"Elvis Presley is the greatest cultural force in the 20th century."

(Leonard Bernstein)


"History has him as this good old country boy, Elvis is about as country as Bono!"

(Jerry Schilling)


"The image is one thing and the huiman being is another...it's very hard to live up to an image"


(Elvis Presley, Madison Square Garden press conference, 1972)


"Elvis was a major hero of mine. I was actually stupid enough to believe that having the same birthday as him actually meant something"

(David Bowie)


"No-one, but no-one, is his equal, or ever will be. He was, and is supreme"

(Mick Jagger)


"I wasn't just a fan, I was his brother...there'll never be another like that soul brother"

(Soul legend, James Brown)








'Chaos In College Park'

Was this Elvis' worst concert?

CD Review

A CD of Elvis' worst concert?! - Why?

Most fans would wonder why anyone would be interested in Elvis’ worst performances. Would fans of James Brown or Frank Sinatra have the same interest in hearing tapes of their worst concerts? I somehow doubt it.

The key is that Elvis Presley has such a breathtaking legacy that some fans need, and want, to explore every minute aspect both good and bad.

In the same month that BMG issues a marvellous mid-price CD ‘Elvis LIVE’ compiling some of Elvis’ best in concert performances, the import label Straight Arrow releases a CD of Elvis’ reputed worst-ever concert. Last year Straight Arrow released the excellent 1975 'Pieces Of My Life’ the Asheville July 24, 1975 Closing Show. The Elvis World is indeed a strange and wonderful beast.

Elvis’ personal & emotional turmoil certainly made some of his later shows totally fascinating to witness. Give me a ‘Closing Night 1973’ or ‘Desert Storm’ with all its incredible dialogue, over a boring Vegas Dinner Show any day. But as for Elvis’ reputed "worst show" in College Park 1974, what can it possibly reveal?

'Chaos In Central Park'.

Released by the Straight Arrow label, this infamous performance of September 27 1974 has the reputation of being Elvis’ worst-ever concert. This period was certainly one of Elvis’ all-time low points where his emotional turmoil, inner demons and drug abuse seem to run away with him. Elvis had begun an emotional roller-coaster ride around mid 1973, which by the end on 1974 seemed to be getting totally out of control. It appears that Elvis physician in charge during this late 1974 period was NOT the infamous Dr. Nick but Dr Ghanem instead. Make of this what you will.

Major events in this period are marked by concerts like the wildness of September 1973’s ‘Closing Night’ and the tightrope tension of his 1974 Las Vegas closer (Desert Storm) a year later. In between we have the astounding re-invention of Opening Night August 19th 1974, the hard work at Houston Astrodome March 3rd (Event #8), as well as the powerful March 1974 concerts (Elvis; Live In Memphis).

We also know that if something sparked Elvis’ interest, he could returned revamped & with new inspiration as he did on his mid-year 1975 tours and finally, after a terrible period in 1976, with his December 1976 Tour.

Perhaps it is because of Elvis’ emotional turmoil and unpredictability of his performances that a large number of hard-core Elvis followers find these 1974 concerts so interesting. Of course Elvis never entered the studio in 1974 so we can only learn more about his journey through stories, photos and live concerts.

Personally I delighted in the recent discovery of the early January 1974 soundboard release ‘I Found My Thrill’. I have a similar fascination with being an observer to Elvis’ emotional ride of ‘Desert Storm’, or feeling the anger that he felt while performing ‘Closing Night’ 1973. These concerts are certainly NOT the restrained perfection of ‘Aloha’, but they have such involvement that they could never be described as run-of-the-mill performances.

So while Elvis’ set-list became somewhat static in 1974 (no I don’t need to hear yet another drawn-out version of ‘I Got A Woman’ with J.D’s dive-bombing routine) there is still something engrossing about listening to Elvis pull something magical out of thin-air and save a concert that you would otherwise consider a relative failure.

Straight Arrow certainly don’t make any pretence on this Maryland concert being a first-rate Elvis show and their sleeve notes explain this right from the start..

"He is done. I remember crying…", orchestra conductor Joe Guercio said in reference to the tour opening performance in College Park, Maryland, on September 27th, 1974. And now you are about to listen this infamous, much discussed show. Many words have been said and written about this particular show, but not too many fans have heard the complete recording of it. What was it that really happened on this night? Was there something wrong with his dosage of medication on this particular day, or were his years of self-abuse beginning to catch up with him? Was this the display of a mentally unstable man in deep trouble, too far gone to realize that he was now out of control in public? Probably yes, on all counts.

