One of the more remarkable facets about the afterlife 'career' of Elvis Presley has been the never ending success of his well marketed compilation albums and not simply those packages which contained his greatest hits. The current hit CD Love, Elvis is the fourth album of his ballads since his death to reach the UK Top Ten, and other releases based on his gospel and Christmas songs have also scored heavily on the charts. Less successful have been those releases which focused on his rock n' roll records or upon his live performances. Not for the first time some Elvis fans are beginning to worry that an endless recycling of his most famous songs-not forgetting the re-release of his old number one singles in the UK-will lead people, particularly perhaps young people, to think that Elvis has made nothing else worth listening to and so never discover the true scope and depth of his unique musical legacy.
The first thing to be said is that whether it be Elvis or Robbie Williams, the Beatles, or whoever a greatest hit album will always outsell any other compilation release that group or artist's record company can come up with.
The second thing is that in Elvis' case we now have in place, through his back catalogue, a beefed up remastered set of superb albums from throughout his career, although as ever the number of releases made available to punters on the shelves varies wildly from store to store for no apparent reason. I feel that once folk sample the likes of Elvis is Back or Elvis Country then they will be well and truly hooked for life. But however many times these sets are relaunched BMG are not going to spend money heavily promoting them because they are never going to be more than steady sellers. I am sure BMG have learned a lesson or two from the failure of the last Beatles project. Ah you don't hear much about that one in the sycophantic UK press do you? The project concerned the re-release of the album 'Let it be' stripped of the oft criticised over dubs originally carried out by Phil Spector and placed on the market with massive promotion in the autumn of 2003. So certain were EMI of its success that they pressed 4 million copies -and rumour has it that they shifted less than 200,000. So folks if we want to entice the punters to buy non hit albums that chart then further compilation albums are the only game in town. But that does not mean BMG cannot afford to be a little more adventurous-. read on -
One of the best moves made by BMG when they acquired RCA was to quietly remove the bulk of the sixties film soundtracks from record stores. Now lets face it for although 'GI Blues' certainly had its moments, and 'Blue Hawaii' was a delightful and underrated collection of pastiche Hawaiian songs most of the rest were filled with material clearly written by a bunch of incompetent hacks, often recorded by Elvis or so it seemed down the Jungle Room telephone in that curious rather bored warbling baritone he reserved for such occasions. However almost every film soundtrack Elvis recorded contained at least one gem. A pearl amongst the swine. A song which could arouse Elvis from his slumbers and fire his natural enthusiasm and deep love of music. It is my belief that an album containing the following songs taken from each of his 33 films and advertised on TV etc could hit the Top Ten big time. It would sell to both committed fans like the author and to the general public at large. What is more with a little judicious plugging I think it would become a perennial seller. The songs I would suggest for such a release are:
Song - Film & Year Of Release
Because of the need to write songs to fit the script of a Civil war movie only the famous title song is at all suitable. Anyway one or two hits-however repetitive - always help to sell any album.
Party (Loving You 1957)
Party is a wonderful example of the joyous nature of Elvis' fifties music. It is a track that always seems to bring a smile to the face of anyone who happens to be in earshot. It was also a big hit in the UK back in 1957 yet it has not been over cooked through continual release via the greatest hits packages.
Baby I don't Care (Jailhouse Rock 1958)
What a pity this classic rocker was not released as a second single from the film. It is so darned good I can't possibly leave it out of my selection.
You could argue all night about which track is the best in this film. I have chosen this great gutter blues number because in my view it tends to be a little eclipsed by the likes of 'Trouble' and deserves to be better known.
Doing the Best I Can (GI Blues 1960)
Presley sings this lilting but so sad love song with such aching sincerity and tenderness that he leaves the listener spellbound. Only the Japanese had the sense to put it out on a single.
Lonely Man (acoustic version) (Wild in the Country 1960)
To me the original version has to bow to this recently released alternative take which features just Elvis with his guitar. Maybe the Jordanaires were needed back then given the musical tastes of the moment but when Elvis sings so effectively and movingly as this why bother with anyone else?
Summer Kisses Winter Tears (Flaming Star 1961)
Completes a trio of beautiful early sixties ballads sung by the man with breathtaking vocal purity.
Well a change of pace is needed and this pleasant bouncy little number sung with wit and verve fits the bill perfectly. I really do love that sax at the end.
I'm not the Marrying Kind (Follow that Dream 1962)
Surprised? This song has always been a favourite radio pick with mainstream DJ's. It is fun and well sung. I suspect that many fans would opt for 'Angel' but the constant intervention of that heavenly voice just grates on my nerves. I wish Elvis had taken his derringer out of his boot and shot the culprit.
