Tag Archives: Elvis Presley

Elvis and me, revisited

Elvis Presley died 34 years ago today.

That also was a Tuesday, a sun-splashed late-summer day much like today.

Here’s something I wrote four years ago today.

The tune that accompanied that post has been reupped as well. Enjoy!

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Filed under August 2011, Sounds

12 days of Christmas, Day 12

We were talking the other night about Christmas presents for our son, who’s 15, a sophomore in high school. At issue was whether we have that one big gift, the one with the wow factor.

I was thinking back to when I was 15, what that one big gift was. It was Christmas 1972. That one big gift was this:

That is a suede leather Converse All-Star basketball shoe, gold with black trim. I, too, was a sophomore the year I got a pair. It was a big deal. I’m not sure my parents fully understood the attraction, but they popped for the $15 — almost $75 in today’s dollars — to get them. I wore them until they wore out, then kept them around for years as something close to sandals.

There are other good memories of that one big gift. The Tickle Bee game, G.I. Joe, the Packers helmet and jersey, and, of course, that Panasonic AM-FM radio.

Now we have one big gift for you. More of our favorite Christmas tunes, the ones without which it wouldn’t be Christmas.

“Happy Xmas (War Is Over),” John Lennon and Yoko Ono, the Plastic Ono Band and the Harlem Community Choir, released as a single, 1971. A remastered version is available on  “Gimme Some Truth,” a 4-CD compilation released earlier this year.

“And so this is Christmas, and what have you done?

“Snoopy’s Christmas,” the Royal Guardsmen, from “Snoopy and His Friends,” 1967. (The link is to a double CD also featuring “Snoopy vs. the Red Baron,” their debut album from 1966.)

“Merry Christmas, mein friend!

“Winter Wonderland,” Steve Goodman, from “Artistic Hair,” 1983. I bought this record at his show in Madison, Wisconsin, in April of that year. He signed it “Joe — Hello.”

“It’s kind of absurd/when you don’t know the words/to sing/
walkin’ in a winter wonderland!”

“All I Want for Christmas,” Timbuk3, 1987, from “A Different Kind of Christmas,” 1994. It’s out of print. Pat MacDonald grew up here in Green Bay and has returned. These days, he performs as pat mAcdonald — he insists on that spelling. His gig notices also say “Timbuk3 (no space!) is to be mentioned in a biographical context only.” So there!

“All I want for Christmas is world peace.”

“Merry Christmas Baby (alternate edit),” Elvis Presley, 1971, from “Reconsider Baby,” 1985. It’s out of print, and pricey if you can find it. It’s my favorite Elvis record, full of his blues tunes. That it’s on blue vinyl is just icing on the cake.

“Wake up, Putt!”

“Twelve Days of Christmas,” Bob and Doug McKenzie, from “Great White North,” 1981.

“OK, so g’day, this is the Christmas part.”

“Santa Claus and his Old Lady,” Cheech and Chong, from Ode single 66021, released December 1971. Also available on “Where There’s Smoke, There’s Cheech and Chong,” a 2-CD best-of compilation released in 2002.

“We could sure use a dude like that right now.”

No great lines, just great tunes

“White Christmas,” the Edwin Hawkins Singers, from “Peace Is ‘Blowin’ in the Wind’.” 1972. It’s out of print with that title, but is available as “Edwin Hawkins Singers Christmas,” with essentially the same cover. This has a great solo by Tramaine Davis.

“Christmas Medley,” the Salsoul Orchestra, from “Christmas Jollies,” 1976. This is 12 minutes of soul, salsa and dance bliss. An instant party starter.

“Halleujah! It’s Christmas,” .38 Special, from “A Wild-Eyed Christmas Night,” 2001. Re-released in 2008 as “The Best of .38 Special: The Christmas Collection,” one of those 20th Century Masters reissues. This joyous, upbeat tune — written by guitarists Don Barnes and Danny Chauncey and lead singer Donnie Van Zant — ought to be a classic.

“Feliz Navidad,” Robert Greenidge, from “It’s Christmas, Mon!”, 1995. It’s out of print. Though Greenidge gets no cover billing on this CD, he’s playing the steel pan. He’s been with Jimmy Buffett’s Coral Reefer Band since 1983. Earlier this year, Greenidge and his bandmates released “A Coral Reefer Christmas” on Buffett’s Mailboat Records label. This tune is not on that record.

“Christmas in the City of the Angels,” Johnny Mathis, from Columbia 1-11158, a 7-inch single, 1979. Though Mathis has recorded several Christmas albums, this cut never made it onto one. People ask for it every year. (This cut has gone from radio to tape to CD, and then ripped, so that may explain the sound quality if you find it lacking.)

Bonus gifts!

Some of our friends have sent along some tunes they thought you’d like.

