Elvis Shuffle

I’ve done a lot of driving this week. My life is getting nuts. I’ve got Elvis Presley on the shuffle. Thought I’d give you a taste of it. It’s very weird to listen to him on Shuffle. It’s vaguely schizophrenic, the material is often wildly uneven, but there is also a thruline which is his voice and also – I guess I would call it joy. He seems happy to be doing what he’s doing. The Elvis Shuffle of the last couple of driving days:

“You Gave Me a Mountain” – Live, from the Aloha From Hawaii show. He sings the shit out of this song. It obviously meant a lot to him. I have a couple different versions and it’s always an anthem.

“Good Rockin’ Tonight” – Elvis at his most dirty and deviant. He is up to no good. Thank God.

“Flaming Star” – theme song for Flaming Star, a cowboy song

“Mansion Over the Hilltop” – from the giant double gospel album Amazing Grace. He’s gentle and a bit somnolent here.

“You’re the Only Star In My Blue Heaven” – from the Million Dollar Quartet session on December 4, 1956. Jerry Lee Lewis, Elvis, Johnny Cash, and Carl Perkins happen to be in the studio at the same time, and they jammed, and someone had enough smarts to turn on the damn tape recorder. Hard to believe that this event actually occurred. The recordings are a joy, with a real sense of the impromptu pushing-each-other-on vibe that had to be in that room, but the best part is you don’t sense competition. Just happiness. Fun. They’re laughing, making fun of each other, and then they also get down to business. This song features Jerry Lee Lewis.

“I Asked the Lord” – from the home recordings tapes. Elvis messing around on the piano. At one point he starts banging out Jingle Bells. He can’t really play the piano, but he always means it. I love hearing him banging out chords.

“That’s All Right” – Elvis’ first single, only this one is a live version from much later in his life. Jamming riffing band, huge energy, big choruses behind him.

“Good Time Charlie’s Got the Blues” – from his 1974 album Good Times. A melancholy country number. He’s in very good voice. I love it when he goes country.

“Aloha Oe” – from Blue Hawaii. I love this entire ridiculous album.

“Hawaiian Wedding Song” – see above

“Frankfort Special” – from G.I. Blues. I know his movie soundtracks get short shrift, and sometimes for good reason. But there are wee gems. This is one of them.

“In Your Arms” – I love this song. It’s from his album with the horrible title Something for Everybody, which is indicative of the messed-up energy in his managing team at that time. But this is old-school. Love it.

“Mystery Train” – he’s got that almost whine and then sexy grumble to his voice here, from his most classic period. Nice song.

“Baby, Let’s Play House” – he’s so good here, he’s almost parodying himself, all the little grunts and squeals. A racy song, the lyrics were controversial at the time. He’s not saying “let’s make a home together, darling,”, he’s saying “let’s PLAY house” which is a very different thing altogether. Great guitar line too.

“The Girl of my Best Friend” – from his album Elvis is Back, put out when he returned from his two years in Germany in the Army. A sweet early 60s sound. Crooner.

“She Wears My Ring” – He sings the shit out of this dumb song.

“Paralyzed” – from his second album. I love it in these early albums when there’s a little bit of echo on his voice. There’s space surrounding him. Air. You really get the sense that he is located in space, with his band. It’s not perfectly mixed, so it has a live feel, the musicians in the same space, jamming together. I’m not describing it right.

“Fame and Fortune” – from Elvis is Back as well. A doo-wop number with Presley really going for a different sound, fuller, Dean Martin-ish – he’s doing a lot of interesting things with his voice here. Frankly, he’s to die for.

“Little Cabin Home on the Hill” – the Million Dollar Quartet again. They’re goofing off here, you can feel how much fun they’re having.

“Merry Christmas Baby” – from Elvis’ Christmas album. A boozy slow blatantly sexual Christmas song. It’s hilarious.

“Bosom of Abraham” – another one of Elvis’ gospel songs, with a rockin’ gospel quartet singing with him. Glorious.

“Tweedlee Dee” – early early Elvis, a rough live recording, with the audience going nuts. It’s just him and a piano it sounds like.

“Let Yourself Go” – from Speedway. Elvis turning on the sex, reassuring his inexperienced lover that she needs to just “do like I do”. Uh-huh. My favorite version of this is actually from his ’68 comeback special. The scene in the movie looks like everyone is on speed and hasn’t slept for weeks, which is probably true. He hugs one redhead and she looks like she’s been visiting Dr. Roberts on an hourly basis.

“I Beg Of You” – This is my favorite Elvis, of all of the available phases of Elvis. It’s this one I love the best. He sounds, alternately, like a spoiled brat, a fallen angel, and a hell of a lot of fun. His voice rocks, swings, and cajoles. Love it.

“I’m Left, You’re Right, She’s Gone” – one of his earliest recordings at Sun. You can hear the weird mix he had going on: the country feel, the guttural rock of his voice. It’s very interesting. Elvis loved this song.

“I Understand Just How You Feel” – a song he recorded by himself at home. You can hear people laughing and talking in the background. Elvis messing around on the piano, singing in a funny operatic voice, sometimes dropping to a sincere whisper. He really can’t play the piano. You can hear a baby start to cry, a mother saying, “He was sleeping”, someone laughing, and all through it, Elvis messing around by himself. Weird. Fascinating.

“Gently” – from Something for Everybody. I like this song. Again, he’s going in the Dino direction. He’s very soft here, melodic.

“Crazy Arms” – Million Dollar Quartet. You can hear them messing around, laughing, forgetting the lyrics.

“Don’t” – One of my favorite vocal performances from him. From 1958.

“Can’t Help Falling in Love” – Live, from his Aloha from Hawaii show. A new arrangement, with kind of manic music-box-ish piano at the start. His voice sounds a bit weak, but along with that, he also sounds easy and happy. Big chorus behind him.

