'Here I stand like an open book ...'
Raised on Rock/For Ol' Times Sake is one of the most disregarded 1970's Elvis albums that on second look actually reveals more about Elvis and his love for Priscilla than all the other Elvis albums put together.
Raised on Rock was the first studio album Elvis was to record following his separation from Priscilla. Having recently acquired the fantastic FTD Raised on Rock CD release which includes all the takes recorded during the session, bar 'Take Good Care of Her' and 'I Got A Thing About You Baby', it soon becomes clear that this is a very significant recording session from Elvis. It's significant in two ways:
- In his recording of an album containing some of the most personal autobiographical material to date that was clearly intended to tell Priscilla and the world of the hurt he was feeling, and
- In the marked departure of his former joyful exuberant demeanour. Elvis is visibly suffering the pain and heartbreak of his separation from Priscilla and this is remarkably captured by the performances and studio out takes included on the FTD album.
The background going into the recording session is as follows.
- Late in 1971 Priscilla delivers a bombshell that that cuts the King to the core. After a relationship spanning over 11 years she's leaving and taking their daughter with her. It knocks Elvis for six and has a major impact on his outlook and emotional well being. It marks the beginning of his decline into the serious drug addiction that will lead to his death 5 years later.
- His next recording session in March 27-29 focuses on his distress, with 'Always on My Mind' and 'Separate Ways' emerging over time as two classic autobiographical songs about his relationship with Priscilla. 'For The Good Times',' Where Do I Go From Here', 'Fool' and 'It's a Matter of Time' all focus on his broken marriage, and only 'Burning Love', forced on him, is upbeat and unrelated to his personal problems. The songs from these sessions would be released across singles, budget album compilations and the 'Fool' album over the next couple of years.
- In addition, Elvis starts including more sentimental songs of loss and loneliness into his concerts like 'This Time You Gave Me a Mountain', 'It's Over', 'What Now My Love', 'I'll Remember You' and 'I'm So Lonesome I Could Die'. All feature in his widely acclaimed but uncharacteristically sedated Aloha in Hawaii telecast in early 1973.
- By the time of the Raised on Rock recording session in July, over a year and half since the separation has passed and Elvis' efforts for a re-think on Priscilla's part have been unsuccessful. In July 1972 the separation had become formal and Elvis knows that in October 1973 the divorce will go through. He's gutted, his drug dependency has spiraled out of control and his soul is heavy with grief and hurt. The only women he fully gave his heart to is truly gone.
It is with this back drop that Elvis entered the studio with a batch of personally chosen songs, deeply focused on his personal situation. Never vocally open about his feelings and concerns, Elvis needs to express his emotions in the only way he knows how - through song, and in particular through this recording session.
The Raised on Rock recording sessions.
The recording sessions of Raised on Rock took place over 7 days in two different locations.
- 21-25th July: Stax Studio , Memphis Tennessee
- 22-23rd September, Elvis Home, Palm Springs, California
The recent FTD Classic album release gives us real insight and improved understanding about this recording session. We get the originally released album plus the best of out takes on CD 1. On CD2 we get the rough mixes of the original album plus the other existing out takes. In total we get 44 takes plus studio chat and banter, all mixed to best effect by the FTD team. We also get a booklet giving all the track listing details, photographs from 1973 including a photo of a bloated Elvis and Priscilla leaving the court together, and some behind the scenes information of what was happening with Elvis personal life and touring (he's hospitalised 6 days after his divorce with Priscilla for 2 weeks due to health problems brought about by escalating drug use).
The first thing that strikes you when listening to this FTD release is just how different the mood of Elvis is compared to previous recording sessions, as judged by the studio banter and performances captured here. Unlike previous recording sessions where we hear an upbeat, almost childishly exuberant Elvis in joyful mood clearly enjoying the music making process, here we have a far more restrained King, in darker and pained frame of mind. Just listen to some of the choice language and comments that goes on after many of these takes as Elvis lets vent on his slip ups! It's not the jovial bad language of previous recording sessions, and what joking and laughter there is, sounds forced. This is a sad Elvis in pain. 'Cut me and I bleed' he's reputed to have once said, and in this recording session the blood is gushing from his hurt.
