'The American Way Volume.4 - Sound of the City
Import CD review
"Whoopma!" - The sound of Elvis Funk.
'The American Way: Volume 4 SOUND of the CITY'.
Containing some of the most important tracks from the American Studios 1969 sessions.
It was on Main and Beale that the teenage/ young adult Elvis Presley absorbed and soaked up the musical sounds of the City of Memphis.
These influences shine through in some of his best ever studio recordings laid down in his hometown. Sun, American Sound, Stax...those recordings echo the Sound of the City of Memphis.
Elvis’ sessions at Chips Moman's American Studios in early 1969 were the most crucial of his career since the 1950s. The thirty-two songs recorded would change Elvis’ musical legacy forever, presenting him once again as a truly creative force in popular music.
"Whoopma!" - The sound of Elvis Funk.
There are some moments in Elvis’ historical legacy that make me shudder with their magnificence. It can be just a second or two, a slight touch of musical inspiration or perhaps magic, a moment that goes beyond even my high expectations of Elvis. You can find them in Elvis’ Sun sessions, that shriek of delight at the end of a sublime ‘Mystery Train’, or in multiple instances at Elvis’ early RCA sessions and of course at Elvis’ March 1960 sessions (the thrill of the final chorus of ‘Such A Night’).
But when it comes to Chips Moman's American Studio sessions for me it has always been that "WHOOPMA" of pure Memphis soulful-stew-funk at the start of ‘Power Of My Love’ Take 1. It’s that feeling of an inspired band and an enthusiastic Elvis all arriving at a moment of creative bliss. For some reason the bootlegs have always had a bass-rich audio mix compared to the official releases of this same session, so even the fabulous BMG ‘Suspicious Minds’ double CD (with exactly the same outtake) never imparts that same overall feeling. Of course on a lot of these American Studio takes it is the deep richness of Tommy Cogbill’s soulful bass-work that adds that extra bit of required funk.
So with all the extra intros, rehearsals, studio banter and complete Masters without fade-outs - and not forgetting the stylish booklet design this CD 4 of the 'American Way' series really delivers.
This glorious ‘Power Of My Love’ Take 1 now starts with a brief snatch of band rehearsal before Elvis and the group get ready for the first take. The band yell with enthusiasm beforehand "Yeah, Yeah, whoooo", as Chips sets the levels "A step too high Bobby?" With the sound on the edge of feedback you can hear the richness and near excessive echo of the studio ambience as the moment approaches… "This is One’ says Felton and they are away. "Whoompa" goes the bass as Elvis joins in, "Break It, burn It. Drag it all around". The added excitement of a two-minute build-up to this moment will make any fan of complete Elvis sessions weep with joy. Even better this version of course goes past the BMG fade-out (and bootleg ‘American Crown Jewels’ version) as Elvis keeps on egging the band along to keep on playing. At the end Felton comments, "Wow" and he’s not wrong. Pure magic.
Once again the Southern Comfort producers have provided a very stylish cover plus 16-page booklet. It features the final part of the Reggie Young interview which includes some marvellous tales of playing Scotty Moore’s original Gibson guitar as well as insider stories.
Again there is some nice memorabilia plus candid photos. Interestingly they also include some sensational & rare photos from a previous era capturing the feel of Elvis’ at his earlier creative challenge of 56/57.
(Right: Inside sleeve- 'The American Way: Volume 4 SOUND of the CITY'.)
‘Sound Of The City’ features multiple takes of three key songs all presenting a different emotion that the streets of Memphis often generate. There is the heartfelt grit of ’True Love Travels On A Gravel Road’
, the assured funk of ‘Power Of My Love‘
and the loneliness of ‘Do You Know Who I Am’
. As bonuses we also get the undubbed acetate of ‘My Little Friend’
and the full version of ‘Poor Man’s Gold’.
Although some of this material has been unofficially released before, here we get the complete session and outtakes with no fade-outs. And all in stereo too. As noted earlier these tracks have a marvellous rich bass mix and do sound very different from the FTD versions of the same outtakes.
‘True Love Travels On A Gravel Road’
Starting the CD is a song pitched by Lamar Fike, that was also the first song recorded on the second American Studio session, February 13th 1969.
We get a snippet of Take 2 before complete Take 3 which is interesting for being a fuller arrangement than the version that follows. On the earlier takes you can also hear Elvis playing acoustic guitar while he sings (listen out to the left channel) and he is obviously enjoying playing along with the band at the start of the night. The take goes to the full ending with Chips saying, "Ok, let’s play it back."
