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Elvis Presley's Bizarre Album of Stage Banter

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In 1974, Elvis Presley released Having Fun With Elvis on Stage, an album consisting of over thirty minutes of haphazardly compiled banter from his concerts. It includes no songs and it is completely devoid of context. Save for maybe one brief section, there are no insights into Presley's life. What's included is so incoherent, you don't really get an idea of his stage presence, despite the fact that all the audio comes from his shows.

The album was the brainchild of Elvis's manager, Colonel Tom Parker. Parker created a company called Boxcar to manage Presley's commercial rights (while securing the majority of profits for himself), with an eye to eventually turn it into a full-blown record company. Because of Elvis's deal with RCA, Boxcar could not release a normal Elvis record with music. Instead, Parker had to go around this by selling an album that was just his client speaking. Having Fun With Elvis on Stage was the only LP Boxcar ever put out, and it's roundly considered to be one of the worst albums of all time.

Surely there must be some redeeming qualities to this artifact. It has to at least be fun—it's right there in the title! Colonel Parker wouldn't lie to consumers. Maybe all the album's critics were squares who weren't hep to this avant-garde collage of found and pop art. I listened to Having Fun With Elvis on Stage and broke it into 34 different tracks based on where Colonel Tom seems to have edited in a new clip from a new concert (it's presented as two long tracks with no breaks). By doing this, I hope to determine just how much fun you can have with Elvis, on stage.

1. 0:00-1:18
The album starts off in medias res, with Elvis humming and saying, "Here we go again, man." He continues, “Before the evening is over, I will have made a complete and total fool of myself. And I hope you get a kick out of watching it.” He then growls and says "Whaa whaa whaa" before singing, "Well...well, well well" as if he's about to go into a song. There is no song.

How much fun do we have with Elvis?: It's early, so we're having a little bit of fun with Elvis. He seems relaxed, which is nice.

2. 1:19-2:27
The sound quality of the second section drops off considerably, and it seems as if we are magically transported to the end of one of Elvis's concerts. “They don’t like for us to stay on too long," he says, and the audience boos. "Wait a minute! They don't like for us to stay on for more than 55 minutes to an hour...But we don't care what they like!" The crowd goes absolutely bonkers. This is legitimately fun.

With the audience worked into a lather, Elvis goes, "I'd like to sing a little 'Love Me Tender' for you." Instead of singing, he starts squeaking directly into the microphone. I think the joke was supposed to be, "I'd like to sing a little 'Love Me Tender' for you quickly," with the squeaking mimicking a sped-up audio recording, but he forgot to say "quickly." The crowd laughs politely.

How much fun do we have with Elvis?: He's a little all over the place here, but we're having fun.

3. 2:28-3:08
Elvis slowly and quietly sings, "You ain't nothing but an...aardvark." He then lists a few more animals, some of which sound made up.

How much fun do we have with Elvis?: Not too much here, to be honest.

4. 3:09-7:40
Elvis seems to be genuinely shocked by microphone feedback and asks, “What was that?” He then starts negotiating with a woman in the audience about flowers. “What is that honey? An orchid? You want the blue one?” He gives another woman a scarf for her birthday. “Here’s the towel," he says, "Here’s the scarf, here’s the kiss." Crowd goes wild.

How much fun do we have with Elvis?: Sounds like we're having some fun, yeah.

5. 7:41-8:00
Not much goes on here. The audience is screaming some stuff and Elvis meekly goes, "Mmkay."

How much fun do we have with Elvis?: None.

6. 8:01-11:55
This is a great part of the album. "I want to tell you about how I started," Elvis says, before diving into the story of how he was driving a truck and studying to be an electrician when he went into a record store to cut an album. “They arranged to put me on television,” he says, listing Jackie Gleason, Ed Sullivan, and Steve Allen. He tells a funny story about having to sing to a dog on the Steve Allen Show and how they refused to show him beneath his waist (Elvis, not the dog). Here's a video of that performance.

How much fun do we have with Elvis?: Not only do we have fun, but we also learn something.

7. 11:56-12:19
"I’d like to do a medley of some of my biggest records for you." There is no medley.

How much fun do we have with Elvis?: There is no fun to be had here.

8. 12:20-14:09
"I want to sing a lot of songs and walk around and sweat," he says, which makes the audience lose their minds. He seems to be in Kansas City, because he says he's from "Memphis, Missouri," and then repeats the joke, but tells them it's "Memphis, Kansas."

How much fun do have with Elvis?: Some fun. If you are from either Missouri or Kansas it's probably more fun, though.

