.  Huh why I ever did it.  Honey.  Who am I talkin’ too?  You lied when you said you loved me.  You s . . .  I had no cause to doubt you.  But I wurr ruwruwruwruwruwrather go on hearing you lies ha ha ha, than to go on living without you.  Now the stage is bare and I’m standing there without any hair uh naw.  If you won’t come back to me huh huh aw to heck with it.

*So, just to be perfectly frank, that is pretty cringe inducing to listen to.  I mean, that is rather sad and annoying and pathetic. 

*And as soon as the song ends, he whips into a track called Medley: Let Me Be Your Teddy Bear/Don’t Be Cruel.  And he does a great job. 

*This is one of the tracks on the album where you can hear the audience just going incredibly crazy.  I mean, just wild. 

*Good track.

*Then comes a forty-five second track called Elvis Fans’ Comments II.  A couple of folks talk about honeymooning at the Elvis concert and why they love Elvis.  “He’s got vibes,” the woman says.

*She also says, quite oddly, that Elvis is always honest.  And that’s a strange thing because the reason I dislike a lot of late Elvis is that it seems utterly insincere.  For instance, a lot of his gospel numbers are just dull as dishwater and utterly hackneyed and insincere.  We’ll talk about one in more detail a little later.  But anyway, it’s odd to hear someone say the exact opposite to what I think about Elvis.  I mean she likes him because he’s honest; and I dislike him because he often wasn’t.  So, which of us is actually right?  Well, that’s a question for the ages, I suppose.

*Then there’s a nice version of You Gave Me a Mountain.  Which is a pretty good song.  And Elvis does a good job with it here. 

*I mean, okay, there’s that horrible moment in Are You Lonesome Tonight, but so far I hear no real decline. 

*This one may be a little too slicked up musically, but there’s a great quiet bridge on the second verse that is really wonderful and beautiful.  And, see, here’s an example of Elvis really selling a song. 

*Then, as the song ends, he deadpans, “My third movie was called Jailhouse Rock” and just whips into a manic version of Jailhouse Rock. 

*This is a great version.  It’s very much different from the soundtrack version that most people are familiar with.  For one thing, the drummer here just keeps a straight up back beat the whole time, rather than the stop start rhythm of the original. 

*Elvis does flub the lyrics here.  In the second verse, he sort of mumbles the bit about the ‘slide trombone/saxophone’ couplet.  This is because he forgets the saxophone and credits two people with playing the slide trombone.  I do not have it in me to slam him for such a funny mistake. 

*This version is just a bit over a minute, very fast, and only features the first two verses, which is a negative.  But the energy is up and it’s a good variation on the song.

*I mean, he really starts scatting it at the end.  I mean, he’s kind of on top of his game.

*Then we get Elvis Fans’ Comments III, in which a guy waxes about naming his kid after Elvis and how he loves him and how he particularly loves his spiritual numbers because he thinks they are true expressions of Elvis’ spirituality.

*See, I think they’re incredibly annoying, totally rote, utterly insincere expressions of his shallow spirituality.  I guess we’ll differ on this.

*The album does not help its own case by bursting into about the most overripe version of How Great Thou Art I’ve ever frigging heard.

*So, the first time he comes to the “My God how great Thou art,” line, he just frigging bellows this one part.  It’s just like, “My GOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOODDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDD how great thou art.”  I mean, I bet he even hurt God’s ears with that one.  And, frankly, it’s off key.  Yes, I’m sorry; Elvis is off key.

*And then, and this about made me crack up laughing, he changes the chorus’ lyrics to “My God, how great I think Thou art.”  Which is pretty much of a mouthful, yes?

*I mean, I like gospel music.  Love it really and it’s a huge part of my own Christian faith.  But this is just this annoyingly Vegas style gospel music that just sounds risible to me. 

*Then there’s another forty-five second track called Elvis Fans’ Comments IV, which is thankfully the last one of these.  On this one, various people try to claim that their fanclub is the biggest. 

*There’s a hilarious moment where this British guy says that the members of his fan club that have come to the concert “expected Elvis to be about twelve feet tall with an aurora around his head.” 