“Love Me Tender” – Elvis, live, he’s very young here. It’s early on in his career. Girls are absolutely losing their collective shit all the way through. You can barely hear him. You can hear him spoofing himself at times, too. The situation had to have been rather amusing. Girls are screaming nonstop throughout the whole thing.

“I Will Be Home Again” – from Elvis is Back. Pretty traditional country song.

“Trying to Get to You” – from his first album. He always “went there” with this song, it seemed to bring something out of him. He’s wailing here. And then to compare it to the crazy intense version in his 1968 comeback special – you can see how he kept revisiting songs to experience them again. Go deeper into them.

“We Call On Him” – from his gospel album. I love his gospel stuff, although I prefer the more lively ones. This one is a bit of a snooze, although his voice sounds fragile (in a good way) and gentle. Almost falsetto.

“Girls! Girls! Girls!” – from the movie of the same name. So dumb, and I love it to DEATH. “Big and brassy, small and sassy, just give me one of each kind … I’m just a red-blooded boy and I can’t stop thinkin’ about girls, girls, girls …” Rockin’ male chorus behind him.

“No More” – from Blue Hawaii. He’s singing high here, gentle and high. But he’s got power behind it. He’s in total control of his voice and its effects.

“I Forgot to Remember to Forget” – from A Date with Elvis. He’s all twitchy energy here, with the vocal ticks that so defined him early on. Little grunts and hiccups. It’s so country somehow.

“You’ll Think Of Me” – from From Elvis in Memphis. These were some pretty extraordinary sessions, a re-imagining of the whole Elvis thing. New songs, new sounds. I love this. He’s a bit HIP here. I never think of him as “hip”, he’s more “cool” – even in the 60s, he had a 50s vibe. It was his milieu (in my opinion). He’s having a lot of fun with this song.

“Love Me” – live from Hawaii. Doing his old stuff, screams in the audience. He’s jazzing it up, fun quartet in the background.

“Show Me Thy Ways, O Lord” – a recording from his home. Elvis on piano, singing with passion and emotion. Guys in the background singing along, harmonizing. I love when he gets all spiritual. It’s very personal. And then at the end, suddenly, he starts guffawing with laughter and can’t finish. Totally charming, you feel like you’re there.

“O Little Town of Bethlehem” – A traditional arrangement. There’s an organ, a church choir, and then Elvis’ voice. It sounds like you’re in church. This is one of my favorite Christmas songs.

“Trying to Get to You” – this version is from his Vegas show. It starts with a little patter, about how this was the first song he recorded, and his voice was much higher back then and he has to be careful now or he’ll hurt his leg. hahahaha. Great version. He’s at the top of his game. Big band sounds behind him, horns, etc. It doesn’t quite have the intense almost interior attack of the ’68 Comeback Special, but then again, what does.

“Working on the Building” – a rockin’ gospel song, one of my favorites that Elvis performed. He’s so in it. Great quartet behind him.

“After Loving You” – from From Elvis in Memphis. I guess you’d call this r&b, although with him it’s hard to say. There’s a country feel too. I love his “I’m no good I’m no good I’m no good” refrain that gets crazier every time he does it. Sexy.

“Tomorrow Night” – from his earliest recording sessions at Sun. Again, with that big echo on his voice. A simple bass line underneath him, and his young young voice crooning all over the place, free, uncontrolled, almost funny sounding. Lovely.

“Blue Moon of Kentucky” – one of his earliest recordings, this is a live version, 1956. Rough, rockin’, with screaming girls.

“She’s Not You” – written by Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller – recorded in 1962 in Nashville, it was a huge hit for Presley.

“Rip It Up” – from Elvis’ second album. Currently, this is my #1 favorite Elvis song. Can’t get past it actually.

“Lawdy Miss Clawdy” – from Elvis’ first album. The whole song is still startling, even though so much time has passed you know now where it came from. But even now – it’s still not clear where the hell it came from. You don’t even know WHAT it is. It defies classification. That was a no-no in music then, and it’s a no-no now. There’s a rockabilly thing going on, but it transcends that. It’s a crazy song. And I haven’t even discussed his performance. It’s free-wheeling, you can almost hear him smiling, he’s rocking, jiggling, it’s primal, and bizarre. It sounds like nothing else.

“Miracle of the Rosary” – from Elvis’ gospel album. I personally love the “Hail Mary” as a prayer, I think of it is as my prayer, but this song is a bit of a snooze.

“I’ll Be There” – from From Elvis in Memphis. The King is totally in charge here. The background’s a bit weak, in my opinion. Want to hear more engagement from the band, but there’s something a bit muted about the arrangement, or the mix with his voice.

“Any Day Now” – also from From Elvis in Memphis. Are there people out there who don’t like him in this? Because I think its a phenomenal performance. Yes, it’s not the bumping-grinding-teenager-in-the-back-of-his-Chevy-Impala-with-a-girl-from-church from the late 50s. This is an adult. It’s a new style, more orchestral, and very melodramatic, which Presley seemed to like. But I love him here.

“I Got a Woman” – from his Vegas show. This was one of Elvis’ earliest songs. The band is great here. The song is fast, way faster than the first time he recorded it. Elvis is lost in the song, great backup chorus. Rockin’. I love when he gets that rasp in his voice. It’s raunchy, real, from the gut.

“This Time / I Can’t Stop Loving You” – from From Nashville to Memphis. Elvis messing around with the lyrics, cracking himself up, about how he “forgot to wear his cup”.

“Shoppin’ Around” – from G.I. Blues. Starts with the unfortunate lyric: “You’ve got the hugging-est arms …” Rather dumb song, it sounds like every other song, but Presley is having a lot of fun with it.

