Speedway (and Elvis film music)

Speedway
Original Soundtrack album
Elvis Presley
RCA 1968

Recorded on June 20-21 June 1967 at MGM Studios, Hollywood, California
Released June 1968

Tracklist

side oneside two
Speedway
(Mel Glazer- Stephen Schlaks)
Your Groovy Self – Nancy Sinatra
(Lee Hazlewod)
There Ain’t Nothing Like A Song – Elvis Presley & Nancy Sinatra
(Joy Byers – Bob Johnston)
Five Sleepy Heads
(Tepper- Bennett)
Your Time Hasn’t Come Yet, Baby
(Joel Hirsch – Al Kasha))
Western Union
(Tepper-Bennett)
Who Are You? (Who Am I?)
(Weisman- Wayne)
Mine
(Tepper Bennett)
He’s Your Uncle, Not Your Dad
(Wayne- Weisman)
Goin’ Home
(Joy Byers)
Let Yourself Go
(Joy Byers)
Suppose
(Dee-Geshring)
Speedway: Elvis Presley & Nancu Sinatra, RCS, UK LP, 1968

MUSICIANS

Elvis Presley- vocals
The Jordanaires – backing vocals
Charlie McCoy- trumpet
Boots Randolph – saxophone
Pete Drake- steel guita
Tiny Timbrell- lead guitar
Chip Young- electric guitar
Larry Muhoberac – piano
Bob Moore – doube bass
D.J. Fontana – drums
Buddy Harman – drums
Chrlie Hodge – piano (Suppose)
Scotty Moore – guitar (Western Union, Suppose, Going’ Home)
Jerry Kennedy – lead guitar (Western Union)
Tommy Tedesco – lead guitar (He’s Your Uncle, Not Your Dad, Let Yourself Go)

Nancy Sinatra’s Your Groovy Self was recorded separately with her own chosen musicians.

This article is as much to do with Elvis’s film soundtracks in general as it has to do with the selected representative album. The list of possibles was long. Virtually every Elvis Presley film soundtrack in the mid to late Sixties was reviled, and while you can compile a superb album, even a superb double album, from nine years of soundtracks, there were never more than a couple of decent tracks on each one.

My choice might have been Fun in Acapulco, Double Trouble, Harum Holiday, Roustabout, or any of the later ones. Most agree that Clambake was a partial return to form. Speedway saw him play a racing driver for the third time. I chose Speedway because it was the last ‘all musical’ to be filmed – the subsequent ones focussed on acting. I genuinely like the obligatory two decent tracks, even if one isn’t by Elvis. It’s late … 1968 … when he’d already had enough of churning out crap films with bland soundtracks. It was one of the last before the 1968 comeback special.

Early on, he did well with film music. Film soundtracks were top of the charts, and they spawned hit singles. When they didn’t have enough material for an LP, they didn’t pad out, they released EPs … Love Me Tender, Jailhouse Rock, Kid Galahad, Follow That Dream, Viva Las Vegas, Tickle Me, Easy Come, Easy Go.

EP on EP … EPs were usually long enough (gallery- click to enlarge)

By Viva Las Vegas (retitled Love in Las Vegas in the UK), sales of EPs were falling in the USA, though the format was still viable in the impecunious UK … we couldn’t afford LPs. After Kissin’ Cousins they decided to go for a full LP most times in the USA, though Tickle Me was an EP, as was Easy Come, Easy Go. This move to full LPs usually meant “bonus songs” to fill out the album. Was this where the dread word ‘bonus track’ originated? It also strained the resource bank of decent songs, and Colonel Parker liked these bonus tracks recorded fast. So they started releasing very short 12″ LPs with films.

The descent in quality is inexorable, though for me, Wooden Heart from GI Blues was as bad as Elvis ever got later (and I also class the title track, G.I. Blues as daft novelty). I was tempted to choose G.I. Blues here, just to be controversial, but it was not “Reviled!” at the time. Except by me.

I heard as much of Blue Hawaii at youth club as I will ever want to, apart from the double-sided hit single. On the other hand, Rock ‘n’ Roll #2 in its reissue version in 1962 was my first ever full-price LP. That stands up as essential listening today. Kid Galahad was a very early EP purchase for me too.