The unreleased laid-back Take 5 that follows is magnificent. It has a very a-Capella feel with Elvis singing against a very sparse rhythm section. At a slower tempo this has a feel of a gentle run-through or rehearsal. It’s not serious since Elvis giggles at points and also adds a few expletives "On streets paved with fu***in’ gold" - but he still manages to put his soulful best into the lyrics. I don’t see BMG ever releasing this one without some editing but it’s a real highlight. Elvis realises that it was a throwaway commenting afterwards, "Let’s see if I can get the words right!" while Chips also notes "I think it needs some arranging."
As the session progresses we witness the development of the song with the more complex arrangement of Takes 6 and 7. These very fine takes are as released on the fabulous ‘Memphis Sessions’ FTD but here with a longer run-out and of course the richer audio mix.
Takes 8 -10 feature Elvis’ voice in full-throttle as they near the Master. Even if these are false-starts and not complete takes it is a privilege to eavesdrop on the group at work during such an important session. At one moment Elvis screeches like an animal when the Chips stops the band. Elvis sounds unsure "Shit man!", even though Chips knows they are nearly there "This thing’s gonna’ be good."
Take 11 is The Master version and Elvis’ vocal is magnificent. Without the final orchestral overdubs of the album release this version sounds very different. With its less complex arrangement Elvis’ vocal is far clearer and it’s fascinating to hear his vocal adlibs towards the end of the song. This version goes past the usual fade-out point and at the end the ever-diligent Chips Moman suggests they try yet another arrangement, "To see if we’re going in the right direction!"
‘Power Of My Love’.
Did I ever tell you how much I love the first take of this song!
Take 2 and 3 – Anyone who has heard these full American sessions will know all about Elvis’ naughty "Dear Georgie" routine that he included on a few songs. Elvis teasingly adds a "Dear Georgie, listen you little .." at the start of this fine and funky take. While Take 3 was also on the BMG ‘Platinum’ box-set it does sound very different here with its heavier bass-funk. Here we also get the complete version with no fade-out and some nice eavesdropping on the band at work. Elvis comments, "Fell-tone, they say there’s too much echo on everything.., they can’t tell what’s happening." And while some of the echo is removed Elvis plays around checking out his microphone. All these kind of asides would work very well if FTD ever released a "Making of" American Sessions CD.
Over the next few false starts and another rehearsal there’s more discussion about the tempo. Elvis is in great humour and sings one line of "Are You Just waiting For Me". Since Take 1 was so effortless it is strange as now things don’t seem so easy. Elvis comments, "Something’s a sounding off."
On Takes 5, 6 and 7A the arrangement has changed with a more prominent guitar intro while Elvis seems to have stopped concentrating on the lyrics. The long false-start of Take 7A has a great soulful feel but Elvis loses the lyric halfway though, "Baby I want you, Yes what you.. f*** away.." and there’s a very nice moment as the band keeps playing while Elvis hums along. The complete take that follows is another classic even if the group falters at points and the vibe at the finale, with Elvis and the band getting it on, makes this another take needing an official release.
The complete Master Take 7 has the band playing at its funkiest and again has a more sensual bass throbbing feel to the final released and overdubbed version. Elvis’ breathy vocal is clearer so it sounds even more sensual and the take goes right through to Elvis’ playful ending "love, love, love, love, love." Although the call/response backing-vocals of the album release added a fabulous soulful feeling, a song like this also justifies a "Pure Undubbed" FTD release in the future.
The booklet makes the interesting point that ‘Power Of My Love’ was written by "soundtrack" composers Giant/Baum/Kaye who were responsible for some of Elvis worst songs like ‘Queenie Wahine’ and ‘Beach Shack’. And if you closely examine the lyrics of this song they could also be seen as fairly trite. This only goes to show how the passion of Elvis and the band can transform a potentially minor song into a massively powerful statement.
‘Do You Know Who I Am’
Another track recorded by Elvis in the wee small-hours of the morning before everybody headed on home and what a marvellous contrast moving from pure-funk to Elvis’ lonely, emotional plea.
The beautiful light playing of Take 1 (great guitar from Reggie Young) has been released on FTD’s ‘Memphis Sessions’ but here it runs even further. A change to a slower tempo is discussed as the group keeps rehearsing and Elvis also agrees "That’s better for me."
Take 2 with its false starts is far more a-Capella than the first take and this helps emphasise the loneliness of Elvis’ vocal. Delicious, soulful and with a magical emptiness this is another highlight. Felton Jarvis and Chips Moman were obviously hard taskmasters since they break in with, "From the top, we’re rolling" almost before the band have finished. Take 3 is at an even slower tempo and falls apart deliciously as Elvis slips away from the real lyrics, "No, I cheated on that one!"
Elvis teases the band with some more ‘Dear Georgie’ comments before noting to himself and the band, "Ok. You gotta get your mind off some of that shit. You’re f***ing around."
