The very last time Elvis Presley would ever step in to an RCA recording studio was on March 12, 1975. Studio C in Hollywood was the site of his “Burning Love” success three years earlier so maybe he thought lightning would strike twice as hits were hard to come by for The King.
For the first time in years, Elvis demanded to pick his own material. Since he couldn’t compose, he had been held hostage to songs that his cunning Mephistophelian manager Tom Parker made money on through music publisher Freddy Bienstock. Not “Today,” Elvis must have yelled. So the puppeteers pulled back their strings.
Elvis pored through song after song after song and wound up going with Don McLean’s “And I Love You So,” a maudlin weeper that didn’t even show off his voice in its best light. The “Colonel” must have been rolling his eyes. RCA certainly didn’t care. They had Elvis right where they wanted him: in the studio. To his credit, as he always did when forced to record those awful movie songs like “No Room To Rhumba In A Sports Car” (from 1963’s “Fun In Acapulco”), he made the best of a culturally dismal situation. Sure, The King had long lost his crown, but he still put everything he had into it. So you could say that Elvis done stole “And I Love You So” right out from under Don “Mr. Boring” McLean. It’s an Elvis song now. I’ve actually grown to love it.
Elvis also handpicked “Fairytale,” the Grammy-Award winning country song from The Pointer Sisters and, man, he nailed it beautifully. He would wind up performing the song in-concert for the rest of his short life. Then, of course, there’s “T-R-O-U-B-L-E,” not to be confused with the much superior “Trouble” by Lieber & Stoller from “King Creole” that the 1958 Elvis sang to gangster Walter Matthau and his moll Carolyn Jones for what might just be the greatest cinematic moment of Presley’s career. Travis Tritt done stole “T-R-O-U-B-L-E” from Elvis in 1992 but we won’t go into that.
“I Can Help,” from fellow rockabilly Billy Swan, fits E to a T. Less successful is his version of “Green Green Grass Of Home,” the Tom Jones hit. Elvis was always needlessly jealous of Tom Jones and why he would pick arguably one of Tom’s worst songs is beyond me. Even worse is Elvis picking material first recorded by such lightweights as Perry Como, Faye Adams and The Statler Brothers.
“Today” came out in the spring of 1975 and Elvis hated it. He hated it so much that he refused to ever go into the recording studio again. RCA tried and tried and ultimately a deal was reached that if El refused to enter RCA Studios again, then RCA Studios would pack up and move into Graceland just to get him singing again. (The result of that decision came the following year in 1976. “From Elvis Presley Blvd. Memphis Tennessee,” the last album of his life, had him basically falling out of bed on late afternoons and stumbling downstairs where a whole orchestra was waiting.) According to Peter Guralnick (the most believable of all the Presley biographers), the reason Elvis hated “Today” was because producer Felton Jarvis gussied up the mix with an awful “countrypolitan” makeover complete with great gobs of strings, background singers, needless orchestral flourishes and the proverbial kitchen sink.
The reason behind these ruminations is the fact that Legacy Recordings has released “Today (Legacy Edition)” containing not only the original album (which, I do admit, sounds better to me in 2016 at age 64 than it did to me in 1975 at age 24) but also the original undubbed session mixes before Jarvis ruined everything with his heavy hand. Like the Beatles divesting all vestiges of Phil Spector’s gobsmacked “Let It Be” production and re-releasing it as “Let It Be: Naked,” Legacy has divested all traces of Jarvis for “Today (Legacy Edition)” so you can get to hear the unvarnished truth of Presley’s voice and it proves to be a transcendently good listening experience.
They should have stopped there because the unlistenable second disc “Recorded Live On Tour May-June 1975” has Elvis kissing babies and flirting with girls in the audience to the detriment of one ever wanting to hear it again.