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Mar 05

ELVIS PRESLEY – “Crying In The Chapel”

Popular27 comments • 2,380 views

#197, 19th June 1965

A curious fake-out – this is not a song about grief, so why stress the “crying”? And who sees Elvis crying there? The presence of a “you” changes the song from a sermon into a conversation, a private attempt at conversion. In other words a seduction, which is where Elvis (and his crying) generally does the business. But not this time: Presley sounds half hesitant, half smarmy. Being in the chapel means being on his best behaviour, and his exaggerated delicacy is invasive somehow. Maybe that’s the unbeliever in me squirming – “Crying In The Chapel” has an intensity and directness which I’ll admit to finding unnerving. Most Christian hits since find a compromise between piety and pop, which makes it easy for me to just pick the second and brush off my lack of the first. Elvis won’t let me do that and I resent him for it.

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Comments

  1. 1
    Marcello on 2 Mar 2005 #

    Odd how folk seem to have problems with “Crying In The Chapel” (ahem, “tears of joy”) but not with A Love Supreme. I’m genuinely intrigued as to why that is. Maybe because Coltrane never suggests a subtext of seduction?

    (btw, “CITC” was actually recorded for an Elvis gospel album – His Hand In Mine – back in 1960, so you could look at it as the straight man to “Are You Lonesome Tonight”‘s crying clown)

  2. 2
    Tom on 2 Mar 2005 #

    Coltrane sounds liberated by faith whereas Elvis sounds tamed? (On these lines, I have no problems at all with Greenbaum’s “Spirit In The Sky”)

    I think CITC is quite effective though, which is why I react against it.

    Elvis was always a god-fearing guy, wasn’t he? There wasn’t an actual conversion moment as with Cliff R?

  3. 3
    Marcello on 2 Mar 2005 #

    Indeed there was no Billy Graham overnight conversion for Elvis.

    If you ever wonder why all Cliff greatest hits compilations miss out everything between ’68-’76 (apart from the Eurovision stuff) there’s a good reason why – the hits he had in that period were like a Mary Whitehouse/Festival of Light parallel chart career.

  4. 4
    wwolfe on 2 Mar 2005 #

    I always took this song as Elvis’s expression of gratitude for achieving the American Dream – that is, the version dreamed by a dirt poor boy born in a shack in Tupelo: fame, wealth, a solid gold Cadillac, and a mansion on the hill. The delicacy in his singing I hear as a kind of wonder at having secured so much bounty at such a young age after such humble beginnings.

    Many of Elvis’s best recordings after this can be taken as his reconsideration of this same Dream: “I Need Somebody,” “Suspicious Minds,” “Long Black Limousine,” to name a few. What he approached as a supplicant in “Crying in the Chapel,” he came to see as a trap – an alluring one, but a trap, nonetheless. Its position at the start of what I hear as a series of records about the same theme lends “Chapel” a degree of interest it might not otherwise hold.

  5. 5
    Robin on 2 Mar 2005 #

    Oh God, yes Marcello … about fifteen years ago I remember laughing out loud in Gravesend town centre (a dangerous experience at the best of times) after discovering that in 1972 Cliff had scored a number 35 smash with a song called, ahem, “Jesus”. Its B-side, I discovered a decade on, was called “Good On The Sally Army”. Jesus Christ (literally).

    Cliff was actually such a mate of the nation’s self-appointed religious fundamentalist censor that, when the Appeal Court found in favour of Channel 4 after Whitehouse had taken them to court for showing the film version of “Scum” (which of course was originally banned by the BBC), he is generally believed to have paid her legal costs. Enough, already!

  6. 6
    Mark Gamon on 3 Mar 2005 #

    Your correspondant hold a copy of Coltrane’s A Love Supreme in one hand and a copy of Elvis’s Crying in the Chapel in the other. The expression on his face is one of utter bewilderment.