You may wonder why we would even contemplate releasing this show, but we feel that it's only fair that you - the listener - get a chance to form your own opinion of this show. This CD is not an attempt to dishonor his memory, as has been done so often in the past. We feel that this recording may help the serious fans and collectors in getting a deeper understanding of the tragedy of Elvis' final years. In the end concerts like this only remind us that, despite his monumental achievements, Elvis was just a human being with his ups and downs, just like the rest of us."

The CD comes from a superior audience recording & the audio is surprisingly good. This show has previously been released on a CDR called ‘All Gut In College Park’ but this recording sounds so different and so improved that at times you think it must be a different concert. No credit is given for the audio engineer or design.

The sleeve design is excellent, packed with good sleeve notes, press clippings, information and photos of the night. Several of these show Elvis looking distinctly unwell and a little puffy (or stoned) around the eyes.

(Right: College Park, 1974. A just got out of bed, or sick Elvis?)

Before this short 13-day tour Elvis had two weeks off to recover from the previously stressful Las Vegas Season.

And so to the performance itself - College Park, Opening Night, Tour 12.

Immediately you can sense the excitement in the air as the 2001 intro rolls through the auditorium of 15,000 people. The band kick in to ‘See See Rider’ as Elvis walks on stage in his fabulous Peacock jumpsuit delivering his first words. Comparing this to ‘I Found My Thrill’ or ‘Live In Memphis’ there is no doubt that Elvis is running on low but it is interestingly to note however that this night’s start doesn’t sound as much a struggle as the following night. However Elvis does seem to be pushing the lyrics out, almost sounding flat and the ending is weak.

So while it certainly is a pretty low-level performance, it is still hard to believe the story of Elvis falling out of the car onto his knees less than an hour before. Maybe this is because of the excitement from the crowd or then again Elvis could have taken a few pick-me-ups backstage. Whatever the reason, Elvis is certainly well aware of the poor PA audio mix and even asks engineer Bill Porter to fix it for the crowd, as well as to try and improve the echo coming back to him on stage.

An overlong ‘I Got a Woman/Amen’ follows, but it is another average version where Elvis doesn’t sound stoned or out-of-it and is focussed enough to play with the crowd. He quips to a girl who is screaming for him, "Honey I will be with you after the show anyway!" He also notes that because of the blinding flash-bulbs he cannot see anything. He nicely jokes, "You could put two Bengal Tigers out here and I wouldn’t know. I’d still be singing, and they’d be chewing my legs off!"

Elvis’ banter before a throwaway ‘Love Me’ is obscured on this recording (by an usher & ticket discussion) but it is obvious that he is in no way slurring as on the following night. After this Elvis goes straight into a fine ‘If You Love Me, Let Me Know’ (never my favourite song) where he is obviously enjoying the harmonies with his backup singers Voice.

The fact that he doesn’t ramble too much between songs is interesting in itself. There have been suggestions that Elvis was holding onto the microphone to steady himself but you can not tell from this tape.

Elvis however sounds tired as he introduces "my new record" ‘It's Midnight’ but his performance is as dramatic as always with Elvis handling the various vocal levels just fine. (Remember this is an audience recording and is not of soundboard quality).

Afterwards Elvis has to apologise for not being able to do ‘Jailhouse Rock’ "because we have never rehearsed it", but he really gets the crowd clapping along as the band kicks in to ‘Big Boss Man.’ While the audience is obviously enjoying the song, which had only joined the set-list the previous May, it is pretty disappointing. Elvis seems unfortunately distracted, loses his way during the song and it is a rather sloppy version. This is the first real sign of Elvis putting on a terrible show. In 1974 he usually rocked on ‘Big Boss Man’ and on Opening Nights with even more energy.

Elvis’ distraction continues during ‘Fever’ as he plays to the screaming crowd, mumbles the words and changes the lyrics too much. But it is hardly "chaos", as we have heard similar throwaway versions before. However if you listen closely you can hear an audience member say, "He's going to go over". Was this because Elvis was stumbling or just because he was leaning over too far giving girls scarves & kisses? Without the accompanying video we can only speculate.

