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Elvis Country was the result, released in January 1971, it was Elvis' only real concept album and in my opinion does rate as Elvis best album. However the album came about via the traditional Elvis recording session - originally set aside for recording studio songs for the Elvis: That's The Way It Is album and a few singles. These sessions produced a total of no less than 34 recordings, however it is 12 of these that are special in that they made it onto the Elvis Country album.
(For more about the TTWII album Read our That's The Way It Is FTD CD Review)
The June 1970 sessions lasted five nights, (June 4-7). The usual recording procedure was reverted to, with Elvis doing his vocals along with the rhythm track. The decision to follow up the magnificent sessions in Memphis by going back to RCA's Nashville studio and hiring Nashville musicians, must have puzzled quite a few people at the time. However, as Chip Moman's Memphis studio had folded, both RCA and Felton Jarvis must have been pleased to see the situation return to what it had been before - particularly Felton Jarvis because he would once more be in total control again.
On June 6, the second last night, a new idea began taking shape. All of a sudden, a country album began to emerge. They'd already cut a handful of solid country tunes; (On June 5, It's Your Baby, You Rock It had been recorded and on June 4, I Was Born About Ten Thousand Years Ago, The Fool and Little Cabin On The Hill) - Now they began the project in earnest, recording on this night; I Really Don't Want To Know, Faded Love, Tomorrow Never Comes, Make The World Go Away, Funny How Time Slips Away and I Washed My Hand In Muddy Water among other songs. The following night, the last night of these sessions, Elvis recorded There Goes My Everything, again, among other songs.
Elvis returned to the same studio on September 22 to record the two final songs to make up the album of 12 tracks - Snowbird, and a brilliant Whole Lotta Shakin' Goin' On - Now how anyone could record such a great version of a song after Jerry Lee Lewis stamped his name on it forever at Sun Records is a testament to Elvis' ability - and he did it in one take! Elvis must have felt he could do it as he usually did not try to take on songs if he felt he could not better a version he respected. The full version can be heard on disc two, where there is a minute and a half of Elvis chattering away before the 'rough mix' of Whole Lot-ta Shakin' Goin' On, including Elvis telling Felton Jarvis he needed to get back to LA that night, requiring some water from the Memphis Mafia, and also directing his band members. Sometimes the best work is done when there is less thought, not over thought and overdone. Just go with your instinct. Elvis always strived for the freedom to sing what he felt knowing that there would be some ordinary songs but this method would ultimately produce the gems.
Now the much maligned Colonel Parker had a very positive input into this album, suggesting and approving the artwork including the classic front and back cover art and quite possibly, the including of the snippets of I Was Born About 10,000 Years Ago in between the songs. Now I have read reviews and other comments from fans saying this CD should have been released with out this. How anyone would suggest such vandalism is beyond me, the format works perfectly and is part of why the album is so good.
What is an album?
An album is more than a collection of songs just thrown together, it is a carefully crafted selection of songs in the right order that work together. Often there are some great songs in their own right in the mix, but not every song has to be 'great'. For example someone might say that Snowbird is not such a great song, in fact Ernst Jorgensen in his great book, A Life In Music, refers to the recording of this song as 'a pretty song, but tossed off with no attempt at an original arrangement (Elvis did want to get back to LA!) - however as part of the album, and in particular as the opening song it works beautifully.
Beneath this snowy mantle cold and clean
The unborn grass lies waiting for its coat to turn to green
The snowbird sings the song he always sings
And speaks to me of flowers that will bloom again in spring
I am not sure what a Snowbird is but the song is a great way to open this album.
The first noticeable difference is the back cover, gone is the original art (this is inside the flap on opening) replaced with the track listing over a very faded 'country' background. Inside as mentioned we have the original back cover, a nice picture of Elvis as a child dressed up as a cowboy - and the booklet is arguably the best of all the 7" releases, containing numerous photos of Elvis as a child and young adult (in his country upbringing).
So how many songs - in their own right - can lay claim to greatness. Generally, the songs that make up Elvis Country are of a high standard, but I think there are nine out of the twelve that in my opinion are simply among Elvis best work. (And the rest ain't bad either!)
It's Your Baby, You Rock It, The Fool, Little Cabin On The Hill, I Really Don't Want To Know, Faded Love, Make The World Go Away, Funny How Time Slips Away, I Washed My Hand In Muddy Water and Whole Lotta Shakin' Goin' On.
