elvis’ final four movies and their soundtracks

ELVIS PRESLEY’S LEGACY as both a recording artist and an actor seems to sug­gest that he had his head buried so far up his own be­hind during the ’60s that he didn’t no­tice that the times they were a-changing. But his final four movies and their sound­tracks sug­gest oth­er­wise.

Ac­tu­ally, he was far too as­tute not to have been aware—the lack of re­sponse by him aes­thet­i­cally was prob­ably more a com­bi­na­tion of things, such as:

• fear
• lethargy
• in­ertia
• in­dif­fer­ence

By in­dif­fer­ence I mean that things were not as bad as they may have seemed at the time to we fans and his­to­rians re­viewing those years ret­ro­spec­tively.

 

The movie and sound­track re­lease schedule of the second half of the ’60s made Elvis look like a king all right—King of Di­nosaurs.

 

Plus there was the fact that he was tied into sev­eral con­tacts with movie pro­ducers to make movies that had re­duced his ca­reer to making three movies a year with at­ten­dant sound­track al­bums, from which his new sin­gles were pulled.

So, while the movie/soundtrack re­lease schedule of the second half of the decade (1966−1968) made Presley look like the King of the Di­nosaurs, he was ad­dressing the issue with a re­newed in­terest in recording quality ma­te­rial in the studio and dreaming of per­forming live once again.

 

Final Four: bonus photo from the SPINOUT album (1966).

In 1966, a time when mil­lions of the men in the Western World were let­ting their hair down, Elvis posed for a se­ries of photos with this ‘do’ that looks like it re­quired shellac to hold in place and glisten with re­flected lamp­light. Shots from this photo ses­sion were used on sev­eral pic­ture sleeves, known to some fans and col­lec­tors as the “haircut sleeves.” 1

Before the final four

Let’s look back and try to see things the way the Colonel and Elvis may have seen them.

Re­member that ca­reers as pop singers were leg­en­darily brief, with a few no­table ex­cep­tions, many of whom branched out into movies or tele­vi­sion.

And the du­ra­tion of the suc­cessful ca­reer of a rock & roll singer was un­known, as it was being mea­sured by the yard­stick of Pres­ley’s suc­cess and ca­reer, there having been no one with a rock & roll ca­reer be­fore him.

 

Final Four: photo of Elvis and Shelly Fabares in a scene from the movie GIRL HAPPY (1964).

Shelly Fabares and Elvis on the set of Girl Happy in 1964. At the time, Ms Fabares was a just past her ca­reer high as an actor and a pop star. Need­less to say, mil­lions of guys around the world would have hap­pily done the clam with her. 2

1965

Elvis had a pretty good year: using the Cash Box Top 100, he had two Top 20 hits (Do The Clam and Puppet On A String), two Top 10 hits (I’m Yours and Easy Ques­tion) and one chart-topper (Crying In The Chapel), the latter selling mil­lions around the world.

Cu­mu­la­tive sales of his LPs were good, with the newly re­leased stereo ver­sion of ELVIS’ CHRISTMAS ALBUM selling 300,000 copies during the brief hol­iday sales season.

The fact that most of these records were sev­eral years old did not es­cape Pres­ley’s at­ten­tion.

Mean­while, three of his movies (Harum Scarum, Frankie And Johnny, and Par­adise, Hawaiian Style) and their ac­com­pa­nying sound­tracks were ar­guably the worst of his ca­reer.

 

Final Four: photo of Elvis and Shelly Fabares in a scene from the movie SPINOUT (1966).

Shelly Fabares and Elvis filming Spinout in 1966. By this time, her star power had faded, al­though her beauty was still growing. Also by this time, it’s prob­ably fair to as­sume that a few young men in Hol­ly­wood were lost who crossed those double lines and spun out over Ms Fabares.

1966

While the sales and chart ac­tion of the new sin­gles dropped pre­cip­i­tously (two Top 40 hits and one that squeaked into the Top 20), cu­mu­la­tive LP sales were good, mostly due to the ex­panding mar­kets around the world, where Elvis was still revered.

Elvis got a new pro­ducer and went into the studio with en­thu­siasm for the first time in years and cut the mag­nif­i­cent HOW GREAT THOU ART album.

Mean­while, the movies he made (Spinout, Easy Come, Easy Go, and Double Trouble) and their ac­com­pa­nying sound­tracks were better than the pre­vious year but still rel­a­tively lame. By this time, calling the av­erage Elvis movie a “B-movie” ex­ag­ger­ated its level of pro­fes­sion­alism.

