Elvis Presley’s “Today” Reviewed
Album #60, Today, released May 1975, is not the final album released during Elvis Presley’s life time, but it is the end of the story, the end of the road, nothing he would ever release again, either living or dead, would move the story forward. The reason being that the RCA’s Studio C, in LA, March 10–12, 1975 from where the songs are taken, were his final studio dates. This was it. And it begs an answer to the question mark, where next, I mean where next if he had lived? These are good versions of good songs, his “And I Love You So” is perfection and his “I Can Help” is adult pop in excelsis, “Green Green Grass Of Home” does the song justice. Nothing is moving the needle one way or the other, but Presley is entirely professional, his voice immaculate, his craftsmanship beyond a doubt, and he had just reached his forties, miles to go (in theory at least). Still, he was spinning his wheels, it was like the movie soundtracks only much better quality of songs and performances. The sound was the essence of middle of the road, it was similar to mid-period Celine Dion in that it reached and sustained itself through housewives of a certain age.
There is nothing wrong with that at all, girls and women were always the majority of his constituents, so why wouldn’t he appeal to them? But it was conservative and stodgy, careful and a little boring: if we were discussing even the greats, even a Sinatra or A Dean Martin, that would be sufficient. Presley wasn’t like that, the man invented teenagers for goodness sake, his influence is legendary. Bruce spends the first quarter of an hour of his “Springsteen On Broadway” discussing Elvis, Tom Petty claims Presley as his greatest influence -and that’s two names I thought of just because they are in the news. Lennon said before there was Elvis there was nothing and I agree. On a personal level, as a six year old I used to do a mean Presley impression to “Hound Dog,” so they are not alone in worshipping the great man.
It is because he was Presley, and because he was so young, and because of the ’68 Special come to think of it, you just know something else would have happened, that he would have gotten bored with country meets housewives choice and done something dynamic and different and life changing. That’s what makes the sudden end of his life so painful even 40 years later: he was too great not to have found somewhere else to go, somewhere else to dig.
Today is a good little album, some rockabilly, the rave up opener by Jerry Chestnut, “T-R-O-U-B-L-E,” is pretty good, though Jerry’s other song on the album “Woman Without Love” is sexist garbage and that’s not revisionism, that was the truth when he recorded it. On the other hand, Billy Swan’s “I Can Help” has a ridiculously great guitar lick that swings through the song, as well as one of the greatest lyrics, a mature compassionate, intelligent and satisfying description of love should do: “Let me help, if your child needs a daddy, I can help. It would sure do me good to do you good, let me help…” Presley is both smooth and jaunty here, “And I Love you So,” is Don McLean’s masterpiece of new and complete love, indeed a love almost claustrophobic, “People asked me how I loved till now, I tell them I don’t know”. It all builds to the bathetic “Green Green Grass of Home” and while Tom Jones sounded like a man with the guts of a murderer (he sang “Delilah”, after all) in abeyance for the last walk, that ain’t true of Presley. Presley sounds like a man who was convicted on a bad hair DNA match, with the back up singers spiritual in their intensity. Today is relatively sparse affair, the back up singers aren’t around much, and the instrumentation is his rock band plus a fiddle for the country tracks but no orchestra at all. It sounds clean. This isn’t a great Presley album, it is a good one. Nothing here will be on your own personal 50 Million Elvis Fans Can’t be Wrong, but it is fine, and fun, and simple, and straight forward. We won’t see his likes again.