(Of these, in particular Little Cabin On The Hill, I Really Don't Want To Know and Faded Love are just magic!)
Of the three songs left out of the above list; Snowbird, Tomorrow Never Comes and There Goes My Everything - I could only consider Tomorrow Never Comes to be 'promoted' to the list. It's a nice song, well sung by Elvis however it just does not standout quite like the other songs. A good tune to follow Snowbird and to proceed Little Cabin On The Hill - in fact I think it the perfect lead in to 'Little Cabin' - it makes the opening to that song even more special. So in my opinion both Snowbird and Tomorrow Never Comes are good examples of songs that have been well placed to make a great album as mentioned above. There Goes My Everything is also well sung and generally a nice song but I cannot get past the 'there goes my only possession' line.
I had never paid any attention to this album until one day back in the 1980s - I was reading though a book that listed all of Elvis' songs with a mini write up of each. On noticing more than one track for this 'Elvis Country' album was given a glowing 'review', I worked through the book looking up each song and was amazed that the write-ups where all so positive. So I was then determined to buy this 'record'. I managed to find it at the Cheltenham Market (Suburb in Melbourne) and I clearly recall playing it that night and promptly creating a bad scratch when I accidentally knocked the needle arm. So the very next day I was back in Cheltenham buying a second copy. I had heard enough that I new it was a great album. I cannot recall, but I suspect that at this time anything labeled 'Country' was probably something that was not attractive to me. Back then I was listening mainly to Elvis' Rock 'n' Roll, and I still maintained an interest in the pop songs of the day.
When I was young my heart was young then, too
Anything that it would tell me, that's the thing that I would do ....
Today I lean more toward country, Elvis Country, and through Elvis I have developed a liking first for Johnny Cash, (As a lot of Elvis fans have) then via Cash's involvement with the Highwaymen, I have developed a strong liking for Waylon Jennings and Kris Kristofferson. I no longer listen to the radio nor have any interest in today's nonsense coming over the air waves. (A sure sign of getting old!) I was stunned recently to hear Elvis sing a brief one liner of the 1965 Waylon Jennings song Stop The World (And Let Me Off) on disc 2 of the Nevada Nights CD released at the same time as this Elvis Country CD. That Elvis even new the song was news to me, it would be over three years before he would record his one and only Waylon Jennings song, You Asked Me To (Written with Billy Joe Shaver - a great song writer with a shocking voice). Of the recording Waylon wrote, 'He did one of my songs once, Just Because You Asked Me Too, imitating my voice. After he died, RCA wanted to put out a duet album with artists who had worked with Elvis, and asked me to sing along on his finished track. I couldn't handle that. 'Call Elvis', I told them. 'If it's okay with Elvis, it's okay with me'. Of Elvis he wrote, 'He was great when he started, and he was still great when he died - Man, he was something!'
The Bonus Tracks
I mentioned that my first purchase of this album was a vinyl LP, when CDs came out, (I purchased my first CD player in 1986) the first Elvis discs came from Japan. Eventually the album was released on CD and it was great, because now there was no break, with the whole piece playing continuously. Then came several re-releases and inevitable bonus tracks, which to me always spoilt the album
One can easily add bonus tracks to From Elvis In Memphis or Elvis Is Back! but not 'Elvis Country' when you have had the continuous link between the songs. Also the choice of bonus songs was bizarre, there seemed to be no thought on behalf of the producers as to what they added; For example on the last Sony BMG re-release they added - It Ain't No Big Thing (But It's Growing), A Hundred Years from Now, If I Were You, Got My Mojo Working/Keep Your Hands off of It, Where Did They Go, Lord and I Was Born About Ten Thousand Years Ago. Three of these were originally released on Love Letters From Elvis. It just did not work! But in fairness to Ernst - what was he supposed to do? Not to include bonus tracks would draw criticism and these previous CD releases were not major projects as clearly are the FTD Classic Albums.
To my delight, FTD have come up with a perfect collection of bonus songs for this release, that compliment the original album nicely. In some respects a few even surpass the original work, and here I refer to the 'country jam', a fascinating collection of five tracks. The first of these tracks we have heard before on Essential Elvis Volume 4, Faded Love (Country Version). Here Elvis is jamming away on a song he does not completely know the words to, yet he produces an out and out classic, a lovely laid back version that makes me wish he recorded more like this. Elvis ended by asking Lamar Fike 'we got the words to that Lamar ... and then 'While where waiting lets do The Fool'. And next up is take 1 of The Fool, another very enjoyable song.
