Friday Five: Elvis ’72

This weekend marks the 37th anniversary of the death of Elvis Presley.

Elvis was 37 years old in 1972, a year that falls within my favorite Elvis period (1968-72). His live shows in that period were as good as it gets for the King. While you can see hints of his tendency to impersonation himself–something that would become the norm as he went into serious physical decline–you also get some real hints of the greatness that was Elvis.

Here are five live performances from 1972.

5. “Proud Mary” @ Madison Square Garden
My favorite live Elvis album is of his legendary Madison Square Garden shows from 1972. He played two shows on the day of recording, an afternoon and an evening one, with the evening one supplying almost all of the tracks for the album.

4. “Polk Salad Annie”
This is a video from the 1972 documentary Elvis on Tour, a collection of his performances from this period.

3. “Burning Love” @ Greensboro Coliseum
This is from his Greensboro show (April 14, 1972) where he premiered “Burning Love” to a live audience.

2. “Bridge Over Troubled Waters”
Another from Elvis on Tour.

1. “Suspicious Minds” @ Madison Square Garden
This is a low-quality video from the afternoon show. One of my favorite Elvis songs, and his last to top the Billboard charts.

 

Monday Blues

Elvis Presley (born in Mississippi, 1935-1977), performing “Lawdy Miss Clawdy” by Lloyd Price and “Baby What Do You Want Me To Do” by Jimmy Reed (1968).

Re-Writing the Death of Elvis

What, indeed, is the relation between the things we can’t remember and the things we can’t forget?

The question has been nagging me in the past three days as I began to read the flurry of news reports relating to the death of Elvis Presley.  While the “King of Rock and Roll” passed away more than thirty years ago, a new book is alleging his death was not due to excessive weight, heart disease, or drug abuse.  A “longtime friend” of the King himself instead says he died from constipation.

And who is this “long time friend” who is also the author of the forthcoming book?  It’s George “Nick” Nichopoulos, Elvis’ former personal physician.

The man known as “Dr. Nick” to Elvis and the Memphis Mafia is the author of “The King and Dr. Nick,” in which he describes his theory of Elvis’ death as being the result of complications due to bowel paralysis.  The most shocking thing about this claim is that it comes from Dr. Nick, the only person to have faced charges relating to the death of Elvis.

When Elvis died on August 16, 1977, at the age of 42, investigators learned that Dr. Nick and his wife were heavily indebted to the King for an estimated $300,000.  They learned that he has become a close associate of Elvis, as well as his entourage and other notables in the regional music industry (such as Jerry Lee Lewis).  They also learned that Dr. Nick had prescribed more than 5,684 narcotic and amphetamine pills and vials to the King in the seven months before he died. Dr. Nick prescribed Elvis an average of 25 doses of drugs a day.  The day he died, Elvis filed a prescription for 8 medications from his “longtime friend,” Quaaludes, Percodan, Desadrine, Dilaudids, among them.

If Elvis was constipated, the above concoction would be a great start to determining the source.

In January 1980, Dr. Nick–who acted as one of the King’s pallbearers–had his medical license suspended by the Tennessee Board of Medical Examiners for his overprescription of Elvis.  The suspension lasted but three months, but Dr. Nick also faced a jury for his actions.  They acquitted him of malpractice and unethical conduct.  I doubt they would do so today.

George Nichopoulos has a vested interest in floating a different version of the King’s death, because he in the person most implicated in contributing to it!  This fact–and the ones mentioned above–are absent from any of the news stories I have seen.  Indeed, most focus on the “new” theory of the death of Elvis without even a questioning gaze turned back to the source.

Oh, the sorry state of journalism!

Les Paul: the man you didn’t known you had to thank

Les Paul–the man who played the most influential role in the invention and innovation of the electric guitar–died today.  He was 94 years old.

Most of the traffic that comes to this blog is the result of targeted searches. This post won’t rank within the top one million for “les paul” searches today.  The rest of my regular readership are primarily friends and a few former students.  I suspect my friends already know who the man was, as well as his passing, so this is just a quick encouragement to my other readers to go find out more.

This biography from the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, of which Les Paul was an inductee (1988), is a great start.  This thoughtful and comprehensive obituary by Gibson–the company who popularized the Les Paul model guitar–is also a must read.