“It’s No Fun Being Alone” – a lugubrious home recording, with Elvis and his friends. Elvis on piano. It sounds like it’s about 4 o’clock in the morning, people busting up laughing, and then bursting into song again. Trying to imagine the passed-out wives and girlfriends in other rooms who couldn’t take it anymore and had to go to sleep.

“He Is My Everything” – a full-bodied gospel number. Big chorus behind him.

“Polk Salad Annie” – live from Vegas. This song is naaaaaaasty. That is a compliment. It’s almost embarrassing. I’m not embarrassed by sex, but this pretty much pushes me against my limit, and I need some private time when I listen to this song. The song is campy and over-the-top. “Now that’s polk – ” (drum) “salad” (then Elvis murmurs, “Lord have mercy”.) It’s country, it’s dirty, it’s pure sex. Like Mitchell says, “Elvis was Sex On a Stick.”

“My Baby Left Me” – from Elvis’ first album. Again, a sound that had to have been so original and bizarre at the time of its release. And his voice is almost unearthly, high and young, restless and pained. It’s fascinating. You also get the sense that all the guys are in the recording studio at the same time, you can feel their presence. It’s a live take.

“I’m Beginning to Forget You” – Elvis at home again. This time he’s playing the guitar. I love these home recordings, as rough as they are.

“Don’t Be Cruel” – the Million Dollar Quartet. A great track because Elvis is raving about [edited] Jackie Wilson, lead of Billy Ward and the Dominoes doing this number in Vegas, and Elvis is basically doing an imitation of the guy doing an imitation of him, and explaining to the other three guys how he did it. “He was a Yankee, you know,” Elvis jokes. But he loved what the guy did with his stuff. Lots of chatter, accents so thick you could spread it on toast.

“Do Not Disturb” – from Girl Happy. He’s sexy here, soft and persuasive. Dumb song. Goes nowhere. Has nothing to it.

“Datin'” – from Paradise Hawaiian Style. Now I realize this song is beneath Elvis Presley. But I still think it’s a tiny bit adorable. DUMB. Who could sing such a dumb song and escape the dumbness of the song? He can. Still, I cringe for the dirty rebel being stuck with this material.

“A Boy Like Me, A Girl Like You” – from Girls! Girls! Girls!. These movie soundtrack ballads kill me, and not in a good way. They’re generic. He always performs them well, I always love listening to his voice, but he deserved better material.

“Shake That Tambourine” – from Harum Scarum, one of the dumbest movies I’ve ever seen (but not as dumb as Moment by Moment, because even though Harum Scarum is stupid and lazy, it at least has some life to it, whereas Moment to Moment has none, so that it acts like a black hole of anti-matter sucking you into its deadened vortex). Here is where he joins the harem-girl dance troupe, because that’s what you do when you’re a movie star trapped in Arabia. This song is pretty fun, though. Stupid. Not as stupid as his lime-green sweat pants, however.

“See See Rider” – from his Vegas show. The great shrieking female chorus echoing him, with crazy, “YEAH, YEAH YEAH”. This is a great performance, the band pushing him on, him pushing the band on, you can feel the energy in those shows.

“Have I Told You Lately That I Love You” – Elvis is hamming it up here. There’s still an air of plausible deniability about it, you couldn’t win your case against him in a court of law, but he’s doing things with his voice that strike me as almost ironic, a “take” on his own style. A real moseying country song, with the sex-subtext of Elvis’ voice altering the purity of it all. Good stuff.

“We’ll Be Together” – from Girls! Girls! Girls!. Sigh. No. Just stop.

“Blue Moon” – Elvis recorded this very early on, it’s on his first album. I love it so much. We all know the song. Elvis sounds alone, isolated, sensitive – and underneath him is a clip-clop country beat, like horse hooves. His voice swoops up high, swooping around freely, he’s unembarrassed at his falsetto. His version of the song is romantic, private, and sad. There’s barely a beat here. Just the horse-hooves clop-clop, a hint of guitar, and Elvis’ swooping voice. It’s a private monologue.

“So Close, Yet So Far, From Paradise” – from Harum Scarum. This is the “Close Every Door To Me” number from the movie, where Presley, dressed in Bedouin garb, stares out prison bars, and sings longingly. Tremendously stupid, HOWEVER: this is the best song in the film, and I wish he had re-visited it later, in live shows, or wherever. It’s a melodramatic tune, and he sings the crap out of it. It requires a full-throated belt from him. It’s passionate. Would have loved to hear this song again, but as far as I know, this is the only time he sang it. Maybe he wanted to do everything he could to forget Harum Scarum, and I don’t blame him.

“Bossa Nova Baby” – from Fun in Acapulco. It has a go-go dance feel to its orchestrations which are very annoying, mixed with mariachi music and a rockabilly guitar solo, and who knows what else, the song is a mess, but Elvis’ voice here is in its prime. Love this performance.

“What’d I Say” – from Viva Las Vegas. Again, Sex On a Stick. The “mmm” “oh” “uh” sections, with the hip girl group echoing him in the background … You know. It’s hot.

“We’re Coming in Loaded” – from Girls! Girls! Girls!. Elvis Presley had nearly three octaves in his voice. You can hear that range here, and how free he could be with it.

“If We Never Meet Again” – from his gospel album. He’s so fragile and sincere here, with the gentle male chorus behind him, and the churchy piano accompanying them. Beautiful.

“And the Grass Won’t Pay Me No Mind” – from From Elvis in Memphis. A soft love song, which doesn’t really do anything for me.

“Poison Ivy League” – from Roustabout. “They’re gonna have panty raids and make their own lemonade …” Shameless.

