In March of 1974, Elvis toured from one corner the United States to the other, stopping in Houston for another concert at the Astrodome. His 1970 show was a huge success and the 1974 followup topped it; his two performances set the single-day attendance record and netted him a huge payday. At the end of the tour, Col. Parker scheduled Elvis for a two-show event in Memphis. It was to be Elvis’ first concert in his hometown since a charity show in February of 1961. This being the twenty-year anniversary of the recording of “That’s All Right” it was a poetic (and profit-conscious) booking decision. Demand for the shows were so high that the engagement was extended from two shows to three, and then again from three to four. Felton Jarvis convinced RCA that a live album should be recorded to commemorate the occasion. Reluctantly, RCA agreed, on the condition that new material be featured.

Indeed several songs were performed that hadn’t been a regular part of his live act, but only two songs was actually “new.” The rest were plucked from Elvis’ own library of hits. That being said, there is more energy here than could be found in the sleepy Aloha special, and Elvis seems looser, more relaxed and more playful with the crowd than he was at either the Madison Square Garden or Aloha shows. Maybe it was the lower stakes (a live album in Memphis is not the same as a world-wide TV special or a concert in the most famous arena on earth) or just the fact that he was home amongst a crowd he knew would cheer him no matter what he did, but whatever it was, a comfortable Elvis gave the best show of the year here and fortunately RCA was on hand to capture it.

“I Got a Woman” had been a regular early-show number for Elvis in his 1970 Las Vegas set, and he brings it back here along with a little bit of the old black spiritual “Amen.” It was something he did in 1972 and featured it on the Elvis on Tour film, but he plays around with it more here. The live album that would be released in July was heavily edited in order to fit on a single record; the hour-long show was trimmed down to forty minutes, and in the process a lot of the banter was cut. That free-styling fun was exactly what set this concert apart from this previous two “big shows.” Fortunately his routine with JD Sumner (whose deep voice drops to an octave lower than the Dead Sea) is kept in tact.

“Trying To Get To You” was one of his dad’s favorite songs, and being that it was recorded in Memphis, it was a fitting number to feature after rarely playing it live. And after years of burning through his 1950’s repertoire whenever he’d play it—-like he was embarrassed to play it—he gives the song here the attention and respect his hometown audience had given it for twenty years.

Ever since 1969, when Elvis returned to live concerts, he liked to lump together many of his old rock and roll records and get through them in one go. He would often introduce them as “a medley of some of my biggest records” and then joke “though they’re really all about the same size…” At that he would tear into Jailhouse Rock, Don’t Be Cruel, Hound Dog and others. The thing is, despite what he called it, it wasn’t a medley; it was just playing a bunch of songs in a row. A medley is when you combine multiple songs, and sing them with an arrangement that makes the two (or more) sound like they were always meant to be played together.

During this concert, Elvis finally performed a true “medley” of, not only his own biggest rock and roll numbers, but also some others from the same era. It starts with his customary blazing of “Long Tall Sally” and then smoothly transitions to “Whole Lotta Shaking Going On.” “Your Mama Don’t Dance” was the first non-Elvis song featured and it took the audience a little by surprise, as did “Flip Flop and Fly.” After that Elvis returned to his own catalogue with “Jailhouse Rock” and then wrapped up with “Hound Dog.” It was over three minutes of warp speed rocking. Fans today call it the “rock and roll medley” and it’s one of the absolute highlights of the concert and of Elvis’ entire live-performance career.

“How Great Thou Art” was another song Elvis brought out for the 1972 tours, retired it in 1973 and returned to it here. It was the lead-track off his first Grammy-winning record and it was a song he always poured his heart and soul into. His performance here is stirring and caught the attention of the Grammy’s again, who once more gave Elvis an award for his performance of the song. Elvis remains the only person in Grammy history to win two separate awards in two separate years for two separate recordings of the same song.

Similar to his attaching “Amen” to the tail-end of “I Got a Woman,” Elvis had taken to attaching the old Fats Domino number “Blueberry Hill” to “I Can’t Stop Loving You.” Once again the man’s gift for arrangement and interpretation shines through as he blends the two songs together so seamlessly you’d swear they were always meant to go together.