Les Paul was one of those people who just about everybody you’ve ever admired in popular music had heard of, even if you hadn’t. The only thing that diminished that trait was the fact that he lived so long, longer than most of the pioneers of modern American music who knew, first hand, the debt they owed to this talented and inquisitive man.

Elvis in Vegas

Forty years ago today, Elvis Presley performed before more than 2,000 screaming fans at the International Hotel in Las Vegas and, in so doing, began his “last comeback,” the final phase of his storied career in popular music and culture.

Elvis took to the stage on July 31, 1969 after an eight-year absence that saw him go from a cultural phenomenon to a movie star to a relic of a time long-since past. Music had changed, the culture had changed, and Elvis no longer appeared to be relevant.

His significance could not be denied. By 1969 a wide array of music superstars could draw their musical lineage back to the King. He had sold more than 250 million records and had the record for most gold albums and gold records (ten and forty-seven, respectively).

And then there was December 1968, when NBC aired a television special that became popularly-known as the “comeback special.” The middle-aged King, looking tan and lean, dressed in black leather from head to toe, stood before a small audience in the round and—without fancy lights, effects, or even electricity pulsing through the instruments—he and his band put his magic on display. It was simple and beautiful rock and roll: blues, country, gospel…Elvis.

Something began to stir in the King, as it did in his manager Col. Tom Parker, and mere months later, Elvis had been signed to be the inaugural act at the largest showroom in all of Las Vegas in the newest hotel on the strip.

A young music reporter at the Los Angeles Times by the name of Robert Hilburn was assigned the task of reporting on Elvis’ Vegas gig. Hilburn penned something of a love letter to the King, a piece titled “History Will Place Elvis in No.1 Spot.” In it, he wrote:

At the time of his initial success, those reviewing popular music didn’t appreciate or understand the sensual, driving, undisciplined music of the singer from Memphis. Having accepted Sinatra and the tradition of Tin Pan Alley as their standard, they couldn’t take the new sound seriously. When they did write about Presley, it was usually in tones of outrage or humor.

When younger writers, who had been moved by Presley’s music, reached an age where their articles would be accepted by editors, Presley was no longer a vital, moving musical force.

With the youthful exuberance of an avid fan of popular music, he cautioned: “But that is going to be corrected now. Elvis is back.”

In some ways, Elvis was back. The King played to sell out crowds for the remaining parts of the summer of 1969, the start of a series of live performances which would carry him through to his death in 1977. From 1969 to the early seventies, some of those performances deserve to be ranked among his best. Film footage provides testament to his sheer, human force, his musical power and raw electricity. Backed by a stellar band and vocal section, and a modern and visual production, Elvis’ Vegas shows were an event, to be sure.

Of course, addicted to drugs and hindered by a physical girth that would match his stardom, many of his live performances in the later era also provide evidence of his decline, both in physical health and performative ability. The famous rock analyst Lester Bangs said it bluntly in his eulogy to the King, “Where Were You When Elvis Died?” Accusing Presley of having “contempt for the audience,” he wrote: “I see him as being more like the Pentagon, a giant 
armored institution nobody knows anything about except that its power is 
legendary. Obviously we all liked Elvis more than the pentagon, but look at what a 
paltry statement that is.”

The “Vegas Elvis”—bloated, in studded jumpsuit, when the person on stage became more an imposter of the image he once embodied than the real thing—provided the last, and, hence, lingering, image we have of the King doing what made him famous. It’s a shame, of course, because there is some greatness in that time, too. But if it must be, then so be it, because there is even a grandeur in his tragic demise.

Forty years ago today, when Elvis began this, the last stage in his hallowed career, he also began writing the final chapter in the archetype he continues to define. Elvis was and remains the very definition of what we call “Rock ‘n’ Roll.” We revel in his house, one built with many a mighty voice and strum, but occupied by only one, then and now.

As the young Hilburn wrote back in 1969: “When all the applause is finished, the stage is cleared and the showroom at the International Hotel is emptied, one message remains: the rock generation was right after all. Elvis Presley was no false idol. He was, and remains, the most important of all.”

All photos came from the wonderful website “Elvis Presley Music” and their section on this special day in rock history.

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