Graded on a Curve:
Elvis Presley,
Having Fun with
Elvis on Stage

1974’s Having Fun with Elvis on Stage is my favorite album by the King. On this bizarre throwaway you get snippets of Presley goofing off, having fun, cracking wise, spouting complete gibberish, and generally behaving like Robin Williams in full-blown manic mode before live audiences, quite possibly while stoned out of his legendary pompadour on serious narcotics. There are no songs. No signs of the Elvis who could deliver the goods on stage long after he ceased to produce great albums. This is Elvis unleashed, free to be his absurdist self, and the results are both surpassingly strange and weirdly touching.

As you’d expect this LP of often surreal stage banter—which is universally acknowledged as Elvis’ worst—has a dizzying and disjointed feel; you go abruptly from one monologue or audience interaction to another, without segues or warning. Having Fun with Elvis on Stage was a shameless money-grubbing ploy by Elvis’ rapacious manager Colonel Tom Parker, whose intention it was to milk his cash cow for every shekel he could get. But to anyone interested in treating Elvis as psychological study, it’s a goldmine.

It helps that Elvis has an adoring audience. He was the King, for God’s sake, and if he wants to act the role of his own court jester that’s just fine with the faithful who’d stuck with him through albums like 1963’s It Happened at the World’s Fair and 1965’s Harum Scarum. To call his fans undiscriminating is a massive understatement—they’d have no doubt made a gold record of Elvis Reads Excerpts from Mein Kampf. I’m sure some of the audience’s laughter on the album was of the nervous sort; those closest to the stage must have looked into his pinwheel eyes as he went full Andy Kaufman and realized the man was either on some very strong medicine or an off-the-charts lunatic, or both.

There is no way to adequately describe Having Fun with Elvis on Stage, and that’s what makes it so great. Presley hums, barks, repeatedly clears his throat, stops songs before they’ve started to provide inane commentary, repeatedly shouts “Whaaaat!”, speaks in a high-pitched voice like a deranged duck, free associates, and starts his signature song with the words, “You ain’t nothin’ but heartburn.” He clomps around the stage like a Budweiser Clydesdale. He clomps around some more. He blows a raspberry and credits his fame to his underwear being too tight. He mumbles “I can’t get my mouth to work right.” And that’s all in the first couple of minutes.

It doesn’t bother me that plenty of people have called the LP incoherent. I’m a big fan of incoherent. The French poet Antonin Artaud was completely incoherent, and they study him in grad school. What bothers me are those who’ve gone on record saying Having Fun with Elvis on Stage isn’t funny. It’s very funny indeed, which isn’t to say it couldn’t be funnier. The frequent interactions with the ladies in the audience aren’t very funny at all.

But I have no doubt that Having Fun with Elvis on Stage is one of the flat-out strangest albums of all time. Listening to the King deliver stream of consciousness monologues strung together with inanities, surreal quips, and total nonsense is something you don’t want to miss. Sure, it was a 100 percent ripoff but it provides the listener with a peek behind the cardboard cutout of Elvis Presley the unapproachable legend. It suggests there was more to the King than the gold lamé suit and rubber leg dance move. On Having Fun with Elvis on Stage Elvis lets his freak flag fly, and I love him for it.

GRADED ON A CURVE:
A-

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