Elvis had always been a promiscuous person and had never been faithful to any girlfriend in his life. Getting married did not change that, either. Priscilla thought that having a child together might settle him down but it did not; it only widened the chasm between husband and wife. Elvis refused to be sexually-intimate with Priscilla after the birth of Lisa Marie, stating that he couldn’t be with a woman who’d had a child. It was a bizarre admission from a man known for many bizarre opinions. Nevertheless, Elvis tried to keep Priscilla happy in other ways. He showered her with gifts—jewelry and clothes—that he brought back to her from his various tours and Vegas shows (she wasn’t allowed to travel with him), but token gestures did not appease his wife’s bitterness toward her husband.

Meanwhile, Elvis continued bedding every looker he wanted, while also maintaining extended relationships with other women. One such dalliance came with a woman named Joyce Bova, with whom Elvis had a four-year affair between 1969-1972, spanning almost the entirety of his marriage. They met when she was just a spectator at one of his first Las Vegas shows, and—as frequently happened with pretty spectators—she was invited back to his hotel room. Which led to a second visit, and then a third, etc. The relationship resulted in a pregnancy in fact, but Bova terminated it after hearing that Elvis would not sleep with a woman who’d given birth.

Priscilla still sought some way to keep her marriage alive and when Elvis suggested she take up Karate with him, she jumped at the chance, eager to have something she could share with her husband. The hobby led to her training under Mike Stone, with whom Priscilla would begin her own affair. It would be this one affair—and not the hundreds of others which Elvis had—that would bring about the end of their marriage in 1972.

1972 is best-known for three major happenings in Elvis’ life, all within the first half of the year: The filming of the Elvis on Tour motion picture documentary, the end of his marriage and the instant emotional toll that took on him, and his triumphant concert at Madison Square Garden.

The year began inauspiciously, as Elvis performed another January-February engagement in Las Vegas. New songs were added to the set-list, which would be carried over into the upcoming nationwide concert tour.

“It’s Impossible” had been performed a time or two in 1971 but it would be a much more frequent number in 1972, and would often be sung back-to-back with “The Impossible Dream.” No formal studio version was ever recorded, which would be a common theme for many of these new Las Vegas additions.

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“Never Been to Spain” was a recent hit for Three Dog Night, having peaked at #5 on the Billboard Hot100 in December of 1971. Elvis liked the arrangement so much he kept it as is, albeit with his voice giving the song a different dynamic. The original song starts off like a blues number that explodes into R&B midway through. Thanks to The Sweet Inspirations and Presley’s massive and booming voice, Elvis’ version turned the song into a pseudo-Gospel/Opera hybrid. It was right up his alley for the time period.

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“It’s Over” was a 1966 song written and recorded by Jimmie Rodgers. It peaked at #37 on the Hot100 but reached #5 on the Easy Listening Chart. Rodgers version is light and folksy, but Elvis sings it with the same operatic-style that was quickly-defining his 1970’s live set. His marriage wasn’t “over” yet, and though it was crumbling, he was well in denial, so the same bitterness and depression that would soon consume his recordings is not present here. The live master is crisp and powerful.

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Today “An American Trilogy” is known as an “Elvis song” but in early 1972 it was a top-25 song by its writer Mickey Newbury. Elvis wanted to record it and Felton Jarvis complied, thinking it would work as a B-side or maybe on a companion album to the upcoming tour. Elvis, however, got it in his head that the song had to be his next big single. Had Newbury’s original not been such a recent success it might have been worth gambling on it; Elvis’ version was powerful (the master from early 1972 is actually one of the weaker renditions Elvis did; the singer seemed to improve his performance every time he sang the song, and by 1974 it was chilling), although not particularly radio-friendly. Newbury was still riding a wave of popularity with his song, however, and releasing a competing version was at least bad timing. Elvis was insistent, however, and RCA acquiesced. Unfortunately, gone were the days when Elvis could confidently boast which of his recent recordings would be his next number-one hit. Elvis’ version of “An American Trilogy” went nowhere, peaking at #66 on the Hot100, his worst charting A-side since “Your Time Hasn’t Come Yet Baby” was pulled from the Speedway soundtrack in 1967.

And yet, through persistent performing, Elvis eventually annexed Newbury’s song onto his own catalogue and now it’s favorably remembered. He certainly did the epic nature of the lyrics justice. The song is, sadly, misunderstand, by many modern listeners who can’t get past the opening third. The song starts with a stirring rendition of “Dixie,” the South’s anthem, as it were. Because of that, people have assumed the song is racist or inappropriate. No. The song is a medley of three, which together tell the whole story of the Civil War. It begins with “Dixie,” then moves into the “Battle Hymn of the Republic” (an anthem of the North, as it were). Then it transitions into “All My Trials,” which was a black spiritual hymn sung during the civil rights era of the 50’s and 60’s. Essentially that song is the plight of the African American the Civil War was (largely) fought over. After that, the medley returns to “Battle Hymn of the Republic” and closes in strong style, symbolically showing the North’s victory and the victory of blacks in their civil rights movement. There’s nothing racist about the song at all: It is an American trilogy.