“Blessed Jesus (Hold My Hand)” – the Million Dollar Quartet session. God, the harmonies, the guitar, the strengthening of their belief in what they’re doing. You can hear them all kick in, finding their way through it. So moving.

“Clean Up Your Own Backyard” – Elvis getting all funky. This was from his 1969 film The Trouble With Girls. Love the girls in the background.

“Lawdy Miss Clawdy / Baby What You Want Me To Do” – from the NBC Comeback Special in 1968, the informal sit-down sessions. Elvis is out of control here. It’s almost scary. You can hear the other musicians calling out encouragement, “All right!” “All right!” It’s exhilarating.

“Judy” – from Something for Everybody. Conventional song. He’s adorable, though.

“Reconsider Baby” – Yes, sir. I’d reconsider anything if you ask me THAT way.

“Memories” – from the 68 Comeback Special. I know Elvis loved this song, I know, I know, but it puts me to sleep.

“Gentle On My Mind” – from From Elvis in Memphis. This is 1969. You can hear his new-found energy and purpose in how he sings here.

“Pocketful of Rainbows” – from G.I. Blues. Please stop.

“(Such an) Easy Question” – I love the song, I love the performance, I love everything about it. What he does with his voice on “such – an – easy question” – is so naughty-sounding. Very bratty. But then immediately smooth afterwards.

“Blue Suede Shoes” – this is the version from G. I. Blues, which lacks the crazy fire of his original recording. There’s something more studied about this one, it’s not as much an invitation to rumble as the original.

“One Night” – from the 68 Comeback Special. It’s insane. INSANE.

“In the Ghetto” – This song put Elvis Presley back in the #1 spot on the billboard charts. He always resisted being political in his work, but he did make notable exceptions. This was one of them. It’s smooth as butter, and love the simple almost Simon & Garfunkel guitar riff that accompanies him.

“Milk Cow Boogie Blues” – from A Date with Elvis. The track starts with him messing around, and he sounds so hillbilly that you can barely understand what he’s saying. Then he stops himself, gathers the band together, and they start wailing. If I recall correctly, A Date with Elvis was put out in 1959, while Elvis Presley was stationed in Germany. His manager, the infamous Col. Tom Parker, had a strict deal with the military as well as with RCA that Elvis would do no new recordings while he was in the Army. It was a gamble: Presley was gone for two years. He was afraid the fans would forget him. A Date with Elvis was previously recorded material, unused tracks, from his other albums, a mish-mash of things to keep the teeny-boppers happy while Presley was in Germany. This song is really fun. Presley is really really country here, you can feel it dripping off him, and his voice has that almost agonized sound with pent-up energy that you can hear so often in his earliest stuff.

“Softly and Tenderly” – the Million Dollar Quartet. The guys are messing around, trying to find the right key. It’s exciting to hear them. Thank God (I repeat) that this was recorded.

“Hound Dog” – Still exciting. Love the claps.

“Your Love’s Been A Long Time Coming” – lyrics by Tammy Wynette. A big orchestral song, with obvious gospel roots. It’s always exciting when Elvis launches his voice up the octave.

“Moonlight Swim” – from Blue Hawaii. J’adore.

“Without Love, There Is Nothing” – from From Elvis in Memphis. It sounds like gospel, then you get a hint of electric guitar, bringing the sex into it. Elvis is in great voice here, never better.

“Down by the Riverside” – the Million Dollar Quartet messing around, throwing their voices in and out of the flow. This one rocks along.

“Trouble” – from King Creole. The song was written as a send-up, kind of making fun of Elvis’ rebel pose, and Elvis did it straight. It’s great. Elvis’ voice is totally primal here. With a big horn section. I love King Creole and I make no apologies. It was Elvis’ favorite of his films.

“Money Honey” – Elvis live, early on, a very rough recording. He sounds like he’s having an orgasm for the entirety of the song. It’s sheer sex, again. The only way to respond to it is to scream and faint and clutch at your hairdo.

“The Wonder of You” – live. I think this is from Vegas. It’s not my favorite Elvis, but listen to him sell this song. It’s a lesson in commitment. I love it for that reason.

“Let It Be Me” – from his Vegas show. Bombastic, operatic, melodramatic. It suits him.

“Just a Little Talk with Jesus” – the Million Dollar Quartet. I am in heaven listening to this.

“How’s the World Treating You” – from Elvis’ second album. That echo again on his voice. I like it. Losing his fear of ballads here. He’s sweet.

“Queenie Wahine’s Papaya” – from Paradise, Hawaiian Style. Jesus Christ. Please make it stop.

“All Shook Up” – from his Vegas show. With a much bigger sound than the original recording. The song is an expression of sex, and it always was from the beginning. The pauses built into the music – meant to build tension, anticipation – his grunts and growls and squeaks … There’s a bit of a manic pace to this version, drums going nuts, and it doesn’t quite pack the punch it should. It’s too much somehow.

“Release Me” – from his Vegas show. Great performance here. The band, the piano, the energy, and him. Also, as they start the song, you can hear Elvis say to the band, “Let’s play it hard now.” That’s hot.

“I’m Movin’ On” – from From Elvis in Memphis. Rollicking country song, like the melody, and how his voice has to swoop down low. Lower than he usually goes. It’s humorous.

“Where Could I Go But to the Lord” – from his gospel album. Piano, snapping fingers, and Elvis’ sexy voice – it’s unbalancing, his voice is so naturally sexual – but when that is poured into a hymn, it’s good stuff. This is one of my favorites of his gospel recordings.