Take 4 with it’s crystal clear vocal has a slightly more elaborate arrangement and has been officially released on the ‘Made In Memphis’ FTD. Elvis’ deep-voiced ending is a gem.
Again the group play a more complicated arrangement on the later takes as they head towards the Master.
At the end of complete Take 5 Elvis has fun sliding up and down the vocal scale, and he knows it isn’t a final version noting, "I still missed that f**ing place." (More great ‘Making Of’ CD material!)
Before the Master Chips teases pianist Bobby Wood with, "Hey Wood, some of the things you’re doing in there are too choppy man. Take those damn gloves off!" This leads to some hilarity and very nice eavesdropping on Elvis and the group which goes to show what fun they were having together in the studio.
Nowadays in this ‘unplugged era’ it seems bizarre when we hear all those excessive backing-vocals and syrupy strings that were overdubbed onto the final released version. So the final Take 6 "undubbed complete Master" is marvellous for its simplicity and wonderful playing again demonstrating a need for an official ‘Pure undubbed Elvis’ release of this extraordinarily important material.
‘My Little Friend’
During the initial American session Elvis developed laryngitis and so a few tracks, including the single ‘Don’t Cry Daddy’, were recorded as a vocal overdub on a backing track. As this is taken from an acetate this is actually the only mono track on the whole CD.
A lightweight song like ‘My Little Friend’ would surely have suited a Nashville country sound over Chips’ Memphis soulful stew. This undubbed version benefits from the lack of orchestra although a few glistening strings would not have gone astray. Note also that this song had a different mix when released on the budget ‘Almost In Love’ album!
‘Poor Man’s Gold’
As a lot of fans know Elvis was distracted by the sound of a fire engine going past in the street while he attempted his vocal overdub to the pre-recorded backing track. That ten seconds of Elvis’ solo vocal track was released on BMG’s ‘Suspicious Minds’ anthology. Here we get the complete 3 minutes of the song although there is still no more vocal, and it fits as a nice playout to the CD.
These American Studio sessions were the key to Elvis’ musical renaissance and this ‘American Way’ series only goes to demonstrate how much great officially unreleased material there still is in BMG’s vaults. Of course a lot of tracks are long false-starts and band rehearsals, however if the 68 NBC TV special deserved a ‘Making Of’ release on FTD then surely there is a least a CD’s worth of material here to deserve a similar release.
So until the official release this ‘American Way’ series is an essential purchases.
One more CD to go, '827 Thomas Street Memphis' - I can’t wait.
Verdict: A look at one of the most important recording sessions of Elvis’ career. With all the extra rehearsals, outtakes and eavesdropping on the group at their creative best this is an essential purchase for any fan that wants to understand Elvis’ musical legacy. With a stylish booklet design this look at Elvis and the ‘Sound Of The City’ is one not to be missed. Now can I explain to you all about that "whoopma" thing again!
Review by Piers Beagley
-Copyright EIN, July 2007
"TRUE LOVE TRAVELS ON A GRAVEL ROAD" SESSION:
01. True Love Travels On A Gravel Road - takes 2, 3 (ending only of take 2 + complete take)
02. True Love Travels On A Gravel Road - take 5 (complete take + rehearsal)
03. True Love Travels On A Gravel Road - takes 6, 7 (2 x false start + complete take)
04. True Love Travels On A Gravel Road - take 8 - 10 (false start + long false start + 3 x false start)
05. True Love Travels On A Gravel Road - take 11 (master)
"POWER OF MY LOVE" SESSION:
06. Power Of My Love - take 1 (rehearsal + false start + complete take)
07. Power Of My Love - takes 2, 3 (false start + complete take)
08. Power Of My Love - take 4 (4 x false start + rehearsal + "Are You Waiting Just for Me" one line)
09. Power Of My Love - takes 5, 6 (long false start + false start)
10. Power Of My Love - take 7 A (long false start + complete take)
11. Power Of My Love - take 7 (complete master take)
"DO YOU KNOW WHO I AM" SESSION:
12. Do You Know Who I Am - take 1 (complete take + rehearsal)
13. Do You Know Who I Am - take 2 (3 x false start + complete take)
14. Do You Know Who I Am - take 3 (long false start + rehearsal)
15. Do You Know Who I Am - take 4 (3 x false start + complete take)
16. Do You Know Who I Am - take 5 (6 x false start + complete take)
17. Do You Know Who I Am - take 6 (long false start)
18. Do You Know Who I Am - take 6 (complete master take)
"MY LITTLE FRIEND"
19. My Little Friend (mono undubbed acetate).
"POOR MAN'S GOLD"
20. Poor Man's Gold (vocal overdub attempt)