Why STAY AWAY, JOE is better than it used to be

Cover of FTD's STAY AWAY, JOE (2013)

Cover of FTD’s STAY AWAY, JOE (2013)

REVIEW: Stay Away, Joe (2013 FTD Edition) CD

I never quite know what to make of Stay Away, Joe. The first time I tried to watch the movie as a teenager in the early 1990s, I couldn’t get past the non-stop party scene near the beginning. The whole thing just seemed so unbearable.

Yet, over the years, I have come to love most of the five songs recorded for this film. While Elvis performed many country songs in his career, he rarely delved into “outdoor” country songs that celebrate nature like “Stay Away” (“Greensleeves”) and “Goin’ Home” do. Elvis infuses a passion into these numbers that makes them stronger than the lyrics might otherwise suggest.

“All I Needed Was The Rain” is much the same, but this time with Elvis making the most of an otherwise lesser blues number.

The rollicking “Stay Away, Joe” is a song that had to grow on me. Somewhere, I’ve seen it accurately described as a “campfire song.” Taken in that spirit, “Stay Away, Joe” is just as much fun as it needs to be.

The outlier is the awful “Dominic,” which Elvis recorded against his better judgment after securing a promise from producer Felton Jarvis that it would never be released on record. Though it appeared in the movie, RCA did not release the song until the Double Features series in 1994 – long after the deaths of both Elvis and Jarvis.

I’m torn about whether “Dominic” should have ever been released. On one hand, Elvis lost the right to decide what should and should not be released once he passed away. Surely, had he lived, he would have been against quite a few of the releases that have kept us Elvis fans going over the years. Of course, had he lived, many of those releases would not have been necessary.

On the other hand, “Dominic” is such a wretched song, even among the already low standards of Elvis movies, that maybe his music label’s current Elvis team should have respected his wishes in this one instance. Releasing it served no purpose other than to please completists.

FTD’s Classic Albums series edition of the Stay Away, Joe soundtrack supplements the movie tunes with two far more commercial recordings made during the same period, “Too Much Monkey Business” and “U.S. Male,” both of which feature the impeccable guitar work of Jerry Reed.

Read my full review over on Elvis Australia.

From America to Elvis Australia

I have never travelled outside of the United States, much less to Australia. You may wonder, then, why an “American U.S. male,” with no connections to Australia, writes reviews for the Elvis Australia web site.

Long before I started The Mystery Train Blog, I spent a lot of time on the web reading certain Elvis sites. One of my favorites was always Elvis Australia. When I wrote a review of the 2008 edition of the That’s The Way It Is album for The Film Frontier, my pop culture blog (now Pastimescapes), I also emailed it to Elvis Australia to see if they were interested in cross-posting it.

This was how I first met David Troedson, the man behind Elvis Australia. Not only did David publish my review, but he also encouraged me to write more of them. One of the wonders of the web is being able to connect with people from all over the world who hold similar interests.

David has been a good friend, which is why, five years later, I continue to write occasional pieces for Elvis Australia. After all, it was the first Elvis site to feature one of my reviews, and it is still the most comprehensive Elvis site on the web. My thanks to David!

8 thoughts on “Why STAY AWAY, JOE is better than it used to be

  1. Troy….you nailed it …..mentioning the passion that accompanies the two opening songs…..always my favorites from this film. Of course that magnetic passion that Elvis infused, without effort it seemed, was always one of his ‘aces’ he owned………. beguiling his fans, still to this day! It doesn’t hurt to remember that Elvis looks stunningly healthy and virile in this film while singing these songs, at least for me!
    I too have held the notion that Elvis Australia is the best Elvis site, and have mentioned that fact to many of my Elvis friends!……also, have always enjoyed your contributions at that site. TYVM! Clementine

    • Elvis was definitely able to transcend less than stellar material. Imagine what he could have done if he had been able to keep more consistent writing teams behind him (e.g., Leiber & Stoller). Thanks, Clementine!

  2. The party scene is ridiculous but Burgess Meredith saves it in the morning: “I think…I think…I’m going to die.” Hilarious! And the music is unexpectedly great – like the music in “Live a Little…” Mature, classy and very listenable.

    • I’m a fan of Meredith, mostly due to his appearances on The Twilight Zone, but his character annoys me in Stay Away, Joe. I agree on the music, as with Live A Little, Love A Little. Thanks for commenting, Wellsy.

  3. Nice review. I saw Stay Away, Joe when it was originally released. Inside the theater I think there were more ushers than people sitting watching the film. Hard to believe it was the 65th highest grossing film in the US of 1968. Other than “Dominic” … might be the worst song Elvis ever recorded, but Elvis still brought a charm to the performance, I do like the songs. Although I wish they had not put all those dogs in the scene with him, my favorite being “All I Needed Was The Rain” a forgotten and underrated song imo.

    • Thanks, Joe. I’m not sure if “65th highest grossing film in the US of 1968” is something to be proud about, though. “All I Needed Was The Rain” is my favorite recorded for Stay Away, Joe. In fact, it is one of my favorite songs from any Elvis movie.

  4. Oh man, I love the party scene. Oops. :) It has a madcap screwball vibe that sets up the feeling that none of this should be taken seriously. And the fight scenes that feel like they go on for 10 minutes. In terms of his acting, which is what interests me, Stay Away Joe is one of his better performances – because the movie just let him BE. He is playful, rough, funny, and up-to-no-good, and I love the scene with Joan Blondell (a giant star in the 1930s who plays what appears to be a “friend with benefits” in Stay Away Joe – an intriguing concept). The music really isn’t the reason to see this. I ache for Elvis during “Dominic’, and knowing how embarrassed he was by it … it just seems criminal that they wouldn’t listen to this giant music star and get him a better damn song or cut the stupid thing. Horrible. but again, I love the film for the performance. He’s really loose and free in it. And he looks AWESOME. He always looks awesome, but I do love him in jeans, cowboy boots, hat. “All I Needed Was the Rain” is great, too.

    • Thanks for commenting, Sheila. I always enjoy your perspective on movies. I’ve come a long way in my reaction to Stay Away, Joe. It definitely has its moments.

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