Saturday, 5 May 2018

"The Best of 60s Elvis, Vol 1" - an imaginary CD

I'm having a whale of a time working my way through Shane Brown's Reconsider Baby: Elvis Presley - A Listener's Guide, which concentrates on the music, rather than the folderol. I wasted the best part of two hours listening to Elvis's 1960s output yesterday, trawling for any good stuff I might have missed. One or two tracks popped up, but, on the whole, the experience was as maddening as one might have expected. After all, we're talking about the man who went from recording the glorious "Little Sister" in 1961 - and the more-then-acceptable "Return to Sender" in 1962 - to committing the abomination that was "There's) No Room to Rhumba in a Sports Car" in 1963, the anodyne "Kiss Me Quick" in '64, and the inane "Do the Clam"  in '65  (the last two released as singles as the British Invasion raged!). The first signs that his mojo was returning...

...came towards the end of 1967, with the release of "Big Boss Man", and, at the start of 1968, with "Guitar Man". I wondered what a single CD's worth of really good Elvis material, only using songs recorded between 1st. January, 1960 and 31st December, 1969, would look like. So I had a go.

Let me admit right away that the choice of tracks is based entirely on my personal preferences and prejudices. I'm one of those traditionalists who believe that Elvis's very best work was done at Sun Studios, that his next best work was done in his pre-Army period with RCA, that a handful of his immediate post-Army tracks stand comparison with his pre-Army output, and that, with very few exceptions, his post-963 recordings represent the "melancholy, long, withdrawing roar" of a huge, transformative and totally natural talent fading away into drug-addled oblivion. I'm not a great fan of Elvis's big, baritone, ballad voice: I prefer the younger, lighter, more graceful, more playful Sun version, and the deeper, rawer, more rasping one he developed at RCA.

With two exceptions (one live performance, one home recording), I've stuck with proper studio versions. Here, in no particular order, are the 30 tracks I'd have on my The Best of 60s Elvis Vol. 1 CD:

1.  Little Sister (1961) - Elvis's finest '60s track: Pomus/Shuman song, Hank Garland on guitar - if only Elvis had continued along this path!
2.  His Latest Flame (1961) - the flip-side of "Little Sister": same songwriters
3.  Return to Sender (1962): insanely catchy Otis Blackwell, Winfield Scott number

4.  A Mess of Blues (1960) - Pomus/Shuman, again
5.  Guitar Man (1967) - straight copy of Jerry Reed's original, with Jerry Reed on guitar
6.  Little Egypt (1964) - Leiber & Stoller: not as good as The Coasters' version, but still fun

7.  I Feel So Bad (1961) - great Chuck Willis cover
8.  Gonna Get Back Home Somehow (1962) - you guessed it: Pomus & Shuman
9.  Can't Help Falling in Love (1961) - too much vibrato, but still his greatest ballad performance
10. Baby What Do You Want Me To Do (1968) - magnificent live version of Jimmy Reed's R&B classic

11. Big Boss Man (1967) - not as convincig as the earlier "Trouble", but decent
12. You're the Boss (with Nancy Sinatra) (1963) - grown on me over the years

13. Suspicion (1962) - you'll be amazed to hear this was written by Pomus & Shuman!
14. One Broken Heart for Sale (1962) - written by Otis Blackwell and Winfield Scott

15. Only the Strong Survive (1969) - Not a great fan of Elvis's later country soul stuff, but this is pretty good

16. Night Rider (1961) - I'm beginning to suspect I may be a Pomus & Shuman fan

17. Western Union (1963) - "Return to Sender" Mk. 2

18. Reconsider Baby (1960) - he really should have done more blues
19. Any Day Now (1969) - sounds like he means it
20. Suspicious Minds (1969)
21. Such a Night (1960) - his voice should have been rawer on this one, but it's still pretty good
22. Viva Las Vegas (1963) - yet another Pomus & Shuman number, and one of those Elvis records few rated at the time, but which now sound terrific

23. Bossa Nova Baby (1963) - Leiber & Stoller: this Tippy & the Clovers cover wasn't well regarded, but I've always loved it
24. It Feels So Right (1960)

25. If I Can Dream (1968) - Overblown, certainly, but gets me every time
26. Shoppin' Around (1960)

27. Follow That Dream (1961) - not a classic, but here for sentimental reasons
28. Like A Baby (1960) - bluesy

29. Stuck On You (1960)
30. Rock-A-Hula Baby (1961) - silly, but fun

Bonus Tracks:
31. Flaming Star (1960)
32. Girl of My Best Friend  (1960) - pleasant chugger territory
33. US Male (1968) - another Jerry Reed number, not as good as "Guitar Man" - or Reed's original
34. Down in the Alley (1966) - not a patch on The Clovers' original version, but enjoyable
35. 500 Miles (1966) - I just heard this for the first time. A recording of Elvis at home, singing along to a Kingston Trio record. Strangely affecting.

