Elvis IGotLucky 1500 black crop 1

the alternative Love Letters From Elvis album

WITH THE RELEASE of If I Can Dream in Oc­tober 1968, Elvis began a string of su­perb sin­gles and al­bums that lifted him from the dol­drums of the life­less Hol­ly­wood movies that had de­fined his ca­reer for years. These new records lifted him back to the top­per­most of the pop­per­most across the planet. His re­turn to live per­forming in July 1969 ce­mented his su­per­star status.

When I say dol­drums, I am not ex­ag­ger­ating: Be­tween the re­lease of the ELVIS IS BACK album in 1960 and FROM ELVIS IN MEMPHIS in 1969, Presley had not re­leased a single studio album of ex­cep­tional quality that wasn’t of a re­li­gious na­ture. By the middle of ’68, plum­meting sales of his records and movie tickets were threat­ening the lifestyle to which he had be­come ac­cus­tomed to living.

The Elvis tele­vi­sion spe­cial of De­cember 1968 began a string of ex­tra­or­di­nary achieve­ments that car­ried him through the end of 1970. But this came to a smashing halt with the re­lease of a trio of sub-standard records in 1971: the sin­gles Where Did They Go Lord / Rags To Riches and Life / Only Be­lieve and the LOVE LETTERS FROM ELVIS album in the first half of 1971.

 

“Elvis once again takes a dive and his ad­mirers every­where can only hope that it isn’t for the count.”

 

When these were re­leased, most Elvis fans were stunned. How could the artist who gave us If I Can Dream, In The Ghetto, Sus­pi­cious Minds, FROM ELVIS IN MEMPHIS, and ELVIS COUNTRY re­lease crap like this? This new ma­te­rial was barely good enough to be con­sid­ered for use on a Camden budget album!

And it wasn’t just the fans who paid for the album who were baf­fled: In his re­view of the album for Rolling Stone mag­a­zine, Jon Landau called LOVE LETTERS the “most dis­cour­aging event of the last three years of Presley’s ca­reer. He once again takes a dive and his ad­mirers every­where can only hope that it isn’t for the count. Those of us who have loved him from the be­gin­ning … can only turn away in dis­gust from this sort of thing.”

Elvis never got his ca­reer back on any­thing re­sem­bling a con­sis­tent track through the re­maining six years of his life. But it did not have to be that way.

 

Elvis LoveLettersFromElvis 1 600 dark

When Colonel Parker in­spected this art­work for the LOVE LETTERS album, he was miffed to see that RCA had had the temerity to place their logo above his client’s name. He de­manded that it be changed. Why RCA ac­qui­esced to such a ridicu­lous de­mand is un­known ex­cept to stand as a tes­ta­ment to the power and in­flu­ence this crotchety old man wielded. For sev­eral years, copies of this jacket that es­caped de­struc­tion were cov­eted by Elvis col­lec­tors.

If I were you

There was enough quality ma­te­rial in the can to have re­leased a pair of fine sin­gles and a strong album in mid-’71. What I am going to do here in this ar­ticle is as­semble an album that could have been re­leased in­stead of LOVE LETTERS.

Below is a list of the record­ings that were avail­able to Elvis and RCA Victor at the time. I did not in­clude sides that had al­ready been re­leased as sin­gles even if they hadn’t been col­lected on an album (I’ve Lost You and Patch It Up) or sides sched­uled for the up­coming gospel and Christmas al­bums.

I as­signed each track a grade for overall quality using a simple 4-star grading system. Here is what those grades in­di­cate:

✮ ✮ ✮ ✮  Ex­cep­tional
✮ ✮ ✮      Solid
✮ ✮           Filler
✮               Camden

Three and four-star tracks are good enough to main­tain the level of quality of the 1969-1970 al­bums. A two-star track should only be used when better sides aren’t avail­able; more than one per side can drag down an oth­er­wise strong album. A one-star track should have been set aside for use as a bonus track on a Camden budget album.