 

Final Four: photo of Elvis and Shelly Fabares relaxing on the set of CLAMBAKE (1967).

Elvis and Shelley Fabares posing for a ca­sual photo on the set of Clam­bake in 1967.

1967

Sales of both sin­gles and LPs con­tinued to plummet in the US. The gor­geous In­de­scrib­ably Blue dis­ap­pointed everyone by barely making the Top 40. While the global market con­tinued to ex­pand, sales of new Presley al­bums nose-dived and ab­solutely paled in com­par­ison to sales of LPs by the new, younger (and hun­grier) rock artists.

On the plus side, Presley con­tinued to make good music in the studio with Jarvis, even if the re­sults were not com­mer­cially as suc­cessful as they might have been (Big Boss Man and Guitar Man were Top 40 hits).

Mean­while, the movies he made (Clam­bake, Stay Away, Joe, and Speedway) and their ac­com­pa­nying sound­tracks were ar­guably better than the pre­vious year. By this time, even his fans weren’t taking his movies or records se­ri­ously.

 

fINAL fOUR: Bill Bixby, Will Hutchins, Shelly Fabares, and Elvis in a publicity photo for the movie CLAMBAKE (1967).

Bill Bixby, Will Hutchins, Shelly Fabares, and Elvis posing for an MGM pub­licity photo for Clam­bake in early 1967.

1968-1969

While Presley recorded very little new ma­te­rial in the studio with Felton Jarvis, things def­i­nitely changed for the better. The quality of the movies picked up noticeably—at least by “Elvis movie” stan­dards (or lack thereof).

The movie record­ings also picked up.

Of course, none of the records sold par­tic­u­larly well, while the box of­fice take of the movies was neg­li­gible.

In some areas, a new Presley movie didn’t even reach the reg­ular the­aters, but wound up part of a drive-in’s weekend double-feature.

 

Final Four: cover of the stereo album G.I. BLUES (1960).

Final Four: cover of the stereo album BLUE HAWAII (1961).

Elvis opened the ’60s with two block­buster sound­track LP al­bums: G.I. BLUES (1960) and BLUE HAWAII (1961). At this time in 2017, the com­bined sales of these two al­bums may be greater than the com­bined sales of the thir­teen sound­track al­bums that fol­lowed in 1962-1969!

The Hollywood Years

From G. I. Blues, the first movie that Elvis made after re­turning from the Army in 1960, to the final film of the decade (Change Of Habit) in 1969, there are three simple ob­ser­va­tions that can be made re­garding the quality of the sound­track music for those movie:

  Many of the songs re­leased in the ’60s should never have been con­ceived, let alone com­posed.

•  Many of the songs com­posed in the ’60s should never have been pub­lished, let alone se­lected.

  Many of the songs se­lected for use in the ’60s should never have been recorded, let alone released.

 

Many of the sound­track songs of the ’60s should never have been written, let alone recorded and re­leased to his de­voted fans.

 

While there are no­table ex­cep­tions to these ob­ser­va­tions, they are few—especially when com­pared to what was hap­pening in the heady world of rock, pop, and soul music at the time!

That, too, changed in 1968. The last movies that Elvis made in 1968-1969 may not be any­one’s idea of mas­terful film­making, but they are in­ter­esting. They were also all pretty much bombs at the box of­fice.

Here are those four movies with the songs recorded for their sound­tracks. I have as­signed a value to each con­sisting of one, two, or three stars. The rating system is rel­a­tive, based on what Elvis was ca­pable of.

           Typ­ical, for­get­table Elvis movie dreck.
⭐⭐      Good, if un­ex­cep­tional.
⭐⭐⭐  G
ood enough to be a 2-star studio recording!

Live a Little, Love a Little was a nod to­wards adult humor and sex­u­ality (much the latter cour­tesy of co-star Michele Carey, of whom I never tire of ad­miring). 3

Songs recorded:

Won­derful World (Doug Flett - Guy Fletcher)                                        ⭐⭐
Edge Of Re­ality (Bernie Baum - Bill Giant - Flo­rence Kaye)          ⭐⭐⭐
A Little Less Con­ver­sa­tion (Billy Strange - Mac Davis)                    ⭐⭐⭐
Al­most In Love (Luiz Bonfá - Randy Starr)                                         ⭐⭐⭐

Charro has been re­viled by many hip critics for its sup­pos­edly de­meaning take on Na­tive Amer­i­cans, even though it was one of the first-ever Hol­ly­wood movies that looked at life with any kind of nod to­wards the per­spec­tive of those same Na­tive Amer­i­cans.