Elvis didn't write his own music, but he could be a shrewd selector of songs, and for this recording session he needed to sing out his emotions and feelings. The overall theme of a song or the presence of a meaningful lyric in a song that connected with Elvis feelings seem to have been the primary factors in the majority of song choices made. Of the thirteen songs recorded at these sessions only three seem to be solely there for commercial considerations (Raised On Rock, Three Corn Patches, and Just a Little Bit), the rest can be seen to be selected primarily for the lyrical content or song theme that would allow Elvis to articulate his feelings. These are his message songs to Priscilla which didn't receive much attention when he first released them.
With this FTD release and the subsequent greater knowledge of the background to the recordings, we get the opportunity to rectify this oversight. In this review we're going to do something unique in the history of reviews of an Elvis album - we're going to focus very closely on the lyrics and examine what Elvis might have be trying to tell us and Priscilla. In the process we'll get a glimpse of the very heart and soul of the King and the pain he is going through. We also belatedly get to understand just how much Priscilla meant to him.
We'll look at each of the songs recorded in the order they were recorded. As the session progresses the songs get more revealing and personal.
If You Don't Come Back
This song immediately sets the tone of the session, with a focus on the effects of a partner leaving. Written by Jerry Leiber/Mike Stoller there's some powerful sentiments in the song that obviously resonated with Elvis. It has some superb singing between Elvis and the female back-up singers, and a funky rhythm that belie the sadness of the lyric. It starts:
'(Woke up this morning)
(What did the poor boy find?)
Well the car was gone and you were gone
And I almost lost my mind
The destructive impact of the women he loves leaving is outlined in the chorus that follows:
If you don't come back (if you don't come back)
Yeh, if you don't come back today
(If you don't come back today)
You can call up the people at the crazy house
And take this crazy man away'
This chorus becomes a recurring refrain throughout the rest of the song. This surely is the key message of the song for him, telling Priscilla the devastating effect of the separation and imminent divorce has and is having on him. He's crazy with grief and desperately wants her to return to him.
It's Different Now
This is a rehearsal song Elvis never did properly record. Whilst the song talks about how things are different now in an ongoing love sense it sounds like Elvis is putting another interpretation on it. Its different now not in the improved deeper sense of love that the songs lyrics explicitly outline, but because the one he loves is gone.
It starts with Elvis saying how wonderful Priscilla is and how much he appreciates her now more than before:
'I tell myself how wonderful you are,
You're so different now
Cos to me you're much more wonderful
More wonderful by far...'
The song then talks about problems in a relationship
'As the good times and the bad,
As the ups and downs we've had,
But it different now...'
The song ends with
'If we ever say goodbye,
You'll be lost and so will I'
and confesses 'a love that's here's to stay'
There'sruefulness in Elvis voice that seems to be imbuing the lyrics with a personal meaning relating to his situation. Without Priscilla, he is lost and the love he has for her will stay with him for ever.
Elvis almost makes this counter lyric interpretation work but is quick to realize that it's too big a stretch and that he can't quite get it to convey the meaning he wants. He quickly moves on to the next song.
Three Corn Patches
There was always been bemusement by the band that Elvis preserved with this apparently lightweight song by Leiber and Stoller for 15 takes. On the face of it there seems to be nothing deep in the song at all and it's certainly not a core message song from Elvis. Did Elvis believe this would be a more commercial song to include on the album or did he sing it as an indirect way of telling Priscilla how beautiful she is in the recurring chorus? It's most likely the former but if there was a message to Priscilla it could only be in the lyrics below.
'I said three corn patches four cotton fields away (2 times)
Lives the prettiest girl in the whole darn U.S.A.
She's got big brown eyes
And long black wavy hair (2 times)
She's so beautiful even it don't seem fair'
Take Good Care of Her
This was held back for his next album and so wasn't included in Raised on Rock album, and is also not on this FTD release. However to get a complete picture of what Elvis was feeling at this recording session we need to review it here. The lyrics are very autobiographical as another man (Mike Stone) was the catalyst for Priscilla making her break from Elvis. It's an honest song that reveals not only the strength of Elvis' feelings for Priscilla (he's lost the only girl he ever loved) but his continued love and protective feelings towards her.
The song starts:
'I suppose I ought to say congratulations,
for you've won the only girl I ever loved,
but hurt too much to face the situation,
just take good care of her, take good care of her'.
It continues with a declaration of just how much Priscilla meant to him and how much he still cares for her.