“Let Me Be There” was one of only two brand-new numbers Elvis performed (the other being a spiritual, “Why Me Lord”). It was a recent hit by a recent breakout star in the US, Olivia Newton John, and Elvis took a liking to it. In truth, it’s a bit more bubbly than anything he typically sang, but it was at least lively in its arrangement and Elvis clearly has fun with it. After it’s done and the crowd showers him with an ovation, he spontaneously bursts back into the chorus, stretching the song out for another minute.

“My Baby Left Me” was written by the same man who penned “That’s All Right” (Arthur Crudup). Elvis obviously recorded the latter song on that hot July day at Sun Studios, but he also recorded “My Baby Left Me” for Steve Sholes at RCA in early 1956 (during the same session that produced “Blue Suede Shoes”). And when you hear it after being told “it’s basically ‘That’s All Right’ with different words” you’ll never hear anything else.

The crowd ate up the concert, which was the perfect mix of old rockabilly songs and modern flair. Parker was told that RCA would only release an album that was different from the Aloha concert and this was as different as it could be. Only eight songs from the Aloha concert were carried over to the Memphis show and only four of those were actually featured on the album. Even the cover art for the record was different, featuring a picture of Elvis’ Graceland mansion on the front of the sleeve, and the big estate gates with music notes filling up the back of the sleeve; it was the first Elvis record not to feature his picture anywhere on the cover. And while the album did not reach the heights of success that the Aloha soundtrack achieved, it did sell over half a million copies in its first run and was a top-thirty charter.

On the other hand, his latest studio album, Good Times (with material taken from his December, 1973 Stax session) terribly disappointed in the charts. It didn’t help that the record featured yet another generic picture of Elvis dressed in a Las Vegas jumpsuit (this one from 1972). There was nothing about the record to indicate to the public that it was worth noticing. It reached only #90 and was the worst-charting studio-album (not soundtrack or live record) in his career. As with Raised on Rock and the ELVIS (Fool) album before it, the record failed to reach Gold-record status, selling less than 500,000 copies. Meanwhile the Joan Deary-produced Legendary Performer: Volume 1 outsold all three records combined. Another Deary album, the UK-only “40 Greatest Hits” was the best selling record in that country in 1974. His old material was clearly viable, but his new material was frequently dead on arrival. Elvis continued to sell out wherever he performed in concert but those numbers were not translated to sustained success as a contemporary artist.

He was an oldie.

What Elvis needed was a complete shakeup of the way he did his business and the way that business was presented to the public. Unfortunately the man himself had no interest in putting in the kind of work that was needed to pull it off. He had been eager in 1968-1969 but those days were over.

His live shows in Las Vegas were increasingly becoming exhibitions of his erratic behavior. The man who once held his public image with extreme care, was now slipping into drug-addled rants in the middle of his shows, where he would call out celebrities in the audience that weren’t actually present, or spend ten minutes explaining how “You Gave Me a Mountain” wasn’t about he and Priscilla, despite what the tabloids said. Long meandering conversations with the crowd or with no one in particular had always been common, going back to the beginning of his Las Vegas career, but those had been playful, smiling and, despite the oddity, semi-coherent. Elvis’ 1974 rants were another matter entirely.

One famous rant happened to be captured by a fan and was uploaded on YouTube, featuring Elvis railing against a report that he was strung out on heroin. To the best of anyone’s knowledge the man never touched the stuff, but tabloids make their money with the sensational not the factual. Elvis of course had grown increasingly dependent on prescription drugs, not only in the number of different drugs he was taking but also how much he needed to take at once to feel any kind of an effect, but he no doubt rationalized a difference in the two kinds of addictions and justified his own drug-dependency as okay since it was “prescribed by a doctor” (and we’re really stretching the definition of the word “doctor” with respect to Elvis’ primary physician George Nichopoulos). The reports that he was a “drug” user enraged him so much he went on a profanity-laced tirade in the middle of a Las Vegas show, and threatened to pull out the tongue of the man who printed the story.

After that he casually launched into “Hawaiian Wedding Song.”

