‘JUNGLE’ GOLD

From EP Boulevard

The sub-heading of ‘Recorded Live’ could be a considerable misnomer on the original cover of Elvis Aaron Presley’s final complete studio release during his lifetime: From Elvis Presley Boulevard, Memphis, Tennessee. Therefore, one could be excused for deeming the album in itself a live concert recording from one of his eleven tours of 1976. However, the said ‘live’ culprit can easily be forgiven when taking into consideration that this is how the leading artists and bands of the day used to record in the studio: sung live with a live backing band. Remember those days? (tongue placed firmly in cheek here)…they were the times of pure creative unison between musicians and recording engineers alike – sheer magic in most cases. Elvis was the forerunning artist from the rock ‘n’ roll era to spearhead such a painstaking process of craftsmanship within the setting of a recording studio – take after take, night after night until “the sound on the tape matched the sound in his head”…or the sound in his heart as the case may be when referring to the songs on the ‘E.P. Boulevard’ album. When released Stateside in May, 1976 the album received a somewhat lukewarm reception from both critics and some of the fanbase; under the circumstances, on first listen, that could be quite understandable taking into consideration the diverse mix of songs that highlighted the previous RCA release: Elvis Today (1975). It has taken a number of years stretching out into decades that finally the Elvis fandom and some critics alike have taken ‘From Elvis Presley Boulevard’ to their hearts of constructive criticism and therefore can now appreciate the album for what it is. For, it is the final complete studio LP of the greatest entertainer the world has ever known between 1954 and the present day…

Upon first listen of the album back in 1983 via a cassette copy, I absolutely adored it – it was beautiful. I subsequently bought the vinyl version and then the eventual CD – it still is beautiful. I can confirm that it probably is Elvis’ most underrated album of work ever released both during and after his lifetime. There are ten songs on the original album (5 well-known and 5 not so well-known) and the majority of which are ballad-orientated. Apparently, legend has it that the songs chosen to record very much expressed the way he was feeling at the time, therefore most of the output has been categorized under the headings of ‘despairing’, ‘lonely’, ‘lost’ and downright ‘sad’. The production had also been criticized for being “overblown” with unneccessary string and horn arrangements along with the obvious “mediocre” material tag. However, the primary positive issue of the recording has stood the test of time: the voice. Elvis sounds immaculate, and his voice is not only a masterclass of golden ‘operatic’ eloquence, but is a personal statement of how songs such as these should be enacted within the confines of a recording studio; the ‘studio’ being one known as the “Jungle Room” or quite simply labelled, “The Den” – his favourite place to hang out in his beloved Graceland mansion which, incidentally, is where this underrated mini-masterpiece was recorded, hence the title of the album.  The recording sessions took place between February 2 – 7, 1976 and featured the majority of musicians from Elvis’ live concert band including lead guitarist, James Burton and backing vocalists J.D. Sumner & The Stamps Quartet along with Myrna Smith and soprano, Kathy Westmoreland.

And so, to the songs in question: the album commences with Elvis’ dramatically rousing version of Timi Yuro’s ‘Hurt’ – written by J. Craine and A. Jacobs. It is a powerhouse performance becoming a staple of Elvis’ live shows at the time, and the only song of which he frequently asked his audience if they’d like to hear it again: “YYeeessss!!!” was the reply and the master would comply. A couple of concert versions of the song sees him singing it lying on his back in front of 20,000 fans – such is the unique take on vocal and charismatic power. ‘Never Again’ is an exquisite ballad written by Billy Edd-Wheeler and Jerry Chestnut with the backing vocalists beautifully complimenting Elvis’ mastery of the lead phrasing. ‘Blue Eyes Crying In The Rain’ is an uptempo ballad with gospel undertones that highly benefit the production. The song was written by Fred Rose, and is referred to as the final song that Elvis performed, accompanying himself at the piano, on the morning of that fateful August 16, 1977. Some more great vocal accompaniment in this album version that assists The King through to the final fading notes. ‘Danny Boy’ is the most historical song of the collection and is most definitely one of the highlights. The song was written by Frederic E. Weatherly and it was known that the song had been a favourite of EP’s since before rock ‘n’ roll fame and fortune struck its chord.  Elvis’ version is haunting and it is also a classic; thankfully the horns and strings were not even contemplated for this one, as the sparse arrangement of piano and minimal backing works to great affect. ‘The Last Farewell’ was a popular song of the time and a big hit for singer, Roger Whittaker co-written with R.A. Webster. Apparently, Elvis liked the lyrics and its descriptive references to England of another time that solidified its position as one of the first songs on the list to be recorded. This is a nice performance by Elvis and the band and was later released as a UK single in 1984. ‘For The Heart’ written by Dennis Linde – the songwriter who had previously handed Elvis a big ‘hunk’ of success with the 1972 platter, ‘Burning Love’ – is a very good honky-tonk arrangement of a countrified classic. Elvis’ backing vocalists shine with almost gospel-like accompaniment which adds to this songs depiction as the album’s only ‘foot-tapper’. ‘Bitter They Are, Harder They Fall’  is a power ballad in its own right and one that is well at home on the album. The song was written by Larry Gatlin, and Elvis’ phrasing hits the spot and his vocal reaches the heights beautifully to become an underrated favourite of many a fan. ‘Solitaire’ is another classic of its time which was co-written by Neil Sedaka and Justin Cody. Sedaka himself, along with other famous names, hitting the charts with his rendition. Elvis keeps it solemn but raises the energy for the chorus in a song that depicts a man’s losing stakes in the gamble of love. ‘Love Coming Down’ is another Jerry Chestnut penned ballad which has Elvis’ vocal almost breaking on some of the phrasing with a fabulous bridge which begins: ‘Can’t you see how everything I’ve learned would just be wasted – if you leave me…’  – a favourite of the album. ‘I’ll Never Fall In Love Again’ is the closing song, and what a finale! Co-written by Jimmy Currie and Lonnie Donegan, the song went on to become a big hit for Elvis’ showbiz pal, Tom Jones and consequently became a staple of Jones’ stage show.  Although Elvis’ version is somewhat shorter than the well-known hit, it most certainly doesn’t lack anything in terms of vocality and power as EP thoroughly pours himself into the performance – the high notes that he reaches for at the end are astonishing and the song rounds off the album in a big crescendo-like manner, leaving one breathless for more!

