It hurts me to be a kissin’ cousin

Es­ti­mated reading time is 28 min­utes.

THE ROUND PLACE IN THE MIDDLE is a web­site that I stum­bled over some­time last year. There John Ross writes about rock & roll and Elvis and books and movies and even about critics with their arses up their heads. I was im­pressed with writing, in­sights, ar­gu­ments. So I sent him a mes­sage and that was more or less it.

Al­though I con­tinued to read his blog, we had no real com­mu­ni­ca­tion. Then I came across his entry from sev­eral years back on In The Ghetto, a record that I had been wanting to write about for some time. He agreed with my long-standing opinion (standing since 1969) that is was one of the most im­por­tant re­leases in Elvis’s ca­reer and wrote an ex­cel­lent article.

I emailed a re­quest to him that I be al­lowed the right to reprint his piece on my site (“On the im­por­tance of In The Ghetto”) and that I would follow that up with a second piece of my own ad­dressing both the record and his ar­ticle (“The im­por­tance of In The Ghetto part 2″). 1


You had to have been there in the mid-’60s to know how em­bar­rassing it was to be an Elvis fan when he was doin’ the clam and spin­ning out.


Now we have teamed up to craft a third ar­ticle, this one based on emails be­tween the two of us in which each of us re­sponds to some­thing that the other guy wrote. It was sup­posed to be a follow-up and ad­dress other as­pects of the recording and re­lease of In The Ghetto and other events of 1969, like the movie Change Of Habit, but when you get two talkers to­gether, things happen.

But it turned into a bit of a free-for-all as we each ad­dressed topics in ways un­known to the other, little of it ad­dressing the topics that we had pro­posed to one an­other. And so in­stead of the third in­stall­ment of “The im­por­tance of In The Ghetto” what hap­pened is “It hurts me to be a kissin’ cousin”!

So in­dulge John and I as we in­dulge our­selves and ac­tu­ally force our aging minds to grapple with some new thoughts and some pos­sible insights.


Elvis ChangeOfHabit Autism1

This may be the only op­por­tu­nity I get to plug the under-appreciated 1969 movie Change Of Habit. Here, vol­un­teer as­sis­tant Michelle Gal­lagher (Mary Tyler Moore) and Dr. John Car­penter (Elvis) help a neigh­bor­hood child (Lorena Kirk) through an episode that ad­dressed autism in a movie for the first time, a di­ag­nosis all but un­known at the time. 3

The difficulties of defending Elvis

It was dif­fi­cult to admit to being an Elvis Presley fan in the midst of the British In­va­sion and then the Psy­che­delic Six­ties but at least Elvis was still young and virile. I never had to con­sider being a fan ten years later, when Elvis was as­so­ci­ated with old age and the phoni­ness of Vegas and the glitzy (and often tacky) jump­suits and the de­clining po­tency and, well, the non-consciousness ex­panding drugs. 2

NEAL: Based on what I have read of yours, we have about ten years sep­a­rating us. And they are a BIG ten years when it comes to Elvis. Ba­si­cally, Elvis made all his fans in the ’50s, most of whom stayed with him during the first couple of years of the ’60s. Then two things hap­pened: they got older and mar­ried and Elvis got older and predictable-bordering-on-boring. By 1968, most of his orig­inal fans were long gone.

Then there were the younger ones like me who came into it all in the mid-’60s. We were the ones that loved Elvis enough to sit through Kissin’ Cousins and Easy Come, Easy Go. I am telling you, a good dose of acid would not have made them a better viewing. I bought the in­creasing lousier sound­track al­bums. Yada yoda blah blah blah!

The NBC spe­cial and Mem­phis ses­sions made up for it all, but you had to have been there in 1966–1968 to know how em­bar­rassing it was to be an Elvis fan when the Bea­tles, Beach Boys, Byrds, Spoonful, Dylan, Kinks, Stones, Who, Yard­birds, etc., were making ex­citing mean­ingful music. But I can save all this for an­other post some other day.

You need to sit down and watch every movie from 1960’s G.I. Blues through 1969’s Change Of Habit and listen to the sound­tracks al­bums that ac­com­pa­nied them. It’s an ed­u­ca­tion and I don’t doubt that when you watch Double Trouble and re­member that it came out with SGT. PEPPER and the Summer of Love you will have your post-psychedelic mind blown by its sur­real ir­rel­e­vance and near schizoid lack of con­nec­tion to con­sen­sual reality.

Oh, yeah: the second BIG ex­plo­sion of “new” Elvis fans in the US was in the wake of his death, but that too is an­other story for an­other time.


John and Neal force their aging minds to grapple with some new thoughts and some pos­sible insights.