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46 Responses to Elvis Shuffle

  1. DBW says:

    Hey. In your comments about Paralyzed, you say, “It’s not perfectly mixed, so it has a live feel, the musicians in the same space, jamming together. I’m not describing it right.” Oh, you are describing it perfectly, except for the comment about how it’s mixed. It’s when “they” start twiddling the dials and levels too much that they rob all that natural air and aliveness out of a recording. So-called “purist” recordings strive to retain all that air and live feel. Bill Porter, who was the recording engineer on several of Elvis’s late ’50s, early ’60s recordings, is a God. He wasn’t the engineer on this one, though.

    I think Elvis was dating Natalie Wood when this recording was made, and that she attended the recording sessions. Not positive about, but I think that’s right.

  2. sheila says:

    It’s such an unmistakeable difference – when you feel that live-ness, that togetherness of the band – with Elvis fitting right into it. He was best when he was part of an ensemble, star as he is – when his voice is pushed too much to the foreground, you lose something. I think he felt that too. I know it was a battle with Col. Parker.

    Those early Sun recordings are so clear, so pure, so alive, that you can almost tell what time of day it is. It’s amazing.

  3. sheila says:

    And those engineers …. I love reading about them. How they created that sound, fighting battles to get the sound they wanted. So important.

    Natalie Wood was put off that Elvis didn’t make a pass. He just wanted to hang out and play the piano. At least at first. She didn’t understand the rules. There’s a very funny story about her visit to Memphis – he was taking her out somewhere – showing her where he grew up or something – and a bunch of cars were following them in a frenzy and she said it made her feel like she was heading up the Rose Bowl Parade.

  4. Kent says:

    Sheila, you would have liked my old neighbor Mrs. Berry. First generation Elvis fan. Frosty blonde with metallic hair tips, fingernails and lips. There was no other, except of course, Mr. Berry. She made Mr. Berry take her to Vegas to celebrate their wedding anniversary every year in the 70s, so she could drool over Elvis. Anyway, her kitchen window had some crazy direct sonic pipeline into my bedroom window. She played EVERYTHING E. “Hup Two Three Four Occupation GI blues” “TooMuchMonkeyBizness” “MamaSmelledLikeRoses…” “Do You Look at Your Bald Head and Wish You Had HairHAHAHA…” Anything she could find. She was very cool, and also had three lovely daughters who accepted Elvis into their lives. Thank you for bringing her to mind today.

  5. sheila says:

    // Do You Look at Your Bald Head and Wish You Had Hair //

    hahahahahahahaha Yeah, it’s fun to see what comes up. There’s a lot of schlock, a lot of gems, there’s just so much of it.

    Love Mrs. Berry. She found her passion!

  6. Eddie Selover says:

    Hey Sheila: so amazing that you’re posting all this Elvis stuff right now… I was in Memphis for the first time this week and went to Graceland two days ago. I’m still processing it and mean to write it up into a little essay for Facebook. But he’s so rich and complex and *personal* that it’s hard to even talk about him. I like the way you did it here, just listening and reacting. All of his 50s stuff has that strangeness you mentioned — you can’t believe what you’re hearing, and yes, where did it come from? King Creole? The sexy Christmas stuff? Awesome. Unbelievable. Took me longer to get into the 60s soundtracks but yeah, many of the songs are dumb fun. Mexico, for example, is just reprehensible, and yet irresistible. From Elvis in Memphis is a great bluesy, textured album and I especially love Long Black Limousine, Stranger in My Own Hometown, Kentucky Rain, and Wearing that Loved On Look. And you mentioned a special favorite of mine, Good Time Charlie’s Got the Blues by the great Danny O’Keefe. Also I will never forget watching Aloha from Hawaii and hearing him sing “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry.” It seemed to come straight from the heart and I’m not ashamed to say that I cried. He takes you places, man. What a great, great artist.

    • sheila says:

      That is such a good rendition of I’m So Lonesome I could Cry, you’re right. Yup, he’s a total artist. I’ve got to get to Graceland.

  7. Eddie Selover says:

    “Mama Smelled Like Roses” — hahaha. Not quite. It’s that song that smells, actually.

  8. sheila says:

    Yes, I can’t bear that song. I can see why he needed to do it, but it’s tiresome musically.

  9. Kent says:

    Yep. It’s a stinker!

  10. Kent says:

    P.S. Sheila, while enjoying the wild E film and music clip rooster tail kicking up in the wake of your Elvis juggernaut, I keep a list.

    Who can upstage The King:

    1) Ann Margret

    2) Billy Barty – (Tech Q: Why does the diminutive BB have more CU’s than E?)

  11. sheila says:

    Billy Barty freaks me out, I know that’s wrong. His role in Gold Diggers scared the shit out of me when I was a little kid, and I guess it left me with an uncomfortable feeling. I can’t explain it.

    // music clip rooster tail kicking up in the wake of your Elvis juggernaut //


    He should have gone toe to toe with people who could upstage him more. Think of him with Judy G., or Babs. But yes, Ann Margret: a worthy worthy foil for someone as huge as EP.

    • Kent says:

      Yes, big E needed a little more vinegar in his casting greens, as Bick Benedict would say. When Adobe After Effects gets a little bit better… I’m gonna digi him right into both the Babs and Judy Star Is Born, replace all the crappy songs and keep the good ones!

      Always wanted to see him in a boxing picture too, fortunately I have some time to decide between Golden Boy and Raging Bull.

      As for Barty, he’s the “Scarum”. We see the “Harum”… but WHAT IN THE HELL IS ELVIS DOING IN THIS MOVIE??? (Besides getting paid?)(and laid).

      P.S. Haven’t seen it in ages, but I seem to remember that Ellie Mae Clampett actually holds her own in Frankie & Johnny. Need to confirm that.

