In Session: Elvis’ 1969 revival, Part III

By  Gillan G. Gaar

The Memphis 1969 sessions provided Elvis with, perhaps, his best material since his 1950s heyday. Photo: RCA.

The Memphis 1969 sessions provided Elvis with, perhaps, his best material since his 1950s heyday. Photo: RCA.
‘Suspicious Minds’

When released as a single, “Suspicious Minds” would be Presley’s biggest hit in years, and it would quickly become the centerpiece of his live show. Yet the song very nearly wasn’t recorded at all.

A chief reason for the decline in the material that Presley recorded in the ’60s was that his management insisted on cutting in on the publishing of each song. Songwriters were more amenable to this demand in the ’50s, when Presley’s records were big sellers, but his sales had steadily dropped during the ’60s, making such an arrangement less appealing.

Now, Moman refused to give up any of the publishing of “Suspicious Minds” (the song had been published by his company, Press Music), and he held firm.

“I just blew up!” he later recalled. “I said, ‘Hey, there ain’t no more session!… You can take everything we’ve done so far, be my guest, and just get out of my studio, ’cause there ain’t no more sessions!’”

Thankfully, the matter was ultimately resolved when Harry Jenkins of RCA finally came out in support of Moman (a similar dispute over the publishing of “Mama Liked The Roses” was also worked out).

The song had been already released as a single in 1968, performed by its songwriter, Mark James, and recorded at American, so the band simply used the previous arrangement. Though Presley had some initial trouble negotiating the line “Because I love you too much, baby,” the song soon fell into place, and the sessions ended on a high note. Presley’s good spirits were evident in an interview that morning with the Memphis Commercial Appeal, in which both Presley and Moman expressed their mutual admiration, Presley concluding, “We have some hits, don’t we, Chips?” “Maybe some of your biggest,” Moman replied.

Moman was right, though that wouldn’t be evident for a few more months. Before then, in spite of the tensions that had arisen over publishing matters, six further sessions were scheduled at American in February, beginning on the 17th and running straight through the 22nd. The sessions began with Presley continuing a long-standing tradition at American, welcoming Moman to the studio with a rendition of his own song, “This Time.”

Presley sang an impromptu version of the number, throwing in a few lines of “It’s My Way,” then going into “I Can’t Stop Loving You.” Then it was time to get to work, with Presley turning in stellar renditions of “True Love Travels On A Gravel Road,” “Stranger In My Own Home Town,” and Neil Diamond’s gentle “And The Grass Won’t Pay No Mind.”

On the 18th, Presley had great fun with teasingly macho “Power Of My Love,” then took over on piano for a heartfelt “After Loving You,” a song he’d been performing for his own amusement for years, while “Do You Know Who I Am” was the kind of yearning ballad that was his specialty.

With no cold to hold him up, Presley worked steadily over the next few days, recording “Kentucky Rain” and “Only The Strong Survive” on the 19th, and “Any Day Now,” “It Keeps Right On A-Hurtin’” and “I’m A Fool (For Loving You)” (the latter previously recorded by Bobby Wood).

By now, material on hand was running thin (on this outing, publishing had been secured on every song before it was recorded), and on the 21st, only two songs were worked on, “The Fair Is Moving On” and “Memory Revival,” though Presley didn’t end up recording a vocal for the latter. On the 22nd, the last day of the sessions, Presley recorded vocal overdubs and one more new song, Bobby Wood’s religiously themed “Who Am I?”

Stay tuned for the conclusion of our look back at Elvis’ 1969 Memphis sessions!

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