THE ROUND PLACE IN THE MIDDLE is my faveravest rock & roll website! I found it once upon a time, kept coming back, posted a few comments, ended up in a conversation with the host Nondisposablejohnny, and now consider him an Internet friend. One of the categories on his site is “Stupid Stuff People Say About Elvis,” which led me to get down and dirty about one of the stupidest things I have read about Elvis. 1
Currently, there are eighteen entries on The Round Place In The Middle, each worth a read, if only to see that you simply cannot believe what people say! Even (especially?) people that you normally assume know what they’re talking about!
I have been planning on an article for A Touch Of Gold that compiles some of the stupidest stuff that Johnny has found, along with his normally sane and often funny replies. But today I have this article, which is my contribution to John’s theme. Here’s some stupid stuff that someone famous once said about Elvis:
“Many times, he would use the demonstration track that was used in New York and just sing over it. And that was released as the new Elvis Presley single.”
This incredible statement apparently first found its way into print in the May 22, 1976, issue of the New Musical Express. It was in an article with the extraordinarily silly and apparently condescending title of “Well, Bless-uh Muh Soul, What’s-uh Wrong With Me?” by Mick Farren. 2
This photo of Little Brenda Lee belting one outta the park in 1960 can be found atop every page of The Round Place In The Middle. The site’s sub-title is “Western Heroes, Girl Group Singers and Other Nice Things (Lifting the Best, Lamenting the Rest).” Aside from rock & roll, John writes about old western movies, the Shangri-Las, detective fiction, the Shangri-Las, and politics. (And the Shangri-Las.)
Fools fall in love in a hurry
Farren tells us that Phil Spector worked for Leiber and Stoller in the early ’60s, preparing demos of songs for Presley. Spector did work with Jerry and Mike then, learning his trade, and even contributing to a few songs. 3
Farren quotes Spector on the demos that he supposedly made for Leiber and Stoller to pitch songs to Presley:
“If there was a lick or a riff that appealed to him, he wanted it in the record. In fact, many times he would use the demonstration track that was used in New York and just sing over it. And that was released as the new Elvis Presley single. Far out, right?”
Far out, indeed!
Of course, completely untrue, but who gives a damn, right? Phil Spector says it’s so, so it’s so!
Does anyone think that Leiber and Stoller wouldn’t have sued RCA for a piece of the action?
The rumors of Elvis using demo tracks for his records or slavishly copying demos (arrangements and vocal) have been part of the Elvis story for decades.
These stories are usually told by people who hate Elvis after he left Sun and ‘sold out’ to RCA Victor.
Or hate the Elvis soundtrack albums of the ’60s.
Or hate Elvis in Vegas in the ’70s.
Or just plain hate Elvis.
There has never been any evidence to support this kind of stuff, but that doesn’t stop Elvis-haters anymore than the elimination of millions of jobs year after year during George Bush’s administration changed any true believer in the “Tax-cuts-for-the-wealthy-creates-jobs” mantra. 4
Farren can be forgiven for believing Spector, whose capacity to lie was not yet the stuff of legend. In 1976, there wasn’t a single source of reliable information on recording sessions by any artist. If we read the rock literature and criticism of the ’60s and ’70s today, the misinformation and stupid stuff that was said—often with pontifical seriousness—can be astounding or off-putting.
But these stupid things keep getting recycled: I found the same story in The Mammoth Book Of Sex Drugs & Rock ‘N’ Roll (Running Press) from 2010. There were thirty-four years to correct the mistakes, or attach a note of correction to the end of the article—anything to keep from spreading the stupid stuff around!
But it is was reprinted in all its incredible stupidity, the editors or Farren apparently unconcerned about inaccuracies and erroneous accusations. 5
In 1982, Mick Farren and Roy Carr authored the first good book on Presley’s career as a recording artist. As was typical of the time, they were generous in praising the material from the ’50s and often nasty about what followed. Still, this is a necessary book for any serious Elvis scholar! The British edition above was titled Elvis – The Complete Illustrated Record (Eel Pie Publishers).