King of the Whole Wide World (Kid Galahad 1962)
Elvis lavished 35 takes on this sparkling rocker and came up with a potential hit single which to my way of thinking should have been squeezed in between 'Good Luck Charm' and 'She's Not You'. Could have helped the film do better at the box office than it did.
Where do you come from? (Girls! Girls! Girls! 1962)
One of those gentle yet highly personal performances that Elvis gave during this period to the series of beautifully constructed songs written by Don Robertson. The only surprise being that the song found its way onto a film soundtrack recording-its way too good! Why Elvis did not revert back to Robertson when coming up short of material later on in his career remains a mystery.
I'm falling in Love Tonight (It Happened at the World's Fair 1963)
The problem with this album is the feeble instrumental backing more suited to a children's movie like 'Mary Poppins' than for anything else which is a pity, because the songs were not that bad, and to my ears Elvis sounded less bored than on the soundtrack in his previous film. My chosen track rises above a rather too prominent roller rink organ and brings forth that melodious cow like quality so redolent of Elvis' voice at the time.
I Think I'm Going To Like It Here (Fun In Acapulco 1963)
A cheerful up beat tune that swings along nicely. There are other contenders-this is a better album than it is given credit for-but I give this the edge because Elvis sounds so at ease and in command. The arrangement is well crafted for a movie song.
Viva Las Vegas (Viva Las Vegas 1964)
I considered 'I Need Somebody To Lean On' because of the way it brilliantly creates the mood and atmosphere of the small hours in the morning - but I did not go for it. Then I thought about 'C'mon Everybody' which should have been the single from this film because it was so commercial and fitted with the times - but I did not go for it. My eventual choice won hands down simply because it just has too much class to be left out.
Tender Feeling (Kissin' Cousins 1964)
It was at this point that Parker's greed got the better of his common sense and the quality of the movie scripts and the songs shoehorned into them began to fall away as the writers struggled to meet demand. In fact this track-which was based on the old traditional 'Shenandoah', is way out on its own-it is just so damn pretty. The backing is simply gorgeous with a lovely celeste motif.
Little Egypt (Roustabout 1964)
This cheeky Leiber-Stoller rocker is the easy choice here with Elvis sounding as if he was enjoying himself -more than can be deduced from listening to the rest of this soundtrack album. How it got to number one in the US charts beats me.
Do Not Disturb (Girl Happy 1965)
Elvis in romantic overdrive turns a very ordinary film song into something special. I know 'Puppet on a String' went gold in the States but it did nothing for me. This track however, oozes a seductive charm especially when the singer starts humming the tune as it gradually fades out.
For budgetary reasons all the tracks here were culled from Presley's studio sessions between 1960 and 1963 and as such can fairly claim to be his best sixties soundtrack! I chose this rousing song -which was originally intended to be recorded in 1958 for 'King Creole' - partly because a true belter is needed at this point.
Animal Instinct (Harem Scarum 1965)
Not many Australian fans will be aware and may be suitably amazed to hear that this song is a club favourite. Certainly when I heard that this was the case I revisited the least played album in my Elvis collection and reacquainted myself with this track. Flirtatious flute, a bottomless bass riff and the drummer's fancy fills help Elvis to turn this bizarre number into just about the most hidden gem in the entire Presley canon. Great fun.
Please don't Stop Loving Me (Frankie and Johnny 1966)
I shall always remember that a sleeve note on this album said that this song and the title track which were twined for the single were 'specially recorded' for records' - I often wondered if that implied that the others weren't-since the sound quality was so appalling. Elvis sang this number in a notably soulful fashion and his brilliant performance is so superior to his out of key and rather heavy efforts elsewhere on this soundtrack that it is hard to grasp that it is in fact the same singer. I honestly thought Elvis was losing his voice when I heard this album. Now we know that he stormed out of the session all is explained. Parker's indifference to this outburst simply remedied him unfit to continue as Elvis' manager.
Sand Castles (Paradise Hawaiian Style 1966)
Not as easy a choice as some might think. For evidence of just how much RCA had collectively lost the plot Presley's most commercial film song in years- 'This is my Heaven' - was never released as a single. However 'Sand Castles' is my choice because of its clever lyrics, perfect yes perfect accompaniment and classic reading from the King.
Never Say Yes (Spinout 1966)
A fun track is needed at this point and although this badly recorded album has not stood the test of time fans welcomed it in 1966 as a distinct improvement on previous efforts, partly because of the inclusion of some fairly interesting rock n'roll. This happy go lucky track, whilst hardly classifiable as a hidden gem, does I think remind listeners of the feel good factor ever present in all of Elvis' sixties musicals. It is only fair to remind ourselves that whatever their many faults these films made people happy and still do. That has to be better than popping a ton of Prozac. The combination of Elvis, racing cars and girls proved irresistible at the box office on three separate occasions.
