(can anyone say) what was elvis’ single greatest performance?

THE PLUS OF QUORA is that it gives me prompts for a se­ries of an­swers there that I can turn into short ar­ti­cles here. There’s nothing like a blog being con­stantly fed fresh con­tent to keep readers and search en­gines happy! The minus of Quora is that it keeps me from other, lengthier projects, some of which have been gath­ering vir­tual dust for some time.

The ques­tion that was brought to my at­ten­tion this morning is “What is Elvis’s best per­for­mance?That is a ques­tion that can have many an­swers as the term “greatest per­for­mance” can mean many things, many of them sub­jec­tive.

In a world where there are people who truly be­lieve that G.I. BLUES is a better album than FROM ELVIS IN MEMPHIS, any an­swer has cred­i­bility with some people.

Read my an­swer below, in­dented be­tween the two im­ages.

 

Elvis NBC 1968 standup 600

On June 27, 1968, Elvis did two shows of one-hour each in front of a small au­di­ence on the itty-bitty stage at NBC’s studio in beau­tiful down­town Bur­bank, Cal­i­fornia. De­spite the fact that he spent a good deal of the time pacing the stage, these two sets are re­ferred to as the “sit-down ses­sions” be­cause he spends a good deal of the time sit­ting on a chair playing guitar.

What was Elvis’ Greatest Hit?

If I as­sume that you are asking for one spe­cific recording as his “best performance”—like you want to know “Elvis’ Greatest Hit”—I don’t know how anyone could supply a single an­swer that works. So how about this:

  I’d say that his most coura­geous “per­for­mance” was when he stepped into Sam Phillips’s itty-bitty cub­by­hole of a studio in 1953 and paid $3.98 to cut two sides, My Hap­pi­ness / That’s When Your Heartaches Begin.

Without this, it’s pos­sible that every­thing that Elvis recorded in the studio and on stage 1954-1977 would never have oc­curred.

  I’d say that his most im­por­tant “per­for­mance” was when he stepped into Sam Phillips’s itty-bitty cub­by­hole of a studio in 1954 and set to putting some­thing on tape that Sun Records could ac­tu­ally re­lease for air­play and even pos­sible sales. 1

Without this, it’s pos­sible that every­thing that Elvis recorded in the studio and on stage 1954-1977 would never have oc­curred.


If on the other hand, I as­sume that you are asking for a single set­ting or event (like a show) that con­sti­tutes his “best per­for­mance,” then my an­swer is easy:

I think the two one-hour shows that he did on June 27, 1968, at NBC’s studio in Bur­bank, Cal­i­fornia (the “sit-down ses­sions”) are not only his best (and greatest) per­for­mance but ar­guably the greatest sus­tained per­for­mance in the his­tory of rock & roll.


For those of you who only read my an­swers to Elvis ques­tions on Quora and think that I think that the sun rose and set with Elvis, there are other events that I rank as being ar­guably the greatest sus­tained per­for­mance in the his­tory of rock & roll. Without thinking long or hard, two come im­me­di­ately to mind: 2

•  The Bea­tles recording ten tracks in thir­teen hours for their first (and most im­por­tant) album PLEASE PLEASE ME on Feb­ruary 11, 1963. This day-long ses­sion cul­mi­nated in Twist And Shout, one of the greatest rock & roll sides ever waxed.

•  Bob Dylan and the Hawks per­forming live at the Free Trade Hall in Man­chester, Eng­land, on May 17, 1966. Widely boot­legged for decades as the “Royal Al­bert Hall Con­cert,” this show was fi­nally of­fi­cially re­leased as a two-disc set in 1998 as the fourth volume in the Dylan Bootleg Se­ries and ti­tled BOB DYLAN LIVE 1966. 3

Be­cause it’s sub­jec­tive, de­ciding Elvis’ greatest per­for­mance has many ‘cor­rect’ an­swers. Click To Tweet

BobDylan Hawks onstage 1966 1000

FEATURED IMAGE: The photo at the top of this page is Bob Dylan with Rick Danko and Robbie Robertson, then mem­bers of the Hawks on stage in 1966. The tour of the world that they did that year pro­vided au­di­ences with a type of rock & roll music no one had even imag­ined could exist. It took the re­lease of this and other con­certs from this time on bootleg al­bums in the early ’70s for most of us to know just how amazing the music was and is. 4

 


FOOTNOTES:

1   Keep in mind that in July 1954, the only air­play that Sam Phillips could de­pend on the first Presley record re­ceiving was at least one from his buddy Dewy Phillips (no re­la­tion) on his pop­ular Red, Hot & Blues show on WHBQ-560 right there in Mem­phis. Without this, it’s pos­sible that every­thing that Elvis recorded in the studio and on stage 1954-1977 would never have oc­curred. (Yes, I know, that’s an awk­ward sen­tence but it gets the point across per­fectly.) (Which is why I have used it three times.) (So far.) (I like the word itty-bitty, too.)

2   The sun kinda did rise and set with Elvis, but that’s an­other con­ver­sa­tion for an­other time.

3   The full title of the album is The Bootleg Se­ries Vol. 4: Bob Dylan Live 1966 – The “Royal Al­bert Hall” Con­cert. Co­lumbia placed “Royal Al­bert Hall” in paren­theses to let buyers know that they knew that in fact the con­cert was not taped at the Royal Al­bert Hall.

4   After the phys­i­cally, men­tally, and spir­i­tu­ally ex­hausting tour, the Hawks would change their name to the Band and move into a big pink house in West Sauger­ties, New York.

 

 

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There is a big dif­fer­ence be­tween greatest and most important.I would never in a mil­lion years put my My Hap­pi­ness as the Elvis greatest performance.It is as you say a sub­jec­tive ques­tion and my own per­sonal fa­vorite Elvis per­for­mance is in­deed in the 1968 Come­back Spe­cial but not the in the ring seg­ments but the very end.Of course I mean If I Can Dream.This is per­haps a per­for­mance that could cover “greatest” and “most im­por­tant” as it was a bril­liant per­for­mance and was im­por­tant to Elvis to burn off the shackles of the “Clam­bake” movie madnes he had been in for 7 years.

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