'To be around her was my greatest pleasure
She was everything my future held in store,
So remember when you take my only treasure,
Just take good care of her, take good care of her'
and later, in a show of continued love
'If she's happy, that will be my consolation'
Powerful sentiments indeed!
And about a direct a message of his feelings about Priscilla and Mike Stone as you can get.
Find Out What's Happening
This was another musically funky number with strong female backing vocal lines. The song content clearly comes across as an appeal to Priscilla to find out what's happening to him now she's gone. It contains a persistent and repetitive chorus:
'You'd better find out what's happening
Find out what's happening before long
If you don't find out what's happening
You're gonna find out that I'm gone'
The lyric 'you're gonna find out I'm gone', suggests not a physical moving but a major change in the person he is - he's warning he'll be a changed man without her. And looking at what actually happened there can be no argument that Elvis was never the same again following his split with Priscilla. Later the song continues:
'Tell me what you're gonna do
You'd better make up your mind
It all depends on you-'
This is a clear appeal to Priscilla to make up her mind and return to him as he had surely asked her to. 'It all depends on you' is doubled edged. The decision to return is up to her, he can do or say no more, but also, if she doesn't come back there's a direct indication of what will happen to him-
'If you don't come through
You won't ever see me again'
And this 'never see me again' is a reference to the core of his person he will lose - he'll be a changed man, not the same man as she knows and loves.
I've Got a Thing About You Baby
This super song was also held back for the Good Times album and not on this FTD release, but again, to get a complete picture of what Elvis was feeling and wishing to communicate at this recording session we need to look at it here. It's a song about the impact of love on a person, and for Elvis, an opportunity to tell Priscilla of his feelings for her. It features a recurring chorus. This surely the key message.
'I've got a thing about you baby
Ain't nothing I can do
I've got a thing about you baby
A thing about loving you'
A clear declaration of just how important Priscilla was to him and how helpless he is about the continued feelings he has for her.
The next verse builds on the theme and surely reflects what Elvis is going through now Priscilla has gone.
'Ain't no two ways about it baby
Your love was meant for me,
Know that I can't do without it,
Fit's me to a tee,
OOOO, there's something about you baby
Can't get you off my mind,
I know I can't live without you
I think about you all the time'.
Just A Little Bit
A love song wanting 'just a little bit' of a person's love that includes a little baby talk in the process (something Elvis is known to have indulged in). This was recorded in one take (bar a false start) so admittedly it wasn't something Elvis wanted to devote too much time to. However, despite the lightweight nature of the song, is there a plea in there for Priscilla to return to him?
'I want you to remember to say you'll be mine,
Say you'll never leave me till the end of time,
I want an eeny weeny bit, a teeny weeny bit of your love'
Raised on Rock
Following the success of 'Burning Love' from his previous early 1972 session this out and out rocker was obviously selected for commercial reasons. It's notable only as a Mark James song that name checks Elvis' 'Hound Dog' in the lyrics. No hidden messages here other than an affirmation of what Elvis was about:
'I was raised on rock, got that rhythm in my soul,
I was born to love the beat, of a thing called rock and roll'.
The remainder of the recording session now moves firmly into message song territory with all the songs reflecting his loss of Priscilla and his enduring feelings towards her.
For Ol' Times Sake
This is the message song to Priscilla from the recording session. If ever there was a song written that is quite so autobiographical and resonant of Elvis' feelings, this is surely it. It comfortably sits with 'Always On My Mind', and 'Separate Ways' to make up a compelling trilogy of songs that will forever be associated with Elvis and Priscilla, and it's without question the most poignant.
There's no doubt about the intent or sentiment of this song. Beautifully performed, this surely is what Elvis wanted to tell Priscilla. His cussing tirade on his second complete take when fluffing the last line of a deeply heartfelt take and his admission of being 'dewy eyed' (moist around the eyes with tears) and the prolonged forced joking about his emotions speaks volumes of how this song relates to his situation and how close the lyrics are to his soul. Written by Tony Joe White of Polk Salad Annie fame, this must be the closest any one song got to expressing what Elvis was feeling.
He sings it with a feeling and sincerity that comes from the depth of his soul.
'Before you go, walk out on me
Take a look around, tell me what you see,
Here I stand, like an open book,
Is there something here, you might have overlooked?
