For a plethora of reasons, including Colonel Parker’s demands for a higher percentage of profits and songwriting credits, Elvis was limited in the quality of songs he was offered and thus recorded.
One of the most remarkable moments in Elvis’ life, and in music history, was the phenomenal rendition of “If I Can Dream” showcasing Elvis in 1968 dressed in white soulful singing a song filled with meaning, heart, and feeling. Watching Elvis sing this song, which he closed the TV Special sponsored by Singer entitled “Elvis” but known as; the 68 Special, the Comeback Special, the 68 Comeback, and listening to every vocal inflection is (literally) magical and an honest expression of a man at his prime maximizing his vocal abilities in perfect harmony.
The success of the 68 Special allowed Elvis to seamlessly morph from the Hollywood Scene, which he had been contractually obligated to from 1960 through 1968, to signing a record breaking live performance contract with the International Hotel in Las Vegas in 1969.
From the late 1960’s through 1970 everything in Elvis’ life was going well. From the birth of his daughter Lisa Marie February 1, 1968, to his marriage with Priscilla as of May 1, 1967, to his sold out Concerts, and to the quality of songs he was (finally) being exposed to Elvis took the opportunity to record some of the greatest songs of his career.
The song “If I Can Dream” was one that resonated with Elvis and was what was to be known as a “message song” as many were known in the 1960’s. Elvis loved this song and was not afraid of recording songs that Colonel Parker had told Elvis to “stay away from” fearing adverse consequences. Such was the case when Elvis initially heard the demo/song entitled “In The Ghetto”.
Generations of people had either forgotten, or never known, that Elvis was born to and grew up being very poor. Elvis had lost his twin brother, who was born first but was “stillborn” and died, on the day he was born being January 8, 1935. Elvis knew firsthand the pains of hunger and draw that many children/teens had to using guns, drugs, and other illegal activities. Elvis throughout his life was one, if not the, most generous entertainer who ever lived giving millions of dollars to charities publicly and privately.
Elvis also reached out to many he had read about in newspapers who were in dire need, or gave a brand new Cadillac to a woman who otherwise could never have afforded one new or used, and Elvis gave the proceeds of numerous concerts to various charities. Elvis, both good and bad, wore his emotions publicly and yet he could be brought to tears gazing upon a young child or going to visit someone disabled by disease or circumstances. Elvis never took his many blessings for granted and often wondered “why me” and he never stopped caring for his fellow man.
When Elvis recorded “In The Ghetto” it became a hit and Elvis’ decision to record this “message song” was reaffirmed by the success of the record and the critical acclaim he received. At the time one of Elvis’ recordings named “Suspicious Minds” perfectly reflected the concerns that many people were undergoing in their own personal lives as well as being another “message song”.
As Elvis continued to record hit records, and tour throughout the United States, Elvis personal relationship with Priscilla was deteriorating. Elvis never fully understood that it was possible that his family, which he would be willing to die for, had reached a breaking point of no return and would end in divorce finalized on October 9, 1973.
Elvis became the walking, talking, public figure and one of the most prominent celebrities whose divorce became worldwide front page news and it devastated Elvis. Elvis health (mental, physical, emotional, etc.) deteriorated and his depression/insomnia/low energy/etc. were adversely affected creating a “perfect storm” of ups and downs that manifested themselves in ways that rocked those close to him and worried many. Most of all in spite of his faith in God, and his inner fortitude, Elvis’ loss of his wife/marriage bothered him to his very…soul.
Even during times in his “entertainer life”, that 99.9% of other performers/singers/entertainers would die to be a part of, Elvis kept to his beliefs by answering the questions (during the Press Conference before Elvis’ record breaking Madison Square Garden Concert) of “do you think other entertainers should keep their political views to themselves” which he answered “I am just an entertainer and I’d rather not say” and ” I keep my views to myself”. Proufoundly if you watch the video of this press conference Elvis is asked the question “is your wife Priscilla with you” at which point Vernon, Elvis’ Father who was with him seated beside him to Elvis’ left turned his head towards his son and gazed upon him moving towards him, and Elvis held his blink – pursed his lip – swallowed hard – turned his head and in that moment it is evident the hurt and the pain Elvis is enduring and he answers honestly and shortly with “no, shes not”.
Here is an Entertainer selling out Concert venues, adorned with hundreds of thousands of dollars in diamonds/gold and wearing a huge golden belt given him for being the most successful entertainer in Las Vegas history, fully exposed and if given the chance would give it all up if it meant the successful mending of his marriage.
