on the edge of reality with the pseudo-pyschedelic elvis

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IF I CAN DREAM, I’ll have this article finished before I find myself sitting on the edge of reality. You know—where life’s dream lies disillusioned and dark shadows follow me. (But that’s another story for another time.) Each year on this day I try to write something about my experience of being an Elvis fan since I was in grade-school way, way back in the ’50s.  But I’m gonna make it happen today and write about the pseudo-psychedelic Elvis of 1968!

I walk along a thin line, dark shadows follow me. Here’s where life’s dream lies disillusioned on the edge of reality.

Usually, I find some excuse for not completing anything—for a while, it was good bourbon, now my excuse is old age. I could write about where I was on that day forty years ago—in a bar (of course), drinking (of course), waiting for a woman (duh)—and how indelible that memory is, even clearer than the one from November 22, 1963.

Instead, I’m going to ramble on about one of my favorite singles in the Presley catalog, If I Can Dream, but I will be focusing on the B-side, Edge Of Reality.

The story begins in October 1968, when the brouhaha over the upcoming Elvis television special was really ramping up. During the first week of November, we finally got a taste of it with the release of the new single.

The first time heard If I Can Dream was late at night, lying in bed with my transistor radio. I was stunned: Elvis sounded angry, something I’d never heard in him music before.


Pseudo-Pyschedelic Elvis: photo of Elvis from 1968.

This is one of many publicity photos circulated to promote the upcoming NBC-TV “Singer Presents Elvis” special. For his second comeback of the decade, Elvis worked out harder than usual and lost weight, adding a deep tan along the way. Lean and maturely sexy, this was arguably the best he ever looked.

The record was unlike anything that he had recorded. In fact, it was unlike anything anyone had recorded! Like Heartbreak Hotel, it defied categorization: it wasn’t rock & roll, but it sure in hell wasn’t easy listening!

There was no rhythm, but there was a lot of blues. 1

Presley’s singing was all passion anger hurt as he pleaded for a better land where all his brothers walked hand in hand. There was no resignation to the inevitability of racism and xenophobia—quite the opposite, as his singing implied rage at its very existence!

This was a far, far cry (and a very welcomed cry!) from the Elvis we had become uncomfortable with for the previous few years—the Elvis of Girl Happy and Harum Scarum and Clambake.

“If I Can Dream” wasn't rock & roll, but it sure in hell wasn't easy listening! Click To Tweet

Pseudo-Pyschedelic Elvis: American picture sleeve for IF I CAN DREAM single.

The American picture sleeve for If I Can Dream / Edge Of Reality featured the same graphics on both sides but  the front cover advertised If I Can Dream (the hit side) while the back advertised Edge Of Reality (the flip-side).

A curiously moribund icon

Praise galore has been written about If I Can Dream, including my own articles here on this site. But I want to include a few words from by John Ross in a newly posted piece on his The Round Place In The Middle site:

“[Elvis] no more knew how to walk a straight line through If I Can Dream than he had known how to move like anybody else when he hit a television stage for the first time on the Dorsey Brothers’ Stage Show in the early months of ’56. The key to Elvis at his best, from first to last, was that he looked at a confined conjunction of time and/or space—a TV stage, a recording studio, the length of a record, the meaning available in a lyric—and imagined it differently than anyone else did.

So, faced with a song that fit squarely into existing traditions—he could take it as uplift (like King’s speech), as cautionary tale (like Dylan), as a means to look beyond the stars (like Kennedy), as the running of a secret tide that won’t be turned back (like Cooke), or even as an excuse to give in to the moment and re-orient the Protestant Reformation, with its promise of moving man’s Golden Age (which America now represented full-blown), from the past to the future, and simply realizing it in the Present—what was a poor boy to do?

Standing square in the middle of 1968, the most volatile year in American history since the end of the Civil War, standing there, according to many, as a curiously moribund icon, waiting for his wax statue, with his place as a permanently employed Entertainer set out neatly and securely before him, he did what he always did at a crisis . . . the unexpected.

He seized the song by the throat.

And he didn’t let it go.”

And that’s all, folks, that you are going to read about this extraordinary recording in this article! For more, click on over to John’s article, “How Much Can One Record Mean.”


Pseudo-Pyschedelic Elvis: poster for Elvis movie LIVE A LITTLE, LOVE A LITTLE from 1968.

This is one of several posters used by theaters across the country to promote the movie. Those few diehard fans left in late ’68 like me were reassured that our guy still clicked with the chicks! 2

How great who art?