JOHN: First off, I do feel at least some of your pain vis-à-vis the dif­fi­cul­ties of de­fending the un­cool Elvis, es­pe­cially in ju­nior high/high school years! While I never had that issue specif­i­cally with Elvis, I did run into my own ver­sion of this in the ’70s. I was into the ’60s—Four Sea­sons, Beach Boys, Lovin’ Spoonful—which was con­sid­ered ‘girl’s music’ if it was rec­og­nized at all.

Yes, the Beatles/Stones/Dylan tri­umvi­rate was still cool and so were Hen­drix and the Doors—not so much anyone else from that time. I re­alize this is dif­ferent be­cause I was de­fending past great­ness no longer rec­og­nized as such while you were forced into putting up with being an Elvis fan when Elvis was making a lot of bad music and worse movies at the same time so many other artists were pro­ducing works of ge­nius on an al­most daily basis.

I do envy your generation’s choices, though: by the time I came along, the Bea­tles’ equiv­a­lent, at least for boys, was Led Zeppelin—fair enough, but still a grade down. And the real fights were over, say, Kiss and Boston! Still, as you say, it must have been ex­cru­ci­ating for Elvis fans your age in those late ’60s years be­fore the Comeback.

I haven’t seen any­where near all of Elvis’ ’60s movies but I’ve seen seven or eight of them—the worst being Kissin’ Cousins—and I have heard (and own) most of the sound­tracks, in­cluding that in­fa­mous bootleg ELVIS’ GREATEST SHIT, which I re­ally, re­ally only needed to listen to once. I do in­tend to watch all the movies some­time and the manner you sug­gest would prob­ably be as good a way as any.

In­ci­den­tally, I loved those Amer­ican Studio photos that you used, es­pe­cially the one demon­strating the point about the white back­ground singers! Racial con­fu­sion in “the rev­o­lu­tion” is some­thing I’ve been putting a lot of thought into lately with an eye to­ward a post or two on the subject.



The con­cept of ELVIS’ GREATEST SHIT, a bootleg album from 1980, is just fine: it is a col­lec­tion of some of the worst tracks that Elvis recorded during some of the worst movies of the ’60s. It also in­cluded some pre­vi­ously re­leased out­takes. Un­for­tu­nately, the album was ru­ined by the un­be­liev­ably taste­less front cover. 4

Let’s get past all this

NEAL: Well, the first thing anyone heard from the Mem­phis ses­sions was In The Ghetto and it sure sounded like black “chick singers”! Sounded the same on FROM ELVIS IN MEM­PHIS, where the band sounded like black players. Since the Colonel would not allow RCA to give any credits, we didn’t know until years later that it was an all-white cast.

Not that it mat­ters, but it was cool thinking that Elvis had re­turned to Mem­phis and was cut­ting sides with the first black mu­si­cians that he had worked with. This car­ried some cool ca­chet with a lot of rock afi­cionados in 1969, the types who would not nor­mally give a Presley platter a hearing. The sub­tleties of racial stereo­typing know no boundaries.

JOHN: I re­ally want to do a long post someday on racial con­fu­sion in rock music: Buddy Holly and the Shangri-Las booked on the as­sump­tion they were black, the Coasters booked on the as­sump­tion they were white, most people thinking the white singers on Elvis’s Mem­phis records were black and the black singers on Sweet Home Al­abama were white, etc. Like you say, it shouldn’t have mat­tered, that was one of the points of Elvis’s own music. You know, “Let’s get past all this!”

Un­for­tu­nately, it did and does still matter. Seems like the chance to reach a much better place was there and we didn’t take it. Set­tled for a slightly better place in­stead, though per­haps that’s just the cynic in me (lol). I don’t think we can em­pha­size too much the sig­nif­i­cance of In The Ghetto being written, pro­duced, sung, and played—with utter conviction—by southern hill­bil­lies. I don’t think this was near as ‘co­in­ci­dental’ or ‘ironic’ as many in­tel­lec­tuals would have us believe.

Even more than music, the one great binding tie be­tween southern blacks and poor southern whites is New Tes­ta­ment Chris­tianity and In The Ghetto is about as deeply rooted in those shared ethics as any song could be. And Elvis blended black gospel and white gospel as deftly as he did black blues and white country.


Medium IMAGE CashBox Top100 3 10 1962 500

This Top 100 charts for Bill­board and Cash Box looked sim­ilar in their de­sign, the list­ings were often very dif­ferent: as the former in­cluded radio spins and jukebox play along with ac­tual sales, records topped the Bill­board chart that weren’t the best-selling records in the country at the time they were the #1 record in the country. 