“Must Have Been A Mighty Day,” Emily Hurd, from “Tins and Pins and Peppermints,” 2010. She’s a singer-songwriter from Chicago by way of Rockford, Ill., where we have a mutual friend. It’s been interesting to listen to her style evolve, moving from loose and gritty to far more poised and polished. This tune has a bit of both styles. She previewed this record for fans last year, then released it this year.

“Cashing In On Christmastime,” Charles Ramsey, 2010. He’s a singer-songwriter from Philadelphia who has some other nice, non-holiday stuff on his MySpace page. This genial, laid-back cut reminds me of Bob Dylan or Tom Petty with the Traveling Wilburys.

“Christmas Medley,” the Midwesterners, 2009. A pleasant little instrumental featuring Richard Wiegel, the guitarist in this band out of Madison, Wisconsin. He was one of the guitarists in Clicker, the much-loved ’70s Wisconsin rock/pop/glam/show band we write about from time to time.


Filed under Christmas music, December 2010

Three under the tree, Day 17

Tonight, it’s Christmas with Elvis, but you needn’t flee. There will be no “Blue Christmas.” Oh, no, we have other swell tunes under the tree.

As we’ve written before, we dig Elvis. We didn’t always dig him, but we came around. We don’t dig everything he did, but we appreciate his greatness.

We especially don’t dig everything he did on his Christmas records. However, when he sings the Christmas blues, it’s just fine.


“Santa Claus Is Back In Town,” Elvis Presley, from “Elvis’ Christmas Album,” 1957.

Recorded Sept. 7, 1957, with backing vocals by the Jordanaires and Millie Kirkland. This is the first cut on the album. It starts with the Jordanaires’ sweet harmonies — “Christmas, Christmas, Christmas …” and some gentle piano. But then Elvis jumps in and gets downright nasty.

Elvis cut this album in three days at the end of a summer tour. This tune — originally titled “Christmas Blues” — was written by Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller, who also wrote “Jailhouse Rock,” which came out that year. According to Michael Hill’s liner notes on “Elvis Christmas,” a 2006 compilation of Elvis’ Christmas records from 1957 and 1971:

“The arrangement had a ribald, R&B feel, (and) the lyrics were filled with quick-witted double entendres.”

Indeed it did.


“Merry Christmas Baby,” Elvis Presley, from “Elvis Sings the Wonderful World Of Christmas,” 1971.

Recorded May 15, 1971. Elvis takes the tune made famous by Charles Brown and does it as a straight, gritty Memphis blues number.

Though both of these records are out of print as such, they’re available on that single CD, “Elvis Christmas,” with all the cuts on both albums intact.


“Merry Christmas Baby” (alternate edit), Elvis Presley, from “Reconsider Baby,” 1985. It’s out of print, and pricey if you can find it.

Recorded May 15, 1971. It’s the same tune, but this version runs a little over 7 minutes. The original clocked in at 5:37. This version comes off a 1985 record that collected Elvis’ blues tunes. It’s my favorite Elvis record, and that it’s on blue vinyl is just icing on the cake.


Filed under Christmas music, December 2008, Sounds

Elvis has parked his bike

Every community has at least one. Someone you don’t necessarily know well, but someone you see often enough in public that you become familiar with them.

Our community had Elvis.

We knew him only as Elvis, the guy who rode his bike all over town, collecting aluminum cans. We saw Elvis most often at the park, where he’d ride up the path through the woods and pull up behind the bleachers, checking the lone trash barrel next to the softball diamond.

Elvis’ bike was something to behold. It was overloaded with baskets and bags for his cans. It had Packers stickers. It had his name on it, as if anyone needed that to tell whose bike it was.

Already fiftysomething when I came to know him, Elvis was a skinny, slightly stooped guy with glasses, a scraggly beard and wild, thinning hair underneath his ever-present baseball cap. Not real social, though.

He’d determinedly dig through the barrel, looking for cans. If he wasn’t around, the softball players would just set them out for him next to the barrel, knowing Elvis would be along.

One night this summer, it occurred to me that I hadn’t seen Elvis at the ballpark this year. Now I know why.

Elvis died Monday. He was 68. He’d been in hospice care.

You couldn’t call Elvis a character. Nor would you want to. He seemingly had some kind of disability. What, we didn’t know. Wasn’t our business.

That was all I knew about Elvis until I read his obit on Wednesday. Now I know Elvis worked at the Park Department. He loved the outdoors. He enjoyed playing rummy. He enjoyed working with kids in sports. He liked the Packers. He liked watching football.

Elvis was just a nickname. I learned that from reading the obit, too. Elvis was born James. Apparently no one called him James, or Jim. Just Elvis. Why, I don’t know.

This also was in the obit:

“Elvis could be seen on his daily route on his bike. He will be sadly missed.”

That, I did know, and do know.

So, Elvis, these tunes are for you, to send you on your journey.


“Follow That Dream,” Elvis Presley, from “Elvis in Hollywood,” a 1976 compilation licensed by RCA Records to Brookville Records, and sold on TV, near as I can tell. It’s out of print. The tune is from the 1962 Elvis film of the same name.