    Releasing a heavy sigh, he tosses the Elvis where it belongs – in the cheese bin – and places A Love Supreme in the CD tray.

    There follows 33 minutes of harmnonically awe-inspiring jazz. Arguably the most sophisticated music of the 20th century.

    Am I missing something here, guys?

  7. 7
    p^nk s on 3 Mar 2005 #

    the overlap between pop cheese and the outer reaches of jazz is marcello’s specialist topics mark!!

    (i think a love supreme is v.boring but i am a notoriously shallow controversialist)

  8. 8
    Ian on 3 Mar 2005 #

    _Very_ arguably the most sophisticated music of the 20th Century.

    I mean, it’s good, but really…

  9. 9
    Anonymous on 3 Mar 2005 #

    “Crying in the Chapel” seduces by confusing the difference between religious sentiment and the sentimentality of religiosity.

    The Seekers, while ostensibly presenting a love song in “Another You,” actually sound more genuinely devout.

    Doctor Mod

  10. 10
    Alan Connor on 4 Mar 2005 #

    I came in here to talk about “The Creator Has A Master Plan” and the C90 of devotional music I made as part of a themed series for my brother’s birthday, but that ground is covered.

    Talking of covered

  11. 11
    Frank Kogan on 4 Mar 2005 #

    One of my frequent oracular pronouncements of the form “You cannot understand the Sixties unless…” goes You cannot understand the Sixties unless you realize that Elvis did not exist in the Sixties. He existed in the Fifties, Seventies, Eighties, and Nineties, and he exists in the Now (exists = is part of the popular consciousness). Well, perhaps I’ll give Elvis a slight presence in the early Sixties for his appearance in strange bio-anthropological documentaries about experimental attempts to create centaurs out of crustaceans, the strange species “teenager” being a missing link and anyway on the way out [along w/ centaurs] in favor of jocks and greasers and freaks). In any event, Elvis simply did not exist in the Sixties, except as someone who had made what were now condescendingly referred to as “Oldies But Goodies” and got airplay maybe once every six months, as an oddity, like old Griffith films. When people in the Sixties were faced with a dilemma, a choice, a puzzle, they did not ask themselves “What would Elvis have done?” Elvis was not a reference point, a touchstone, or an icon of The Contemporary.

    The problem with my thesis (which is nonetheless correct, despite all counterevidence) is that there is the incontrovertible fact that Elvis continued to score hits in the Sixties. Who listened to them? Where were they played? Now, conventional wisdom is that you can be dead and have hit records, but you can’t be a popular nonentity, a relic, and have hit records, unless those records are remixes, duets, or disco novelties.

    So, explain the Elvis anomaly.

  12. 12
    wwolfe on 4 Mar 2005 #

    Re: The Elvis Anomaly.

    (Some bright group of po-mo boys needs to grab that name for their art band.)

    I agree with Frank Kogan: Elvis didn’t exist in America in “The Sixties.” This is why the Comeback Special in ’68 was such a shock: How could this guy be singing live on our TVs when he’d been dead for years?

    So how could he have lots of hits in The Sixties? (A trivia question that no one I’ve asked ever gets right: The Beatles were the biggest singles act in America in the ’60s; who was second? Answer: Elvis.)

    He did it by selling to those people who never lived in what we mean when we say “The Sixties.” Look at the crowd in the “black leather” scene in the Comeback Special: nearly all are women in bouffant hairdos, looking like they’d time traveled in from the Eisenhower administration. For many, many people like the women in this crowd, whether they were from the Deep South or Midwestern small towns or blue collar urban industrial centers, the big cultural markers of the Sixties, from the Beatles on Ed Sullivan through Swinging London and on to Woodstock, took place in an alternate universe – one in which they had no desire to live. As it turns out, this group had a lot more members than the group who lived in that alternate Sixties universe, as is evidenced by the fact that Nixon and Reagan and Dubya each were elected to two terms as President, while Sixties icon Tom Hayden never got any further than the California state legislature.