The film hit albums …click to enlarge

By 1962, Elvis was on a three film a year treadmill: releases in March, June / July, December for Christmas sales. After around Follow That Dream, most people I knew simply stopped going to see them. In the UK, Cliff Richard films were doing far better … The Young Ones, Summer Holiday, On The Beach. The UK was very much Elvis v Cliff. I remember dinner with newly married friends in the early 70s. His Cliff Richard LPs were on one side of the record player, her Elvis LPs on the other. I correctly predicted it couldn’t last.

Then The Beatles had arrived, and once we’d seen A Hard Day’s Night none of my contemporaries could be bothered with Elvis until the 1968 comeback TV special. There was a solid faithful hard-core fan base in the UK, but mainly they were older than me.

Colonel Parker had decided on a formula that was to stifle and emasculate Elvis for the next five years. Parker was more interested in the $500,000 to $750,000 per film upfront, plus 50% of the profits,  than he was about the lottery of the charts. By the British invasion, Elvis’s chart career had faltered anyway. The plan was to focus on movie soundtracks. The films promoted the records. The records promoted the films.

Hal Wallis was the main producer and the only interest was money. Rehearsals were abandoned, retakes limited. The films were shot as fast and as cheaply as possible. He used smaller studios, avoided expensive location shots as much as possible, and avoided the top quality crews too.

The music process was speeded up alongside. Often Elvis was expected to record over pre-done instrumental backing. Parker would instruct writers to work unused songs from earlier sessions into film stories.

Sales going down a bit … click to enlarge

Elvis’s problem in the film era was the basic material. The great songwriting teams, Leiber & Stoller and Pomus & Schuman were no longer prepared to go along with Colonel Parker’s demands for a major cut of the publishing, or with the total control he demanded.

Mike Stoller recounts an early meeting with music publisher Jean Aberbach:

Mike Stoller: “The Colonel feels he can do great things for your career,’ said Aberbach, ‘And he’d like you to sign these contracts.’ He handed us blank pieces of paper with only a signature line.
‘Are you kidding?’ we asked.
‘No,’ Jean answered, ‘The Colonel said we could fill it in later. It’s a matter of mutual trust.’

Jerry Lieber & Mike Stoller with David Ritz, Hound Dog: The Lieber &Stoller Story, 2009

Jerry Leiber: Despite our attempts to upgrade Elvis’s film career, we were not banished (by the Colonel). Every time Elvis went into the studio we got a call saying The King wanted us there. Even though we always wanted to work with Elvis, there came a time when it wasn’t possible.

Leiber had pneumonia and the Colonel insisted they come to LA to work with Elvis immediately.

Leiber: We could have had hit after hit with Elvis. It was like an annuity, like hitting the jackpot every time. Should we screw it up, and blow the deal?
I called Mike … the Colonel is adamant. What should I tell him?
Mike thought for a few minutes snd said, ‘Go tell him to fuck himself.’

Jerry Lieber & Mike Stoller with David Ritz, Hound Dog: The Lieber &Stoller Story, 2009

And there it was. Elvis however insisted on re-recording their back catalogue whenever he could … Girls, Girls, Girls, Little Egypt, Bossa Nova Baby, Fools Fall in Love, Saved. Elvis had his way with Leiber and Stoller songs: Trouble, Jailhouse Rock, Saved and Little Egypt (used in Roustabout) were all featured heavily in the 1968 NBC Comeback special.

The slightly younger writers like Goffin- King and Mann-Weill were doing fine without giving up half the income or being treated like slaves by Colonel Parker. So Elvis generally ended up with workday songwriters like Tepper-Bennet or Giant-Baum-Kaye who would give him a cut of the publishing, as did notably Ben Weisman (music) and Sid Wayne (lyrics). Elvis recorded fifty-seven of their compositions.

Glen Campbell Sings For The King: CD, UMG, 2018

A selection of the Wayne-Weisman efforts can be found on Glen Campbell Sings For The King (2018) a compilation of demos of Weisman material which Glen Campbell did between 1964 and 1968 for Elvis to follow faithfully, with the same Wrecking Crew musicians Campbell usually worked with. They’d put down six songs in a session. Campbell did them in Elvis’s style complete with vocal mannerisms like ‘uh-huh,’ and pausing. On a couple, I wondered whether they kept the backing tracks and re-used them.

