Review: How Great Thou Art - FTD Special Edition 2 CD Set

By: David Adams
Source: For Elvis Fans Only
July 18, 2010 - 2:30:24 PM
Elvis Reviews, Elvis CD Reviews


About two weeks after meeting The Beatles, Elvis finally decided on recording a gospel album. He wanted everyone to know that 'there's more to me than a lot of people might think'. Increasingly dissatisfied with the direction his career was taking, Elvis wanted to express himself creatively in new ways.

Truthfully there are four words to sum up this release : (excuse the pun) and they are .... how great thou art !!!! This new FTD release surpasses all previous releases at least for the sonic quality of the outtakes (not to mention the superb quality of the masters). I have never heard so many details in the harmony vocals.

Anyone that has purchased one of the FTD Collectors Label Classic Album CD sets knows the nice presentation, 2nd only to an LP. This is one great album, but you already knew that. The sound is the very latest masters and the outtakes make very interesting and enjoyable listening. How Great Thou Art is one of the superior releases in the Elvis Presley catalogue. The production was crisp and the vocals, even on my old vinyl LP, are crystal clear. The Jordanaires and Imperials provide stellar backing vocals.

The album remains a must for any fan of gospel and especially of Elvis Presley. Elvis expected more from himself and wanted others to know that he had much more to give as an artist and as a serious, caring person. Since he had early in his career relinquished control over the movies he was making and their soundtracks, Elvis decided to do what he did best - sing. Elvis Presley: 'millions of people around the world are going to hear this album. It's not rock and roll, man; it's God's music, and it's going to reach people in ways we can't even imagine. I can't be a channel if my ego is in the way. I have to empty myself so that the message can be heard loud and clear. And I'm not going to use my voice until I'm guided by that still, small voice within'.  

Elvis was bursting with creativity and became increasingly involved in the process, his flame reigniting as he handpicked every song. This album would be very different from his movie soundtracks, with their redundant and cliché movie filler songs. He took months, meticulously poring over countless selections from his own collection of LPs he had lovingly assembled over the years. Immersing himself in a way he hadn't done since he oversaw his music in the fifties, he listened intently to hundreds of the famed black gospel singers of the past, some on old, worn-out, scratchy 78 rpm records. Elvis' vision and passion could be best expressed by the classic gospel song 'How Great Thou Art', which became the title of the album.

How Great Thou Art - FTD Special Edition 2 CD Set : The back cover
Back cover of the How Great Thou Art set.

Front cover of the booklet included with this How Great Thou Art set.
Front cover of the booklet included with this How Great Thou Art set.

This time, Colonel Parker and RCA were in the backseat - Elvis was in charge. He relied heavily on Red West and Charlie Hodge, who played significant roles screening tons of demos they received from Tom Disken, Colonel Parker's assistant, and Freddy Bienstock of Hill & Range Music. They passed along songs that they felt might interest Elvis, and were instrumental in helping Elvis prepare for this upcoming album in many ways.

How Great Thou Art would reach only number 18 on the album charts. However, it would continue to sell and ultimately would surpass every one of his movie soundtracks in terms of sales except for Blue Hawaii.

The traditional hymn and title song, 'How Great Thou Art', was a perfect vehicle for Elvis' voice. A choir introduction leads to just his voice accompanied by a piano for the majority of the song. If anyone wants to hear the 1960's Elvis at his vocal best, this song is the place to start. 'In The Garden' continues the focus on Elvis' vocals as there is just a subtle backing which includes piano, bass and strings. 'Stand By Me' is a true classic as Elvis comes across as sincere in this smooth performance. 'Somebody Bigger Than You and I' is a full blown production featuring an organ out front, a full choir plus some strings with Elvis soaring above the mix. The song continues to build throughout as Elvis brings it to an emotional conclusion.Side two of the original LP release was more up-tempo as it contained three faster numbers. 'So High', 'Where Could I Go But To The Lord' and 'If The Lord Wasn't Walking By My Side' are all given a bouncy treatment by Elvis and provide a good counterpoint to the combined seriousness and inspiration of the first side.