I got a dirty dirty feeling going on
In 1998, Ernst Jorgensen published Elvis Presley – A Life In Music: The Complete Recording Sessions (St. Martin’s Press, 1998). Ernst was RCA’s official Elvis historian and album compiler; he had access to all the extant paperwork and session tapes on Presley’s sessions from 1954 through 1977. So what do we know now?
• We know that every track released by RCA Victor and credited to Elvis Presley was recorded by Presley with his own musicians.
• We know that Presley never overdubbed his vocal on to a demo tape sent to him from New York or anywhere else.
To think that Elvis and the Colonel and RCA Victor paid musicians for not playing and falsified Union and studio notes is absurd.
Spector was saying that RCA took another company’s backing track—another company’s copyrighted intellectual property—assigned their own matrix number to it, and then used it commercially!
Does anyone think that Leiber and Stoller would have missed the opportunity to sue RCA—at the very least for a piece of the action when the money came in?
In 1980, RCA of England issued a compilation of all the Leiber and Stoller songs that Elvis had recorded in the ’50s and ’60s. It was a great collection that had an interesting side-effect: it showed the decline of Presley from the passion and humor of Hound Dog in 1956 to the blandness of Fools Fall In Love in 1966.
Girls girls girls and bossa nova babies
Another decades-old accusation is of Elvis often just lifting his arrangements from other songs with little change. This is a less heinous crime, and it does appear to have occurred—just as other artists recorded Elvis songs and lifted his arrangement. It’s just business.
But since we’re here, let’s have a look: during 1960-1966, Elvis recorded six Leiber & Stoller songs. By using videos from YouTube and Vimeo, we can listen to the originals and to Presley’s version and compare them. We can also listen and see if we can hear Elvis overdubbing his vocal on to a Spector demo.
The list below has the year in which Elvis recorded the song, followed by the song title. Below are notes and comments concerning the recordings.
1960 Dirty, Dirty Feeling
This rocker was written especially for Elvis in 1958, so Spector couldn’t have produced a demo. According to Leiber and Stoller:
“He wanted us to write songs for his new movie, King Creole. We submitted four songs: King Creole, Trouble, Steadfast Loyal And True, and Dirty Dirty Feeling. Elvis liked all four. Dirty Dirty Feeling was dropped from the score, but two years later, when Elvis got out of the Army, he remembered the tune and he recorded it.” 6
This recording doesn’t sound like anything else on the 1958 KING CREOLE album. Nor does it sound like anything on the 1960 ELVIS IS BACK album. In fact, it doesn’t sound like much of anything else in Presley’s catalog. It does sound rushed, like a slightly slower pace might have benefited the song.
1962 Just Tell Her Jim Said Hello
This was written for Elvis, so Spector actually could have produced a demo for Elvis! As this video includes four takes, we can hear the musicians subtly adapt their parts with each take as Elvis figures out how he wants to sing it.
Which couldn’t happen if Elvis was singing to a pre-recorded demo.
1962 Girls! Girls! Girls!
This was originally cut by the Coasters in 1961, so Spector couldn’t have produced a demo. The song was recorded in two sections, Girls Girls Girls (Part 1) and Girls Girls Girls (Part 2). Both are pretty darn dumb songs, with the first part practically a kiddie’s record!
Presley’s version has a similar arrangement to Part 2 but he sings the song straight with a lot more gusto. (Not that his version isn’t without humor, but Elvis-haters tend not to notice this in Presley. Don’t ask me why.) RCA or Paramount added exclamation marks to the title, making it Girls! Girls! Girls!
1963 Bossa Nova Baby
This is not a bossa nova number; it’s basically one of many (many!) twist songs recorded in the early ’60s. It was originally recorded by Tippie & The Clovers in 1962, so Spector couldn’t have produced a demo.
The group name makes the band sound new, but Roosevelt “Tippie” Hubbard was the new lead singer for the well-established Clovers. The original group had formed in 1946 and was one of the most successful black rhythm & blues vocal groups of the ’50s.
The Clovers’ version can also be heard as a novelty R&B dance tune. Presley’s version has a similar arrangement but a very different feel: Elvis sings it straight and hot. It’s a better record than the title would lead one to assume. And as the video above demonstrates, Elvis was one of the best damn twisters of all time!
