The trouble with the movies

By: Paul Simpson
Source: Elvis Australia
September 29, 2006

If there's one question that divides Elvis fans even more than Colonel Parker's legacy, it is the vexed question of movie soundtracks. Some committed fans just refuse to buy them. 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.

Even a fan as sober in his judgements as Ernst Jorgensen confessed, recently, that he lived in hope of finding more movie outtakes, particularly from Roustabout. To music critics, such a remark sounds utterly demented. After all, they'd sniff, wasn't it those indistinguishable movies - with their never-ending requirement for Elvis to get the girl, sing a song and win the race - that almost killed his career?

As always with Elvis, the truth isn't that simple. If he hadn't watched Tony Curtis - and wanted to be Tony Curtis - he might never have made it to Sun Records. The critical responses that probably gave him most pleasure were the reviews of King Creole ('Elvis Presley can act!' crowed the New York Times in surprise) and his 1968 comeback special. Similarly, you can trace the disaffection with his lot to the shabby way his hopes of being a serious actor were extinguished by the need to record soundtrack albums that only a few hundred thousand diehards bought.

To hear what the worst of those soundtracks did to his art, play his swaggering acapella version of Kissin' Cousins on Silver Screen Stereo. He is trying to make something out of not very much and ends up sounding phoney and forced. It's painful to hear, even though the rocking theme is far from the worse track Elvis cut for Hollywood. The remarkable thing is how often, especially with ballads, he transcended his material. If they gave out Grammies for making silk purses out of a pig's ear, he would have monopolised the award from 1963 to 1967.

It is too easy to damn all his post-Army soundtracks as junk. But that would be to ignore the considerable charms of Can't Help Falling In Love, Return To Sender, Viva Las Vegas, Doin' The Best I Can, Sand Castles, Bossa Nova Baby, Little Egypt, You Don't Know Me, Almost, Edge Of Reality, A Little Less Conversation and Clean Up Your Own Backyard.

Yet Elvis did cut some movie songs I can't bear to hear. I don't sneer at those fans who can play these tracks but I can't listen to Old Macdonald, A Dog's Life, Queenie Wahine's Papaya Bikini or Yoga Is As Yoga Does. It's as if, by playing them, I become complicit in a process that degraded the greatest vocal talent of the 20th century.

For those who still shy away from soundtracks, try these hidden gems from a difficult era. And, a word to Mr Jorgensen, if you ever find some lost outtakes of Old Macdonald, feel free to keep them to yourself.

1. In My Way Gentle, low key, heartbreaking, folksy ballad in which Elvis vows to be true but sounds none too optimistic.

2. I Need Somebody To Lean On Elvis most sophisticated ballad? A beautiful, late night, Vegas, love song, sung and arranged with a sensitivity all too rare in the movie years.

3. You're The Boss Saucier than the other Ann Margret duet in Viva Las Vegas and far more intimate. Listening to this Leiber/Stoller number is almost like eavesdropping on their affair.

4. City By Night Slightly phoney, but smoky, jazzy, song for nocturnal cool cats with Elvis rising to the challenge - the best song in Double Trouble.

5. Sand Castles Haunting ballad, sung with affecting simplicity by Elvis, that stays in the mind far longer than some of the dross that made it into the movie Paradise Hawaiian Style.

6. Clean Up Your Own Backyard Quirky, offbeat, cool, rocking, protest song - just listen to the way his voice soars as he shrugs "Aw don't you hand me none of your lies".

7. Almost Regretful, short, stand out ballad from The Trouble With Girls.

8. Poison Ivy League 'They give me an itch/those sons of the rich'. One of the classic Elvis couplets and a welcome return - in Roustabout - to the sneering rebellious Elvis of the 1950s.

9. I Don't Want To Another softly sung gem cut - from Girls! Girls! Girls! - this should be much better known.

10. Edge Of Reality The weirdest thing Elvis ever recorded? The opening, especially, is unlike any other Elvis record. Has to be heard to be believed.

11. Long Legged Girl Dirty, fast, frenetic rocker, with lovely, aggressive, bursts of guitar and a frantic vocal.

12. One Boy, Two Little Girls Elvis sings this so brilliantly he almost makes it sound profound. You can get lost in this trancelike ballad and forget that the song itself isn't that great. Bonus track: Suppose A soft, simple, chilling, ballad sung with appropriate sincerity.

Articles about Elvis Presley More articles by Paul Simpson


Also by Paul Simpson :

Articles about Elvis Presley The interpretation of dreams
Articles about Elvis Presley The enigma of Suppose
Articles about Elvis Presley Elvis the Singer
Articles about Elvis Presley The Shock of Elvis
Articles about Elvis Presley Passion and Soul: A Little Less Conversation, a Lot More Fans
Articles about Elvis Presley The King of Pain!
Articles about Elvis Presley Elvis: a star is torn by Paul Simpson

Paul Simpson is the author of The Rough Guide to Elvis.

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