HAVING FUN WITH QUORA and the many questions—intelligent and otherwise—kept me from addressing the latest release with Elvis Presley’s name and voice on it. It is another compilation featuring tracks doctored by producers and engineers to give decades-old vocals a ‘new sound.’ This one is a gospel set and it made an immediate splash on the charts and in the media, especially here in the States.
But first some background during his career, Elvis Presley released one EP gospel album (four tracks) and three gospel LP albums (thirty-seven tracks).
These are listed below with the year of release preceding each title:
1957 Peace In The Valley
1961 His Hand In Mine
1967 How Great Thou Art
1972 He Touched Me
Each of these albums was a distinct project with sessions planned in advance for their recording. Presley also recorded individual tracks at other non-gospel sessions that were religious: We Call On Him (1967), Who Am I? (1969), and If That Isn’t Love (1973) are obvious examples.
The photo selected for use on the album was taken in 1968 as part of the promotion for the NBC-TV special Elvis. Many older artists, actors, writers, etc., who wanted to be part of the happening Sixties adopted “cool” attire like this, including replacing the regulation (strangling) necktie with a comfortable scarf. Personally, I thought Nehru jackets were groovy.
Walking through storms
Elvis also recorded several non-religious songs that can be given a religious or inspirational ‘feel’ by how it is performed and in the context in which it is presented. For example, You’ll Never Walk Alone is from a Broadway musical that had no religious meaning when the writers composed it. 1
But Presley’s reading of the lyrics (“When you walk through a storm hold your head up high and don’t be afraid of the dark”) and the arrangement and production give the song the feel that Elvis is indeed singing about never walking alone because God is by your side.
If we take a liberal view on these non-specifically religious tracks and grant them some form of religious or inspirational overtone, then Elvis recorded about four dozen ‘gospel’ tracks, enough to fill four standard LP albums. 2
This photo was handed out at Singer Sewing Centers around the country beginning in October as a promotion for the December 3, 1968, broadcast of the NBC-TV special Elvis. The show was sponsored by Singer. The actual photo has a white border (which I cropped off) and a catalog of Presley Product on the back.
Reverential and celebratory
Since his death forty-one years, these few tracks have been assembled into a variety of albums with new titles and new packaging. Wikipedia’s Elvis Presley Albums Discography lists fourteen gospel albums, and that list is not complete.
But that didn’t stop RCA and the Presley People from compiling another new gospel album. This latest one is titled WHERE NO ONE STANDS ALONE and is special for two reasons:
1. Unlike the previous gospel compilations, all of the tracks on this album have been enhanced. (I prefer the term doctored that I used above.)
2. Unlike previous gospel compilations, this one made an immediate splash on the market and in the media, as it debuted at #1 on three of the Billboard album surveys: 3
Christian Album Chart
Physical Album Chart
Vinyl Album Chart
Now, I am so out of touch with today’s record industry that I have never heard of the latter two surveys. I assume that the Physical Album Chart tallies actual sales of all tangible products (CDs, LPs, and tapes), just as I assume that the Vinyl Album Chart surveys sales of vinyl LP records. 4
The total of these two physical surveys is probably not significant, at least not compared to pre-digital days, when a new album sold hundreds of thousands of copies straight off.
The album has been released as an LP on blue vinyl and as a compact disc, and cassette tape. A special pink vinyl edition of the record can be purchased through Graceland and includes a lithograph autographed by Lisa Marie.
Groundbreaking new album
Released as part of the RCA/Legacy imprint, the company is hyping WHERE NO ONE STANDS ALONE as a “groundbreaking new album celebrating the singer’s everlasting love of gospel music.” The publicity department states that ten Elvis albums reached #1 on Billboard, while seven reached #1 on the country chart. This is the first Elvis album to hit #1 on the Billboard Christian album chart.