Songs recorded:

Charro (Billy Strange - Mac Davis)                                                               ⭐
Let’s Forget About The Stars (A.L. Owens)                                             ⭐⭐

The Trouble with Girls was an in­ter­esting pe­riod piece that might have suc­ceeded with a better script and stronger di­recting and/or acting.

Songs recorded:

Clean Up Your Own Back­yard (Billy Strange - Mac Davis)           ⭐⭐⭐
Swing Down Sweet Chariot (public do­main)                                         ⭐⭐
Signs Of The Zo­diac (Buddy Kaye - Ben Weisman)                                   ⭐
Al­most (Buddy Kaye - Ben Weisman)                                                      ⭐⭐
The Whif­f­en­poof Song (Ted Gal­loway -
Meade Min­nigerode - George Pomeroy)                                                       ⭐
Vi­olet (Flower Of NYU) (Steven Dueker- Peter Lohstroh)                         ⭐

Change of Habit (1969) is one of the least-watched and least-appreciated Elvis movies. It’s ac­tu­ally rather good, if only in what it at­tempts: a doctor run­ning a clinic in an inner-city (code for “black”) city, the Catholic Church sending a trio of nuns in dis­guise out into the “real” world as un­der­cover op­er­a­tives, those nuns being tempted by that real-world (of which the doctor is a part).

Songs recorded:

Change Of Habit (Buddy Kaye - Ben Weisman)                                     ⭐⭐
Let’s Be Friend (Chris Arnold - David Martin - Ge­of­frey Morrow)    ⭐⭐
Let Us Pray (Buddy Kaye - Ben Weisman)                                              ⭐⭐
Have A Happy (Buddy Kaye - Do­lores Fuller - Ben Weisman)              ⭐

If my as­sess­ment of the quality of these record­ings is ac­cu­rate, then an album com­piled of the best twelve tracks would have made up the best Elvis sound­track LP album since GIRLS! GIRLS! GIRLS!, which was recorded in 1962.

Yet the fact that these were much better than av­erage Presley movie songs was lost at the time as they were re­leased willy-nilly and spread out over var­ious sin­gles and Camden al­bums over the next few years.

 

Final Four: cover of the CD album THE LAST MOVIES (2017).

Follow what dream?

RCA’s all-Elvis sub­sidiary im­print Follow That Dream has just re­leased a CD ad­dressing the music from these sound­tracks. THE LAST MOVIES (FTD-151, 506020-975116), ex­cept it con­tains songs from the last three movies, not the last four dis­cussed above. Like all FTD projects, it con­tains a lot of al­ter­na­tive takes, many of them in­ter­esting, many of them not.

Here are the album list­ings. Note that ti­tles with an as­terisk (*) are pre­vi­ously un­re­leased (usu­ally for good reason):

Change Of Habit
Rub­ber­neckin’
Let’s Be Friends
Have A Happy
Let Us Pray
Clean Up Your Own Back Yard
Al­most
Charro
Let’s Forget About The Stars
Let’s Forget About The Stars (rough mix)*
Charro (rough mix)*
Clean Up Your Own Back Yard (un­dubbed master)
Al­most (un­dubbed master)
Swing Down Sweet Chariot (movie ver­sion)
Swing Down Sweet Chariot (fe­male vo­cals and brass overdub)
Signs Of The Zo­diac (duet with Marlyn Mason)
Col­lege Songs Medley:
– Far Above Cayu­ga’s Wa­ters*
– Boola Boola*
– Dart­mouth’s In
– Town Again*
– The Eyes Of Texas*
– On, Wis­consin*
– The Whif­f­en­poof Song
– Fair Har­vard*
– Notre Dame*
– Vi­olet
Al­most (takes 1-3*, 4*, 6, 10*, 11, 13-16*, 22-25*, 27-29*)
Let Us Pray (al­ter­na­tive vocal overdub)
Let Us Pray (vocal only)

Note that FTD in­cluded Rub­ber­neckin’, which was not recorded for a movie but was a part of the Chips Mo­man’s Amer­ican Sound ses­sions in early ’69. It was in­cluded in Change Of Habit but is ar­guably out of place on this album.

By not in­cluding the Live A Little, Love A Little sound­track on this com­pi­la­tion, they missed three of the best sides from this pe­riod.

So this album does not col­lect all the sound­track record­ings from what I con­sider Presley “last movies” to have been.

