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Music Review: Elvis Presley – Elvis Is Back

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Elvis Presley was discharged from the army on March 5, 1960 and all was right with the musical world again. Elvis immediately returned to the studio for a series of sessions and quickly released his comeback album in April of 1960.

Elvis Is Back may have been the most important album of his career. There had been several releases while he was in the service, but he had been out of the public eye. His young fans were now a couple of years older. Things change quickly within the music world and fame can be fleeting.  Did Elvis still have it? The answer was a resounding yes. Elvis brought a new maturity to this album both vocally and in regard to his changing musical vision. Elvis Is Back is comprised of songs from many disciplines but what they have in common are that Elvis would take most of them in a pop direction. His musical future would ultimately be this fusion of polished pop and his rock roots.

Elvis Is Back is a tremendously satisfying album made interesting by the varied song selection. What is amazing are the songs that were left off the record. The series of sessions that produced this album also produced three number one singles. “Stuck On You,” “Are You Lonesome Tonight,” and “It’s Now or Never” could have made this album one of the great releases of all time, but instead served the purpose as single releases to keep Elvis in the limelight for almost a year through continual radio airplay and millions of 45 rpm records sold.

While Elvis Is Back is predominantly pop oriented, there are a few non-pop songs that are interesting. The old standard “Reconsider Baby” and “It Feels So Right” are both given a gritty blues performance by Elvis. “Such A Night” is a cover of the old rhythm & blues standard originally released by the Drifters among others. This song, about a one night stand, is given a smooth vocal by Elvis which was far different from the well known Clyde McPhatter effort.

Many of the pop songs show the direction in which Elvis was moving. “Make Me Know It” was written by Otis Blackwell and is presented as an up-tempo classic pop song. “Fever” is sung in Peggy Lee style; Elvis does a good job here but Lee’s version remains definitive. “Dirty Dirty Feeling” by Leiber and Stoller is another nice up-tempo outing for Elvis. Elvis even manages to give a competent performance of “Soldier Boy.”

History has shown that Elvis was very pleased with this album. It appears to be a relaxed effort consisting of many songs that Elvis enjoyed singing. While it did not sell as well as his film soundtracks of the time period, it did serve to re-establish Elvis as a commercial force. Elvis Is Back remains an interesting listen nearly forty years later.    

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  • jburrows

    “Elvis is Back” is one of the few albums in Elvis’ career that shows almost unlimited promise, yet in the final analysis fails to deliver it.

    For one, it highlights one of the worse front and back covers, not just in the history of RCA, but of the recording industry as a whole.

    The content could have been much better, if it had included the other cuts produced at the session, and avoided the use of some compositions which, for all practical purposes, are not in sync with the level of artistry, both musically, and vocally, which Elvis and his band were able to show in most of the other songs recorded therein.

    The tracking, as usual, fails to be consistent, mixing songs that have little or no place following those that preceed it.

    There`s no progression…

    Had “Elvis is Back” been produced as a concept album, and with the right ad campaign to back it up, it would have been a REAL smash, and not the so-so result that it actually was.

    Can you imagine, the return of the biggest artist in history, after a two year hiatus, and what do we get?

    An album, HIS FIRST in true stereo, NO LESS, that does not top the US charts and fails to sell at least a million copies within its first six months of release…

    Here´s how I would have produced the album, and the songs`sequence:

    Side A

    Assuming that you want to show, right there, and then, that “Elvis is back”, you start the album with the best of the best that he can actually do, in the new (for him) stereo setting, as follows:

    1 “Reconsider, Baby”. It is Elvis who wants to tell those listening not just that he is back, but that he`s leading the band, with his own guitar as the first thing you hear, dovetaling into the even harder sound of
    2 “It feels so right”, leading into the marvellous
    3 “Such a night”, after which, you are taken again on a pure blues ride, slowly at first, the incredible
    4 “Like a baby” which lands into the perfect
    5 “Dirty, Dirty Feeling”, whose abrupt ending makes the next song,
    6 “A mess of Blues”, even more welcome.