Listen below if you want, but beware: There’s harsh language…

Somehow, while his sole gravy train was in the middle of a meltdown, Col. Parker got an idea. Despite the seriousness of Elvis’ condition, the fans in the audience remained loyal and laughed and clapped along with him, no matter what he said. That kind of loyalty sells records, so Parker launched his own record label so that he could sell a “talking album” featuring Elvis’ on-stage banter. Since the RCA contract specifically allowed the company to own Elvis’ recorded music but did not specify ownership of his words, Parker was able to sell the album (titled Having Fun With Elvis On Stage) at Elvis concerts and reap all of the profits.

The record contained merely snippets of Elvis talking about random things, with no continuity, no rhyme or reason to what it said. It’s like listening to randomly assembled pieces of multiple conversations. It’s literally just Elvis…talking. But Parker was, if nothing else, a grade-A huckster who used to paint pigeons yellow and sell them as canaries, and he managed to sell the snake oil of that “record” to countless fans from sea to shining sea.

This is where we need to remember that Tom Parker got his start as a Carny.

Parker even sold the rights to the album to RCA who turned around and with a straight face sold it like it was just the next Presley album (before an embarrassed Elvis finally discovered it and ordered it discontinued).  Probably the most disappointing thing about the record is that it sold! It reached #9 on the US Country charts and sold about as well as Good Times had done earlier in the year.

Meanwhile Elvis was spending almost as much time in bed at the Baptist Memorial Hospital in Memphis as he was in Graceland. A January 1975 engagement in Las Vegas was postponed so Elvis could be hospitalized with what was announced to be the Flu, but in truth it was a detox and treatment for an enlarged colon (a side effect of his regular cocktail of drugs). The Baptist Hospital staff tried to flush the drugs out of his system, but Elvis’ lackeys kept him in regular supply, often entering the room with pills as nurses would exit. During this stay, Elvis’ father Vernon suffered a heart attack and spent his stay at Baptist in a bed next to his son. By the end of his life, Elvis would have the entire top floor of the Baptist hospital devoted to his care, ready to receive him whenever he came in.

Eventually Elvis recovered well enough to host a contracted Las Vegas appearance, scheduled for March. RCA needed new albums for 1975 as well, and the December 1973 session at Stax only had enough left over material for one more record; more would need to be recorded. Felton Jarvis knew it would be a struggle to get much work out of Elvis, who had become almost allergic to responsibility, so he arranged it for Elvis to combine his Vegas rehearsal with a recording session, and booked RCA’s Studio C in Hollywood as the location they’d record in. Much of the material available however was previously-recorded by other artists. Elvis was no song-writer, of course, and while he did love taking someone else’s arrangements and putting his own spin on them, he still relied on material written for him. There was not much of that to be found here, as Elvis was more interested in just recording whatever he’d heard recently on the radio.

There was also the matter of Elvis’ enthusiasm, which had been almost non-existent in 1973. There was no way to know, until the man walked into the studio whether they’d get a singer eager to work or a man desperate to go home. Fortunately for everyone, Elvis walked in with a smile on his face and a readiness to take care of business.

“Fairytale” had been a hit record for the Pointer Sisters for the better part of a year when Elvis finally recorded his version. Curiously, though the song had a strong countrified flair to it, it fared better on the all-inclusive Hot100 chart (placing at #13) than it did on the country-exclusive chart (where it only reached #37). The Pointer sisters were the first successful black female country act (solo or group) and were the first black females to perform on the Grand Ole Opry. Elvis had a good foundation to work with here, and it was a fitting song to record. The lyrics were about the singer who realized his lover no long cared so he was “walking out the door.” As with “Separate Ways” it paints basically the opposite picture of reality concerning what happened between he and Priscilla, but Elvis was never one to face reality unless absolutely necessary. He probably heard the song and convinced himself it perfectly told the story of what happened to his failed marriage.

Felton Jarvis’ arrangement really lays the country instrumentation on thick, as slide guitars make their most pronounced appearance on an Elvis record since the Elvis Country album he recorded five years prior. It made sense for the “king of rock and roll” to take this route, however, as he was certainly finding more and more success on country radio stations than anywhere else (“oldies” stations were not yet as prevalent as they would become), and even his more-overtly rock songs like “Burning Love” were longer-lasting hits with country fans than with rock listeners. Adapting a recent country hit seemed like a no-brainer, but the execution of the song leaves a lot to be desired. Elvis does nothing with it. Other than slightly upping the tempo, Elvis takes the song as he knew it from the radio and simply recorded a basic cover of it (and one that seems to fade out just as it gets going). The days of his taking Hound Dog and turning it from blues jam to breakneck rocker were far behind him.

