THE QUORA FORUM’S question and answer set-up has been keeping me busy of late. Despite what people think about Elvis and the Internet, there seems to be an abiding interest in the man both personally and artistically. While some of the questions are silly—some are just plumb dumb!—most are well-considered and deserve a similar answer.
Such as the question “What Elvis Presley track has the most soul?” This is an opinion question, one where any one of many answers is the correct answer. Mine follows, indented between the two photos below:
This causal photo was taken in June 1968 on the set of the television special in NBC’s studio in Burbank. The set in the background was from the original concept for the special, which was a story that did not involve the live sequences with the singer in a leather suit.
Some rawly impassioned music
I can read the question “What Elvis Presley track has the most soul?” in two ways, each eliciting a different answer:
1. If the word soul is being used more or less synonymously with passion, then the live recordings from NBC’s studio in Burbank in June 1968 for Elvis’s first television special produced some of his most impassioned music, such as Trying To Get To You, Love Me, and One Night.
2. If the word soul is being used here as referring to a once popular (and much missed) style of music, then I’d probably go with something from the January-February 1969 sessions at American Sound Studio in Memphis.
Producer Chips Moman recorded Presley in a manner that the singer did not like but was nonetheless spurred him on to try harder. The singer also had a touch of the flu that affected his throat, giving his singing a raw quality that gave many of the tracks a soulful touch, even several mediocre pop tunes.
Two previous answers to this question mentioned a pair of tracks from these sessions, In The Ghetto and I’ll Hold You In My Heart, both of which are excellent selections as answers. I would also offer Only The Strong Survive or Any Day Now.
3. That said, as a default answer, you can’t go wrong with If I Can Dream from the ′68 NBC-TV sessions above.
This photo got some mileage in 1969-1970: first, it was used on the picture sleeve of the Suspicious Minds / You’ll Think Of Me single, both in the States and abroad. Then it found its way onto the cover of a souvenir photo booklet.
One night of crawfish
These were easy answers, and I’m quite comfortable giving them. But there many other candidates, so I thought I’d offer a few more than don’t usually turn up in these conversations. One from each decade:
From the Sun era, there’s Elvis’s very, very idiosyncratic reading of Blue Moon, which sounds like the singer was planning on offering it to a ghost movie set in the old west.
The studio sessions in Nashville in May 1962 formed the basis of the good but unexceptional POT LUCK album. Overall, the sessions were so lackluster that they were starting to sound like soundtrack sessions. But a few things good things came from them, including (Such An) Easy Question.
Elvis sings Easy Question in that relaxed, sensual manner that hinted at passion (rather than displaying it) that was the hallmark of his style in the first few years of the ’60s. Had this been released as a single in 1962, it could have been a #1 record.
While there are isolated instances of Elvis losing himself in recording during the ’70s, they are not common. One instance is the three tracks he cut spontaneously in 1971, accompanying himself at the piano.
While most fans talk about the other two sides (they have the bluesy character that attracts the attention of rock fans), Presley’s reading of the traditional I’ll Take You Home Again, Kathleen is extraordinarily soulful and moving.
Alas, these qualities went missing in much of his studio work through the remaining years of his life . . .
FEATURED IMAGE: The photo at the top of this page is from the 1969 movie, Change Of Habit. Elvis plays a general practitioner doctor who sets up his office in a ghetto, where he cares for the neighborhood, often without charging them anything. Since a young doctor in a major metropolitan area in 1969 might just get away with long sideburns, casual dress, and a guitar, Presley wasn’t as miscast in the role as one might suppose.