- Elvis Presley – vocals, acoustic guitar
- Scotty Moore – electric guitar
- Hank Garland – electric guitar, electric bass
- Floyd Cramer – piano
- Bob Moore – double bass
- D.J. Fontana – drums
- Buddy Harman – drums
- The Jordanaires – backing vocals
- Boots Randolph – saxophone
- Charlie Hodge – backing vocals (on “I Will Be Home Again”)
Well, Elvis joined the army. Elvis Presley returned to the United States in 1960 to record his first full length album in almost 3 years. During his two year army stint, he’d released a string of successful singles (“Wear My Ring Around Your Neck”, “Hard Headed Woman”among them). When he returned from Germany on March 2, 1960, he recorded Elvis is Back! in just two recording sessions. What resulted from those sessions is an album much glossier than his first 3, utilizing new sounds and some new players to experiment in the sonic landscape of the new decade.
The first track, “Make Me Know It”, starts the album in a rush. Immediately, you can tell three years have lapsed since his last full length album. The most obvious change at first are the backing vocalists, The Jordanaires; the backing vocals are different, more polished and brought to the foreground in the arrangement. The fast pace and Elvis’ voice are of course familiar, and yet he’s grown as a singer, and not always in a good way. “Fever” the second song is a vastly different than anything Elvis did before. It has a sultry start but rather than the sultry vibes of the 1950s this song is firmly in the 1960s. It has elements of surf rock and the blues. The rhythm section is what makes this song sound dangerous and alluring.
“The Girl of my Best Friend” is the next song, also sounding very much out of the 1960s. It feels like Elvis is doing Roy Orbison cosplay on this one, as this song is very much in the vein of Orbison’s “Pretty Woman”, especially with those backing vocals! If the previous song was sound-a-like to Roy Orbison, “I Will Be Home again” would be a fitting tribute to the Everly Brothers. The intricate two-part harmonies are very pretty; unfortunately the rest of the song is pretty bland.
“Dirty, Dirty Feeling” feels like the Nashville Sound version of Elvis’ 50s hits. Elvis also seems to be feeling the country sound as, despite the title inferring something a little sleazy, the song is missing all of Elvis’ raw vocals from his previous hits. What follows this is “Thrill of Your Love”, a Gospel-lite tune featuring pretty piano and that’s about it. The first minute or so is enjoyable but sitting through the rest is a snooze fest.
Elvis takes us back to his doo wop roots on “Soldier Boy”. The lyrics and Elvis’ vocals are the stars of this song; Elvis adds nuance and composure when singing, keeping it soft yet powerful. The next song is a certified BOP. “Such a Night” has a wonderfully jaunty beat that carries the song from start to finish. The melody is quirky and unusual and you can tell Elvis is having fun with it. It must be contagious as this is the first track on this album that made me want to get up and dance.
“It Feels So Right” features the return (but not the peak…see below for that) of raunchy Elvis! The sauntering melody is perfect to get down to, with guitarist Scotty Moore shining throughout. The slow pace of this song counteracts with the intense wanting of the lyrics to create a perfect hymn to lust. If you were ever in the market for a perfect shoulder shimmy song? “The Girl Next Door Went a’Walking” should fit your bill. It’s a fun song where all the elements in the recording studio (band, singer, backing vocalists) synchronize to create a great tune.
The last two tracks were my favorites. They are both blues numbers featuring a purring saxophone courtesy of Boots Randolph that is the absolute highlight of these two tracks. The first, “Like a Baby” features SMOOTH vocals from Elvis that will make anyone swoon; it is the most blatantly sexual song on this album. The second, “Reconsider Baby” feels like a sequel to the previous song but rougher and bluesier. Elvis is pining here, yes, but ultimately you can tell he is in control. I picture him begging his baby to come back to him with a smirk on his face. The blues jam at the end feels so improvisational, you can imagine watching them play it live. These two songs ended the somewhat iffy Elvis is Back! on a strong note.