Vinyl Elvis: 1977’s MOODY BLUE Closes a Lonely Journey

Today marks the 40th anniversary of the July 19, 1977, release of Moody Blue, an album that turned out to be the last Elvis Presley record before his death four weeks later.

MOODY BLUE (RCA, 1977) [Photo by the author]

MOODY BLUE (RCA, 1977) [Photo by the author]

Moody Blue
Label: RCA
Catalog Number: AFL1-2428
Recorded: 1974-1977 | Memphis, TN; Ann Arbor, Michigan; Kalamazoo, Michigan
Released: 1977
Ranked: #7 in Pastimescape’s 50 Greatest Elvis Albums of All Time

Before I had Elvis records of my own, I remember checking out a couple of his albums from Dumbarton Public Library. I must have been about ten-years-old.

The two records I took home that day in 1985, which I believe represented the entirety of Dumbarton’s Elvis music collection, were The Sun Sessions and Moody Blue. The irony that I had borrowed both his very last record and a compilation of his very first records escaped me.

I enjoyed both albums, but the one that really drew me in was Moody Blue. For one thing, the record was pressed on blue vinyl. I had never seen anything like that. Plus, I just loved the sound of the album — particularly “Way Down,” which I played over and over. I even thought it was Elvis doing the low vocals, which were actually supplied by JD Sumner.

I played “Way Down” for my older brother later that day to show off knowing a “new” Elvis song, only for him to inform me that he had his very own copy of Moody Blue.

At that time, I was not allowed to touch my brother’s records. Today, his copy of Moody Blue is mine.

Side A of MOODY BLUE (RCA, 1977) [Photo by the author]

Side A of MOODY BLUE (RCA, 1977) [Photo by the author]

Side A

  1. Unchained Melody (1977)
    A compelling live version of “Unchained Melody” leads off the album. I normally prefer to open with a rocker, but this choice works perfectly for Moody Blue. Overdubs conceal that much of the fire had unfortunately gone out of Elvis’ live shows by this point.
  2. If You Love Me (Let Me Know) (1977)
    I distinctly remember recognizing this live song from the Elvis In Concert album and wondering why this one sounded better. Part of the reason was that it was actually recorded a couple of months earlier than the version on Elvis In Concert. Some debate whether this song, made popular by Olivia Newton-John, should have been in his setlist. No matter, this is his best version of a song that obviously spoke to him.
  3. Little Darlin’ (1977)
    Next up is another live recording, Elvis’ fun take on the 1950s classic, “Little Darlin'”, which also provides a much-needed change in tempo. I love his ad-lib of “To hold in mine…your little foot…uh, hand!”
  4. He’ll Have to Go (1976)
    The tempo slows back down for “He’ll Have To Go,” the last studio recording ever made by Elvis. In addition to the resonance of the Elvis vocals, I love the guitar work of James Burton here. Six of the songs on this album were recorded at Graceland in 1976 in an effort to make the artist feel more comfortable, as Elvis in later years had become reluctant to record in a formal studio setting. Two sessions at a makeshift studio in his den resulted in sixteen songs, ten of which had already been used on the From Elvis Presley Boulevard album by the time RCA was assembling Moody Blue.
  5. Let Me Be There (1974)
    In early 1977, Elvis backed out of a planned session in Nashville to finish the album. Instead, a few live performances were recorded that April. Only three suitable songs were captured, however, which brought the album’s total to nine. In desperation, RCA re-released “Let Me Be There” from 1974’s Recorded Live On Stage In Memphis album to round out Side A of Moody Blue. Another Olivia Newton-John hit, “Let Me Be There” fits well on Moody Blue, despite being slightly older than the other recordings. It is certainly the weakest aspect of the album, however.

Side B

Side B of MOODY BLUE (RCA, 1977) [Photo by the author]

Side B of MOODY BLUE (RCA, 1977) [Photo by the author]

  1. Way Down (1976)
    All of the songs on Side B of Moody Blue were recorded at Graceland. I probably have the master of “Way Down” on at least a half dozen CDs. None of them sound as incredible as listening to this record. Is it all in my head? Possibly, but if it is, do not tell me. “Way Down” really rocks, making it an appropriate A-side for what turned out to be Elvis’ last single before his death.
  2. Pledging My Love (1976)
    “Pledging My Love” is another terrific performance by Elvis. He might have lost much of the joy in his life by this point, but you can still hear it on this song.
  3. Moody Blue (1976)
    I find it cool that the album’s title song is buried in the middle of Side B. “Moody Blue,” another great song, almost sounds like disco. Compare the guitar licks on “Moody Blue” with Kool & the Gang’s “Celebration” (1980), for instance.
  4. She Thinks I Still Care (1976)
    Elvis recorded many country songs, particularly in the 1970s. “She Thinks I Still Care” is a stellar performance. At the end, he just will not let the song go, either.
  5. It’s Easy For You (1976)
    Elvis covered the gamut when it comes to break-up songs. This one is aimed at the other woman. “It’s Easy For You” was written by Broadway legends Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice, bringing to a close an album that was almost as varied as Elvis’ entire career: Adult Contemporary, Country, and Rock ‘n’ Roll. It is hard to ask for more in an Elvis album, and I still consider Moody Blue one of his best. A fun bit of trivia: Note the misspelling of Webber’s name on the Moody Blue Side B label in the image above. Proofreading has apparently never been a strong point for Elvis’ music label.

