Elvis the Singer
Elvis' voice is so familiar that even as fans, we are in danger of underestimating him. His strengths become more obvious when you compare him to lesser multi-million selling artists like Mariah Carey and George Michael.
Mariah's most pernicious influence as a vocalist has been to suggest that no line of a lyric is complete without a few decorative trills. The kind of cooing and aahing with which she and Whitney Houston once made one of those VH1 diva specials seem less like watching a historic concert and more like being trapped in a very small room with a couple of very talkative budgerigars.
The recently retired George Michael, although I must admit to liking his 'A Different Corner', is guilty of a similar vocal sin, often investing a line with too much vocal power, as he does most excruciatingly on his live version of 'Don't Let the Sun Go Down On Me'.
As a natural instrument, Elvis' voice had far greater range and depth than either singer, greater, indeed, than most singers, with the possible exception of Aretha Franklin. But for 80 per cent of his time in the studio, he knew how to use that voice to most telling effect. So he rarely over-sings when recording, delivering a vocal to suit the song. So he can rasp and rage for Jailhouse Rock, loudly accuse in 'Hound Dog', bare his soul and beg on 'Any Day Now' and sound quietly, sadly, worldly wise on 'Funny How Time Slips Away'. 'Return To Sender' is a superb example of a vocal tightrope walk beyond the powers of many of today's singers influenced by the likes of Carey and Michael.
This gift may explain why his music endures so powerfully and why his performances remain so easy to hear. And, being Elvis, every so often, he sets his voice free to produce a moment that can make you shiver. He can do this even in songs that aren't classics - for me, the way he assures his lover 'Oh babe I've not forgot' on Bringing It Back is worth the price of the 'Elvis Today' album just by itself, though it has the unintended effect of outshining the song.
Here, in no particular order, are my own favourite moments of pure Elvisness on record. You'll probably all have your own. If you want to share them, feel free to email me on ...
1/ 'Dreamin' of the arms that held me tight...'
The voice takes flight in Loving Arms, one of the few 1970s ballads that matches the Memphis 1969 ballads for intensity.
2/ 'Never know when ah'll be back in town'
The last verse of 'Funny How Time Slips Away' on Elvis Country is achingly beautiful. The pauses after 'don't know when though...' and before 'never' and between the 'ah'll' and 'back' are wonderfully judged.
3 'I'll never love another...'
The emotional crescendo of 'Long Black Limousine', a moment of pure indignation matched only by the desperation with which he insists to the object of his affection in It Hurts Me that 'He'll never love you...'
4 'Yeah one more...'
The moment in the gorgeous 'I Just Can't Help Believin' where he gives the backing singers another turn. The drawl threatens to descend into self-parody but stops while it is still simply sublime.
5 'You may get religion baby'
The rehearsals for That's the Way It Is, captured on The Lost Performances, show Elvis drawling 'Baby Let's Play House' in a laid-back down-home bluesy vibe that he ought to have used more often.
6 'Merry Christmas baby'
This is a masterpiece, though El does indulge in a few decorative trills. Most singers might start screaming halfway through, he saves his full,
intense, scream to the end. Perfect timing.
7 'I see my light come shining'
Elvis was one of the truly great yearners - the voice in this snippet of 'I Shall Be Released' is so full of longing you can't believe he didn't record this properly.
8 'My Jesus'
On Without Him, Elvis comes close to a thrilling blasphemy as he stakes claim to a personal relationship with God, crying 'my Jesus' as if the Son of Man was in the studio.
9 Left us only friends
On Separate Ways, the pain kicks in. This and the gentle refrain 'You only have to call me...' from It's Easy For You are almost painful, the emotion is so audible.
10 For Ol' Times Sake
The whole of Tony Joe White's ballad - beautiful, pure, conversational, relaxed not a showy or a false note in sight. A much underrated masterpiece.
More articles by Paul Simpson
Also by Paul Simpson :
Tupelo's Own Elvis Presley DVD + 16 page booklet.
Never before have we seen an Elvis Presley concert from the 1950's with sound. Until Now! The DVD Contains recently discovered unreleased film of Elvis performing 6 songs, including Heartbreak Hotel and Don't Be Cruel, live in Tupelo Mississippi 1956. Included we see a live performance of the elusive Long Tall Sally seen here for the first time ever.
This is an excellent release no fan should be without it.
The 'parade' footage is good to see as it puts you in the right context with color and b&w footage. The interviews of Elvis' Parents are well worth hearing too. The afternoon show footage is wonderful and electrifying : Here is Elvis in his prime rocking and rolling in front of 11.000 people. Highly recommended.