“Produced by Joel Weinshanker, Lisa Marie Presley and Andy Childs, WHERE NO ONE STANDS ALONE introduces newly-recorded instrumentation and backing vocal contributions from music legends who’d performed on-stage and/or in-the-studio with Elvis. It also includes a reimagined duet with Elvis and his daughter, Lisa Marie Presley, on the album’s title track and spiritual touchstone.
It provides new musical perspectives on fourteen of the singer’s favorite pieces of gospel music, from the reverential to the celebratory, with song selections including Presley’s beloved enduring gospel classics, praise-filled gospel-rockers, and traditional hymns and spirituals.”
Background vocalists on the album include (and are listed alphabetically):
Bill Baize (Stamps)
Terry Blackwood (Imperials)
Ed Hill (Stamps)
Cissy Houston (Sweet Inspirations)
Darlene Love (Blossoms)
Armond Morales (Imperials)
Jim Murray (Imperials)
Larry Strickland (Stamps)
Donnie Sumner (Stamps)
As part of the 1968 NBC-TV special, Elvis did a medley of gospel songs: Where Could I Go But The Lord” / Up Above My Head / Saved. It opened with Elvis backed by the Blossom: Jean King, Fanita James, and Darlene Love. This photo is in the booklet included with the WHERE NO ONE STANDS ALONE album. 5
A few extravagant claims
The publicity and brouhaha include some rather outlandish claims (and most of the statements in this article can be found on the Graceland website), including this:
“Elvis Presley’s religious recordings—singles, EPs, albums, compilations—have sold approximately 300 million copies in the US alone with (There’ll Be) Peace In The Valley (For Me) and Crying In The Chapel each selling more than 20 million copies.”
Let’s look at those claims:
Have Elvis Presley’s religious recordings sold 300,000,000 copies in the US? The total number of sales of gospel records in the US—singles, EPs, and albums—as certified by the RIAA with Gold and Platinum Record Awards amounts to 12,500,000 units.
I would love to meet the person that found the paperwork that shows the other 287,500,000 sales.
Peace In The Valley
Has Peace In The Valley sold 20,000,000 copies? (There’ll Be) Peace In The Valley (For Me) is a song that Elvis recorded in 1957. RCA Victor issued an EP album that year titled PEACE IN THE VALLEY which has been certified for sales of 500,000 copies. I am not aware of it being released as a single in any major market in the world.
In 1999, RCA released a 3-disc CD set titled PEACE IN THE VALLEY – THE COMPLETE GOSPEL RECORDINGS, which has not been certified for a Gold Record Award at this time.
If we combine the EP and the CD, we probably get a little more than a million units sold. I would love to meet the person that found the paperwork that shows the other 19,000,000 sales.
Crying In The Chapel
Crying In The Chapel has sold 20,000,000 copies? Recorded in 1960 and inexplicably shelved for several years, Crying In The Chapel was released as a single in 1965 and was a worldwide smash. Domestic sales were said to be as high as 1,800,000, but as it has only been certified by the RIAA for a Platinum Record Award, we have to officially assume it did not pass the two million mark.
I would love to meet the person that found the paperwork that shows the other 19,000,000 sales.
We will never know the exact number of Elvis Presley records that have sold in the US. Let alone in the world. Those of us trying to make something resembling an accurate tally don’t come up with anything resembling the 300,000,000 and 20,00,000 figures above.
Maybe the person typing out the copy for the publicity for Graceland misread the notes given him and added an extra zero to each figure. I know this sounds like I am being silly, but take away that zero and while 30,000,000 remains a stretch, 2,000,000 might actually resemble the reality of the two individual titles. 6
The album has been released as an LP on blue vinyl, compact disc, and cassette tape. A special pink vinyl edition of the record can be purchased through Graceland and includes a lithograph autographed by Lisa Marie.
The big duet
The title song is a “duet” between Lisa Marie Presley and a recording of her father’s voice. The only thing left from the original glorious 1966 recording is Presley’s voice; everything else is newly recorded. Lisa Marie handles her vocals okay, but the whole thing doesn’t gel, like most of these projects.
