The Unmaking of Elvis Presley: New Reissues 1960-1972 Page 3

In compiling this Elvis disc that never was, Ernst Jorgensen's aim with Such a Night was to provide a window on what went on during one of Elvis's legendary all-night recording sessions. The opening track is a good example. Although it became the master take of the title tune, the producers of this compilation left in two false starts, with the engineer calling out the master and take numbers. Other than "Such A Night" itself, this 20-track CD consists only of alternate takes, none of them previously released. (A 1991 disc, The Lost Album, collected tracks cut in Nashville between 1963 and 1964, but used takes different from what appear here. That The Lost Album doesn't appear on several of the Elvis discographies I used in my research makes the situation even more confusing—another example of the chaos that is the Presley catalog.)

The differences between the originally issued takes and the alternates on Such a Night range from the almost indistinguishable to the dramatic. On "Fever," for example, the instrumental accompaniment is nearly identical, but Elvis's vocal is very different. When he gets to the verse where Pocahontas' father wants to kill Capt. Smith and she forcefully exclaims, "Don't you dare!," Elvis loses steam instead of growling, as he does on the master take.

By 1966 it was clear to everyone, including Elvis, that the cinematic excrement he'd been churning out in Hollywood for cash had turned him into something of a joke. Worse, he'd been eclipsed musically many times over by the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, and Bob Dylan, not to mention an even newer generation that in the next two years would appear on the scene—people like Jimi Hendrix and Janis Joplin. But while the breakthrough "'68 Comeback Special" was still two years away, Elvis had already begun to make musical changes.

Some of those changes, along with some of the dross he was being skewered for at the time, can be heard on Tomorrow is a Long Time. Drawn from three Nashville sessions—in May 1966, September 1967, and January 1968—this imaginary album works well. As Colin Escott's liner notes point out, these tunes could have been hits had Elvis's profile not been so low. Tomorrow also contains the seeds of the upcoming "Comeback Special" thanks to a pair of Jerry Reed tunes, "U.S. Male" and "Guitar Man," the second of which would become one of the special's big production numbers. Like the earlier Nashville sessions, these Felton Jarvis-produced tracks feature the two surviving members of Elvis's original band, drummer D.J. Fontana and guitarist Scotty Moore, as well as a crew of "A"-list Nashville studio players.

While on Tomorrow is a Long Time Elvis was clearly searching for anything that might work, it took his legendary 1968 NBC-TV "Comeback Special" (officially titled Elvis) to finally give his musical career the relevance and momentum it so desperately needed. Exploring the impact of that show could fill volumes, but its most lasting and meaningful effect was on Elvis himself. As Guralnick puts it, "For the first time in a long time he didn't bother to hide the fact that he really cared."

The centerpiece of the hour-long special was an informal sit-down session in which Elvis, looking suitably rebellious in wristbands, short black leather jacket, and matching pants, all designed by Bill Belew, was surrounded on a boxing-ring-sized stage by his original trio members, Moore and Fontana (who kept time on a guitar case), as well as by pals Charlie Hodge and Alan Fortas, with Elvis's movie double, Lance LeGault, on tambourine. Girls—many of them selected especially for their screaming abilities—sat close to the stage on all sides.

Two separate sit-down sessions were taped. The first, at 6pm on June 27, 1968, was the first time Elvis had faced a live audience in seven years, and according to those who were there (many of whom are quoted by Guralnick) he was nearly panicked. By the second show, however, he'd regained his confidence and was ready to rock. Unfortunately, only two of the 14 songs he recorded in the second session appear in the original edit of Elvis. One was added to the special's second airing, and five more were released years later on one of RCA's many Elvis collections. The new reissue, Tiger Man, is the first time the 8pm show has been released in its entirety, and it's one of the more prime slices of unreleased Elvis to have come out in many years.

Opening with a shouted, somewhat hoarse version of "Heartbreak Hotel" in which he disguises catching his breath as forgetting lyrics, Elvis follows with what for many is the highlight of the entire special—a slapdash, impromptu version of Jimmy Reed's "Baby What You Want Me to Do," which he returns to two songs later. From there the set gets sweeter with each tune, as Elvis flashes the emotion and commitment that had propelled him to stardom in the mid-'50s. In "Tiger Man" itself, he loses himself in the music, bellowing the lyrics as he once did on Louisiana Hayride, or at Memphis's Overton Park bandshell. If you've ever known someone who wondered what all the fuss over Elvis was about—or, even better, if know an inveterate Elvis-hater—this disc will win them over.

But, as is often the case, the most compelling content comes with the most challenging sound problems. Again, Jorgensen and Semon have performed miracles.