AmericanSoundStudio 1500 crop brown

from elvis on thomas street, memphis, tennessee

BY JANUARY 1968, a new Elvis single was suc­cessful if it merely reached the Top 40 and sold 300,000 copies. This was a far cry from three years be­fore when a new single reached the Top 20 and sold at least a half mil­lion copies. And that was a far cry from the dizzying heights of 1960 when a Presley hit sold in the mil­lions!

His al­bums also sold fewer copies with each passing year. And the only the­aters that would book his movies were drive-ins—and then as the bottom half of a double-feature!

Colonel Parker con­vinced the Singer Sewing Com­pany to sponsor Elvis in a one-man tele­vi­sion spe­cial. They taped the show at NBC’s stu­dios in Bur­bank, Cal­i­fornia, in June 1968. Fans had to wait until the last week of Oc­tober to hear the fruits of those ef­forts when radio sta­tions played “If I Can Dream.”

 

Pairing Elvis with Chips Moman could have proved a dis­aster, but Presley buckled down and, for a change, didn’t try to do it his way.

 

To say this new single and the spe­cial that fol­lowed on De­cember 3 had been worth the wait would be a gross un­der­state­ment of what fans thought in 1968. “If I Can Dream” was his biggest hit in years and the sound­track album that fol­lowed was also a big seller. Their com­bined suc­cess put Presley back into play again.

In the wake of this suc­cess, the next ques­tion for Elvis was, “How the hell do I that follow that up?!!?”

 

Elvis Clambake publicityphoto 600

Elvis with guitar posing for a pub­licity photo to pro­mote Clam­bake in early 1967. In a re­view of one of his movies from this pe­riod, Va­riety noted that the “songs are dull, phys­ical values are stan­dard, and medi­oc­rity pre­vails.” Dull and mediocre ac­cu­rately de­fines the ex­pe­ri­ence many fans had sit­ting through these movies in sparsely at­tended the­ater show­ings around the country.

Any day now

As his come­back was far from as­sured, he took an­other bold step and booked time with Amer­ican Sound Studio in Mem­phis. There he put him­self in the care of owner and pro­ducer Chips Moman. This was a daring move as Presley’s method of recording music was at odds with Moman’s.

Elvis pre­ferred to record “live” in the studio, cap­turing a com­plete recording in one take. Moman was a painstaking pro­ducer who ap­proached recording like it was a con­struc­tion project. First, he nailed down the in­stru­mental track and then he had the singer to do the vocal in bits and pieces, over and over, until he had a per­fect record.

While pairing up these two men might have proved a dis­aster, Presley buckled down and, for a change, didn’t try to do it his way. The re­sults were ex­tra­or­di­nary! The music made in Jan­uary and Feb­ruary 1969 was the best—the most masterful—of the singer’s “ma­ture” pe­riod.

The artistic and com­mer­cial suc­cess of “If I Can Dream” re­quired a follow-up that was at least its equal to ce­ment Pres­ley’s rep­u­ta­tion. He chose “In the Ghetto,” which more than lived up to the ex­pec­ta­tions of fans.

A daring single, “In the Ghetto” reached #1 on the Cash Box Top 100! Presley fol­lowed with the From Elvis in Mem­phis album, which was the equal of any album re­leased that year. This is a hel­luva state­ment be­cause 1969 was a hel­luva year for al­bums:

The Band

The Bea­tles: Abbey Road
Cap­tain Beef­heart: Trout Mask Replica
Crosby, Stills & Nash
The Flying Bur­rito Brothers: The Gilded Palace of Sin
Aretha Franklin: Soul ’69
The Kinks: Arthur

The Rolling Stones: Let It Bleed
Dusty Spring­field: Dusty in Mem­phis
Neil Young: Every­body Knows This Is Nowhere

These are just ten I pulled out of my list of faves—the list of su­perfine long-players from the decade’s ul­ti­mate year is a lengthy one.