As I am not that familiar with Ms Presley’s work, I am posting someone else’s take on the track:
“Even more distracting is his ‘duet’ with his daughter, Lisa Marie on the title track. Do you remember when Natalie Cole dueted with an old track of her dad’s Nat King Cole (Unforgettable, 1991)? That was not a great idea then, nor is it a good idea now.
Lisa Marie Presley is a true talent and has released several great albums. She has a great voice, but dueting with her father on this particular track does not do much for Elvis or her.
Elvis’s original version of this song is stripped down and extremely heartfelt. It is a stunning vocal performance. Here, it gets weighed down by the extra production and Lisa Marie’s vocals.” (Spill Magazine)
This is a full-page ad that Singer and RCA ran in the November 29, 1968, issue of Life magazine. In the months before the airing of the special, I collected everything I could find on it. I made multiple trips to the local Singer Sewing Center to make nothing new came out and I found a magazine that was an East Coast competitor to TV Guide that gave Elvis the cover (which TV Guide did not). But even bought a copy of the incredibly unhip Life magazine to pull this ad.
A groundbreaking summation
I am an Elvis fan—always have been, always will be. Mostly, I am in favor of projects such as this, as they often reach new listeners, some of whom will discover what I discovered in Elvis sixty years ago and become Elvis fans.
This does not mean I necessarily enjoy these projects, as I consider most of the recordings that Elvis did that had nothing to do with movie soundtracks to have been nigh on perfect.
There was no new ground broken on this album: RCA and company have been diddling around and messing with Elvis’ masters since the (best forgotten) 1981 album GUITAR MAN. The “electronic duet” thing is decades old, too—in fact, it’s pre-digital.
Unless the publicists are referring to WHERE NO ONE STANDS ALONE reaching the top of the Christian sales survey, I’m not sure why they used the word groundbreaking in their promotion.
Finally, Lisa Marie might consider doing her own gospel album and record her own versions of songs that her Father did on his albums. That is an album I would want to hear . . .The Elvis album breaks no new ground, but I’d like to see Lisa Marie do her own gospel album. Click To Tweet
FEATURED IMAGE: The photo at the top of this page is Lisa Marie Presley recording her part for Where No One Stands Alone. She sounds fine, it’s a good vocal, it just doesn’t work as a “duet” with a fifty-year-old tape of her father’s voice.
1 In fact, You’ll Never Walk Alone is sung throughout the world by soccer/football teams during games!
2 The 1970 Camden YOU’LL NEVER WALK ALONE compilation collected the four tracks from the 1957 EP and several others to almost make up the missing fourth LP album.
3 WHERE NO ONE STANDS ALONE debuted in the Top 10 in the UK, which is impressive as the British fans are not as swayed by Presley’s religious inclinations as their American brethren. It is the fifty-third Presley LP to reach the UK Top 10.
4 In 2017, vinyl album sales hit another Nielsen Music-era record high, as the format sold more than 14,000,000 units. That is a 9% increase over the previous year’s vinyl sales. It is also the twelfth straight year of growth for vinyl album sales. (Billboard)
5 Although never signed by Phil Spector to his Philles imprint, the Blossoms were one of the company’s biggest stars. If the Crystals were not available for a session that Spector wanted doing immediately, he substituted the Blossoms instead. Consequently, the Blossoms actually recorded such hits as He’s A Rebel and He’s Sure The Boy I Love.
6 Back in the early ’70s, a few artists were making extraordinary claims for their record sales. Oddly (at least then), instead of saying “records sold” they were saying “units sold.” A writer for one of the main magazines (I remember it being Rolling Stone but it’s been a long time, baby) figured that they were counting each track on a record as a “unit.” This meant a single was two units and an LP ten or twelve units. Perhaps that’s the type of counting the Presley People are doing for the gospel recordings.