    Side B

    Now that you’ve established what a great Blues and R&B interpreter Elvis REALLY was, and continues to be, you proceed to reconfirm, beyond any doubt, what was already beggining to be known, in recording circles, namely that he has slowly become, as well, an incredible POP singer, as follows:

    1 “It´s now or never” (what a start!!) doveltailing nicely with the next, which is
    2 “Fame and Fortune”, which in turn leads to the amazing
    3 “Are you lonesome tonight”, after which
    4 “Fever” makes a lot of sense, sonically, followed by
    5 “Girl of my best friend”, the perfect early sixties fast ballad and ending with the only song that has all the early and present (for that time), elements, namely
    6 “Make me know it”

    Deleted are:

    “Soldier Boy” and “I will be home again” (corny in this setting)
    “Thrill of you love” (sappy) and
    “Girl next door went a walking”( not a serious effort, from everyone involved)

    Singles (same three)

    I am inclined to believe this version of the “Elvis is back” album would have been awarded a Grammy of the year, for best album.
    No questions asked…


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  • Jim Burrows

    Hi Chris!! Thanks, I´ve taken note of your suggestion.

  • Jim Burrows

    I forgot to mention the reason behind “Stuck on you” being not included in my version of the “Elvis is back” album. There are several, in fact.

    First of all, and although the delivery reminds you of some of his pre-Army singles, this is good insofar as his singles are concerned. Once included in an album, with other more sophisticated songs running alongside it, the song sounds “too bubble gum”, if you know what I mean.

    I first noticed this unwelcome trait when the song was included in Elvis’ “Golden Records Volume III”. The fact that it was sanwiched in between “It`s now or never” and “Fame and Fortune” , was neither here, nor there. But as I finished hearing the last song on that side (“I feel so bad”), the thought ran straight to my mimd that, after all, Elvis continued to record “bubble gum-sounding songs” and that “I feel so bad” wasn`t certainly the one to blame.

    In my humble opinion, when you hear “bubble gum” on an album, the artist relasing that particular album risks losing some credibility, vis a vis the rest of the album, which is not the case with a single which, after all, and unlike the album market, is exclusively the market for teenagers.

  • Jim Burrows

    A final comment: although “Make me know it” has also a catchy feeling about it, there are elements in that song that elevate it beyond “catchy” and, as aresult, move it further away from “bubble gum”.

    First of all, Elvis sings it, from the start, in a higher key than he does “Stuck on you”, where his vocal, at the start, sounds like an imitation of his own earlier vocals. It is at the bridge, where Elvis really lets go.

    In “Make me know it”, he sings the song
    ( written by Otis Blackwell, which in addition makes it extremely difficult for anyone to turn it into “bubble gum”), in a higher key, and he never lets go of that key.

  • The poor sales of “Elvis is Back” may be explained by the fact most of us original fans were married by the time it was released and money was scarce back then.

    The success of the later soundtracks was because of a wider less critical Elvis fan base due no doubt to the enormous success of the classic singles, “It’s Now or Never”, “Are You Lonesome Tonight”, “Surrender” and yes, even “Wooden Heart”. The general public were now purchasing Elvis’s music. Our parents generation had been, at last, won over by Elvis’s extraordinary voice! Elvis was Mainstream.

  • Jim Burrows

    Hi Maurice!! When I arrived in Brazil in early 1964, I couldn’t help noticing that the only Elvis album that my friends did not have was “Elvis is back”. I´d heard it, once, during a vacation we all took to Peru in December of 1962, at a friend’s house.

    When we got back to my dad’s post, in Mexico in early 1963 and, as expected and since there was an Elvis ban there, I was never able to listen to it again, until much, much later.

    There was as song that fascinated me, from the start, and that was “Reconsider, baby”.

    So, since there was no Elvis ban in Brazil, I kept wondering why none of my friends had “Elvis is Back”, especially since money was not a problem to them., or to their parents…

    Incredibly, most all did have “Something for Everybody”, which they told me was an album some of their parents liked, because there was one entire side which was basically more ballad oriented. I remember that vividly, because they were very careful in handling the LP, obviously scared to scratch the side their parents liked.

    So, perhaps, had “Elvis is Back” been produced, or marketed, along the lines I indicated in my previous posts, maybe, parents would have wanted to own “Elvis is Back”, if only to hear that side of the record they liked.

    As it turned out, not a single parent of any of the friends I acquired during my early years in Latin America ever bought it, except for that guy in Peru.

    The next time I had a chance to play “Elvis is Back”, in the comfort of a home was in the winter of 1970, when in my freshman year, my then roomate at Holy Cross invited me to spend that year’s Christmas break at a house they had in Maine. His parents had bought it, and it was a bit scratchy, but what a thrill it was.

    Needless to say, I bought it, on my next trip to a record store…

  • Nice story Jim, thanksamillion!!

    I did of course aquire the Album soon after it was released, but I had not rushed to purchase it. Back then our baby son John came first.

    It’s a great album which like you said, could have been exploited to the full. Especially at that time when Elvis was riding the crest of the wave of his first Comeback! 🙂