Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Strangers No More

I heard a strange and wonderful thing the other day: An Elvis Presley song used in a Coke commercial, and not just one of the old usual suspects like "Heartbreak Hotel" or "Teddy Bear" but a nonhit, "Stranger in the Crowd," from the 1970 album That's the Way It Is. It wasn't Elvis' version, but it sure sounded good. "Stranger in the Crowd" was written by Winfield Scott, who had also written, along with Bumps Blackwell, earlier Presley hits "Return to Sender" and "(You're the) Devil in Disguise," as well as a never-used title track to Roustabout.

That's the Way It Is
is my favorite Elvis album, accompanying a concert film of the same name, although most of it was cut in a Nashville studio. For much of Elvis' career, Colonel Parker demanded that writers submit songs to Elvis and give his management team a cut of the publishing, which meant that Presley rarely recorded covers that other people had already done. By 1970, for reasons I don't recall, Elvis was at liberty to do things like B.J.. Thomas' "I Just Can't Help Believin'" or George Harrison's "Something," and no matter who had done these songs originally, Elvis sang them better, because he was the best.

This period of Elvis' career is generally remembered for treacly hits like "Don't Cry Daddy" and the Mac Davis-penned "In the Ghetto," but the non-cover parts of That's the Way It Is is packed with what I think of as Kristofferson-type songs, full of adult emotion and quotidian detail. Love is negotiated around unpaid bills and babies crying at six a.m., and Elvis handles this territory marvelously. It's a wonderfully grown-up collection.

Truth be told, "Stranger in the Crowd" is one of the weaker songs on the album, but it's still real good:

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