ELVIS PRESLEY-THAT’S THE WAY IT IS.
ELVIS PRESLEY-THAT’S THE WAY IT IS.
By the time Elvis Presley’s daughter Lisa Marie was born on 1st February 1968, his career was at a crossroads. Over the last few years, Elvis had been trying to forge a career as a movie star. However, the movies were formulaic and according to critics, were the epitome of poor taste. The films may have been popular and profitable earlier in Elvis’ career. Not any more.
Clambake was released in October 1967. Just like every film Elvis appeared in, a soundtrack album accompanied Clambake’s release. The Clambake soundtrack proved to be the lowest selling Elvis album. For Elvis, this reinforced what he already knew. Music fan’s opinion of him had changed.
Previously, Elvis had been the King of Rock ’N’ Roll. Now, The King had lost his crown. Worse still, people weren’t taking Elvis seriously. They were laughing at him as he appeared in the third rate movies. Even some of Elvis’ most faithful fans were turning their back on The King. Something had to give.
When Speedway stalled at number eighty-two in the US Billboard 200 chart. The singles he released didn’t fare any better. His most successful single reached just number in the US Billboard 100 chart. Elvis knew he had to change direction.
So, Elvis decided it was time to make a comeback on television. It had been eight years since Elvis last appeared on American television. That was on Frank Sinatra’s Timex Show in 1960. A lot had happened since then. Not all of it good. He’d lost his crown. Elvis way of regaining his crown was by a Christmas special.
Recording of what NBC billed as Elvis, took place in June 1968. This was Elvis’ first live appearance since 1961. So, Elvis and his band took time to hone their sound. The last thing Elvis wanted was his comeback being a flop. After all, his future career was on the line. Having honed his tight, talented band, Elvis took to the stage in late June. Wearing his trademark black leather suit with the upturned collar, a nervous Elvis produced a barnstorming performance. By the time Elvis left the building, The King had regained his crown.
Elvis comeback was complete on Christmas day 1968. An estimated forty-two percent of Americans watched Elvis’ comeback. Then in January 1969, If I Could Dream was released as a single. It reached number twelve in the US Billboard 100. The soundtrack album to Elvis’ comeback reached the top ten in the US Billboard 200. At last, Elvis was back.
His comeback continued in June 1969, when Elvis released his first non-soundtrack album since 1961, From Elvis In Memphis. It was recorded at American Sound Studios. This proved to one of Elvis’ best, and most fruitful sessions in years. Not only did the American Sound Studios’ sessions spawn From Elvis In Memphis, but a trio of other singles.
On From Elvis In Memphis, Elvis rolls back the years. His performance was peerless. This was vintage Elvis. More importantly, Elvis became relevant again. He moved between country, soul, pop and rock. From Elvis In Memphis also spawned the single In The Ghetto, which reached number three in the US Billboard 100 chart. In The Ghetto wasn’t the only single recorded during the the American Sound Studios’ sessions. So were the classic Suspicious Minds, Kentucky Rain and Don’t Cry Daddy. The release of these three singles and From Elvis In Memphis, further reinforced the fact, The King was back.
After the release of From Elvis In Memphis, promoters worldwide were trying to book Elvis. Some offers were turned down, including the chance to play a week at the London Palladium. However, Elvis chose to play fifty-seven nights at the International Hotel, Las Vegas.
On his first night, on 31st July 1969, Elvis took to the stage in front of a star-studded audiences. Elvis soon won over his audience and for the next two months, won friends and influenced people in Las Vegas. Later in 1969, Elvis released a trio of albums.
As 1969 drew to a close, three Elvis albums were released. Change Of Habit was released in November 1969. So were two other albums. The first was Elvis In Person At The International Hotel. Then From Memphis To Vegas/ From Vegas To Memphis was released. It featured tracks from the American Sound Studios’ sessions. For Elvis fans Christmas had come early. As for Elvis, his comeback continued. This would be the case in 1970.
During 1970, what was a golden period in Elvis’ career continued. He released one of his finest albums in 1970, That’s The Way It Is. That’s The Way It Is also lent its name to a documentary film by Denis Sanders, the Academy Award winning producer. That’s The Way It Is was a tantalising glimpse of Elvis during what was a five year golden period. During that period, between 1968 and 1973, Elvis could do now wrong. He was at the peak if powers. That’s what makes That’s The Way It Is such a compelling and welcome rerelease.
That’s The Way It Is has recently been rereleased as RCA Legacy. This is no ordinary release though. RCA Legacy’s rereleased version of That’s The Way It Is, is a double album. On disc one, there’s the original version of That’s The Way It Is. There’s also the four singles I’ve Lost You, The Next Step, You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me and Patch It Up. There’s also outtakes of How the Web Was Woven, I’ve Lost You, You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me, Patch It Up and Bridge over Troubled Water. That’s just disc one of That’s The Way It Is.
