on the edge of reality with the pseudo-psychedelic elvis

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!

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 his music be­fore.

NOTE: This ar­ticle was orig­i­nally pub­lished on Au­gust 16, 2017. Un­for­tu­nately, I mis­spelled psy­che­delic (Hah!) in both the title and the perma­link. So I cor­rected that and made a few changes to the ar­ticle.

 

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.

I walk along a thin line

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.

 

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.

 

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

 

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.

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 am­biance 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!

 

I can hear strange voices echo

These are the lyrics to Edge Of Re­ality as I hear them:

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

On the edge of re­ality, she sits there tor­menting me—
the girl with the name­less name.
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 name.
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 un-psychedelic 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.) 

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.

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

Elvis LiveALittle shaving 1500

FEATURED IMAGE: Michelle Carey boldly goes where no woman should go and at­tempts morning after a con­ver­sa­tion with Elvis while shaves with a straight-razor in this scene from Live A Little, Love A Little. If you’re in the bath­room when a man holds a straight-razor to his throat, con­sider a little less con­ver­sa­tion and ab­solutely no ac­tion, please! Note that if you just look at Elvis, this could be a scene from a movie in 1958.

 


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.

 

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If I Can Dream is prob­ably my fa­vorite Elvis performance.In the UK it was backed with Mem­o­ries which as a 15 year old I was not too keen on but of course it grew on me over the years.As far as I re­call it has never been re­leased as a single in the UK but I did manage to get a import.Great song but very odd.

Hey Neal,

“EOR” is a great song to dis­cuss. I thought it came out come of lame in the movie, the whole dream se­quence and Elvis bop­ping across the screen in var­ious con­torted po­si­tions, which de­tracted from the song it­self. But it cer­tainly was a giant step for­ward in terms of recording a quality tune for a change.

Re: “If I Can Dream”, I re­member Cissy Houston saying that as she watched Elvis sing the song, she knew that this man be­lieved every word he was saying. I al­ways con­sid­ered it a pre­cursor to Lennon’s “Imagine”, and thought it should have been a much bigger hit. I think it peaked at #12 on Bill­board. Un­der­rated and un­der­ap­pre­ci­ated, ex­cept on Sirius. Do you plan to catch the Fathom Pro­duc­tion spe­cial re­lease of “Elvis Un­leashed”? It’s showing at the­aters across the US on Oct. 7 and 10th. It’s ad­ver­tised as un­seen footage from the “68 Spe­cial. I un­der­stand that while the starting time for the movie is 7 p.m, there’s a half-hour pre­ceding it with some com­men­tary that might prove in­ter­esting.

In case I didn’t men­tion it pre­vi­ously, I love the fact that you use “Doncha Think It’s Time” to leave a com­ment. It breaks my heart that the “A” side, “Wear My ring Around Your Neck”, which was Elvis’s fastest rising chart record on the Top 100, en­tering the charts at #7!!! never got to #! thanks to “Witch Doctor” and “All I Have To Do is Dream.”

Just a quick thought on the movie Live A Little, Love A Little. It was a bit of a flop, all told, not even being re­leased in the UK. I often wonder if it would have fared better if they had kept the title of the book it was based on by Dan Green­burg: Kiss My Firm But Pliant Lips. Surely one of the strangest book ti­tles of all time. In­deed, it is one of the strangest books I have ever read. I have just ob­tained a 1965 hard­back copy pub­lished. Al­bert the dog is a German Shep­herd here not a Great Dane, by the way. Fun book.

Amen to that.

Al­ways en­joyed the the song ‘The Edge of Re­ality’ to listen to.….Nix!!! on the strange ‘dream se­quence’ in the movie though. I con­sider… ‘If I Can Dream’.… Elvis’s best per­for­mance ever!!

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