It is Elvis Presley’s 80th birthday tomorrow, the 8th January, or would have been had he not died prematurely at the age of 42 in 1977. His fan-base remains huge and diverse, and his musical and cultural influence is wide-ranging.
‘That’s the Way It Is’ was his first concert film for the cinema – the ’68 Comeback Special had been originally presented on television. I first saw this film (the original 1970 cut) in about 1982 or 3, when we had a copy on laser disc. That version was in stereo which did justice to the wonderful range of songs presented in both the informal jamming sessions in the early section of the film, and the full concert in the later half.
EPE, however, had an idea up their sleeve and in 2001 they released a ‘Special Edition’ of TTWII. I remember going to see this at the cinema and, yes, it was excellent to watch The King in his prime, but some favourite songs had been completely cut (‘I Just Can’t Stop Believin”, ‘Bridge Over Troubled Water’).
I point this out to emphasise that there are now TWO versions of this film, and the one EPE give the full bells and whistles treatment is the later version. This original one, in the version now available on DVD as a second disc, is in mono, with muddy sound and un-restored picture. Happily I have a recording which I made to VHS and then to DVD of the laser disc version, but new fans coming to the film will not be so fortunate.
OK – this version has a lot of off-stage stuff with fans, promoters, and vox pops. A lot of this was snipped from the 2001 special edition, to present a different mix of songs with a much more rock and roll bias, but I like these informal bits, which give the film some humour as a documentary as well as a concert film.
And Elvis – well, for me, he is the greatest of all singers and at this time, was at the height of his physical peak as well. Although he only earned a co-writer credit on a handful of his early records, he was a gifted interpreter of other people’s songs, especially early rock numbers like ‘That’s All Right, Mama’ and contemporary classics like ‘Polk Salad Annie’, ‘Words’, ‘You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling’.
That’s what you get here, with his gifted backing band (the TCB ‘Taking Care of Business’ Band – James Burton, Glen D Hardin, Jerry Scheff and Ronnie Tutt); the Sweet Inspirations (Cissy Houston, Myrna Smith, Sylvia Shernwell); the Imperials Quartet (Jake Hess, Jim Murray, Gary McSpadden, Armond Morales) and the recently deceased Joe Guercio and his Orchestra, is a slick show, well-choreographed.
This film is directed by Denis Sanders and is really recommended viewing for any Elvis fan – but for goodness sake, I wish that the EP estate would release the thing with its original 4-track stereo mix.