 

Elvis 1968 NBC TV GuitarMan 600

Elvis with guitar filming his one-man spe­cial for NBC-TV in their Bur­bank studio on June 27, 1968. I don’t re­call anyone thinking the songs dull or mediocre and Grate Grom­mett in Heaven knows the phys­ical values were any­thing but stan­dard when re­viewing the spe­cial. (Well, Al­bert Goldman may have …)

He cleaned up his own back yard

During the mid-’60s, Elvis’s ap­pear­ance had changed: he put on weight no­tice­able in his rounded, puffy face. A rounded, puffy waist oc­ca­sion­ally ac­com­pa­nied this. Re­put­edly, he made it through his movies by taking a va­riety of pills. His ap­pear­ance in these movies and in the photos on his record sleeves showed someone out of touch with the pop­ular cul­ture around him.

For the shooting of his NBC-TV spe­cial, he got back into shape, both phys­i­cally and psy­chi­cally. He en­tered 1969 looking better than he had in years, which was ob­vious in the photos used on the sleeves of his new records. Presley’s “new” ap­pear­ance gave his fans a sense of joy, of ex­pec­ta­tion.

I was one of those fans. I was 17 years old when NBC-TV broad­cast Singer Presents Elvis on De­cember 3, 1968. It was one of the great mo­ments in my life as a fan of not only Elvis Presley but of rock & roll music.

 

Elvis NBC TV Special 1968 sitdown AlbumCover 700

This photo was taken during the June 1968 ses­sions held at NBC’s sound­stage studio in Bur­bank, Cal­i­fornia. It has been used by RCA Victor on var­ious pic­ture sleeves and album covers in var­ious coun­tries around the world since 1969.

A sampling of sleeves

This is the third of three ar­ti­cles ad­dressing the im­por­tance of “In the Ghetto” in Presley’s ca­reer. I have col­lected a sam­pling of sleeves and album covers from around the world as­so­ci­ated with the ’69 Mem­phis record­ings. This is not a com­plete col­lec­tion of sleeves and covers from this era—just the orig­inal US is­sues and in­ter­esting non-US ver­sion.

Many of these photos were from the filming of the tele­vi­sion spe­cial in June 1968. Others are from the photo ses­sions used to pro­mote that show. Un­for­tu­nately, none are from the ac­tual ses­sions at Amer­ican Sound.

Be­fore reading any fur­ther here, check out my other ar­ticle “What in Tar­na­tion Are the Haircut Sleeves of the ’60s” and see the dif­fer­ence be­tween the Elvis Presley of 1966 and the Elvis Presley of 1969.

Fi­nally, in the US record buyers and col­lec­tors tend to refer to the thin, paper sleeves that house seven-inch sin­gles as sleeves. We refer to the card­board sleeves that house ten-inch and twelve-inch records as jackets or covers. In much of the rest of the world, both are re­ferred to as sleeves.

 

 


May 1969

In the Ghetto / Any Day Now

 

Elvis InTheGhetto PS ComingSoon 600

Elvis InTheGhetto PS AskFor 600

The ini­tial print­ings of the US pic­ture sleeve from May 1969 promised us that the From Elvis in Mem­phis album was “Coming soon” (top). Later printings—probably June and July—told us to “Ask for” that same album (bottom).

 

Elvis InTheGhetto PS Italy 600

This Italian sleeve is stun­ning with the black border, but the trans­la­tion of the flip-side is cu­rious. Ac­cording to the Google trans­lator, “bam­bolina” means baby doll, a term that doesn’t even ap­pear in the song’s lyrics. “Any day now” in Italian is “qualungue giorno de oggi.”

 

Elvis InTheGhetto PS Japan 600

This Japanese sleeve uses the same de­sign as the US sleeve, but the Japanese char­ac­ters set it off from the other sim­ilar sleeves for this record. The “font” used for those char­ac­ters is okay—not as ugly as the one used for “Sus­pi­cious Minds” but nowhere near as at­trac­tive as the one used for “Ken­tucky Rain.”

 

Elvis InTheGhetto EP Portugal 1 600

This is not a single but a 4-track EP album from Por­tugal. This par­tic­ular photo of Elvis from the ’68 NBC-TV spe­cial was used often by RCA. I never liked it: the spot­light on his face makes it look flat and chubby at the same time, the op­po­site of how he looked in June 1968.