      • sheila says:

        EP even looks bored with getting laid in Harum Scarum and that is not right. I know he had a big thing for Valentino so he was so excited about the costumes – but … honestly? Those sweat pants? It’s a terrible picture. HOWEVER. Whenever there’s a dumb joke he has to say, he does it with a casual joyfulness that somehow helps him escape responsibility. That’s the weird thing about these movies: it’s not that he’s an unsung brilliant actor: it’s that he survived them with minimum damage. Of course we lost almost a decade of recording – because they only put out the soundtrack albums – but in terms of the pictures themselves, I am rarely embarrassed for ELVIS. Or, I’m embarrassed for him – but not because he goes down with the ship. He somehow escapes responsibility. Marilyn Monroe did the same thing in some of her bad pictures, where the film seems determined to shame her, burden her with the responsibility of the whole thing … but she just managed to be charming and innocent, and you forgive her. Same thing somehow happens with EP.

        But those Harum Scarum outfits! And the papier mache rocks!

        • sheila says:

          Having charisma as strong as he had is a blessing and a curse. You don’t have to work as hard to be magnetic. You just have to freakin’ stand there. It can make you lazy. Marlon Brando got lazy because of it. He was like a thoroughbred who was bored with having no competition.

          EP is so gorgeous – but lots of people are gorgeous. He had star quality, some kind of IMPACT … just by standing there. Those movies are a disgrace, in many ways, because Hollywood honestly didn’t know what it had in him. At least not by the mid-60s. The early movies are rather good – and he’s terrific in them. I love JAILHOUSE ROCK, and KING CREOLE. He’s magnetic. You can tell he’s not trained, but it works.

          But I honestly don’t know what was going on in the mid to late 60s – and I have to believe that a lot of it had to do with all of the speed everyone was taking. I know there was more to it – the deal that EP had with the studio was like a jail term. Contracted to do 3 movies a year time immemorial – it didn’t even matter what the movie WAS. They’d race through these horrible pictures – like: didn’t they know what they had?

          It’s baffling to me. I blame drugs. EP wasn’t the only guy on speed: everyone was. It had to cloud everyone’s judgment. But it’s still mysterious.

          • Kent says:

            You can’t completely blame speed, Sheila. Lots of historic movies were made on speed. The Wizard of Oz, Gone With The Wind, Hollywood Hotel, Portrait Of Jennie, An American In Paris, The Ten Commandments, Rebel Without A Cause, Chelsea Girls, etc. etc.

            The studios broke down. The incredible story departments that could develop good scripts for B movies from original material, or adaptations of novels and short stories, (and Elvis movies were B’s) were pretty much shuttered. As the studios laid off in every department from the mid-fifties on, the quality of even A films suffered visibly in terms of lighting, wardrobe etc, as well as story, screenplay, preparation, casting etc. They knew with any Elvis picture they would sell at least a half a million tickets, no matter what he was starring in.

            A certain cynicism creeps into the careers of moneymakers who can actually open a picture on their name alone. Clara Bow, Garland, Crawford, Errol Flynn, even Clark Gable suffered creatively under this pressure. Not many stars could actually carry a picture solo after 1947, and the ones who could were fewer and fewer as the years went on. By the end of the fifties when “ALL STAR CAST” became a commonplace sell, they were usually all stars that could no longer open a picture by themselves. Elvis could.

            Also, the rise of Drive-Ins in the post war period contributed to the shoddiness. An argument for lighting everything high key and flat, and renting less units, was that “artistic” lighting didn’t translate to Drive-In screens. Elvis musicals were competing against AIP, not Rogers and Hammerstein who got 70mm ToddAO. Honestly, Gene Corman shot Attack of the Giant Leeches with NO rented lighting units, and used car headlights for the night scenes. So, there was a huge cultural and technical shift from the last days of fully staffed MGM which developed, shot and distributed Jailhouse Rock to the mere shell it became in the early 60s.

            All said, I DO think the absence of closeups in the Harem/Barty number speaks volumes too. We never see him in more than a medium shot. WOW.

          • sheila says:

            Kent – Yes, there were multiple factors – you’re very eloquent. I had not thought of the drive-in situation, and that’s all quite fascinating. Many forces at work, conspiring against this guy who obviously deserved better projects … but then again, don’t so many people? Hollywood is not always the best at recognizing what to do with original talent.

  12. Pingback: ilEvs (Shuffled Elvis) « The Mystery Train Blog

  13. Eddie Selover says:

    There’s lots of detail about how Elvis’ movies got so bad in the Guralnick bio, especially what a huge turning point Blue Hawaii was — it made so much money that they kept trying to replicate it. But also two anecdotes I read in other books kind of nail it for me.

    One is in Easy Riders, Raging Bulls by Peter Biskind. In talking about how the studios were firmly in the grip of an older generation in the mid sixties, he tells a story of the producer Irwin Winkler, whose first job was on Double Trouble. He asked Col. Parker if he could meet the director. So a day or two later, a black Chevy pulls up and out totters Norman Taurog, who had won an Oscar directing Skippy 35 years earlier. Winkler said something about how nice it was that they had a driver for him, and Taurog — frail and palsied — explained that he could no longer drive himself — he was blind in one eye and the other was going real fast. A blind director… that says so much about the studio films of the 60s.

    The other story is from The Beatles Anthology. John talks about meeting Elvis around the exact same time, around 1966. “I asked him if he was preparing new ideas for his next film and he drawled, ‘Ah sure am. Ah play a country boy with a guitar who meets a few gals along the way, and ah sing a few songs.’ We all looked at one another. Finally Presley and Colonel Parker laughed and explained that the only time they departed from that formula — for Wild in the Country — they lost money.”

