|VIVA ELVIS - THE ALBUM
Track by Track
Elvis was a road warrior throughout the 1970s, constantly on tour and performing around the U.S.
Starting in July 1971, Elvis’ audiences became accustomed to hearing “Also Sprach Zarathustra” right
before he took the stage. Richard Strauss’ grandiose, late 19th-century tone poem had gained
resonance from its appearance in Stanley Kubrick’s epic 1968 film 2001: A Space Odyssey. It was the
unmistakable sound of a grand entrance, and therefore a perfectly appropriate way to open Viva
ELVIS, cleverly combining the classical piece with a vamp Elvis’ band always broke into as he was
about to hit the spotlight and perform. Snippets from various Elvis recordings, cheering fans, and
sound bites from The Ed Sullivan Show and Memphis DJ Dewey Phillips combine with propulsive new
drumbeats and vocal effects, building anticipation to a climax which can only be punctuated by the
revved up guitars and blistering Elvis vocal that follow.
2. Blue Suede Shoes
More than anything else, Elvis was an interpreter of songs. It didn’t matter if it was written for him
personally or was another artist’s song onto which he put his own imprint. One song from the latter
category was Carl Perkins’ rockabilly anthem “Blue Suede Shoes,” which was only just hitting the
airwaves when Elvis recorded it. Carl and Elvis had been label mates at Sun Records and it was
agreed that Elvis wouldn’t steal Carl’s thunder by releasing his version as a single. Elvis and his band
made a much tougher recording of the song – in a style that would soon be called rock ‘n’ roll. Viva
ELVIS adds a thumping drumbeat, blues-rock harmonica, and sound effects borrowed from electronica
to create an exceedingly danceable new rock anthem.
3. That’s All Right
The Viva ELVIS version of “That’s All Right” starts off with deceptively gentle percussion and piano
tones, along with Louisiana Hayride announcer Frank Page’s introduction of Elvis at his first
performance on the legendary radio show on October 16, 1954. Elvis’ debut record was a magical
adaptation of Arthur Crudup’s blues recording, giving the tune a whole new melodic and radio-friendly
presence. The Viva ELVIS performance fades out with a montage of classic early Elvis moments,
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including producer Sam Phillips enthusing after an early take of “Blue Moon Of Kentucky” and Elvis singing lines of “When It Rains It Really Pours” and
“There’s No Place Like Home” from the famous Million Dollar Quartet. This version re-imagines the song as modern rock. It borrows a garage rock beat that
is familiar from 21st century indie rock and has its roots in 1950s blues and rock songs. The beat has been heard over the years in some of the harder-
edged Motown and Northern Soul hits of the 1960s to the 1970s punk rock of Iggy Pop and others.
4. Heartbreak Hotel
Elvis’ debut RCA single and first national number one hit, “Heartbreak Hotel,” was feared at the time by the label to be a grave mistake. The gloomy tale,
based on a suicide note found in the pocket of dead man, seemed as far from a hit as it was from the raucous music Elvis had made in Memphis at Sun
Records. At its heart, this is a blues song. In Viva ELVIS, the arrangement begins with a distorted mix of Elvis’ vocal from an early, live performance, along
with a Delta-blues-style guitar, emphasizing the song’s haunting underpinnings. With nods to Elvis’ “’68 Comeback Special” version of the song and the later
Elvis staple “Polk Salad Annie,” and a mix of swinging horns plus a sample of the gospel sounds of The Golden Gate Quartet, it’s a whirlwind tour of sonic
contrasts that brings to mind bands like Nirvana, The Pixies and The White Stripes.
5. Love Me Tender
Elvis’ cinematic debut was to be a strictly dramatic role with no singing—that is, until film studio executives realized how much commercial value an Elvis
performance would add to their film. For that reason, the Western-themed film with the working title The Reno Brothers was renamed Love Me Tender” after
Elvis’ new adaptation of the Civil War-era song “Aura Lee.” RCA received advance orders of more than one million copies of the single. “Love Me Tender”
remains one of the most beloved love songs in the world today more than 50 years after it was recorded and 150 years since the melody was first written.