It’s ba­si­cally an album put to­gether for the must-have-everything Elvis collector—even if the “every­thing” in­cludes Elvis singing snip­pets of old col­lege songs and mul­tiple at­tempts at a rel­a­tively modest ballad.

Grade for com­pletist Elvis nuts:                                    ⭐⭐⭐⭐
Grade for diehard Elvis fans:                                              ⭐⭐⭐
Grade for normal people:                                                         ⭐⭐

Note that the focus of the col­lec­tion ap­pears to be the song Al­most, as there are eigh­teen takes of the song in­cluded. While I only gave the song a 2-star rating, Al­most is one of my fa­vorite sound­track record­ings of Elvis from this pe­riod.

 

Final Four: publicity photo of Shelly Fabares in the '60s.

Is it pos­sible to have “too many” photos of Shelly Fabares from the ’60s? No? I didn’t think so ei­ther.

Record review time

Like all Follow That Dream ti­tles, THE LAST MOVIES fea­tures great (dig­ital) sound in a beau­tiful package, and in­cludes a 16-page booklet with in­for­ma­tion and photos. Like most FTD ti­tles, it is for Elvis col­lec­tors, fea­turing a few strong tracks with sev­eral lesser record­ings padded out with out­takes that few non-Elvis lis­teners ever want to hear.

Why RCA proper doesn’t issue more Elvis al­bums and just let de­cent stuff go out on these lim­ited edi­tion col­lec­tors CDs is puz­zling.

Take the six­teen tracks recorded for the final four movies of 1968-1969, and you have a rea­son­ably sound Elvis album.

 

While I only gave the song a 2-star rating, Al­most is one of my fa­vorite sound­track record­ings of Elvis from this pe­riod.

 

Add an­other dozen or so in­ter­esting out­takes, and RCA would have a very good CD album for gen­eral release—although they might want to give a snazzier title, like Rub­ber­neckin’ – The Last Elvis Movie Sound­tracks.

As a mere mortal, I would think that the pos­si­bility that such a re­lease might cap­ture the pu­bic’s at­ten­tion and po­ten­tially sell hun­dreds of thou­sands of copies would be at­trac­tive.

But, like Colonel Parker be­fore them, the powers-that-be at RCA know best …

And in June, 1968, Elvis went to NBC-TV’s stu­dios in Bur­bank, Cal­i­fornia, and taped the per­for­mances that re­de­fined his ca­reer. These led to the ses­sions at Chips Mo­man’s Amer­ican Sound studio in Mem­phis in Jan­uary and Feb­ruary 1969, and these to his first live ap­pear­ances in eight years at the In­ter­na­tional Hotel in Las Vegas in July 1969.

 

Final Four: photo of Elvis and Marilyn Mason posing as Bonnie & Clyde on the set of the movie THE TROUBLE WITH GIRLS (1968).

FEATURED IMAGE: Marlyn Mason and Elvis Presley as Bonnie and Clyde during the filming of The Trouble With Girls (And How To Get Into It) from 1968.

Elvis 1957 goldsuit standup 1000POSTSCRIPTUALLY: This is ar­ticle is part of a se­ries that ad­dresses Elvis Pres­ley’s ca­reer in 1968, when to many it looked like he was on his way to ir­rel­e­vancy and the dust-bin of pop music.

 


FOOTNOTES:

1   This is a bonus photo pack­aged with ini­tial copies of the SPINOUT sound­track album. This photo is au­to­graphed from Elvis to the movie’s di­rector, Norman Taurog. Note that Pres­ley’s gen­uine sig­na­ture on the left barely re­sem­bles the machine-stamped sig­na­ture on the right.

2   Shelly Fabares had been a star of tele­vi­sion’s The Donna Reed Show (1958−1963) who ven­tured into a recording ca­reer. Her first single, Johnny Angel, was a pop mas­ter­piece of girl-swoons-for-boy; it topped the charts in 1962. And that was it for her ca­reer, al­though she was mar­ried to Dun­hill Records founder Lou Adler.

3   Elvis movies often fea­tured co-stars who brought a fresh-faced in­no­cence to the screen. That is, some of Elvis’s leading ladies were barely old enough to be con­sid­ered ladies, peaking with the teenaged, vir­ginal An­nette Day in Double Trouble. Michelle Carey could never be con­fused for a vir­ginal teenager and her ob­vious sex­u­ality in a Presley ve­hicle was a pleasant sur­prise in 1968.

 

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