The sloppiness continues with a terrible ‘Love Me Tender’ but interestingly, during the introduction, Elvis corrects a fan that seems to think ‘Blue Hawaii’ was his first film. He also runs through the names of most of his early films with no real hesitation, even mentioning the lesser-known ones like ‘Wild In the Country’ and ‘Flaming Star.’

The first real vocal challenge of the night would be ‘Bridge Over Troubled Water’ but here Elvis performs inadequately and even drifts off-key at times. It really sounds like the band is driving him along - as opposed to Elvis leading them. Maybe it was here that he was holding onto the microphone stand? Of course it is still "Elvis" and better than any impersonator but this certainly isn’t the usual stunner that we expect.

‘Polk Salad Annie’ that follows shows that on the night Elvis is still up to some funk, although it is a low-energy version. The next two nights Elvis wouldn’t even attempt the song.

The ‘Band Introductions’ confirm that Elvis is not slurring his words, and although overlong he does manage some cute, if regular, jokes about the musicians. In an odd moment Elvis even comments on Glen Hardin’s excessive drinking yet, in the same breath, complementing him on his ability as an arranger & performer. Similarly Elvis is complementary about Joe Guercio & talks about discovering Ronnie Tutt as a great drummer.

The introductions, solos (plus Voice performing ‘Killing Me Softly’) however last a long 14 minutes before Elvis gets back to singing, joining in on a regular ‘Why Me Lord.’

Throughout the show the audience has, of course, been calling out for the ‘Oldies’ and as usual Elvis rushes through ‘All Shook Up/Teddy Bear/Don't Be Cruel’ at speed to the appreciative crowd.

Getting back to serious business Elvis introduces, "our most requested song from Blue Hawaii" singing a fine ’Hawaiian Wedding Song’ and the crowd goes wild. If Elvis is under-performing you wouldn’t know it from their reactions.

Elvis by now has been on stage for 70 minutes and apologies that "my time is up on this stage" but pulls out a fabulous ‘How Great Thou Art’ to satisfy the disappointed. This is the highlight of the show and a perfect way to leave the audience wanting more. Interestingly the following night’s version (see 28th concert overview below) which Elvis tried to build up to be a vocal challenge - and a showstopper - was actually terrible, with Elvis’ voice cracking. This Opening Night version is much better.

After thanking the audience, "You’re a fantastic audience and I love you. I'd like to tell you in all sincerity that if all the audiences were like you, I'd sing my guts out for you. I'm not kidding", it’s time to go.

The final ‘CHFIL’ is quite extraordinary as Elvis tries a falsetto & goes up an octave on the normal version. It really is very strange. The crowd is very appreciative of the show and an extended Outro follows with Elvis receiving plenty of applause.

So overall it certainly is a very low-key performance, especially for an 'Opening Night’ but if you read all the evidence from people who were there it is hard to imagine that this is the performance that they are talking about.

Piano player Tony Brown has said, "My first night was College Park, Maryland. I was scared, my hands were sweating, and I'm backstage waiting for Elvis to arrive. He pulls up in the car, and he fell out of the limousine, to his knees. People jumped to help, and he pushed them away like, 'Don't help me.' He walked onstage and held on to the mike for the first thirty minutes like it was a post. Everybody's looking at each other like, is this tour gonna happen? Is he sick? Is it gonna be cancelled?"

If Elvis did hold onto the mic for the first 30 minutes it certainly doesn’t sound like it, especially considering that there are plenty of shows in 1976 where Elvis’ energy is so low that it is very easy to imagine. Elvis’ joking with the College Park crowd and even thinking of "two Bengal Tigers" doesn’t sound like an over-medicated man. Perhaps he was wobbly on his feet at the start, but this concert seems very different to the mid-1976 experiences where Elvis truly doesn’t wake up until 20 minutes into the show! (ie. Atlanta June 76, Hampton Roads Aug 1st, Houston Aug 28th 1976)

Verdict - If you like Elvis at his best then there is no point in getting this CD. Buy ‘Elvis Live’, ‘That’s The Way It Is’, ‘At The International’ or, if you want something from 1974, ‘Live In Memphis’ instead. If you are interested in examining Elvis’ legacy even further then performances like ‘New Year’s Eve 1976/77’, ‘Closing Night’ or ‘Spring Tours 1977’ illustrate even more. However there is no doubt that this is a worthy release as it sounds so different from the previously dreadful ‘All Gut’ CDR, revealing Elvis’ performance for what it really was. Yes, it was a poor concert but it certainly destroys the myth that it was Elvis’ worst ever performance. Hard-core Elvis collectors will find this fascinating.

