|Day 117: Elvis Presley (Suspicious Minds)
August 21, 2020
I have to admit I never saw this coming.
An Elvis blog. Not Elvis Costello but Elvis Presley. Good or bad, I have no history of listening to Elvis Presley music.
Well, that is not entirely accurate. My most vivid memory of Elvis Presley comes from seeing the tapes in my uncle and aunt's car when I stayed with them for a short period of time in the early 1970's while my parents took my older sisters to Girl Scouts' camp. I can remember looking at the tape covers while my aunt or my uncle drove us around. I have vaguer memories of actually hearing Elvis while they drove, perhaps "In The Ghetto," which seemed a far cry from "Love Me Tender" or "Jailhouse Rock."
But then in the last few weeks, as I have played Pandora, I have noticed a ridiculous amount of plays for "Suspicious Minds." It's not like Journey, where I am likely to hear any of the same six songs over and over. This is the only Presley song my Pandora stations play. After about three hearings, I can admit that I am thankful.
It doesn't take long for the song to get stuck in one's head. Wonderfully, it is not really the chorus that snares us; it's the repeated opening verse over and over: "I'm caught in a trap/I can't walk out/Because I love you too much, baby" punctuated by the horns and the backing vocals (both making the song sounding more like Tom Jones, but maybe I missed how Jones had always been copying Presley), as well as the drum fills that form the counterpoint before Elvis starts up the "I'm caught in a trap" one more time.
As I listened to "Suspicious Minds" over the last few weeks, I found a great Las Vegas performance that shows the song's beauty more than the recorded version, in part because we can see what a great performer Elvis was. The link below is to that live version, several minutes longer, the final verse, and the fade out, played over and over. For the first minute and a half or so, the performance is nothing noteworthy (outside of Elvis's jumpsuit).
That ends with the bridge, which given its signature change, opens the door to the drama that will play out for the rest of the song. During the bridge, stretched erotically in front of the audience, Elvis falls back on his best croon: "Let's don't let a good thing die/when honey you know I've never lied to you." You can hear the crowd start to excite, even if the stuffed suits in the crowd (granted, there are few crowd shots) look unworthy for seeing this performance.
As that first verse gets repeated, Elvis clearly feels the whole song, but most especially the drum rolls and fills between lines. Note the half-smile he gives the drummer the first time his body personifies the drum roll, followed by a flip of the head, as if to say "catch a load of this guy" about his drummer. The shirt seems to keep losing more and more buttons, the sweat intensifies on his face, and yet that dang crowd still seems mostly unmoved. "I love you too much, baby!" How are there so few women swooning everywhere? Where are the well deserved panties thrown on stage?
Of course the funny thing is just how awkward that repeated verse is: "caught in a trap/I can't walk out/because I love you too much, baby." Doesn't sound too healthy of a relationship, does it? "Good morning, you controlling jerk, I can't leave you because I still love you." Sounds like subtle abuse if you ask me. The songwriter, as Elvis was covering this Mark James' song, admitted that he wrote it because his wife was so suspicious of one of his old girlfriends that he still felt some attraction for. Wow, all of a sudden, this beautiful love song sounds like it deserves the lights of Las Vegas.
In this live Vegas version, the fade out is leveraged for all its worth, which is ironic because some involved in the recording of the original song believe it was the worst thing that could have been done, saying "it was like a scar on the song."1 Yet, it is exactly that fade out that Elvis sees as the theatrical moment of the song and the focal point of a live performance. Sure Jim Morrison and Iggy Pop could expose themselves on stage, but Elvis never had to give in to his shortcomings. (Although there is a great moment -- 4:38 mark in the video link -- where he checks his belt, afraid that he might lost his pants. Hmm? Maybe this isn't a jumpsuit.) He could rely on his natural talents.
Watch him work the fade outs, drawing in his background singers, suggesting the song might end, flirting with one of them, almost as if they are told to watch Elvis to see how long he might drag out the ending. In addition, each time fantastic gyrations accompany the magnificent drum fills. At the eventual ending, he strikes a pose and uses the lighting to help dramatize one last change: jumping out of the darkness to finish the song. It's fantastic showmanship.
Hmm? Wait a minute, look at the last 15 seconds of this clip. When he first "emerges" out of the darkness, everything is cool, but at 6:08 when a different camera shot comes in, he has chains across the top two buttons of his jumpsuit that he didn't have before, and the background band is now in dark outfits, not the white ones from the clip. The ending is from a different performance.
And everyone wonders why we have suspicious minds.
"Suspicious Minds." Elvis Presley. RCA. 1969. Link to live performance here.
Day 116: Billy Idol "Flesh For Fantasy."
Day 118: Morrissey "Now My Heart Is Full."->
See full unfinished list here.