Cash Box vs. Billboard

There is no ques­tioning Bill­board as the go-to source for al­most every “his­to­rian” who writes a piece about hit records of the past. But for decades Cash Box was a near equal rival and when Bill­board com­bined their three sur­veys (best sellers, jukebox play and radio air­play) into their Top 100 in 1958, things got a little crazy.

The record that sold the most did not nor­mally make the #1 spot, as jukebox play (a nickel a side or six-for-a-quarter) and DJ spins ac­tu­ally in­flu­enced chart position!

Cash Box re­mained rooted in sales and many writers such as my­self refer to Cash Box po­si­tions as well as Bill­board. In my ar­ti­cles, I al­ways note the record’s “peak po­si­tion” re­gard­less of the mag­a­zine. So John and I briefly talked about this.

JOHN: I’m re­ally in­ter­ested if you know a good main source on Cash Box. The main reason I’ve re­lied on the Bill­board record so much is that it’s readily avail­able. I would love to know if there are any pub­lished or on­line sources that do for Cash Box what Joel Whit­burn does for Bill­board.

NEAL: For the com­plete weekly charts, turn to Randy Price’s website, Cash Box Top Sin­gles. Joel Whit­burn fi­nally did a book on the Cash Box Top 100 pop charts, Cash Box Pop Hits 1952–1996.

JOHN: Def­i­nitely will do. I had no idea Whit­burn had done a Cash Box book so that will go on the ‘to ac­quire’ list im­me­di­ately. Now if he’ll only do one for the R&B charts! Oh, and your link in my email sent me on a hunt for other re­sources and it turns out William and Mary have put most of the ac­tual Cash Box is­sues on­line. I can’t seem to ac­cess it right now—probably due to my very slow In­ternet speed—but if you google “Cash Box William and Mary” you should be able to pull up the site.


HerbAlpert WhippedCream st 600

The only artist to ar­guably out­sell the Bea­tles in the Amer­ican LP market was Herb Alpert & The Ti­juana Brass. Their fourth album, WHIPPED CREAM & OTHER DE­LIGHTS, was is­sued in 1965 with one of the most outlandish—and to some, provocative—covers ever put on a major re­lease. The album was an enor­mous seller: al­most two years after its re­lease, Bill­board’s Top LPs for 1966 ranked it #1, ahead of the Bea­tles’ YES­TERDAY & TODAY and RE­VOLVER and the Mon­kees’ debut album. By the end of ’66, it had sold more than 4,000,000 copies in the US and would sell sev­eral mil­lion more. 5

Collecting in the ’60s vs. the ’70s

As I bought my first 45 with my own money about a hun­dred years be­fore John, there was a huge dif­fer­ence in our experiences—a lot of it having to do with the types of music that were pop­ular at the time. And money: sin­gles could often be found for 79¢ in the ’60s and (re­gres­sive) sales tax al­most didn’t exist. (We were still riding high on the pro­gres­sive tax­a­tion of Ike’s years, even though Kennedy had low­ered the mar­ginal rate a bit.) 

In the ’70s, they were a buck or more in a lot of places and state sales taxes were on the rise as Nixon low­ered the rate on the ex­tremely wealthy even more. Of course, by the ’70s I was too hip to be buying 45s and I only bought LPs—except for Elvis sin­gles, be­cause you never knew where they would end up album-wise.

JOHN: I’ve got a great love for record col­lecting sto­ries and your per­spec­tive cer­tainly adds a new di­men­sion to my orig­inal take on this record and its im­pact. I didn’t buy my first 45 until 1976, so I missed the ’60s en­tirely. I was about eight years old and not in a house where any­body re­ally bought records or lis­tened to the radio even though my mom was a huge Elvis fan.


In the ’60s, there was a sense of com­rade­ship, es­pe­cially among those fans of the ‘new rock music’ and the latest al­bums by the Bea­tles and Dylan were highly an­tic­i­pated and celebrated!


NEAL: The whole process of buying records was dif­ferent in the ’60s than after. By the ’70s, the in­dustry had re­gained con­trol of “artists & reper­toire” and much of the music at the same time that sales of LPs were sky­rock­eting. In the ’60s, the only artists to con­sis­tently sell LPs at a plat­inum level (1,000,000 do­mestic sales) were the Bea­tles and Herb Alpert & The Ti­juana Brass. In the ’70s, every­body sold mil­lions of everything!

So in the ’60s, buying cer­tain records by even name artists could mean that you were one among a few hun­dred thou­sand, and there­fore others in your neigh­bor­hood who bought the same records were seen as some­what akin. There was a sense of com­rade­ship, es­pe­cially among those fans of the ‘new rock music.’ The latest al­bums by fa­vorite artists—especially the Bea­tles and Dylan—were highly an­tic­i­pated and cel­e­brated. And I am not re­fer­ring to idol-worshipping teeny­bop­pers here!