    And to your point about Ann Margret, Guralnick says that the Colonel was furious when he saw the dailies — somebody was stealing the spotlight from Elvis. He controlled those movies completely, and he had a great deal of her footage cut out. Ten years later, he was furious again when Barbra Streisand went straight to Elvis herself with the proposal that he play the lead in A Star is Born. He accepted — he was very excited to finally be offered a real dramatic role (and he might have been great in it). So the Colonel, who knew exactly how to manipulate him, talked him out of it very skillfully and deftly. Never acting with any artist of real stature, and having to sing crumbbum new songs and recycle old hits are two of the main reasons (drugs being the third) the artist in Elvis started to die. Personally, I think the man died because the artist died first.

  14. Kent says:

    I knew Norman Taurog. He was one of my directing teachers in film school. That was in the 70s, some time after he worked with Elvis. He was a bright and alert man, with a sharp and hilarious sense of humor, not palsied in any way. He had a distinguished directing career, made several pictures with Judy Garland, Mickey Rooney and Mickey & Judy as well as the better pictures of Elvis’ post army movie career, including Speedway, my personal favorite. If there is any single failure in these movies it is in the scripts.

    A Star Is Born broke down for one simple reason, not the result of a myriad of Colonel intrigue. The Colonel AND Elvis refused to yield top billing to Streisand. The movie was made out of her production deal at Warner Brothers, and she was producing with Jon Peters. Streisand refused to yield top billing to Elvis, and the deal stalemated. A potentially great movie was lost, and I still mourn it.

    However, placing blame for it at the feet of any single person is like blaming The Colonel for Obama being President today. I believe, had he lived… that Elvis, post rehab and seeing what Reagan pulled off, would have jumped into the Clinton era as President (after Bush played out). He could have easily repealed the 22nd amendment, and he’d still be President today. America would still be broke, most likely, but we’d have less war, more international music festivals, a lot more sex on the battlefield, and better military recruitment posters.

  15. sheila says:

    Eddie – I don’t think he died because the artist died first. That’s a bit too romantic for me. You couldn’t kill an artist like that. I think he died because he was a drug addict and in a spiral of addiction. Get him off those drugs, that artist would still be there – it was always there. Unkillable. A force of nature, from God. At least that’s what I believe. The man was only 42. He was perfectly willing to re-invent himself, as long as he could be in front of that crowd.

    I have written before that very few entertainers give me that sense of the Divine, like he does. Judy Garland was another. Freddie Mercury, another. It’s otherworldly.

    EP sensed it himself. Drugs put him in a haze. Remove those drugs, of course he would have come roaring back. No question.

  16. sheila says:

    Kent – // more international music festivals, a lot more sex on the battlefield, and better military recruitment posters. //

    haha. Yes. I like your vision.

    I like Speedway, too. It has a zippy loopiness that is attractive – any time it’s on I have to watch it. Also, Elvis never looked better.

    The story of what went down with Babs and Elvis is well-known in my group of friends (we’ve been Babs fanatics since the beginning of time) – and we often would sit around and talk about the movie that might have been made, what that would have been like – to see Elvis and Barbra go toe to toe. What would that dynamic have been like?? She was always most excellent opposite true Alpha males. She knew herself that well. Put her with Alan Alda, and she would have looked like a monster, a Type-A bitch – but put her toe to toe with Redford or Nick Nolte – BOTH parties come out smelling like a rose. So I still mourn the movie that wasn’t made as well. (Similar to how I imagine what would have happened if Cary Grant had taken the same role when it was offered to him, opposite Judy Garland. Love James Mason – but I still dream of what that performance would have been like.)

    A monsoon of conflicting issues clearly led to the many business decisions that were made – all that made total sense at the time. EP always seemed to know what he wanted to do, when he came back to live touring, he went at it with a full heart. Excited to be in front of an audience again.

  17. sheila says:

    And Kent – would love to hear more of your stories about Taurog!!

  18. Kent says:

    Sheila, I think you are right about Streisand onscreen. She has an insane level of energy that just blasts through mere mortals. Kristofferson is a big strong hunky looking guy, and she just turns him into mush onscreen, he hardly registers against her. I think, just like Elvis, she is a SEX BEAST in movies. Beyond her talent, intelligence and skills, she has a PRIMAL SEXUAL DRIVE that is not as obvious as EP’s, but a big part of her force. On film. In person, she is tiny, delicate and lovely, and incredibly sweet. She either needs a Redford, or someone she’ll defer to. One of my favorite moments in film is when she backs off, smiles and throws her big number, one of the biggest, most complex and lavish in film history, right in Lois Armstong’s lap… and let’s him do his thing and top her, in Hello Dolly.

    Taurog was wonderful. He had been one of MGM’s most successful directors in the golden era 30s – 40s, and kept working long after the place was a grand ruin, but he is nearly forgotten today. He had much more to do with the success of “Mickey & Judy” than he has been given credit for, and had guided both to stardom early in their careers. He liked to talk and laugh, and had a very unique view of Louis B. Mayer as well.

  19. sheila says:

    That overhead closeup of her and Redford in bed in WAY WE WERE? Erotic, hot, pulsing. Yes, she needed someone (needs someone) she can buck against. Mirror Has Two Faces is awful, but I’m not surprised she picked Jeff Bridges as her lead. She knows what she needs onscreen – very very smart. A lesser talent would pick men who couldn’t dare compete with her, but Babs always knew better. She was too big for mere mortals.

    And I agree: sex BEAST onscreen.

    You can hear it shivering through some of her earliest recordings. They still shock me.

  20. sheila says:

    What was Taurog’s view of Mayer, Kent?

    • Kent says:

      Taurog had many stories about intervening with Mayer on behalf of Garland as a child, and as she began to get sick and break down in her late 20’s.

      Briefly, he thought Mayer had a brilliant mind and style, but was a very sick man. That Mayer should have been a criminal prosecutor.

