Elvis Presley’s “On Stage” Reviewed
Album number 38, On Stage, released June 1970, is one of his greatest achievements, and a signature album for the final seven years of his life. Elvis didn’t have “American Trilogy” yet, but this gave him “See See Rider” and “Pork Salad Annie”, signature live performances, as well as the huge hit single “The Wonder Of You”. If that wasn’t enough, there are Credence Clearwater Revival, the Beatles, Neil Diamond and The Everly Brothers, covers. Though not a live album in the traditional sense, it wasn’t a recording of the complete live set, it was to new songs what From Memphis To Vegas was to his older material. It picked and chose modern songs to make, and prove its point: Elvis was still relevant as the 1970s arrived, and it set him up for life, as the tender, powerful, jovial, King Of Rock,
Recorded in February 1970, a year after Presley’s triumphant return to the stage at Vegas’ International, he was back. Same TCB band lead by James Burton with the great Jerry Scheff on bass, similar setlist, but with lots of new material fitted in and a lot of stuff to chose from. Compared to the 1969 album, On Stage is charm and ease personified. It is as though Perry Como had double dated with Jerry Lee -the songs moved effortlessly from rock standards like “Proud Mary” and “Runaway” through mainstream modern pop “Yesterday” and “The Wonder Of You”, through hard rocking mover “See See Rider” to the good times never seemed so good “Sweet Caroline”. And if “Walk A Mile In My Shoes” was a sop to “In The Ghetto” fans, “Let It Be Me” was a country roots nod of the head to two important contemporaries and a spectacular conclusion to the album.
In a couple of years, as Presley moved from Casino concert halls, to Arenas and as he grew the sound and spectacle, he would stop doing this form of supremely intelligent and self-serving in the best sense of the word, set. But here he was transitioning into Presley the tour monster, putting in place the blocks he needed.
In many ways, On Stage isn’t the great achievement From Memphis To Vegas was, but in some ways it was much more: it had a zen like ease, a simple attack to it. Nothing is over done, nothing explodes on you. Take “Pork Salad Annie” -a Southern boogie which would evolve into a full assault over the years, on On Stage it builds effortlessly to its explosion, but it doesn’t do what it would do in a couple of years. “Release Me”, overblown by everybody who has ever touched it, is sensitive and smart, he careens between the instruments while the back up sisters hold back like a wall. He eats Neil Diamond with a fork and spoon, and is gloriously upbeat on the chorus, adoring the “ooh oooh ohs”. It is a perfect album, all of it works, from one end to another. Even the length is perfect for what it is, everything in tandem, a very fine rock band, with orchestral components follow Presley, and Presley is so good humored and cool, so in control of his artistry, so disciplined.