Elvis voice is much crisper than in the 1973 Stax recordings, although he struggles with hitting the high notes. Still, it’s nice to hear some honest-to-goodness enunciation coming from the singer for the first time in half a decade. Clearly his time at Baptist Hospital was still paying off.

“Green, Green Grass of Home” was up next and it was a certified country anthem by the time Elvis recorded it, ten years after Porter Wagoner took it to #4 and nine years after Tom Jones reached number-one with it. Over the years it became a song that basically every country singer (or any other singer looking to dip their toes in the genre) had to record. In 1968 Johnny Cash released what is perhaps the definitive version from, fittingly, inside the cold grey walls of Folsom Prison. As with “Fairytale” the impetus for Elvis recording it was simply his being smitten with it. He heard Tom Jones’ version in the car in eastern Arkansas on his way back home. George Klein’s radio show (on the same WHBQ station that played the first Elvis record on the air) and called in to have Klein play it again when it ended…and again…and again.

And again.

Elvis’ version is solid. In fact it might be even better than solid. The strength in his voice that was evident on “Fairytale” is still present, and the song is right up his alley: Sincere, a little operatic, and not overdone in the arrangement (although sometimes the “ooohs” from the backers come close to overpowering his voice). After two songs, it’s clear that this session was going to go far better than either of his trips to Stax in 1973. The song selection may have been uninspired, but he was doing more with less.

“I Can Help” was a recent one-hit wonder by Billy Swan, having reached number-one with the song on both the country and Hot100 charts. Unlike with the first two songs of the session, this one was not brought in by Elvis, but by Felton Jarvis, who knew his singer could do good work with it. Also unlike the previous two songs, Elvis was no fan of the song, remarking that he was sick of hearing it on the radio. Nevertheless Elvis knocked out a take—only one complete take—and then moved on. If there was a sign needed that this session would be the opposite of Stax that was it; Elvis’ one take sounds as polished and perfected as some artists’ twentieth takes.

“And I Love You So” was the first song of the session with strong single potential. Perry Como had made the Don McLean song a hit in 1973 and Elvis knew just how to work the material. It’s also the first time in the session that Elvis and Felton opt for some tweaking in the arrangement. Como’s version was a little too “Sinatra/nightclub” so Elvis stripped it down and kept strictly as a ballad. It still picks up at the one-minute mark, but Elvis’ version manages to keep the overly-sentimental lyrics in check, and his obvious desire to do it right keeps it from being too heavy-handed. Unfortunately, the song never was released as a single and it remains another largely forgotten gem.

“Susan When She Tried” was another that Felton brought to the session and once again Elvis had only a passing interest. He at least gave this one more than a single try the way he did “I Can Help.” The song was upbeat and catchy, though it lacked the power of “Green Green Grass of Home” or the smoothness of “And I Love You So.” It was a bit too hokey to appeal to most radio DJs, but it was a solid recording and Felton knew after so many years that he only had so many songs before Elvis would lose interest. Right now the iron was hot and he had to keep striking. The song may not have had single potential, but it was good enough for the album that RCA was expecting for later in the year, so that was good enough for Jarvis.

“T-R-O-U-B-L-E” ended up being the song everyone pegged as the breakout single of the session. RCA in fact scooped it up and sent it out before Jarvis even had time to add extra overdubbing. It certainly had a lot going for it to inspire such confidence. It was the most pure rock and roll song Elvis had done since “Burning Love.” It was an original number, in contrast to everything else Elvis had to work with at the session, and despite that Elvis gave it his full attention.

