- I Just Can’t Help Believin’
- Twenty Days and Twenty Nights
- How the Web Was Woven
- Patch It Up
- Mary in the Morning
- You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me
- You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’
- I’ve Lost You
- Just Pretend
- Stranger in the Crowd
- The Next Step Is Love
- Bridge Over Troubled Water
That’s the Way It Is is Elvis’ 12th official studio album. Released on November 11, 1970, the album consists of 8 tracks recorded at RCA Studios in Nashville and 4 tracks recorded live in Las Vegas. While it did accompany the release of his concert film, it is not considered a soundtrack album due to the 8 recorded in the studio. The album was certified Gold almost 3 years after its release, and peaked at number 21 on the Billboard 200 and number 8 on the Country charts.
This is the first time on this journey that I have encountered live tracks performed by Elvis, so I found myself most anticipating those songs. So I was pleased to see that a live track (“I Just Can’t Help Believin'”) was the first song, and a good one too. The first half of this album is a banger, Elvis’ voice is finally allowed to break free in all its glory. Instead of just recommending individual songs I was excited about being able to recommend the full album. Alas, I spoke too soon. While the listening experience of side B on this album is perfectly pleasant, it doesn’t soar anywhere near the heights that side A does. Still, this is a great, what would end up being late, career album from Elvis. Without further ado.
*notes songs that are especially recommended
- I Just Can’t Help Believin’*
I was thrilled that this song, while a live track, was a continuation of Elvis’ newfound soul sound from his previous album, From Elvis in Memphis. It’s very anthemic and it actually sounds live: you can hear Elvis’ breathing and his band sounds in sync and yet perfectly imperfect in the way that everyone wants their concert experience to be, including wonderful, playful vocal exchanges between Elvis and his back up singers. The song is a little on the cheesy side, but Elvis makes it sound like a joyous song of hope for love.
2. Twenty Days and Twenty Nights*
Although the album is sequenced so that live songs and studio songs are intermingled together, the transition from the last song which was a live track, to this song, which is a studio track, is seamless. Elvis soars here. His voice was produced beautifully. It really sounds like his voice was set free from all of the sanitized, saccharine sounds of the last decade. New decade, new sound. I would recommend listening to this song just based on the voice alone.
3. How the Web Was Woven*
I got so distracted by the raw power of Elvis’ voice…again, that I forgot to take notes. Oops. It is such a mind blowing performance, he is so smooth and strong. I really like the imagery this song evokes. Of a web being woven so that the entrapped can’t escape, yet eventually being broken by the strength of Elvis’ voice (at least that’s my interpretation anyways).
4. Patch It Up*
There was an old school, “1, 2, 3, 4” countdown at the beginning that immediately got me excited. The 50’s sense of urgency that Elvis had continues through this song but in a “married couple in the 70s on the brink of a divorce” kind of way. It’s a more mature version of that formula and it’s a BOP!! Shoulder shimmy rating: 9.5. Not a live track but sure has that level of energy.
5. Mary In the Morning
The sound of this song is almost pastoral (cottage-core anyone??). Highlighting how much Elvis’ lyrical interpretation has grown. He could not have sung this with the same amount of sincerity back in 1956. The element of this song that prevents it from working for me is the strings, which are overwhelming and clutter up the song. However, it’s a very sweet portrait of a man singing about the woman he loves; maybe perhaps for a minute too long.
6. You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me*
This song took me by surprise! It starts abruptly, seeming to begin mid-song. Sounding like a 1970s interpretation of a 1950s doo-wop song, it would fit perfectly in the movie Grease. Incredibly dreamy and cinematic.
7. You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’
Nervous about this cover because everyone knows The Righteous Brother’s version will always reign supreme. Well, it turns out my nerves were justified. This is a live track and Elvis is trying way too hard to affect the emotional parts in this tune, and his band is lagging a little behind. The one positive thing about this song: the mid-song breakdown with the back and forth between Elvis’ and his backing vocalists.
8. I’ve Lost You
Another live song, this one is slightly better than the previous track. Elvis’ turn of phrase is so clear and emotive. Very nice to listen to but it didn’t do much for me.
9. Just Pretend
Elvis reeled me back in with the first line on this one, “just pretend I’m holding you”. Unfortunately, it didn’t last very long. Another dreamy track, however, this time, it’s the backing vocals that are taking up too much room. Also, dreamy is nice but this one crosses into schmaltzy territory, made worse by the fact that Elvis seems not to want to be singing this song.
10. Stranger in the Crowd
Well, I fell for it again. This song immediately brought some energy back…but for only a few seconds of the intro. I don’t know if they were trying to evoke the feeling of being in a crowd but I am telling you it just did not work. There were too many instruments, voices, and sounds going on and making a mess of everything. Unlike songs on previous albums where this was an issue, you can thankfully hear Elvis, but it’s still way too dizzy for my taste.
11. The Next Step Is Love
My notes read: “the backing vocals are fabulous…that’s it.”
12. Bridge Over Troubled Water*
It was a good start but the past few songs have fooled me, so I was cautious. However, he sounds amazing here. It is a wonderful, live interpretation of this now classic standard. Elvis is singing very strong yet delicate here, interpreting those gorgeous lyrics with vulnerability and pathos. I already have strong attachments and memories with two versions of this song (Simon & Garfunkel’s original of course, but also Aretha Franklin, whose cover would make even the staunchest non-believer feel like they have been been to church), and so Elvis’ version is not my fave, however it is a worthy submission of this magnificent tune, especially the ending, which ends the message on a euphoric, empowering note.