Ben Weisman: I approached writing for Elvis differently than I did for any other artist. The songs had to have a combination of blues, country, rock and pop [what came to be called ‘rockabilly’]. It was like walking in his musical shoes. With each new Elvis movie, more of my songs were being recorded. It became more and more exciting, for I was becoming the only songwriter to have so many songs recorded by him. After completing each song, I would make a demonstration (demo) record, using a singer that could copy Elvis’ sound. I used the same type of rhythm section that he used, with the same type of vocal backgrounds. The end result was a tailor-made production, just for him. One of the first demo singers I hired was Otis Blackwell, who wrote such great Elvis songs as “Don’t Be Cruel,” “All Shook Up,” and many more. Some of the other talented singers I found were Glen Campbell, Delaney Bramlett, P.J.Proby, Ray Peterson and Dorsey Burnette.
Dangerous Minds website, 2018

P.J. Proby also sang Weisman songs, and there were 1960-62 demos for songwriter Sharon Sheeley which feature Proby and also Campbell. Proby claimed he demoed twenty songs, at $10 a time. I suppose it was to prove that songs would suit Elvis’s voice, though it might be that he couldn’t imagine a song from a very different version.

The songwriters Elvis ended up with were content to lift bits from popular songs too …Trouble from King Creole is Hoochie Coochie Man (though thats Leiber-Stoller), Clambake is perilously close to Shortnin’ Bread by The Andrews Sisters. Stay Away Joe was “inspired” by Pick A Bale of Cotton. There’s A Brand New Day On The Horizon from Roustabout owes something to When The Saints Go Marching In. It goes on and on. They also failed to pick up more apposite covers … Little Egypt by Leiber and Stoller, written for The Coasters in 1962, was among the exceptions.

Elvis was getting tired too.

Red West (Elvis’s movie stand-in): At first it was something new for him. After a while it got to be the same, a pick-up from the last movie. It really got so he didn’t enjoy doing them. At first he liked making movies … but then it didn’t get any better … the scripts didn’t get any better, and the songs were all the same. It kinda got bogged down, Actually, some of the films, he couldn’t wait till they were through. Most of ’em. He liked Wild in The Country, because there was a good story there. He liked King Creole, and he liked Flaming Star and I can’t think of many more that he enjoyed doing.
Quoted in Elvis by Jerry Hopkins, 1971

A dozen others say essentially the same thing – that Elvis began to abhor the films. Those present when Elvis cut songs for the movies say that he’d wander over after listening to one of the demonstration records and say, ‘What can I do with a piece of shit like this?’
Quoted in Elvis, by Jerry Hopkins, 1971

You will also notice a certain lack of creativity or inspiration in cover design. Head and shoulders shot of Elvis? That’ll do. His best ever cover was the Love Me Tender EP with a shot from the film.

On the way down … click to enlarge

By 1967, the problem of material had fully penetrated to Elvis. The real change came with Guitar Man, used as a bonus song to pad out the Clambake album. Jerry Reed had just had a country hit with it and Elvis was insistent that he wanted to record it. Reed had gone on to get a bigger hit with Tupelo Mississippi Flash a tribute to Elvis. Guitar Man had already been a hit and Reed was not about to compromise. Not only that, he got to play on Elvis’s version:

Clambake OST: “Plus 5 Bonus Songs”

It was a hit then, and a mainstay of “Best of Elvis compilations ever since.

Jerry Reed: I was out on the Cumberland River fishing, and I got a call from Fenton Jarvis (Elvis’s RCA producer). He said, ‘Elvis is down here. We’ve been trying to cut “Guitar Man” all day long. He wants it to sound just like it sounded on your album.’ I finally told him, ‘Well, if you want it to sound like that, you’re going have to get me in there to play guitar, because these guys [you’re using in the studio] are straight pickers. I pick with my fingers and tune that guitar up all weird ways.’

Reed went on to play on U.S. Male (another great Jerry Reed song), and Big Boss Man. Elvis saw his future clearly laid out. That was how he wanted to record. The series of R&B covers such as Big Boss Man, Hi-Heel Sneakers, was a welcome shift, without Elvis realizing that they would have been cool three years previously rather than a year after the Summer of Love. However, the old songwriting teams were out. Speedway, already scheduled, was the end of that line. On the preceding Stay Away Joe no songs were issued, and Elvis made Fenton Jarvis swear never to release the song, Dominick which was about a bull. (It was issued in 1994).