 

Elvis InTheGhetto PS Turkey 600

This par­tic­ular photo of Elvis on this Turkish sleeve is from the NBC-TV spe­cial and has not been used much. This looks like a well-made bootleg.

 

 


June 1969

From Elvis in Memphis

 

Elvis FromElvisInMemphis shrink sticker 600

Elvis FromElvisInMemphis back cover 600

This is a copy of a factory-sealed album from 1969. It in­cludes a red sticker af­fixed to the shrinkwrap ad­ver­tising the bonus photo in­cluded with ini­tial press­ings of the album. This is the album I bought in June 1969. It was the most stun­ning cover on an Elvis album since his self-titled first album in 1956.

As I walked home from the record store with my new pur­chase, I was ex­cited by what the front cover promised for the music within. The Elvis on the front cover looks like the man who had been born to be the King of Rock & Roll.

But I was also trep­i­da­tious about that music be­cause of the bland­ness of the back cover. The de­sign was lack­luster and the photo of Presley was sev­eral years old. The Elvis on the back cover looks like the man who had been born to star in Hol­ly­wood pablum like Roustabout, Harum Scarum, and Double Trouble.

This scared me.

When I got home and played the album, the opening bars of the first song im­me­di­ately al­layed my fears: “I had to leave town for a little while. You said you’d be good while I was gone.”

Like the NBC-TV spe­cial, From Elvis in Mem­phis was more than I had dared hope for! The im­pact of this music on me proved as pro­found and moving as that of any album ever made.

I don’t do the “desert is­land disc” thing, but if I did, this one would be in the run­ning!

 

Elvis FromElvisInMemphis bonus photo 600

This is the bonus photo that was in­cluded in­side ini­tial US press­ings of From Elvis in Mem­phis. I don’t think that this photo was in­cluded with any other pressing of this album out­side of the US.

 

Elvis FromElvisInMemphis Italy 600b

Whereas the pic­ture sleeve for the single that pre­ceded this Italian album had been an ex­er­cise in black on black, this album cover is one of the whitest covers ever re­leased by an artist not as­so­ci­ated with Liv­er­pool, Eng­land.

 

Elvis FromElvisInMemphis Quad Japan 500

Ap­par­ently, Japan was the only country to re­lease From Elvis in Mem­phis as a dis­crete, 4-channel stereo (quadra­phonic sound) LP, prob­ably in 1972. The gold border with black graphics is not es­pe­cially ef­fec­tive. The copy above has a paper banner on the left that wraps around the jacket ver­ti­cally and is known as an obi (like the hor­i­zontal sash on a ki­mono).

 

Elvis FromElvisInMemphis reel tape 600

In­stead of the 7½ IPS that gave ex­em­plary sound, this reel-to-reel tape was the in­fe­rior (and less ex­pen­sive) 3¾ IPS used Amer­ican record com­pa­nies trying to keep the format alive.

 

Elvis FromElvisInMemphis 8 Track 600

The 8-track tape was booming in the late ’60s—at least it was in the US, where mil­lions of cars with cheap decks needed mil­lions of car­tridges to play. This cheap and in­fe­rior format wasn’t any­where near as suc­cessful in the rest of the non-automobilized world.

 

Elvis FromElvisInMemphis 8 track Quad 300

The only quadra­phonic Elvis is­sued in the states was this 8-track tape, prob­ably re­leased in 1973-1974. The read­er’s next ques­tion should be, “But, Neal, how many people had a quadra­phonic set-up in their Pon­tiac?” To which I might an­swer, “No one I ever met.” 

 

 


June 1969

Clean Up Your Own Backyard / The Fair Is Moving On

 

Elvis CleanUpYourOwnBackYard PS 600

The im­por­tance of this record has been under-appreciated for decades. “Clean Up Your Own Back Yard” didn’t sound like any­thing Elvis had ever recorded for a movie sound­track. In fact, drop it onto the From Elvis in Mem­phis album and I doubt anyone but Chips Moman would know that it hadn’t at Amer­ican Sound.

The lyrics ad­dress hypocrisy and people prying into others’ busi­ness: “Clean up your own backyard—you tend to your busi­ness, I’ll mine.” Along with “If I Can Dream” and “In the Ghetto,” as the third and final part of a trilogy of records ex­pressing so­cial con­scious­ness from Elvis.

