Elvis Recorded Live on Stage in Memphis Legacy Edition Review
I believe that the RCA Legacy discs are doing a great service to me, you, rock and roll, and the inestimable memory of demigod Mr. Elvis Presley himself. Even people who don’t like Elvis should be at least forced to admit that his legacy is still very much alive today in contemporary music and the idea of a rock front man. Britney Spears? Elvis. Jay-Z? Elvis. The Shins? Oh, my God. So much Elvis. Elvis is rock, country, R&B, all rolled onto a bacon sandwich and smothered in bananas and peanut butter. And I, for one, always enjoy taking a big, messy bite.
After you get that image out of your mind, you may well find yourself asking, what is an RCA legacy disc? RCA has been getting their Elvis house in order and putting out remastered versions of select Elvis CDs using more modern standards. What this means is that some albums are actually combined since in the ’70s, one concert could be released on three different albums. Now complete shows are all in one place with whatever bonus materials RCA can cram onboard. And usually, there are some very nice linear notes. So these recordings are for both the Elvis completist and neophyte. Another recent release I reviewed was all of Elvis recordings at Stax, which eliminated the need to release like five records that came from those recordings.
I can’t wait for the ’68 comeback special legacy edition, by the way!
Obviously, the highlight is the music. I would argue that no one has the range of Elvis at the height of his power–rock, roots, gospel, soul, country, and, God help me, some light opera all find their way onto this album. There’s never been anything like an Elvis concert. Elvis’s vitality and love of music permeates every moment of this record. He wants the music to be good. And he has fun performing, even when he is pushing his voice. Elvis selects songs that he likes, from his own catalog and whatever else he is feeling right then. I don’t think anyone in history has ever been as dedicated to “Polk Salad Annie” as Elvis, and he makes it work. But to take it a further, weird step, Elvis believes that these songs have wisdom. When Elvis sings “Let Me Be There” or “How Great Thou Art” it’s because he wants people to hear these songs. Obviously, someone of Elvis’s stature has carte blanche for a set list and Elvis picks songs that he likes to sing and songs that he thinks have something to offer. I would argue that Elvis thinks that “Funny How Time Slips Away” reminds him of Priscilla.
There is something about Elvis that makes a listener feel like they know him, like a lot of his real personality is in his stage persona, something I don’t feel is true with, say, Matchbox 20. Elvis makes a lot of silly jokes and has banter with the audience, teasing them in a friendly way. He is the same way with his band. There’s a moment in “Amen” where the bass backup singer hits a very low note and Elvis stops the action to get him to do it again, saying that he thinks the bass singer can get lower. It’s the kind of unscripted moment that a lesser band might not be able to come back from, but this band literally doesn’t miss a beat. So obviously, I have no idea if “Funny How Time Slips Away” actually reminds him of Priscilla and his break-up, but it sure feels right by the way Elvis bares his soul in his music. “An American Trilogy,” which is the light opera I mentioned, might seem a little silly to some, but Elvis manages to bring the house down with it.
The band is always that strange combination of extremely tight but loose sounding with great players having a good time and their band leader, Elvis, giving them all a chance to shine, even the backup singers, whom I would argue Elvis treats with a lot of respect. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: James Burton is one of the most amazing guitarists in history. The whole band is full of people on top of their game and having a great time with the greatest front man in rock and roll.
Now for one of the drawbacks. There can be an element of sameness to Elvis live discs. Most of these shows are around 20 songs. A single disc live album was released at the time with about ten songs on it, so there was very little overlap. But now that we are– finally– getting copies of these concerts in their entirety, there are certain songs that are always going to be on them. How weird would it have been to go to an Elvis concert and not have him play “Can’t Help Falling in Love with You,” “Love Me Tender,” or “Suspicious Minds?” So if you buy this and “The Aloha From Hawaii,” you’ll get some of the same stuff. This disc is a lot more fun, but the Aloha is also just astounding. To round things out, there are “Prince from Another Planet” and “On Stage” legacy recordings. Really, they are all great. I hope we get a complete concert from the ’50s sometime.
But of course, there are lots of different songs. Elvis is home in Memphis and wasn’t afraid to let his Jesus flag fly with “Amen,” “How Great Thou Art,” and Kris Kristofferson’s “Why Me Lord” arranged for a gospel group with someone else singing lead. The King even throws in a little of Loggins and Mesina’s “Your Mama Don’t Dance,” which was a big hit at the time. This album has a strong presence of Elvis’s first album with “I got a Woman,” “Lawdy, Miss Clawdy,” and a transcendent “Trying to Get to you.”
This is the kind of album where I even enjoyed the linear notes, with a fun anecdote about Elvis’s manager Colonel Tom Parker receiving the possible album cover photos, which he commissioned from a record executive’s teenager son, and hitting the roof over how rotten they are. It’s just a little funny insight into how a cover comes into being.
If you are not familiar with Elvis– or know him only from bad impressions– get yourself some real Elvis and find out what all the fuss is about. This is a man for whom millions of people go every year to see his house. Why, you may ask? Because there was something about Elvis that makes you feel like he could be your buddy and he was quite simply the best rock and roll singer who ever shook his hips to a crowd– a move he invented, by the by– and finally, and I realize that this doesn’t go with being your buddy– something about Elvis that transcends everything around him and makes the whole word “Elvis” when he is around. Make sure you bring a little Elvis into your life. It’ll make it better.