Guitar Man bookended the 1968 Comeback special, as well as providing the running theme for the medley.

Elvis’ films and soundtrack records

This tells the story of the downward spiral, in LP and EP sales and singles taken from the films.

filmyearformatUS 40UK #singles
Love Me Tender1956EP#9 LP
#1 EP
Love Me Tender
US 45s #22
EP #9
Loving You1957LP1
Jailhouse Rock1957EPEP 1EP 1Jailhouse RocK
US 1 UK1
EP #16 in single chart
King Creole1958LP
EP
2 LP
1 EP
LP 1Hard Headed Woman
US 1, UK 2
King Creole
UK 2
G.I. Blues1960LP11Wooden Heart
UK 1
Flaming Star19601969 LP(2,
1969)
Wild In The Country19617″ 45Wild In The Country
US 26 UK 4
Blue Hawaii1961LP11Rock-a-hula Baby / Can’t
Help Falling In Love
US 1 UK 1
Follow That Dream1962EPEP 15EP 1Follow That Dream
US 5 (EP 1)
EP was 34 in UK single chart
Kid Galahad1962EP(gold)EP 1King of The Whole Wide World
US 30
Girls Girls Girls1962LP32Return to Sender
US 2 UK 1
It Happened At The World’s Fair1963LP44
Fun in Acapulco1963LP3Bossa Nova Baby
US 8 UK 13
Kissin’ Cousins1964LP65Kissin’ Cousins
US 12 UK 10
Viva Las Vegas
(UK Love in Las Vegas)
1964EP92Viva Las Vegas
UK 17
Roustabout1964LP112
Girl Happy1965LP8Puppet On A String
US 14
Do The Clam
US 21 UK 19
Tickle Me1965EPTickle Me EP
US singles 70
Harum Scarum
(UK Harum Holiday)
1965 LP811
Frankie & Johnny1966LP2011Frankie and Johnny
US 25 UK 21
Paradise- Hawaiian Style1966LP15
Spinout
(UK California Holiday)
1966LP1817
Easy Come, Easy Go1967EPEP 1
Double Trouble1967LP4734Long Legged Girl (With The
Short Dress On)
US 63 UK 49
Clambake1967LP4039Guitar Man (bonus song)
US 43 UK 19
Stay Away Joe1968
Speedway1968LPYour Time Hasn’t Come Yet Baby
US 72 UK 22
Live A Little, Love A Little1968 A Little Less Conversation
US 69 ( 30 years later a worldwide #1)
Charro1969Charro, B-side of Memories
US 35
The Trouble With Girls1969Clean Up Your Own Backyard
US 35 UK 21
Change of Habit1970Rubberneckin’
B-side of Don’t Cry Daddy
US 6 UK 8
Elvis films and soundtraclk records

Budget label Elvis

A hodge-podge of bits and pieces from existing and unreleased soundtracks were issued on RCA Camden budget label Elvis compilation albums over the next decade.

Flaming Star gallery

So Flaming Star became a budget compilation in 1969. It had originally been issued as a Compact 33 disc in 1961 in the USA. These Compact 33 EPs were designed mainly for juke boxes. It was a film Elvis had been especially interested in, as it was not designed as a musical. However, four songs were shoved on there. It has become sought after because the title track, Flaming Star, was originally titled Black Star:

Every man has a black star
A black star over his shoulder
And when a man sees his black star
He knows his time, his time has come

You can find Elvis’s version on Youtube. Of course David Bowie’s final album was called Blackstar. Elvis and David Bowie shared a birthday, and he was a hero of Bowie’s.

Speedway

Nancy Sinatra was an asset. 1966-68 were busy years for Nancy Sinatra … as well as having major hit records, she was Elvis Presley’s co-star in Speedway (released to screen in 1968).  She had been assigned to greet Elvis on his return from the army back in 1960, bearing gifts from her dad. She featured in the Welcome Home, Elvis TV special.