9. 14:10-14:36
Elvis says, "I'd like you to listen to our bass singer. He goes down to an E, below low flat, whatever that is. Low Flat, I ain't never heard of that. You ever heard of that, Ronnie?" We don't hear his bass singer.

How much fun do we have with Elvis?: This is getting un-fun.

10. 14:37-15:43
“I’m the NBC peacock," he says. He then starts crooning “well well well wells” again. This will not be the last we hear of his "well well wells." There's some crazy drumming and crowd laughter, and Elvis says, “You shouldn’t laugh at us handicapped folk." Sounds like there's some physical comedy going on that's lost on the listeners at home.

How much fun do we have with Elvis?: Eh.

11. 15:44-17:12
In this section, Elvis talks a lot about drinking water and the importance of staying hydrated. He even warns the audience that he may be taking frequent breaks to drink his glass of water.

How much fun do we have with Elvis?: Not "fun," per se, but his advice about hydration is important.

12. 17:13-17:46
This section of the album features some genuinely terrifying screaming from the audience. “It’s getting a little wild in here, boy,” Elvis says, before laughing maniacally. He then says he's about introduce the members of the crew, but Colonel Parker, "on the piano," is the only person to get mentioned before it cuts away.

How much fun do we have with Elvis?: This part is a little frightening.

13. 17:47-18:25
He hums and sings, “well…” some more before announcing, "That’s all folks!" Side A ends here.

How much fun do we have with Elvis?: Zero.

14. 18:26-20:34
Side B starts much like Side A ends, with Elvis singing, “Well well well well.” He then makes a joke about his "fruit of the loom” being too tight, which earns wild laughter. There's more drumming, like from before, which means he must be doing some physical comedy again. He sings a few more “well well wells” before, confusingly, announcing “That’s it folks" and ending a concert at the very beginning of Side B.

How much fun do we have with Elvis?: More than we have had in a while, but the "well well wells" are getting tiresome.

15. 20:35-21:29
A whole bunch more "well well wells." A woman says something from the crowd, to which Elvis replies, “After the show, honey...let me get another ‘well’ out.” He's become very self-aware of all his repeated use of the word "well."

How much fun do we have with Elvis?: Side B is not too fun so far.

16. 21:30-22:06
“I’d like to walk around for a second, get my breath back," Elvis says. He then talks with four women, raising his voice to imitate them.

How much fun do we have with Elvis?: Some? Honestly, this is all starting to wear on me.

17. 22:07-22:42
Elvis asks the audience to listen to his bass singer again, and again we don't hear him.

How much fun do we have with Elvis?: He imitates a B-52 bomber here, which is fun-ish.

18. 22:43-23:24
Here, Elvis struggles with his belt and mentions that it's Father’s Day before introducing the audience to his father. “He’s more of a ham than I am.”

How much fun do we have with Elvis?: This was sweet, which will have to count for fun.

19. 23:25-23:40
He talks about how great the audience is.

How much fun do we have with Elvis?: A little pandering, but we're starting to have some fun again.

20. 23:41-24:25
He's in Louisiana and mentions that he's got a tiger next to him (must be buttering up the LSU fans in attendance). A woman screams that she loves him, and Elvis goes, "Oh I love you honey but I gotta sing this song.” Once again, there is no song.

How much fun do we have with Elvis?: A little.

21. 24:25-26:47
"People've thought for a long time that’s something I do to be sexy,” he says. We don't know what he's doing because we can't see it.

How much fun do we have with Elvis?: Who knows? We can't see it.

22. 26:48-28:49
Here he goes with the "wells" again. “Honey, what are you screaming for? I’ve just sung 'well'...If that’s all I gotta do, I’ve got it made." Great, no sign of the wells stopping any time soon.

How much fun do we have with Elvis?: Well...

23. 28:50-30:32
“We haven’t played this place before, but you’re really a fantastic audience...“You wanna hear ‘Don’t Be Cruel'? Alright.” We don't hear "Don't Be Cruel."

How much fun do we have with Elvis?: Don't be cruel.

24. 30:33-31:16
“This next song is a song I recorded when I first started singing, about two years ago [pause for laughter]. My scarves’ got fuzz on it.”

How much fun do we have with Elvis?: No fun.

25. 31:17-32:34
Elvis gets so into his "wells" that he loses track. "Where was I?” he asks, and someone in the band goes, “WELL WELL WELL WELL.” “Appreciate it," Elvis replies, "I was wellin’.” Yes you were.

