That’s The Way It Is reveals a different side of Elvis

My favorite album released during Elvis Presley’s lifetime is That’s The Way It Is. First hitting record stores in November 1970, it features studio material from his June recordings in Nashville as well as four live cuts from his August Las Vegas engagement. It serves as a soundtrack of sorts for the excellent documentary of the same name, also released that month.

Despite the status I give it, the album is not perfect. Rock ‘n’ roll fans sometimes dismiss it as an easy-listening bore. One of the causes of that issue, I believe, is the sequencing of songs. Many of them should have been presented in a different order. For instance, the album unfortunately begins with a live version of the sleepy B.J. Thomas hit “I Just Can’t Help Believin'” and establishes the wrong tone.

Adding to the trouble, two of the live performances, “Patch It Up” and “I’ve Lost You,” are not as powerful as their studio counterparts, which should have been used instead. The studio recordings had been released as singles prior to the album, so the live versions were likely considered bonuses for fans that already had the 45s. The artistry of the album should have taken priority, though.

Apparently to complete the “feel” of a live album, RCA overdubbed applause on the end of the studio version of “Bridge Over Troubled Water,” which closed out That’s The Way It Is. Elvis’ vocals on the first verse of the song are also very faint in the mix, either on purpose or due to a technical glitch. You can better hear Elvis’ beautiful performance of this song, with his voice louder on the first verse and without the annoying applause overdubs, on Heart & Soul and the Elvis: Walk A Mile In My Shoes-The Essential 70s Masters boxed set.

That's The Way It Is (1970)

Side 1

“I Just Can’t Help Believin'”
Live Master–8/11/1970 Dinner Show (DS): As noted above, the song does not serve well as an album opener. While it is misplaced on the album, the performance is strong. I love the little traces of humor in his voice. He sounds on the verge of laughing a couple of times. Also memorable is his interaction with the Sweet Inspirations throughout (“Sing the song, baby”). Elvis would never be quite as incredible again live as he was in this engagement.

“Twenty Days And Twenty Nights”
Master–Take 9: For me, this song represents the adult Elvis, the recording artist that is too often overlooked. “Twenty Days And Twenty Nights” is about a man who regrets leaving his wife, and Elvis evokes this character through music as well as any actor could on screen. The performance plays through the range of emotions, even striking a hopeful tone (“One day soon I’m going back…”) before falling back into despair as he laments “Oh, how I miss her,” over and over at the end.

“How The Web Was Woven”
Master–Take 3: The highlight of the album, “How The Web Was Woven” is a love song that ranks right up there with the better-known “Can’t Help Falling In Love.” From the acoustic guitar opening to the accompanying piano, the arrangement on this one works very well. “At last, I’m where you want me . . . Don’t you know that’s where, where I wanna be,” he sings with a passion that, for this listener anyway, exceeds even the incredible American Sound sessions in Memphis the year before.

“Patch It Up”
Live Master–8/12/1970 DS: Compared to the excellent studio take, this live version sounds almost like a throwaway. Watching this same energetic performance in the film, though, is an entire other experience.

“Mary In The Morning”
Master–Take 5: This is a pretty, if forgettable, love song. It goes on a bit too long and eventually becomes tiresome.

“You Don’t Have To Say You Love Me”
Master–Take 3: Though it is a fine performance, I would have chosen “How The Web Was Woven” or one of the others as a single over Elvis’ version of the Dusty Springfield hit.

Side 2

“You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin'”
Live Master–8/12/1970 MS: This live performance is the definitive version of this song by anyone. This is Elvis at his best: “It makes me just feel like cryin,’ ’cause baby . . . something beau-ti-ful’s dy-in.'” The Righteous Brothers sound like they are singing a lullaby in the original recording compared to the Elvis version. Even Elvis was never able to equal his own performance again in other concerts.

“I’ve Lost You”
Live Master–8/11/1970 DS: While I love this live performance of “I’ve Lost You,” I prefer the studio version featuring more complicated lyrics and arrangement. That being said, this is still a highlight.