There’s a misconception that Elvis had no passion for recording rock songs after his split with Priscilla. Yet, whenever he had one to work with, he always tore into it with that same manic enthusiasm he gave to “That’s All Right” a lifetime ago (or at least as much enthusiasm as his older, more worn down body would allow). The trouble was he rarely had good material to work with anymore. It’s true that his mood would sour in his final years and he certainly demonstrated signs of depression, and he may even have gravitated to those songs of love-lost when choosing material to record, but had his producer actually produced better material, he might have had a better output of recordings in his final years. “T-R-O-U-B-L-E,” with it’s bouncy piano melody and catchy lyrics, didn’t have to be the exception to the rule. If it hadn’t been the only pure “rock and roll” song on the record it might not have been a big blow when the single only peaked at #35 and failed to sell the 500,000 copies needed for gold record status. In fact, Elvis hadn’t had any single “go gold” since 1972, when “Burning Love” and “Always On My Mind” were a one-two punch that sold over a million and over 700,000 respectively.

“Woman Without Love” was another that Elvis recorded in one take. Again, the strength in his voice and a solid country and western arrangement around it elevates it, but the lyrics are pretty inane. Jerry Chesnutt, who also wrote “T-R-O-U-B-L-E” clearly did not have two hits in his arsenal this time. The song is about a man feeling sorry for his woman whose heart he’s breaking. It’s condescending and patronizing, and peaks with the line “a man without love is only half a man, but a woman is nothing at all.” Despite the obnoxious lyrics, it’s actually remarkable that Elvis was able to so nicely sing it in just one take. Maybe it’s because it—subconsciously—summarizes his actual feelings about his failed marriage!

“Shake a Hand” dates back to the days when Elvis was only a singer in his truck working for Crown Electric in Memphis. Faye Adams took the song to number-one on the R&B charts in 1953 and Elvis had always been fond of it. He never attempted it in studio before here, however, and no home recording has ever turned up. It would have been nice to hear what “1956 Elvis” might have done with it. As it is, the “1975 Elvis” version is fine enough, but as with most everything else recorded here, there’s no creativity at work. Elvis just lays down the song as he always knew it, right down to the constant tremolo on the piano. It sounds old fashioned, and today that means it’s “classic,” but in 1975 that wasn’t a compliment.

“Bringin’ It Back” was the second and last new song that Elvis recorded in the session. It had been submitted months earlier by Greg Gordon, the then-piano player for the vocal group Voice, whom Elvis had personally hired to perform with him and for him at his beck-and-call. By the time Elvis got around to recording it, Gordon had quit the band. During recording, Gordon got a call from Elvis’ handlers and told him to sign-off on Presley claiming half-ownership of the song or it would not be recorded. Gordon took the deal and the ballad was released as the second single. It fared even worse than “T-R-O-U-B-L-E” however, reaching only #65 (just one notch better than current low-point of the decade, “An American Trilogy”). The song is fine for the album, but there was nothing about it that justified releasing it as a single, especially not over the much-stronger “And I Love You So.” The only reason it seems they released it was because they had partial ownership of it, and it wasn’t a cover of an already-released song.

“Pieces of My Life” ended the ten-master session with another ballad. It’s a gloomy one, with lyrics about lamenting over bad decisions leading to bad consequences. It’s loosely, unintentionally, autobiographical, and Elvis’ performance is sincere. It was paired as the B-side to “Bringin’ It Back” and between the two of them, the order probably should have been flipped. “Pieces of My Life” managed to each #33 on the US Country charts, higher than anything “Bringin’ It Back” achieved.

It’s good that “Pieces of My Life” was done last, too, as Elvis fell in love with the recording after it was completed. The band remained in limbo (still on the clock) while Elvis listened to the master over two dozen times. Midway through what could have turned into an all-night playback, Brian Wilson of the Beach Boys entered the studio, having been nearby in Las Angeles and wanting to meet the king. The brief meet-and-greet brought about the formal end to the session, and though Felton Jarvis had the ten songs he needed to compile a full record, there was music left on the table. A trio of songs were unfinished from the 1973 STAX recordings that he could have brought to the studio (but didn’t). Had he, they might have been able to scrap “Woman Without Love” or at the very least have some extra material in the can should the occasion arise that Elvis wasn’t feeling so up for recording.

As it turned out, such an occasion would arise the very next time they tried to get him in a studio.

Since this session was intended to be both a studio session and a concert rehearsal there were other songs rehearsed which Elvis toyed with adding to his live act.  “The Twelfth of Never” was only ever intended for his live act, but the rehearsal shows enough strength in the performance that it could have been formally recorded for an album.