How much fun do we have with Elvis?: We haven't had fun in a while. For the rest of the album, I will just pick out choice quotes from each section.

26. 32:35-32:50
"I'd like to tell you that the last time we were here, we had a fantastic time, but this time it's much better, really."

27. 32:51-33:00
"This next song is one of my first records." [No song]

28. 33:01-34:01
“No rose, no scarf, baby.”

29. 34:02-34:37
“Hello Memphis. It’s a pleasure to be home here." [Continues to paraphrase Thomas Wolfe]

30. 34:38-35:08
"Thanks for the flowers and the little bear."

31. 35:09-35:30
“That won’t play." [Regarding a gold record someone has handed him]

32. 35:31-36:28
“It’s been a pleasure laughing with you”

33. 36:29-36:50
"You know what I can't do? Get my belt tightened."

34. 36:51-37:38
"Well..."

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‘Total Eclipse of the Heart’ Could Have Been a Meat Loaf Song
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Imagine a world in which Bonnie Tyler was not the star performer on the Royal Caribbean Total Eclipse Cruise. Imagine if, instead, as the moon crossed in front of the sun in the path of totality on August 21, 2017, the performer belting out the 1983 hit for cruise ship stargazers was Meat Loaf?

It could have been. Because yes, as Atlas Obscura informs us, the song was originally written for the bestselling rocker (and actor) of Bat Out of Hell fame, not the husky-voiced Welsh singer. Meat Loaf had worked on his 1977 record Bat Out of Hell with Jim Steinman, the composer and producer who would go on to work with the likes of Celine Dion and Barbra Streisand (oddly enough, he also composed Hulk Hogan’s theme song on an album released by the WWE). “Total Eclipse of the Heart” was meant for Meat Loaf’s follow-up album to Bat Out of Hell.

But Meat Loaf’s fruitful collaboration with Steinman was about to end. In the wake of his bestselling record, the artist was going through a rough patch, mentally, financially, and in terms of his singing ability. And the composer wasn’t about to stick around. As Steinman would tell CD Review magazine in 1989 (an article he has since posted on his personal website), "Basically I only stopped working with him because he lost his voice as far as I was concerned. It was his voice I was friends with really.” Harsh, Jim, harsh.

Steinman began working with Bonnie Tyler in 1982, and in 1983, she released her fifth album, Faster Than the Speed of Night, including “Total Eclipse of the Heart.” It sold 6 million copies.

Tyler and Steinman both dispute that the song was written specifically for Meat Loaf. “Meat Loaf was apparently very annoyed that Jim gave that to me,” she told The Irish Times in 2014. “But Jim said he didn’t write it for Meat Loaf, that he only finished it after meeting me.”

There isn’t a whole lot of bad blood between the two singers, though. In 1989, they released a joint compilation album: Heaven and Hell.

[h/t Atlas Obscura]

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17 Electric Facts About MTV Unplugged
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Michael Stipe of R.E.M. goes Unplugged.
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Making its debut in 1989, MTV Unplugged—in which famous musicians perform stripped-down arrangements of their biggest hits—was a hit for both the cable network and the music industry, particularly in the early- to mid-'90s. Though it lost its regular time slot in 1999, in the near-20 years since, a handful of artists have popped in for brief revivals. But now it looks as if Unplugged is ready for a reboot; MTV has announced that the series will be back beginning on September 8, 2017, with Shawn Mendes as its first guest. In the meantime, here's a look behind the scenes of the music series that became a phenomenon.

1. OPINIONS VARY ON WHO CAME UP WITH THE IDEA.

Singer/songwriter Jules Shear has said that he came up with the concept for MTV Unplugged to promote his acoustic album, The Third Party. In 1992, The New York Times wrote that Shear was inspired by Jon Bon Jovi and Richie Sambora's two-song acoustic set at the 1989 MTV Video Music Awards.

That's all well and good, but producers Jim Burns and Bob Small claim they got the idea for MTV Unplugged after Bruce Springsteen treated the two—and the thousands of other fans at one of his concerts—to a final encore featuring just himself and his acoustic guitar. (Springsteen would find his way onto Unplugged in 1992.)

Executive producer Joel Gallen has referred to Unplugged as his "baby" as well and, like Shear, was inspired by Bon Jovi and Sambora's VMA set, which he called a "jumping off point." In I Want My MTV: The Uncensored Story of the Music Video Revolution, Small said: “Please do not credit Bon Jovi for creating Unplugged. Jon Bon Jovi thinks he was the inspiration for it. He wouldn’t even do the f***ing show until almost 20 years later.”