  13. 13
    Mark Gamon on 4 Mar 2005 #

    Ian – that’s why I said ‘arguably’ and not ‘categorically’. That would have opened up a can of subjective worms we’d never escape from…

  14. 14
    Brian C on 4 Mar 2005 #

    I see a lot of similarities between : King of The Road ” & ” Crying in the Chapel” surfacing in the top ten at this time in the sixties.

    We were still breaking away from the 50’s & for many they weren’t over.

    We’d be big -headed to think that it was only Beatle fans and kings of the new consciousness that were buying or making records.

    Up until the Beatles – America ruled the airwaves.

  15. 15
    M on 5 Mar 2005 #

    Tom, you should hear the Orioles’ original of this, I’m curious what you’d think of it. (I love it, it’s gorgeous. Don’t know the EP version very well and have no comment on it either way.)

  16. 16
    Anonymous on 5 Mar 2005 #

    “We were still breaking away from the 50’s & for many they weren’t over.”

    Right said, Brian. In this country (i.e., the US) there are still places where the sixties never happened and the seventies never stopped although it’s really still the fifties.

    I know. I live in one of those places.

    I recall reading in Thomas Hite’s book Populux (and here I’m paraphrasing because the book is in my office and I don’t have it with me at home) something to the effect that Elvis was serious, macho, and American, whereas the Beatles were ironic, cute, and British. There are always those who find irony much too much to bear. They never got the point of the Beatles, and thus this “sincere” and “serious” song (nevermind that these qualities were probably illusionary) appealed to them.

    Doctor Mod

  17. 17
    Mark Gamon on 6 Mar 2005 #

    Your correspondant entirely agrees with Frank. The Elvis of the 60s was a primitive form of hologram, secretly engineered under the cover of a spell in the Armed Forces. Ergo, he did not exist. And continued not to exist in the 70s.

    Earlier – in fact shortly after King Creole came out, Col. Tom Parker had come to the mistaken opinion that the real Elvis was an unruly threat to God, man, and apple pie – and had him hidden away in a dark cave somewhere in Monument Valley, where he could keep an eye on him while he was making all those two dimensional movies with the hologram.

    The real Elvis was only seen once after that, when his homies in the band managed to smuggle him out of the cave during the filming of the 68 Las Vegas special. Although most of the show was performed by the hologram, he was briefly lured off the set by James Burton (using a cheeseburger as bait) and locked in the dressing room. The real Elvis took his place and the rest is history: 20 minutes of strictly acoustic rock and roll that neatly defined what the hell all the fuss was about back in Sam Philips’ studio in Memphis all those years before.

    Horrified by this un-American spectacle, Col. Tom promptly packed the real Elvis back off to the cave and he was never heard from again. Meanwhile the hologram was installed in a tasteless Southern mansion and fed a diet of cheeseburgers while a team of stylists worked round the clock to create the ugliest white suit in the history of fashion…

  18. 18
    Alan Connor on 15 Mar 2005 #

    Resurrection Watch: American Graffiti — though that was the Sonny Till version. Plus those mentioned above.

  19. 19
    wichita lineman on 1 Sep 2008 #

    That Elvis was only outsold by the Beatles in the 60s shouldn’t be a great surprise. For the first third of the decade he was at his commercial peak, unstoppable, even though his output varied from Cosmic American Music (His Latest Flame, Little Sister, Mess Of Blues, Girl Of My Best Friend, She’s Not You) to Neapolitan blousiness (It’s Now Or Never, Surrender), to thin-aired echoes of his 50s pomp (Stuck On You, Good Luck Charm).

    It was only with the universally loathed Do The Clam in early ’65, which the strongest diehard couldn’t make a stand for, that his star really dimmed. And then there was a total blackout as the singles (Puppet On A String, The Love Machine, Frankie And Johnny) became as uniformally cheap and tinny as UB40’s in the 90s.