“Just Pretend”
Master–Take 3: Picking up where “Twenty Days And Twenty Nights” left off, this turns the despair of a man who left his lover and turns it back to hope for reconciliation. “Now I know, it was wrong to go, I belong there by your side,” he sings, bordering on the type of apology song that Elvis would perfect a couple of years later with “Always On My Mind.” The impressive “Just Pretend,” with a gospel-inspired arrangement, is another all-time favorite.

“Stranger In The Crowd”
Master–Take 9: This is yet another highlight. The band really cooks on this one. For some, Elvis Presley brings to mind “Hound Dog,” “Don’t Be Cruel,” “All Shook Up,” and similar tunes. While those are all fine, when I think of Elvis, I think of songs like “How The Web Was Woven,” “I’ve Lost You,” and “Stranger In The Crowd.”

“The Next Step Is Love”
Master–Take 11: Here’s one studio song where I actually prefer the live version. “The Next Step Is Love” is a little hokey either way, but the studio arrangement, complete with xylophone(!), does not help matters.

“Bridge Over Trouble Water”
Master–Studio Take 8 (with overdubbed applause): I stopped listening to the original album version of this song once RCA finally released a proper studio track. The one on this album simply does not do justice to his performance. The Heart & Soul version, though, I would contend as the best version of this song by anyone.

Upon its original release, That’s The Way It Is faced stiff competition from none other than Elvis himself. In their infinite wisdom, his record label released the following Elvis music in October and November of 1970:

  • Almost In Love album (an excellent “budget” release)
  • “You Don’t Have To Say You Love Me”/”Patch It Up” single
  • Elvis In Person album (re-release of record 1 of the previous year’s From Memphis To Vegas/From Vegas To Memphis double album)
  • Back In Memphis album (re-release of record 2 of From Memphis To Vegas/From Vegas To Memphis)
  • Elvis’ Christmas Album (“budget” repackaging)
  • That’s The Way It Is album
  • “I Really Don’t Want To Know”/”There Goes My Everything” single

Despite the oversaturation, That’s The Way It Is made it to number 21 on the charts and obtained gold record status. It probably would have done even better had fans not been so bombarded with Elvis product in the fall of 1970.

Elvis rehearsing How The Web Was Woven, 1970

Elvis rehearsing How The Web Was Woven, 1970

While a wonderful album, That’s The Way It Is also would have been greatly improved if a couple of different song versions had been used and the album had been sequenced as below in my imaginary version of That’s The Way It Is.

Side 1

  • “Stranger In The Crowd” (studio, as on original)
  • “I’ve Lost You” (substitute studio version)
  • “How The Web Was Woven” (studio, as on original)
  • “You Don’t Have To Say You Love Me” (studio, as on original)
  • “Bridge Over Troubled Water” (substitute Heart & Soul studio version without overdubbed applause)
  • “I Just Can’t Help Believin'” (live, as on original)

Side 2

  • “Patch It Up” (substitute studio version)
  • “Twenty Days And Twenty Nights” (studio, as on original)
  • “Just Pretend” (studio, as on original)
  • “The Next Step Is Love” (studio, as on original)
  • “Mary In The Morning” (studio, as on original)
  • “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin'” (live, as on original)

No matter the order you listen, though, That’s The Way It Is represents a true Elvis masterpiece.


Portions of the above review originally appeared on The Film Frontier pop culture blog on May 21, 2008.

21 thoughts on “That’s The Way It Is reveals a different side of Elvis

  1. Very interesting article and welcome back. There are only two live tracks on this alternative album. Why not go all the way and have a full studio album of the best of tracks not used on the Elvis Country album? You could compare it to my selection in Treat Me Nice. My favourite studio track is Just Pretend but then I’m a sucker for double encores.

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    • Thanks, Howard. Well, to be honest, to me, it just wouldn’t be That’s The Way It Is without “I Just Can’t Help Believin'” or “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’,” – particularly the latter. As you know, there are no formal studio versions of those songs available.

      The quasi-studio rehearsal versions are not strong enough compared to the live renditions. Besides, I don’t mind a couple of live songs on an otherwise studio album. It helps to mix things up a bit.

