another mess of blues with wikipedia and elvis


A
 MESS OF BLUES
seems to be the song that sums up many of the entries on Wikipedia for rock & roll in general and Elvis Presley in particular. Their article on the soundtrack album for the 1968 NBC-TV Special ELVIS is so error-ridden as to be not only not useful, but to be downright harmful! It’s yet another mess of blues about Elvis on Wiki.

And it’s amazing how much misinformation the Wiki writers can slip into a few paragraphs about a topic that involves popular music of the past sixty years.

This isn’t the first time I’ve had to correct a factually challenged entry on Presley on Wikipedia—and it won’t be the last.

In many fields, Wiki is often spot on with their facts and data, such as science and technology. I assume that is because those contributors actually know what they are talking about.

Whereas topics involving popular culture—such as music, movies, and books—are fields where everyone thinks he and she is an expert!

With pop culture entries, actual dyed-in-the-wool idjits believe they know what they are talking about! Hence, these topics attract “writers” who are defined by two characteristics:

1. They don’t know the actual facts, either not having lived through them or having lived through them obliviously. 1

2. They don’t know that all writing—and that includes the flimsiest fiction—requires research. Lots of research.

Or they do know that research is required, they just don’t know how to do that research. Just because a source has a reputation doesn’t mean it’s necessarily a good source for reliable data. 2

Another Mess Of Blues: front cover of ELVIS, the soundtrack album to the 1968 NBC-TV Special.

This striking cover for ELVIS (LPM-4088) was completely at odds with the seemingly endless line of bland photos of a testosteroneless Elvis that had made up the unimaginative cover art of Elvis albums for years.

Another mess of blues

For example, I recently wrote an article that required my researching the 1968 NBC-TV special Elvis. I turned to Wiki to see if there was any pertinent data there. Instead, I found that the Wiki contributors had messed up yet another Elvis entry.

The entry was full of the three things I now expect from Wiki entries on popular music:

How could they record a live album of a show before the live show was taped?

1. erroneous conclusions based on a lack of understanding of the subject;
2. simple factual errors; and
3. misuse of words.

I say “yet another” because this seems to have become the usual experience I have with Wikipedia: plain old errors combined with things that look like they’re “facts” unless you actually understand the background information. 3

So here I correct the incorrect data in the Wikipedia entry “Elvis (NBC TV Special),” which addresses the 1968 LP album ELVIS. This is the soundtrack to the NBC-TV television special show Elvis. 4

Between the horizontal lines below, find the Wikipedia text as it exists on December 15, 2016. I have set it in san serif Arial typeface, or font in Internetspeak.

Within the Wiki text I have attached numbers in parentheses and set off in bold brown print; for example: (1). These numbers follow statements that require addressing or correcting. The corrections follow the text.

Another Mess Of Blues: photo (1) of Elvis making the NBC-TV Special on June 29, 1968.

This is a photo of Elvis during the ‘stand-up sessions’ of June 29, 1968, at NBC Studio in Burbank, California. It was used as a black & white bonus photo an issued with original pressings of FROM MEMPHIS TO VEGAS in 1969. 5



WIKIPEDIA: Elvis (NBC-TV Special)

Prior to the videotaping of the Singer Christmas Special, (1) a soundtrack album to be released before the December 3 broadcast was recorded. (2) Several initial contract stipulations were obviated by Presley and program producer Steve Binder, (3) notably the one against having a live audience present, but album producer Bones Howe was unable to requisition proper recording equipment, getting the sound feed from the single-channel microphones on the video cameras.

Hence, the album was released in mono only, at a time when the recording industry was switching over to stereophonic records exclusively for both albums and singles. (4)

Unlike the drudgery of the feature film soundtrack recordings, Presley was genuinely excited by the project. For the album, the musical format presented Presley in three different settings: production numbers featuring medleys of his material; an informal small band featuring medleys in front of a live audience; (5) and the two original numbers with Presley backed by an orchestra in front of a live audience. (6)

The two ballad tracks from this album were issued as singles. (7) If I Can Dream being released earlier in the month, backed on the B-side with a song from his movie in theaters at the time, Live a Little, Love a Little, making it a double promotion on one record. It peaked at #12 on the Billboard Hot 100, his highest charting single since 1965. (8)

Memories was released over two months after the broadcast, backed with the title song to his next film, Charro! (9)

By making it to the top ten on the album chart after his previous album had charted at a dismal #82, (10) this LP resuscitated his recording career at a time when it seemed practically moribund. (11)


 

Another Mess Of Blues: cardboard standee used to promote the NBC-TV Special in Singer Stores in 1968.

This is a 22 x 28 inch cardboard ‘standee’ that could be found on display in Singer stores across the country in the weeks prior to the show’s broadcast date. This is one of many promotional items that have confused collectors into thinking the title of the special was “Singer Presents Elvis.”