    Do The Clam was released only a year after the Beatles’ Ed Sullivan-aided assault on the King’s palace. His descent was rapid and complete.

    As for Crying In The Chapel, it was telling that virtually all of Elvis’s best singles from this period were old album tracks (Such A Night) or unissued recordings (Ain’t That Loving You Baby) reheated to give some semblance of quality to his career. How did Elvis feel about this? Look at the cover of the Tickle Me soundtrack.

    The stinkers from this period were possibly the lowest lows of any major artist’s catalogue – worse even than Dylan’s Self Portrait or Abba’s Pick A Bale Of Cotton – and are covered thoroughly on the Elvis’s Greatest Shit bootleg. But there are luminous, rare moments where you realise the non-hologram Elvis, the real singer, was still alive.

    RCA’s 90s re-issues have made them easier to obtain but in the sixties they were deeply underground as they didn’t fit the Colonel’s cornball masterplan: It Hurts Me (flip of the godawful Kissin’ Cousins), Please Don’t Stop Lovin’ Me (quietly intense country-soul flip of Frankie And Johnny), the filthy Down In The Alley, and ghostly Tomorrow Is A Long Time (both ’66 recordings wasted as film soundtrack ‘bonus tracks’). If you’re at all curious, seek them out.

  20. 20
    DJ Punctum on 1 Sep 2008 #

    “Tomorrow Is A Long Time” – still I think the only recorded example of Elvis singing Dylan.

  21. 21
    vinylscot on 1 Sep 2008 #

    Marcello, there was also a version of “Blowin’ In The Wind”, which appears on a few compilations, including the “Platinum” 4CD set.

  22. 22
    crag on 1 Sep 2008 #

    re:Elv sings Zim- theres also a jolly version of Dont Think Twice out there and a remarkable unaccompanined vocal rendition of I shall Be Released- seemingly busked on the spot, possibly recorded accidently and under a minute long, nevertheless its still a stunning recording well worth digging out…

  23. 23
    wichita lineman on 2 Sep 2008 #

    Blowin’ In The Wind sounds like an Alan Lomax field recording, with Elvis singing an odd harmony to a (non-existent) top line. Platinum is maybe the best Elvis career overview – a great version of The Sound Of Your Cry, too, which I’d never really rated before even though I loved the title.

    Crag, where can we hear I Shall Be Released? It does indeed sound stunning.

    Tom, I’m a confirmed Humanist, and almost violently anti-religion, but you want to hear Elvis’s 1968 45 of You’ll Never Walk Alone: it conveys his beliefs without mentioning JC, or crosses, or pews, with a stomach-clenching intensity that I never thought the song could inspire. It also destroys Roy Hamilton’s much-feted version.

  24. 24
    crag on 2 Sep 2008 #

    WL, you can find Elvis’ version of I shall be released on the “Walk A Mile in My Shoes Essential 70s” box set-an essential purchase indeed IMO.
    You can also hear it on Youtube at http://uk.youtube.com/watch?v=v_IE8vrEf08 Hope u enjoy it…

  25. 25
    Lena on 27 Jul 2011 #

    Fun, fun and, um, fun: http://musicsoundsbetterwithtwo.blogspot.com/2011/07/everly-brothers-price-of-love.html Thanks for reading, everyone!

  26. 26
    hectorthebat on 12 Apr 2014 #

    Critic watch:

    Dave Marsh & Kevin Stein (USA) – The 40 Best of the Top 40 Singles by Year (1981) 26
    Greil Marcus (USA) – STRANDED: “Treasure Island” Singles (1979)
    Rolling Stone (France) – The 100 Best Singles of the Last 25 Years (1988) 5

  27. 27
    lonepilgrim on 25 Jul 2015 #

    sacred music can take many forms but this sounds like a type of sedation. There’s little sense of the joy that Elvis talks about, more like anaesthesia

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