The original version of That’s The Way It Is featured just twelve tracks. They’re a mixture of cover versions and future classics.Each and every one, Elvis tried to make his own. Aiding and abetting him were backing vocalists The Sweet Inspirations, The Imperials, Joe Guercio and His Orchestra and Elvis’ band.
By 1970, Elvis band featured a rhythm section of drummer Ronny Tutt, bassist Jerry Scheff and guitarists James Burton, John Wilkinson and Charles Hodge, who also added vocals. They were joined by Glen D. Hardin on piano and Millie Kirkham on vocals. Add to this backing vocalists The Sweet Inspirations, The Imperials and Joe Guercio and His Orchestra. Surely Elvis couldn’t fail?
He couldn’t. When That’s The Way It Is was released in November 1970, it, reached number twenty-one on the US Billboard 200 charts and number eight in the US Country charts. The singles released from That’s The Way It Is all charted. I’ve Lost You was released in July 1970, reaching number thirty-two on the US Billboard 100 charts and number fifty-seven in the US Country charts. You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me was released in October 1970. It reached number eleven on the US Billboard 200 charts and number fifty-eight in the US Country charts. For Elvis, That’s The Way It Is ensured his comeback continued apace. No wonder. That’s The Way It Is oozes quality.
That’s the case rom the opening bars of I Just Can’t Help Believin’, which opens That’s The Way It Is. Elvis rolls back the year. He’s accompanied by cooing harmonies from The Sweet Inspirations and rasping horns. His vocal is tender and needy, before becoming a vamp as Elvis the showman steps forward. This ensures Elvis has your attention. He doesn’t let go.
This starts with the ballad Twenty Days and Twenty Nights. It features a despairing Elvis. His vocal is rueful and full of regret. Adding the finishing touch are ethereal harmonies courtesy of The Sweet Inspirations. How the Web Was Woven is another ballad. Elvis delivers a truly heartfelt vocal. It has you spellbound. You listen intently, as he breathes life and meaning into the lyrics. Elvis it seems is best when he dawns the role of balladeer. However, there’s another side to Elvis on That’s The Way It Is.
After two ballads, Elvis and his band kick loose on Patch It Up. Cascading harmonies from The Sweet Inspirations are the perfect foil for a needy Elvis. Patch It Up proves to be the exception rather than the rule. After this, Elvis the balladeer returns.
For the next five tracks, Elvis is back doing what he seemed to do best in 1970, delivers ballads. He begins with a heartfelt, country-tinged version of Mary In The Morning. The ballads continue on You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me. It’s without doubt, one of the highlights of That’s The Way It Is, as a heartbroken Elvis lays bare his soul. Elvis then covers Cynthia Weil and Barry Mann’s You’ve Lost That Loving Feeling. Although it’s an oft-covered track, Elvis makes it his own. He combines power, emotion and hurt. This continue on I’ve Lost You. A despairing, haunted Elvis combines power, hurt and sadness. Despite this, there’s a soulful quality to Elvis’ vocal. Just Pretend is the last of the five ballads. It features an understated arrangement. This allows Elvis’ vocal to take centre-stage. That’s where a vocal of this quality belongs. Following five ballads, Elvis changes tack on Stranger in the Crowd.
Stranger in the Crowd is a reminder of Elvis roots. It’s a reminder of a much younger Elvis. However, the song has a seventies sound. Swathes of strings, cooing harmonies and country-tinged guitars accompany Elvis as he delivers an impassioned, soulful vocal. The soulfulness continues on The Next Step Is Love. Elvis’ vocal is soulful and wistful as he delivers lyrics that have a cinematic quality. Just like so many times before lyrics come to life as Elvis delivers them. No more so than on Elvis’ cover of Paul Simon’s Bridge Over Troubled Water. It’s a truly beautiful take on a classic song. It takes on a spiritual quality in Elvis’ hands. Given Elvis’ gospel roots, this proves a fitting way to close That’s The Way It Is. However, that’s not the end of the Legacy Edition of That’s The Way It Is.
On disc two, this veritable musical feast continues. There’s seventeen tracks recorded during a dinner concert that took place on 12th August 1970. Elvis is in fine form as he works his way through a string of classics. He starts the show with storming country tinged take of That’s All Right. There’s not let up during I Got a Woman. Elvis produces a barnstorming performance. He then turns back the clock and works his way through three stone wall classics Hound Dog, Heartbreak Hotel and a tender, heartfelt and soulful version of Love Me Tender. Following a trio of stonewall classics, Elvis returns to the present day.
