The Seventies Revisited | An Alternative Singles Policy

By: Nick Ruck Keene
Source: Elvis Australia
November 4, 2006

In a previous article I dealt with the period from 1963 to 1968 when Elvis and his fans suffered from a poor selection of tracks which were chosen for release as singles. I outlined what I thought was an alternative release schedule that would in my opinion have kept him firmly in the Top Ten. I ended that article by saying that one day I would examine the 1970's in much the same way. And so here I am finally with keyboard in hand and so here I go.

Framing an alternative singles policy in the 1970's for both the UK and Australian markets, would, despite the greater frequency of studio sessions, have been a more exacting task than in the previous decade when almost anything I chose would have fared better than the dire film songs interspersed with old album tracks that a lazy record company pushed out as the new Elvis single. It would not have been wise to dip in too frequently so far as the plethora of live recordings in the 1970's were concerned - yet many of the latter had a more commercial appeal than some of his studio songs - which it must be admitted constituted a mixture of wheat and chaff. Not even Elvis could make a silk purse out of every sow's ear but oh boy did he try! As we know Elvis simply did not get the best songs around at the time mainly because of the Colonel's suicidal policy of only considering songs with a guaranteed publishing cut in. Several leading songwriters e.g. Roy Wood of Wizzard submitted songs to the Colonel - and never so much as received the courtesy of a reply. Incredibly Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice had no idea that Elvis had recorded their submission It's Easy for you until it appeared on the Moody Blue album!

Then of course not every track Elvis made was likely to be a classic. It is - I suppose - fair enough that Presley's record company issued every unreleased track they could find once he died but too often in the 1970's RCA tried to squeeze one too many albums from a session. There was no need for Love Letters in 1971 or Elvis Now in 1972. No other artists had their records put out on a warts and all basis. Did you know that there are 150 Beatles songs that the group collectively agreed were not up to par? I wish Elvis or Team Presley had exercised the same quality control - but the problem was of course that Elvis was under contract to produce a certain number of tracks each year. Quantity was seemingly more important to RCA than quality. It also took RCA until 1975 to come to terms with the fact that not only was Elvis no longer making enough records to maintain a four singles a year policy but that the singer himself was not overly interested in cutting commercial records-certainly not rock records - in sufficient numbers to maintain a release schedule of much more than two singles a year.

1970 - Actual UK releases:

Don't Cry Daddy No 8 Classic rendering of this weepie
Kentucky Rain No 21 Vastly underrated
The Wonder of You No 1 And the Colonel opposed its release!
I've Lost You No 9 OK - but the best choice as a single?

First three unchanged. Kentucky Rain was unlucky. It sold better - but over a longer period of time - than several singles which reached higher chart positions.

My choices would have been:

Let it Be Me No 1 A second single from that utterly brilliant live album On Stage was essential in order to capitalise on the scale of the success achieved by The Wonder of You. This old Everly Brothers song was largely unknown outside the States but Elvis transformed it into such an obvious hit that it is beyond this writer's comprehension as to why it was not put out on a single before anything was even considered for release from the June sessions in Nashville. This was a truly appalling omission in my book.

1971 - Actual releases:

You Don't Have To Say You Love Me No 9 Powerhouse vocal
There Goes My Everything No 6 Humperdink's song
Rags to Riches No 9 Self-indulgent
Heartbreak Hotel (re-release) No10 See below
Jailhouse Rock (re-release) No 42 made no sense
I'm Leavin' No 23 See below
I Just Can't Help Believing No 6 See below

My choices:

Patch It up No 3

Perhaps this was even more of a missed opportunity in the States and Australia than in the UK where the record-buying public at the time definitely seemed to prefer his ballads. Nevertheless, this exhilarating and catchy rocker would have been a welcome change of pace. It could hardly fail to be a hit and even now a remix could yield dividends.

Faded Love No 3

How could they not release this winner? Elvis inspires James Burton to one of his outstanding moments in the studio as that great fuzz guitar solo takes off midway through this rousing performance from the King. I know There Goes My Everything was a big hit but this track recreated the air of excitement and limitless opportunities that lay at the core of Presley's appeal.

I'm Leavin', You Don't Have to Say you Love me and I Just Can't Help Believing would wrap up 1971.

I'm Leavin' was not a big hit but like Elvis and his band at the time I would have thought it would have been huge and to this day I utterly fail to understand why it failed at a time when every other single was hitting the Top Ten. I would also have still released Heartbreak Hotel because it was the 15th anniversary of its first release but there was no point to the re-release of Jailhouse Rock at the time. It just cluttered up the release schedule.

1972 - Actual Releases:

Until It's Time for You to Go No 5. A boring nothing song
An American Trilogy No 8 Fantastic-but a single?
Burning Love No 7 All time classic
Always on My Mind No 9 as above!

My choices:

We Can Make the Morning No 3

This choice may surprise a few folk but this track - which is far from typical Presley material - was very much in the then current idiom. It had such obvious commercial possibilities that I suspect that it must have been recorded with a single release in mind, so it was puzzling to see it end up as the flip side of An American Trilogy. And it was a mistake to fade out the ending so quickly - it should have been allowed to run on and on like Suspicious Minds. The more you play this track the more it gets its hooks into you. Even today a remixed version has hit potential especially if allied to a television advert or sporting event.