I have previously written that the loss of his marriage was one, if not the, saddest moments in Elvis’ life. Besides the loss of his beloved Mother Gladys Love Smith Presley who died on August 14, 1958, the loss of his twin brother, his being drafted into the Army at the height of his popularity, etc. the reality that he and Priscilla (individually and collectively) contributed to the deterioration of their marriage even though they truly loved each other and wanted the best for their daughter weighed heavily on Elvis every moment of everyday for the remainder of his life.
A fact that is never put into context concerning Elvis’ life is that his Mother was pregnant again after giving birth to Elvis and his twin brother born stillborn. Sadly, Gladys miscarried and was told by physicians that she was incapable of ever again successfully having another child. Though Gladys loved Elvis with all her heart, and provided for him as best she could sacrificing her pride/body/time/etc., Elvis would often catch his Mother crying when thinking about the children she lost all the while thanking God for the son she had…Elvis Aron Presley.
During this time Elvis began to record songs that mirrored what he was going through in his own personal life. From the moving “Separate Ways” to the soulful/heartfelt “Always On My Mind” Elvis sand these songs with an understanding that few had ever been able to translate onto vinyl in a legitimate/sincere/beautiful way that Elvis did. Other songs such as “Its Over” to “My Boy” to “You Gave Me A Mountain” to “I’ve Lost You” reflected Elvis personal situation Though they never garnered the “success” of other “message songs” they were nonetheless eloquent and meaningful songs for Elvis…and his fans accepted and understood.
Prior to Elvis recording these meaningful songs about divorce, being a single parent, etc. there were only an handful of similar songs from “What Becomes Of The Broken Hearted” to “Take A Letter Maria”. Elvis’ recordings of these songs not only set the standard in the 1970s but are as relevant today as they were during his lifetime.
Many Elvis fans worldwide have been outraged to learn that Elvis only received three Grammy Awards during his lifetime (note: all three were involving Gospel songs/albums Elvis recorded). Elvis critics point to “Suspicious Minds” as being Elvis last great song that charted on Billboards Hot 100. I have always believed that this completely misses the point about Elvis and the point is that when Elvis “felt” a song he not only made it his own but he NEEDED to record it and he NEEDED to express himself through his recordings.
One of the many oxy-morons about Elvis life is that even though he was poor he was exposed to a variety of music which he loved including but not limited to; Opera, Gospel, Rhythm and Blues, Country, Folk, etc. If Elvis heard a song he liked he would play it over and over and over until his photographic memory had instilled very note of every chord of every verse of every song. Elvis appreciation for quality singers knew no bounds and Elvis, throughout his lifetime, went to the Gospel Awards often having to stay backstage out of respect to keep the focus on the Gospel artists and not him.
The last album released before Elvis died (i.e. August 16, 1977 at the age of 42) was entitled “Moody Blue”. It was a unique album not just because of the diversity of songs included but that it was pressed out of a colored blue vinyl. As always, Elvis shared his feelings with beautiful “message songs” which include but are not limited to; Let Me Be There, Pledging My Love, It’s Easy For You, She Thinks I Still Care, etc.
While Moody Blue ended up selling millions and millions of copies the songs incorporated into the album, has had been the case dating back to the early 1970’s, never received the critical or commercial success as was warranted. In summary, many of the songs that Elvis recorded in the 1970’s were simply…under estimated.
As new generations, and prior, continue to be enthralled by Elvis I encourage everyone to seek out these “message songs” and fully respect – appreciate – understand – etc. that as Elvis had his entire career was a trendsetter and wholly unique while remaining honest to himself and exposing the humanity and frailty and even the mistakes/challenges that every man/woman/person faces. In spite of the accolades to the contrary, and all the hype, Elvis was a man who loved and who hurt and he gave us the most important thing one person can give another (besides love and acceptance) and that was; his time and his talents.
Through Elvis’ ups and downs, personally – career wise – physically – etc., Elvis sought out songs with meaning and sang his (literally) heart out to millions of fans that attending his sold out concerts and have listened to his recordings that play around the world everyday.
On a personal note my parents were the first in our “circle” that got divorced and the songs that Elvis recorded, during this time, not only were accepted by me for their beauty but also because I could relate. Inasmuch as I wanted my parents to remain together in some small way knowing Elvis was going through it, and striving onward though it was difficult in every way, then as now I knew that somehow/someway…it would be…”ok”.
Take care and may God bless you.
DISCLOSURE: I write these words and hold these opinions knowing that Elvis did have happy moments in his life after his divorce. I also know that Elvis and Priscilla ultimately did their best to balance the needs of Lisa Marie and to afford Elvis every opportunity to be a positive part of her life.