Elvis Now CD set (Follow That Dream Records, 2010)
Elvis Now: What’s in a name?
Apparently, we Elvis fans are not supposed to like Elvis Now. Even the new liner notes provided by Follow That Dream Records in this Classic Albums version of the release seem on the verge of being apologetic.
“With three older recordings, and precious few songs in the folk genre, neither the title of the album nor the original intent is of any importance anymore it seems,” the notes state in an entry about the album’s release in February 1972.
I think some people, including the unnamed author of FTD’s liner notes, get too hung up on the title. Three of the four Elvis releases in the seven months leading up to Elvis Now contained much older recordings, some dating all the way back to the 1950s.
Due to similar cover art featuring Elvis in concert in the early 1970s, the “Now” in Elvis Now simply distinguishes the album from the likes of C’Mon Everybody and I Got Lucky as containing current, post-Comeback Special material.
Additionally, “Elvis Now” was one of the marketing slogans used during his Vegas engagements. To complain about one song out of ten being three years old, and two others being nearly two years old, is to miss the point.
Compared to some of his other efforts at the time, Elvis Now is certainly a mellow album. The closest thing to a rocker is probably the gospel-infused “Put Your Hand In The Hand,” and that is a stretch.
In 1970, Elvis pointed out that he hated to be labeled a “strictly country” singer. The corollary to this is that he also should not be labeled as “strictly rock ‘n’ roll,” “strictly gospel,” or “strictly rhythm & blues.”
Elvis resisted such labels right from the start. “I don’t sound like nobody,” a much younger Elvis told Marion Keisker at the Memphis Recording Service in 1953.
You see, that is the real secret to the appeal of Elvis’ body of work as an artist. Those who judge his career based solely on various rock ‘n’ roll milestones do Elvis a disservice by overlooking his multi-faceted approach to music.
While rock ‘n’ roll mostly takes a back seat in Elvis Now, the album offers slices of some of the other kinds of music that he enjoyed creating. If you are willing to listen in new ways, the album can even be interpreted to include an emotional and thematic journey.
“I don’t want to be alone”
In “Sylvia,” love has been lost – although the hero-singer is in denial. (Side note: Elvis sings, “…here I am on the phone, wondering when she will call.” Uh, Elvis, maybe Sylvia was trying to call you all along but could not get through because you were on the phone!)
Bruce Springsteen once said that Elvis took away people’s loneliness, yet ended up so alone. You can feel this loneliness in the compelling “Help Me Make It Through The Night,” where the hero-singer begs to a lost love – maybe Sylvia, maybe someone before her – to remain by his side just one more night.
With apologies to Kris Kristofferson, had Elvis been a writer, “Help Me Make It Through The Night” sure sounds like a song he might have written to fight some of his own demons.
Though not as strong of a composition, “Until It’s Time For You To Go” shows the hero-singer later that night still wanting to hold on to this doomed romance for as long as possible. “I’m not a king, I’m just a man,” he intones, pleading for understanding.
In “We Can Make The Morning,” the hero-singer continues to fight the darkness, singing, “It’s a long, long lonely night, we can make the morning if we try.” This stunning performance is an often-overlooked gem.
When the couple finally makes it to a new day, “Early Morning Rain,” the album’s best song, reveals that it is not as bright as the hero-singer expected. It is the same as the day before, and he is still down. “I’m stuck here on the ground,” he sings, for as it always does, night will come again – and with it the loneliness.
“Take a sad song and make it better”
Finding no consolation with his lost love, the hero-singer now seeks another cure to his loneliness in “Put Your Hand In The Hand” and “Miracle Of The Rosary.” He places faith in God, seeking the same comfort in music as he sought in life.
Faith leads to hope in “Hey Jude” and the tides begin to change. Much underrated, Elvis recorded this entertaining jam only months after the original release of the Beatles classic. Yes, Elvis mixes up some of the lyrics, but that is all part of the fun. This is another highlight of the album.
The hero-singer realizes his hope by falling in love yet again in “Fools Rush In,” the weakest song here. The mood is vibrant yet cautionary: “When we met, I felt my life begin, so open up your heart and let this fool rush in.”
He has fallen for someone new, but we are left to wonder if she returns this love. Otherwise, this new interest may go the way of Sylvia and lead to yet another long, lonely night.
Were it not for the strength of the other songs on Elvis Country, “I Was Born About Ten Thousand Years Ago” could very well have ruined that album due to the senseless decision to edit it in between each tune. On Elvis Now, the complete song works much better – tying everything up.
“I Was Born About Ten Thousand Years Ago” is a song about mankind and the human experience. In the end, the human experience is what Elvis Now is about, too: loneliness, despair, faith, hope, and love. An exciting album? No. A worthwhile album? Very much so.
Unfortunately, there are not a lot of revelations this time around with the outtakes. The best of the outtakes are takes 7 and 15 of “Help Me Make It Through The Night” (tracks 9 and 17, respectively, on disc 2). Outtakes of “Fools Rush In” prove as mundane as the master version. The outtakes of “Early Morning Rain” are disappointing in their mediocrity – considering the brilliance of the master take.
While it’s always great to hear the top-notch songs “I’m Leavin’,” “It’s Only Love,” and “The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face,” the real stand-out among the bonus songs is the unedited master of the “Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right” jam, clocking in at over nine minutes.
You are there as Elvis and the band take this Bob Dylan song through its paces. Like “Hey Jude,” he does not know all of the words – and, again, that is not the point here. This is Elvis making music with a joy that is noticeably absent from many of the other tracks on this release.
Though the same words are repeated over and over, the nine minutes goes by before you know it. I love this kind of thing, so I must have listened to it four or five times in a row. The edited version of this song (shortened to under three minutes) first appeared on 1973’s Elvis (“Fool”) album, so my hope is that the full-length version is presented on Elvis Now because the FTD upgrade of the Elvis album will have too many other outtakes to accommodate it.
Also of note are impromptu versions of the Beatles’ “Lady Madonna” and Dylan’s “I Shall Be Released,” both of which were first released on Walk A Mile In My Shoes. “Lady Madonna” is slightly longer here.
Perhaps the best part of FTD’s Elvis Now is that every song sounds better than it ever has before. If you love Elvis in the 1969 – 1971 era represented by this album and care about audio quality, you will be thrilled with these sound upgrades – particularly on the master takes. Kudos to FTD for much improvement in this area over the years.
Elvis Now is a different kind of listening experience than that of From Elvis In Memphis or That’s The Way It Is. While those two albums are monumental, their greatness should not take away from the understated achievement that Elvis Now represents.