The Wonder of You CD (Follow That Dream Records, 2009)
Strangers No More
When MGM filmed the first few days of Elvis’ August 1970 engagement at the International Hotel in Las Vegas, his third such series of appearances in a year, RCA tagged along and recorded six of the same concerts. RCA released just a few songs from these shows during Elvis’ lifetime, as part of the That’s The Way It Is album. In fact, it wasn’t until 2000’s That’s The Way It Is: Special Edition CD set that a nearly complete show became available.
The Wonder of You marks the fourth almost complete concert officially released from the August 1970 engagement. It contains several songs not featured in the other That’s The Way It Is concerts. Sit back and enjoy Elvis’ August 13 Dinner Show, the sixth and final show that RCA recorded for That’s The Way It Is.
This is a terrific concert, probably the second best of the That’s The Way It Is shows, behind only the August 12 Midnight Show. Highlights include “Don’t Cry Daddy”/”In the Ghetto,” “The Wonder of You,” “Stranger in the Crowd,” and “Bridge Over Troubled Water.” The sound is about as pristine as can be for a nearly forty-year-old recording.
About half of these performances have been previously released on other official albums. I’ll mention which mixes I think are better in my song-by-song analysis below. I have fun doing these kinds of comparisons, but I would like to point out that, when taken as a whole, this concert sounds great! Don’t read too much into my nitpicks. I’m also aware of the recent bootleg releases of this show, but I’m not going to get into comparing professionally-mixed, official releases to bootlegs.
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“That’s All Right” (previously unreleased)
- You can feel the excitement build as things kick off with a jungle-like rhythm. Soon, Elvis takes the stage and delivers a solid version of his first record, “That’s All Right.” The horns are mixed a little loud in the left channel at times, but not enough to detract from this classic. “That’s All Right” was the best opening song for Elvis. It worked much better than “Blue Suede Shoes,” “All Shook Up,” “See See Rider,” or various others.
“I Got A Woman” (previously released on That’s The Way It Is: Special Edition CD)
- Elvis quickly slides into Ray Charles’ “I Got A Woman.” Elvis’ 1969 and 1970 versions of this song are usually fantastic, and this one is no exception. I prefer the mix on That’s The Way It Is: Special Edition, however, where the horns are less pronounced and are in both channels, rather than overpowering the left channel as they continue to do here.
“Hound Dog” (previously unreleased)
- Elvis references the red snakeskin highlights of his jumpsuit prior to this song, leading to a brief ad-lib in a typical for this season break-neck-pace version of “Hound Dog.” After the song, Elvis goes into his Gatorade routine, and then jokes that he owns part of that company. A star these days would probably work some kind of endorsement deal to mention a product as much as Elvis did Gatorade.
“Love Me Tender” (previously unreleased)
- Have you ever wondered how Elvis usually got away with kissing so many women in the audience without angering their husbands and boyfriends? “Only if the guy smiles, man, do I kiss her,” explains Elvis as he takes time out from kissing to occasionally sing “Love Me Tender.” The band sounds great and carries along quite well during the kissing interludes. Finally having this concert in a relatively complete form means that we can place his “That’s the most fun part of the whole show” line in context. First heard on the live compilation disc of That’s The Way It Is: Special Edition after “Make The World Go Away,” the comment actually follows the “Love Me Tender” kissing session here.
“Don’t Cry Daddy”/”In the Ghetto” (previously released on That’s The Way It Is: Special Edition CD)
- I remember this medley blowing me away on the Elvis: The Lost Performances video back in 1992. To see Elvis singing two of my favorite songs for the first time, and together no less. For whatever reason, this CD splits the medley into two tracks, but it is actually a continuous performance. Mac Davis wrote both songs, and Elvis recorded them in his legendary 1969 American Sound Studio sessions in Memphis. Incidentally, these are complete versions, with only minimal fooling around by Elvis. This new mix is better than the previously released version. You can even hear Elvis yell, “Sing it, Charlie!” to Charlie Hodge early on in “Don’t Cry Daddy.”
“I Just Can’t Help Believing” (previously released on Writing For The King)
- I have to be in the right mood to enjoy this sleepy song, but this is a fine performance. Elvis misses a word or two about halfway through and starts laughing a bit. I love that kind of stuff. If you are one of those people who insist on hearing the correct lyrics to every single song when listening to a live concert, then this isn’t the disc for you. Actually, I would say Elvis isn’t the artist for you, either. He played with or forgot lyrics all the time. Yet, somehow still made the songs sound so good. He really knew how to sell a performance. This mix feels very thin compared to the superior one on Writing For The King. I was hoping this whole disc would sound like this song did on Writing For The King.
“Stranger in the Crowd” (previously released on That’s The Way It Is: Special Edition CD)
- Elvis jokes that this song, which he had recorded just two months earlier, wouldn’t be released until 1982. Every time I hear that line, it makes me a little sad, though, since Elvis would be gone five years by then. This is a great live rendition of “Stranger in the Crowd,” powered by Ronnie Tutt on drums. The studio version was one of the best numbers on the original That’s The Way It Is album, and it most certainly should have been a single. With a little more work on the arrangement (starting with getting rid of the Imperials’ “la la la la la la la” background vocals near the end), this live version also would have made a nice mainstay to his concert repertoire. Too bad it seems to have been abandoned after this. The mix of this same live version on That’s The Way It Is: Special Edition has a fuller sound, packing more punch than the one here. Incidentally, Cee-Lo Green (of Gnarls Barkley) recorded a great version of this song for a Coca-Cola commercial earlier this year. Available as a single, his “Coke Version” of “Stranger In The Crowd” is actually one of the best Elvis covers I’ve ever heard, sticking very close to the original studio arrangement.