Review by Piers Beagley, copyright EIN - November 2006.

Click to comment on this review
Rather than my long ramble above I would like to add the most succinct review of this CD by EIN contributor ROB from FECC.

Having heard this show, I can finally comment on it.

Q. Is it a bad show?
A. Yes.

Q. Is it as bad as you've heard it to be all of these years?
A. No.

Q. Is it painful for a hardcore fan to listen to?
A. Definitely.

Q. Is it worse than any of the other shows from this tour?
A. From the ones I have, it is better than some and worse than others.

Q. Is it better than the show from the next day on September 28th?
A. Barely.

Q. Will you listen to it often?
A. Absolutely not!

Q. Why did you get it?
A. Because I was curious and a glutton for punishment.

Q. Why are you asking yourself questions and then answering them?
A. Nobody knows!

EIN thanks ROB from FECC as the review provided us with more than a few chuckles.

1. Also Sprach Zarathustra
2. Opening Vamp / C. C. Rider
3. I Got A Woman / Amen
4. Love Me
5. If You Love Me (Let Me Know)
6. It's Midnight
7. Big Boss Man
8. Fever
9. Love Me Tender
10. Hound Dog
11. Bridge Over Troubled Water
12. Polk Salad Annie
13. Band Introductions
14. Lead Guitar Solo (by James Burton)
15. Drums Solo (by Ronnie Tutt)
16. Bass Solo (by Duke Bardwell)
17. Piano Solo (by Glen D. Hardin)
18. Killing Me Softly (by Voice)
19. Why Me Lord
20. All Shook Up
21. Teddy Bear / Don't Be Cruel
22. Hawaiian Wedding Song
23. How Great Thou Art
24. Can't Help Falling In Love
25. Closing Vamp / Announcements

(Right: Sleeve photo of Elvis At College Park)

College Park, September 28 1974.


Having listened to ‘Chaos in College Park’ there is an obvious need to compare it with the following night’s performance at the same venue.

This show was released on Fort Baxter’s 1996 release ‘A profile; The king On Stage Vol. 2'. The concert benefits from being a soundboard rather than an audience recording. However Elvis is in terrible form.

The energy level is extremely low the following night with Elvis out of breath even on the opening number 'See See Rider.' If Elvis was trying to prove himself after the previous night it wasn’t a fortuitous start. Ronnie Tutt sounds like he is trying to help blast Elvis awake. Compared to the first night he is certainly over-medicated and is slurring his words. Right at the start Elvis sounds totally asleep or medicated and fumbles..

"I've played before many a people, many a person, many an audience whatever. First of all I’ve got to do a song or two. You see, you see folks I love what I do. I love show bin-ness, bin-ness.. business. Damn I love it, I ain’t kidding. Say, what was I going to do?"

Whereas the previous night Elvis was gentle in asking for the audio to be improved, this particular night there is a very spiteful comment to Felton Jarvis (for whom Elvis had paid for a kidney transplant). Elvis says, "What is that feedback, Felton? I’ve got a little humming sound, ye ye ye ye. You either fix it or I'll take your kidney away from ya'."

While the crowd is enthusiastic as at any concert, Elvis’ vocal is very second rate. ‘If You Love’ is particularly poor & wavering. ‘Big Boss Man’ is even worse than the night before with Elvis losing the rhythm at the start. In a scary moment, before the start of ‘Fever’ Elvis even comments, "I hope I don't fall off the stage. If I do you guys catch me. If I fall off, you guys just put me back on the stage. That's all." I guess (and hope) that he was kidding?

It is a train crash in slow motion and it only becomes worse when Elvis starts making excuses for his increase in weight, as had been reported in a newspaper review of the previous night’s concert.