              “What goes around, comes around…” – one of the more eerie clichés of our time. In the year 2000 a special CD was released on the ‘Follow That Dream’ (FTD) Elvis collector’s label, entitled ‘Elvis Presley. The Jungle Room Sessions.’ The title in itself was revelatory, but expectations were considerably watered-down when perusing the song titles on the cover, especially for those fans and critics who hadn’t found any reason to praise the original ‘E.P. Boulevard’ album back in 1976. However, the CD played host to a number of unreleased out-takes, alternate takes and undubbed takes throughout the process of Elvis recording the songs in the ‘Jungle Room’ at Graceland and with that knowledge the bar was slightly raised in the ‘expectations’ department. From the very first takes of ‘Bitter They Are, Harder They Fall’ – the first song on the CD – it would appear that the sessions, which formed the basis of Elvis’ final recordings, were indeed a revelation to match the title of the CD! Oh, how wrong a percentage of the generation had previously been! Here are the songs as Elvis recorded them – before all the so-called “overblown” arrangements had been ‘crafted’ for the final product back in ’76; furthermore, the knowledge has now be reinforced that Elvis was in the best of form, and spirits, throughout the whole 6-day process. Yes, certainly the songs were some of the most downbeat that he had ever recorded, but maybe it was the case that he had wanted to record most of these songs for a while at that time, and the time was then ripe enough. ‘The Jungle Room Sessions’ is one of the most posthumously-celebrated musical projects attached to the legend of Elvis Presley; furthermore, it strips away the ‘myths’ that have dogged these  sessions for so long and presents us with the truth behind those sessions: the voice.

When I first read the inscribed message on the back cover of the original ‘E.P. Boulevard’ album I felt a tinge of sadness due to the fact that not many people took to the words: “Dear Friends, Thank You for your loyalty. I sincerely hope that you like my new RCA Album – my best wishes, Elvis Presley.” Nowadays, I no longer feel that same sadness when reading that beloved message.  I have often considered ‘From Elvis Presley Boulevard’ as a kind of concept album and how it would fare in the hands of some of today’s most talented opera singers and the type of arrangements  that would be crafted to make it work as a form of stage tribute. This, I find to be an interesting concept, and maybe one day further justice will be given to this underrated mini-masterpiece with its revelatory counterpart: ‘The Jungle Room Sessions’. Now, here’s my very special tribute to the original album with each verse of the following poem depicting – in album running order – an aspect of each song:

The song about Hurt
Because of the lies
The breaking of a heart
That wasn’t disguised.

To hope it was never,
So, Never Again
A question of where
And when – to the end.

The twilight had broken
The blue eyes did cry
The parting of a kiss
The touch did not lie.

The snow-covered valleys
So clean and white
The sound of the pipes
In the distance of light.

A mist that did rise
From the dales afar
The battle of guns
The sound of war.

The dreams about you
Tick like a clock
A weather so dull
It rolled to the rock.

Tears that were bitter
Falling like rain
I ran to the platform
Still falling, in pain.

Gambling with the cards
The dice cutting loose
The loneliness of one
The head in the noose.

Romance in the air
The learning began
The descent from above
The plea of the man.

Casting of the feelings
Pride followed suit
Broken hearts, crying
The love now, so mute.

Jungle Room vinyl

Update:
‘From Elvis Presley Boulevard, Memphis, Tennessee’ has since been released in the ‘classic albums’ 2-CD format by the FTD Label and features lots more great revelatory outtakes and alternate versions from the sessions:

FTD_FromElvisPresleyBoulevardMemphisTennessee

 PLUS:
‘Moody Blue’ now available in FTD’s ‘classic album’ 2-CD format! Originally released just before Elvis’ passing, the album featured the additional songs recorded at Graceland in February and October, 1976. The upgraded release by the FTD Label also features further great outtakes and alternate versions of some of the songs also featured on ‘The Jungle Room Sessions’. As an extra added bonus in this article, here’s the original album:

Cosmic Dwellings do not own the copyright to the image/likeness/music/videos of Elvis Presley. The written content and style in this not-for-profit article is owned by this blog website. All Rights Reserved. Copyright © 2012, 2014 Cosmic Dwellings.
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About Cosmic Dwellings

'Cosmic Dwellings' is a social media network consisting of a fine mix of retro rock and pop music, a radio drama production, an ebook serial and several works of poetry and lyrical prose.
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