By the time I had reached my mid-teens, Elvis afi­cionados were a rarity. We were mocked for Elvis’s record­ings of such dumb records as Do The Clam and Frankie And Johnny and Spinout. The mocking ended not with the tri­umph of the 1968 NBC-TV spe­cial but be­fore: by 1967, Elvis was such a non-presence in the world of ‘se­rious rock fans’ that read Craw­daddy and Rolling Stone and Dune and Stranger In A Strange Land and The Crying Of Lot 49 and that weird trilogy about lords and rings that Presley wasn’t even worth mocking—he was mostly just ignored.

JOHN: Yeah, the ’70s couldn’t have been more dif­ferent. My tastes were so dif­ferent from my generation’s that I was def­i­nitely an out­sider anyway. And outsiders—those who didn’t love Kiss or Zep­pelin or the Ea­gles (or the Bee Gees, for that matter)—were sup­posed to just love punk. Punk was going to free us. Alas, I wasn’t the least bit in­ter­ested, then or now, in punk as ei­ther music or pol­i­tics and I cer­tainly wasn’t ‘scared’ or ‘lib­er­ated’ by its scatology.

I have a run­ning joke that no­body raised on Tanya Tucker singing “Daddy left them both, soaking up the saw­dust on the floor,” was ever going to take Johnny Rotten se­ri­ously! But the main thing was that the ‘edgy’ music was ac­tu­ally on the fringes—and the cor­po­rate takeover you men­tion had a lot to do with that. Man, I would have loved to have bonded over Bea­tles and Dylan records!


Elvis KissinCousins PS ComingSoon A 600

Ex­e­crable by his pre­vious stan­dards, Kissin’ Cousins nonethe­less peaked at #10 on the Cash Box Top 100, al­though all we ever hear about today is its reaching #12 on Billboard’s Hot 100.

Kissin’ Cousins vs. It Hurts Me

I think that for both John and my­self, this is the most in­ter­esting part of our con­ver­sa­tion, even if much of it is based on hind­sight and spec­u­la­tion. One thing we did not and will not dis­cuss is the in­flu­ence of Elvis’s med­ica­tion on his ca­reer at this time. (Al­though I want to say that I have spoken with people who swear they can tell whether Presley was on up­pers or downers on any given scene based on how he de­liv­ered his lines.)

JOHN: I do take your point, though, about Elvis’ ca­reer being in real jeop­ardy in 1967–1968, with nei­ther the records nor movies doing well. When I wrote the piece, I was re­ally thinking about the whole 64-‘68 pe­riod in the sense that the movies at least gave Elvis some sort of cul­tural pres­ence during the mid-’60s cat­a­clysm (com­pared to this ‘50s con­tem­po­raries) which I do think made a come­back a bit more plau­sible. De­bat­able maybe but that was how I saw it when I wrote the piece.

NEAL: My point is that Elvis was so far be­yond where his ’50s con­tem­po­raries ever got that com­par­isons are point­less. Same goes for the Bea­tles: fans of the Beach Boys or Stones may think oth­er­wise, but there simply is nothing com­pa­rable to Elvis and the Bea­tles until Michael Jackson. The people who paid for most of the tickets for Elvis movies in the mid-‘60s were older than the normal rock & roll record-buying teenager.

Many were holdovers from the ’50s and as they got older got mar­ried got chil­dren the only movies they went to were dollar-a-carload nights at the drive-in. And the major ar­gu­ment against Presley Product of the mid-‘60s was that it had no cul­tural pres­ence or rel­e­vance or value.

JOHN: Here we get into what I think of as the eternal de­bate: How would Elvis have fared in that mael­ström of cre­ativity from 1964–1967 if he had con­cen­trated solely on music—or even di­vided his time be­tween music and se­rious acting? I mean, which path would he have taken? Re­ally, re­ally hard to know the answer.

The way I see it, his ca­reer re­ally was two-pronged in this pe­riod: the first 45 Elvis re­leased in the Beatles-era, coming lit­er­ally the month they were on Sul­livan, had Kissin’ Cousins on the A‑side, one of his very worst records, and on the B‑side, It Hurts Me, a non-soundtrack song which was one of his very greatest vocals.

Co­in­ci­den­tally or not, Elvis didn’t record any more non-soundtrack music for over two years. That last might be more than sym­bolic, be­cause when Elvis did the 1968 Come­back Spe­cial, he skipped a dozen or two re­ally big hits, which he might have added to the dozen or two he sang, and pulled out It Hurts Me, which was as buried at that point as any record he had ever made.