Never Been To Spain No 3

The original No 1 US hit from the group 'Three Dog Night' was surprisingly unknown in the UK. I prefer the version recorded in Vegas the previous January but the version from the Madison Square Garden album, which was after all a massive seller, might have been a more apt choice and boosted album sales still further.

As before Burning Love and Always on My Mind would follow. What a pity that the memorable March 1972 session in Los Angeles from which these wonderful songs came only produced seven songs. Somebody slipped up there.

1973 - Actual releases:

Polk Salad Annie No 23 But we all had this one!
Fool No 15 A reasonable choice
Raised on Rock No 36 Corny. No hook line

My choices:

What Now My Love No 3 If Elvis could get cover versions of Love Letters or You Don't Have to Say you Love Me into the Top Ten then there would appear to be no reason why he could not have scored equally successfully with this old Shirley Bassey hit which as he sang it with such conviction in the Aloha from Hawaii special provided a ready-made video.

Are You Sincere No 1 The standout track from the disappointing July 1973 sessions at Stax. RCA would have had to repeat the second verse as it is a bit too short as it stands but this is a terrific atmospheric performance from Elvis and every time I hear it the hairs rise up on the back of my neck. I could see this spending weeks and weeks at the top of the charts. This simple but moving song freed something up in Elvis and rescued an otherwise disappointing session at Stax in downtown Memphis.

1974 actual releases:

I've got a Thing about You Baby No 39 not right for UK
If You Talk in Your Sleep No 40 same applies
My Boy No 5 obvious hit

My choices:

I would have released My Boy straight off the bat. It actually took a sustained campaign by the songwriters to get this obvious hit put out as a single several months after it appeared on the Good Times album and it then sold over 400,000 copies in the UK alone.

Good Time Charlie's got the Blues No 2

This was a Top Ten hit for singer Danny O' Keefe in the States - his only hit - but never saw the light of day in the overseas markets. Why is hard to say exactly as the original was a strong effort but in the hands of Elvis it became a masterpiece perhaps because Elvis strongly identified with the words even though he left out a verse. I cannot see how this laid back West Coast number so redolent of the times could have failed. In fact, it might even have hit number one.

Promised Land - why wait until 1975 to release this December 1973 cut?

1975 actual releases:

Promised Land No 9 an all-time classic
T-R-O-U-B-L-E No 31 Good but too complicated
Green Green Grass of Home No 29 Too identified with Jones

My choices:

Susan When She Tried No 7

Again based on the US charts this had potential. Elvis flowed with the strength of this upbeat and attractive country song and as it was again quite unknown outside the US I do not understand why it was not released at a time when Elvis was hardly cutting any new songs at all.

Shake a Hand No 10

A second single from the Today album would have been the only option available and this Faye Adams r & b evergreen was recorded in typical seventies fashion. I think it would have been a solid if unspectacular hit. And just about have squeaked into the Top Ten.

1976 actual releases:

Hurt No 37 over the top?
Girl of My Best Friend No 9 hard to refute

My choices :

Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain No 6

Now Hurt is a spine chilling record to listen to especially late at night but a UK or Australian hit single it was not ever going to be - although it achieved reasonably decent sales in the States where Elvis plugged it at every live performance. My choice here is a catchy tune albeit somewhat overdubbed and no doubt too middle of the road for some tastes. It is to my ear rather more commercial than Hurt and benefits greatly from a pleasant interplay of voices at the end that gets you humming away. Hit

Moody Blue Why wait until 1977 to release this No 6 hit?

1977 actual releases:

Suspicion No 9 Clever choice
Moody Blue No 6 see above
Way Down No 1 no change here
My Way No 9 inevitable I suppose

My choices :

As before except in place of Moody Blue, I would have inserted:

Pledging My Love No 2

Actually, I much preferred this track to Way Down and it would have made a more fitting finale - but then none of us knew Elvis would die when he did. It is not just the strength of Elvis' rich and deeply satisfying vocal that makes this old Johnny Ace track a winner but the added bonus of some terrific backing from James Burton and company.

Unchained Melody No 1

I would have shoehorned this - Presley's undeniably best track from his last year on this planet - in between Way Down and My Way. It could have been the biggest selling hit Elvis ever had outside America. I will never forgive RCA for missing out here.

So there we are. Everyone will have their own opinions but I reckon that my choices would have fared very much better than the releases which were actually put out by RCA at the time. That so many mistakes were made was perhaps not unconnected to the fact that although Elvis had at one point been granted the right to choose his own singles he only appeared to exercise his prerogative when he had cut a track he really believed in. Neither the Colonel nor RCA had much idea. Felton Jarvis did have his finger on the market and what the kids were into at the time but his influence waned after he left RCA's employ and went to work for Elvis directly. Politics often dictated the choice of single. It was not simply a question of the best cut. And that was it really. So long for now.

Nick Keene November 2006

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