She got equal billing on the Speedway poster as befits one of the only popular music families to rival Elvis They had realized that with the films doing poorly at the box office they needed a singing co-star of equal stature with the current public. She was the first true A-list co-star, and after five major hits in two years, she was arguably a bigger draw than Elvis.

They knew each other, and their giggling in love scenes caused filming to be stopped for a day at one point. Elvis would ruffle her hair and smudge her make-up as they came out of her dressing room, as a joke to make the film crew think they were having a romance. She has described Elvis ‘dry-humping’ her as a joke that got more serious (she could feel “Little Elvis”), but says that the mutual attraction was never consummated. It’s mentioned in Albert Goldman’s prurient book Elvis, and Goldman likes drooling on about Elvis’s imagined sexual tastes (as he did John Lennon’s), but in this case, Nancy Sinatra reported it.

Nancy Sinatra was compared unfavourably to Ann-Margaret in Viva Las Vegas by critics, but in all fairness her role was a prim tax inspector who is most reluctant to fall for Elvis’s character.

WHAT THEY SAID

I don’t think we’ll find many album specific reviews, mostly it’s a blanket ‘Each film was worse than the one before.’

Speedway has a script that ran out of gas before Elvis Presley was born. Presley pictures can be unpretentious fun, but this one is both uninspired and too much of an imitation of too many of his previous movies … There aren’t even very many songs to break up developments too predictable to outline here …  Nancy Sinatra’s one song was the high point of the picture.
Kevin Thomas, Los Angeles Times, 22 May 1968

Speedway” is the late show of 20 years from now, I suppose. What will it tell the insomniacs of 1988 about our society? For one thing, they will probably wonder why we considered Elvis a sex symbol. … “Speedway” is pleasant, kind, polite, sweet and noble, and if the late show viewers of 1988 will not discover from it what American society was like in the summer of 1968, at least they will discover what it was not like.
Film review by Roger Ebert, 28 June 1968

Presley belts out his usual assortment of ballads and dance songs here, and has Nancy Sinatra as co-star for possible added box office lure. Aside from Presley’s singing, however, most of the interest footage, lensed at the Charlotte Speedway in North Carolina, rests in exciting stock car racing where a crash-a-minute is practically guaranteed
Variety 22 May 1968

And this is after all, just another Presley movie—which makes no great use at all of one of the most talented, important and durable performers of our time. Music, youth and customs were much changed by Elvis Presley 12 years ago; from the 26 movies he has made since he sang ‘Heartbreak Hotel’ you would never guess it.
Renata Adler, New York Times, 1968

Speedway, released in May, had barely made back its negative cost … the soundtrack album for Speedway had been a disaster.
Peter Guralnick, Careless Love – The Unmaking of Elvis, 1999

Elvis made nearly forty movies, almost all of them were completely dismal, and the LPs named after them, despite the occasional inclusion of studio “bonus” tracks aren’t much better … Most … are incompetent at all levels: Presley isn’t trying, probably the wisest course in the face ofthe material like ‘No Room to Rhumba in A Sports Car’ and ‘Rock A-Hula Baby’. When he does try, though, which is mostly when he is given something to try with, he’s still one of the greats.
Rolling Stone Record Guide, original edition

Rolling Stone gave Speedway three stars (along with G.I. Blues and Blue Hawaii). Most get two stars. Girls, Girls, Girls and Spinout both got four stars.

Side one

It’s hardly more than an EP – seven tracks plus five “bonus” tracks which are not related to the film.

Speedway

(Glazer-Schlaks)

This one appears over the very basic graphic titles. it’s one of the three Speedway songs on the Command Performances 2 CD definitive compilation of film songs. it’s an uptempo rocker which Elvis could never have performed badly.

The Las Vegas live version

This one survived to feature in his 1970 Las Vegas shows. It’s better live, and the African-American backing singers lift it well above The Jordanaires on the original film version.

There Ain’t Nothing Like A Song
(Byers-Johnstone)

There Ain’t Nothing Like A Song

The coffee shop, with cars serving as booths, was recreated in Quentin Trantino’s Pulp Fiction in a conscious homage to Speedway.

Nancy Sinatra danced with Elvis and sang a few lines in the last part of There Ain’t Nothing Like A Song.  Actually three lines and an accompanying voice on the final chorus. Her vocal is strangely dull and underplayed, but maybe she was playing the prim and reluctant tax inspector.

