"A Myth Shatter"
Reviewed by Sergio Luiz Fi?a Biston
1975 ended for Elvis with a gigantic show in Pontiac, Michigan, in front of 60.500 fans, The King's biggest audience ever. It was a year that saw an Elvis that, despite health problems, gave his best almost 100 percent of the time. Some of his best tours ever occurred in June and July of that year, and the Vegas appearances in March and December also showcased the singer at the peak of his form.
But 1976 would be ratter different in some aspects. Elvis dependency of medicaments was once again a serious issue and started to affect his behavior like it did in the fall tour of 1974. The loneliness, the weight gain and the fact that his long time friendship with Red and Sonny was about to break apart, did even more to contribute to Elvis depression at the beginning of the year. Also, it contributed to keep Elvis in reclusion. Despite a vacation in Vail, Colorado Elvis would hide in Graceland for almost all the time, to the point that RCA had to brought a mobile studio to his house in order to get some new songs for future albums. Is exactly at this point that FTD's The Jungle Room Sessions, put the listener.
The songs recorded at this session and the October one, held later, resulted in two albums: From Elvis Presley Boulevard and Moody Blue. The first comprised of the February sessions and the later of the October one, plus live records. What strikes every listener, both casual and aficionado, are the heavy and tasteless overdubs that producer Felton Jarvis did in the final mix of the songs. According to history, it was done so, to cover Elvis weak voice and vocal flaws. Elvis was in such bad shape that he no longer had the magic going thru his voice.
"The jungle room sessions", is the proof that "history" was wrong and that Felton Jarvis was a very bad producer. What a myth shatter it is! The clean, full sound and the naked performances of this disc destroyed any doubts of Elvis power and voice conditions of that time. It almost screams: "Listen, that was the way it was!" True, almost all the performances are below par if compared with the master takes, but Elvis emotional performance on the songs more than make up for this. Such is the case with 'It's Easy For You', one of the songs recorded in October, in which Elvis whipping a tear, softly says before it begins. "I get carried way very easily... Emotional son of a *****" and follows with a superb version of this underrated gem.
Although Elvis life was no longer the happy affair it once has been, and that his health was at his all time worse, it did not affected his voice and, if anything, this disc is the final proof of that.
The songs, however, reflected every bit of Elvis life, with a couple of exceptions. They are songs of loss, despair and loneliness, songs that mirrored his personal life. Those songs, although not everybody favorites, are much a peak in Elvis mind than anything, and the most revealing document of what, at the end, ceased his existence. You got to first comprehend Elvis sentiments at that time, in order to really appreciate the music, a repertoire that produced many gems.
Another point in which the producers of this disc succeeded, is in creating a "fly on the wall" feeling. This really adds to the whole listening experience. The studio banter, the countdown to the song, the friendly chat, which magnificently creates the ambience and contributes to insert the listener in the event, are present in every track. The dog barking that interrupts the second attempt of "Bitter they are, Harder they fall", is priceless. Even in here, this disc destroys another myth: The one that Elvis was in bad mood. If so, he changed it during the progression of the sessions, something that can be heard in the infectious laugh at the beginning of "The Last Farewell".
Elvis is full of emotion on pieces like "Never Again", "Love Coming Down" and "He'll Have To Go", and his performances are spine chill in such numbers. "It's Easy For You" is very much a declaration, a statement, and an open book to his fans. It summarizes perfectly all the pain Elvis felt after his estrangement from Priscilla.
"Loving Coming Down" is an apology and a plea to a second chance. He sings: " cant you see how everything I learned would be wasted if you leave me? If you just give me one more try I swear, I always be here, when you need me". It drips sincerity in every word and you can cut the feeling with a knife.
Elvis fantastic voice is magnificently showed in the powerhouse tune Hurt. It shows how Elvis voice developed thru the years and how strong his voice really was when he wanted to display it. In the take (number 3) on this disc however, Elvis has a thin start when he shouts the first line. He stops and cleans his throat, but even so it still not perfect. The incredible final note however is perfectly done, and he will nail the piece perfectly in the master take. Dave marsh in his biography about the king said about this tune: " It was the last genuinely majestic piece of music he recorded". Case closed.
He also shows that he has lost none of his timing in up-tempo songs like Moody Blue and For the Heart and shows sparks of the old rock'n' roll in Way Down. The "Way Down" take present in this compilation is superb and the piano part, sadly lost in the final product, fits perfectly in the song's musical concept.
Elvis joyful interpretation of the old classic "Pledging my Love" lights up the song and his refusing to let it go shows how much fun he is having with the song. A delight to any sensible ear.
The bold step of recording Danny Boy with just a piano transforms an otherwise boring song in a simply, yet emotional and sincere, piece. Another showcase of Elvis warm and strong voice used to effectiveness.
The last two surprises in the disc are There's a fire Down Below -a instrumental track only, that most fans should know the history behind it -and the very last part of America, The Beautiful, that starts a few seconds after the last track and it's not listed in the track list. It suggests that the tape containing the song was erased and that this segment was the only thing left. A nice "Easter egg ", anyway!
The music recorded in the den of his house would be released in the two albums already mentioned. From Elvis Presley Boulevard peaked at #41 in US and #29 in UK. Moody blue did better and peaked at #3 both in UK and US. Three singles where released from those sessions: Hurt/ For The Heart #28 in US and #37 in UK, Moody Blue/She thinks I still care # 31 and # 6 in US and UK respectively, and Way Down gave Elvis his last number one in UK, but only #18 in US.
Towards the end, Elvis was seeing his best chart places in country, and his last singles topped the country charts. Hurt was #6, and both Moody Blue and Way down nailed the number one spot.
1976 was surely a grueling year for Elvis. Apart from his personal and physical problems, he traveled the country almost without stop for nine months in a row. His debilitating health affected many of his shows during the summer tour. Things started to improve in September and October. His colon, the cause of many pain, started to work again, he lost quite some weight and seemed to find comfort and love in a young girl name Ginger. This was just the spark that he needed to ignite his motor and In November and December Elvis was in better physical form than he has been in quite some time. The December tour showed Elvis at his best and culminated with the legendary Pittsburgh New Years Eve concert, one of his best shows ever.
The songs recorded in February and October of that year, represent Elvis final labor of love. His heart and mind are on those songs that speak about love and loneliness. This last document of a true artist at work assumes even more relevance, due to historical contexts and due to the fact that Elvis never revealed himself to the public in the way he did here. And in this sense, Jungle Room Sessions, is just as historically important and revealing as Elvis performances, because it showed that Elvis was a magic artist right up until the end.
" He was a not a great artist for one or two isolated years but for two decades almost continuously. Doubters are advised to listen to the evidence. Defense rests."- Dave Marsh
Sergio Luiz Fi?a Biston, October 2003
Originaly Published in the Elvis Still Active In Norway website