I think that says he very much knew its quality and wanted to, in ef­fect, say, “Are you ready for this now?” So maybe the great ques­tion in the de­bate is “What would have hap­pened if the public had bought It Hurts Me” even to the ex­tent it bought Kissin’ Cousins?”

My own guess is that at the very least, it wouldn’t have been two years be­fore Elvis picked up the thread. You can argue he should have been bolder, more as­sertive. I, in fact, would very much argue that. But then we would prob­ably be talking about a dif­ferent guy!

NEAL: Are you saying that had It Hurts Me been a hit Elvis would have been mo­ti­vated to record more such ma­te­rial in 1964–1967?

JOHN: Well, there’s no way to know for cer­tain. But I think it’s very pos­sible. I try to look at it from his point of view: “I made a great record that I re­ally be­lieve in.” His coming back to it when he had no other in­cen­tive but be­lief shows that I think.

My record com­pany re­leased it as the B‑side of a crappy movie song.”

The public didn’t ex­actly re­spond to it.”

There’s not much in­cen­tive to keep doing it at that point.

I re­ally hear that record as the first flow­ering of what be­came his ma­ture style—and no­body got it. Add the weight of the con­trac­tual oblig­a­tion to keep making those bad movies and the phys­ical and psy­cho­log­ical toll that was al­ready taking and, well, you get what you were having to put up with in those years.

So, yeah, to me the timing of that one record and the lack of re­sponse to it could have made a dif­fer­ence. Wouldn’t have made all the bad stuff any better, of course, but it might well have kept him going in reg­ular recording dates, where he at least had a mea­sure of control.


There is simply nothing com­pa­rable to Elvis in the ’50s and the Bea­tles in the ’60s until Michael Jackson in the ’80s and nothing since. 


NEAL: No ar­gu­ment with your hind-sighted (sic) opinion but there are three things in the way of making it so: first, it is common knowl­edge that Elvis picked his sin­gles and left the al­bums (EPs and LPs) to Parker and Victor. It may have been Parker’s idea to focus on re­leasing records that sup­ported and pro­moted the movies (as the movies sup­pos­edly sup­ported and pro­moted the records), but there is no ar­gu­ment that Elvis did not concur with this reasoning—and that rea­soning would have been fault­less had the record and the movies been de­serving of sup­port and promotion.

Second, the Jan­uary ses­sion that pro­duced It Hurts Me was ap­par­ently done so that Elvis could master Mem­phis Ten­nessee, a side he wanted as a single. Less than sat­is­fied with the re­sults (it was his second at­tempt at the song), he hemmed and hawed and RCA needed a new single and Kissin’ Cousins was due for re­lease to the­aters in March and why not go with the flow and choose or allow to be chosen the title tune to this new movie and oh by the way we need a B‑side and there was It Hurts Me which de­spite its amazing vocal per­for­mance by Elvis had not been seen as sin­gles ma­te­rial in 1964 any more than Sus­pi­cion had been seen as a single in 1962 (and Sus­pi­cion was equally pas­sionate and also a look for­ward to Presley’s “ma­ture” style and even­tu­ally a BIG hit in a sounda­like ver­sion by Terry Stafford).

Third, I no more like laying the blame for the lame records re­leased and the good records not re­leased (like a Viva Las Vegas sound­track album with a few cuts by fellow Victor recording artist Ann-Margret) on Colonel Parker and/or face­less execs and ac­coun­tants at RCA than I like as­signing all the credit to Presley’s great records to Sam Phillips or Bill Porter or Steve Binder.


Elvis ItHurtsMe PS 600

The mag­nif­i­cent It Hurts Me—one of Pres­ley’s finest record­ings in the lost years be­tween the first Come­back of 1960 and the second Come­back of 1968—was rel­e­gated to the flip-side of Kissin’ Cousins. Be­cause Bill­board counted radio and jukebox play, it was able to reach #29 on their Hot 100. On the more sales-oriented Cash Box Top 100, it only found its way to #48.

Three potential hit singles

NEAL: So my take is that Elvis recorded three po­ten­tial hit sin­gles in Jan­uary 1964—It Hurts Me, Mem­phis Ten­nessee, and I’m Yours—but he failed to se­lect any as an A‑side that year. Then he sat back and made the worst movies and music of his life for the next few years and watched the Bea­tles, Beach Boys, Dave Clark Five (let’s not forget the DC5!), Johnny Rivers, Tom Jones, and others have the hits. That is, Elvis made bad de­ci­sions re­garding his music and his records began to flag in quality and sales and chart performance.

