'The Nashville Marathon'
- FTD CD review -
from Studio B'
was back at the top of the charts and on a high when
he returned to the studios on June 4th 1970.
fallen out with Chips Moman & American studios Elvis
was back at Nashville's Studio B. At the Memphis Sessions
Elvis was striving at his artistic edge recording in
the run-down ghetto area of Memphis and hoping to re-establish
himself once again as a creative force.
months since his last sessions Elvis was now back in the far
more genteel surroundings of Nashville once again in Studio
B where he had recorded the majority of his 1960's classic
songs. 'Kentucky Rain' & 'The Wonder of You' had already charted
Gold in 1970 while he had two sell out seasons of Las Vegas
shows under his belt as well. He was now also used to playing
live concerts with full orchestral backing.
moving back to Nashville Elvis also left the musical 'soulful
stew' of Memphis behind for an obviously lighter country feel.
Even within this very different environment Elvis was still
extremely motivated and recorded an astounding 40 songs in
6 days. The original plan was just to record a follow up album
to 'Back In Memphis' but on the fourth night of recording
Elvis himself steered the band towards some fascinating country
recording sessions have been explored before on the excellent "A Hundred Years From Now" and this new CD should be viewed
as a part 2. However nine of the tracks have never been released
as alternate takes before and the versions of 'Mary In The
Morning' and 'Twenty Days and Twenty Nights' alone are reason
enough to buy this CD.
have also always enjoyed listening to 'first takes' of Elvis'
recordings and Nashville Marathon features eight of those,
including the sensational 'Bridge Over Troubled Water'.
(as Ernst explained at the FTD conference) most of the fast
numbers were recorded in single takes or any available alternates
have already been released. This forces this CD to be very
the absolute beauty of the undubbed raw studio tracks once
again makes this one of FTD's very best.
Looking a little
'Mystery Train/Tiger Man' - A similar opener to
the jam at the beginning of "A Hundred Years From Now" this
nicely sets the scene with Elvis and the band warming up in
the studio and getting in the mood.
the sessions' very first day this gives us the feeling of
being in the studio while Elvis and the band gear up for a
recording session Marathon. Although this is basically an
instrumental you can hear Elvis singing off-mic and obviously
in a good humour.
'Twenty Days & Twenty Nights' Tk3 - What a fabulous start
to the newly available alternate versions! As usual with these
FTD CDS it is the feel of Elvis and the band unplugged that
makes these versions so special. This is one of the best examples
showing that almost all of the songs on this CD really benefit
from the lack of Felton's overladen and syrupy seventies overdubs.
The first Master recorded on the day and a brilliant version.
The acoustic guitar is higher in the mix and once again the
song sounds so much more poignant and pleading when compared
against the overdubbed original.
Lost You' Tk1 - The first 'Take One' of the CD. Elvis sounds
slightly unsure as he feels for the correct lyrics. Interesting
to compare with Tk.6 on 'AHYFN' where he was just one away
from the Master. A great single, that made the top ten in
England, this version particularly benefits from Charlie McCoy's
organ filling in for where the orchestra would be overdubbed.
While missing the perfection of the later takes, this version
has a lovely delicate feel and David Brigg's piano intro is
Sound Of Your Cry' Tk3 - I loved the un-edited 'Pledging My
Love' on the Jungle Room CD where Elvis just won't let go
of the song and this take has a similar feel. Running over
5 minutes Elvis sings his heart out as the band get into a
nice funky groove. Take 6 was on 'Platinum' but this is far
better. On the original Elvis sings "I lie in the darkness
thinking, I must go before it's light" as these Beatle-esque
violins hammer at his window. Here his voice echoes with emptiness
as he kisses his love goodbye. Another treat.
'Bridge Over Troubled Water' Tk1 - Another first take and
I would buy the CD for this track alone. This so delicate.
Elvis is trying out the lyrics and sounds a little tentative
but it almost sounds like him singing the song alone at the
piano. It is very special, just beautiful. Having recently
visited Studio B and had the chance to soak up the ambience
and even to play the very piano that David Briggs used on
this song, makes listening to this very moving. In the quiet
of Studio B, of all the songs that Elvis recorded there, it
was 'Bridge' that seemed to resonate in the air.