*Yeah, I think you mean aura, smart one.

*Actually, what’s funny is that he goes on:  “with an aurora around his head and a fanfare, but of course it wasn’t like that . . . and he was very natural.  Quite shy sort of person.” 

*Actually there was a fanfare.  Maybe this guy was a minute late. 

*Quite shy sort of person.  You know the shy person who announces his entrance into the room with the theme from 2001.  We all know somebody like that.

*Then it’s I Really Don’t Want to Know, one of his best country style songs.  And he just slays this vocal.  I mean, he just kills it.  Awesome. 

*Then after this minute a half song, there’s a forty-five second track of Elvis having the crowd clap for his father.  He says, “Is there any way for him to get up here?” three times in less than fifteen seconds, which is impressive.

*Then a version of Hurt, one of his last big hits.  This is not my favorite song.  It’s a bit too overwrought and operatic which I don’t care for.  But I mean, it’s a flawless performance.  He doesn’t miss a note and these are some high notes and some long ones too.  Decline, my foot.  I mean, the climax especially he just knocks it out.

*Then he rips into a minute and a half version of Hound Dog.  He never sings anything but the first verse.  But he . . . man . . . I mean, he kills it.

*And then at the end, he just goes completely crazy, just goes into this weird, growling, grunting breakdown that is just amazing to hear.

*It should be noted that on this one someone in the audience is shrieking at this incredible high pitch.  I mean, much higher and you’ve to literally be a hound dog to hear her.

*Then he does My Way and this is rather infamous too because at first he doesn’t remember the title and has to have someone feed it to him.  And then he remarks that he doesn’t know the words so he has to use a lyric sheet.

*But you know what?  BEST FRIGGING VERSION FOF MY WAY EVER!

*I’m totally serious.  I mean, he just kills this.  It’s probably the best song on this album and one of the best vocal performances I’ve ever heard Elvis do.  He undersells the song for most of the time, but when he occasionally kicks it up, man, you just feel it down in your bones.  Amazing.  I mean, this is a five star singer just doing a five star rendition of a five star song.  Two thumbs up.  You gotta hear this one.

*When it ends, he says, “We’ll meet you again.  May God bless you.  Adios.”  And then he does a great, short version of I Can’t Help Falling In Love.  You can actually hear people calling his name from the audience on this track.  I found it oddly moving.

*Then they whip into that riff again for a track called Closing Riff/Special Message From Elvis’ Father.  

*In this message, Elvis’ father says that this was Elvis’ last live performance, so I guess that’s where the misconception got started.  Like I said, it’s not.    

*But seriously, this is probably the most painful track on the album.  Elvis’ dad just sounds incredibly real.  There’s just a powerful, understated grief in his stoic statements here.  He breathes very heavily into the microphone three or four times and I remember breathing like that after my dad died.  It’s the sound of someone about to collapse entirely.  I mean, this is really heartbreaking.  I teared up on this track the first time I listened to the album. 

*Then we get to portions of the concerts that weren’t included into the film.  The first one is Medley: I’ve Got a Woman/Amen.  It opens with Elvis clowning around with ‘well well well’ for about a minute.  He finally says, “This is all I do, folks.” 

*But then he does whip into I Got a Woman and does a pretty good job of it.  Ray Charles song. 

*But the best moment comes about three minutes in when he just does this whiplash thing to Amen.  I mean, it’s just literally a hairpin, change on a dime.  I mean, the dude was still sharp. 

*So, he does this for a couple of minutes and then goes into this strange routine that hopefully would make sense if seen live on stage.  It involves him sort of talking falsetto and talking about how his parents couldn’t keep diapers on him.  I guess he must be doing some hip swiveling. 

*Then he goes back to the song and lets J.D. Sumner, the iconic bass singer, take the last note and just go incredibly low with it. 

*At nearly six and a half minutes, this is by far the longest track on the album.

*Then there’s a forty second track called Elvis Talks in which Elvis introduces himself as Wayne Newton and asks if he’s the first person to ever perform in the building and some other things.  Nothing of interest. 