JOHN: All good points. I didn’t mean to imply that Elvis didn’t de­serve the blame for what he did re­lease; even if he didn’t have con­trol, he could have fought much harder to get it, es­pe­cially on the al­bums. Also wasn’t aware that he had suf­fi­cient con­trol over the sin­gles re­leases that he could de­cide A/B sides, es­pe­cially where the title song from a movie was con­cerned. I was thinking in terms of con­trol over what he recorded and how he recorded it.

You’re much better versed in that area than me so I’ll tuck that away as stored knowl­edge! Also agree on your point about the Colonel, as I’ve never been big on “It was all the Colonel’s fault” the­ology. As you say, any artist as great as Elvis needs to get both the blame and the praise for his results.

So I agree with your im­plied re­buttal that, yes, Elvis should have re­leased Sus­pi­cion (very big mis­take), maybe shouldn’t have let Johnny Rivers beat him to Mem­phis (weird story there, with Johnny hearing it while hanging around and get­ting right on it!) and def­i­nitely should have re­leased It Hurts Me as an A‑side, and prob­ably I’m Yours as well.

Would it have done enough to re­as­sure him he was on the right track, movie con­tracts or no movie con­tracts? Would these have re­ally been big hits in the teeth of the British In­va­sion coming from Elvis? Those are the ques­tions that in­trigue me. But the hard fact is there’s just re­ally no way to know: those movie con­tracts were still there, alas. En­ergy was going to be drained, in any case, and it’s pretty clear Elvis had given up on any thought that he could bend ei­ther the Colonel or the stu­dios in his di­rec­tion there.

In­ci­den­tally, since this all got swirling around in my head, I spent last night lis­tening to the FROM NASHVILLE TO MEM­PHIS – THE ES­SEN­TIAL 60’s MAS­TERS box for the first time in a few years. (Def­i­nitely gonna be a post in there some­where, someday, maybe a de­tailed one on how Elvis’ vocal style was de­vel­oping throughout the early ’60s.)


C33 VivaLasVegas Brazil 600 1

This is the pic­ture sleeve for the Compact-33 single Viva Las Vegas/ What’d I Say from Brazil in 1964. It is one of my fa­vorite Elvis sleeves of all time.

One long dry spell 

It Hurts Me cer­tainly didn’t spring from nowhere—for “flow­ering” above I should have written “full flowering”—but I do hear it as the cul­mi­na­tion of some tech­niques he had been working on in bits and pieces since he got out of the army. It’s a shame we don’t know how he re­ally felt about any of this at the time. I think how he ul­ti­mately felt about It Hurts Me is in­di­cated by his picking it up for the 1968 NBC-TV spe­cial. I mean, it ob­vi­ously meant some­thing.

Did he think he had put him­self out too far, vo­cally, emo­tion­ally? Es­pe­cially given that he wasn’t ex­actly on a com­mer­cial win­ning streak and his con­fi­dence in ei­ther him­self or his public may have been a touch shaken?

In that case, sticking it on a B‑side would be sort of log­ical. Get it out there at least: maybe the radio will pick it up, as it had done with so many of Elvis’s flips up through about the fall of 1961. If not? Well then, wait a while. Maybe an­other chance will come along.

All this is my own ten-cent psy­chology of course. Very Southern-working-class/evangelical style fa­talism, to which I do think Elvis was more than a little prone, for better and for worse.

All I can say is that the stretch be­tween It Hurts Me and the gospel album more than two years later is one long dry spell for a singer who had been so in­cred­ibly and con­sis­tently committed—at least to the stuff he wanted to record—up to that point. And I sure wish I could ex­plain it somehow!


Elvis SusanHenning standingup bw 600

The scene here is from the orig­inal ver­sion of the 1968 NBC-TV spe­cial Singer Presents Elvis. It was a nar­ra­tive in­volving a strag­gling guitar man, a bor­dello, a badass big boss man, and a virgin prostitute—played by the in­cred­ibly beau­tiful Susan Hen­ning. It also had big pro­duc­tion values, big dance scenes, and none of the im­me­diacy and in­ti­macy that made the second ver­sion so amazing. In fact, it is doubtful that the orig­inal ver­sion of the show would have had the im­pact that the final ver­sion had. 6

Elvis in Hollywood in the ’60s

I grew up as an Elvis fan paying my saved-up al­lowance to pay to see what were al­ready re­ferred to in Hol­ly­wood as “Elvis movies.” It is not a part of being a fan that I re­call with fond­ness (al­though it does make for in­ter­esting anec­dotes and helps to put things into per­spec­tive, es­pe­cially when dis­cussing his near-miraculous come­back of 1968–1970). John has yet to sit ex­pe­ri­ence the slings and ar­rows of out­ra­geous fan-ness with Elvis in Hol­ly­wood in the ’60s.

