Elvis Presley’s “Elvis Now” Reviewed
Elvis 1972, album # 47, Elvis Now, is as Presleyish post-Vegas return late period an album as you will ever hear. It is not a blueprint of but a vision of the way he conducted business; his previous album, the Christmas one, was recorded in a spirit and spurt over two nights in May 1971, but Elvis Now, simply culls previously unreleased songs from earlier sessions . It doesn’t hold together as an album, but Elvis doesn’t quite hang together as an albums artist. Recording artist, yes. One of the greatest. But when he actually recorded albums as albums per se, say Elvis Country, they weren’t true artifacts. Elvis Country was the 1970 album that morphed during a session. This is what I wrote about Elvis Country in September (here): “Here halfway through the recording session in Nashville June 1970 (we got three quarters of That’s The Way It Is from the same four days), producer Felton Jarvis and Presley realized that with a push they might have a country album on their hands. So they pushed. According to Wikipedia the album included “bluegrass, honky tonk, Western swing, rockabilly, countrypolitan, and even the then-nascent “outlaw” movement”. Though it sounded like Elvis. With backup Nashville cats behind him (along with one James Burton) Elvis recorded Reverend Howard Hunter’s spiritual “I Was Born 10,000 Years Ago”, a pretty good idea in theory, but then he chopped it up and used sections as a segue from one track to another, a concept bewildering in its badness. It makes no sense to keep interrupting the album -a pretty good album as far as it goes.”
I mention this for two reasons:
1 – That is what Elvis Now isn’t. Elvis Now has no center, it is a collection of middle of the road moves and it is fine but it is not an album, it is almost a random collection. As random as yet another picture of Elvis on stage as the sleeve illustration.
2 – Among the songs is the complete “I Was Born About 10,000 Years Ago”.
Listened to without the chopped up waves that all but destroyed Elvis Country, “I Was Born About 10,000 Years Ago”, is a Sympathy for the God figure, just waiting for Elvis to note “Please allow me to introduce myself”. It has a head of steam, a country rockabilly romp with real joy and a harp, and it has a sustained theological view which speaks directly to Presley’s interest in all things spiritual. It’s an odd vision for a Christian, who is he meant to be? Not God, not JC, not the serpent? Maybe a stand in for us, an everyman. If by witnessing history unfold (Presley bails at the end of the Old Testament but the song goes on for verse after verse that he didn’t sing), it proves facts of the Bible, I guess OK. I don’t love the song, but I love Presley’s version if only for the way he relishes “I’ll lick the man who says it isn’t so”. “From Paramahansa Yogananda and Krishnamurti to Kahlil Gibran and other great sages and mystics…” Presley was a serious student of life and death and read them all and connected them directly to his love of Jesus Christ. When he sang those songs, when he sang “I Was Born ABout 10,000 Years Ago” or “The Miracle Of The Rosemary” his conviction was absolute. When he sang “Hey Jude” he seemed less convincing.
The ten song set was recorded at various sessions between 1969 (January for “Hey Jude”) through the Nashville sessions of 1970, the Christmas sessions of May 1971, and one lone wolf from June 1971. Three are spirituals, three are contemporary hits, a coupla are Presley quasi standards, and a couple of tracks are minor league pop moves. The writing is a long way from the Sid Tepper and Fred Wise years: Lennon-McCartney, Kris Kristofferson, and Buffy Sainte-Marie are among the big names represented. But along with great songs comes great risks, any job that Presley does on “Queenie Wahine’s Papaya” is bound to be an improvement, less so on “Help Me Make It Through The Night” -which already has its tail sung off. Listening to those old movie soundtracks, half the pleasure was hearing Presley save unsavable songs just through his presence. There is nothing wrong on the somewhat bloated takes on 1972 pop classics, “Night” isn’t country, it is middle of the road, with the Imperials singing back up harmonies, and a swamp of strings. Presley is impeccable but he doesn’t have an opinion one way or the other, it is an exercise in whatever “The Miracle Of The Rosary” is a dreadful song but Presley sounds as though he is giving into it with a certain soaring passion (of the Christ). “Hey Jude” doesn’t work, part of that is his vocal but mostly it is the lame deep feel backing band, who turn it into a slog. “Put Your Hand In The Hand” is what Presley does, makes a classic Jesushead track his very own, and if you want real fun compare Elvis’s to Dylan’s “Early Morning Rain” -a sprite, slightly speeded up take on Gordon Lightfoot’s classic much better than Dylan’s overwhelmed version released two years before.
Elvis Now is how business was conducted: just about everything but blues and rock gets an airing, it was completely out of step with 1972, the sense of this being middle class whitebread has never been more so (though two native Americans are represented). But a change was coming, later that year Presley would begin covering Mickey Newbury’s (arrangement of) “American trilogy” and later still the Presley at Stax recordings,..