Cause it would be a shame
if you should leave and find that freedom
ain't what you thought it would be'
Remember Priscilla left Elvis for a freedom she felt she needed, not because she didn't love Elvis. She did, but she felt suffocated by the environment she was living in and needed to get away for her own sanity. As Priscilla says in Presley by the Presley's, 'If I had stayed I would have had no life'. But here Elvis asks 'What about me?'Is there something here, you might have overlooked?'. He also asks 'What if freedom isn't all it's cracked up to be?' What if you leave me and you're no better off?
The song continues:
'The years we've had
They're not all bad,
in fact I know the good outweigh the bad'
This is Elvis acknowledging the ups and downs the relationship has had, but saying 'hey, let's put it in perspective'.
The song continues-
'Now you say that you've grown tired
And you want to be by yourself a while,
it would be a shame if you should go
and find that freedom was a long time ago'
Again these lyrics so accurately reflect the situation of Priscilla's departure it unnerving. There are another couple of deeply poignant verses asking for her to reconsider what she is doing before an ending that clearly conveys his continued love for her:
'If you don't have nothing left to say,
Let me hold you in my arms for old time's sake'
This song is an unheralded Elvis classic that cuts you to the core even more knowing the circumstances of the recording.
Girl Of Mine
A song of a romantic on-going love situation on the face of it, but listen to Elvis' voice. Is he putting his own twist on it, making it a statement to Priscilla about just how much she means to him? If so, the song starts with Elvis declaring his everlasting love for Priscilla as it describes the feelings of love he has for her.
'-I get the warmest feeling,
So good I almost cry'
and the verse ends with the declaration
'I'll love you till I die'
The chorus builds on this sentiment with Elvis declaring just how much Priscilla means to him.
'Oh girl of mine, you make my day,
One sunny smile, all the clouds roll away,
Eyes deep as the sea, seems to say to me,
Our love will always be'
The next verse puts forward a proposition:
'So girl of mine,
Turn out the light and in my arms together
We'll make sweet love tonight,
Down lies a golden road and you'll always know,
I love you girl of mine'
He's saying to Priscilla 'Look, come back to me, I love you and together we can have a happy future together'.
The song then moves on to the final verse. Here Elvis is saying 'Hey, I don't blame you for walking out on me, but please come back. Let it be that when I return you'll still be there'.
'Sometimes I know I hurt you,
-I wouldn't blame you, darling,
if you walked out on me,
but I'll return to find you there
still waiting patiently'
Sweet Angeline (Palm Springs)
An ode to love lost. This is a beautiful recording by Elvis. The complete song goes like this:
'Sweet Angeline, I love you,
Much more than poems,
Saying rhyme just one short time,
Sweet Angeline remember,
Though we've not seen the summer through,
I lived only for you
I'm only human and I realize,
It's no use trying to disguise (my love for you
Angeline has ended),
So lets be thankful now not sad
for the little love we've had'
Switch the name Priscilla for Angeline and change the meaning of just one line (those I've put in brackets) to 'your love for me has ended' and there's nothing more that needs to be said.
I Miss You (Palm Springs)
When you listen to the lyrics of this song and the heart wrenching longing of Elvis' reading of it, there can be no doubt who he was thinking of: Priscilla, queen of his heart forever, despite all his philandering.
'Still I recall, all the good times together,
The love we shared, the fun and the laughter,
How I wish you could feel what my heart says tonight,
I miss you and wish you were here'
'Dreams that I had, lay broken in sorrow,
The plans I made, my hopes for tomorrow,
If I could, I would tell you,
I'm lonesome tonight dear,
I miss you and wish you were here
All through the night, I see memories passing,
The way you looked, the sound of your laughing,
How I long for the touch of your hand holding mine, dear,
Oh, I miss you and wish you were here,
Oh, I miss you, and wish you were here'
This is such an emotionally honest song about how Elvis was feeling, and one that genuinely conveys his pain and longing for Priscilla.
Are You Sincere
This on the face of it is a song of a new love affair but it doesn't sound like Elvis is singing it from that perspective. Just check out the complete lyrics below which are sung and spoken:
'Are you sincere when I say I love you?
Are you sincere when you say you love me too?
And are you really mine?
everyday day and all the time?
I've gotta know, which way to go,
Will our love grow?
