From Elvis in Memphis

From Elvis in Memphis
released on June 17, 1969

Track Listing:

  1. Wearin’ That Loved On Look
  2. Only the Strong Survive
  3. I’ll Hold You in My Heart (Til I Can Hold You in My Arms)
  4. Long Black Limousine
  5. It Keeps Right On A-Hurtin’
  6. I’m Movin’ On
  7. Power of My Love
  8. Gentle On MY Mind
  9. After Loving You
  10. True Love Travels On a Gravel Road
  11. Any Day Now
  12. In the Ghetto
  13. Suspicious Minds (extra)

From Elvis in Memphis marked a rebirth of the king of rock n’ roll, and it was all thanks to a Christmas TV special. Elvis’ manager, Colonel Tom Parker, had relegated the majority of Elvis’ musical output to soundtrack albums, thinking that the cross promotion of movie and soundtrack would be duly beneficial and help sales across the board. Well it turns out that plan was not going so well. Elvis’ movies were declining (in both ticket sales and quality) and he was beginning to feel stifled creatively. This all changed in 1968, when the Colonel arranged for Elvis to star in an NBC Christmas special. Rather than just singing carols however, it was decided that Elvis would also delve into his early treasure trove of hits. It was a success. With this return, Elvis proclaimed that never again would he record music or make movies that did not creatively inspire him. The result, recorded in January and February 1969, was From Elvis in Memphis. A successful album that peaked at number 13 on the Billboard 200, number one in the United Kingdom, and had single success with “In The Ghetto” reaching number 3 on the Billboard 100.

Elvis on his 1968 NBC comeback special

Instead of recording at RCA Studios in Nashville, Elvis and his team opted to record From Elvis in Memphis in Memphis, TN at American Sound Studios and to use the in house band, “The Memphis Boys”, who added a much needed soulful, bluesy feel to Elvis’ sound. After listening to the album, I was astonished at how much Elvis really needed that sonic (and perhaps location) change. Elvis has a fresh, inspired energy here, and the sound fits his more mature voice in all the right ways. It also arguably marks the end of the early-mid ’60s sanitized Elvis, at least for now. While my favorite Elvis will probably always be the Elvis of the mid-50s, I really enjoyed this collection of songs. It was a change in sound occurring at the perfect time in his discography.

*denotes songs that are especially recommended

  1. Wearin’ That Loved On Look*

The first song is immediately notable for establishing this brand new, soulful edge to Elvis’ sound. The edge in particular is what has been missing in his music for a long time now. Apparently, at least in 1969, Nashville is way out and Memphis is way in. This sonic landscape is perfect for his more mature voice.

2. Only the Strong Survive

The new sound continues with this tune having a breezy, blissed out ’70s vibe with a strong helping of soul. The bass in this song, like many songs on the album, is center stage and so lovely and funky.

3. I’ll Hold You in My Heart (Til I Can Hold You in My Arms)

The beginning feels like a live take, almost sounding like a false start, which again marks the contrast from his last few, much too polished albums. The song itself is like an update of his ballads from the 1950s, going over very easy, a little bluesy, and feeling a little too long at times. However, I spoke too soon on the length of it, as the ending kicks into high gear adding an extra oomph to this ballad.

4. Long Black Limousine*

This song is very deceiving both in lyrics and in the beginning. It starts out so sorrowful, which is apt since Elvis is singing about a loved one dying in a horrible car crash. But then? That irresistible soul kicks in. I love the horns and it’s all very celebratory…but…is this a kiss off song to someone that died??? It all feels a bit ironic, with Elvis seemingly taunting his loved one about how “you finally had your dream, you’re riding in a long black limousine”. Now, if the musical arrangement was a bit more mellow, say resembling the country arrangements of his previous few albums, then perhaps I could interpret this song as sad but I don’t know. Elvis seems a bit too mocking here for this to be a sad song. However, I kind of love it. Especially that ending…you have to love a good key change.

5. It Keeps Right On A-Hurtin’

This song is a definite call back to his Nashville days, but still more soulful and hearty than most of his recent output. This is helped in no small part thanks to a fuller rhythm section and livelier backing vocals.

6. I’m Movin’ On

This song is very reminiscent of a Johnny Cash arrangement. Then, in the mid-section, it turns into a very emphatic, dramatic, and emotional song; a very good, very brassy breakup song.

7. Power of My Love*

I have exciting news: sexy Elvis is back! This song sounds very much like a slowed down version of fellow Memphis recording studio Stax’s song, “Green Onions”, at the beginning. Elvis sounds so mature and sexy here, possibly the raunchiest he has sounded since the late 1950s. Just absolutely alluring and enticing.

8. Gentle on My Mind

A total 180 from the previous song, this song sounds gentle, a beautiful expression of untethered love. Based on this line, “I dip my cup of soup back from a gurglin’ cracklin’ cauldron in some train yard”, it seems as though Elvis is playing a character in this song. One more thing? The bass is fabulous.

9. After Loving You

This song has some blues-lite touches but is a typical country song in almost every respect. Like many of Elvis’ best songs, the rhythm section and Elvis’ strong vocals drive this song into greater, more interesting territory.

10. True Love Travels On A Gravel Road

A really nice mid-tempo ballad with really beautiful strings. Elvis sounds especially good on the lyric, “Love is a stranger and hearts are in danger on smooth streets paved with gold”. A wonderful interpretation of a great lyric.

Elvis in 1969

11. Any Day Now

Awesome horn intro to this one! The song sounds so lovely; I would love to listen to this song while driving down a highway with the windows open and the music playing loud. However, the message of this song is a bit confusing. Because of the upbeat tempo of this one, it almost sounds like Elvis is counting down the days until this woman leaves him? And yet, when we get to the end, the song flips, and it becomes clear that he is heartbroken. It is a song about being on the precipice of a breakup, and yet, the exact emotion we are supposed to feel is murky. However, the coda of the song, with Elvis begging his lover to stay, is very sad.

12. In the Ghetto*

Absolutely gut wrenching. This song, arguably the most well known one from this album, is devastating, and still way too relevant for a song that was originally released over 50 years ago. This song has Elvis compelling folks to see and do something about the injustices that plague our society. This song is powerful in that it does not thrive or revel in the suffering of others, but instead lectures people to actually see it and do something about it. Hopefully, a message more people will take to heart.

13. Suspicious Minds*

Technically not on the album, BUT, I couldn’t imagine doing this series and not writing about this song. I LOVE this song!! I mean is there a more joyous song about a couple each suspecting each other of cheating?!?! Cue me listening to this song for the second time just now (for research of course) and gleefully singing along to the lyrics, “caught in a trap, can’t walk out” and shoulder shimmying in my chair. The best parts of this fantastic song? The breakdown in the middle (“we can’t go on together…”) and the fade back in at the end. SO GOOD.

Listen to From Elvis in Memphis here

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