For Viva ELVIS, the song is reconstructed with a sound that is equally timeless, built on an arrangement reminiscent of Robert Plant and Alison Krauss’
acclaimed album Raising Sand, here featuring the beautiful duet voice of Dea Norberg and strings.
6. King Creole
Introduced by the voiceover for the original movie trailer, then followed by a male voice singing the film song “Turtles, Berries, Gumbo,” the scene is set in
New Orleans, where Elvis’ most critically acclaimed movie was filmed. King Creole was written and co-produced by the brilliant team of Jerry Leiber and Mike
Stoller. The Viva ELVIS version borrows more from the rhythms of one of the alternate takes from the sessions and the style of this new version stands in
dramatic contrast to the original. Syncopated beats and vocals with echoes of ragga, alongside gentle elements of kitsch that are part and parcel of listening
to Elvis in Las Vegas, combine to create a modern-sounding track a la indie darlings Santogold or M.I.A.
7. Bossa Nova Baby
Most of Elvis’ movies had a designated hit single. In Elvis’ 1963 movie, Fun In Acapulco, that single was beyond a doubt the rousing “Bossa Nova Baby,”
another winner from the Leiber-Stoller songwriting team. Introduced here for Viva ELVIS with true session atmosphere and dialogue between Elvis and
Paramount movie producer Hal Wallis, this is a song that has tempted many a remixer for decades. The tongue-in-cheek lyrics — “sweat popping out of my
head” and “shirt tails flying all over the place” — have always been irresistible, and the bouncy organ riff is simply impossible to forget. This reconstruction
of the song amplifies the kinetic energy of the original into a track that would not sound out of place on a Fatboy Slim album.
8. Burning Love
At a time when Elvis needed a hit, A&R man Felton Jarvis found the song “Burning Love,” and along with Elvis’ own people, had to push him to record the
song. The track became a chart topper all over the world, and a song that the world still today recognizes as a true classic. This reinvention for Viva ELVIS
is a full-blast 2010 treatment incorporating one of Elvis’ greatest movie lines, “That’s ain’t tactics honey, that’s just the beast in me,” from Jailhouse Rock.
With a guitar attack that sounds equally influenced by The Hives and The Who, this new “Burning Love” is a beast indeed.
9. Interlude (Memories)
10. Can’t Help Falling In Love
When “Can’t Help Falling In Love” was released as the b-side of “Rock-A-Hula Baby” in 1961, nobody could have expected the fame that this particular
recording would achieve. Featured in Elvis’ biggest box office success, Blue Hawaii, the single became a number one hit and the soundtrack album
eventually became one of his biggest selling albums. By the dawn of the 21st century, “Can’t Help Falling In Love” had become arguably the most beloved
wedding song in all of the western world. The duet treatment for Viva ELVIS lends it an extra element of romance, with Sherry St.-Germain singing the
female part. The song climaxes in a choir arrangement with a whole new ending created around a line from Elvis’ 1956 hit “Love Me.” The hymnal quality
and stately chords give it a sound not unlike what The Verve might sound like if they recorded with a gospel choir.
11. You’ll Never Walk Alone
After hearing Elvis’ version of this Rodgers & Hammerstein classic from Carousel, a sparse take with his own piano accompaniment, Viva ELVIS producer
Erich Letourneau was inspired to create this piano interlude for the show. There were tears in the eyes of more than one person when Elvis had wrenched
every ounce of emotion from the song through eight great takes, emotion that shone through decades later when the Cirque du Soleil creative team came
upon it. This is a timeless melody, worthy of shouldering the emotional gravitas of a pivotal moment from the show, leading to its explosive climax.
12. Suspicious Minds
Elvis exploded back onto the scene in 1968. Following his comeback TV show, new recordings came out of a string of sessions in his hometown of Memphis.
The first hit was “In The Ghetto,” soon to be followed by this number one record, a song that became a highlight of Elvis’ stage act for years to come. If the
word “timeless” can ever apply to any music, songwriter Mark James’ masterpiece “Suspicious Minds” stands as a prime example and the Viva ELVIS version
further proves it. The atmospheric production highlights the strumming of a jangly, echoing guitar and churning drumbeats. It all combines for an experience
reminiscent of stadium sing-along anthems by U2 and Kings Of Leon.