Elvis Presley Reviews and Articles by By Paul Simpson
Reviews and articles about Elvis Presley by By Paul Simpson.
In the first of two articles, Paul Simpson explores how Hal Wallis broke his own rules when he made King Creole - and how that transformed Elvis' movie career. 'There was absolutely no point in pushing him', producer Hal Wallis said once, reflecting on Elvis Presley's movie career.
Hound Dog was Elvis' first great protest song. Social rebellion had been implicit in many of his greatest Sun performances - especially Good Rocking Tonight - and became explicit in Baby Let's Play House where his sexy, yet sinister vocal directly challenges the mores of Fifties America, warning his girl that college, school and Cadillacs didn't make her a better person. But 13 years before In The Ghetto, Elvis' aggressive, dynamic cover of Big Mama Thornton's R&B hit, was an epic expression of a working class hero's righteous anger against those who had judged, misunderstood and patronised him. Elvis' Hound Dog is, Rolling Stone proclaimed, 'a declaration of independence from one generation to its cold, rigid elders'.
When Elvis stops singing, the cash registers stop ringing – and there ain't another thing to discuss. That is how W. A. Harbinson, in his underrated illustrated biography of the King, summed up the 'thinking' behind Elvis' movie career in the 1960s. But before starring as a trapeze artist, race car driver, speedboat driver, riverboat gambler, helicopter pilot, and diver, Elvis was given, with no great support from the machine that sold him to the masses, licence to experiment and make Flaming Star and Wild in The Country, two of his most enduringly watchable movies.
In summary, 'Wild In The Country' sounds absurd. Elvis plays Glenn, a young delinquent torn between fiancée Millie Perkins, bad girl Tuesday Weld
and older woman/psychiatrist Hope Lange
. His nascent literary ambitions are endangered when he is accused of murdering bad rich boy Gary Lockwood.
Every so often in the 1970s Elvis Presley would walk into a recording studio and cut a song that revealed as much about the state of his soul as the later self-portraits of Vincent van Gogh, typified by manic brushwork, said about the Dutch artist's torment. In songs like It's Midnight
, For Ol' Times Sake,
and I'm Leavin'
, this legendarily reclusive figure showed us the suffering behind the image, using music to acknowledge realities he tried to ignore outside the studio. For me, the greatest of these performances - which now, with all we know about his life, feel almost like entries in Elvis' private journal - is his chilling rendition of the haunting Michael Jarrett
/Sonny Charles ballad I'm Leavin'
. Read, The terrible beauty of I'm Leavin' by Paul Simpson
In Hollywood, there is a genre of film called the exploitation movie, an umbrella term describing a movie where quality is sacrificed for cost and the moviemaker appeals to his audience by bizarre themes (drug use, wanton violence, kinky sex), adherence to a formula (as in beach party or zombie films) or the exploitation of a popular act, character or personality – for example Tarzan, the Norwegian ice skating queen Sonya Henje or, for that matter, Elvis Presley ... These films exist primarily to make a profit.
Double Trouble is a very easy movie to hate. For most fans, the sight of Elvis singing Old MacDonald on the back of a truck is reason enough to ignore this film.
In the early hours of 24 July 1973, singer/songwriter Tony Joe White was woken by a phone call in his Memphis home. A German voice on the other end of the line said: 'Mr White, we are down at Stax Records do you have any more songs? We need to do some more songs' ... The voice belonged to Freddy Bienstock, principal finder of songs at the King's court. When White realised who the tunes were for - and that his friend Felton Jarvis was producing the session - he ran off a copy of three songs (most notably I've Got A Thing About You Baby and For Ol' Times Sake) and drove to the studio ... Felton Jarvis walked by, and made sure that the man who had invented 'Swamp Rock', met Elvis, who had been one of the young White's great inspirations.
Elvis' 16th movie is hardly the kind of film that's going to change the world. At first glance, Roustabout is formulaic enough to understand why, in 1964, the New York Times flatly refused to review it. Many critics lamented the way this musical comedy 'totally wasted' the talents of Barbara Stanwyck, the acclaimed star of such classics as 'Ball Of Fire' and 'Cattle Queen Of Montana' (a performance that especially impressed Elvis). Yet despite a clichéd plot - hard-hearted business types try to shut down struggling carnival - and some below par songs - Roustabout has, if anything, improved with age.
In the second of two articles, Paul Simpson traces the impact of 'King Creole's comparative commercial failure on Hal Wallis, Elvis Presley and the King's movies.
Elvis and Kerouac: They both idolised James Dean- and Bob Dylan idolised them. Elvis and Jack Kerouac, the legendary Beat novelist, were America's most iconic rebels in the late 1950s. In their different ways, they revolutionised culture and changed millions of lives- including their own. In many ways, singer and novelist seemed to inhabit different worlds but their lives were full of intriguing- and till now largely ignored- parallels: powerful matriarchs, mourned siblings and the tragic realisation of the imprisoning power of fame ...
The second Elvis album I ever bought was Burning Love And Hits From His Movies, back in the early 1970s on cassette, from the downtown independent record shop where the staff always looked too hip to be selling Elvis records.