*Then he goes into Love Me, that classic country song.  This is not my favorite.  But it is Jimmy Page’s.  So that counts for something.  Or maybe it was Robert Plant.  I forget.  One of them said this was their favorite Elvis song.

*Then he does a song that he says is an Olivia Newton-John song.  I’ve never heard it before, but I really dug it.  It has a nice pop vibe.  It’s called, If You Love Me, Let Me Know.  I really liked it. 

*So, he talks about It’s Now or Never, which has got to be one of my least favorite Elvis songs.  Probably actually my absolute least favorite.  He says it was inspired by O Sole Mio, so he has one of his back up singers, Sherril Nielson, if I understand him correctly, sing O Sole Mio.  The guy just goes crazy on it.  At one point, after a particularly intricate passage, Elvis deadpans, “Smart aleck.”

*So, then Elvis sings It’s Now or Never.  Moving right along.

  *In all seriousness, this is like Elvis at his most ponderously operatic and bloviating. 

*Then he introduces Tryin’ to Get to You, one of my favorites of his songs, by saying that it was eighteen years earlier when he recorded the song.  “My daddy likes it,” he says, “but, you know, my voice was higher then.”  I found this admission of the frailties of age to be rather moving. 

*He then does a little routine about how the song is different depending on what part of the country he’s in:  “Tryin’ to Get to You All,” “Tryin’ to Get to Youse,” etc.

*He does a fine job on the song, though.

*He does Hawaiian Wedding Song, from Blue Hawaii.  He tries to tell a joke that it’s such a good song that he actually thought he was married to the actress for two years, but he utterly muffs it and I didn’t even understand what he was trying to say until like the third time I listened to the album.

*Huh, I’ve never heard this one before either.  It’s surprisingly moving.

*Then he does a song called Fairytale which seems to be a Pointer Sisters cover. 

*This is fair to middling.  Nice guitar work on it.  And the back-up singers do some great work too.

*There’s a great moment where he sings, “You used me, you deceived me/and you don’t seem to need me/but I bet you won’t forget me when I’m gone.”  And then the back-up singers come in with this descending “No no no no no.”  And what makes that so great is that . . . well, he was about to leave, you know.  And he was right; we didn’t forget him.

*Then a driving, two minute version of Little Sister.  Excellent guitar leads on this one. 

*Also, I had completely forgotten what a great song Little Sister is.  It’s a masterpiece.

*We are coming down to the wire here, which you might have guessed if you’ve counted up the tracks thus far.  Because this next one, a minute and a half cover of Gordon Lightfoot’s Early Morning Rain, is track number 30

*Early Morning Rain is a sappy song, but a good one.  Which kind of sums up Gordon Lightfoot in one sentence actually. 

*Then a really weird thing.  A frantic, thirty second cover of Ray Charles’ epic What’d I Say.  I mean, it’s really strange.  It’s just so fast and they just start and then it’s over in thirty seconds.  Well, whatever.

*Then a forty-five second version of Johnny B. Goode.  All he does is the first verse and chorus, but it’s appreciated, since the electric guitar here is nice and up front. 

*Then, the final track, number 32, which is a very weak ending, a sappy, completely lame song called And I Love You So. 

*But seriously?  A pretty fun album.  I mean, it’s not essential or anything, though I would say the version of My Way is essential.  The spoken word tracks are mostly awkward and uninteresting and some of the songs are kind of Elvis at his worst, a sort of pompous, over the top operatic bellowing. 

*But also we have Elvis at something very close to the top of his game.  Even this close to the end, he could still sell a song and he could still rock out really hard.  I mean, it’s incredible, some of this stuff. 

*Some of it’s trivia, but trivia can be interesting.  I actually really enjoyed listening to this one for this review.  I listened to it . . . five times I guess and I never got tired of it.  And it is nearly seventy-five minutes. 

*Like I say, it’s not the best Elvis album in the world.  It’s also, however, far from his worst.  And no way should it be considered one of the worst albums of all time. 

*Anyway, that was interesting.  Next time, it’s the statistically improbable Van Dyke Parks and his debut, Song Cycle.  Join us for that.

Bad Music Reviews!