The grades are sub­jec­tive but ones that I be­lieve most critics would agree with. Not everyone will agree with me: I’ve heard fans de­fend the limp This Is Our Dance (which even En­gle­bert Humperdinck would have prob­ably re­jected) and the ridicu­lous bom­bast of Rags To Riches, which seems to exist to allow Elvis to bellow in­stead of sing.

Tracks re­leased as sin­gles are marked with a single as­terisk (*). Tracks that were deemed unfit for re­lease during Pres­ley’s life­time but were in­cluded on a posthu­mous album are noted with two as­ter­isks (**).

June 1970

Love Let­ters                                                                                             ✮ ✮ ✮
When I’m Over You                                                                                ✮ ✮ ✮
If I Were You                                                                                                    ✮
Got My Mojo Workin’ / Keep Your Hands Off Of It                   ✮ ✮ ✮ ✮
Heart of Rome *                                                                                               ✮
Only Be­lieve *                                                                                              ✮ ✮
This Is Our Dance                                                                                            ✮
Cindy, Cindy                                                                                            ✮ ✮ ✮
I’ll Never Know                                                                                            ✮ ✮
It Ain’t No Big Thing (But it’s Growing)                                           ✮ ✮ ✮
Life *                                                                                                                   ✮
Sylvia                                                                                                             ✮ ✮
The Sound Of Your Cry *                                                                      ✮ ✮ ✮
A Hun­dred Years From Now **                                                          ✮ ✮ ✮
I Didn’t Make It On Playing Guitar **                                              ✮ ✮ ✮

September 1970

Where Did They Go, Lord *                                                                  ✮ ✮ ✮
Rags To Riches *                                                                                         ✮ ✮

March 1971

The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face *                                             ✮ ✮ ✮
Early Morning Rain                                                                              ✮ ✮ ✮
(That’s What You Get) For Lovin’ Me                                                ✮ ✮ ✮

May 1971

Mir­acle Of The Rosary                                                                                   ✮
Padre                                                                                                                  ✮
Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right                                                         ✮ ✮ ✮

Help Me Make It Through The Night                                                 ✮ ✮ ✮
Until It’s Time For You To Go *                                                           ✮ ✮ ✮
Fools Rush In                                                                                               ✮ ✮
It’s Still Here                                                                                        ✮ ✮ ✮ ✮
I’ll Take You Home, Kath­leen                                                              ✮ ✮ ✮
I Will Be True                                                                                      ✮ ✮ ✮ ✮
I’m Leavin’ *                                                                                        ✮ ✮ ✮ ✮
We Can Make The Morning *                                                                  ✮ ✮
It’s Only Love *                                                                                            ✮ ✮
Love Me, Love The Life I Lead                                                                     ✮

Elvis was in fine form, his voice flex­ible and beau­tiful. He was still riding the wave of cre­ative en­ergy that had begun in June 1968 with the be­gin­ning of the filming of the NBC tele­vi­sion spe­cial. Al­most every track that Elvis recorded in 1970 has some fans as he sings even the lamest songs with some con­vic­tion. 

 

Elvis IGotLucky 600

In Oc­tober 1971, RCA re­leased yet an­other hodge­podge com­pi­la­tion on their Camden budget im­print. I Got Lucky con­tained nine sound­track record­ings that had orig­i­nally ap­peared on EPs in the ’60s along with one B-side. An es­sen­tially point­less col­lec­tion, it nonethe­less fea­tured one of the most at­trac­tive cover photos of any Elvis al­bums of the decade (see Fea­tured Image below).

