By Jeff Cochran
Elvis Presley wasn’t kidding. He was back and wanted our undivided attention. Excelling in a medium
not easy for rock and rollers, his performance on the
’68 Singer TV special' declared, in fact pretty
much shouted, that he hadn’t lost a step. Elvis could still rock. He sang the tender ballads with
poise. Once again, the guy was on top of his game. He still mattered.

Over the next year he would solidify his presence on the pop music scene. He began a series of
concerts in Las Vegas. More importantly he would record several vibrant and substantial songs.
The jokes about
“Do The Clam” could end.

Presley offered social commentary on the hits
“If I Can Dream” and “In The Ghetto” during a
time of rage in America and much of the world. After seeming irrelevant for most of a decade, he
appeared in tune with the concerns and accelerated pace of the late ’60s. Yes, the music world had
experienced many changes, indeed for the better, in his years of drift.  Now the drifting days were
behind him. Elvis Presley was marching along to the rock and roll beat and perhaps could be
among the leaders of the march.

Hopes were justified on August 26, 1969, less than 2 weeks after the conclusion of the Woodstock
festival, with the release of his single,
“Suspicious Minds”. The song was not only terrific, it
confirmed Presley’s return as a dominant rock and roller.
“Suspicious Minds” climbed the
American charts, reaching the top spot on November 1. His future efforts were eagerly awaited.
Would he continue in the spirit of the new times?
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He stayed busy, recording such hits as “Don’t Cry Daddy” and “Kentucky Rain,” commendable if not stellar releases. It appeared there were no plans to
push the envelope further. Presley and the Woodstock Nation would not be marching together after all.

Presley’s approach on
“Suspicious Minds” was daring and confident. Most of the succeeding releases were pleasant and comfortable. A 1970 album,
“Elvis Country,”
featured some finely wrought covers of “There Goes My Everything,” “I Really Don’t Want To Know” and “Faded Love.” The album
had the hit singles and critical acceptance, but Presley wasn’t breaking new ground. He might have produced a classic album had he and his band stoked the
fires that made
“Suspicious Minds” so exciting. But that wouldn’t happen again. Elvis had personal distractions that kept him from rocking the boat. He could
still deliver quality work yet the bold moments were few and far between.

Nearly all biographies on Presley focus on his troubled personal life. Problems less evident previously became more apparent in the early ’70′s. He had
regained a place on the pop charts but became more addicted to a wide variety of drugs. His life was spinning out of control and even though he loved to sing,
laziness and indifference had set in. The likelihood of his fully embracing a great and challenging new song was slight. Artistically, Elvis Presley would not
reinvigorate his career as Frank Sinatra did with his in the ’50s.
But now and then Presley would find a song worthy of his attention and extra effort.
“I’m Leavin’, recorded in May ’71, was such a song. Written by Michael Jarrett and
Sonny Charles,
“I’m Leavin’” is moody and restrained. Presley did not rely on his pipes
to carry this song. Instead he depended on his artistic sensibilities to get the song’s story

“I’m Leavin’” has Presley assuming the role of a lover with no place to turn but away.
The lover feels unwanted and unnecessary. There’s hesitation when it comes to making
that first step. Insecurities come to mind. He mulls it over. Leaving seems the thing to do.

Presley’s vocal performance captures the sadness of a despondent and defeated lover.
He wonders where he will go and laments the emptiness inside him. He declares his
intentions to leave. Life as he has known it comes to a stop. The song evokes the feeling

The music is soft and slow but picks up during the bridge as the lover wrestles with his
thoughts. He’s
“living from day to day, chasing the dream.” The feeling conveyed recalls
the sentiment in
“Suspicious Minds.” Then Elvis sang “I can’t walk out.” This time there’
s no choice.

'Careless Love, The Unmaking Of Elvis Presley', biographer Peter Guralnick wrote
of the Nashville sessions in which Presley and his group “committed a good deal of hard,
sustained effort” to
“I’m Leavin’”. They were not rushing through this one. Between
takes, Presley acknowledged his fondness for the song, saying,
“Phew man, it’s tough,
but the thing is worth working on.”

Presley was sure ”I’m Leavin’” would be a hit. Unfortunately, it did not catch on, peaking
only at 36 on the Billboard Hot 100 [#23 in the UK].

Over the decades since, however, the song’s popularity has grown. Listeners have been
pulled in by the song’s haunting melody and Presley’s understated vocals.
It may be considered an “art song,” similar to Bruce Springsteen’s “Brilliant Disguise.” The stories in both songs, after all, reflect confusion and weariness.
Great artists ably portray those with insecurities as well as those happy and contented.

“I’m Leavin’”, Elvis Presley fills his role perfectly, revealing the talents he too often failed to cultivate. The song is another reminder of what could have