Tuesday 22 October 2019

The King is dead! Long live the King!


Elvis Presley in That's The Way It Is
Elvis Presley in That's The Way It Is
Barry Egan

Barry Egan

In December, 1969, The Longford Leader upbraided RTE for what it called wasting good money on an Elvis documentary that was scheduled to be aired on Christmas Day. It asked: "Has a kind of masochism gripped the nation?" RTE was then further lambasted for giving airtime to "a sloppy-mouthed pop-singer knee-jerking in neurotic rhythm to inane outpourings."

Yes, but what timeless, nay beautiful, neurotic rhythm the King displayed to accompany these apparently inane outpourings that still linger to this day. Recorded in July of 1970 in California, Elvis: That's The Way It Is is the King at his '70s zenith, before he turned to fat - both creatively, physically and psychologically - thus degenerating into the self-parody that Albert Goldman delighted in shining a cruel and unforgiving light upon in his 1981 septic tome, Elvis: "Elvis was a pervert, a voyeur" who saw himself as the next in line to Christ and, even Madame Blavatsky, and spoke in baby language to his mother's corpse.

Elvis: That's The Way It Is is before all that.

"Drawing inspiration from the Kris Kristofferson singer-songwriter movement that was encroaching on Nashville in the early Seventies, That's the Way It Is may be Presley's most grown-up collection of songs: Love affairs are negotiated around unpaid bills and babies crying at 6 am," Tom Nawrocki wrote in Rolling Stone in 2003 when the album was first released.

The all-new deluxe edition box set of Elvis: That's The Way It Is is a treasure-trove of Kingly delights - DVDs of the original film plus eight CDs covering the original 12-track album, as well as lots of out-takes, and loads more besides. Backed by the TCB Band (drummer Ronnie Tutt, guitarists James Burton and John Wilkinson, bassist Jerry Scheff, and pianist Glen Hardin), Elvis possessed a magic and indeed a voice so filled with emotion that it didn't matter that the lyrics were sphincter-tightening, southern cheese-ball affairs.

He made the Bee Gees' Words and Neil Diamond's Sweet Caroline his own, as he did with his versions of Dusty Springfield's You Don't Have to Say You Love Me, and the Righteous Brothers' You've Lost That Lovin' Feelin'; with the Sweet Inspirations behind him all the way. My personal favourites are Elvis's re-working of Ray Charles' I Got a Woman and then his down-and-dirty rendition of Tony Joe White's classic Polk Salad Annie. You were reminded of Elvis' own humble beginnings in a shotgun shack in Tupelo when he sings:

'Down in Louisiana, where the alligators grow so mean/

There lived a girl, that I swear to the world/

Made the alligators look tame/

Everybody said it was a shame/

Cause her momma was a workin' on the chain gang.'

Hearing him sing In the Ghetto, must bring a spark to even the most hardened of hearts, the most robotic of souls:'On a cold and grey Chicago morn/A poor little baby child is born /In the ghetto/And his mama cries'.

I remember my mother bringing me and my little sister to see Elvis: That's The Way It Is with the Elvis On Tour movie at the old Adelphi cinema on Middle Abbey Street for my 6th birthday in September 1973. So, it is sad, looking back, that both Elvis and my mum are gone (as is the Adelphi cinema). Listening to this deluxe box set and watching the DVDs, it is an emotional wrench to go back there; to that time.

It reminds me of what that other huge Elvis fan, Nick Cave said recently to the New York Times: "I went to Graceland once. The rest of the band went in, but I stayed out on the curb, smoking cigarettes and feeling sorry for myself. Those last Elvis performances - the ones for television, when he was already sick - I must have watched those clips a hundred times. They're like crucifixions. I couldn't bring myself to go inside."

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