My corrections

Returning to a serifed typeface (the equally universal Georgia), please find here my corrections to the Wiki statements above.

(1) Wikipedia capitalizes “Singer Christmas Special,” and as we all know, caps are used to set off proper names. So capping these three words invites readers to infer that there was a show titled “Singer Christmas Special.”

There was not.

The ads that ran prior to its being broadcast understandably played up the sponsor of the show, and consequently it has been called the Singer Presents Elvis special. That also is incorrect: the name of the show was always just one word, Elvis.


There never was a television show called “Singer Presents Elvis” or the “Elvis NBC-TV Special”—it was always titled simply “Elvis.”


(2) The use of the word obviate is odd at best: it’s rarely used in modern language and its meaning is unfamiliar to most readers. I certainly had to look it up (but then I look up almost everything).

According to Merriam-Webster, obviate means “to anticipate and prevent as a situation, or make unnecessary as an action.” It would appear to be incorrect usage and really does not belong in the sentence above.

A correct use of the word in a sentence might be, “Wikipedia could obviate the need for Neal Umphred to write these corrective articles by appointing Umphred as editor of all entries on Elvis.”

(3) Wiki states that a “Prior to the videotaping of the Singer Christmas Special, a soundtrack album to be released before the December 3 broadcast was recorded.” Huh? How could they record the live soundtrack album of the show before the live show was videotaped?

The soundtrack album was taken from the show that was taped and recorded and edited! The “soundtrack album” and the “Singer Christmas Special” are essentially the same thing.

Duh!

Another Mess Of Blues: photo (1) of Elvis making the NBC-TV Special on June 27, 1968.

This is a photo of Elvis during the sit-down sessions of June 27, 1968, at NBC Studio in Burbank, California. It was used as a black & white bonus photo an issued with original pressings of FROM MEMPHIS TO VEGAS in 1969. 5

(4) The soundtrack album ELVIS (RCA Victor LPM-4088) consists of twenty-three individual songs, some of which are complete songs, some of which are parts of a medley. Of these, twelve songs are in mono and eleven are in stereo.

Put another way, twenty-seven minutes of the record are monophonic, while almost eighteen minutes are stereophonic.

That is, approximately two-thirds of the content of the record are mono while almost one-third of the content is stereo.

So the record was hardly “mono only.”

RCA could have assigned the album a standard mono prefix (LPM), or a standard stereo prefix (LSP), or they could have given it a unique prefix. They opted for the mono prefix.

I am left to infer that no one involved with writing or editing the Wikipedia article bothered to read the back cover of the album jacket (LP or CD), or the record labels, both of which state that tracks are in stereo.

I am also left to infer that no one at Wiki bothered to listen to the record.

Another Mess Of Blues: photo (2) of Elvis making the NBC-TV Special on June 27, 1968.

This is a photo of Elvis during the sit-down sessions of June 27, 1968, at NBC Studio in Burbank, California. It was used as a black & white bonus photo an issued with original pressings of FROM MEMPHIS TO VEGAS in 1969. 5

(5) The “informal small band” portions—long known as the Burbank “sit-down sessions”—consisted mostly of full renditions of older songs; there were very no medleys.

(6) There were three original numbers written for the show, not two: Memories and Nothingville (Billy Strange and Mac Davis) and If I Can Dream (Walter Earl Brown).

(7) The choice of words here can be confusing: if ballad means ‘slow romantic song,’ then there are more than two on the album. And no matter how one defines ballad, it seems inappropriate for a song like If I Can Dream. 6


In the months prior to the NBC Special, Elvis had released some exciting singles, such as Guitar Man and U.S. Male.


(8) If I Can Dream did reach #12 on Billboard’s Hot 100, but it peaked in the US at #9 on Cash Box’s Top 100. This was Presley’s first Top 10 hit since I’m Yours had reached #9 on Cash Box in late 1965 (and it, too, failed to reach Billboard’s Top 10). 7

(9) Memories peaked at #24 on Cash Box but only reaching #35 on Billboard. It was still moving up the Cash Box chart (from #38 to #30 to #25 to #24 to gone) when it was unceremoniously removed from Top 40 rotation in favor of the new single, In The Ghetto. So it could have been a bigger hit of RCA and the Colonel had a bit of patience.

(10) The previous album had been the (lackluster) soundtrack SPEEDWAY, which indeed had petered out after reaching #82 on the Billboard LP survey.

Another Mess Of Blues: photo of Elvis making the NBC-TV Special in early June 1968.

This is a photo of Elvis during the production sessions of June 20-23, 1968, at NBC Studio in Burbank, California. It was used as a black & white bonus photo an issued with original pressings of FROM MEMPHIS TO VEGAS in 1969. 4

(11) I infer that the choice of the word moribund by the Wiki writer is his way of showing his smarts—except it’s a poorly chosen word for what he is trying to communicate. According to Merriam-Webster, moribund means “being in the state of dying, approaching death” and “being in a state of inactivity or obsolescence.”