Then, the highlight for me is the unreleased A Hundred Years From Now rehearsal and first take, labeled as take 1 and 2. In this piece of magic we get the full (I assume unedited) link between both takes where Elvis says 'Here goes my fucking career, right down the drain', and then proceeds with the great take 2. Just Elvis being his spontaneous self - great stuff. Then, 'Were rollin', this'll be take one' ... of Little Cabin On The Hill (What a great song!) follows to end this great, country, addition to Elvis Country.
We then have 'alternate masters' of It's Your Baby, You Rock It and Faded Love (Take 3) and first takes of Tomorrow Never Comes, Snowbird and Where Did They Go Lord. The last track being the only one that I don't believe belongs here. Of particular interest are the various snippets of studio dialogue preceding and also during various takes of Tomorrow Never Comes. Listen as Elvis directs the band though the first take and compare it to subsequent attempts until they reach the superbly polished master.
Disc 2 includes 16 tracks, we get to hear Elvis tackle Faded Love which he masters in one take and there is a minute and a half of Elvis chattering away before the 'rough mix' of Whole Lot-ta Shakin' Goin' On, (Another one take classic) including Elvis telling Felton Jarvis he needs to get back to LA that night, requiring some water from the Memphis Mafia, and also directing his band members. An added surprise bonus from the September session is a funky instrumental warm up which doesn't feature James Burton, who was absent from the session.
Arguably this is Elvis' best album and certainly his only real concept album. It is full of great songs and now has a compliment of bonus tracks that make it just so good. Although a number of out takes have been previously released on Essential Elvis Volume 4 (The Essential Elvis Series basically being the forerunner to the Follow That Dream Collectors Label that has released this CD) and The Nashville Marathon FTD CD, there is plenty on this 2 CD set to enjoy ‘the making of' this critically acclaimed album.
Don't miss this album, it is truly one that and deserves time in your CD player. This was Elvis' first Nashville session to use a sixteen track recording machine and the sound quality on this release is superb!
The breeze along the river seems to say
That he'll only break my heart again should I decide to stay
So, little snowbird, take me with you when you go
To that land of gentle breezes where the peaceful waters flow
Review by David Troedson with help from Daniel Avram and some text from Ernst Jorgensen's original Recording Sessions book and his most recent, Elvis : A Life In Music - The Complete Recording Sessions.
Disc 1 - The original album:
1] Snowbird - 2:04 - 22nd Sept. - Elvis sings this pretty straight, neither adding nor deducting much from the Anne Murray original. A song perhaps not entirely suited to his style.
2] Tomorrow Never Comes - 3:53 - 7th June - A dramatic beat ballad, first done by Ernest Tubb in 1949, although Elvis may have been more familiar with the BJ Thomas 1966 cover. A fine performance from Elvis, who tackles this in a style reminiscent of Roy Orbison at full throttle.
3] Little Cabin On The Hill - 1:45 - 4th June - A country 'standard' from 1948, the original by Bill Monroe & The Moon Grass Boys. Elvis gives this an authentic country sound, ably backed by harmonica from Charlie McCoy.
4] Whole Lotta Shakin' Goin' On - 3:00 - 22nd Sept. - The original was by James Faye 'Roy' Hall in 1954, rapidly covered by Big Maybelle. Elvis gives the Jerry Lee Lewis hit a thorough workout and loses none of the fire. This is pure rock 'n' roll. Great stuff!
5] Funny How Time Slips Away - 4:20 - 7th June - There were versions of this by Billy Walker & Jimmy Elledge in 1961, with the composer, Willie Nelson issuing his in 1962. Then there were covers by Johnny Tillotson , Joe Hinton  and [after Elvis] Dorothy Moore in 1976. Elvis does a fine job on this plaintive country song in which the clever lyric has a guy meeting his 'ex' and apparently wishing her well, but with a sting-in-the-tail. He makes this song his own.
6] I Really Don't Want To Know - 2:45 - 7th June - An Eddy Arnold original from 1954, with covers from Tommy Edwards , Solomon Burke , Little Esther Phillips  & Ronnie Dove . Elvis does another good job on this country favourite, with some solid but sensitive backing, and nice David Briggs piano.