      As for the other 1970 recordings not already used in That’s The Way It Is or Elvis Country, there are only a few that I would put at near the caliber of those albums – none of which I would slot on That’s The Way It Is over “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin'” or “I Just Can’t Help Believin'”:

      • “The Sound Of Your Cry”
      • “Where Did They Go, Lord”
      • “Sylvia”
      • “Heart Of Rome”

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  2. Hi everybody:
    Well I think That’s the Way It Is album is a transition -an evolution if you want- of Elvis’ career in His Vegas phase. While On Stage and Elvis Country are pure dynamite, TTWII says: Hey boys, from now on, I’m more interested in ballads; I’ll continue rocking, but now I´m feeling comfortable with ballads.
    I would stay with I Just Can’t Help Believin’, Stranger In The Crowd and Twenty Days And Twenty Nights.
    Patch It Up is too repetitive and I think it doesn’t fit very well in this album, Bridge Over Troubled Water: I like much more any of 1972 versions (remember transition :)?).

    Well, greetings from Spain.

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    • Hey John, welcome to the train.

      I don’t find That’s The Way It Is all that far removed from either On Stage or Elvis Country. His evolution away from rock ‘n’ roll began a decade earlier.

      I do see That’s The Way It Is (as well as From Elvis In Memphis) as representing the more mature music that dominated his career after the comeback special – so maybe we’re just using different words to say the same thing.

      “Patch It Up” is certainly repetitive – but many rockers are (“Hound Dog” comes to mind). I think it fits well, though, as I mentioned, I prefer the studio version. The live version is certainly fun to watch, however.

      I have to strongly disagree with you on “Bridge.” For me, he never performed this one as well again after 1970 – true of many other songs as well. But, hey, I’m a 1970 fan. I see that year as the very peak of his powers and career.

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      • Hi Troy.

        First of all, sorry for my basic english. Maybe I’m not using the proper words.
        I agree with you when you say “as representing the more mature music that dominated his career after the comeback special”; and maybe that’s the idea I wanted to express… more or less :-). The thing is: Elvis has started touring again and He introduces new material but more oriented to ballads, and what a best place to show this than in Las Vegas, an always more conservative audience than other cities like New York, NY, Tampa, FL or Denver, CO.
        Remember when Elvis made some changes in His repertoire by 1974?. He failed because He did it In Las Vegas. The audience didn’t understand Him. That’s why I think TTWII is a transition and Las Vegas the place of the “experiment”.

        Well, Thinking in English is more complicated than I believed!! :-D.

        Greetings.

        P.D.: 1972 versions of BOTW are my favourites, but…. for preferences, there’s nothing written. (Sobre gustos no hay nada escrito) :-).

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        • I see your point about using the Vegas stage to experiment prior to the full-blown tour shows. Sometimes it worked out for the better, and other times not as much.

          Regarding “Bridge,” an interesting tidbit is that it is one of the few songs to appear in both 1970’s That’s The Way It Is and 1972’s Elvis On Tour movies. Certainly a highlight in both films, too.

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  3. Yes, welcome back Troy, we’ve missed you! That’s Thw Way It Is has always been one of my favorites too, and just like you I was relieved when RCA released “Bridge Over Troubled Water” without the applause. (As I wrote a couple of years ago, If they wanted a “live” feeling, why didn’t they simply release a live version instead? http://www.elvistodayblog.com/2008/05/how-thats-way-it-is-was-woven.html

    Here’s for hoping that the next Elvis Legacy Edition from Sony Music will be That’s Tthe Way It Is, with the original album plus bonus tracks (like the studio versions of “I’ve Lost You” and “Patch It Up”) on disc 1 and a show from August 1970 on disc 2.

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    • Thanks, Thomas. While I share your hope about the Legacy Edition, I think a more likely scenario is that they will pair That’s The Way It Is with something like Elvis Now.

      Sony has not been treating the Elvis legacy editions the same as they do the legacy editions for other artists. Unreleased tracks are scarce on the Elvis legacy editions, while a mainstay of legacy editions for others.

      The FTD edition of That’s The Way It Is is actually much closer to how Sony does legacy editions for other artists. In fact, it’s probably the existence of FTD that causes Sony to hold back on the Elvis legacy editions on the main label. I suppose that’s a small price to pay since there are far more FTDs than there ever will be legacy editions.