“Make The World Go Away” (previously released on That’s The Way It Is: Special Edition CD)
- Elvis jokes that this song was “written before Roy Acuff was born, which is about 1800.” Just for fun, I decided to fact-check Elvis. Country music legend Acuff was born in 1903. Hank Cochran wrote “Make The World Go Away” in 1963, just seven years before this live recording. Sorry, E. This is a beautiful live rendition that I prefer to the studio cut recorded that June for Elvis Country. This also made its debut on the Elvis: The Lost Performances video, leading me back then to truly appreciate this song for the first time. If for nothing else than the toning down of a buzzing sound present through much of the song, the audio and mix quality here beats the previously released one.
“Sweet Caroline” (previously unreleased)
- Elvis cuts this Neil Diamond tune off nearly thirty seconds in when he forgets the words. He starts the song over and gets it right this time in a lively version that beats Diamond’s original. Every time I hear this song, I have to fight the urge to throw my arm back and forth like Elvis does when the horns go “dah-dah-daah.” I don’t always win that fight. Come on, you know you do it, too.
“You’ve Lost That Loving Feeling” (previously unreleased)
- Elvis sounds distracted in this disappointing version of “You’ve Lost That Loving Feeling.” His extended performance of this same song from the night before (captured on Disc 2 of That’s The Way It Is: Special Edition) is the best rendition ever (yes, even topping the Righteous Brothers).
“Polk Salad Annie” (previously released on Elvis Aron Presley)
- Elvis delivers a great version of Tony Joe White’s “Polk Salad Annie.” Who else but Elvis could pull off going from country to pop to soul to swamp rock in a matter of minutes? This performance was first released on the 1980 boxed set Elvis Aron Presley, the first release of any song from this show. Who would have thought it would take another 29 years before we were treated to the entire concert? Audio quality and mixing on this new release is much improved over the 1980 version.
Introductions (previously unreleased)
- In a fun moment, Elvis first introduces guitarist James Burton as “Chuck Berry.” After introducing (most of) the rest of his crew, Elvis introduces television legend and audience member Art Carney (best known as Ed Norton on Jackie Gleason’s The Honeymooners). Carney gets a huge hand, probably the biggest reaction to a celebrity introduction I’ve ever heard at an Elvis show. Elvis goes on to talk briefly about his own appearances on Jackie Gleason’s Stage Show, and mentions his later appearances on the Milton Berle Show and the Ed Sullivan Show. Someone then reminds Elvis that he forgot to introduce background vocalist Millie Kirkham, and he apologetically does so.
“The Wonder of You” (previously released on The Way It Was)
- One of the many highlights of the Elvis: The Lost Performances video was this performance of “The Wonder of You.” This version is almost as good as the single version recorded earlier the same year. The mix on this new FTD release of the song is an improvement over the previous release. I had to play them both a few times to come to that conclusion, though. While somewhat softer, the sound has better separation here, so it is easier to pick out distinctive instruments.
“Heartbreak Hotel” (previously unreleased)
- After the big ending on the previous song, Elvis starts this one off sounding a little weak. This is a typical 1970 version of “Heartbreak Hotel.”
“Blue Suede Shoes” (previously unreleased)
- A quick version, likely only done to please the crowd, lacking the power of his 1969 versions.
“One Night” (previously released on The Way It Was)
- Elvis still sounds weak, or is it the mix playing tricks on us? Play the same song on The Way It Was and it sounds much better.
“All Shook Up” (previously released on The Way It Was)
- “All Shook Up” had not yet become a complete throwaway in 1970, and this is a decent version. Which mix is better this time? Too close to call. This isn’t one I can play a dozen times in a row to figure out.
“Bridge Over Troubled Water” (previously unreleased)
- A beautiful performance, possibly his best live version of “Bridge Over Troubled Water,” though due more to the orchestra this time around than Elvis. Considering that they blow it on some other songs during the That’s The Way It Is concerts, I have to give the horns some credit on this performance. They really carry this one and help to make it so powerful. This track was a nice surprise.
“Suspicious Minds” (previously unreleased)
- I always look forward to hearing new live versions of “Suspicious Minds.” This is a decent version, but not particularly memorable. As with the other That’s The Way It Is concert versions of this song, the trumpets sound awful at times, blowing out on many of the high notes. After hearing their superb work on “Bridge Over Troubled Water,” though, I guess I can forgive them. Tutt gives the drums a real workout at the end.
“Can’t Help Falling In Love” (previously unreleased)
- Elvis sounds tired again after “Suspicious Minds,” but puts some effort into his “Can’t Help Falling In Love” closer. A fantastic show comes to an end.
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I’m not going to say much about the cover and other album artwork, except to point out that cover art has never been FTD’s selling point. They can get away with it because the Elvis content within their releases pretty much sells itself. I’m also not going to bother complaining about the lack of a booklet or liner notes. I’m just glad to finally have this concert.
The Final Verdict
I was only two when Elvis passed away, so I never had the chance to see him live in concert. Experiencing relatively complete shows like this one, when Elvis was in top form, means a lot to me. This is FTD’s best concert release to date, and I’ll be enjoying this show for years to come.
Songs: 10 (out of 10)
Audio & Mix Quality: 9
Liner Notes: N/A
Cover Art: 5
Overall Experience: 10