During the mid ’60s, Presley seemed disengaged with his musical career, which was tied to his movie career, which was in a rapid downward spiral. He also seemed disengaged from the consensual reality we all shared, trapped in another time and place, where most of The Sixties hadn’t happened.

Much of this was due to the long-standing contracts with uninspired movie producers; much of it was due to Colonel Parker’s belief that not performing in front of a live audience upped the demand for those movies.

After recording movie music almost exclusively between 1963 and 1966, Elvis had started recording in the studio in May 1966 with his new producer, Felton Jarvis. These efforts had produced one of his greatest achievements, the HOW GREAT THOU ART album, along with several notable sides (such as Tomorrow Is A Long Time, Indescribably Blue, and Guitar Man). His engagement with these recordings was dramatically different than the indifference with which he treated the movie sides.


I can hear strange voices echo, laughing with mockery. The border line of doom I’m facing—the edge of reality.


By 1968, all this was all building to a head: the dumb movies and their insipid soundtracks, none of which were making any real money; the lack of contact with his fans; the lack of respect that anyone in the recording business was showing him.

Also around this time, he looked in the mirror and didn’t like what he saw, mainly the doughboy softness in his waist and jaw-line. He made the necessary changes and the world was suddenly looking at a lean and sexy new Elvis, one who at least looked like he was in command.


Pseudo-Pyschedelic Elvis: French picture sleeve for EDGE OF REALITY / IF I CAN DREAM single.

This is the French picture sleeve (RCA Hit Parade 49.574), clearly indicating that the featured side is Edge Of Reality, listed atop If I Can Dream. I don’t know why RCA flipped the A- and B-sides in some countries; shouldn’t every branch of the company have been focused on promoting the upcoming television special and its attendant soundtrack LP album?

A little more action please

The latest Elvis movie was Live A Little, Love A Little, a title that could cast a pall over any movie. Fortunately, the musical supervisor was Billy Strange, who thought Elvis’s sound needed a facelift. Strange dispensed with Presley’s usual sidekicks and brought in L.A. session players, some of whom had worked with Elvis in the past.

The brief soundtrack consisted of only four songs: Almost In Love, a flirtation with South American samba-ish ambience and actual adult-oriented pop; A Little Less Conversation, an awkward if interesting rocker; Wonderful World, a European-tinged ballad that should have been forgotten; and Edge Of Reality. 3

The latter was written by the team of Bernie Baum, Bill Giant, and Florence Kaye, who had provided Elvis with a load of crappy movie songs in the past, although they had also given him the irresistible (You’re The) Devil In Disguise.

Whoever talked to them, this time the trio came through with Edge Of Reality, a rather unconventional song with rather interesting lyrics, which seem to address a man on the borderline of acute anxiety or even paranoia, with strange voices, torment, doom, and nameless faces.

This is Edge Of Reality in full, glorious Sixties stereo.

Enjoy!

“Edge Of Reality” seems to address a man on the border of acute anxiety or paranoia! Click To Tweet

I walk along a thin line, darling,
dark shadows follow me.
Here’s where life’s dream lies disillusioned—
the edge of reality.
Oh I can hear strange voices echo,
laughing with mockery.
The border line of doom I’m facing—
the edge of reality.

On the edge of reality, she sits there tormenting me,
the girl with the nameless face.
On the edge of reality, where she overpowers me
with fears that I can’t explain.

She drove me to the point of madness—
the brink of misery.
If she’s not real, then I’m condemned to
the edge of reality.

On the edge of reality, she sits there tormenting me,
the girl with the nameless face.
On the edge of reality, where she overpowers me
with fears that I can’t explain.

She drove me to the point of madness—
the brink of misery.
If she’s not real, then I’m condemned to
the edge of reality.

The record’s arrangement is punctuated by loud brass and swirling orchestration. Elvis’s vocal has a staggered sound, like he is punching out certain words or sounds. Combined with the excellent production, the whole thing is quite effective, sounding like high-quality pseudo-psychedelic rock.

This was something that no one—certainly not fans like me!—had expected from him. Appropriately, it was used in a dream sequence in Live A Little, Love A Little.

In keeping with the Colonel’s promise to plug Presley’s movies, Edge Of Reality was selected as the flip-side to If I Can DreamAt least it was the flip-side in most parts of the world: in some areas, the local branch of RCA saw Edge Of Reality as the more commercial side and issued the single with it as the A-side.

In Australia, it reached #2 on the national Hit Parade, and actually made it to #1 on the regional Melbourne chart!