“Glory Glory,” Pops Staples, from “Father Father,” 1994. Written by Pops, it’s a gospel tune drenched in Memphis R&B.


“Amen,” the Preservation Hall Jazz Band, from “Marching Down Bourbon Street,” 1997.


Filed under October 2007, Sounds

I reconsidered, baby

It was a mild, sun-splashed Tuesday afternoon, one of those August days that seems to last forever.

Especially when you are 20 and trying to wring the most out of every moment left before you leave home for college, knowing you are leaving home for good.

Of course, it was the day Elvis Presley died.

It was 30 years ago today, Aug. 16, 1977.


When I heard the news that day, I was at the Pizza Hut on Grand Avenue in Wausau, Wisconsin, where I worked. (That is not it above, but ours looked just like that. Sadly, Pizza Hut is abandoning that classic design.)

What I was doing there that afternoon, I don’t remember. Perhaps getting off work, perhaps giving my two weeks’ notice, perhaps just hanging out.

When I heard the news, my first reaction was surprise. My next reaction was that Elvis was old news, old music for old people.

No, I didn’t appreciate Elvis then. That took a few years, a friend who recognized Elvis’ ironic and iconic significance, a blue vinyl record album and a couple of trips to Memphis.

— — — — —

Curious to see how Elvis’ death was covered in the time before the Internet and hundreds of cable channels, I went back to the microfilm earlier today.

In the Aug. 17, 1977, edition of the Green Bay Press-Gazette, the story of Elvis’ death was placed prominently in the upper left corner of the front page. It had the biggest picture, but not the biggest headline. The day’s lead story: “Carter likely to pick judge to head FBI.” The smaller headline, under Elvis’ smiling face: “Fans young and old mourn Elvis the King.”

Some of the more interesting coverage came in the days that followed.

A Press-Gazette writer named Mark Moran wondered about Elvis’ legacy, and that of other rockers, and asked:

“In 20 years, will Alice Cooper still be a household word? Will Ted Nugent’s head band be auctioned off for $5,000? Will Led Zeppelin T-shirts be honored museum pieces?”

I’d have to say yes, perhaps and yes.

Finally, there was this item. There had been a run on Elvis records, and only a few 45s remained anywhere in Green Bay.

Two record stores in Green Bay’s new downtown mall, Galaxy of Sound and Musicland, reported “panic buying” and said they were cleaned out of 125 albums by noon Wednesday. Two other record stores, the hipper, funkier Freedom Records and Pipe Dreams, said they were sold out of even their used, cutout and Christmas albums by Elvis.

All those record stores are gone now, and so is the mall. But Elvis lives.

— — — — —

Three years later, done with college, I was living in Green Bay, where I started to get my Elvis education from The Hose. We’d often wind up at the small house he shared with his brother, usually quaffing or having quaffed a few Hamm’s beers. We’d watch basketball or listen to tunes or do both at the same time.

The Hose appreciated Elvis on a couple of levels. First, that it was cool to like the early Elvis, that there was something good going on with that music. Second, that you just had to laugh at some of the things Elvis did and said, something that covers most of his films, save for “King Creole.”

So I started buying some Elvis compilations (and the “King Creole” soundtrack). Then, in 1985, I came across the album that instantly became my favorite and remains so today.

— — — — —

By the late ’80s, The Hose and his lovely wife were living in Memphis, of all places. So I made a couple of trips down, a couple of pilgrimages to Graceland.


Janet and I will never forget the adventure of 1988, which found us at dusty hotels in Nashville and Chattanooga, with car trouble in Atlanta that required a drive home to Wisconsin without the fifth gear on our five-speed transmission and wandering across Alabama and Mississippi’s back roads on our way to — where else? — Elvis’ birthplace in Tupelo, Miss., on our way to Memphis.


If you have not seen Graceland — it’s pronounced “GRACE-lunn,” not “Grace-LAND” — you must try to go some day. Everyone has a little different take on it.


I’ve not been there in almost 20 years and I still vividly remember two things — the Jungle Room and all those Elvis fans. It is a remarkable place for people-watching.


The soundtrack for those trips to Graceland came from several Elvis albums, and one in particular.

“Reconsider Baby” is a 1985 compilation of a dozen of Elvis’ blues tunes recorded from 1954 to 1971. That it was on blue vinyl was just icing on the cake. Some of it is raw and unpolished and a little unruly, and that’s what’s so great about it. Elvis often was most interesting when he sang the blues.

Peter Guralnick’s liner notes to “Reconsider Baby” point out that Elvis’ 1968 comeback TV special “was a nakedly intimate, almost embarrassingly spontaneous live concert … which focused not surprisingly on the blues.”

So here, from a February 1969 session, is an alternate take of Elvis covering a Percy Mayfield tune.

“Stranger In My Own Home Town,” Elvis Presley, from “Reconsider Baby,” 1985. It’s out of print.


Filed under August 2007, Sounds