      He said Mayer was not tremendously articulate verbally, but insanely persuasive, and the most strategically skillful person he’d ever met. He respected his use of strategy, though he didn’t agree with much of it.

      He felt Mayer was so abusive to Garland that he drove her into despair, especially when she wanted t0 publicly support the Hollywood Ten.

  21. sheila says:

    Fascinating and sad.

  22. Paul Duane says:

    What a great post. I love letting my iPod run wild on Elvis or on the complete Sun singles, the sheer weird leaps from great beauty to terrible novelty-record crappiness is invigorating. Two anecdotes: one, re the movie career that never was – Nick Ray tried desperately to get EP to play Jesse James for him, but ended up with Robert Wagner – the studios knew what they wanted out of Elvis and it wasn’t art. The other, re the Sun Records sound you refer to a couple of times in your post – a former Sun artist of my acquaintance who was himself produced by The Great God Sam Philips told me that Sam used to leave the studio doors open on foggy nights, believing the mist from the Mississippi had a positive affect on the tapes and helped give them their inimitable reverberation. If you haven’t been to Sun, go – it’s the most extraordinary patch of real estate I’ve ever stood in, and I found it a far more moving experience than visiting the gimcrack world of Graceland, though both are pretty much just franchises by now of course.

  23. sheila says:

    Paul – Love the anecdote about Sam Phillips and the fog!! Fantastic.

    Yes, I must go to Memphis. I’ve been wanting to since I was in college, don’t know why it’s never happened.

  24. Paul Duane says:

    If you do go, drop me a line beforehand, there’re a lot of very interesting people you should meet on your trip!

  25. Bybee says:

    Damn that Colonel Tom Parker! (teeth gnashing)

    I’m reading a memoir by Jackie Cooper right now (Please Don’t Shoot My Dog) and he’s at the beginning of his career with Norman Taurog, his uncle by marriage.

    • Paul Duane says:

      Last year I read a fascinating, possibly untrustworthy, scurrilous biography of the Colonel that posited the following: the possessor of a humongous gambling habit, Parker found himself in hock up to his neck to the Mob, who wanted a piece of Elvis. You don’t say no to the Mob. However, there is one authority that even the Mob can’t mess with – the US Army. So, Parker pulled strings to GET Elvis drafted, shrugged to the Mob “what can I do?”, but promised them he’d look after them once EP was out of the service, proceeded to repay his debts, avoided losing his cash-cow but – and this is the payoff – was forced to offer them a little something, that little something being Elvis’s long engagement in Vegas. Interesting if true. It certainly has a ring of truth about it.

  26. Guy says:

    Wonderful post. Got me playing the movie songs, which I never listened to. Molte grazi.

  27. sheila says:

    Guy – There certainly are some good ones in there although, wow, are there some awful ones. Ouch.

  28. patricia says:

    Just love your posts on Elvis, Sheila. Good stuff!!! You should definitely do more.

    But I never got why “A Star Is Born” is called a chance Elvis’ shouldn’t have missed. It’s just another awful movie, a rather cheap star vehicle for Streisand who definitely deserved better. Streisand is what I call an awkward but charming actor very similar to Elvis. Like Elvis she needs someone to play off to. To have Elvis and Streisand together in a movie with a cheap story wouldn’t have helped them any with their reputation as actors… Of course there would have been a couple of great duets, but that’s a whole different story. Streisand and Redford is great, he pulls her through and highlights her awkward charms.

  29. sheila says:

    I agree: It was an awful movie! But the potential was there, and might have blossomed into something truly odd and unique if she had been paired with someone equally as weird and strong on-camera as she was (ie: Presley). The dynamic would have been fascinating – for him as well. The movies where he did best was when there was either some resistance in the female co-stars – or just flat-out sexual heat (ie: Ann-Margret). But when he was just strolling through a crowd of girls all ga-ga for him … he became infinitely less interesting. No tension. Even in a relatively dumb (but totally enjoyable) movie like Girls! Girls! Girls! – part of the reason why it IS good is that BOTH of the female characters are a tiny bit complex, don’t say Yes to him right away, and so that gives him the opportunity to either get annoyed/plead his case/turn on the seduction – you know, act like a normal man as opposed to a confident movie star.

    When the Presley deal fell through (and it wasn’t even really a deal – just an offer made directly to Presley by Barbra Streisand) – much of the heat went out of the project. He was Babs’ first choice. She was no dummy. She knew what she needed onscreen too. Strong beautiful confident men … It’s a very interesting dynamic. Redford brought out so much in her. They’re great together.

    • Kent says:

      The Streisand remake of A Star Is Born began with a script deal for Joan Didion and John Gregory Dunne. Their early drafts were VERY DARK. Closer to Play It As It Lays than the final version of ASIB ’76. Imagine Elvis PLAYING an addict. The locales are L.A. – New York – Memphis – Vegas in the mid 70s. He’s burnt out and on the edge until he meets Streisand. She pulls him back from the brink, and holds him close, but she can’t save him from himself. That was the concept. What got made was so watered down, and everyone let it happen because Warner Brothers didn’t care what went on in the film as long as Streisand sang six songs on the soundtrack.

  30. sheila says:

    Speaking of Babs in the 70s – I keep wanting my friend Mitchell (who is encyclopedic on Babs) to write something up for me about her, and her films of the 70s. I think I may just have to interview him instead, and transcribe it. He has so many interesting thoughts about it – think you might like it.

  31. patricia says:

    Kent – that’s exactly how I see it. Another watered down movie with songs for the headliner. It’s a seventies Babs movie similar to what Elvis movies were in the 1960s. Good that Elvis didn’t fell once more for that kind of thing.

    Sheila – would be great to have your friend write something about La Streisand.

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