From: Spring 2000 Issue
(His First Recording Sessions After Returning From The Army)
by Phil Arnold
Elvis was rushed to a recording studio less than two weeks after he got home from Germany in 1960. There was good reason for this; the previous nine months had gone by without a single Elvis hit.
Of course, there had been no releases, either. The vaults at RCA were empty. All those fine songs recorded in June 1958, just before Elvis’ induction, had been used up in the first year he was away. The plan to issue a new release every three months was certainly successful, achieving four top ten hits, including ”A Big Hunk O’ Love” which reached #1. After that, there was nothing left to release.
So, ex-soldier Elvis needed to record some new music. The place where it happened was the RCA studios in Nashville, where he had done those last pre Army sessions. Old band mates Scotty Moore and D.J. Fontana were on hand, as were the Jordanaires, but one element of the old studio gang was not present. Bill Black started his own combo in 1958, and by this point, he had a couple of his own hits and was touring heavily.
His position as bass player in the band was filled with popular Nashville musician, Bob Moore, no relation to Scotty. Bob Moore’s main claim to fame, other than thousands of recording sessions, was as the composer of the theme song from “My Three Sons” TV show.
Also in the studio were Hank Garland, famous session guitarist, and two soon-to-be big name guests: piano player, Floyd Cramer and sax man, Boots Randolph. Within two years, both would break through as major solo performers.
Except for a few extra movie songs recorded in Hollywood, the RCA Nashville Studio was to be Elvis’ recording home for the next four years after his return from the Army. And all sessons were done at night. In early 1960, this was scheduled as two, two-night rounds about ten days apart. In between, Elvis and the boys took the train down to Miami to tape a TV special with Frank Sinatra.
During the first two-nighter in Nashville, Elvis cut six songs. “Stuck On You” must have been deemed the most likely hit, so it was quickly rushed on the market. This process was speeded up partly because the paper sleeves had been printed before the song was recorded. Not knowing what songs would be used for this release, RCA simply printed a cover with two color pictures of Elvis on it, but no titles. The sleeve had a large die-cut circle hole in the center so the record label could be seen to reveal the titles.
Elvis performed “Stuck On You” and the flip-side, “Fame And Fortune,” on the Sinatra special. It soon shot to #1 on the charts. Pretty easy to do, if you have advance orders totaling over 1.2 million copies.
The second two-nighter produced two more huge #1 hits. “It’s Now Or Never” spent five weeks in that position in late summer, and “Are You Lonesome Tonight” finished the year in the top spot for six weeks. Both releases had credible flip-sides in “A Mess Of The Blues” and “I Gotta Know,” respectively.
The two Nashville sessions produced more than enough songs to fill an album, so in April, the LP, Elvis Is Back, hit the market. Guess what? No songs listed directly on the jacket; presumably the result of another speed-up print order. The titles were printed on a yellow sticker affixed to the front cover. If your copy of this album has song titles printed on the front, it is a later pressing.
Stereo technology was just coming into the market in 1960, so Elvis Is Back was also his first LP to be issued in true stereo. Not all copies, however, just a small percentage. If you have this album in stereo, you have something worth five times the mono version as a collectible.
The selection of songs for the LP is puzzling. Out of the 18 songs recorded at the sessions, six were used only for 45 single releases, and twelve were used only for album release. Elvis Is Back contained absolutely no hit songs, and not one of the cuts was ever released as a single.
This is not to call the album bad. In fact, it is often rated as one of his best, because of the heavy blues content. It did reach #2 on the album charts, and sales surpasses $1 million.
Three of the album songs did have additional attention years later. Elvis sang “Fever” in his 1973 TV special Elvis: Aloha From Hawaii. And two of the bluesier numbers, “It Feels So Right” and “Dirty, Dirty Feeling” were lip-synched by Elvis in the 1965 movie “Tickle Me.”
In 1999, we were treated to a new CD release of Elvis Is Back. Most compact disc versions of old albums give you some sort of new bonus tracks, and this one is no exception. Now you can hear the entire recording sessions, including the hit singles and flip sides, at one time. This is a terrific choice for anyone with a beginning Elvis music collection who has to pick what’s next from the large selection of newly released CD options.
© 2000 Philip R Arnold