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There were a number of songs Elvis wanted to record and release but securing the publishing rights proved impossible. One song was Kris Kristofferson’s “Sunday Morning Coming Down” that Johnny Cash hit #1 with a year prior. Another was “I’m Leaving it up to You” (a Dale and Grace hit from 1963 that both Linda Ronstadt and the Osmonds turned into 1970’s hits). When Elvis requested the songs he was met with skeptical looks from those in charge of securing publishing rights for him; they thought he was joking. Those weren’t “Elvis songs” as they knew of them. When he requested “I’m Leaving it up to You” he was told they found the song but didn’t send it over to him to record because they assumed he wanted some other song by the same name; The Dale and Grace song was “not an Elvis song” they presumed. He did sing the song in some live shows, but no formal recording was ever done. Bootleg recordings of his live version illustrate how he would have approached and “modernized” the song. it’s a shame he never recorded an official master, and that his musical interests were not nurtured; the day was fast approaching when it would be difficult to get Elvis to record anything.

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Elvis’ musical sensibilities were changing and those in charge of “handling” him found they were unable to get a handle on his new tastes. Soon enough however, it wouldn’t matter: Priscilla was about to walk away, and a gobsmacked Elvis would turn mostly to depressing songs of love-lost until the end of his life.

Upon returning from Las Vegas, at the end of February, Priscilla confessed her affair with Mike Stone and told Elvis she was filing for separation. The news was a shock and elicited a sudden and wrong-headed decision by Elvis: According to Priscilla he “forcefully made love” to her, afterward saying “that’s how a real man treats his woman.” Priscilla left Graceland with Lisa Marie and Elvis was left alone.

Five months later his new girlfriend Linda Thompson moved in.

Despite early assurances that all was well it was apparent almost immediately afterward that Priscilla leaving him was the biggest blow to his psyche and biggest chink in his presumed-unbreakable armor since the death of his mother. Had Elvis ever treated his wife fairly? Had he been a good husband? By no means, but he remained willingly, blissfully unaware of how terrible a spouse he had been. At the very least he assumed he could always treat Priscilla like a second class citizen and never suffer repercussions. He’d lived almost half his life surrounded by yes-men and sycophants, afraid to say anything that might upset him or do anything that he might not enjoy. The whole world of Elvis Presley revolved around Elvis Presley; why wouldn’t he think he could treat his wife the way he did with no consequences.

Priscilla was the first person to walk away from him willingly in twenty years. He may not have respected her, he may have told girlfriends over the years that he’d leave her, he may not have even wanted to marry her in the first place, but he was not prepared to have her leave him. He was so in denial over the whole situation he turned his ire onto Mike Stone, even going so far as to order one of his lackey’s to look into putting a hit out on him! Elvis eventually dismissed that idea (much to the relief of his inner circle) but he never fully moved past the feeling of abandonment that came when Priscilla walked out.

Barely a month after the break-up, Elvis flew to Hollywood to record half a dozen songs , new material that could be showcased in the Elvis on Tour film as well as released as singles. Only one song had any pep to it, however. The rest were tales of heartbreak and loss.

“Separate Ways” was written by Elvis’ friend Red West as a commentary on his break-up with Priscilla. By now the news had reached tabloids, and even though Elvis was very shy (and Col. Parker highly sensitive to his client’s public image), he didn’t hesitate to develop the song over multiple takes, treating it as a catharsis. Of course it probably helped that the song casts Elvis as a hero who simply realizes the relationship wasn’t working out so he ends it for the good of both of them.  The song was a hit, reaching #20 on the Hot100 (#3 on the Adult-Contemporary chart) and selling almost a million copies in its initial run.

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The song was paired with “Always On My Mind,” which was co-written by Mark James (who wrote “Suspicious Minds”). Interestingly, it was Chips Moman who first took a liking to the song and suggested that it was good but needed a bridge. Once the song was completed, it was passed on to one of Elvis’ lackeys, who brought it to the heartbroken singer. Moman didn’t produce the song of course, but he did produce the Willy Nelson version that went to #1 a decade later. Elvis’ version was likewise strong and so the single was released as a double-A side (his first since “It’s Now or Never” was paired with “Mess of Blues”). It peaked at #16 on the Country chart and though it would not become a part of his live act (nor would “Separate Ways”), the songs connections to Elvis’ depression-filled personal life have made them iconic.