1964 Little Egypt
This was another near-novelty number by the Coasters, a group who built a career on Leiber and Stoller songs that were both farcical and brilliant social observations. It was originally cut in 1962, so Spector couldn’t have produced a demo.
By 1964, Elvis movies and their accompanying soundtracks were so blah that this recording—which is nothing special—was one of the highlights of the ROUSTABOUT soundtrack album. Which was an album sorely in need of highlights.
Elvis cut this song again for his 1968 television special; that version sizzled and was something special! Alas, as it has nothing to do with addressing Phil Spector’s insane remark, so it’s not included here.
1966 Fools Fall In Love
This was originally released by the Drifters in 1957, so Spector couldn’t have produced a demo. It was one in a long line of hit singles by the group—regardless of who the members were!
Elvis recorded his version during the May 1966 sessions that produced such gems as Love Letters, Down In The Alley, and Tomorrow Is A Long Time, along with the brilliant HOW GREAT THOU ART album.
But Fools Fall In Love was one of the few lackluster sides from those sessions. Why it was selected for release as a single has always puzzled me. Every version of Presley’s recording sounds like the tape was wound up a few revolutions-per-minute when mastered to disc, with both Elvis and the band sounding ‘thin.’
This is a 1959 publicity shot of Mort Shuman and Doc Pomus for their publisher, Hill & Range. Elvis recorded fifteen of their songs between 1960 and 1966, several of which have become oldies radio station staples.
Spector and Pomus and Shuman
There seems to be anecdotal evidence that Spector also produced demos for the songwriting team of Pomus and Shuman. It’s mentioned on several usually reliable websites and usually mentions Phil produced some demos in the early ’60s. Apparently, at least one was submitted to Elvis.
I couldn’t find any real data on the professional association between the men, but Ernst Jorgensen mentioned one demo in A Life In Music. On October 15-16, 1961, Elvis first attempted cutting Pomus and Shuman’s Night Rider:
“They didn’t have much better luck with Night Rider. By now they were tired, and no one could come up with a decent groove for the song; they ended up taking it at a breakneck pace, and though take 3 was accepted as a master, everyone knew they could have done better.”
Elvis returned to the song on March 18-19, 1962, and a second attempt at cutting the song was made:
“Next Elvis wanted to give another shot to Night Rider, but he gave up after an hour of struggling, as nobody seemed to be able to see beyond the typically overwhelming arrangement on the Phil Spector-produced demo.”
That’s all that Ernst said. It would seem that the Spector-produced demo was in the studio during the sessions and used as a guide, a normal practice among recording artists.
The American edition changed the cover art and dropped Complete from the title and was issued as Elvis – The Illustrated Record (Harmony Books). My favorite passage was a review of the January 1964 single Kissin’ Cousins: “The single heralded yet another atrocious movie. In another galaxy, the Rolling Stones issued Not Fade Away.” Now if you’re going to offhandedly dismiss something with condescending aplomb, that is how to do it!
This is what happened to Elvis
Finally, the Phil Spector thing isn’t the stupidest stuff that Farren wrote in his article. In fact, it’s not even close! That belongs to Mick’s opening paragraphs, which are reprinted below. I have numbered the sentences so that I can address each statement individually. I am using Roman numerals so that no one confuses these with the footnotes below.
i. “When an artist hasn’t produced anything of note for something like fourteen years, the world begins to judge him on just about anything but his talent. When no original work is forthcoming, a superstar tends to be evaluated by his fans, his tastes, his vices, and his private life. This is exactly what happened to Elvis Presley.”
ii. “During the latter half of the 1950s, he virtually turned popular music inside out. Then he was drafted into the US Army.”
iii. “When he returned to civilian life his career came to what amounted to almost a full stop.”
iv. “With a couple of notable exceptions, nothing he produced from 1962 onwards had any creative power whatsoever.”
Uh huh …
Hmm, I wonder if Mick Farren included the infectious Devil In Disguise (1963), the baroquely beautiful Indescribably Blue (1966), the gorgeous Kentucky Rain (1969), the sublime I’m Leavin’ (1971), or the hard-rocking T-R-O-U-B-L-E (1975) in his conception of “notable exceptions” or thought that none of the above displayed any “creative power.”