The Web Was Woven' Tk1 - There isn't as much studio banter
compared to other FTD CDs but here Elvis says "I like the
sound of the open-string guitar on the intro" before they
kick into the first take. We haven't had an alternate of this
track before and this one is another gem. Elvis' vocal is
fabulous for a first take and without being buried or drowned
in syrupy string overdubs the lyrics sound even more meaningful.
Hard to believe that this didn't make it to "AHYFN" - Fantastic.
Next Step Is Love' Tk10 - The next take was the 'Master' so
this is pretty similar but again improved without overdubs.
This track was always an oddity with those wild sixties lyrics "But we've yet to taste the icing on the cake, that we've
been baking with the past" and the original overdubbed orchestra
& trumpet sounded like Felton had been listening to The Beatles
(circa '67) & 'Penny Lane' too much. The original was released
in July 1970 and sounded dated even then! So this is definitely
an improvement on the original but I think the earlier Take
6 which was recently released on "Today T & F" was more interesting
since it differed more from the Master.
Never Know' Tk1 - The overdubbed originals of both 'I'll Never
Know' and 'When I'm Over You' were both ghastly - What was
Felton thinking of? This was never going to be an important
track but here the syrupy strings are removed leaving a very
pretty and touching song. The acoustic guitar is simple and
effective. It surprising that Elvis had to continue for another
6 takes as this version is just fine. Interestingly the take
itself is messed up by Elvis laughing at the very end and
here we get another taste of the real, human, Elvis. And for
the first time bad swearing is actually featured on an Elvis
BMG CD! Elvis laughs "He almost fell, leaning up against this
fucking wall.." but it is all in good humour and shows the
camaraderie of the group in the studio.
Tk10 - How on earth did Elvis attempt 20 takes of this dour
song? Ernst reports that in the studio Elvis complained "This
goddamn thing is as long as life itself!" What a shame that
comment isn't included here. Again the earlier take on "T.
T & F" is of more interest but both are a definite improvement
without the overdubs, even listenable!
extraordinary that RCA in the USA released this song as a
single 'A' side yet overlooked 'I Just Can't Help Believing'.
Surely when Elvis sang "From in the depths an evil seed, grew
and manufactured greed" it' wasn't about RCA's marketing policy
was it? !
Letters' Tk1 - It's a real shame that the beginning was missed
since this track starts at the second verse. This 1970 version
however was never a patch on the brilliant 1966 original. There in 1966, amazingly, Elvis showed what great music he could still
produce while RCA had him recording "Old MacDonald had a Farm" the following month! And people still question why Elvis tried
to escape into Eastern Mysticism at the time!
Here I think
this 1970 version was actually helped by the Orchestra overdubs
as they, at least, made it a different sounding song more
in tune with what Elvis was performing live at the time. It
is definitely interesting to hear this studio version but
the 1966 track was an absolute classic and un-surpassable.
Elvis probably felt the same since he sounds positively passionless.
Of Rome' TK1 - This was the song that followed the 20 takes
of 'Life'. It was 3am in the morning and everybody was ready
to call it a day. This explains why this take sounds more
like a rehearsal than an attempt at a Master. Undeniably better
than the heavily overdubbed Master (go have a listen!), Charlie
Hodge duets with Elvis. Charlie definitely had a more important
role in Elvis' music than he is often given credit for and
here his name is missed off the list of musicians on the sleeve
'Mary In the Morning' Tk4 - This tracks starts with a nice
bonus false start. This was another '3am in the morning' track
but this is fantastic. In the original, with the Tijuana-style
trumpets overdub, it almost sounded as if Elvis woke up in
the Mexican countryside! Here with Elvis' end-of-a-long-day
sounding vocal nicely playing against Charlie McCoy's harmonica,
Elvis really does seem alone with Mary "waking in the sleepy
haze" of a dreamy countryside. A delight on headphones.
Tk9 - Yet another early morning track and interestingly this
version is one take after the 'Master'. It is also the first
time we have had an alternate version officially released.
Felton must have loved those trumpet overdubs because they
have always spoiled the original version for me. The original
backing vocalists also always sounded like they were cheering
for 'Sylvia' winning a competition, against which Elvis tried
to plead for a lost love.
Felton read the lyrics? I only 'discovered' the real depth
of this track by hearing it undubbed on a bootleg. Although
it will never be a classic Elvis record if you haven't heard
this version before you are in for a treat. Elvis' voice seems
a little rough which explains why the previous take was chosen
for the Master.