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Other songs of heartbreak included “For the Good Times,” a Kris Kristofferson song that Elvis took a liking to, and a duo of songs—“Fool,” and “Where Do I Go from Here” which would find life a year later on a self-titled record. The latter songs are mostly forgotten, but “For the Good Times” would be regularly featured throughout his 1972 tour.

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The stand out of the mini-session was Dennis Linde’s rocker, “Burning Love.” The song had previously been released by Arthur Alexander, whose take on the song was more pop than rock. Elvis tore into the song with the kind of reckless abandon he hadn’t give to an uptempo song since “Devil in Disguise.”

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For three brief minutes Elvis was singing about the thrills of sexual attraction, and not about the heavy burden of being deserted. The song almost reached #1 on the Hot100 (though it did top the Cashbox charts), being denied the top of the Billboard rankings by—get this—“My Ding-a-ling” by Chuck Berry. Even more remarkably, that song would be Chuck Berry’s only number-one hit in his own illustrious career.

What a crazy world.

The Elvis On Tour movie was in many ways a sequel to 1970’s That’s the Way it Is, albeit with one significant change. That’s the Way it Is focused almost equally on Elvis and his fans, with the throngs of spectators telling of their love for the performer intermixed with Elvis’ onstage talent. Elvis On Tour mostly leaves out the crowd and offers an inside look in Elvis’ behind the scenes life. Director Robert Abel told the man to be real and honest in his interview portions, and that if he ever sensed that Presley was “putting on an act” he would shut the cameras off. Elvis appreciated the candor and gave Abel more access than many of his posse would have expected. The movie is most famous for its various split-screen shots, showing Elvis and the crowd from multiple camera angles simultaneously. It is a technique that will be featured again in Elvis’ 1973 Aloha from Hawaii concert. The technique was actually first adopted (in a music-concert setting at least) in the 1970 documentary “Woodstock.” One of the editors who put that film together was Martin Scorsese, who also worked on this film, compiling the various montage sequences.

Unfortunately, the Elvis on display in the movie is not at all the same man seen in That’s the Way it Is. That Elvis was lean and tan and energized almost to the point of being manic. This Elvis was bloated. He wasn’t fat by any means, but there was a general puffiness to him, especially his face and neck. There was a pale, blotchiness to his skin tone, and his speech was far more slurred—drug addled—that it had been in the 1970 film. This Elvis still occasionally exploded with excitement, but overall he was more subdued, restrained, diminished. The difference may not have been noticed in the moment, but when comparing the two the difference is clear.

His outfits were different too. Gone are the simple white suits designed to allow freedom of movement, and in its place where outfits of blue, red and black, decked out with rhinestones in starburst patterns, and adorned with a literal cape in the back. He went from looking like a Karate instructor-meets-Napoleon, to looking like a space traveler from planet disco.

His song selection on tour mostly mirrored his recent Vegas run, albeit with a few new numbers snuck in. “Burning Love” was tried out in a few cities, although Elvis struggled with the lyrics and had to rely on holding a sheet during the song. That ruined the energy enough that by the end of the tour the song was almost entirely scrapped.

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Despite the occasional hiccups in the performances, it still has to be admired that Elvis performed close to thirty songs per show, for an hour or more every time, without auto-tune, without dubbing, without any of the modern crutches that many performers today use. It was just him and a band playing in real time, working off of memory a set-list comprised of thirty-years of music in a variety of styles. It was a staggering accomplishment.

“I’ll Remember You” was pulled out of the obscure late-60’s vault and brought back on the tour. It would be more famously-performed at the Aloha from Hawaii concert, but he used it in 1972 as a song near the end of his concerts.

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In terms of older material, there was plenty for 50’s fans to enjoy. Elvis often lumped his early work together and performed them in quick succession near the beginning of the show, after the initial big opening numbers were ended. The most distinctive thing about the way the oldies were handled is the speed with which they were delivered. Elvis blazed through songs like “Heartbreak Hotel,” “All Shook Up” and even his personal favorite “Love Me,” and usually only performed half the verses, as though he didn’t want to waste too much time on them and instead get back to the big bravado numbers. The insecure singer always seemed, not ashamed of his old work, but more presumptuous that no one would want to hear the old songs anymore. That was incorrect; the crowd regularly went into fits of madness when their old favorites were played.

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Filming for Elvis On Tour was wrapped up in April, and was set for a November release. When it hit theaters it became an even bigger hit than That’s the Way it Is, and would go on to win the Golden Globe for best documentary film. Despite the high-budget (for a documentary) of 1.5 million dollars, the film recouped its costs after just three days in theaters…which is good because one million of that 1.5 went to Elvis himself! With his tour ended in April, there were two months to go before the big enchilada:

Madison Square Garden, New York City, June 9-11.

