What was Elvis Presley’s best album and where was it recorded?

By: Bob Mehr
Source: Memphis Commercial Appeal
January 11, 2024

Although many consider Elvis' mid-1950s sessions with Sam Phillips at Sun Records his most seminal work and his RCA recordings in Nashville and New York in the late-'50s his most successful, in terms of a single album, the consensus is Presley's best and most creatively satisfying LP was 1969's 'From Elvis in Memphis', recorded - where else? - in his hometown of Memphis, Tennessee.

By January 1969, Presley was at a creative crossroads. With his years of movie commitments satisfied and the televised '68 Comeback Special' behind him, Elvis was ready to get back to serious recording. As it happened, the hottest producer (Chips Moman), band (The Memphis Boys) and studio (American Sound) in the world were right in Presley's backyard in the Bluff City.

Fifty-five years ago this month, Presley entered American with Moman and The Memphis Boys and created his most accomplished body of work. (That effort was celebrated this past week as part of Elvis' annual birthday festivities at Graceland.)

Elvis Presley and Chips Moman at American Studios in 1969.
Elvis Presley and Chips Moman at American Studios in 1969.

A guitarist, songwriter and producer, Lincoln 'Chips' Moman had been instrumental in the early history of Stax, before going to launch American Sound Studios. While Presley was busy turning out his movie musicals in the '60s, Moman and American - located on Thomas Street in North Memphis - had grown into a monster. Moman had recruited a crack unit of players from the house bands at Hi Records and Phillips Records to form the American Studios group, dubbed The Memphis Boys: guitarist Reggie Young, drummer Gene Chrisman, pianist Bobby Wood, organist Bobby Emmons and bassists Mike Leech and Tommy Cogbill.

The lineup, mostly with Moman behind the board, would become a hit-making machine in the latter half of the '60s, working up a series of chart smashes for artists like the Box Tops ('The Letter'), Dusty Springfield ('Son of a Preacher Man'), Neil Diamond ('Sweet Caroline'), B.J. Thomas ('Hooked on a Feeling') and Bobby Womack ('Fly Me To The Moon').

Given the firm grip of Elvis' manager, Col. Tom Parker, his label RCA and song pluggers at Hill and Range Music Publishers, getting Elvis into Moman's studio proved a challenge. It was Marty Lacker - a onetime foreman for Presley, who'd gone to work for Moman - who essentially brought the project in through the back door.

'Marty was working for me and he was still in close with Elvis', Moman recalled in a 2009 interview with The Commercial Appeal. 'So Marty was talking to me about Elvis and talking to Elvis about me and slowly bringing us together. He's really the one that got that album to take place'.

The sessions, which took place in January and February of 1969, began with a bit of turbulence, as Moman was forced to take charge, clearing the studio of Presley's pals and business associates, and setting the tone for the record he wanted to make.

The real secret of the sessions was finding the right material for Presley. A gifted songwriter himself, Moman was always looking for the next hit tune. Among those who provided songs for the Presley album were up-and-coming young writers like Mac Davis ('In the Ghetto'), Mark James ('Suspicious Minds') and Eddie Rabbitt ('Kentucky Rain'). Combining the fresh material with a mix of old country, R&B and rock favorites, Presley was able to showcase his range and interpretive gifts.

While the sessions at American were not unique from a musical standpoint - 'we did exactly what we normally did' Moman would recall - Presley was being pushed in the studio for the first time in more than a decade, performing with a newfound energy and enthusiasm across the more than 30 tracks that were cut.

Released in June of '69, 'From Elvis in Memphis' would reach No. 13 on the Billboard album charts, while a string of singles from the sessions, including 'In the Ghetto', 'Don't Cry Daddy', 'Kentucky Rain' and 'Suspicious Minds' would return Elvis to top of the singles charts. The King's musical resurgence continued with his return to live performing later that year in Las Vegas.

A year later another album, 'Back in Memphis', containing leftovers from the American sessions, was released. Over the decades various compilations and deluxe editions have further chronicled the sessions, including the elaborate box set, 'American Sound 1969'.

But when it comes to one defining LP, it's hard to top 'From Elvis in Memphis', as the essential album in the King's canon.

Bob Mehr | Memphis Commercial Appeal.

From Elvis in Memphis is the ninth studio album by American rock and roll singer Elvis Presley. It was released by RCA Records on June 2, 1969. It was recorded at American Sound Studio in Memphis in January and February 1969 under the direction of producer Chips Moman and backed by its house band, informally known as the Memphis Boys. Following the success of Presley's TV special Elvis and its soundtrack, the album marked Presley's return to non-soundtrack albums after the completion of his film contract with Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.

The Original Album

[Original] Side 1

01 Wearin' That Loved On Look 2:28
02 Only The Strong Survive 2:44
03 I'll Hold You In My Heart (Till I Can Hold You In My Arms) 4:35
04 Long Black Limousine 3:45
05 It Keeps Right On A-Hurtin' 2:40
06 I'm Movin' On 2:56

[Original] Side 2

07 Power Of My Love 2:41
08 Gentle On My Mind 3:25
09 After Loving You 3:08
10 True Love Travels On A Gravel Road 2:42
11 Any Day Now 3:04
12 In The Ghetto 2:52

Articles about Elvis Presley Elvis Presley : American Sound Studios Sessions
Interviews with or about Elvis Presley Interview with Elvis Presley : July 31, 1969
Interviews with or about Elvis Presley The 1969 Press Conference : August 1, 1969

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