The album concludes with the 1965 hit single 'Crying In The Chapel'. While it may not be a true gospel song, it certainly fits on this album. It was recorded in 1960 but not included on the His Hand In Mine album. Released as a stand alone single five years later it soared to number three on the charts Elvis strips this old standard down to its basics and gives it a unique interpretation. As a public expression of his evolving spiritual life, 'How Great Thou Art' eventually earned Elvis the first of the three Grammy Awards of his career.

Buy How Great Thou Art FTD Special Edition 2-disc set

How Great Thou Art FTD CD

Buy How Great Thou Art FTD Special Edition 2-disc set

How Great Thou Art : The Tracklisting

Disc 1

Original Album Side 1

01 How Great Thou Art (Stuart K. Hine)
02 In The Garden (Charles A. Miles)
03 Somebody Bigger Than You And I (John Lange/Hy Heath/Sonny Burke)
04 Farther Along (Arranged by Elvis Presley)
05 Stand By Me (Arranged by Elvis Presley)
06 Without Him (Mylon LeFevre)

Original Album Side 2

07 So High (Arranged by Elvis Presley)
08 Where Could I Go But To The Lord (James B. Coats)
09 By And By (Arranged by Elvis Presley)
10 If The Lord Wasn't Walking By My Side (Henry Slaughter)
11 Run On (Arranged by Elvis Presley)
12 Where No One Stands Alone (Mosie Lister)
13 Crying In The Chapel (Artie Glenn)

Bonus Songs

14 You'll Never Walk Alone (Richard Rodgers/Oscar Hammerstein)
15 We Call On Him (Fred Karger/Ben Weisman/Sid Wayne)
16 If Everyday Was Like Christmas (Red West)

First Takes

17 How Great Thou Art - takes 1 & 2
18 Somebody Bigger Than You And I - takes 1,3,11
19 Stand By Me - takes 1 & 2
20 Without Him - take 1
21 So High - take 1
22 By And By - take 4
23 If The Lord Wasn't Walking By My Side - take 1
24 Run On - takes 1 & 2
25 Where No One Stands Alone - takes 1 & 4 spliced
26 You'll Never Walk Alone - take 1
27 We Call On Him - takes 1 & 2

Disc 2

May 1966 Sessions

01 Run On - takes 3-6
02 Stand By Me - takes 5-7
03 Stand By Me - takes 9 & 10
04 Where No One Stands Alone - takes 2, 3 & wp 1
05 Where No One Stands Alone - wp takes 2, 3 & 5
06 So High - takes 2 & 3
07 Farther Along - takes 1& 2
08 By And By - takes1, 2, 3, 4 (fs), 5 & 7
09 By And By - takes 8 & 9
10 In The Garden - takes 1-3
11 Somebody Bigger Than You And I - take 12
12 Somebody Bigger Than You And I - takes14 (fs), 15 & wp 5
13 Without Him - takes 4 & 8
14 Without Him - takes 11, 13 & 14
15 If The Lord Wasn't Walking By My Side - takes 2-4
16 If The Lord Wasn't Walking By My Side - take 6

June 1966 Sessions

17 If Every Day Was Like Christmas - takes 1 & 2 (undubbed master)

September 1967 Sessions

18 We Call On Him - takes 4 & 5
19 We Call On Him - take 7
20 We Call On Him - take 8
21 You'll Never Walk Alone - take 2
22 You'll Never Walk Alone - takes 3, 4, 6 & 8

Wp = work parts
Fs = false start

The How Great Thou Art Sessions

May 25, 1966 RCA Studio B - Nashville, Tennessee

Run On TPA4 0908-07
How Great Thou Art TPA4 0909-04

May 26, 1966 RCA Studio B - Nashville, Tennessee

Stand By Me TPA4 0910-11
Where No One Stands Alone ____-04
Down In The Alley TPA4 0912-09
Tomorrow Is A Long Time TPA4 0913-03
Love Letters TPA4 0914-09

