“Elvis Presley’s “How Great Thou Art” Reviewed
Elvis Presley: ‘millions of people around the world are going to hear this album. It’s not rock and roll, man; it’s God’s music, and it’s going to reach people in ways we can’t even imagine. I can’t be a channel if my ego is in the way. I have to empty myself so that the message can be heard loud and clear. And I’m not going to use my voice until I’m guided by that still, small voice within’.
Album # 28 for Elvis, the spiritual and Gospel How Great Thou Art in 1967 did many things: among them, it introduced him to Felton Jarvis who worked work with Presley through the end of Elvis life (a scant ten years in the future, it proved that if ELvis didn’t want to sing “Earth Boy” he wouldn’t sing “Earth Boy” and finally, though now we are aware of it, in 1967 people certainly weren’t aware of it, Presley had lost none of his skills.
It was the summer of love and so Presley recorded an album cherishing the King Of Love. The Gospel swing songs, “If The Lord Wasn’t Walking By My Side”, “Run On”, “So High” -all terrific, testify beauties as good as Aretha Franklin in the same vein, they stomp, they testify, they tell. Elvis Presley Australia (I can’t recommend this website highly enough, here) wrote this:
“Elvis was bursting with creativity and became increasingly involved in the process, his flame reigniting as he handpicked every song. This album would be very different from his movie soundtracks, with their redundant and cliché movie filler songs. He took months, meticulously poring over countless selections from his own collection of LPs he had lovingly assembled over the years. Immersing himself in a way he hadn’t done since he oversaw his music in the fifties, he listened intently to hundreds of the famed black gospel singers of the past, some on old, worn-out, scratchy 78 rpm records. Elvis’ vision and passion could be best expressed by the classic gospel song ‘How Great Thou Art’, which became the title of the album.”
All of which is undeniable.
However, let me take another track at odds with Presley’s own comment, he wasn’t quite a vessel at all, rather in the quiet spirituals he positioned an interventionist God, a Jesus as part of his life and so he used his skills as a great interpreter of love songs to redirect his love to Jesus. I am suggesting, that on “Stand By Me”, the theological aspect could easily be mooted and the song could be directed at any lover. He makes his relationship with God very personal, one on one, he sings as directly as his sweetest love, and it pulls you into his feelings of faith. One of Presley’s greatest gifts was extreme empathy with his material which opened up the songs to his audience, as a singer he was a man who shared his deepest emotions through his art, when this was directed on Jesus, it invited the believers and the slackers, into the Church Of God: it said, Jesus, God, isn’t far away, he is standing right over there.
Any complaints? Both The Imperials and the Jordanaires are terrific, but a little overused. I understand the universal concept, to use a choir so the relationship becomes a part of everyone. Anything else? Not really, not at all. It was a success by estimation, and by design, it cracked the Christian pop music, which is what it was meant to do and Presley recorded the entire album with the highest regard for quality, ignoring Parker’s wishes and following his muse.
Two weeks after Presley met the Beatles, his dissatisfaction with his career made him decide to take the reins andin doing so he created a masterpiece.