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  4. Welcome back Troy! I love this album! One of the very first Elvis albums I bought, I agree with U on so many levels here, This is also the Elvis I think of, have been playing alot of these and other “unfamiliar” songs for alot of people, and always get…”That’s Elvis?” and they always love it! I too like the studio version of these songs especially Patch it Up, and Ive Lost You, absolutly stunning. Thanks for a great post and GREAT album pic! Keep the Train Rollin’ TCB

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    • Thanks, George. I’ve had the same experience you mentioned several times myself. There’s something about these 1970 recordings… I only wish those with the power to really promote Elvis would see that.

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  5. Welcome back, you were missed! I love this album, too, and am very interested in your thoughts about the song order. (It’s funny: in this day and age, when “albums” have kind of gone by the wayside – you download songs into your iPod and can rearrange things at will – it’s hard to remember how important song order was. I remember obsessing on the song order of the Police’s Synchronicity album when I was a kid. To this day, when I hear one of the songs from that album, I automatically anticipate the next song on the album – because the order is so engrained in my psyche.) But I think you’re right. There are gems here, but they do get lost in the mix with the wonky ordering. I wonder what the thought process was behind these decisions.

    And I have to admit: I love Elvis’ vocal performance in “The Next Step is Love” although those lyrics!! I’m a smart woman, but I have no idea what any of that means. And I also have to laugh when I hear this line: “We’ve walked barefoot through the misty meadows laughing at each other in the rain…” I swear, every time I hear him sing it, I think to myself, “Oh, come on, Elvis, no, you HAVEN’T.” I can’t picture Elvis in that hippie-dippie Free to Be You and Me scene at all. But he sings the hell out of it.

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    • Thanks, Sheila, and great comment about the Next Step vocals. For some reason, I always imagine Elvis & Mary Tyler Moore in Change Of Habit when listening to that song.

      “Going Nowhere Special Really Fast” might have to become the new tagline of The Mystery Train Blog, though. That just about sums it up….

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  6. And another welcome back! In addition to the salient comments about album sequencing, I’d add that which version of a song you hear first often matters…I had the live versions of Patch It Up and I’ve Lost You in my head for years before I heard the studio versions on Walk A Mile In My Shoes, so it took me a while to get used to them…Nowadays I’d rate the studio and live versions about even, but I do agree it would have been wiser to use the studio versions on the album in the first place.
    As far as purely committed vocal performances go, How the Web Was Woven is basically an album unto itself. I mean, it ends and I always think…where do you go from there?

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    • Thanks, Johnny. In general, I tend to agree with you about how a version of a song you hear first affects your reaction to other versions. (See my “Theory of Relativelvisity,” for instance.)

      For me, “I’ve Lost You” did not fit this mold, though. For years, I grew up hearing only the live versions on the That’s The Way It Is album and the one in the movie. I loved this song and put it on just about every Elvis mix tape I made back then.

      When I heard the studio version for the first time on Heart & Soul, it took the song to the next level and beyond. For awhile, I couldn’t even listen to the once-beloved live version anymore – though, lately, I’ve come to appreciate it again on its own merits.

      Regarding “How The Web Was Woven,” I would have loved to see it paired with “Stranger In The Crowd” as a single (in lieu of “You Don’t Have To Say You Love Me”/”Patch It Up.”) Maybe in some other alternate universe. . . .

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  8. Hi Troy, I’m going to listen to TTWII in the sequence you proposed. I think you’re spot on. I had such a good laugh at your words “in their infinite wisdom”. Boy, the over saturation by Elvis’ record company just does not come to an end. They haven’t learned a thing. From the word go it was like that. At first when I learned about it, I was flabbergasted, then angry and now I’ve just given up. How can you win against this “clever” marketing strategy?

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    • That’s a great point, Annemarie, the oversaturation of Elvis releases continues to this day. It’s as if the company always thinks the end is near so better get as much out there as possible.

      Personally, I’m not able to keep up with all of the music releases from a financial (or even time) perspective. I end up having to pick and choose. Not to mention all of the other Elvis products available out there.

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