Colonel Tom Parker, Elvis Presley’s friend/assistant/manager/svengali/whatever, was trying to figure out a way to release an Elvis album to which RCA, Elvis’ usual recording label, would own no rights. The problem was, contracts being what they are, RCA had exclusive rights to music released by Elvis. At some point he came up with a solution—release an “Elvis album” with no music! In 1974 Parker’s Box Car Records released the only LP it would ever release, an all-banter album with no songs at all called Having Fun with Elvis on Stage. And Parker owned the rights outright.
The album had two tracks, “Side A” (18:06) and “Side B” (19:00). Both sides consisted of a long succession of short, context-free snippets of Elvis talking on stage, introducing the next song and so forth. Since Elvis is seguing from this or that song, you get a lot of truncated audience clapping noises. If you are supposing that there is some rhyme or reason to the way the clips were put together, well then, you’ve overestimated the ingenuity of Col. Parker. Later RCA would release it as well; there is a CD release of it, billed as a “Special Extended Edition”—only who on earth would want this thing to be longer?
Understandably, Having Fun with Elvis on Stage has come in for its share of abuse. It’s made a lot of “worst records of all time” lists, sometimes even making the top slot. The generally gentle Allmusic.com gave it one star (there really was no other option) and wrote of it, “Some have called Having Fun With Elvis on Stage thoroughly unlistenable, but actually it’s worse than that; hearing it is like witnessing an auto wreck that somehow plowed into a carnival freak show, leaving onlookers at once too horrified and too baffled to turn away.” Ouch. And yet, that’s not unfair.
Some have compared Having Fun with Elvis on Stage to Lou Reed’s Metal Machine Music, but it’s nothing like that. You know the expression, “I’d pay to see that person read the telephone book?” Having Fun with Elvis on Stage is the rock music equivalent of that. Elvis was so immensely popular that people bought even this. It reached #130 on the Billboard charts and, almost incredibly, made it to #9 on Billboard’s Country Albums chart. The album had the (small) disclaimer on the cover “A Talking Album Only” but a good number of people didn’t notice, didn’t care, or were so enamored of Elvis that they enjoyed it anyway. Personally I think when people got home and put it on, they were pissed.
Here’s Side A, in full. I have to say, I’ll take 45 minutes of Paul Stanley’s banter any day.