But it wasn’t a good choice for a single as it was too country for Top 40 radio. In the ’60s, country radio re­fused to play much of any­thing but artists who weren’t pure county. (And whose pol­i­tics weren’t a smidgen to the right of At­tila the Hun.)

“Clean Up Your Own Back Yard” peaked at #25 on Cash Box and sold about half of what the pre­vious two sin­gles had sold.

 

 

Elvis CleanUpYourOwnBackYard PS Germany 600

As a singer, Elvis was cer­tainly more pop­ular in many coun­tries in Eu­rope than he was in the US. Nonethe­less, by 1968 his movies had done so poorly in the pre­vious years that they weren’t even re­leased in some coun­tries.

Con­se­quently, there was no point in ad­ver­tising those movies on pic­tures sleeves. Un­like the orig­inal US sleeve, this sleeve from West Ger­many does not in­clude a blurb for The Trouble with Girls. It is a cleaner, sim­pler de­sign, and a much more at­trac­tive de­sign.

 

 


August 1969

Suspicious Minds / You’ll Think of Me

 

Elvis SuspiciousMinds PS 600

Some records are born to be #1, born to be played through eter­nity. “Sus­pi­cious Minds” is one of those records.

 

Elvis SuspiciousMinds PS Italy 600

An­other dra­mat­i­cally dark Italian sleeve, this time with a photo from the “Guitar Man” / “Trouble” por­tion of the NBC-TV spe­cial.

 

Elvis SuspiciousMinds PS Japan 600

I should point out that Japanese record com­pa­nies have a long his­tory of taking great care with and pride in their records. Japanese records have been among the finest in the world since the 1960s. Their pic­ture sleeves are also usu­ally of a higher quality than any other coun­ty’s sim­ilar sleeves.

The “font” used for the Japanese char­ac­ters is rather ugly and cer­tainly nowhere near as at­trac­tive as the one used for “Ken­tucky Rain.”

 

Elvis SuspiciousMinds EP Mexico 1970 600

This is a Mex­ican EP album from early 1970 that con­tains both sides of Pres­ley’s last two sin­gles. The Spanish “Cede­an­dose” trans­lates as hob­nob­bing be­cause the term rub­ber­necking had little meaning out­side of the US at the time.

 

Elvis SuspiciousMinds PS NewZeland 600

This sleeve from New Zealand fea­tures an­other less-than-flattering photo of Elvis from the NBC-TV spe­cial.

 

Elvis SuspiciousMinds EP Portugal 600

This Por­tuguese EP album was ap­par­ently re­leased in late 1969 and fea­tures the photo of Elvis from the NBC-TV spe­cial that was used on the cover of the From Mem­phis to Vegas album (below). This un­clut­tered de­sign here is so much more ef­fec­tive and at­trac­tive than the one used on the LP album.

 

Elvis SuspiciousMinds PS Turkey 600

Hmmm, what can we read into the art­work on this Turkish sleeve? Elvis smokes dope and meets Yellow Sub­ma­rine? Or maybe he met Skip Williamson?

 

 


October 1969

From Memphis to Vegas/From Vegas to Memphis

 

Elvis FromMemphisToVegas shrink sticker 600

Elvis FromMemphisToVegas Back 600

The two records that make up this album are jointly known as From Mem­phis to Vegas/From Vegas to Mem­phis. That title only ap­pears on the jacket, not on the records, which have sep­a­rate ti­tles. The first record is Elvis in Person at the In­ter­na­tional Hotel, Las Vegas, Nevada while the second record is Elvis Back in Mem­phis.

The front cover of the gate­fold jacket above has a green sticker ad­ver­tising two bonus photos (below) that were in­cluded with the album. The sticker was af­fixed to the shrinkwrap.

In 1970, the two records were is­sued sep­a­rately as two single al­bums ti­tled Elvis in Person at the In­ter­na­tional Hotel, Las Vegas, Nevada while the second record is ti­tled Elvis Back in Mem­phis.