Okay, here are my comments
i. Of course, any artist that goes that long without producing “anything of note” will attract attention to other parts of his life. Of course, nothing remotely like that happened to Elvis Presley—unless you’re blind, oblivious, or have the weirdest taste in the world.
ii. Hard to argue with that.
iii. Elvis returned to civilian life in March 1960, and the exact opposite occurred! In the nine months left him that year, he recorded four dozen masters. Out of them came five million-selling singles (Stuck On You, It’s Now Or Never, Are You Lonesome Tonight, Surrender, and Crying In The Chapel) and two extraordinary albums (ELVIS IS BACK and HIS HAND IN MINE).
He also made two movies, one of which produced the G.I. BLUES album that immediately became the biggest selling rock & roll related album yet.
None of this mattered to Mick Farren, who was applying a romanticized, post-Beatles, rock-is-art aesthetic to a time, place, and person for whom that criticism was inappropriate. This is an aesthetic that does not recognize It’s Now Or Never, Are You Lonesome Tonight, or Surrender as great records.
iv. Let’s read that again: “With a couple of notable exceptions, nothing he produced from 1962 onwards had any creative power whatsoever.”
That just may be some of the stupidest stuff ever said about Elvis!
Mick Farren as coverboy for The Daily Telegraph Magazine (September 28, 1973). Back in the ’90s, when I was doing the price guides and writing regularly for Goldmine, I received a letter from Mick. He suggested that I do a discography and article on the Deviants, which I never got around to doing. Mick passed away in 2013 at the young age of 69.
Enough already with the stupid stuff!
There is a seemingly endless supply of stupid stuff about Elvis on the Internet. There is a seemingly endless supply of ‘writers’ who either loathe Presley or just don’t like to do an honest day’s research.
The information available to me is available to them. And what does that information tell us?
• Phil Spector may have produced some demos for Elvis Presley in association with Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller in the early ’60s.
• Phil Spector may have produced some demos for Elvis Presley in association with Doc Pomus and Mort Shuman in the early ’60s.
• Elvis did not use any of these Spector-produced demos or any other demo on any of his records.
Oh, yeah, there also a seemingly endless supply of people willing to believe this stupid stuff about Elvis.
FEATURED IMAGE: The photo at the top of this page was taken in May or June 1957 on the set of Jailhouse Rock. While it is supposed to be a candid shot of Presley examining the sheet music for the title song while Leiber and Stoller look on, it is a very posed shot. I cropped the photo, colored it, and flipped it for a better header image.
POSTSCRIPTUALLY, this article is not meant to pick on Mick Farren; he was a smart man and a successful writer. But back in the ’70s, he was a rockwriter, and after Elvis succumbed to drugs and the ersatz reality of Las Vegas and drugs and lethargic country & western weepers and drugs, a lot of rockwriters expressed their disillusionment in Presley by saying some incredibly stupid things.
As I said above, Farren can be forgiven some of the factual boners he made then, but those boners should not be circulating now without explanatory caveats attached to them.
We all sat stupid stuff. As recently as a few weeks ago I was telling everyone that no matter how dumb they think politicians are in general and Rep*blican politicians in particular, the RNC was not dumb enough to give their presidential nomination to Donald Trump.
That may stand as one of the stupidest things that I have ever said, and hooboy is that saying something!
1 Instead of “my Internet friend,” I initially wrote “my web-buddy.” Yeah, it sounds like it has something to do with Spiderman, so I opted for the other term.
2 Mick Farren published other books on Elvis along with other books of non-fiction and fiction.
3 Notably, Spector is listed as co-writer with Stoller on Spanish Harlem.
4 Facts that disprove a belief rarely affect the faith of a true believer. In fact, quite the opposite: it actually tends to reinforce that faith! That’s why rational people never win arguments with true believers.
5 This should be an eye-opener to anyone who thinks the Internet introduced carelessness and the pervasive to-hell-with-facts attitude.
6 This quote is taken from Hound Dog – The Leiber And Stoller Autobiography (Simon & Schuster, 2009)