The Brightest Star On Sunset Boulevard, Volume 2
I Just Can't Help Believin'
I Just Can't Help Believin' (reprise)
Tomorrow Never Comes
Running Scared (few lines)
Mary In The Morning
Twenty Days And Twenty Nights
You've Lost That Lovin' Feeling
I Just Can't Help Believin'
Heart Of Rome (x-rated)
Johnny B. Goode
Make The World Go Away
Stranger In My Own Home Town (x-rated)
I Washed My Hands In Muddy Water
(Rehearsals in RCA Studios)
For the Elvis fan, the "import" releases in the past year of several rhythm band-only rehearsals prior to his August'70 Vegas gig has been both a revelation and reason to celebrate. For those who want to know about Presley's musicianship, goofy humour and ability to lead and interact with a band, it's all here. And now, thanks to the people who run Fort Baxter (anyone there named Doberman?), the best of these July practices is available: July 24, 1970 at RCA Studios in Hollywood, CA.
Unlike the July 16 or 29th rehearsals held on MGM's sound stage in Culver City, this was obviously a much more serious undertaking by Presley and his core band. The RCA studio is the same one the 1960 "G.I. Blues" soundtrack was recorded at, and would later yield "Burning Love" in '72 and the entire 'Elvis Today' album in 1975. Long-time engineer Al Pachucki handled this session, which might explain why the stereo mix is superb (perhaps Pachucki's MGM counterparts didn't understand what needles going into the red on recording equipment meant, or didn't care; in any case, this is the only July rehearsal that sounds awesome).
The songs here are performed as if they are doing "the set"; it's easy to imagine that, whereas the other daytime rehearsals were for the documentary cameras, this evening at RCA (without anyone filming it) was for Elvis to take home and listen to. His singing, for the most part, is much more focused; this is Presley the artist, deciding what will and won't work in concert.
The second volume of the night's work comprises 16 tunes, including lots of surprises. Elvis runs down Ernest Tubb's "Tomorrow Never Comes," again done in the same very Roy Orbison-like manner of his June'70 studio cut, but here he adds a full verse of "Running Scared" at the end. Hearing it makes one ache that he didn't ever try out a full version of that classic. Although Presley wasn't really capable of big-note endings a la Orbison (perhaps that's why "Tomorrow" didn't make the live set), his '76 performances of "Hurt" came pretty close. "I Just Can't Help Believin'" is a treat in three nice'n'easy run-throughs; his affection for this B.J. Thomas hit is very evident; it's a treat to hear him warm up lines like "her tears are shining, honey-sweet with love". No wonder the live cut available on RCA's 'That's The Way It Is' album was so damn good; he worked hard to make it right!
On the other hand, virtually the only 50's number heard here is an fast, brief parody of "Love Me Tender" right after "Sweet Caroline" (Elvis says "We did 'Love Me Tender' Joe, so put that one down"); sadly, Elvis had grown to see much of his early work as irrelevant to the "modern scene." Conversely, he and the band let rip later on with a tough, funky, wah-wah filled version of "Johnny B. Goode," recorded in 1957 by Chuck Berry ("that's a GOOD number, boy" notes EP).
Presley gives his all to fine ballads like "Mary In The Morning" and "Twenty Days and Twenty Nights," neither of which seem any less enjoyable lacking additional strings or backing vocals! "Make The World Go Away" is absolutely superb, with Presley's tired and strained voice cracking during the choruses in a most attractive manner. This may well be the best Presley rendition of the Hank Cochran classic; he ad libs after the main chorus "long time ago baby" and mentions that recording the song in Nashville a month earlier was rough ("I blew my lungs out ... I didn't sing any more that night"). Listen out for a bit of Tom Jones' "Delilah" at the end, too. "Memories" lacks the tenderness of the original '68 studio recording, although there's a delightfully sweet ad lib (" ... and purple eyes and frightened ways and scary nose and twinkle toes with me ...") and lots of full-blooded Presley laughter.
As proceedings begin to wind down, the Presley "naughty-meter" begins to register with a somewhat nasty version of "Heart Of Rome" ("I'll take a piss in every fountain ...") and grows to Titanic proportions on a maximum blues version of "Stranger In My Own Hometown." This track, released on the 70's box after some careful tape editing, foreshadows the sound of 1971's "Merry Christmas Baby;" however, Elvis goes much further, his voice rough and edgy as he provides some ironic revelations about his life ("I'm goin' back to Memphis, I'm gonna start driving that motherfuckin' truck again ... yeah, ol' Joe, Charlie and Richard gonna starve to death, yeah Sonny'll be in the pen ... ") and much more. The proceedings conclude with a goofy "I Washed My Hands In Muddy Water" that is as fun as it is ragged. One wonders why this never made his live set, as it really moves.
When all is said and done, two things are really striking about the July'70 rehearsals. First is the absolute joy that radiates from every moment Elvis is making music; how and why it seemed to disappear within a year of these recordings is a mystery, but it did. Compare the Presleys seen in 1992's "The Lost Performances" video: in 1970 one observes a thin, tanned and in control artist; in 1972 the same person is pale, pudgy and histrionic (and the jumpsuits are uglier, too).
Just as noteworthy is Presley's apparent rejection of his ground-breaking work at Memphis' American Studios. The July 24th tape shows just a few American songs being rehearsed, "Don't Cry Daddy," Suspicious Minds" and "Stranger In My Own Hometown," none of which seem to engage the artist as valid songs. It's worth noting that most of the released studio material from July'69 to July'70 came from his American sessions and did quite well for him both commercially and artistically. Elvis, what happened?
In any case, both volumes of 'The Brightest Star On Sunset Boulevard' are well worth the time and effort to find them. Fort Baxter has once again done an outstanding job filling in yet another piece of the puzzle, helping us comprehend the most influential singer of the 20th century.
Reviewed by Johnny Savage, USA