I mentioned that my brother did not let me touch his records when I was young. This turned out to be a good thing for me, as Moody Blue sounds flawless. Not a crackle or a pop to be heard on either side.

Back cover of MOODY BLUE (RCA, 1977) [Photo by the author]

Back cover of MOODY BLUE (RCA, 1977) [Photo by the author]

The interesting thing about Moody Blue is that such a fantastic album could result from not only a hodgepodge of recordings but also such a low point in Elvis’ life. “You don’t have to face the music, you don’t have to face the crowd,” he laments on “It’s Easy For You.” Depression, loneliness, and various personal demons were consuming his life by this point. Years of prescription drug addiction and abuse were beginning to take a public toll.

Part of the credit for the unlikely strength of Moody Blue must go to producer Felton Jarvis. While he occasionally went too far with overdubs on previous Elvis projects, Moody Blue is all the better for his extra work and attention to detail–particularly on the 1977 live recordings. Credit must also go to the musicians and vocalists who worked with Elvis on the album. On occasion, they carry Elvis. Finally, credit is due to Elvis as well, who managed to pull these performances from somewhere inside himself, despite not being in the right frame of mind to record.

Inner sleeve (front) from MOODY BLUE (RCA, 1977) [Photo by the author]

Inner sleeve (front) from MOODY BLUE (RCA, 1977) [Photo by the author]

I love the inner sleeves on vintage Elvis albums. Check out the ads for other albums, which must have acted as combination check lists and wish lists for fans of the time. In some cases, it was also a way to see some alternate cover designs. For example, note the Moody Blue concept artwork in the bottom left of the image below.

Inner sleeve (front) from MOODY BLUE (RCA, 1977) [Photo by the author]

Inner sleeve (back) from MOODY BLUE (RCA, 1977) [Photo by the author]

The fall of the curtain came much too early for Elvis, but Moody Blue certainly made for an impressive last act. If you collect Elvis on vinyl, this one is a must.

"The Blue Album" [Photo by the author]

“The Blue Album” [Photo by the author]


Thank you to my brother for giving me the Elvis records that inspired this series of posts.

5 thoughts on “Vinyl Elvis: 1977’s MOODY BLUE Closes a Lonely Journey

  1. Pingback: July 19 Represents a Beginning and an End for Elvis Presley | Pastimescapes

  2. Troy. How perceptive of you to note the unique occurrence of two opposite record releases on the same July 19 date. Well done

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    • I’m pretty sure I first became aware of this through twitter within the last year or two. After your comment, I even went back through my tweets from the relevant time periods to find out where I first made this connection, but no luck. Thanks, Phil.

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  3. I remember in the early ’90’s the department store I was working at got in a huge shipment of King albums on cassette. I’m trying to pinpoint the year in my mind – it was some kind of anniversary. Anyways, I bought a handful and “Moody Blue” was one of them. This means that this album was one of the first of his that I owned so I go way back with it. I’ve always liked it. “He’ll Have to Go” and “She Thinks I Still Care” are two spectacular recordings that I have always loved. I noticed, though, that here he continued his slightly irritating practice of leaving a verse out. “Way Down” I remember hearing as a little kid when my mom would play her “Moody Blue” record. I always thought it had a cool, slightly sinister sound, “borrowing”, as a lot of records did at the time, from the disco idiom. I always laughed and shook my head a bit at the crowd roaring so vociferously during “If You Love Me” – even as a kid I thought it sounded a little phony. I really like this album but it is a good example of what bugs me about RCA: it really is a crazy hodge-podge. I mean, some live, some studio and one that was already on another album?! I always will argue, though, the Elvis leaves an incredible recorded legacy DESPITE how he was handled by his label. His talent and songcraft elevates everything and takes you up above the sometimes frustrating packaging.

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    • Great story, Wellsy.

      For me, the record from the library left such an impression that the second CD I ever bought was Moody Blue in 1990. This was also my first introduction to a “mastering error” (although I did not know what it was called at the time) as the CD chopped off the beginning of “She Thinks I Still Care.” How this used to annoy me so.

      The CD was blue as well, I think — though I might be confusing it with an expanded edition released a few years later.

      For many Elvis projects, even to this day, I agree success is often due to The Powers That Be relying on the sheer talent, power, and charisma of Elvis to save them. Like WB’s botched re-release of Elvis On Tour several years ago, when despite the shortcomings of the project, Elvis makes it worthwhile.

      As for Moody Blue, though, I think this is one time where it worked the opposite way. The project made him look better than he probably deserved at the time. I think the hodge-podge nature works for it… even “If You Love Me.” This is one of only a few of his lifetime albums that I would not reconfigure in some way if handed the keys to the kingdom.

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