JOHN: One ad­di­tional thing I have to con­fess is that the ’60s movies are a weak area of my Elvis ed­u­ca­tion. I’ve seen (and mostly love) the ’50s movies and the ’70s con­cert films. But I’ve only seen a handful of the movies and one I haven’t seen is Change Of Habit, which is some­thing I ob­vi­ously need to cor­rect post-haste!

I ac­tu­ally had no idea it ad­dressed the themes you dis­cuss and you make some ex­cel­lent points about the op­por­tu­ni­ties missed by both the suits (in­cluding the Colonel) and the pe­riod critics. I’ll link to this from my site in the morning so you can get both of my readers over here, too. We might be launching a movement!


Choosing the Worst Elvis Movie of All-Time is dif­fi­cult: I might argue for G.I. Blues, as it set the tone for all that fol­lowed.


NEAL: I sug­gest that you start with the ’50s movies and watch them again, in order. Then take a break (like, y’ know, pre­tend that Elvis is off in Eu­rope some­where looking for jail­bait) and then come back and start with G.I. Blues and work your way through each movie in chrono­log­ical order through Change Of Habit.

Do like one movie a week and listen to the sound­track record­ings that ac­com­pa­nied each film. Im­merse your­self in Elvis in Hol­ly­wood and watch as each film cheapens the product until we reach 1964–1965 and Roustabout (per­haps his worst movie and sound­track up to that point) and then Girl Happy (per­haps his worst movie and sound­track up to that point) and then Tickle Me and Harum Scarum (def­i­nitely his worst movie and sound­track up to that point) and then Frankie And Johnny and then there was Par­adise, Hawaiian Style with a sound­track so ex­citing that Presley didn’t even bother to turn up for the ses­sions (a first) and then it gets worse.

JOHN: That sounds like a good ap­proach. Now all I need is money and time—two things I tend to be no­to­ri­ously short of! One thing I re­ally wish is that the movies were re­leased in some af­ford­able, co­herent pack­ages but if I fi­nally get a faster In­ternet, maybe I can look into streaming possibilities.

I should prob­ably go ahead and con­fess my fond­ness for Girl Happy, which is ac­tu­ally rem­i­nis­cent of the goofy low­brow Disney movies I grew up on (and which con­sti­tuted most of the movies I saw until I was about six­teen!) It’s all rooted in cheap nos­talgia and I wouldn’t bother de­fending it but I refuse to be ashamed!

The only other movies you men­tion I’ve seen are Tickle Me and Roustabout. Those? Well, let’s just say I do NOT look for­ward to vis­iting them again.


aaa square

As I was clue­less about up­loading any kind of image, even this out­line of a square—effectively a blank space—is more than my orig­inal blog posts featured.

On blogs without photos

It took me a while to get past my trep­i­da­tion of learning yet an­other new trick re­garding In­ternet and blogs and web­site: finding, copying, crop­ping im­ages and placing them on my sites. I fi­nally did and it was well worth the price I had to pay and now I have to con­vince John to do the same to his site.

JOHN: have very much en­joyed this give and take—especially love your vi­suals. (Man, I didn’t even know E made the cover of Rolling Stone in the come­back period!)

NEAL: It took me 18 months of blog­ging to stop being afeared of learning to post im­ages on my sites and just do it! It’s been fun and my posts look so much better now.

JOHN: Hey, I think it took me at least eigh­teen months to figure out how to post an image. I start ig­no­rant and learn very slowly!

I should prob­ably go ahead and con­fess my fond­ness for Girl Happy, which is ac­tu­ally rem­i­nis­cent of the goofy low­brow Disney movies I grew up on! Click To Tweet

Elvis AnnMargret VivaLasVegas dance 1000

FEA­TURED IMAGE: Was Colonel Parker the only man­ager in his­tory who had the op­por­tu­nity to ex­ploit and pro­mote this—the looks and voice of Ann-Margret and the ob­vious chem­istry be­tween her and Elvis—and not ex­ploit and pro­mote it? A sound­track album from the movie Viva Las Vegas with the Elvis sides, the Ann sides and the Elvis/Ann sides would have been the best Presley movie album since the inim­itable sound­track for Blue Hawaii. Alas, the narrow-visioned Colonel was not about to allow an­other artist to share his boy’s spotlight. 


Elvis GoldSuit 1959

POST­SCRIP­TU­ALLY, there is a coda from Mr. Ross: “One thing I didn’t ad­dress above was just how I be­came an Elvis fan my­self. I was one of those you men­tion who came on board after he died—actually the day he died. I’ve written a long post on the sub­ject at my site—not sure if you’ve read it but anyone who would like to do so can search for “When Elvis Moved On” at my site.”



