Elvis had spent the last 8 years since discharge from the army doing awful movies and awfuller music. Now he needed to get back to what he did best: perform.
The TV special was envisaged originally (by the Colonel) as Elvis doing a series of Christmas songs into camera. You can almost see him looking into camera from his stool and wearing a cardy saying "Merry Christmas everyone, wherever you are". But as things turned out, the Colonel, the critics and the public were in for a shock.
From the opening bars of "Trouble" you know this isn't Movie Elvis, singing to children and animals. This is Renaissance Elvis, getting back to what he was 10 or 12 years ago: a threat. Elvis had lost his edge after a decade making movies; now he seemed to have it back, and to top it off he's dressed head to toe in black leather.
The first disc is made up of the absolutely astounding opening medley of Trouble and Guitar Man - the raucousness in his voice on this sets the tone for the show and is a million miles from anything he'd done before, even at Sun; the "stand-up show" where he performs in front of an audience for the first time in God knows how long, again in black leather; and the pre-recorded "road medley", which was originally intended to be the backbone of the how but ended up seeming like an add-on; and the "Gospel Medley" Also thrown in are "A Little Less Conversation" from one of his films that they were going to use but didn't; "Memories" and "If I Can Dream".
The Stand Up show, as it became known to differentiate it from the sit-down show, was him, in a boxing-ring stage minus ropes (to make him "work the crowd" or to signify his career as being on the ropes?) and Elvis motors through some of his early hits, backed by an orchestra. Most are different versions to those used in the show itself, but no better or worse. One highlight of this part is when Elvis, in what sounds like a spur of the moment decision, attempts to jam, with full orchestra, to "Baby What You Want Me to Do". And kind of pulls it off, too, which not many could've.
The gospel medley is a fantastic and complex segueing of very different gospel songs which builds up from the beautiful spritual "Where Could I Go" to the belting it out "Saved".
The road medley again is a long and complex arrangement worked out loosely around the storyline of "Guitar Man". It wasn't included in full on the original CD for some unbeknown reason. It builds up finally to the added verse which basically sums up what Elvis is trying to do: get back to his roots.
It's the second CD which is the fait d'accomplis, though. Whilst the Beatles et al twiddle around in the studio, something Elvis could never have done, he makes his own statement about what rock and roll's all about. This is the sit down show, where Elvis and some of the guys just sit and jam. Belting it out on their guitars, guitar cases etc taking rock and roll back to the garages, school halls, clubs etc where it was first given life. One of the best things about this CD is the between song tomfoolery between Elvis and the guys which highlights the fact that he isn't what people tend to think of him as being.
Also included at the start of the second CD are a couple of recordings from rehearsals for the show which evidence the level of commitment Elvis had to this project, something he had never had before and, sadly, never had again.
This is the best thing Elvis ever did, except perhaps to burst on the scene in the first place and revolutionise popular music. Listen to this CD and you begin, tentatively, to understand why Elvis to a lot of people is more than a singer, he's a way of life.
After years or increasingly formulaic and forgettable films, Elvis went back to his roots in style and really knocked the opposition for six.
CD1 is the soundtrack of the show that was broadcast. It opens with a raucous version of Trouble/Guitar Man and from the opening verse, you know the man is going to deliver. CD1 includes many of the early hits, delivered live and spectacularly, but it also includes other hits plus a couple of medleys. The gospel medley gives Elvis the chance to go back to his original musical inspiration whilst the road medley lets him rock.
Although CD1 is excellent, CD2 is a real revelation. It contains other recordings from the concerts NBC recorded to make up the broadcast programme. Listening to it is like sitting in the audience listening to Elvis and his musicians jam. The mess about, they joke and interact with each other. In fact it's like they are sitting in Graceland jamming together for fun. There are mistakes and there are times when Elvis forgets the words but it all adds to the magic.
The whole album shows a raw, raucous, raunchy and rocking Elvis. Just the way he should always be remembered. Brilliant.
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