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Music Review: Elvis Presley – Elvis: Viva Las Vegas Soundtrack

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Written by Fantasma el Rey

Elvis: Viva Las Vegas is sixteen songs recorded live in Las Vegas from 1969-73 and is the soundtrack to the upcoming documentary highlighting the King’s years as the top draw in the gambling mecca of the west.

When Elvis hit the strip in the summer of ’69, he wasn’t a punk kid or paper-cutout actor. He was a reinvented powerhouse and a force to be dealt with by entertainers everywhere. With the ‘68 Comeback Special he proved that he could still rock a house to its foundation. His voice now reflected his age, bringing maturity and a renewed confidence to his live act. With a roundhouse kick of seasoned musicians led by guitarist James Burton, Elvis stormed the International Hotel with a passion and fury he hadn’t shown in ten years. Elvis carried with him an aggressive new sound fueled with strong guitars, funky bass lines, and a soaring horn section inspired by the Memphis soul stew cooked up over at Stax and Atlantic records.

Like a lion he roared at the bright neon lights to let that city know that the King was back and more than ready to erase the lukewarm reception he received back in ’56. With the nervous jitters of his first live appearance long out of the way Elvis stepped onto the stage of his new kingdom and possessed an energy that Vegas had been lacking for a while. To show his subjects that he could still stomp ass, he chose songs that were popular and had a drive that he could use to hammer his new sound home. He handpicked tunes that he admired and knew he could turn into his own.

The CD opens with the only studio recording on the disc, “Viva Las Vegas” from the 1963 movie of the same title. Other songs such as “The Wonder Of You,” “Bridge Over Troubled Water,” “Let It Be Me,” and “You’ve Lost That Loving Feeling” would become staples of his act for years to come. While the old blues tune “See See Rider” provided the triumphant sounding horns that would serve as the theme for the jumpsuit-clad Elvis’ choreographed Karate moves. If you listen closely to “That Loving Feeling” you can her him joke about the fit of those suits.

Elvis also chose songs that meant something to him personally and that would mirror his own life. “An American Trilogy” is about Southern life and God while “You Gave Me A Mountain” is a soulful ballad concerning a man’s wife leaving and taking their child with her. “Walk A Mile In My Shoes” is a jamming little ditty packed with sting aimed at his critics and negative press. The disc contains a number of swingin’ jams that filled his Vegas shows, including “Release Me,” “Patch It Up,” and the mean, bass-driven, horn-filled “Polk Salad Annie,” complete with big E’s fumble on the introduction. It’s always good to hear the King laugh at himself.

Elvis: Viva Las Vegas is a good sample of why at this stage in his career Elvis was truly the king of entertainers and the liner notes to the CD by the knowledgeable Colin Escott stress this as well. Sadly, it wouldn’t be long until the King was to be a bloated, pill-popping parody of his former glorious self and just a few years later his throne would be empty. Impersonators of all types from good to horrid sprung up everywhere to mock or turn the spotlight back to a time when Elvis stood tall and commanded respect as a true American icon prowling the desert nights in Sin City.

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About Gordon S. Miller

Gordon S. Miller is the artist formerly known as El Bicho, the nom de plume he used when he first began reviewing movies online for The Masked Movie Snobs in 2003. Before the year was out, he became that site's publisher. Over the years, he has also contributed to a number of other sites as a writer and editor, such as FilmRadar, Film School Rejects, High Def Digest, and Blogcritics. He is the Publisher of Cinema Sentries. Some of his random thoughts can be found at twitter.com/ElBicho_CS
  • Again the gratuitous pill popping inclusion and this the 30TH Anniversary of the man’s death!

    We, a world-wide nation of Elvis Presley fans hold these truths to be self evident: Never in the history of popular music has one man shown so much versatility in the expression of song. Furthermore no individual singer has so dominated the imagination of the global population to such an extent, that 30 years after his death, his name is still used as the standard all entertainers use to measure their own success.
    Elvis, as he is fondly remembered by hundreds of millions, continues to appeal to generations born since his untimely passing. His recordings still sell by the million and more than a thousand books have been written about all aspects of his phenomenal life and his continuing, albeit posthumous, career.

    Never in the history of popular music has an entertainer been so cruelly denigrated by so many scribblers with nothing but malice in their ink. Yet in spite of their constant jibes, Elvis Presley remains the paramount figure in the world of entertainment and continues to touch the lives of countless millions.

    We his beholden fans no longer need to cringe at the gratuitous and facetious comments made by certain media presenters and their ilk, for no matter what they in their ignorance say, we know Elvis Presley was the finest ever popular singer – a man of extreme generosity of spirit, and even considering his failings, he was still a far superior human being when compared to his mediocre detractors- comparatively few as they are!

    Wherever there are discerning ears, eyes to appreciate beauty, an ability to discriminate and minds open to reason, you will find fans of the late, and sadly missed, Elvis Presley.

    Elvis in all his extravagance, flamboyance, and zest for life did what none of the other singers quite managed to achieve. Like Andrew Lloyd Webber was heard to say on a BBC radio show, “Elvis Presley brightened up the world”.

    Now having topped the majority of recent Polls put out by world’s media, Elvis Presley remains the most important name in popular music -an undeniable fact.

    “O Death Where Is Thy Sting, Thirty Years Dead, and I’m Still the King!”. Elvis Presley?(with a bow to Sir Ronald Ross 1857-1932)

  • Brian aka Guppusmaximus

    (To the comment posted above mine – AMEN!!)

    “There are several unbelievable things about Elvis, but the most incredible is his staying power in a world where meteoric careers fade like shooting stars.”
    Newsweek, August 11, 1969

    “So what it boils down to was Elvis produced his own records. He came to the session, picked the songs, and if something in the arrangement was changed, he was the one to change it. Everything was worked out spontaneously. Nothing was really rehearsed. Many of the important decisions normally made previous to a recording session were made during the session. What it was was a look to the future. Today everybody makes records this way. Back then Elvis was the only one. He was the forerunner of everything that’s record production these days. Consciously or unconsciously, everyone imitated him. People started doing what Elvis did.”
    Bone Howe
    Recording Engineer

    And Finally, this is how you can really know that he was a pioneer:

    “His kind of music is deplorable, a rancid smelling aphrodisiac…It fosters almost totally negative and destructive reactions in young people.”
    Frank Sinatra

    “There have been many accolades uttered about Elvis’ talent and performances through the years, all of which I agree with wholeheartedly. I shall miss him dearly as a friend. He was a warm, considerate and generous man.”
    Frank Sinatra

  • EL

    Elvis Presley Is

  • Carole Clay

    I will always think of Elvis with deep love and appreciation. He did pave the way for so much. I too am saddened by those shallow folks who can only comment on his final days. Those days do not wipe out his legacy of music and his desire to help people.