SONG TITLE: TROUBLE / GUITAR MAN
PERFORMER: ELVIS PRESLEY
SONGWRITER: LEIBER-STOLLER / JERRY HUBBARD
YEAR OF RELEASE: 1969
COMMENTS: As LL Cool J would put it years later, "Don't call it a comeback, I've been here for years."
By the late 60's, Elvis Presley was a fading star. His phenomenal early success had been watered down by years of embarrassingly bad movies, and the king of rock and roll had been kicked to the curb by young people in favor of Englishmen and college weirdos largely past the boundaries of his cultural understanding. His status as a viable modern recording act was in doubt, so when he got a prime time NBC television network special, he knew he couldn't coast through it, he seriously needed to absolutely deliver the goods to re-establish his credibility.
This recording was the start of his answer: a close-up of a greasy, leather jacketed now matured teen rebel god making his throw down with some mean, hurtful blues. "If you're looking for trouble, you came to the right place." He was more beautiful than ever, and an even better singer than in his early days. Check the inflection and perfectly placed strain on the word "name" here, for example.
His statement, however, was not based on hostility. He gave us one good verse of "Trouble," just enough to let the likes of John, Paul and old Rubber Lips know who was who's bitch. Then he turned to tell us his story.
The original studio recording he had released a few months earlier was an excellent little country rock song telling the story of a poor country boy, an aspiring musician leaving home to hitch hike and beg for work, till finally he has found a little club where the people appreciate his playing.
"Guitar Man," and particularly this performance, is perhaps the ultimate fulfillment of Chuck Berry's "Johnny B Goode" legend. This arrangement is large, the full rock lineup of guitars and drums, plus some brassy horns, organ and harmonica. It sounded like no other performance, hard as hell, blowing away the nominal modesty of the lyric and the studio version. This was truly a production for a man with his name up in lights, just like he and JB Goode had imagined.
The single biggest difference between this arrangement and the original, the thing that is most telling, is the rhythm guitar. The original good rockin' country song became a tough, modern urban funk. You could really tell by the guitar and blaring trumpets that this was a big time urban production to knock the big city folks on their asses. Well between that, the 100 or so Elvis dancers, and the approximately 1000 foot high letters E-L-V-I-S right behind him.
Truly Elvis was the king, and this was his most transcendent moment. This, along with the next year's Memphis recording sessions, was Elvis largest living- the once and future king setting industry standards in musical innovation, exellence and charisma. These records drew from all the strength of his experience and his roots, but didn't sound like either.
Yes, Johnny had his name up in lights. He may have lost his stride in later years, but Johnny was damn good tonight.
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