Elvis is keen to insist, "The evening paper gave us a fantastic write-up, except they said that I had a paunch here. I want to tell you something - I got their damn paunch. I wear a bulletproof vest on stage. (crowd laughs).
True. You know, in case some fool decides to take a .22 and blow my bellybutton off. That the truth. I got his paunch... sonofabitch". (crowd cheers)

The fascination is that, as often is the case, Elvis starts crawling back halfway through the concert and almost manages to pull off some reasonable performances - but here it just doesn’t work.

He gets the crowd pumped with a powerful vocal on ‘Trying To Get To You’, even though he fluffs the ending. But when this is followed by ‘Killing Me Softly’ and The Stamps ‘When It’s My Time’ you can feel the audience’s new found enthusiasm slipping away. When Elvis messes up his classic ‘Heartbreak Hotel’, where he badly forgets the words, you know things are not right.

Although towards the end ‘Hawaiian Wedding Song’ is nicely done, he fails on the potential show-stopper ‘How Great Thou Art’ and even ‘Let Me Be There’ is feeble and off-key at points.

Elvis’ slurring has basically disappeared by now, but instead his bitterness shows. As in the August Vegas season Elvis turns his anger towards the tabloid magazines and the drug rumours. You get the feeling that he is appeasing his own guilty-conscience...

Elvis says, "For an audience like this I will sing my can off. In fact I have. Things that are written in movie magazines about me are TRASH!" (Audience cheers)
Rumours that you hear about me are trash. I’m an 8th degree Black Belt in Karate. I’m a Federal Narcotics Agent (audience laughs in disbelief)
I am, I swear to God" - Elvis tries to assure them.
"They don't give you that if you're strung out.
No, no no, on the contrary, I have to be straight as an arrow. I don’t like to get out-of-it in either way, I don’t drink booze. I don’t take any drugs. I’m telling you God’s truth. Just to tell you the truth about the matter. You can take my word or you can take the goddamn movie magazines!"
(Audience cheers).

His statements all seem so inappropriate, and whom was he fooling? Finally Elvis also tells the crowd that, "I want the people to get the best!"

Sadly Elvis was way below his best in this tour and it is a relief when he goes straight into ‘CHFIL’ and the concert is thankfully over.

The following night in Detroit Elvis would only perform for 30 minutes due to sickness, and towards the end of October Elvis would be in Dr Ghanem’s clinic undergoing a revitalising "sleep diet" for celebrities.

Note that FTD has also released 'Dragonheart' Elvis' concert just 3 days later in South Bend. While Elvis was still running on low he was in definitely better shape even adding 'You Gave Me A Mountain' and a funky 'Steamroller Blues' to the setlist.

Review by Piers Beagley, copyright EIN - November 2006.

Note - EIN does not support bootleggers since they do deprive songwriters & musicians of their well-deserved earnings. There is however no doubt that FTD/BMG will never consider these sub-par concerts for a mainstream release. Investigating Elvis' legacy legally, collectors are therefore stuck between a rock and a hard place.

The above is of course only the opinion that EIN has gained through research - and an absolute fascination with Elvis’ legacy.
There can always be an alternate view and (similar to his book on 1974’s "Desert Storm") writer Darrin Lee is working on a publication to challenge the regular view held about Elvis’ time at College Park.

Darrin Lee informs EIN that The College Park project is two books down the line and the specifics at this time are:

1. The soft cover is planned for 2007.
2. Will feature more than 20 never-before-seen photographs from the collection of the legendary Phil Gelormine.
3. Contain an interview with Judy Bachrach - the 'Washington Post' reporter that wrote about Elvis' paunch - as well as in excess of 10 eyewitness accounts, including current and former members of the University of Maryland faculty.

MORE EIN relevant reviews and information.

BMG 'Elvis LIVE' review

FTD 'Elvis: Live On Stage In Memphis' March 1974 review

FTD 'It's Midnight' Vegas August 1974 review

FTD 'I Found My Thrill' January 1974 Vegas review

FTD 'Dragonheart' Oct 1st South Bend review. 3 days after College Park!

FTD 'At The International' August 1969 Vegas review

FTD ‘Closing Night 1973’ review

Asheville 1975 Closing Show, 'Pieces Of My Life' review

FTD 'New Year's Eve' 1976/77 audience recording

FTD 'Spring Tours 1977' review

Spotlight on Elvis' final 1977 TV concert. Should it be released?

Book review 'Desert Storm: The Shattering Of A Myth!'











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