Having Fun With Elvis On Stage
REVIEW BY: Christopher Thelen
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 03/19/2007
In almost every book or article I’ve read that talks about the worst records ever released on the market, the general consensus is that Having Fun With Elvis On Stage -- an album originally released as a souvenir at concerts in 1974 and officially released by RCA one year later -- easily qualifies at the worst.
And so, I went on a quest to find this disc -- kind of like to see if this is the musical equivalent of passing by a car wreck on the highway. After a long time searching -- I guess most people don’t want to admit they ever owned this one -- I finally landed a copy of this most reviled disc.
And… well, I don’t believe I’m writing this -- but it’s not as bad as everyone says it is.
Oh, sure, at one time it might have been the worst disc on the market -- an honor I claim is owned by Ringo Starr’s I Wanna Be Santa Claus. But remember that at this time, Elvis had become a caricature of himself. Gone was the thin, movie-star idol that everyone remembered; in his place was the fat, sweaty, jump-suited character that kind of looked like Elvis in the right light if you squinted, surrounded by screaming, crazed fans who would have applauded Elvis farting.
So in 1974, the idea of selling a record featuring nothing but Elvis talking on stage might have seemed like a travesty. Yet in an age where anything somebody allegedly touched, took a drink from, excreted or took a bite from can be sold for thousands on eBay, this disc seems tame in comparison. So maybe it’s true that time indeed heals all wounds.
Yes, most of the stories are true. This disc features nothing but Presley talking to the fans, teasing them with snippets of brief singing (so much for this being a “talking album only”), sharing inside jokes with the band, dealing with female fans’ demands for scarves and kisses and telling stories about his start in the music business.
Yet there is something about this disc that kept me listening -- and I can’t really explain why. Maybe it’s that we’ve become conditioned to Elvis the jokester over the years -- check out the DVDs of “Aloha From Hawaii” as you see Presley try to maintain his composure at a few times (though this could have been from the “Alternate Aloha Concert” -- it’s been years since I saw these), and the recording of “Are You Lonesome Tonight,” where he absolutely loses all control and goes into hysterics -- are part of our pop culture now.
So putting up with nearly 38 minutes of hearing Presley yuk it up on stage is almost dealable -- indeed, almost expected. In truth, it’s not nearly the nuclear bomb that everyone says it is.
Maybe -- just maybe -- Presley was so accustomed to the caricature of himself that he allowed himself to become part of the joke, thus laughing at himself and being able to be a good sport about it. And, in the end, I think this is the saving grace of Having Fun With Elvis On Stage -- namely, that Presley had come to terms with what he had become, and decided to deal with it, with a smile on his face.
That all said, would I go out of my way to own this disc? Not unless I was a drooling Presley fan who absolutely, positively had to own every record ever released under his name -- and I am hardly a Presley fan, to be truthful. (Interesting to note that, in subsequent years, four additional volumes of Having Fun With Elvis have been released, though I believe these are all bootleg recordings.)
RCA has never, to my recollection, reissued Having Fun With Elvis On Stage on CD -- and, dare I say, maybe now is the time to do so. While it’s hardly a picture of Presley’s glory days, it does capture some of the feeling of a mid-‘70s Presley show, and is worth experiencing once.