|"And thus, the Narcissist awoke again"
(Review by Crister Berge)
Sensational? Yesiree Bob.
A must-have? Definitely.
This is it, folks. 7 hrs, 20 min. of footage, assembled on three discs: Every second of film that was shot during four days in June, 1968 - the taping of one classic TV show and arguably one of Elvis' finest moments as an artist. And man, was he slim! Elvis hadn't been so thin since 1955. Just take a look at the gospel segment; see how skinny his legs are? The contents are magnificent, but the cover artwork is awful and the booklet is mediocre, at best. The "NBC Band" (guitarist Tommy Tedesco, drummer Hal Blaine etc.) are not even mentioned in it! But I tip my hat off for those responsible for "erasing" Colonel Parker from the original 1968 credits. The cameramen also did a great job, the entire show is filmed beautifully. And the camera loved Elvis.
DISC 1 (2:40)
The choice of songs for the Special was interesting, here's a list of some of 'em with comments:
'Trouble' - originally recorded in 1958 for the film King Creole. Not just another one of all those well-known hits from the 50s. I never liked the original recording, but this arrangement lifts the song to a whole new level.
'It Hurts Me' - a tragically overlooked piece of music, recorded in Nashville 1964. How on Earth could they make it the b-side of 'Kissin' Cousins'? Written by "Joy Byers" (pseudonym), which is a bit confusing, considering that he (she?) mostly wrote utter garbage for Elvis - 16 songs in all.
'Little Egypt' - another movie song, included in Roustabout and recorded in 1964.
'Where Could I Go But To The Lord' - recorded in 1966 at the HOW GREAT THOU ART sessions. Again, the arrangement on the TV Special improved it.
'Let Yourself Go' - recorded June, 1967 and featured on the Speedway soundtrack. It was the flipside of Elvis' current single at the time of the taping and its sales were disastrous.
'Guitar Man' - recorded September, 1967 and released January, 1968. Fuelled by some great guitar picking by Jerry Reed, this was Elvis' best single release for years, but all expectations were crushed when it didn't even break into the Top 40.
'A Little Less Conversation' - yet another movie song, recorded in March, 1968 for the atrocious film Live A Little, Love A Little. Although a new version of the song was recorded at Western Studios in Burbank, ultimately it was scrapped and never used in the Special.
Most of the material on this disc is previously released, so I will only comment on the 2nd sit-down show, which is sloppy and unfocused. Elvis seems tired and irritated (perhaps he had a headache?) and I would have been too, with those infantile baboons that he called his buddies chuckling and chittering all the time. What was it Duke Bardwell said, "Elvis' surroundings was one of his biggest problems. " - very true. Elvis digs into the riff of 'Baby What You Want Me To Do,' but it doesn't work on an acoustic guitar. And why the hell did they put a microphone in front of Scotty "Mr. Silence" Moore?
I've mentioned this before, but I'd like to say it again: Most of the songs performed during these two sit-down shows are ruined by an ape dressed in pants called Alan Fortas. Alan couldn't sing, nor play a guitar, yet he was given a guitar and asked to sit in with Elvis and the guys. He turned the guitar upside down and banged his pork chop hands on it as if his life depended upon it. Only problem was: THE MAN HAD ABSOLUTELY NO SENSE OF RHYTHM AND COULDN'T FOLLOW A BEAT IF IT JUMPED UP AND BIT HIM IN HIS BEHIND!! For the 2nd show, he was given a guitar case to pound away on, probably because he wouldn't make as much noise. I can't for the life of me understand why Steve Binder didn't tell him to go fu-- himself! You can see D.J. Fontana shaking his head and pleading for him to stop. And what a shame that Scotty didn't get to keep the electric guitar. If he had, we could've enjoyed more solos (Elvis didn't master that).
DISC 2 (1:48)
Elvis is introduced by Bob Finkel (the executive producer of the show) and I must say I was a bit thrown by hearing Finkel compare Elvis to the bizarre multi-millionare recluse Howard Hughes. Elvis seems embarrassed and uncomfortable during the "stand up" shows. He seems to have trouble communicating with the band and no wonder; they're seated a hundred feet away from him! My first impression of the musicians was that they were unrehearsed. Not a great band. During the second show, Elvis makes a few horrendous mistakes that I thought he'd never do, i.e. he misses the first line to 'Heartbreak Hotel,' he starts singing first line of 'Hound Dog' too early and in 'Trouble' he actually forgets to sing into the microphone! Also, later on this disc, you'll see a "false start" of 'If I Can Dream' (white suit), where Elvis starts singing during the intro.
The sound in Elvis' guitar is horrible - and check out the tiny, tiny amp! The impromptu jam on "Baby, What You Want Me To Do" is great, though. Notice how Elvis plays an A chord; he places his index finger over the 2nd fret and then puts his pinky on the first string on the 3rd fret. And by the way: For those of you who are impressed by Elvis' guitar playing during the Special, I'd like to inform you that the riff in 'Baby...' is not complicated. In fact, it's very basic and very easy to play. I saw a guy in the audience holding up cue cards with song lyrics on 'em. Look at the studio; it was a small venue and a small crowd. Occasionally, portions of the audience are filmed - check out all the colorful clothes ("The colors of the rainbow"). Ah, the good ol' sixties - those were the days! Even though it clearly says, "No children below the age of 12 admitted" on the tickets, I caught a glimpse of young kids in one shot. And don't miss out on the redhead with a hairdo that looks like someone placed a building on her head. Far out!
DISC 3 (2:51)
One of the "prostitutes" in the bordello scene is reading "Superman" - now, that's lewd! In the fight scene, I'd like to mention the guy in striped pants with a big arse and legs like a moose on steroids: His pants are so tight you can see what religion he is! The blonde 'Let Yourself Go'-babe was obviously interested in getting to know Elvis a little better, but God Almighty, look at the boils on her cheek! And check out Charlie "The Gnome" Hodge when Elvis is wearing the Gold suit; he's staring at Elvis so hard one could think he was in love with him. Note incorrect spelling of "Amusement Pier" on the clapper.
All throughout, the picture quality is astounding. But please: This is for hardcore fans only - "normal" people will find it repetitive to listen to numerous takes of the same songs over and over again.
Finally, a quiz to American Elvis fans reading this: Was color television a brand new thing in 1968? Anybody? Send me an e-mail.
On a scale from 1 to 5, I give it a 5.
© Crister Berge - E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
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