I could have been repelled, disgusted and baffled. Instead I was hooked by Colonel Parker's
frankly mad wheeze. All the other singers and groups I knew had their thing - you always knew what their singles would roughly sound like - but Elvis was a law unto himself. Who else could take you from the childish, cloying, meek How Would You Like To Be?
to the pertinent anger of Big Boss Man
in just two tracks?
After Sidney Lumet had finished The Fugitive Kind
, his adaptation of Tennessee William's play Orpheus Descending
, he wondered if he should have cast Elvis Presley not Marlon Brando in the starring role ... Elvis was different. We can all agree on that. But that difference did not just apply to his looks, his voice, his talent. It also applied to his personality, what Lumet called his 'simplicity, lyricism and strange otherworldly quality'.
Some Elvis songs are still so fresh, so moving, they can be hard to listen to. And for me, the one song that still gives me goosebumps because of the power of the performance and the song's personal relevance to the King is If I Can Dream
. It's widely known that the song almost never happened. Steve Binder
, producer of the 1968 NBC TV Special
that resurrected Elvis' career, was so desperate to avoid ending the show with a Christmas song - that he told Earl Brown, 'Write me the greatest song you ever wrote'.
For reasons I cannot entirely fathom, I have been increasingly drawn, in the past year, to The Trouble With Girls on DVD. One of Elvis' late, neglected movies - released in the U.S. on a double bill with a cheesy horror flick called The Green Slime - it was shot when his hopes of being the next James Dean had been virtually extinguished. Yet the King seems more animated than usual on celluloid - certainly more engaged than he is, in, say Paradise Hawaiian Style - and utterly at home in this small town period piece.
The second greatest known unknown about Elvis - after the enigma about why he, a soft spoken Southerner tolerated the faux Colonel Tom Parker - is his relationship with his still born twin, Jesse Garon Presley.
Sometimes, the simplest questions are the hardest to answer. Laura Viddy, interviewing me for a forthcoming TV special, asked one two word question which floored me: 'Why Elvis?' I came up with ten reasons.
If there's one question that divides Elvis fans even more than Colonel Parker's legacy, it is the vexed question of movie soundtracks. I know many ardent Elvis fans who started out drawing a metaphorical line in the sand - King Creole and no further - but have, almost against their will, been dragged into a quagmire where, after a while, they find themselves humming the infuriatingly catchy chorus of Harem Holiday.
'One day things will be different' - Elvis Presley.
We know a lot about Elvis Presley. But the most significant of the many things we don't know about him is how, when and why he came to believe that, as he vowed to himself when he was a skinny, poor, boy in the poorest state of the union, one day things would be different.
Suppose is not the greatest song Elvis Presley ever recorded but it is, for me, one of the most underrated. At a time - the mid 1960s - when you can almost hear the self-belief seeping from him on some recordings, Elvis was unusually intrigued by this quiet chilling ballad. Some fans have suggested this song may have inspired John Lennon's utopian anthem Imagine. Suppose was recorded in the summer of 1967, Imagine was recorded - and released - in 1971.
Elvis Presley is still vastly underrated as a singer. His vocal technique is often reduced to a quiver of the lip and an 'uh-huh-huh' by some, while many still insist that he didn't have the phraseology of a Sinatra.
Bruce Springsteen once famously said that Elvis Presley freed people's bodies, the way Bob Dylan freed people's minds. Loathe as I am to argue with The Boss, this tribute doesn't accurately measure Elvis' impact.
Two things happen to almost everyone who discovers Elvis Presley. Our first impulse is to talk Elvis over with someone who has already made that discovery. Our second reaction, which comes slightly later, is to introduce someone else, usually a friend or a colleague, to Elvis' world.
Was Elvis' musical output in the 1970's aimless, obsessive or something else? In his latest article for Elvis Australia, Paul Simpson, noted author of The Rough Guide to Elvis, provides a thought provoking analysis of an emotionally distraught singer and how it affected his musical recordings.
Elvis' stepbrother David Stanley admitted the other day that even he found it hard to explain why his big brother was so enduringly popular. What is that Elvis has that other's don't?
Most people's lives appear simple when you're not living them. Even a life as controversial as Elvis Presley's as told by most biographers fits a fairly simple graph.
Never before have we seen an Elvis Presley concert from the 1950's with sound. Until Now! The DVD Contains recently discovered unreleased film of Elvis performing 6 songs, including Heartbreak Hotel and Don't Be Cruel, live in Tupelo Mississippi 1956. Included we see a live performance of the elusive Long Tall Sally seen here for the first time ever.
+ Plus Bonus DVD Audio.
This is an excellent release no fan should be without it.
The 'parade' footage is good to see as it puts you in the right context with color and b&w footage. The interviews of Elvis' Parents are well worth hearing too. The afternoon show footage is wonderful and electrifying : Here is Elvis in his prime rocking and rolling in front of 11.000 people. Highly recommended.
Tupelo's Own Elvis Presley DVD Video with Sound.