Despite sell out crowds everywhere he went, despite standing ovations at the end of every show, despite rave reviews from press and fans and even just curious onlookers caught up in the spectacle of “The King coming to town,” Elvis approached his upcoming MSG concerts with crippling anxiety. It was in that city where Elvis met his first taste of national super-stardom, appearing on the Ed Sullivan show in September of 1956. It was also in that city where Elvis experienced his first career setback, being paraded around Steve Allen’s set in a tuxedo. The New York City press had been his harshest critics when he first burst onto the scene, bringing a hybrid of country bumpkin music and black rhythm and blues; it was a marriage of two styles neither of which were liked in that region. Fast forward almost twenty years, and despite having achieved global popularity, Elvis still saw himself as a country boy with a country twang. He worried, not only that the New Yorkers still might not like his music, but that they might not even show up for the events!

In what would become a trend for the next several years, Elvis went into overdrive to get in shape for the concert. He arrived at the New York Hilton Hotel a few days before opening night looking leaner and tanner than he had since 1970. Gathering with his band, he insisted on rehearsing several new songs in order to give the New York crowd something unique. Numbers like “Fever” and “Any Day Now” as well as “Faded Love” and “I Really Don’t Want to Know” were attempted but in the end Elvis scrapped almost all of them, nervous about being able to remember his lines (which is why “Burning Love” missed the cut).

When Colonel Parker’s offer for an exclusive interview met zero takers (due to the $120,000 price tag the greedy manager attached to it), plans changed to host a press conference on the afternoon before the first show. It was Elvis’ first presser since 1969 and only his second since his return from the Army in 1960. Elvis walked into the room, amidst the pop of flashbulbs, wearing a powder blue two-piece suit and a million dollar smile. For all his pre-show nerves, he looked happy and ready to go.

The interview had several memorable moments. One person asked about Priscilla and Elvis’ boyish grin fades for half a second before he casually says she wasn’t in New York and wouldn’t make the show. Another question was asked about Vietnam protestors and Elvis quickly stated that he didn’t feel comfortable sharing his political opinions in such a forum. He said that as an entertainer he should just entertain everyone and not dabble in such matters in public. When pressed if he was saying all entertainers must do like him, Elvis again deftly sidestepped and just said he was speaking for himself. For a so-called “country bumpkin” he handled the media with more skill and savvy than many world leaders. The highlight of the interview came when Elvis was asked about his reputation as a “shy, humble, country boy.” It took one and a half seconds for Elvis to whip up a response, but he quickly leapt to his feet and flashed his massive gold belt buckle, etched with the words “Las Vegas Attendance World Champion” and said “well I dunno what makes them think that…” to a roar of laughter and applause…from the New York press.

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They were eating out of the palm of his hands.

He wore a different outfit at each show, none as gaudy as he’d used on tour months previously. On Friday he wore a white suit with gold trim and cape, large golden studs dotting either side of the wide opening in the front and of course, his Las Vegas championship belt. Saturday’s afternoon show featured a lightning-blue outfit and matching cape with subtle golden flourishes across the front, arms and legs. He also had a thick white belt with chains dangling from either side of the buckle. That evening, he wore a white suit similar to Friday’s, only this one had more rhinestones in starburst formations around the arms. Finally on Sunday, his final show featured almost the same outfit as on Friday except the highlights were red instead of gold and the large red studs were more numerous, running down his arms, sides and legs. No matter what he wore, he looked and sounded better than he had all year long.

He serenaded the crowd with ballads like “You’ve Lost that Loving Feeling,” got into a bluesy groove with “Reconsider Baby,” and rocked the house with “Suspicious Minds” Toward the end of the show, after introducing his band, he called for the house lights to be turned on, saying “now that you’ve seen us, we’d like to see you.” And then segued perfectly into the “well hello there” opening line of “Funny How Time Slips Away.” The show ended with the customary “Can’t Help Falling in Love,” followed up a final kneel to the audience, and an escape through the back door before any waiting fans could find him. He was halfway to the hotel before the announcer declared “Elvis has left the building.”

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Although the shows were not professionally taped (super-8 and 16 millimeter videos can be found online, however) RCA did record two of the four shows for album release, and after the instant-success of the event, quickly rushed the Saturday evening concert (actually the weakest of the four) to record stores. Colonel Parker actually had the recording sped up so that the whole hour long show could be crammed into one LP (to ensure maximum publishing royalties). The New York Press, and everyone else, hailed the four-day engagement as a landmark concert event. The New York Times described Elvis as a “prince from another planet” come down to earth.

His biggest show to date was finally behind him. Other than an August series in Las Vegas (which in the shadow of Madison Square Garden was perfunctory), Elvis’ year was done. 1972 had been a rocky one, with a crumbling home life on the one side and a career highlight on the other. He was still only separated from Priscilla, but a 1973 divorce loomed over the horizon, as did another concert Colonel Parker was working on.

It would be an even bigger mountain than the one Elvis had just climbed.

> PART TEN: HELLO AND GOODBYE

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