Underappreciating Elvis Presleys’ songs 1970s (by Jeffrey Schrembs)

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.

Jeff Schrembs


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.


4 comments on “Underappreciating Elvis Presleys’ songs 1970s (by Jeffrey Schrembs)

  1. the 69 special was an astonishing show

    and If I Can Dream topped all the moments of Elvis’ reclaiming his cred and musical territory

    not to mention, summarizing why he was so dangerous

    Elvis saw everyone as people first

    no one was lesser or better than for anything as ridiculous as skin colour or economic status or opportunity

    Elvis knew the hard scrabble existence of being the poorest of the poor and how easy it was for life to take a wrong turn

    But Elvis dreamed of a better land

    and through his music, his voice, his body

    he let us dream a little dream too


  2. Elvis Presley was the quintessential singer of his era. A perfect voice that only got better overtime. I personally prefer Elvis 70’s music more so than the earlier songs – although i consider all of his music great to listen too regardless. Songs like ‘You Gave Me A Mountain’ ‘Something’ and ‘Its Over’ (all sung in his 73 Aloha From Hawaii) stand out for me. When you consider his talent as a singer and then place his acting/movies beside it; you truly see how talented he was. A true artist in every respect.

  3. The greatest then the greatest now the greatest tomorrow and forever. What a voice. Elvis was fearless. When he first broke on the scene the establishment turned on him tried to have him banned. Preachers preached against him. He was public enemy number one. The cozy world of lazy conservatism and middle class beurocracy was being seriously threatened. Bing Crosby stated that Elvis would Never add anything of value to music. Did this phase Elvis? Not one bit. He just kept on rocking and shaking
    Like he would never rock and shake again. Every song in those MEGA early fearless years of suffocated energy release, shoved 2fingers in the face of aristocracy. Old Bing at least was gracious enough to eat his words and in 1973 at least recognised and applauded the achievements of Elvis. He had no choice really, none at all because Binb and Sinatra had been blown out of the water.Elvis alone opened the doors wide for every artist who followed and for every “free thinker” who up to that point was afraid to express their thinking.His fearless approach to his music and his self expression opened the doors of change and freedom for all those in slavery, every kind of slavery.Itwas Elvis’s energy and genious that sparked worldwide revolution. Elvis Aron Presley was by a long long way, the most influential cultural figure of the 20th century. More influential than Martin Luther? JFK? Ali? Absolutely and by a long longway. May he rest in peace. The deterioration of his last years and the condition he was in really saddens me. And yet right to the end he continued to sing and made a decent job of it most of the time when he really should hav been resting up. The colonel’s greed and the mess of his finances dictated that the show must go on and on and on and on regardless of Elvis’s condition. Someone should have stepped in . Red West did , revealed the truth and got fired.where as his father Vernon?. They all just stood by and watched him kill himself. They didn’t REALLY appreciate him. I do and always will.

  4. I have always thought that you could hear Elvis on Moody blue crying out for help ! In the choices of songs to that so sad last song on side b . The fact you brought up the album which I have is actually blue should have told us and it did , the plain fact our king 👑 was not well and very very sad ! Ann Margaret was very right about the way the papers and the industry were talking of him . Man gives his talent , time , money and life to a lot of people and in 77 all he here’s ‘is how bad he looks these days ! He stood tall while most of us couldn’t reach his knees ! I love the entire Moody blue album and it’s choices of songs but find myself sad knowing the place he was at when picking the songs on it . Little darling seems to cry out also that all he wanted was to laugh but it itself would be a small laugh ! I was all of sixteen years old when Moody came out and my parents broke up five years earlier. The album is close to me but has a bite ! Where are you dad? I need you now ! You see we lost our 👑 and every thing seems to be blue !
    Lennon is to be shot to death in three years and why is it that all of the people who have given me joy leave us blue ? I’ll always be wondering ! Shu

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