From 1969 to 1971 Presley would dominate singles charts in many countries with a string of Top 20 hits, although this was at a time when album sales were growing significantly. Album sales was not an area where Presley (at the time) competed at the same level with artists such as The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, David Bowie and The Monkees.
After a decade dominated by making films, 1970 saw Presley embark on more of a musical career beginning with the release of his single Kentucky Rain which sold over 500,000 copies in the US alone, going Gold. The same month the singer returned to the International Hotel in Las Vegas for another series of performances. Presley broke his own attendance records with his shows (which he set in 1969). The following month he released his single The Wonder of You. The single became a Top 10 Gold hit in the US and went to #1 in the UK. Presley also released his album On Stage. The album was recorded live the previous month in Las Vegas. The album went platinum (1 million copies sold) in the US and sold over 2.5 million worldwide. That month he played to over 200,000 fans during 6 shows at the Houston Astrodome. The summer of 1970 saw him release his single I’ve lost You/The Next Step is Love which won a gold record award. The song is taken form the up coming That’s The Way It Is album. Following this Presley returned to the International Hotel for more performances. This time MGM was there to film some of the shows and behind the scenes footage for a documentary called Elvis: That’s The Way It Is. He released an album later on of the same name. That fall he embarked on his first tour since 1957. It was an 8 date sold-out US tour. The following month he released the gold award single You Don't Have To Say You Love Me. That November he went back on the road for another tour and the year ended with the release of the album That’s The Way It Is, the live album In Person at the International Hotel, Las Vegas, Nevada and the single I Really Don’t Want To Know. Both albums and the single achieved a gold award.
In 1971 Presley released the album Elvis Country which became another gold award record. The album contains the previous year's hit I Really Don’t Want To Know. He went back to the International Hotel for more performances. When he finished these dates, the new single Rags To Riches was released. The single sold over 100,000 copies. That May he released the single Life, taken from the forthcoming Love Letters album. The album Love Letters sold a claimed 2 million+ copies worldwide. However, the album only sold 300,000 units in the USA according to Sony-BMG executive, Ernst Jorgensen, in his book with Peter Guralnick, Elvis Day By Day The Definitive Record of His Life and Music (Ballantine Books, 1999, ISBN 0345420896, page 295). This suggests the global sales figure is erroneous as USA sales are generally accepted as representing up to 60% of Elvis' sales total (according to Sony-BMG estimates).
The next month Presley went to Lake Tahoe for a series of performances. Once again he broke attendance records. The following month he went the International Hotel for more performances and the single I’m Leavin was released (selling a poor 275,000 copies in the US according to Guralnick & Jorgensen). While Presley's record sales were falling his performance career was consistently strong. He ended the year with a 15 date U.S. tour - all the dates being sold-out. The single Its Only Love was released. 1971 saw Presley named 'One of the Ten Outstanding Young Men of the Nation' by the United States Junior Chamber of Commerce (The Jaycees) and he won the Bing Crosby Award from the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences (the organization that also presents Grammy awards).
Elvis started 1972 off at the International in Vegas for more performances and released his new album Elvis Now which achieved a gold record. The same month the Top 40 hit single Until Its Time For You To Go was released, selling over 200,000 copies in the US alone. That March the single He Touched Me was released, followed in April by an album with the same name. The He Touched Me album achieved platinum status in the US and went on to win Elvis his second Grammy Award, (Best Inspirational Performance). On April 5, 1972 (in Buffalo, New York) Elvis embarked on a 15 date US tour ending on April 18, 1972 in San Antonio, Texas. MGM filmed some of the shows for the film Elvis On Tour, which won a Golden Globe Award for Best Documentary of 1972. The day before the tour began Elvis released the single American Trilogy. The next month he began a 14 date US tour which started with 4 consecutive sold out shows at Madison Square Gardens in New York - the first artist ever to achieve this. A live album was recorded on June 10 and was rush released on June 18. The album As Recorded Live At Madison Square Garden became a triple-platinum seller in the US and sold over 5 million copies worldwide. After the tour, Presley returned to Lake Tahoe for more performances and, on August 1, 1972, released the single Burning Love / "It's A Matter Of Time". The single achieved platinum status in the US and went to #2 on the charts. It would be his last top 10 hit. In November he began another sold-out tour and released the single Separate Ways, which earned him another gold record.