 

Elvis FromMemphisToVegas Bonus photo 1 300

Elvis FromMemphisToVegas bonus photo 2 300

Elvis FromMemphisToVegas bonus photo 3 300

Elvis FromMemphisToVegas bonus photo 4 300

Ini­tial press­ings of the US album From Mem­phis to Vegas (LSP-6020) in­cluded two of these four pos­sible photos as bonuses. I don’t think that these photos were in­cluded with any other pressing of this album out­side of the US.

 

Elvis FromMemphisToVegas reel 600

This 3¾ IPS reel-to-reel tape con­tains both records.

 

Elvis FromMemphisToVegas 8 Track 600

This 8-track car­tridge tape con­tains both records.

 

Elvis DaMemphisALasVegas 1 Italy 600

Elvis DaMemphisALasVegas 2 Italy 600

In Italy, From Mem­phis to Vegas/From Vegas to Mem­phis (LSP-6020) was is­sued as two single al­bums, Da Las Vegas a Mem­phis, Volume 1 (LSP-6020-1) and Volume 2 (LSP-6020-2). Each volume had the same photo from the NBC-TV spe­cial from 1968.

 

 


November 1969

Don’t Cry, Daddy / Rubberneckin’

 

Elvis DontCryDaddy PS 600

A year after the broad­cast of the NBC-TV spe­cial and Colonel Parker still had RCA Victor using photos from it on sin­gles and album covers. Don’t Cry, Daddy is saved from its maudlin lyrics by yet an­other su­perb, heart-rending vocal from Elvis.

It was a big hit and his third single of the year to sell a mil­lion in the US but it was not the right choice for a single. What as needed at this point was some­thing that rocked—something for new Elvis con­verts, not some­thing for their grand­par­ents. 

 

Elvis DontCryDaddy PS Italy

The all-black look of this Italian sleeve just doesn’t work this time.

 

Elvis DontCryDaddy PS Japan 600

This Japanese sleeve uses the same de­sign as the US sleeve, but the color of the border and the tone on the photo make for a more eye-catching de­sign. The “font” used for the Japanese char­ac­ters is okay—not as ugly as the one used for “Sus­pi­cious Minds” but nowhere near as at­trac­tive as the one used for “Ken­tucky Rain.”

 

Elvis DontCryDaddy PS Netherlands 600

It’s hard to crit­i­cize the use of this image by RCA in the Nether­lands, no matter how often it was used.

 

Elvis DontCryDaddy PS Turkey 600

This sleeve from Turkey is un­like any sleeve I have ever seen as­so­ci­ated with an Elvis Presley record. The hand-lettered ti­tles make it look like a bootleg. And what’s the with the guy with the beard?

 

Elvis DontCryDaddy PS Yugoslavia 600

I didn’t know that the So­cialist Fed­eral Re­public of Yu­goslavia al­lowed rock & roll in 1969 let alone made pic­ture sleeves for deca­dent, cap­i­talist Amer­ican pop singers.

 

 


January 1970

Kentucky Rain / My Little Friend

 

Elvis KentuckyRain PS 600

“Ken­tucky Rain” is a bril­liant record, one of the very best of the Mem­phis ’69 sides. But it was not the best se­lec­tion as a single in 1970: it was too country for the pop sta­tions and too pop for the country sta­tions.

The photo on the sleeve is one of the best from this pe­riod, even if it’s more than a year old and Elvis has al­ready ap­peared in Las Vegas with his new look.

 

Elvis KentuckyRain PS UK 600

RCA Victor in the UK rarely sprung for a pic­ture sleeve for an Elvis single but they did for “Ken­tucky Rain.” But in­stead of some­thing fresh, they re­cy­cled the same photo and de­sign used on the orig­inal “Sus­pi­cious Minds” sleeve for sev­eral sin­gles in 1969-1970.

 

Elvis KentuckyRain PS India 600

Pic­ture sleeves from India are rather rare, as is this one for “Ken­tucky Rain” using a rather fa­miliar image.

 

Elvis KentuckyRain PS Italy 600

This Italian sleeve uses an­other well-known photo from the 1968 NBC-TV spe­cial.

