By Amy Longsdorf
Invigorated by a 1968 TV special and the notion of returning to a Memphis studio for the first time since leaving Sun Records for RCA in 1955, Elvis Presley decided to pull out all the stops for his first non-soundtrack album in six years. The songs were well selected (“Suspicious Minds,” “Only the Strong Survive,” “Gentle on My Mind,” “True Love Travels On a Gravel Road,” “Kentucky Rain”), the production stripped-down, and the musicians Memphis-funky.
The 36 tracks cut at Chips Moman’s American Studios (the same place Dusty Springfield laid down “Dusty in Memphis”) in 1969 wound up being released on two albums: “From Elvis in Memphis” and “Back In Memphis,” and as a handful of singles. Through the years, RCA has packaged these tracks together as “The Memphis Record” (1987) and “Suspicious Minds” (1999) but for the latest “Legacy Edition” release, the songs are sequenced to reflect the original albums, and the 10 singles appear in rarely heard mono mixes.
Finally given songs of substance, Presley dug deep, managing to reinvigorate numbers already identified with other artists. Listen to the way he imbues Percy Mayfield’s “Long Black Limousine” and Chuck Jackson’s “Any Day Now” with a churchy soulfulness. Only on Hank Snow’s “I’m Movin’ On” does the King fail to live up to his crown.
CNN and other news outlets have done a great job reminding us that 1969 was the year of Woodstock, the Manson Murders, and the first moonwalk. It was also the year Elvis proved that, despite scores of cheesy movie roles and going-through-the-motion concerts, he was capable of timeless perfection.
Release date: 7/28/09
Official Site: www.elvisthemusic.com
Photos courtesy Sony Legacy Records.
[Amy Longsdorf’s entertainment coverage has appeared in Blender, People, the Chicago Tribune, the Toronto Star and Newsday. She doesn’t want to imagine a world without Preston Sturges movies, Stax singles and the music of Bob Marley.]