I’ve Lost You was Elvis’ latest single. It’s a slow burner. His despairing vocal is accompanied by a lone piano before the arrangement unfolds. Against a string drenched backdrop Elvis rolls back the year. Adding a soulful backdrop are The Sweet Inspirations and The Imperials. The quality continues with a spellbinding version of I Just Can’t Help Believin.’ Strings, horns and harmonies accompany Elvis as he toys with the audience. They’re enthralled. This is still the case as Elvis storms his way Patch It Up. He sings call and response with The Sweet Inspirations. They’re the perfect foil for Elvis. After that, Elvis decides to drop the tempo.
Elvis the balladeer makes an appearance on Twenty Days and Twenty Nights. His vocal is tender, wistful and full of hurt. Then on You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin,’ Elvis transforms the song into a gospel tinged ballad. This is no ordinary ballad. It’s one that oozes emotion and drama. The drama continues on Polk Salad Annie.
On Polk Salad Annie, Elvis swaggers his way through the lyrics. His band fuse blues, funk and R&B as Elvis indulges in a vamp. He then introduces his band. After that, a good natured Elvis storms his way through Blue Suede Shoes. It’s vintage Elvis.
Elvis and his band roll then continue to roll back the years on You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me. Elvis is back to his best. It’s a long way from the formulaic movies of a few years earlier. His vocal is needy and hopeful as he makes You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me his own. He then reinvents Bridge Over Troubled Water. In Elvis’ hands, it becomes a tender, heartfelt ballad. Accompanying him are a piano, lush strings and horns. Adding the finishing touch are The Sweet Inspirations’ harmonies. For many singers, they’d have bid the audience goodnight. Not Elvis.
He showcases one of his most recent singles, Suspicious Minds. This tops everything that’s gone before. Aided and abetted by The Sweet Inspirations and his band he delivers a barnstorming version of Suspicious Minds. It’s vintage Elvis. He’s not done yet.
Closing the show is Can’t Help Falling in Love. Elvis the balladeer is back. The Sweet Inspirations and his band drive Elvis to greater heights. Only after this grandstanding finale, does Elvis leave the building.
Sadly, less than seven years after the release of That’s The Way It Is, Elvis Presley died on 16th August 1977. He was just forty-two. Over the past four years, Elvis’ health had deteriorated. By 1977, Elvis weight had soared. He’d taken to grazing on junk food. Sadly, Elvis was a pale shadow of his former self. So much so, that for the last four years, Elvis wasn’t spending as much time in the recording studio.
For RCA Victor, this was worrying. Elvis had always been a prolific artist, who would release several albums a year. The well was running dry. They needed more music. After some cajoling, Elvis would enter the studio. He’d record some new music and be gone. No one could’ve forecast that this would happen.
Especially between 1968 and 1973. That was the final golden period of Elvis’ career. It began in 1968 when he was thirty-three. By 1973, Elvis was thirty-eight and to all intents and purposes, we’d heard the best from him. 1973s Elvis At Stax and 1974s Elvis Recorded Live On Stage On Memphis marked the end of an era. Sadly, after that, The King lost his crown. He never reached the same heights. There would be occasional glimpses of genius. Sadly, they became fewer and fewer. That’s what makes That’s The Way It Is such a poignant musical document.
That’s The Way It Is features Elvis at the peak of his powers. He was back to his best. It was as if Elvis had awoken from a slumber. That was what the seven years he’d spent acting in third rate movies was equivalent to. It was the ruination of Elvis. By 1967, his popularity had slumped. The only way was up.
Elvis comeback began in 1968. Two years later, Elvis was back to his very best. The two discs on the Legacy Edition of That’s The Way It Is are proof of this. We hear different sides to Elvis. Sometimes he produces barnstorming performances. Other times he becomes a balladeer. Both sides of Elvis feature a performer reborn. However, Elvis the balladeer is Elvis at his very best. He breathes life, meaning and emotion into a string of ballads. He has the audience in the palm of his hand. They’re spellbound by Elvis, the comeback King. Elvis had regained his crown and looked like it would be his for a long time. Sadly, that wasn’t to be.
On the 16th August 1977 Elvis Presley died, aged just forty-two. He’d only recorded That’s The Way It Is in 1970. However, it seemed a lifetime ago. Elvis had left the building for the last time. Elvis left behind a huge musical legacy. Some of the best music Elvis recorded was during the golden period between 1968 and 1973. This includes That’s The Way It Is, which features Elvis Presley, the comeback King at his very best.
ELVIS PRESLEY-THAT’S THE WAY IT IS.