In 1973 Presley began the year with two sold-out January shows in Hawaii. The second show was broadcast live around the world. Known as the "Aloha from Hawaii" concert, it was the first of its kind to be broadcast worldwide via satellite and was seen by at least one billion viewers worldwide - a quarter of 1973's world population. The same month Presley was back in Vegas for more performances. In February he released the album Aloha from Hawaii via Satellite. The album went to #1 and spent 52 weeks on the charts. The album went 5x platinum in the U.S. In March the single Steamroller Blues (with B-Side song Fool) was released and it became a Top 40 hit. The following month Elvis was back on a 12 date US tour. In May the singer was back in Lake Tahoe for more performances. The next month Presley was on the road again with a 17-date sold-out US tour. During the tour the album Elvis was released. The album sold over 1.5 million copies worldwide. The year finished with him going back to Vegas for more performances and the releases of the single Raised on Rock and the album of the same name. Raised on Rock sold another 1.5 million copies worldwide.
However, after his divorce in 1973 Presley became increasingly isolated, overweight, and was battling an addiction to prescription drugs which took a heavy toll on his appearance, health, and performances. According to Anna Paterson, "binge eating led him to gain large amounts of weight. It wasn't just the quantity of food that he was eating which caused the problems. Elvis frequently consumed very high fat foods. His favourite meal was reportedly peanut butter and banana sandwiches grilled in butter. Another famous meal he enjoyed was 'Fool's Gold Loaf'. This was a hollowed out white loaf, drenched in butter and then stuffed with peanut butter, jam and bacon." This harmful behavior was "coupled with a heavy prescription drug problem."
Regardless of such problems, the star continued performing concerts. In 1974, Presley went to Vegas for more performances with packed houses. The new single I've Got A Thing About You Baby was released on January 11. On March 20 the album Good Times was released, despite the fact it was the third new album released in just 8 months. He embarked on a 25-date sold-out U.S. tour. In May the singer was back playing a 5-date tour and the single If You Talk in Your Sleep / Help Me was released on May 10. The same month he went back to Vegas for more performances. The next month saw another massive sold-out U.S. tour. The album Recorded Live on Stage in Memphis was recorded on March 20 and released on July 7 and achieved gold status. When the tour ended Presley went back to Lake Tahoe for more shows and followed this with another successful U.S. tour. The single Promised Land was released during the tour, on September 27. The song becomes a Top 20 hit and sold well. The year ended with him returning to Lake Tahoe for more performances."
1975 started with the album Promised Land being released on his 40th birthday. It sold well over 1 million copies worldwide. The Top 20 hit My Boy was released. In March Presley went to Vegas for more performances. The next month he set out on another successful tour and the single T-R-O-U-B-L-E was released. The single was taken from the album Today which was released in May of 1975. He spends May, June and July on tour. In August, he was back in Vegas for more performances. In October, the single Bringing It Back was released. The year ended with Elvis playing more shows in Vegas and a massive sold-out concert in Michigan where he played to over 62,000 fans. His live recording of "How Great Thou Art" from the album recorded at one of his Memphis concerts in 1974 won the Grammy for 'Best Inspirational Performance'. This was his third and final Grammy won out of fourteen nominations.
However, by '74 and '75 Presley was exceedingly overweight. Although he would at times go on starvation diets, he would immediately go on binges and gain all the weight back. It was obvious to those around him "that he no longer had the motivation to loose his extra poundage. Likewise, as he became self-conscious of his appearance, his self-confidence before the audience declined. Headlines such as 'Elvis Battles Middle Age' and 'Time Makes Listless Machine of Elvis' were not uncommon. In the Suracuse Post Standard, Dale Rice wrote that 'Elvis was fat, and musically his performances were mediocre."
After taking a break from releasing records and touring, he returned on March 12, 1976 with his new single Hurt/ "For The Heart" Both songs were featured on an upcoming album. He also went back on tour for March and April playing to sell-out crowds all across the U.S. In May he was back in Lake Tahoe for more performances and the album From Elvis Presley Boulevard, Memphis, Tennessee was released. The album went 'gold' in the U.S. From the end of May till November he tour extensively across the U.S. to sold-out shows. In December he returned to Vegas for more shows and the single Moody Blue was released. The month ended with another 5-date tour.
