There are infinite universes, beyond that which is known to man. Imagine, if you will, one such alternate dimension in which a king named Elvis Aaron Presley set a slightly different course for his life. In that universe, one of the king’s subjects was also born thirty years sooner. This allowed him to document what happened when his king took a stand in 1967. Submitted for your approval is this brief glance into… the edge of reality.
THE MYSTERY TRAIN ELVIS NEWSLETTER
Volume XII, Issue 4, Number 48
– Page 2 –
Hitchhike all the way down to Memphis with Big El
A review of Elvis Sings Guitar Man by Troy Y.
Word has it that Elvis had a major blow-up with RCA Records over Elvis Sings Guitar Man, which hit record stores last week. RCA originally planned to issue some of these songs on a soundtrack record for the new Clambake movie, which will be playing at a theater near you later this month.
Elvis insisted on an album with no movie songs, though. If the rumors are true, he apparently even threatened to fire his long-time manager over the debacle until the Colonel worked it out with RCA. Meanwhile, Elvis’ newly hired personal attorney is still reviewing management and recording contracts he signed earlier this year. With two cancelled movie soundtrack albums in as many years, could major shakeups be on the way? Stay tuned.
Ironically, the similarly-titled Elvis Sings Memphis, Tennessee came about due to similar circumstances back in 1963. As you probably recall, the legend goes that Elvis nearly fired the Colonel back then, too. Seems the Colonel wanted to replace that album’s release with a new installment of the Golden Records series. Elvis’ instincts proved right back then, for the platinum-selling Memphis, Tennessee album made it to number three on the charts.
In any event, with the Clambake songs shelved for now, we Elvis fans get this album instead. Was he right to take the same stand for Guitar Man as he did for Memphis, Tennessee? Let’s find out.
Guitar Man: The King of Rock ‘n’ Roll has gone Country & Western? That’s what this first song tells us. Musically, this is much better than anything on the Double Trouble LP and the Easy Come, Easy Go EP from earlier this year. In terms of the King’s commitment, this is more on par with the How Great Thou Art LP Gospel album that kicked off this year. Can the whole album live up to this first song, though?
Tomorrow Is A Long Time: While writer Bob Dylan has not released this song himself, Folk music fans may have heard it on the Odetta Sings Dylan album that she put out a couple years ago. I must admit, I never expected the King to sing Dylan, though! Even more so than “Guitar Man,” this is a very unusual song compared to what we are used to from him. I like it as something different, but hope the entire album isn’t like this.
Big Boss Man: Some people think that Country & Western is about as far apart from the Blues as you can get. Apparently not Elvis, who delivers yet another fine performance. This time, it is a Blues song done in what is almost a Country & Western style. It was combining different styles of music that helped the King to create Rock ‘n’ Roll back in the old days anyway. Be sure to listen out for a slight change to the words. Instead of “I want a little drink of water, but you won’t let Jimmy stop,” he sings, “I want a little drink of water, but you won’t let Big El stop.” I like the sound of that. I think I’ll call him that from now on. Of note, RCA originally planned this for release on 45 in the fall. They even put out ads for it, but the single was held back – probably while waiting for the various parties to resolve the whole Clambake album controversy.
Love Letters: After such a start, this is a ballad for the ladies. Not as strong as “Can’t Help Falling In Love,” but more along the lines of “Ask Me.” You might remember that Big El had a bit of a hit last year with this on 45 RPM.
Indescribably Blue: We know this one already, too. It was a 45 earlier this year. Though it didn’t do very well, I still say it is one of his best records. Sounds a lot like a modern take on his early days. I don’t mind hearing it again in the context of what is starting to sound like, dare I think it, his finest album in years.
Fools Fall In Love: Now the B-side of the above single. I didn’t like this one as much. Stick with the Drifters for this one. From the sound of things, Big El might have thought this one was for a movie. Most albums have a little filler, though.
High Heel Sneakers: Finally, back to new songs. Big El takes the Blues head on here and triumphs. A real treat!
Down In The Alley: Big El starts Side 2 in much the same way that he ended Side 1, with a Blues number. Not as effective as “High Heel Sneakers” and a little whiney for my tastes, but still an enjoyable performance. At least he sounds like he cares about these songs.
Come What May: This was the flip side to the “Love Letters” 45. Big El’s version is a little faster than Clyde McPhatter’s from ten years ago. Much like “Fools Fall In Love,” the arrangement here sounds like a movie song. He has to be more careful not to let that sound carry over into his “real” music. After taking his stand against RCA, would he have been better served to demand another recording session to properly finish this album? Maybe that’s expecting too much at once.
Mine: Here we are on the very next song and Big El makes up for “Come What May” and then some. “Mine” is a beautiful song, one of his very best love songs – right up there with “Can’t Help Falling In Love.” Way better than “Love Me Tender.”
Just Call Me Lonesome: And now the album turns Country & Western again! You can’t say you’re not getting variety here. Only Big El could pull off making all of these styles work as one album.
You Don’t Know Me: Ever since I first heard the Ray Charles version of this Eddy Arnold Country & Western song a few years ago, I always wondered what an Elvis version would sound like. Now, I no longer have to wonder. Big El turns in a somber performance that truly conveys the heartache of the lyrics. This is Elvis at his best. Look for a version of this when you go see Clambake. Is it possible that the rest of the Clambake songs were this good? I have a hard time believing that, but I guess we’ll know when the movie comes out.
Singing Tree: Big El stays in the Country & Western neighborhood for this one. While it does not compare to “Mine” or “You Don’t Know Me,” this song about lost love is still interesting and a fine performance.
I’ll Remember You: This one is another surprise, sounding like a cross between “Tomorrow Is A Long Time” from Side 1 and the Blue Hawaii soundtrack. With a little Country & Western thrown in. I’m not kidding! Again, only Big El could pull this off. Another beautiful song.
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I don’t know in what insane universe RCA would waste these songs as filler on movie soundtracks, but I’m sure glad it’s not ours. 1967 has certainly been a year of change for Elvis. As covered in our previous newsletter, he married his longtime sweetheart just a few months ago. Early next year, he and Ann-Margret are expecting their first child (see article on page 1 of this issue). Let’s hope that How Great Thou Art and Elvis Sings Guitar Man mean more good things are on the way in 1968.
So, I know the completists among you are wondering about the songs recorded for the Clambake movie. Will we ever get to hear them on record? Word around the rumor mill (which sure has been busy this year) is that they might be combined with songs from last year’s cancelled Spinout soundtrack album to make an Elvis Double Feature album. Stranger things have happened.
Thanks for reading, everyone. Have a Happy Thanksgiving, a Merry Christmas, and a Happy New Year! See you in 1968!
A fairytale? A fantasy? A careless product of wild imagination? You can believe or disbelieve, accept or reject; but if this isn’t real, then we’re all condemned to… the edge of reality.
[With apologies to Serling.]
Throughout 2011, The Mystery Train is commemorating the 44th anniversary of 1967. Find out why here.