Elvis Presley sings classic American pop standards

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Harbor Lights (m. Hugh Williams, w. Jimmy Kennedy) — popular song published and first recorded in 1937

During Elvis Presley‘s July 5, 1954 session at Sam Phillips’ Sun Studio in Memphis which produced the breakthrough recording of That’s All Right (Mama), he also recorded several takes of the standard Harbor Lights.

Phil Arnold at ElvisBlog.net writes:

Harbor Lights was the first song put on tape [during the session], and Sam Phillips was not happy with it. Elvis’ voice was high and thin, as though the song should have been played at a lower key. The instrumentation is sparse and at a surprisingly low volume. Even Elvis’ chorus of whistling in the middle did nothing to enhance this generally weak ballad.

Sam Phillips filed the tape away as nothing more than a warm-up effort, where the boys got used to working together. When RCA bought Elvis’ contract and his entire Sun catalogue of 19 songs, they apparently saw little value in Harbor Lights. It remained unreleased for the next twenty years.

Even when RCA released “The Sun Sessions” in 1975, Harbor Lights was still in bad favor and was not included. The producers correctly assessed it would distract from the cohesive Rockabilly sound of the rest of the Sun songs. “The Sun Sessions” album was compiled to present a top quality package, so Harbor Lights would have to wait for use as a curiosity item.

The recording was finally released on the 1976 double LP, Elvis – A Legendary Performer, Volume 2.

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Blue Moon (Richard Rodgers & Lorenz Hart)

From Wikipedia:

Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart were contracted to Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer in May 1933. They were soon commissioned to write the songs for Hollywood Party, a film that was to star many of the studio’s top artists. Richard Rodgers later recalled “One of our ideas was to include a scene in which Jean Harlow is shown as an innocent young girl saying – or rather singing – her prayers. How the sequence fitted into the movie I haven’t the foggiest notion, but the purpose was to express Harlow’s overwhelming ambition to become a movie star (‘Oh Lord, if you’re not busy up there,/I ask for help with a prayer/So please don’t give me the air…’).” The song was not even recorded and MGM Song #225 Prayer (Oh Lord, make me a movie star) dated June 14, 1933, was registered for copyright as an unpublished work on July 10, 1933.

Lorenz Hart wrote new lyrics for the tune to create a title song for the 1934 film Manhattan Melodrama…The song, which was also titled It’s Just That Kind Of Play, was cut from the film before release, and registered for copyright as an unpublished work on March 30, 1934. The studio then asked for a nightclub number for the film. Rodgers still liked the melody so Hart wrote a third lyric: [sic] The Bad In Every Man…which was sung by Shirley Ross made up in blackface. The song, which was also released as sheet music, was not a hit.

After the film was released by MGM, Jack Robbins — the head of the studio’s publishing company—decided that the tune was suited to commercial release but needed more romantic lyrics and a punchier title. Hart was initially reluctant to write yet another lyric but he was persuaded. The result was “Blue moon/you saw me standing alone/without a dream in my heart/without a love of my own”.

Jazzstandards.com elaborates upon the impetus which led to the final version, intimating that Hart wrote the lyric cynically, as a made-to-order product in a vacuous style he disdained:

…Jack Robbins offered a “deal” to the songwriting team: If Hart would write a more commercial lyric, Robbins would “plug it from one end of the country to the other.” Robbins suggested the song should be one of those Tin Pan Alley love songs with the words June, moon, and spoon. Just to show he could do it, and with a large measure of cynicism, Hart wrote the lyrics to “Blue Moon.” Although he did not personally like the song, it soon became a number one hit, a million-seller in sheet music sales, and, in the end, his most popular song.

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Recorded on 19 August 1954 at Sun Studio, Memphis, Tennessee

  • Elvis Presley: vocals, guitar
  • Scotty Moore: guitar
  • Bill Black: bass
  • unknown: percussion*

The Elvis histories and sessionographies I’ve checked all agree that Presley, Moore, and Black were the only musicians present on this session. However, it’s very odd that none of them even attempt to account for the clippity-clop percussion on the recording. Perhaps it was added in 1956 when the cut was selected for inclusion on the debut Elvis album.

Jimmie Lott is generally acknowledged to have played the first percussion on an Elvis recording, during a March 1955 session, on the song I’m Left, You’re Right, She’s Gone.

In September 1956, Blue Moon was released by RCA as a single b/w Just Because. It rose no higher than #55 but spent 17 weeks on the chart.