Are you sincere?'
We know that Elvis and Priscilla had lots of contact after the separation. To quote from 'Elvis by the Presley's' DVD, he just couldn't let go. The love between them would always be there and surely she would have told him that despite everything she still loved him. When you see the photo of Elvis and Priscilla leaving the divorce court on such amicable terms (Elvis is holding her hand for heavens sake!) the deep love they have for each other is clear for all to see. Given this was the case, look at the lyrics again and listen to Elvis sing it. Elvis sings it not to a new love but to an old one. 'Are you sincere when you (still) say you love me? is sung with the pleading voice that wants to shout out, if you are, then why don't you come back to me!
Two weeks after his final recordings he and Priscilla are formally divorced. Elvis looks overweight and bloated. A week later he is admitted into the Memphis Baptist Memorial Hospital for 2 weeks with drug related problems. His drug taking is catching up on him and he will continue to have severe drug dependency problems until his eventual death.
So what does this recording session tell us about Elvis and Priscilla? That despite all his philandering he loved her dearly? That the split left him deeply wounded and terminally hurt? That over one and a half years after she left the wound is still an open one that showed no sign of healing? I think it does all that and more. It also tells us that Elvis had the antennae to identify and select songs that contained the most personal of messages, that music was indeed the core to his very soul and that only through it was he able to express and articulate his pain and grief. This recording session is testament to that.
This recording session also confirms that the recording of the more directly autobiographical material in the March 1972 session wasn't a one off. The die had been cast. For the remainder of his recording career the nature of the songs he chose to sing would be indelibly affected. Morose songs of loss would dominate the song selections. His studio work would become wakes of misery rather than celebrations of the positive side of love and life. And that joy, that wonderful spirit of joy and irrepressible sense of fun he had previously brought to his recording sessions, that would never return.
Neither would Elvis ever really recover from Priscilla leaving. His drug intake and dependency following her departure would get out of control and ultimately lead to his lonely death. Despite all his future girlfriends, he would never fully get over Priscilla, and if that isn't true love, what is?
The 'Raised on Rock' recording session is the landmark of this irreversible change in Elvis and his singing, and a testament of how a man who had everything could end up losing the one thing he belatedly valued most - the companionship of the love of his life.
The CD Album 2007 from FTD
With the 1973 album Raised on Rock, Follow That Dream Records continues its program of reissuing classic Elvis albums that are no longer part of Sony BMG's mainstream RCA Elvis catalog.
All these reissues include the content of the original release plus a great selection of bonus material from the sessions that produced the original albums.
1. Raised on Rock
2. Are You Sincere
3. Find Out What's Happening
4. I Miss You
5. Girl of Mine
6. For Ol' Times Sake
7. If You Don't Come Back
8. Just a Little Bit
9. Sweet Angeline
10. Three Corn Patches
11. I Miss You (takes 10, 11 composite)
12. Find Out What's Happening (take 6)
13. It's Diff'rent Now (rehearsal)
14. Three Corn Patches (takes 1, 2)
15. If You Don't Come Back (take 5)
16. Girl Of Mine (take 9)
17. I Miss You (take 5)
18. Three Corn Patches (takes 13, 14)
19. Are You Sincere (take 2)
20. Find Out What's Happening (takes 8, 7 composite)
21. For Ol' Times Sake (take 4)
22. Color My Rainbow
23. Sweet Angeline
1. For Ol' Times Sake
2. If You Don't Come Back
3. Find Out What's Happening
4. Raised On Rock
5. Three Corn Patches
6. Just A Little Bit (including FS)
7. If You Don't Come Back (takes 1, 2, 3)
8. I Miss You (take 1)
9. Girl Of Mine (take 1)
10. Find Out What's Happening (takes 1, 2, 4, 5)
11. Three Corn Patches (takes 4, 5, 6)
12. For Ol' Times Sake (takes 5, 6, 7)
13. I Miss You (take 10)
14. If You Don't Come Back (takes 8, 6)
15. Find Out What's Happening (takes 8, 7)
16. Are You Sincere (take 1)
17. Girl Of Mine (takes 3, 4, 5, 6)
18. Three Corn Patches (takes 9, 10)
19. I Miss You (takes 12, 13, 14, 15)
20. The Wonders You Perform
21. Good, Bad But Beautiful