Elvis also laid down a take of “Tiger Man” that is vastly different from the electric version he jammed out to in the 1968 NBC Special. This one feels much more artificial, more safe. It sounded okay enough to have been used on the album if it had been necessary but it’s good that it wasn’t; it would have done a disservice to the way fans prefer to remember that song, with Elvis clad in black leather, thin and full of life, banging his guitar and singing at 100mph.

In Las Vegas Elvis also met with Barbra Streisand, who was producing a remake of “A Star is Born” and was interested in Elvis for the male lead. While the singer had grown increasingly more frustrated with his film roles as the 1960’s progressed and was relieved to be done with them when the decade ended, the offer by Streisand was a different matter entirely. This was not some cracker jack, shoe-string budget, musical comedy starring Elvis as a fun loving fisherman, or a fun loving ski lodge instructor, or a fun loving son of an oil tycoon, or any other trite rubbish. It was a serious film, with a serious production, and would feature serious starpower.

Presley was receptive to the idea, and pledged to get into shape and commit to the role as needed. In fact, Elvis saw the role as the chance to become a genuine, serious movie star, something he wanted when he first signed on to what would become “Love Me Tender.” Despite all the weariness of the almost-thirty films of the 1960’s, Elvis was prepared to jump back into Hollywood and leave everything he’d build in the 1970’s behind if it meant becoming a real actor.

A month later, Elvis’ management received an official contract offer, but a combination of factors derailed the project. For one thing, Colonel Parker did not like the idea of “his boy” playing a supporting-character. In addition, Parker was used to negotiating Elvis’ film contracts a certain (carny) way: From a position of strength. Almost every movie Elvis ever made featured half the budget being paid to the star (of which half was then paid to Parker). Elvis was now getting a legitimate film offer, and his percentage of the cut was far less than what something like “Double Trouble” or “Kissin Cousins” had afforded. There’s also the fact that, if the movie had succeeded and Elvis had turned to serious movies as a career, his music career would certainly have dried up, which would have made Parker’s relevance to Elvis’ career much more…insignificant. That being said, the movie did end up casting a musician (Kris Kristofferson) and though he did go on to have a long film career, he never really stopped recording; Parker was unnecessarily paranoid.

Nevertheless, the Colonel counter-offered with such an insulting submission that the producers of the film didn’t even try to negotiate. Parker demanded Elvis receive top billing, a million-dollar salary and an astounding fifty-percent of the profits (of which Parker would get half, but nevermind that). Considering that Streisand had already won an Oscar and been nominated for a second, not to mention was producing the movie herself, the idea that she’d give top billing to a supporting actor in “her” movie was laughable. One would almost think it was intentionally insulting. Either way Elvis was out of the picture, and he went on with his life.

But in the shadow of the massive Aloha concert, and with the missed opportunity of a proper film career, work in Las Vegas was no longer exciting.

The Promised Land LP had been released, featuring mostly left-over material from the 1973 Stax session. The album, as did its predecessors, struggled on the overall album charts, but it did reach number-one on the country chart, and the title track “Promised Land” was a big hit both in sales and in radio play. The album cover is yet another picture of Elvis in Las Vegas, this time sporting a peacock outfit and a terrible double chin. The man was as averse to professional publicity photos as he had been to studio recording, it seems.

His summer Las Vegas season brought a new look to Elvis. He no longer could fit into his older suits, and he was no longer interested in jem-studded, cape-adorned outfits (one too many times he’d almost been pulled off stage by his cape), so he asked Bill Belew to design a series of new costumes for him to wear. These would be just as elaborate as the previous, only now with respect to the patterns and art than the number of rhinestones. On one occasion, Elvis looked at a drawing for a suit that was to feature two zebras looking at each other. Elvis saw the picture upside down, however, and thought the design was of a bird. Belew didn’t have the heart to correct him (of course), so he tweaked it and turned it into the “black phoenix” outfit that would be sported in his later years. In the meanwhile he performed in Vegas wearing”normal looking” two piece suits.