Pseudo-Pyschedelic Elvis: front cover of ALMOST IN LOVE Camden album from 1970.

Released in October 1970, ALMOST IN LOVE was a budget album that haphazardly compiled seven tracks from recent movie soundtracks with three studio recordings. What made it special for Elvis fans was the presence of reasonably strong selections like U.S. Male and A Little Less Conversation (1968) and Clean Up Your Own Backyard and Rubberneckin’ (1969), most of them in stereo for the first time. 4

Almost in love

Of course, after hearing If I Can Dream on the radio, I rushed to Joe Nardone’s record shop in Wayne’s department Store the next day and bought it. While some companies were issuing singles in stereo in 1968, If I Can Dream / Edge Of Reality was in mono.

Edge Of Reality finally appeared in stereo on the ALMOST IN LOVE album (Camden CAS-2440) in October 1970. This was fortuitous timing, as two things happened in my life around this time:

1. I dropped acid for the first time (and yes, that’s yet another story for another time).

2. I moved into my first apartment, which quickly became one of the most psychedelicized pads in the decidedly unpsychedelic city of Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania. 

I played host to a lot of music-lovers and had a reasonably good sound system—we called them “stereos” back then—with large floor speakers and the ability to crank up the volume. (It was an old building with thick floors and walls and very few neighbors.) 


She drove me to the point of madness, the brink of misery. If she’s not real, then I’m condemned to the edge of reality.


Visitors to my apartment who got high or tripped with me could expect to hear SGT. PEPPER and HAPPY TRAILS and CHILDREN OF THE FUTURE and IN SEARCH OF THE LOST CHORD and LIVE/DEAD. But when they were lying back rapturous with headphones wrapped around their heads, I would slip the unexpected onto the turntable. But amongst these I always slipped something unexpected onto the turntable.

And Edge Of Reality in stereo played loud never failed to impress, with or without headphones. I don’t know how many hippies or psychonauts ever bothered to put Elvis on when they were “out there,” but they missed a helluva trip that might have taken them on a magic swirling ship that came within reach of the edge of reality.


Pseudo-Pyschedelic Elvis: photo of Elvis and Rudy Vallee from LIVE A LITTLE, LOVE A LITTLE movie.

FEATURED IMAGE: The aged crooner Rudy Vallee gives the young whippersnapper Elvis a piece of his mind in this scene from Live A Little, Love A Little. Watching the two in the background are Don Porter (the one with the steely gaze) and Celeste Yarnall (the one with the legs). For the image at the top of this page, I flipped the photo to place Elvis on the left, so that he would be in the photo regardless of the size of the screen displaying this article.



FOOTNOTES:

1   A contemporary reviewer for Cash Box might have described it as “hard pop with a rocking beat.”

2   The first eleven months of 1968 was probably the nadir of Presley’s career in terms of popularity, record sales, and movie grosses. This all changed with the December broadcast of the television special followed by the fabulous music he recorded at Chips Moman’s American Sound studio in Memphis in January and February 1969 (In The Ghetto, Suspicious Minds, Don’t Cry Daddy, and Kentucky Rain were all million-selling hits from these sessions).

3   No one has ever explained who was responsible for the improved quality of the movie songs in 1968 and ’69, but they had definitely improved. They weren’t great, and they were too-little-too-late to restore him to pop chart prominence, but they were a step in the right direction.

4   ALMOST IN LOVE was one of fifteen Elvis albums containing twenty-one records that RCA issued in the US in 1970-1971. Despite this flooding of the market, most of them were certified for Gold Record Awards.


Pseudo-Pyschedelic Elvis: photo of Michelle Carey from LIVE A LITTLE, LOVE A LITTLE movie.

One of the highlights of Live A Little, Love A Little was the presence of Michelle Carey, who brought a mature female sensuality and sexuality to the movie—a welcome change from many of the more virginal actresses that played opposite Presley.



 

2 thoughts on “on the edge of reality with the pseudo-pyschedelic elvis

    1. J

      Apologies if it read like I tripped through LIVE A LITTLE, LOVE A LITTLE. I’m really not sure I could have made it through that or any other Elvis movie of the ’60s. But, in hindsight, watching the yummy Ms Carey on acid sounds, um, interesting.

      N

      PS: Did see ALIEN on the last widescreen theater in Northern California (in Corte Madera?) with three other guys on acid in 1979. Believe it or not, we laughed through most of it because the crew’s behavior in the face of a terrorizing monster seemed unbelievably stoopit.

      PPS: Sex on acid is one of the best kept secrets in the psychedelic world …

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