 

Elvis KentuckyRain PS Japan 600

This Japanese sleeve is iden­tical to the orig­inal ex­cept for the Japanese char­ac­ters, which stand out. The “font” used for those char­ac­ters is very at­trac­tive and makes this ver­sion of this sleeve the most ef­fec­tive.

 

 


April 1970

Let’s Be Friends

 

Elvis LetsBeFriends 600

The simple cover de­sign of Let’s Be Friends was a re­lief from all the over-busy de­signs of the stan­dard cat­alog Presley Product with their blurbs for movies and ads for coming at­trac­tions. The Camden line al­bums played a key role in re-establishing Elvis in the US market in 1969-1971.

These first few Elvis budget al­bums were at­trac­tively pack­aged and con­tained pre­vi­ously un­re­leased record­ings or 45 sides that had not been com­piled onto an LP be­fore.

Let’s Be Friends was one of the best: ex­cept for “Mama” from the 1962 sound­track to Girls! Girls! Girls!, all the tracks are from 1968-1969, making this the most styl­is­ti­cally and chrono­log­i­cally co­he­sive of the Camden ti­tles.

Let’s Be Friends in­cluded a pair of left-overs from the Mem­phis ses­sion, “If I’m a Fool (for Loving You)” and “I’ll Be There.” These alone prac­ti­cally jus­ti­fied the al­bum’s re­lease. It’s a shame that Presley and Parker and RCA didn’t con­tinue to use the Camden ti­tles for tasteful, in­tel­li­gent, and en­joy­able is­sues like this.

But the Presley-Parker-RCA three­some was rarely noted for taste or in­tel­li­gent de­ci­sions.

 

 


November 1970

Elvis in Person at the International Hotel, Las Vegas, Nevada

 

Elvis InPersonAtTheInternationalHotel cf 600

Elvis InPersonAtTheInternationalHotel cb 600

This single-record album is a reissue of is the first record from the two-record set From Mem­phis to Vegas/From Vegas to Mem­phis that had been is­sued one year be­fore in Oc­tober 1969. 

 

 


November 1970

Elvis Back In Memphis

 

Elvis BackInMemphis cf 600

Elvis BackInMemphis cb 600

This single-record album is a reissue of the second record from the two-record set From Mem­phis to Vegas/From Vegas to Mem­phis that had been is­sued one year be­fore in Oc­tober 1969. The front cover photo was taken during Elvis’s first weeks on stage at the In­ter­na­tional Hotel in Las Vegas in July 1969. It was the only time he wore a simple, two-piece black stage outfit. 

Had Parker and the de­ci­sion-makers at RCA Victor not re­leased a two-record set and in­stead fo­cused on the suc­cess of the Mem­phis sin­gles, then they could have added “Sus­pi­cious Minds” and ti­tled it Sus­pi­cious Minds – Elvis Back in Mem­phis. It might have been his biggest selling album of the ’60s.

This is one of my fa­vorite Elvis album covers.

Coda

In a se­ries of com­ments posted on Face­book (April 4, 2019), Frank Daniels and I dis­cussed the pic­ture sleeve for “Don’t Cry Daddy” from Turkey above. In one of Frank’s com­ments, he asked, “Daddy is crying over the di­vorce, right?” In fifty years of knowing this record, I had never thought of it being about di­vorce!

I had al­ways heard the singer (Daddy) re­fer­ring to his wife dying and leaving him and two small chil­dren be­hind. But reading the lyrics again, I see that the song’s writer Mac Davis left them open to in­ter­pre­ta­tion:

“Don’t cry, daddy. Daddy, please don’t cry.
Daddy, you’ve still got me and little Tommy,
to­gether we’ll find a brand new mommy.”

They could be about death or di­vorce or even aban­don­ment.

 

AmericanSoundStudio 1000

FEATURED IMAGE: By 1972, the kind of earthy music that was made at Chips Mo­man’s Amer­ican Sound at 827 Thomas Street in Mem­phis, Ten­nessee, was no longer in vogue as radio turned to the softer sounds of Philly Soul and L.A.-based singer-songwriters. Moman ended up in Nashville, making hits for country artists in­stead. This photo of the studio was taken years after its closing and it looks like a run­down bar in a run­down neigh­bor­hood where you go to pick fights in­stead of picking up women.

 

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