The suits weren’t the only thing that was “normal” and “usual” about his latest Vegas run; the music was pretty “usual” too. Attempts to add new material to his set, such as “T-R-O-U-B-L-E,” rarely stuck, and his crowds were growing a little too familiar with the same twenty songs. Some numbers that used to bring the crowd to their feet, like “American Trilogy” were now receiving only polite applause, causing a frustrated Elvis to shout out “alright, what do you want to hear?” leading to requests for half-remembered songs like “Return to Sender” and “Marie’s The Name (His Latest Flame)” that he would rush through with slurred speech, laughing at his own slip-ups along the way.

There were a few bright spots to note, such as a cover of Bobby Darin’s 1963 hit “You’re the Reason I’m Living” that had as much spontaneity and energy behind it, you’d almost think it was recorded in 1970 at the peak of his live performing. You can hear him in the recording, guiding his band through the song, first calling for a C-chord, then telling them to switch to the bridge, then go down to a D. It’s a rare moment of what made Elvis’ 1970’s recordings so exciting in the first place; just a singer interpreting a song for no reason other than the joy of music.

On the other side of the spectrum was the ballad “Softly As I Leave You” which was less of a song and more of a story told with musical accompaniment. Elvis introduces it as a “true story” (it’s not, but it adds color to the tale) about a man writing his final words to his wife as he feels himself start to die. Elvis doesn’t actually sing the goodbye-words, but instead speaks them while backer Sherill Nielson (of the Stamps quartet) sings. It comes together as a touching moment that usually roused the crowd.

With the bicentennial approaching, Elvis added “America the Beautiful” to his setlist in 1975 and would keep it through 1976. A studio version would later be tried, with the intention of making it a 1976 single, and potentially feature it on an album of half-life/half-studio recordings, but the idea was abandoned, and in fact the only known recording of the song in studio is lost except for the tail-end.

By the end of 1975, Elvis had made millions from various tours across the US, the sale of his back-catalogue to RCA and his multiple Las Vegas gigs. But also by the end of 1975, Elvis had spent millions more, without any care or concern for his income. All of the handlers who were so quick to control where he went and what he did were less interested in reining in his obscene spending habits. In fact, at one point in the year, Elvis completely drained his bank account of every dollar he had to his name, having spent a small fortune on the purchase and upkeep of his own personal jet, the Lisa Marie.  His health was deteriorating, not only because of his persistent drug abuse but also his dietary habits. At forty years old, he wasn’t able to throw down cheeseburgers, banana-splits and jelly sandwiches like he used to, at least not without heavy weight gain and strain on his heart.

Yet he persisted.

Empty promises to get in shape for this concert or for that tour were given, but without a big global spectacle like the Aloha Special or the Madison Square Show on the horizon, there was no motivation for him to change what he was comfortable with. And at this point in his life, all Elvis cared about was being comfortable. Making changes—permanent changes—to his life, twenty years into being the most famous entertainer on earth, was simply not practical: It was needed, but not realistic. Lingering bitterness over the end of his marriage, frustration over the stagnation of his career, the harsh reality that he was no longer the genre-defining idol he had been, and a myriad of health problems brought on by diet and drugs were all orbiting around his life, and unless someone could get through to him before it was too late, it would be the death of him, and the King of Rock and Roll would leave the building permanently, not with a standing ovation, but with a frustrated, heartbroken fanbase saying “it didn’t have to be this way.”

Unfortunately, that’s exactly what will happen.

> PART ELEVEN: LEAVING A LEGACY

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  • SyFyFanatic

    Elvis is the King! His looks along with his southern charm warmed the hearts and minds of all the women that knew or watched him perform. Never will anyone be able to accomplish such a career as Elvis and even since his death, there is a “whole lotta shakin’ goin’ on”!

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WWE Spoilers: Big tag match announced for Clash of Champions

WWE Spoilers: Big tag match announced for Clash of Champions

WWE SmackDown LIVE Results: December 5, 2017

WWE SmackDown LIVE Results: December 5, 2017

WWE RAW Results: December 4, 2017

WWE RAW Results: December 4, 2017

The Empire Strikes Back made Star Wars “Star Wars”

The Empire Strikes Back made Star Wars “Star Wars”

WWE Spoilers: Three more title matches announced for Clash of Champions

WWE Spoilers: Three more title matches announced for Clash of Champions