She is wearing a white mini-dress and those long white boots, which is probably one reason she was cast. I think we’ve all seen this coffee shop / youth club scene before while listening to similar ditties with similar lyrics. Whadda ya know, we gotta show. Elvis is playing drumsticks well as punctuation but I doubt we can hear the real ones. No instruments are plugged in. OK, filmed in 1967. Released in 1968. The girls look like Top of The Pops 1964. Did Elvis think for a second it looked as if he was playing the guitar solo? The last show biz end, arm in arm, other hand outstretched, has both painfully aware of the cliché. Elvis glances across with an odd expression as if to check they’re both doing it right when he should also have been looking ecstatic. Most directors would have retaken that bit.

Your Time Hasn’t Come Yet Baby

(Hirschorn- Kasha)

US Billboard chart #72. UK singles chart #21

It’s another one of the three Speedway songs on the Command Performances 2 CD definitive compilation of film songs.

(It) can only justify its soft, bouncy existence by the story of the film.
Robert Matthew-Walker Elvis Presley- A Study In Music, 1979

US single, RCA 1968

The song is a reply to a little girl who has just declared, ‘I wish I was old enough to marry you.’ He then dances with her and her sister and gives them ice-creams. He ends up surrounded by little girls. It’s mimed … they all are.

It’s catchy, though the Jordanaires are much too present for my liking. It finishes with a nod to Here Comes The Bride. Remember that old acting mantra: never perform with dogs or small children. Elvis was good at it though, and according to co-star Bill Bixby, was particularly good at working with children.

UK single, RCA 1968

Who are You? (Who Am I?)

(Wayne-Weisman)

A slow samba.

Who Are You? (Who Am I?)

OK, Elvis meets Nancy. They argue. He puts his fist through a door and punches out a passing man. He chases her, knocks out a man who intervenes and takes her into the closed and empty coffee shop to sing to her. I reckon this is one of the close-up romantic scenes where Elvis and Nancy couldn’t stop laughing. The script alone would have corpsed most actors.

Nancy: You’re wild, extravagant and unreliable. You’re not the kind of man I could fall in love with! And besides, we don’t even like each other …
Elvis: Oh?

Cue a kiss and a song.

In 2004 Nancy Sinatra appeared on Geraldo Rivera’s TV chat show and he asked about the film:

“Did you and the King get it on?” Rivera asked. For a few seconds, Sinatra seemed shocked by the tactless question, but answered, “I wish I could say yes, but no … didn’t happen … When we did the film, he was married and pregnant. There (were) very strict rules about that sort of thing.” Rivera asked, “With your family?” She responded, “I don’t know about my family … but with me. There was flirting, but just friendly flirting.”
Elvis History Blog

He’s Your Uncle, Not Your Dad

This has the dubious accolade of representing Speedway on a 1980 unofficial / bootleg album: Elvis’s Greatest Shit! The Worst Elvis Songs.

gallery- click to enlarge

They had a point. It earned its place. Your uncle is Uncle Sam sung to a military tune with marching band for suited businessmen to march to, and croon to.

He’s your uncle, not your dad
He’s the best friend you ever had
So, come on, dig, dig, dig in until it hurts
Just remember Pearl Harbor
The Alamo and nothing could be worse

then

When he calls you (Mmm) as he may do (mmm)
Don’t be frightened (Mmm), red, white and blue
Just be thankful you don’t live in Leningrad
He’s your uncle, not your dad

(At the recording session) Elvis was occupying himself for the most part by recording dispiriting material like He’s Your Uncle, Not Your Dad, the most egregious, but by no means the only example of the standard which Freddy Bienstock, and Hill and Range had been reduced.
Peter Guralnick, Careless Love- The Unmaking of Elvis, 1999

Let Yourself Go
(Joy Byers)

It’s one of the three Speedway songs on the Command Performances 2 CD definitive compilation of film songs.

