Where Elvis never stood alone

I enjoy exploring all different areas of Elvis’ career. With Follow That Dream’s recent announcement that Amarillo ’77 will be among its June CD releases, I thought this would be a good time to take a look back at the 1977 recordings officially available to this point.

Not including the post-midnight tracks on FTD’s New Year’s Eve audience recording, there have been three key official releases of 1977 concert material in the years since the death of Elvis:

  • Unchained Melody (2007, FTD, covering February)
  • Spring Tours 77 (2002, FTD, covering March through May)
  • Elvis In Concert (1977, RCA, covering June; serves as soundtrack to TV special of same name)

All three of these releases have something to offer fans who are willing to listen.

Unchained Melody contains one of my favorite Elvis performances from any time, a stirring rendition of “Where No One Stands Alone,” with Elvis leading the way on piano. Recorded February 16 in Montgomery, Alabama, this marks the only known instance of Elvis performing this song live.

I actually prefer this nearly heart-wrenching version over his 1966 studio master of the song, recorded for How Great Thou Art. After hearing the raw emotions of this live version, the studio version sounds almost antiseptic – as if in 1966 Elvis had not really lived enough to fully convey the song compared to eleven years later.

Just a few days later, on February 21 in Charlotte, North Carolina, Elvis pulls out a blues number that he seemed to always have ready in his back pocket – “Reconsider Baby.”

Though Elvis formally recorded the song in 1960 for Elvis Is Back!, a 1956 version of the song from “The Million Dollar Quartet” jam at Sun Records made its debut on The King of Rock ‘n’ Roll in 1992. Live versions from 1961, 1969, and 1972 have also been released, all of which, like this 1977 track and its predecessor on New Year’s Eve, feature a committed Elvis. Lowell Fulson first recorded the song in 1954, around the same time that Elvis recorded “Good Rockin’ Tonight.” In Charlotte, “Reconsider Baby” is a good performance. Elvis never lost his feel for the blues.

At that same February 21, concert, Elvis also performs the only known live version of “Moody Blue” (outside of giving up after a false start in the same city the night before). This is another good performance. It is sometimes amazing how well Elvis could sing a song that he admittedly did not know. It is also a testament to the work of the TCB Band, that they could carry him when all he had was a lyric sheet. Lyric sheet or not, this is still a worthy listen.

At a Valentine’s Day show in St. Petersburg, Elvis takes over the piano momentarily from Tony Brown to show him how to play the intro to “Blueberry Hill.” What follows is a fantastic, though all too brief, take on the song – which Elvis first recorded in 1957.

A February 18 performance of “Release Me” in Columbia, South Carolina, is another highlight. For the briefest of moments, it sounds like it could be 1970 – but only a moment.

The highlight of Spring Tours 77 is beyond a doubt his March 26 performance of “Blue Christmas” in Norman, Oklahoma. The song takes on a different tone here than his bluesier 1968 live versions or his 1957 studio version. He sounds desperately sad, which is only underscored by our knowledge that he has already celebrated his final Christmas by this point. While I like the performance, this is not something I’ve added to my normal Christmas rotation. It’s just too sad.

The often-underrated Elvis In Concert contains a number of fine performances, including one of his best ever versions of “My Way” on June 21 in Rapid City. A brief snippet of “I Really Don’t Want To Know” from that same show also illustrates that he could still tap into his power. Even Omaha on June 19, sometimes described by others as one of his worst concerts, offers up a decent version of “How Great Thou Art” and an entertaining performance of “And I Love You So.”

My original intent in all of this was not to go through track-by-track highlights of 1977, but to point out that even one of Elvis’ lesser years can still hold magic. It is a mistake to focus only on certain aspects of Elvis’ career and to ignore the rest. While 1968-1971 may indeed be my personal favorite span, I would not want that to be the only Elvis I ever hear.

It is also unfair to use peak moments like 1968-1972 or 1954-1958 as the measuring sticks for everything else. Of course, everything is going to pale in comparison to those very special times in his life, but that does not mean that it lacks value. 1977 should not be ignored, not by Elvis Presley Enterprises, not by Sony & FTD, and most of all, not by us – his fans. I commend FTD for deciding to release Amarillo ’77.

So, pull out those 1977 recordings and give them a spin. He was on that stage for his fans, and he left these and other recordings as part of his legacy. They are an essential part of understanding the whole Elvis.

* * *

The Amarillo ’77 concert took place on March 24, 1977. Below is the track listing:

01 That’s All Right
02 Are You Lonesome Tonight
03 Reconsider Baby (intro only)
04 Love Me
05 If You Love Me
06 You Gave Me a Mountain
07 Jailhouse Rock
08 O Sole Mio/It’s Now or Never
09 Little Sister
10 Teddy Bear/Don’t Be Cruel
11 My Way
12 Band Introductions/Early Mornin’ Rain
13 What’d I Say/Johnny B. Goode
14 Band Introductions
15 School Days
16 Hurt
17 Hound Dog
18 Can’t Help Falling in Love
Bonus Tracks
19 And I Love You So
20 Fever
21 Love Me Tender
22 Blue Suede Shoes
23 Steamroller Blues
24 Help Me
25 Why Me, Lord
26 Bosom of Abraham
27 You Better Run
28 How Great Thou Art
29 Trying to Get to You

8 thoughts on “Where Elvis never stood alone

  1. I couldn’t agree more with your assessment of Elvis in 1977!! While there are indeed performances where Elvis’ failing health clearly come through, there are other outstanding and sometimes very poignant performances that can be found throughout the recordings from 1977. This is most definitely a period of Elvis’ life and career that should NOT be passed over by either casual or diehard fans.

    THANK YOU SO MUCH Troy for another outstanding commentary!!

    TCB!
    Mike

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    • Thank you for reading and for the nice comments, Mike. “Poignant” is a great way to describe some of the 1977 recordings.

      Unfortunately, as you alluded, some of his lifestyle choices were obviously catching up with him on certain songs by that point as well. Like it or not, we have to accept that as part of who he was. To do otherwise is to be a fan of someone who never really existed.

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  2. The Elvis In Concert album will always be special to me as it was one of the first LPs with Elvis that I listened to. I still enjoy it and you’re right Troy, “My Way” is outstanding, taking on a whole other meaning than, for example, the Aloha version. Another highlight is “Trying To Get To You” that is a great example of his incredible voice at the time.

    I too applaud FTD’s decision to finally release a 1977 concert, I can only hope that there will be an Elvis In Concert classic album release in the near future.

    Great post!

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  3. Well said Troy! I have loved the 77′ performances even when I was younger, I recall being a busboy setting up the tables with Elvis in Concert blaring in my headphones, it was like a shot of adrenaline for me. And yes there were some down times but every performer has a clunker, he was just a man, and as you put it so beautifully, he was up there for his fans, even in bad health. Till the end the man gave us his heart and soul and a voice that will go on forever! TCB my friend!!!

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    • Thanks, George. I’m glad to see so much interest in this release. Your line near the end reminded me of something from many years ago.

      Remember the “Heart & Soul” compilation album from the early 1990s? I always thought they should have saved that title for The Essential 70s Masters boxed set.

      While “Walk A Mile In My Shoes” is at least representative of his 1970s work, “Heart & Soul” would have fit better with the previous titles in the series (“The King of Rock ‘n’ Roll” and “From Nashville To Memphis”).

      I’m pretty sure I made a cassette tape version back then for personal use that I called “ELVIS: Heart & Soul – The Complete 70s Masters” where I added in the missing songs as well. Memories!

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