Your Baby, You Rock It' - Tk3. - This makes a nice change
from the ballads and takes the CD more into Country territory.
James Burton provides some great guitar picking and once again
Charlie McCoy's harmonica adds a nice touch. Without any backing
vocalists in the studio the song seems to miss out on the
'call & response' feel that benefited the original but it
is still delightful. On headphones you can really imagine
yourself sitting in the middle of Studio B as the band bounce
off each other.
Ain't No Big Thing' Tk6 - Another Country song where the band
is having fun together. The alternate take of this Country
song on 'AHYFN' has a looser feel but here Elvis is back to
plucking at his acoustic guitar and the band is having lots
of fun together. The rolling bar-room piano sound is just
right for the song. On the original release there was a terrible
over the top overdubbed string section that was totally out
of place and which ruined the Country feel of the song.
sings whatever lyrics come into his head - "That's all in the
past, You can kiss my ass" and trying too hard he misses the
ending. "There goes my fucking career right down the drain"
he exclaims. Felton shouts, "Try it one more time" - "Easy" says Elvis before they attempt it again. Once again we're eavesdropping
on some magic and its real fun.
Hundred Years From Now' Tk1&2 - If you ever wondered why
the original RCA release was a splice this unedited romp
explains all. This was on the first night of recording
and Elvis is strumming his acoustic guitar and having
some fun playing some Bluegrass music. (They would record
'Little Cabin On The Hill' next).
Never Comes' Tk2 - A real change of mood as Elvis tackles
this vocal challenge. It took 13 takes (and a splice) to make
the Master so having this alternate take 2 released for the
first time is something special. Without the overdubs you
can hear Elvis' voice crystal clear as the song continually
builds towards its crescendo. The original was swamped with
orchestra and backing vocals that actually diminished the
power of Elvis' vocal. Here Elvis sounds even more passionate
when he pleads "You tell me, you tell me, you tell me, you
love me. That you want me". His voice cracks slightly on the
final note but to great effect. On the Master, that they chose
to release, Elvis not only fluffs the lyrics at the end but
his 'power ending' is also not as strong and covered by the
Tk1 - The final three tracks of the CD come from Elvis' September
22nd session. For some reason this fact is missed from the
sleeve notes. This reason for this session was to get the
final few tracks for the proposed Country Album. This time
Elvis wasn't in a good mood and impatient to get back to LA
the same evening. James Burton was also engaged elsewhere
and his role was filled by Eddie Hilton (who is also not credited
on the sleeve). 'Snowbird' was the first song recorded that
night and this, take 1, differs only slightly from the recent
version released on "T,T&F". It is recorded at a faster tempo.
Did I ever mention that the original versions had terrible
To Riches' Tk2 - Two great tracks, that combined to make a
top ten single in England, end the CD. Interestingly taken
at a slower pace this is a treat to have. (Take 3 was featured
on "AHYFN"). Elvis' vocal sounds excellent, mixed way up front
along with Eddie Hilton's delightful guitar work. Elvis also
tackles the final high note that was missed on take 3. With
the organ & piano lower in the mix this sounds very different
and is great to have. At the end there is a nice touch when
Elvis says "Too slow fellows. Just a hair to slow".
Did They Go, Lord' Tk3 - An excellent final track, that was
also Elvis' favourite from the session that night. This might
have been the Master but for some extraneous noises at the
very end. This version has a longer intro than the single
version and also a different ending. Priscilla was with Elvis
that evening and he sounds like he means every word as he
sings "The heart that is within me, isn't bitter, it's just
empty- and bewildered because her love is gone". . .There's
enough passion here to give me goose-bumps!
visiting Studio B I haven't stopped playing 'Nashville Marathon'
and I honestly think that I will end up playing it more often
than "AHYFN". It
is a shame that the FTD team didn't include another fast number
- the undubbed final Master of 'Cindy, Cindy' would have fitted
perfectly on the CD in the place of yet another take of 'Life'
- but this CD does makes perfect late night listening. Another
stunner from the FTD Team.
by Piers B *** copyright EIN 2002 ***
Go here for Ernst FTD conference & interview
Click here for other essential FTD releases-
Elvis - The Jungle Room Sessions
Elvis- The Memphis Sessions
Elvis Is Back!
Elvis Presley - The First LP
Elvis: On Tour The Rehearsals
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