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I’ll Be Home for Christmas (m. Walter Kent, w. James “Kim” Gannon and Buck Ram)

From an entry in the GTOL (georgetown-online.org) Message Boards, submitted by Phantom Gtowner on Mon Nov 28, 2011 8:31 pm

A song titled “I’ll Be Home For Christmas” was first copyrighted on August 24, 1943 by Walter Kent (music) and James “Kim” Gannon (lyrics). They revised the song slightly and re-copyrighted it on September 27, 1943 and it was this version that was made famous by Crosby. The label credit on those old Crosby 78’s reads “Kent and Gannon”, but some later recordings credit Kent, Gannon and Ram. The argument over Buck Ram’s credit is that on December 21, 1942 Ram copyrighted a totally different song called “I’ll Be Home For Christmas (Tho’ Just In Memory)”. According to Ram, who was primarily a lyricist, he penned the song when he was lonely and in college and had no way to get home for Christmas. Just prior to it’s copyright release he had discussed the tune with two people in a bar one evening and had even given them a copy of the lyrics. (Yeah, we’ve heard that one before.) Ram’s publisher took Kent and Gannon to court and won the case so the songwriting credit added Buck Ram’s name to it.

Recorded 7 September 1957; released as the fourth track of Elvis’ Christmas Album on 15 October 1957

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Fever (Eddie Cooley and John Davenport) — “John Davenport” was a pseudonym used by Otis Blackwell (Great Balls of Fire, Breathless, Don’t Be Cruel, All Shook Up, Return to Sender). The song was originally recorded by Little Willie John in 1956. The best-known version is Peggy Lee’s 1958 recording.

Recorded 3 April 1960 at RCA Studio B, Nashville, TN; released on Elvis is Back!

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Are You Lonesome Tonight? (m. Lou Handman, w. Roy Turk)

From Wikipedia (with edits by doc):

Vaughn-Deleath-1920s

A number of artists recorded “Are You Lonesome Tonight?” in 1927. Composer Lou Handman himself played piano while his sister Edith provided the vocals for a recording released on the Gennett label. Vaughn DeLeath (also known as “The Original Radio Girl”) recorded the song twice, first on June 13, as solo [sic] and later on September 21, as vocalist for The Colonial Club Orchestra. Around August 1927, another version was released by famed tenor Henry Burr.

The first charting version of “Are You Lonesome Tonight?” was recorded by Blue Barron for MGM Records as catalog number 10628. The record first reached the Billboard pop chart on April 7, 1950 and lasted eight weeks there, peaking at number nineteen. Only a few weeks after Barron’s recording, Al Jolson recorded a version of the song on April 28, 1950; it was released by Decca Records as catalog number 27043.

Blue Barron-1In 1959 American songstress Jaye P. Morgan had a Billboard #65 hit with it on the MGM label, backed by “Miss You”.

This led to the best-known recording, by Elvis Presley, recorded on April 4, 1960, and engineered by Nashville sound pioneer Bill Porter. Colonel Parker (it was one of his wife’s favorite songs) persuaded Elvis to record his own rendition of this song. Elvis’ version was based on [that of] the Blue Barron Orchestra in 1950[, while] the spoken part of the song[, as is the case with Al Jolson’s 1950 recording, makes reference to Jaques’ speech in Act II, Scene VII of Shakespeare’s As You Like It]: “All the world’s a stage, and all men and women merely players: they have their exits and their entrances; And one man in his time plays many parts.” It went on to be one of the biggest-selling singles of 1960, peaking at number one on the Billboard pop chart for six weeks.

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Elvis Presley with The Jordanaires: Gordon Stoker, Neal Matthews, Hoyt Hawkins, and Ray Walker — recorded 4 April 1960 at RCA Nashville studios, reportedly at the request of Colonel Parker, and issued in November 1960 on the single RCA Victor 47-7810, b/w “I Gotta Know”

After entering Billboard’s Hot 100 chart at #35 upon its release, it climbed to the top of the chart where it remained #1 for six consecutive weeks beginning with the Billboard issue of 28 November 1960 (28 Nov 1960-2 Jan 1961 issues).

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From the “1968 Comeback Special” (TV), airdate: 3 December 1968

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Love Letters (music: Victor Young, words: Edward Heyman) — composed for and introduced without lyrics in the 1945 film Love Letters. Dick Haymes, who was not in the film, recorded the song in the year of its release with Victor Young and his Orchestra after Heyman’s lyrics had been added. Directed by William Dieterle, the film starred Jennifer Jones, Joseph Cotten, Ann Richards, Cecil Kellaway, Gladys Cooper and Anita Louise. It was nominated for four Academy Awards including the award for Best Music, Song for “Love Letters.”

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Session information from Keith Flynn*:

Originally recorded by Elvis on 26 May 1966 at RCA Studio B in Nashville. All nine takes have been issued.

During a 7 June 1970 session in which nine songs were recorded, there were five takes (labeled “Remake”) of the song in the same studio. Three of the takes have been issued. From take 5, the master (with string overdubs added) came the first track of Love Letters From Elvis, released 16 June 1971. Takes 1 and 3 were released on Love Letters From Elvis, FTD Special Edition in 2008. The undubbed original master (take 5) was released as a “Rough Mix” on Elvis Country (FTD), in 2008.

The provider indicates that the first video below contains “take 8,” which, if accurate, would make this the eighth take from the 26 May 1966 session. But this cut is far too short to be that one, 2:48 or 2:49 when it should be 3:15, according to Flynn. I’m presently unable to precisely identify this recording, or that in the second video below.