Elvis’s vocals in Speedway are a notch above average. The film provides a disco called the “Hangout” as a backdrop for three of Presley’s six tunes. Easily the movie’s strongest number, and one that ranks among the best in all of the singer’s sixties movies, is “Let Yourself Go.” A fair-sized production number is built around it, with Elvis offering some fairly aggressive dance moves, evoking hazy memories of his youth. (Strangely, the song was marketed as the flip side of the syrupy “Your Time Hasn’t Come Yet Baby” when a single was released from the soundtrack.)
Variety review 22 May 1968

The sides were reversed in 1970 when the single was reissued in RCA’s Gold Standard series of Elvis singles.

Let Yourself Go in the film

The song is a tad generic, but given the voice and band, it’s still a fabulous performance. The wailing harmonica is not credited on the normal lists of musicians, but as Charlie McCoy was on the session, it has to be him. The drumming is rock solid. I once saw D.J. Fontana with Scotty Moore and a Welsh Elvis covers band. We all agreed that we’d never heard anyone hit the skins harder, though by then D.J. Fontana looked elderly. This sounds like him, and he’s right up front.

This song went on to the 68 Comeback Special in a much raunchier version in the bordello sequence, but that suits the lyric. The women took the first verse before Elvis came in. The film version already has storming backing and it was part of the Guitar Man closing medley.

1968 Comeback Special-: Let Yourself Go

Side two

Your Groovy Self

(Lee Hazlewood)

Your Groovy Self

Nancy Sinatra pressed for a Lee Hazlewood song rather than more of Elvis’s low-grade film songs. On his 17thfilm soundtrack, Nancy Sinatra became the first co-star to get a full solo song: Your Groovy Self, written by Lee Hazlewood naturally. And no, Lee didn’t cut in Elvis or the Colonel.

Your Groovy Self was recorded quite separately to Elvis’s songs, with her usual backing musicians, not the ones who backed Elvis on the rest. In the film. Ironically that would have been The Wrecking Crew who used to do those demos for Elvis. She mimes with Elvis’s supposed band, most or all of whom are dancers posing as musicians. It’s the best song in the movie. It is also available on her 1999 compilation You Go Go Girl. She suggested her arranger, Billy Strange, to Elvis for his non-film projects and that worked for a few hits (co-written with Mac Davis), but his management powers-that-be eventually got rid of him.

The choreography on Your Groovy Self is clichéd, I was doing lights on summer shows then, and her moves look several years earlier, but well-executed. Her work on her own TV special, Movin’ With Nancy is much better, but then so is the filming, the choreographer, and crucially, the songs.

She sings in a laconic, almost sleazy way, and the band sounds burlesque with a powerful drum part, as if about to break into a striptease. We won’t investigate how Lee Hazlewood came to rhyme ‘bus’ with ‘dangerous.’ The song lyric vows to eschew ‘happenings’ reminding of her anti-hippy duet with her dad, Life’s A Trippy Thing.

Not everyone appreciated her:

Unfortunately, Nancy Sinatra’s singing talent was not enough to carry her role opposite the more experienced and versatile Elvis. Her performance in Speedway lacked the energy and sex appeal generated by Ann-Margret in Viva Las Vegas. “Miss Sinatra is far better singing than dancing or acting;” wrote Renata Adler in her New York Times film review of June 14, 1968, “the ‘These Boots Were Made for Walking’ spirit is just too formidable in a dancer.”

BONUS TRACKS, NOT USED IN THE FILM:

Five Sleepyheads
(Tepper-Bennett)

A bedtime story, accompanied by Brahms’ Lullaby. Originally planned for the film, but cut. It’s not the first syrupy Elvis song sung to a classics melody line. It has a music box effect accompanying it. You wouldn’t want to hear it twice.

Western Union
(Tepper-Bennett)

This was first recorded back in May 1963 along with Devil in Disguise, and was an attempt to follow up Return to Sender, with a very similar tune and arrangement A dig into the archives.

I had a fight with my baby
Oh, how sorry I am …

is exactly like Return to Sender:

I gave a letter to the postman
He put it in his sack

Hold on though, Western Union was “written” by Tepper-Bennett, but 1962’s Return to Sender WAS written by Winfield Scott and Otis Blackwell. I know the song extremely well. We re-recorded Return to Sender for an ELT textbook. The 1963 recording sounds dated, but in Elvis terms, it’s from a good date. It’s a good track if you ignore the obvious rip-off.