And yet I'd give all 35 tracks up for this 2'27" of utter magic:


  1. "With a cluck cluck here and a cluck cluck there
    Loud as they could be
    And when those chicks stepped out of line
    Chicken fricassee"

    I am surprised you overlooked Elvis's version of Old Macdonald from 1967's important contribution to the enduring magic of film, Double Trouble, in which the King of Rock and Roll also reveals that he is unable to pronounce the word "oink". This was at the same time Buffalo Springfield were recording For What It's Worth, Otis was laying down Dock of the Bay and the rest of us were wondering if there would ever be a device that would enable us to skip Within You Without You on Sgt Pepper.

    Your list is excellent but actually rather sad. After about 1963, it was mostly overproduced showtunes and cabaret. Talk about a gift being wasted. The chap over the road with much cooler parents than mine had all the Elvis 1950's 78s and once immersed in those, almost nothing after Elvis's army period came close for me. A welcome tribute to the work of the great Pomus Schuman team though. They wrote some belters. Nick Hornby captures the spirit in Doc Pomus on the Ben Folds/Hornby album Lonely Avenue, for those whose tastes extend to the 21st Century. I wonder whether any one will be writing about Kanye West in 50 years time.

    1. A bootleg LP, "Elvis' Greatest Shit" (presumably not his final one), was released in 1982, which kicked off with the "Old MacDonald":

      Side one
      "Old MacDonald Had a Farm"
      "Ito Eats"
      "There's No Room to Rhumba in a Sports Car"
      "Yoga Is As Yoga Does"
      "Song Of The Shrimp"
      "U.S. Male"
      "Fort Lauderdale Chamber of Commerce"
      "Signs Of The Zodiac"
      "The Bullfighter Was A Lady"
      "Wolf Call"
      "Can't Help Falling in Love (Outtake)"

      Side two
      "He's Your Uncle, Not Your Dad"
      "Scratch My Back Then I'll Scratch Yours"
      "The Walls Have Ears"
      "Poison Ivy League"
      "Beach Boy Blues"
      "Dominic the Impotent Bull"
      "Queenie Wahine's Papaya"
      "Do the Clambake (Medley)"
      "Datin'" (duet with child actor Donna Butterworth)
      "Are You Lonesome Tonight? (Live)"
      "Well, Well, That's All Folks"

      The Shane Brown book is excellent. Even though he's a ballad and MOR fan - and therefore slightly more open to Elvis' '60s work than I'm inclined to be - he points out that Elvis had completely lost musical direction by the age of 26. Part of the problem (he thinks) was that Presley was always a pure singles man - he and the people around him never grasped the concept of producing a properly-sequenced, top quality long player, as is evident from the 10th rate crassness of most of the LP covers, and in the bizarre choice of tracks and the order they appeared in. Given Elvis had lost the plot, you'd think someone in his circle would have realised that whacking any old bollocks on an album lasting around 20 minutes and sticking a crappy cover on it just wasn't cutting the mustard. They finally got round to a more modern concept-style approach in 1971 with "Elvis Country (I'm 10,000 Years Old)" - good cover too - but the next three LPs were Love Letters from Elvis, Elvis Sings The Wonderful World of Christmas, and Elvis Now! Dispiriting.

  2. Thank you very much indeed for not including the clip of Elvis on the Steve Allen Show in 1956 performing "Hound Dog" to a noble Basset Hound on a pedestal wearing a top hat. The thought of it still makes me squirm [the Colonel?].

    Many years ago a close relative of mine appeared with a Basset Hound in a dog food promotion which did not work either. Bassets are of an aristocratic disposition - not cut out for publicity work.

    1. Was this memorable event captured on film - your close relative that is, not Elvis?

    2. Unfortunately not - but an under-the-counter 8"x10" black and white glossy photograph is available to my "special" customers.

    3. Steve Allen hated rock'n'roll, and his intention was to humiliate Elvis. Elvis immediately regretted having agreed to do it. As Bassets have powerful bites, and have been known to get a trifle tetchy when mocked, I sincerely hope this one got the chance to rip a chunk out of Allen's arse backstage. Smug git.