7] There Goes My Everything - 2:55 - 8th June - Although the first chart appearance of this was by Jack Greene in 1966, in the UK, we were more familiar with the 1967 smash hit version from [the very non-country] Engelbert Humperdinck. Elvis does a workmanlike job on this smooth ballad, but no fireworks.
8] It's Your Baby, You Rock It - 2:56 - 5th June - Unusual lyric - addressing the new man of his 'ex' and he is not sympathetic. Excellent vocal from Elvis and the backing girl singers on this lively country rocker.
9] The Fool - 2:26 - 4th June - A Sandford Clark original from 1955 [the 1956 re-issue went top 10 in the US] and Al Casey had an instrumental cover in '56 also [Fool's Blues]. Other covers were heard from The Gallahads  & Jamie Coe . Elvis omits an important bit of the lyric here [he nails it on the outtake] but a good version, very close to the original.
10] Faded Love - 3:04 - 7th June - A Bob Willis & His Texas Playboys original from 1950 with covers from Leon McAuliff  & Patsy Cline had a posthumous US hit with it in 1963. Pure country, but done by Elvis as country-rock. Fine backing with some excellent harmonica from Charlie McCoy and some horns have been added in post-production. The master is subject to an early fade [we get the full-length one later].
11] I Washed My Hands In Muddy Water - 3:41 - 7th June - A Stonewall Jackson original from 1965 with covers from Charlie Rich  & Johnny Rivers . In what sounds like an impromptu jam, Elvis doesn't want this to ever stop. The master is faded early [we get a longer rough mix later].
12] Make The World Go Away - 3:34 - 7th June - Both Timi Yuro & Ray Price had hits with this in 1963, but the song is most associated with Eddy Arnold's country version from 1965. Elvis does a fine job on it here, with the blend of lead vocal, support vocals & the backing captured perfectly. Great stuff!
13] I Was Born About 10,000 Years Ago - 3:11 - 4th June - A traditional song. Heard in snippets as the between-track link on the original album, and then in full on the 1972 album: Elvis Now. Another one sounding like a studio jam and nailed in one take. Given a lively run through by Elvis, this master is faded early [we got a longer version on the 70's box set in 1995].
14] Where Did They Go, Lord - 2:27 - 22nd September - Not really a religious song, more a lament about lost love. Elvis gives a heart-felt performance on this. Used as the flip of the single: Rags To Riches in 1971.
The Country Jam
15] Faded Love [Country version] - 0:36 - 4th June - Really just a short, informal, incomplete try-out. We had this on Essential IV - A Hundred Years From Now in 1996. They did the song properly on the 7th.
16] The Fool Take 1 - 2:20 - 4th June - The point of the song is that the singer finally admits that 'I'm that fool' the one he's been singing about. Elvis omits that confession on the master ! But he sings it here. First on Essential IV - A Hundred Years From Now in 1996.
17] A Hundred Years From Now Takes 1 [1:50] & 2 [1:24] - 4th June - The master that we heard on the 1995 70's box set was a splice of the two takes. This enabled them to edit out some slightly naughty lyrics. We first got the two together [complete] on the 2002 FTD release: Nashville Marathon.
18] Little Cabin Home On The Hill Take 1 - 2:04 - 4th June - Slightly longer than the master take, we first got this on Essential IV - A Hundred Years From Now.
19] It's Your Baby, You Rock It Take 3 - 3:09 - 5th June - First heard on the FTD release: Nashville Marathon in 2002. The sleeve here doesn't say the take number, but the booklet does.
20] Faded Love Take 3 - 4:18 - 7th June - They finally settled on the shorter Take 1 as the master [Take 2 was a false start]. We first heard this take on Essential IV - A Hundred Years From Now in 1996.
21] Tomorrow Never Comes Take 1 - 3:20 - 7th June - Shorter than the master, heard here for the first time.
22] Tomorrow Never Comes - Take 2 - 3:53 - 7th June - First heard on Nashville Marathon in 2002.
23] Snowbird rehearsal [0:48] & Take 1 - 2:05 - First release for the rehearsal [it fades in after the start] but we got the Take 1 on Nashville Marathon in 2002.
