In our series “3 a.m. Albums,” we look at albums that are perfect for those nights when you cannot sleep due to sadness, loneliness, despair, or other reasons. This post in the series considers Elvis Presley’s “The Jungle Room Sessions,” a collection of previously unreleased songs from Presley’s final recording sessions that appears on the Elvis Presley Collectors Label, Follow That Dream (FTD).
If only for the circumstances surrounding Elvis Presley’s recording of The Jungle Room Sessions, the album constitutes the perfect “3 a.m. album.” The songs on The Jungle Room Sessions come from Presley’s final two studio recording sessions on February 2-7 and on October 29-30, 1976 in the late night and early morning hours. Presley was emotionally and physically drained, no longer wanting to go outside his home at Graceland even as he worked hard to fulfill his obligations for concerts booked by Colonel Tom Parker.
Because of Presley’s reluctance to leave Graceland, RCA brought a studio to him, setting up recording equipment in Presley’s famed “Jungle Room,” the den at the back of Graceland behind the kitchen. Although the room was not built for recording, Nashville engineer Brian Christian helped figure out how to adapt the room in ways such as draping the walls with heavy blankets to dampen the acoustics. Considering the obstacles, the music that came out of these sessions sounds fantastic.
These sessions produced the final two official albums of Elvis’s career: From Elvis Presley Boulevard, Memphis, Tennessee (1976) and Moody Blue (1977). The Jungle Room Sessions compiles unreleased songs from these recording sessions that according to Ernst Jorgensen’s Elvis Presley: A Life in Music, generally started after 9:00 p.m. and went all through the night.
And it is these gems and alternate takes — sometimes stripped down, sometimes featuring false starts and comments by Presley — where Presley through his beautiful voice sacrifices his own anguish to help heal yours. As his weakened body gives his lifeblood to each song, you find a close companion in the night. Allmusic describes the album as “one of the most revealing and emotionally draining releases ever issued by Elvis. Hear it and weep.”
The Jungle Room Sessions generally follows the order in which the songs were recorded, beginning with “Bitter They Are, Harder They Fall.” This recording includes some opening conversation by Elvis and two short takes before getting to the complete fifth take of the song. The missteps and chatter draw you into the sessions, so you feel you are sitting with Elvis and the band in the middle of the night in Graceland, or maybe they are with you wherever you are.
Other songs include a nice take on “The Last Farewell,” “Moody Blue,” “Danny Boy,” and “Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain.” Another highlight is “She Thinks I Still Care,” a George Jones classic that was written by written by Dickey Lee and Steve Duffy.
The collection of songs also includes alternate takes on “Hurt,” a song where in Presley’s cries of anguish Greil Marcus found an “apocalyptic attack.” Similarly, Dave Marsh wrote, “If [Presley] felt the way he sounded, the wonder isn’t that he only had a year left to live but that he managed to survive that long.” This alternate take matches that description.
Finally, the album ends with the rocking “Fire Down Below.” But you no longer hear Presley on this track, except for a brief clip of Presley singing “America” after the track ends. The instrumental recording for “Fire Down Below” was made for Presley to later add his vocals. But he died before he got the chance to do that.
“Fire Down Below” is a fitting way to end the album, with the listener missing Presley, wondering what he might have done with the music, a track that sounds more like a sunrise than a 3 a.m. song.
The Jungle Room Sessions appears on Graceland’s special collector label Follow That Dream and is available through Graceland’s official store.
What is your favorite 3 a.m. album? Leave your two cents in the comments.
(Some related Chimesfreedom posts.)