2. BOTH HBO AND PBS SAID NO.

HBO passed on Unplugged when Shear proposed the concept to the pay channel. Burns and Small pitched the series to PBS after MTV initially said no. PBS simply echoed MTV and HBO. It was only when Burns and Small ally Judy McGrath got a promotion at MTV that a pilot got a greenlight.

3. IT WAS A CHEAP PILOT TO SHOOT.

Bob Small said he had just four hours to set up for the Unplugged pilot, with another four hours to film it—and all on a budget of $18,000. "I couldn't get money to hire a director," Small said. "They said, 'You direct it.'"

4. THERE WAS A HOST FOR THE FIRST 13 EPISODES.

None other than Jules Shear was the undisputed master of ceremonies for the first season. He also joined in on some songs.

5. THE FIRST GUESTS DIDN'T QUITE GRASP THE CONCEPT OF UNPLUGGED.

Glenn Tilbrook and Chris Difford from Squeeze were the stars of the first episode, which aired on November 26, 1989. But they were unprepared. "Chris and Glenn showed up for rehearsal with electric guitars," Alex Coletti, who would end up producing the show through 2001, recalled. "I said: 'Very funny, guys. Where are the acoustics? It’s Unplugged.' They looked at each other and went, 'Riiight… Make a phone call, quick!'"

6. PRODUCERS SCRAMBLED TO GIVE JOE WALSH ACTUAL FRIENDS.

"The fifth episode was billed as Joe Walsh and Friends, and Joe showed up with only one friend—Ricky, his bass player," Coletti remembered. "We thought it meant his famous friends, but apparently that got lost in translation." Walsh had been a member of The Eagles, who had an infamous falling-out, but Walsh's claim of buddies gave MTV employees false hope. Producer Bruce Leddy found Dr. John recording at a neighboring studio and convinced him to come on and be Walsh's "friend."

7. DON HENLEY WAS NOT HAPPY THAT WALSH PLAYED "DESPERADO."

Walsh's former Eagles bandmate wrote "Desperado," as well as a three-page fax explaining to MTV that he didn't want Walsh to play it and he was refusing permission to air the performance. It was after the fax that the network invited Henley to come on the show himself to perform it. Henley was the first artist to get an entire half-hour on his own as the only artist, which quickly became the status quo for Unplugged. In 1994, when The Eagles reunited, they appeared on an MTV Unplugged special.

8. LL COOL J HAD NEVER WORKED WITH A LIVE BAND BEFORE.

The first Unplugged featuring rap artists took place in 1991. Pop's Cool Love backed LL Cool J, MC Lyte, De La Soul, and A Tribe Called Quest. “[It’s like] you drink milk for 10 years and then [you have to] drink fruit punch,” Quest's Q-Tip said about performing with the band. “It’s not that the fruit is bad, but you have to get used to it.”

But LL seemed able to adapt. "We rehearsed the night before and LL Cool J had never worked with a live band," Coletti said. "Before long, he was calling the shots like he'd been doing it his whole life."

9. LL COOL J KNOWS YOU SAW HIS DEODORANT.

"People have teased me about the deodorant for years, but I love it," he said. "It was raw! It was nasty! At least you know I wasn’t stinking.”

10. PAUL MCCARTNEY WAS THE FIRST ARTIST TO OFFICIALLY RELEASE HIS UNPLUGGED SET.

Before Paul McCartney, no other Unplugged artist body had thought to release their acoustic set as an album. But after he performed in 1991, the former Beatle was worried about it getting out to the masses illegally. “I figured that as Unplugged would be screened around the world there was every chance that some bright spark would tape the show and turn it into a bootleg, so we decided to bootleg the show ourselves," he admitted. "We heard the tapes in the car driving back. By the time we got home, we’d decided we’d got an album—albeit one of the fastest I’ve ever made.” He even titled the live performance collection Unplugged (The Official Bootleg).

11. ERIC CLAPTON WAS HESITANT TO RELEASE HIS SHOW AS AN ALBUM.

"Slowhand" performed to acclaim in 1992, but he initially didn't think it was good enough to be released officially as a CD. So naturally, his live album Unplugged won the Grammy for Album of the Year. His "Tears in Heaven" performance in particular won Song and Record of the Year. Two years later, Tony Bennett followed suit, winning the 1994 Album of the Year prize for his time on the show.