24] Where Did They Go, Lord Take 1 - 2:20 - 22nd Sept - From Essential IV - A Hundred Years From Now.
The undubbed June 7th Masters - Rough mixes made by Felton Jarvis immediately after the sessions, before any overdubs were recorded.
1] I Really Don't Want To Know 2:46 First release of this here.
2] Faded Love Take 2 - 0:32 [False start - rehearsal ?] - Take 1 - 4:06 - Later fade than the official master.
3] Tomorrow Never Comes Take 12 - 0:31 [False start] - Take 13 - 3:53 - First official release here.
4] Make The World Go Away - Take 1 - 1:45 [False start] Take 3 - 3:33 - First released on the album Welcome To My World, although the sleeve claimed it was a live track The Take 1 false start makes its first appearance.
5] Funny How Time Slips Away - 4:20 - First appearance with this mix.
6] I Washed My Hands in Muddy Water - 4:23 - First appearance with this mix.
7] I Didn't Make It On Playing Guitar - 3:40 - 5th - From Essential IV - A Hundred Years From Now  A studio instrumental jam with some delicious Elvis vocal interjections, luckily picked up by the mic on his acoustic guitar. A longer edit of this jam has been available unofficially.
8] Tomorrow Never Comes - 7th - Take 3 - 2:42 - Take 11 - 3:58 - Both here for the first time.
9] There Goes My Everything - Take 1 - 8th - 2:45 - From Great Country Songs in 1996.
September Outtakes All from 22nd.
10] September Warm Up - 1:50 - An instrumental jam - First time here.
11] Snowbird - Take 4 - 0:10 [False start] - Take 5 - Called but nothing gets underway - Take 2 - 2:03 - The take 4 false start is new here, but Take 2 was on the Today, Tomorrow & Forever box set in 2002.
12] Where Did They Go, Lord - Take 2 - Just a couple of extremely short [new] false starts - Take 3 - 2:20 - We had this on Nashville Marathon in 2002.
13] Whole Lotta Shakin' Goin' On - Rough mix with horns - 4:35 - The infamous 'horn dub' version. Although we got this long version on Essential IV - A Hundred Years From Now in 1996, this the first official release with those horns on. Elvis was right to ask for their removal in my view ! The late fade reveals some deliciously fascinating [and sometimes wordless] Elvis vocalising that is almost orgasmic !
Bonus Cuts - Undubbed Rough Mixes From 7th June.
14] When I'm Over You - 3:27 - Master, late fade makes for a longer track. First official release.
15] The Next Step Is Love - 3:40 - Master, late fade makes for a longer track. First official release.
16] Love Letters - 2:48 - Master, first official release with this mix.
Overall, an interesting and sometimes fascinating release!
Great to have all these tracks together on 2 CD's.
Elvis was obviously on top form at this time, still heady after the American Sound Studio sessions of '69, but not yet suffering from the boredom that crept in during '71.
File under 'essential'...........................
Recording Session Data
Mastered by Lene Reidel and Vic Anesini
Original A&R: Felton Jarvis Original Engineer: Al Pachucki
Thanks Claude Braün and Erik Rasmussen
Recorded June 4-8 and September 22, 1970 at RCA's Studio B, Nashville.
Elvis Presley and the band - Studio B, Nashville, June 1970
Top, (left to right): David Brigs, Norbert Putman, Elvis Presley, Al Pachucki, Jerry Carrigan; bottom: Felton Jarvis, Chip Young, Charlie McCoy, James Burton (Early morning hours June 9, 1970)
Guitar: James Burton, Harold Bradley ('Snowbird' only)
Percussion: Jerry Carrigan
Percussion & Vibes: Farrell Morris
Organ: David Briggs
Steel guitar: Weldon Myrick
Banjo: Bobby Thompson ('Little Cabin On The Hill' only)
Fiddle: Buddy Spicher ('Little Cabin On The Hill' only)
Trumpet: Charlie McCoy, George Tidwell, Don Sheffield, Glenn Baxter
Sax: Wayne Butler, Norman Ray
Trombone: Gene Mullins
Flue and Trombone: William Puett
Flute, Sax And Clarinet: Skip Lane
Vocals: The Imperials, The Jordanaires, Millie Kirkham, Mary (Jeannie) Greene, Mary Holladay, Ginger Holladay, Temple Riser, June Page, Sonja Montgomery, Dolores Edgin
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