Had Presley not taken a chance on a game where the stakes were high, he faced possible imminent obsolescence.


Presley’s recording career was hardly near death: in the twelve months prior to recording the material for the NBC-TV Special, Elvis had cut more than two dozen tracks, including some genuinely exciting music.

His non-soundtrack singles (Big Boss Man, Guitar Man, and U.S. Male) had received considerably more radio attention than his movie songs. Two singles (U.S. Male and Your Time Hasn’t Come Yet, Baby) had actually been minor hits on the country & western charts, his first in years!

It is fair to say that sales of his movie-related records had gone from merely stagnating to actually diminishing.

It is fair to say that had Presley not taken a chance on a game where the stakes were high—and not succeeded at that game–he faced possible and imminent obsolescence.

But such records as the aforementioned singles along with tracks like High Heel Sneakers and Too Much Monkey Business and even movie songs like Let Yourself Go and A Little Less Conversation indicated there was still life in Presley’s old bones.


POSTSCRIPTUALLY, the photo is from the bordello sequence in the original script for the Elvis special. Why was an entire show shot and then half the scenes dumped prior to final editing? Could the fact that the newly married leading man knew the lovely leading lady Susan Henning as more than a leading lady have had anything to do with it?


Another Mess Of Blues: photo of Elvis and Susan Henning in the 1968 NBC-TV Special.

Elvis and Susan Henning in the bordello sequence, which was part of the original concept for the show and then wisely jettisoned. Rarely do I mention gossip on this website, but here I go: one of the arguments fir the change the show underwent was based on the still new Mrs. Elvis Presley seeing her husband and leading lady together and quickly figuring that 1 + 1 almost always equals the same damn thing.


Another Mess Of Blues: photo (2) of Elvis making the NBC-TV Special on June 29, 1968.

FEATURED IMAGE: The photo at the top of this page was taken at NBC’s soundstage in their studio in Burbank, California, on June 29, 1968. There were two shows on this day, in each Elvis stood in front of an audience of a few hundred people and sang to prerecorded tracks featuring a band and an orchestra. These are known as the Burbank “stand-up sessions.”

 


FOOTNOTES:

1   “One of the painful things about our time is that those who feel certainty are stupid, and those with any imagination and understanding are filled with doubt and indecision.” (Bertrand Russell, The Triumph Of Stupidity). For the interested reader given to looking things up, check out the Dunning-Kruger Effect, after which so so so many things will make sense.

2   For example, almost every book on rock and soul and pop music published prior to the Internet depended on the memory of the writer. The most common source was interviewing musicians, meaning the writer depended on the memory of the band members. Consequently, articles and books from the early days of rockwriting are often rife with factual errors.

So a writer in 2016 referencing such an illustrious tome as The Rolling Stone Illustrated History Of Rock & Roll needs to know a helluvalot to know when not to trust a “fact” in that book. This point deserves more exploration and further extrapolation; don’t be surprised it it’s the topic of another article here on A Touch Of Gold in the not too distant future.

3   This is not my first post on one of my website where I correct Wikipedia; check out “Rock And Rollin’ With Fats Domino” and “50,000,000 Wikipedia Contributors Can’t Be Wrong.”

4   Oddly, the Wikipedia entry for the television show itself, “Elvis (1968 TV Program),” is reasonably accurate—aside from being written in a stiff, uninviting manner, of course.

5   Original pressings of FROM MEMPHIS TO VEGAS (RCA Victor LSP-6020) issued in November 1969 included two bonus photos tucked inside the shrinkwrapped jacket. There were four different photos: each was 8 x 10 inches with a white border and a stamped greeting and signature on the front. The back had a list of albums available as 8-track and cassette tapes.

6   Merriam-Webster defines a ballad as “a slow popular song that is typically about love,” but also gives a fuller definition: “a narrative composition in rhythmic verse suitable for singing.”

7   As the Cash Box survey reflected actual sales, it was a much more reliable chart than Billboard’s, which factored airplay and jukebox plays into their positions. Unfortunately, Cash Box is rarely referenced by modern journalists and historians. Which leads to an interesting question: Do most modern pop music “journalists” even know that Cash Box magazine existed?

 

Another Mess Of Blues: photo of Elvis and Susan Henning in the 1968 NBC-TV Special.

Rarely do I mention gossip on this website, but here I go: this photo is from the bordello sequence in the original script for the Elvis special. Why was an entire show shot and then half the scenes dumped prior to final editing? Could the fact that the newly married leading man knew the lovely leading lady Susan Henning as more than a leading lady have had anything to do with it?

 

This isn't the first time I've had to correct a factually challenged entry on ELVIS PRESLEY on Wikipedia. Click To Tweet


 

 

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