Presley took a break for the month of January, 1977 but began touring again in February. He spent the rest of the year till his death on tour and Billboard Magazine rated him the year’s top grossing live act. However, by the beginning of 1977, "Elvis Presley had become a grotesque caricature of his sleek, energetic former self. Hugely overweight, his mind dulled by the pharmacopoeia he daily ingested, he was barely able to pull himself through his abbreviated concerts." When he was in Alexandria, Louisiana, a local journalist complained that the star was on stage for less than an hour and "was impossible to understand." In Baton Rouge, Presley didn’t go on at all. He was unable to get out of his hotel bed, and his manager Parker cancelled the rest of the tour.
On April 21 the year’s third tour began, a Midwestern swing. The reviews "ranged from concern for his health to perplexity over how little he seemed to care," writes Peter Guralnick. According to a Detroit journalist, Elvis "stunk the joint out" in that city. Fans, too, Guralnick relates, "were becoming increasingly voluble about their disappointment, but it all seemed to go right past Elvis, whose world was now confined almost entirely to his room and his [spiritualism] books." In Knoxville, Tennessee, on May 20, "there was no longer any pretense of keeping up appearances," Guralnick writes. "The idea was simply to get Elvis out onstage and keep him upright for the hour he was scheduled to perform." So it went for the rest of that spring, with Presley stumbling and lurching through show after show.
Notwithstanding, shows on June 19, in Omaha, Nebraska & 21 (in Rapid City, South Dakota) were recorded by RCA for an upcoming live album and videotaped for an upcoming CBS-TV television special: “Elvis In Concert’’. The live album Elvis In Concert, which was recorded during the CBS special, eventually sold 3 million copies in the US alone, but wasn't released until October 3, 1977. In June the single Way Down was released. The single became a platinum seller in the US and went to #1 in the UK. The following month the album Moody Blue was released. It was the last album Presley released whilst he was alive. It sold well, going 'gold' in his lifetime but after his untimely death the album sold another 1.5 million copies in the US and 14 million worldwide.
Rick Stanley recalls that Presley was almost totally bedridden during the days of his last year. "We'd fly into a city and he'd go right into bed as soon as we got there. We'd have to get him up to do the show." During his last tour in 1977, "he performed poorly". When he did his show in Rapid City, "he was so nervous on stage that he could hardly talk. He was undoubtedly painfully aware of how he looked, and he knew that in his condition, he could not perform any significant movement. He looked, moved, and gestured like an overweight old man with crippling arthritis. Perspiration poured from him, enough for a river." According to Albert Goldman, Elvis was 225 pounds over weight and during his performances "he had to wear a corset on stage. They didn't call it a corset, they called it a brace. It was a surgical looking garment that gathers the flesh in front and secures it from behind with a web of laces."
Following the June 21, 1977 show in Rapid City, he performed in Sioux Falls, South Dakota on June 22. Then followed concerts in Des Moines, Iowa on June 23, Madison, Wisconsin on June 24 and Cincinnati, Ohio on June 25. On June 26, 1977, he performed in Indianapolis, Indiana to end the tour. He returned to Graceland for a two month vacation. There he rarely left his bedroom. On August 17, 1977 he was scheduled to begin another tour in Portland, Maine.
Presley recorded a number of country hits in his final years. Way Down was languishing in the American Country Music chart shortly before his death in 1977, and reached number one the week after his death. It also topped the UK pop charts at the same time.
Between 1970 and 1977 Presley gave 1,096 sold-out performances in Las Vegas and on tour. He was the first artist to have four shows in a row sold to capacity crowds at New York's Madison Square Garden, on June 9-11, 1972.
From 1971 to his death in 1977 Presley employed the Stamps Quartet, a gospel group, for his backup vocals. He recorded several gospel albums, earning three Grammy Awards for his gospel music. In his later years his live stage performances almost always included a rendition of How Great Thou Art, the 19th century gospel song made famous by George Beverly Shea. Although some critics say that the singer travestied, commercialized and soft-soaped gospel "to the point where it became nauseating.", twenty-four years after his death, the Gospel Music Association inducted him into its Gospel Music Hall of Fame (2001).
Presley made his last live concert appearance in Indianapolis at the Market Square Arena on June 26, 1977. The Indianapolis Star wrote: "The big question was, had he lost weight? His last concert here, nearly 2 years ago, found Elvis overweight, sick and prone to give a lethargic performance. As the lights in the Arena was turned down after intermission, you could feel a silent plea rippling through the audience: Please, Elvis, don't be fat. And then he appeared, in a gold and white jumpsuit and white boots, bounding onstage with energy that was a relief to everyone. At 42, Elvis is still carrying around some excess baggage on his mid-section, but it didn't stop him from giving a performance in true Presley style."