May 27, 1966 RCA Studio B - Nashville, Tennessee

So High TPA4 0915-04
Farther Along TPA4 0916-03
By And By TPA4 0917-10
In The Garden TPA4 0918-03
Beyond The Reef TPA4 0919-02
Somebody Bigger Than You And I ____-16
Without Him TPA4 0921-12

May 28, 1966 RCA Studio B - Nashville, Tennessee

If The Lord Wasn't Walking By My Side TPA4 0922-05
Where Could I Go But To The Lord? TPA4 0923-02
Come What May TPA4 0924-08
Fools Fall In Love TPA4 0925-05

June 10, 1966 RCA Studio B - Nashville, Tennessee

Indescribably Blue (Track) ____-NA
I'll Remember You (Track) ____-NA
If Every Day Was Like Christmas(Track) ____-NA

June 12, 1966 RCA Studio B - Nashville, Tennessee

Indescribably Blue (Vocal Overdub) TPA4 0982-02
I'll Remember You (Vocal Overdub) TPA4 0983-SP
If Every Day Was Like Christmas(Vocal Overdub) MWA5 9102-02

June 14, 1966 MGM Sound Stage - Hollywood, California

All That I Am (Overdub) ____-NA

June 20, 1966 RCA Studio B - Nashville, Tessessee

If Every Day Was Like Christmas (Celeste Overdub) TPA4 0984

Disc 1 tracks 1-12 and 17-24 & disc 2 tracks 1-16 recorded May 25-27, 1966 at RCA's Studio B, Nashville.

Guitar: Scotty Moore, Chip Young; Bass: Bob Moore; Bass & Harmonica & Guitar: Charlie McCoy; Drums: D. J. Fontana; Drums & Tympani: Buddy Harman; Piano: Floyd Cramer; Piano & Organ: Henry Slaughter, David Briggs; Steel Guitar: Pete Drake; Sax: Rufus Long, Boots Randolph; Vocals: Millie Kirkham, June Page, Dolores Edgin, The Imperials, The Jordanaires

Disc 1 track 13 recorded October 30, 1960 at RCA's Studio B, Nashville.

Guitar: Hank Garland, Scotty Moore, Elvis Presley; Bass: Bob Moore; Drums: Buddy Harman, D. J. Fontana; Piano: Floyd Cramer; Vocals: Millie Kirkham, The Jordanaires

Disc 1 track 14 & disc 2 track 17 recorded June 10, 1966 at RCA's Studio B, Nashville.
Elvis' vocals recorded June 12, 1966 at RCA's Studio B, Nashville.

Guitar: Harold Bradley, Scotty Moore, Chip Young; Bass: Bob Moore; Drums: D:J. Fontana; Drums & Tympani: Buddy Harman; Piano: David Briggs; Organ: Henry Slaughter; Steel Guitar: Pete Drake; Vocals: Millie Kirkham, June Page, Dolores Edgin, The Jordanaires, The Imperials

Disc 1 tracks 14-15 & disc 2 tracks 18-22 recorded September 11, 1967 at RCA's Studio B, Nashville.

Guitar: Harold Bradley, Scotty Moore, Chip Young; Bass: Bob Moore; Drums: D.J. Fontana, Buddy Harman; Piano: Floyd Cramer, Elvis Presley on 'You'll Never Walk Alone'; Organ & Harmonica & Guitar: Charlie McCoy; Steel Guitar: Pete Drake; Vocals: Millie Kirkham, The Jordanaires

Compilation produced and Art directed by Ernst Mikael Jørgensen & Roger Semon
Mastered by Sebastian Jeansson
Original A&R: Felton Jarvis, Steve Sholes (disc 1 track 13)
Original engineers: Jim Malloy, Bill Porter (disc 1 track 13), Al Pachucki (September 1967)

How Great Thou Art - Elvis Presley FTD CD

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