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(below) Unidentified; likely from the same take as the one above.**

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You’ll Never Walk Alone (m. Richard Rodgers, w. Oscar Hammerstein II) was written for and introduced in the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical Carousel, which enjoyed a run of 890 performances at the Majestic Theatre (19 April 1945 – 24 May 1947).

Excerpts from Wikipedia:

In the musical, in the second act, Nettie Fowler, the cousin of the female protagonist Julie Jordan, sings “You’ll Never Walk Alone” to comfort and encourage Julie when her husband, Billy Bigelow, the male lead, is killed during a failed robbery. It is reprised in the final scene to encourage a graduation class of which Louise (Billy and Julie’s daughter) is a member. Billy watches this ceremony during his return to earth.

Christine Johnson, who created the role of Nettie Fowler, introduced the song in the original Broadway production. Later in the show Jan Clayton, as Julie Jordan, reprised it, with the chorus joining in.

Besides the recordings of the song on the Carousel cast albums and the film soundtrack, the song has been recorded by many artists as listed below, with notable hit versions made by Frank Sinatra, Judy Garland, Gerry & The Pacemakers, Elvis Presley, Doris Day, Roy Hamilton, Patti LaBelle & the Blue Belles, Johnny Cash, Tom Jones, Marty Robbins, and Renée Fleming.

The song is also sung at association football clubs around the world, where it is performed by a massed chorus of supporters on matchday; this tradition began at Liverpool Football Club in the early 1960s and later spread to several other clubs.[1]

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Elvis Presley with The Jordanaires — recorded 11 September 1967 (between 9:30pm and 12:30am) at RCA Studio B, Nashville

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Any Day Now (m. Burt Bacharach, w. Bob Hilliard)

Chuck Jackson’s original recording, as Any Day Now (My Wild Beautiful Bird), Wand single 122, was produced by Luther Dixon and arranged by Bert Keyes. Released in April 1962, it entered the Hot 100 on 28 April that year and climbed to a peak chart position of #23. According to Wikipedia, it spent six weeks in the Top 40.

Any Day Now is a revision of a Bacharach & Hilliard song called Lover which was recorded by Tommy Hunt earlier in 1962 , but left unreleased.

From Wikipedia:

[Elvis] Presley recorded a cover version of “Any Day Now” on 21 February 1969 at American Sound studios, Memphis, Tennessee. This version appeared on his acclaimed album of that year, From Elvis in Memphis. Although not released as a single in its own right, the song appeared as the B-side to Presley’s #3 US pop hit, “In the Ghetto”, which appeared on the same album.

Elvis Presley — According to Keith Flynn’s Elvis Presley Pages*, six takes were recorded on 21 February 1969 between 1:00 AM and 4:00 AM. Take six became the “Unrepaired Undubbed Master.” Four overdub sessions were required to created the overdub master: On 22 February there was “vocal repair of the middle part.” Brass and string overdubs were added on 18 March, and backup vocal overdubs on 25 March.

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Fools Rush In (Where Angels Fear to Tread) is a popular song published in 1940 with music by Rube Bloom and lyrics by Johnny Mercer. As well as being a pop standard, it is an important jazz standard (as are Blue Moon, #94; Love Letters, #309; and Fever, # 856), presently ranked #460 out of the top 1,000 by jazzstandards.com.

According to Wikipedia,

The major hits at the time of introduction were Glenn Miller with Ray Eberle and Tommy Dorsey with Frank Sinatra. It was also recorded by Billy Eckstine. The song proved popular with 1960’s pop and rhythm and blues artists, resulting in charted remakes in 1960-61 (Brook Benton), 1962 (Etta James), and Rick Nelson (1963)[2]. The Rick Nelson version was a notable hit, reaching #12 in the Billboard pop charts. It was also recorded by Doris Day and André Previn in their 1962 album ‘Duet’[3].

Elvis Presley — recorded on 18 May 1971 at RCA Studio B in Nashville, Tennessee. According to Keith Flynn’s Elvis Presley Pages*, there were 24 takes, though only five were complete. The master comes from the 24th take, left undubbed and edited only with a fade, reducing the length by 14 seconds.

I don’t know which take is used in the video below, but it’s a few seconds too long to be a copy of the final master. It’s unclear which version was released on Elvis Now in 1972, but this version seems to be a couple of seconds longer than that one as well.

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I really love you baby, cross my heart

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* Keith Flynn’s Elvis Presley Pages — Unless otherwise noted, this is the source of the Elvis Presley recording session information given in this page. However, I noticed on 25 August 2014 that the sessions pages are marked “offline until further notice.”

** If this take is from the 26 May 1966 session, then it would appear to be drawn from one of the four complete takes (2, 7, 8, or 9). Except that its length indicates that it is cut short, because none of the complete takes are shorter than 2:58, and the audio stops at around 2:50 in this one. Take 9 is the master, and the most frequently released of the nine takes.

It could also be the undubbed 7 June 1970 master (2:55), again cut short by several seconds. The dubbed version of the master includes strings added on 27 October. There are no strings present here.

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