What was released

This is the LOVE LETTERS album that was re­leased in June 1971:

Side 1
Love Let­ters
                                                                                             ✮ ✮ ✮
When I’m Over You                                                                                ✮ ✮ ✮
If I Were You                                                                                                    ✮
Got My Mojo Workin’ / Keep Your Hands Off Of It                   ✮ ✮ ✮ ✮
Heart of Rome                                                                                                  ✮

Side 2
Only Be­lieve   
                                                                                              ✮ ✮
This Is Our Dance                                                                                            ✮
Cindy, Cindy                                                                                            ✮ ✮ ✮
I’ll Never Know                                                                                            ✮ ✮
It Ain’t No Big Thing (But it’s Growing)                                           ✮ ✮ ✮
Life                                                                                                                      ✮

By adding the eleven grades to­gether (24) and then di­viding that number by 11, the album has a grade or rating of 2.2. RCA had is­sued Camden al­bums of old Presley ma­te­rial by 1971 that had higher grades.

 

Elvis LoveLettersFromElvis 2 600 dark

The re­worked art for LOVE LETTERS saw the RCA logo moved to the lower right corner. Rather than repo­si­tion the photos, RCA had “Love Let­ters from” reset as two lines in­stead of one, thereby filling up the white space left at the top of the cover. This was the jacket that fans pur­chased in 1971. In the wake of Pres­ley’s death in 1977, a stock­pile of the orig­inal jackets was found and copies of the record were shipped in both the first and second printing jackets.

What could have been released

This is the album that I would have as­sem­bled had RCA simply taken the time and phoned me forty-eight years ago. I mean, I had just dropped out of col­lege and didn’t have a whole lot to do ex­cept for the usual sex, drugs, and rock & roll.

Side 1
Got My Mojo Workin’ / Keep Your Hands Off Of It                  
✮ ✮ ✮ ✮
(That’s What You Get) For Lovin’ Me                                                ✮ ✮ ✮
When I’m Over You                                                                                ✮ ✮ ✮
It Ain’t No Big Thing (But it’s Growing)                                           ✮ ✮ ✮
Love Let­ters                                                                                             ✮ ✮ ✮

Side 2
Cindy, Cindy                                                                                            
✮ ✮ ✮
Early Morning Rain   
                                                                           ✮ ✮ ✮

Help Me Make It Through The Night                                                 ✮ ✮ ✮
It’s Still Here                                                                                        ✮ ✮ ✮ ✮
I’ll Take You Home, Kath­leen                                                              ✮ ✮ ✮
I Will Be True                                                                                      ✮ ✮ ✮ ✮

By adding the eleven grades to­gether (36) and then di­viding that number by 11, the album has a grade or rating of 3.3. This would have been a de­cid­edly weaker album than FROM ELVIS IN MEMPHIS nor ON STAGE – FEBRUARY 1970, but it would not have been an em­bar­rass­ment. Fi­nally, I would have ti­tled this new album some­thing other than “Love Let­ters from Elvis.”

Coda

This is the first in a se­ries of ar­ti­cles here on Elvis – A Touch Of Gold that will look at al­bums as they were re­leased during Pres­ley’s life and con­sider the ma­te­rial that was avail­able and the al­bums that could have been re­leased in­stead.

 

Elvis IGotLucky 1500 black

FEATURED IMAGE: The photo at the top of this page was cropped from this photo, which was taken at the same show in Sep­tember 1970 as the photo used on the LOVE LETTERS album. Why such a killer photo was wasted on a Camden album will re­main one of those ques­tions about Elvis and the Colonel and RCA Victor that we mere mor­tals will never know the an­swer to!

 

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COMMENTS

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Blane Winston

“Heart of Rome” was MUCH better than the dull “The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face.”

David Gibbs

I ac­tu­ally love “Heart Of Rome” and “Rags To Riches.” One fan’s Elvis poison is an­other fan’s Elvis gold. Thus it has ever been. I agree though, that your imag­ined album would have been a scorcher.

Casey

Huh. Mostly I agreed, but I’ve al­ways thought his recording of “Rags to Riches” was very im­pres­sive. I’ve al­ways won­dered why such great songs like “Steam­roller Blues” weren’t recorded in the studio and re­leased as sin­gles, but only showed up on live al­bums. “Steam­roller Blues” kicks ass and would have been a big seller as a single, I would think.

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