Mine
(Tepper Bennett)

From a September 1967 Nashville session on the same sessions as Guitar Man, Big Boss Man and High-Heel Sneakers. Floyd Cramer played the piano. The warbling vocal tone is mixed back. It’s a big ballad, but unusually “under-sung” rather than given the full voice. Judging by YouTube, Elvis’s greatest fans love it.

Goin’ Home
(Byers)

Recorded in October 1967, for Stay Away Joe. It was designed to play over the titles of that film, but was replaced by Stay Away instead. I find Going Home superior. It’s fiercely patriotic:

This proud wild land where the wind blows free
Has always been a part of me
It’s in my blood, I just can’t get it out
For a hundred miles a man can see
And be about as wild as he wants to be
If he feels like shouting, all he’s gotta do is shout
Where the purple mountains reach up high
And look like they’re gonna touch the sky
Where the canyon walls have stood for a million years
Where the days are hot, the nights are cold
The desert sand looks just like gold
These trails were carved in sweat and blood and tears

Think American Trilogy. It’s a powerful performance with first rate drumming and guitar. It hadn’t got to me until I started this article … it’s one of the best songs on there.

Suppose
(Dee – Goehering)

In keeping with his renewed commitment, Elvis actually worked till four in the morning on one of the two nights dedicated to soundtrack recording, completing two version of Suppose, a romantic ballad he had been experimenting with at home for over a year.
Careless Love -The Unmaking of Elvis : Peter Guralnick, 1999

There was a previous attempt to record this in March 1970 during the Clambake sessions. That version was longer and eventually got released in 1995. It was obviously a song Elvis had faith in, and it’s in his BIG ballad style. It’s not my sort of thing, but nor were Are You Lonesome Tonight? or It’s Now or Never. Elvis had a taste for this sort of number, as shown by including Memories in the 1968 Comeback Special, to me the low point of the programme, even though it was written by Billy Strange and Mac Davis, and written for the programme.

The double bass is played with a bow.

OVERALL

Yes … Let Yourself Go and Your Groovy Self are the outstanding songs. I’ll add Going Home. Elvis must have thought enough of Let Yourself Go and Speedway to continue to perform them. Even the single, Your Time Hasn’t Come Yet Baby has a perky appeal. It is a time warp, as if Elvis was living in a different America to the world of 1967/68, but I guess he was living in a bubble.

The Command Performances CD set has (mainly) selected out the cream of the 1960s film songs, and if you like Elvis, go for it.

So, having gone through the film albums, let’s compile a twelve track album. I’m not counting bonus tracks like Tomorrow Is A Long Time (Spinout), Guitar Man, Big Boss Man (Clambake) or Going Home (Speedway). They’re mainly upbeat and often the title song.

Songalbum / EPyear
Jailhouse RockJailhouse Rock1957
KIng CreoleKing Creole 1958
TroubleKing Creole1958
Can’t Help Falling In LoveBlue Hawaii1961
Return to SenderGirls, Girls, Girls1962
King of The Whole Wide WorldKid Galahad1962
Bossa Nova BabyFun in Acapulco1963
Viva Las VegasViva Las Vegas1964
Kissing’ CousinsKissin’ Cousins1964
Do The ClamGirl Happy1965
Let Yourself GoSpeedway1968
A Little Less ConversationLive A Little, Love A Little1968

THE REVILED ALBUMS ARE (so far) …

Beatles For Sale – The Beatles
Their Satanic Majesties Request … The Rolling Stones
Speedway (and Elvis film music) – Elvis Presley
Electric Mud– Muddy Waters
Self Portrait – Bob Dylan
Byrdmaniax – The Byrds
Cahoots – The Band
Carl and The Passions- So Tough! – The Beach Boys
Wild Life – Wings
Recall The Beginning: A Journey From Eden … The Steve Miller Band
Hard Nose The Highway … Van Morrison
Chicago III … Chicago
Berlin– Lou Reed
Pinups – David Bowie
Born Again – Randy Newman
Mingus – Joni Mitchell
Everybody’s Rockin’ – Neil Young
American Dream – Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young

And here’s a rule-breaker. I’d decided one album each, but Van Morrison got so much vituperation from critics (unjustly) in 2021, that I had to add it:

Latest Record Project Volume1… Van Morrison

This list will grow steadily

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