A while back I checked in with Darwin Lamm, Publisher of Elvis…The Magazine, to see what the theme would be for the next issue. Although it gets mailed to subscribers in December, it will be the January 2009 Birthday Issue. For his themes, Darwin likes to commemorate the anniversaries of important events in Elvis’ history, such as Elvis’ first recording, first hit, going into the Army, ’68 Comeback Special, Aloha From Hawaii, and so on. This time, it is going to be “Back To Vegas” – the 40th anniversary of Elvis’ return to live performances in 1969. Elvis had a four-week run from July 31 to August 26 at the very new International Hotel (now called The Las Vegas Hilton).
So, I needed to come up with an angle to write about. Then it came to me. I could write about the songs that Elvis chose for this milestone event. The playlist had to be an important concern for him, because he wanted this to be a special show. He had not performed in front of a live audience for nine years, and his only previous appearance in Las Vegas in 1956 was mostly a bust.
I started checking out references to find the playlist for Elvis’ first night concert on July 31, 1969. My books were no help, so I turned to the internet. I knew the FTD label had released CDs of many Elvis concerts in Las Vegas, so that seemed promising. I found two from shows in 1969: Elvis All Shook Up and Elvis Live at the International. Unfortunately, the first covered his concert on August 23, and the latter featured his August 26 show. Because Elvis frequently changed his playlists, these wouldn’t do. I wanted to find out what he sang at the start of his run, not at the end.
Next, I checked out original RCA albums and found In Person At The International Hotel, released three months after the finish of Elvis’ run in 1969. That didn’t suit my needs either, because it was a selection of songs from the last three nights, August 24, 25, and 26.
The final option I could think of was bootleg albums and CDs, and a quick Google search brought up a wealth of resources. I found soundboard recordings from August 14, August 12, August 6, and best of all, a CD titled Opening Night 1969. The title was something of a misnomer, because it is not a recording of Elvis’ July 31 performance. However, it was either August 1 or August 3, according to different reviews I uncovered. Close enough. I had found the reference I needed for my magazine article.
However, my research had an unexpected result. After reading several extremely positive reviews, I decided that Opening Night 1969 was a CD I needed to own. I had to hear these great performances that the reviewers raved about. Keep in mind that years ago I decided I had enough Elvis music and wasn’t going to spend money on any more. Also, my least favorite period for Elvis music is what is generally called the Las Vegas Years. Most important, I don’t like all the pretentious sound of the overblown orchestration in the later Vegas concerts, and there are too many ballads. So, it took a lot for me to want to own this CD.
Here are some highlights from the review at www.elvis-collectors.com that convinced me: “This is the jewel of all Elvis’ CDs and recordings… his incredible voice was more richer and vibrant than it had ever been. This CD is a must for everyone.”
Equally positive remarks on http://home.online.no included: “…powerful and dynamic… an unbelievably good concert… excellent sound quality”
Of course, these praises could me made about other recorded live concert performances by Elvis. What made Opening Night 1969 so appealing to me was the fact that Elvis was still thinking like a rock & roller, not an accomplished Vegas showman, as he would later. He loaded up the show with nine of his biggest rock hits of the fifties. They were all fresh to him and he put maximum soul and energy in them. Look at this list songs followed by the appraisals by home.online.no:
Blue Suede Shoes Very good
I Got A Woman Superb
All Shook Up Pure rock
Jailhouse Rock Just great
Don’t Be Cruel Excellent
Heartbreak Hotel Incredible
Hound Dog Wild
Mystery Train Superb
Baby What You Want Me To Do Great
What’d I Say Full of energy
Of course, the concert wasn’t just these terrific fast songs. It also included several ballads to slow down the pace, plus “Suspicious Minds” and two Beatles songs. But, it was all those classic rockers performed by Elvis at his peak that made me decide I need to own Opening Night 1969.
I must admit that fulfilling this desire has proven to be something of a challenge. It’s not like you can go to Amazon.com to buy bootleg albums. I looked it up on eBay, and found three completed auctions. The CDs sold for $18, $20 and 10 Euros (whatever that is in American money). But I’ll keep looking. It will either show up on eBay again, or I’ll find it somewhere else on the web. And when I get it, the first thing I will do is burn my own CD with just those above songs on it. Now that is going to be a really great CD.
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