I'll Take Love (Easy Come, Easy Go 1967)
I must firstly admit that there are no gems in this lot - at least Harem Scarum had a certain kitsch appeal but to my ear this bunch represent the nadir of Elvis' fortunes in Hollywood. It is the point at which even his management realised that his career had hit rock bottom and the changes that followed bear this out. I go for this one only under pressure to include a song from every film. 'I'll Take Love' is inoffensive -that's the best I can say.
Could I Fall in Love (Double Trouble 1967)
Many fans would opt for 'City by Night' but it is recorded with too much edge to Elvis' voice whereas on this beguiling love song the singer flows along with its natural strength. The dull ending by the Jordanaires is a pity- yet this track can hold up its head with the rest of my choices.
The Girl I Never Loved (Clambake 1967)
Not a lot of competition here either. This quiet, simple but appealing ballad would be a nonentity in any one else's hands but as Chips Moman of American once said 'Man we had those Presley vocals-he could sell a song'.
Here at last were the first signs of long over due improvement in the quality of the film songs, which were being submitted to Elvis, although given Presley's desperate plea to RCA not to release 'Dominic' even after his death the singer himself may not have agreed. 'All I Needed was the Rain' was very different from the type of material usually associated with Elvis, a kind of light blues with a folksy feel is how I would describe it. I loved it and only wish Elvis had recorded a whole album in this vein.
Your Time Hasn't Come Yet Baby (Speedway 1968)
Ok this film put Elvis back on top at the box office, but the album stiffed in the charts as both the material and the sound quality regressed back to the abysmal standards of Easy Come Easy Go. After hearing the acetates even the RCA top brass should have complained at the terrible results along with Elvis and the Colonel and maybe they did - but there is no record of it. If Elvis must accept responsibility for his failure to stand up for himself what on earth were the boys at RCA doing to earn their inflated salaries? Watching the paint dry? The thing that gets me about the infuriating artistic lapses of the sixties is that they were so utterly uneccessary.This track was the logical single and to be fair it scored moderately well on the charts. It has undoubted charm and if the guitar at the ending is somewhat twee - well I am sure an RCA engineer can remedy that.
Almost In Love (Live a Little, Love a Little 1968)
Yes I have skipped 'A Little Less Conversation' because the superior remix version would have sounded out of place here, and the original was too spare which was why it flopped in the charts. Even so all the songs in this film are good for the first time in a long while. My chosen track is a wonderful example of Presley's innate ability to outdo his competitors whatever musical genre he took aim at-in this case crooning. Sinatra could not better this silky assured performance.
Well as it is the only song in this disappointing western I do not have any choice, but in fact 'Charro' is a winner. Scored by Hugo Montenegro of Clint Eastwood spaghetti western fame this oft forgotten track is a classy effort all round . Actually in my view it beats the title song from 'Flaming Star' into a cocked hat.
Clean up Your Own Backyard (The Trouble with Girls 1969)
Are these the cleverest lyrics ever written for a Presley movie song? I think so. Well arranged if technically slightly afflicted by the 'flat' feel and lack of echo common to so many film soundtracks of the era. What an underrated film this was-it came too late in the day to rescue the situation.
Rubberneckin' (Change of Habit 1969)
A Memphis studio recording shoehorned into the movie at the last moment this was a big hit through a remixed version in 2003, but the original is just as good. Whilst perhaps not on a par with the remaining songs from these famous sessions it is nevertheless a decent enough modern rocker and thoroughly deserving of its place on this album.
I Just Can't Help Believin' (That's the Way It Is 1971)
The best live recording Elvis ever made. Not only was this a great song to start with but Elvis sang like a man intoxicated with it. He positively purrs his way through this majestic demonstration of his unique feel for the inner core of a song. Elvis bosses the band and injects meaning into every syllable, every nuance and even every pause. This is why he was the King and never more so than at this point in his career.
Never Been to Spain (Elvis on Tour 1972)
This was once a hit for a US group called Three Dog Night but it is the Elvis version that everyone remembers today. A classic example of his extraordinary talent for improving on what was already a damn good record Presley builds and builds the excitement-you just know the audience are going potty in the background- until he reaches the heart of the song when he lets fly with his emotions. This was something he did so often in the last few years of his life. A great way to end the album.
So that's it. A collection of songs drawn from each one of Elvis' 33 movies and because of the short running time of one or two they will fit quite snugly on a single CD. To me it is almost like having an album full of 'virtual' unreleased material. Even to some fans these songs are largely unknown and many of the albums they come from little played but as I say there are sprinkled here and there a number of forgotten or overlooked classic Presley performances. It would be marvellous if we could have them all together. And if it works out we could even muster a second volume. I leave you all with one last thought. In 1976 Brookville Records under licence from RCA released a TV promoted album in the States called 'Elvis in Hollywood' It sold 2 million.
Nick Ruck Keene