12. NEIL YOUNG WALKED OUT ON HIMSELF.

Neil Young's Unplugged was supposed to have been taped at the Ed Sullivan Theater in New York on December 12, 1992. Instead, on that night—at that venue—the audience saw something they would probably never forget: Neil Young walking out the door after numerous mistakes. The "stunned" crew members managed to get him to come back to try again that night. Young opted to junk the performance entirely, and tried again two months later—this time with a band, and with much more success.

13. TORI AMOS WALKED OUT, TOO.

Amos was thrown off and "couldn't harness the energy." But unlike Young, she was able to walk back onstage, perform, and not have to try again with another set on a different night. As the singer/songwriter remembered it, she and her manager paced "beneath the MTV thing" backstage thinking about the problem. "Then my [lighting director] came down and said, 'Something just doesn't feel right. I can’t put my finger on it,'" Amos told Worstgig.com. "For 700 shows over the five years (prior to that), I'd played with the lights down. So all the lights were up to catch the audience and I felt like somebody was watching me take a shower. So they dimmed the lights, I felt better. By that point because I'd made the choice to stop it and make some changes, I felt like I began again. And I turned the whole show around."

14. ALEX COLETTI FOUGHT TO CUT "THE MAN WHO SOLD THE WORLD" FROM NIRVANA'S EPISODE.

"Maybe I shouldn't give this secret away, but I built a fake box out in front of the amp to make it look like a monitor wedge," Coletti admitted to Guitar World in 1995. "It's an acoustic guitar, but he's obviously going through an amp," he added, talking about the now iconic David Bowie cover. "I actually fought pretty hard to leave that song out [of the final edit of the show], because I felt it wasn't as genuine as the rest of the songs. But I'm a huge Bowie fan, so I couldn't fight too hard against the song."

15. DAVE GROHL WAS ALMOST UNINVITED TO NIRVANA'S SHOW.

The Nirvana drummer remembered that it was a minor miracle that the band's Unplugged performance went so well. “That show was supposed to be a disaster,” Grohl said. “We hadn’t rehearsed. We weren’t used to playing acoustic. We did a few rehearsals and they were terrible. Everyone thought it was horrible. Even the people from MTV thought it was horrible. Then we sat down and the cameras started rolling and something clicked. It became one of the band’s most memorable performances.”

As Coletti told it, Kurt Cobain was thinking of just replacing Grohl behind the kit, or maybe not using a drummer at all. “What I didn’t know was up until the day [of the Unplugged performance], there was talk of Dave [Grohl] not playing at all in the show,” the producer revealed in 2014. “Kurt wasn’t happy with the way rehearsals were going; he didn’t like the way Dave sounded playing drums with sticks."

But Grohl turned up the day of filming, and Coletti gifted him some brushes and sizzle sticks to give his drumming a softer sound. "I was afraid Dave would just roll his eyes, like, 'Oh great, the a**hole from MTV is trying to be my friend,'" the producer remembered thinking. "But instead he opened the package and said, 'Cool, I've never had brushes before. I've never even tried using them.'" The album Unplugged in New York won the Grammy for Best Alternative Music Album in 1996. It was the band's lone Grammy win.

16. YES, THEY TRIED TO GET ROBERT PLANT AND JIMMY PAGE TO PLAY "STAIRWAY TO HEAVEN."

The Led Zeppelin bandmates reunited in 1994 for the Unplugged special: No Quarter: Robert Plant and Jimmy Page Unledded, which at the time was the highest-rated episode of the series ever. MTV suggested they film it in Queens, New York. Plant suggested Morocco and Wales because it was where he wrote "Kashmir" and "Down by the Seaside," respectively. Network executives explicitly requested "Stairway" but were shot down. "I think we're in a disposable world and 'Stairway to Heaven' is one of the things that hasn't quite been thrown away yet," Plant said in 1994. "I think radio stations should be asked not to play it for 10 years, just to leave it alone for a bit so we can tell whether it's any good or not."

17. LIAM GALLAGHER HECKLED HIS BROTHER.

Oasis lead vocalist Liam Gallagher backed out of the Royal Festival Hall gig in London at the last minute due to a "sore throat," so songwriter/guitarist/brother Noel took over the vocal duties. Noel would later disclose that Liam in fact appeared an hour before showtime "sh*tfaced," and when he tried to sing it sounded "f**king dreadful." Liam watched the performance from the balcony and at times jeered the band. Noel told him to shut up. Coletti thought it was all for the best. "There's something when the songwriter himself sings it. Maybe he's a little more connected to the song."

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