It’s easy to dismiss the final years of Elvis Presley, and the criticisms that he’d delved back into substandard material and perfunctory live shows are valid ones. He was plagued with drug issues and health issues that would soon destroy his life. Surprisingly, though, he was an extremely prolific touring act, and while his shows could be hit or miss, when he was on, he was really on.
Elvis Recorded Live On Stage in Memphis, released 40 years ago, captured one of those excellent performances. As far as shows go, Elvis is in great spirits, playful and soulful, as he runs through his greatest hits, as well as a few well-chosen numbers that weren’t necessarily big hits for him in studio form.
Yet the original album was somewhat deceptive. It wasn’t a full set, which isn’t that big of a deal, but listening to the entire show, it’s obvious that the majority of the set was excised, and it highlights the greater complaints to be had. While he’s in relatively good form, the songs left off—including hits like “All Shook Up,” “Polk Salad Annie, “Suspicious Minds,” and “Love Me Tender—are performed at such a fast tempo, they don’t feel like the songs that fans had come to know and love.
Still, Presley’s having a good time onstage; when you listen to him play around with the audience on “I Got A Woman,” “Love Me Tender,” and the long medley that includes “Hound Dog,” “Flip Flop and Fly,” “Long Tall Sally,” and even Loggins and Messina’s “Your Mama Don’t Dance,” one can hear the audience’s enjoyment, and one can easily envision Presley’s sly, mischievous smile. One also can’t dismiss the power in the gospel numbers “Why Me” and “How Great Thou Art,” and his “American Trilogy” is simply one of his best performances and one of his greatest later-year releases.
This Legacy Edition version includes a second live set, recorded in Richmond, a “test run” for the big show in Memphis. It goes to show what a tight group Elvis’s musicians had become, as the set is virtually identical to the Memphis show, yet still feels as exciting as the one that would be released, and doesn’t feel superfluous in the context of this release.
Presley’s last years were definitely hit-or-miss, and though the original album may have been somewhat deceptive about what his stage show was really like, Elvis Recorded Live On Stage In Memphis , as packaged here, is an essential release for any Presley fan.