1   I was going to title this ar­ticle “Not the im­por­tance of In The Ghetto part 3” or “Son of the im­por­tance of In The Ghetto” but that’s get­ting too silly even for me, a con­fessed Rock­ahula Baby!

2   Yeah yeah yeah we look back now with nos­talgia in our place of as­tute­ness but back then Elvis was old, most people were smart enough to know Vegas was phony, Elvis’s jump­suits went from the min­i­mal­istic black mod­i­fied karate gi of 1969 to the still tasteful all-white suits of 1970 to the in­creas­ingly Ve­gasy out­fits that we as­so­ciate with bad im­per­son­ators, and Elvis didn’t carry his copy of the Physi­cians Desk Ref­er­ence book along­side his Bible wher­ever he went for the narrative.

3   “Just how se­ri­ously mis­un­der­stood autism con­tinued to be in the United States at the end of the 1960s can be seen in the 1969 re­lease of one of the first fea­ture films ever to deal with the dis­order, Change Of Habit. [Rage re­duc­tion] is es­sen­tially a ver­sion of an ap­proach which came to be known as holding therapy and con­tinued to be widely used on autistic chil­dren for many years around the world.” (Adam Fe­in­stein, A His­tory of Autism: Con­ver­sa­tions with the Pi­o­neers, 2010)

4   I was in a guy’s store who had just re­ceived three copies of this album for his store and he showed them to me, thinking the album funny. Knowing he was a major Bea­tles fan, I asked, “If this was called JOHN LENNON’S GREATEST SHIT and had a pic­ture of John lying dead in front of the Dakota, would you put this on your shelves?” He never showed the album to anyone else and re­turned the three to his wholesaler.

5   The only Elvis long-player that sold like this in his life­time was BLUE HAWAII (1961)4. It is pos­sible that ELVIS’ GOLDEN RECORDS (1958) and G.I. BLUES (1960) sold num­bers like this, but since brag­ging about album sales wasn’t that big of a deal until the Bea­tles and given RCA’s hor­ren­dous loss of its pa­per­work through the years re­garding Presley Product, we cannot be certain.

6   There are some amazing sto­ries about why this ver­sion was dropped and a whole new story/show shot, at con­sid­er­able ex­pense. And they have ab­solutely nothing to do with the ‘of­fi­cial’ story (you know, Elvis and Binder weren’t happy with it and wanted a more ‘real’ Elvis. Uh uh. But I will hold that for an­other post. (Oh yeah—the guitar man res­cues the prostitute.)


16 thoughts on “It hurts me to be a kissin’ cousin”

  1. In 1964 I was 10 years old I loved the Elvis movies.They were of their time and great es­capism from the black and white grim Eng­land I grew up in.Some have past the test of time more than other such as Viva Las Vegas and even Roustabout but Easy Come Easy Go would take some watching now.

    • I saw the early ones on tele­vi­sion or the Sat­urday mati­nees, where Elvis was a staple until 1966 or so. Last one I re­call seeing in a first the­ater was DOUBLE TROUBLE. After that, little could make me shell out my hard-earned dol­lars to sit through any­thing like that again. I saw the films of the late ’60s at the drive-ins.

      I can watch them all today with some enjoyment—even EASY COME, EASY GO and (shudder) HARUM SCARUM.

      I can even listen to the sound­track albums!

      Be­cause it’s all that’s left . . .

      • I still listen to the sound­tracks now and again..Strangely some of the tracks have grown on me over he years.You cannot es­cape the fact that Elvis had a beau­tiful voice un­matched by anyone in my opinion.

        • Most of the most em­bar­rassing sound­track tracks are not bal­lads but nov­el­ties and (sup­posed) rock & rollers: “Shake, shake my little dancing queen Shake, shake ring ding ding a ling.”

                • In an al­ter­na­tive uni­verse, in late 1964 Elvis called Rusty and the two of them worked out steps for “Do the Clam” and they made the first rock video that was broad­cast on the Ed Sul­livan Show in early ’65. It was so suc­cessful that both James Brown and Mick Jagger worked it into their stage moves and it caused Elvis to marry Ann. The still-young Priscilla re­ceived a large cash set­tle­ment, which she used to get de­grees in both busi­ness man­age­ment and en­ter­tain­ment law. She set up the most suc­cessful talent agency in Los An­geles, even­tu­ally man­aging both Mr and Mrs Presley.

                  And everyone lived hap­pily ever after . . .

  2. Out­standing ar­ticle! Brought back a lot of mem­o­ries. Al­though not in time to counter the British In­va­sion, songs I’d pick that had us hoping there was light at the end of the tunnel would be from the Guitar Man Ses­sions from Sep­tember 1967: “Guitar Man,” “Big Boss Man,” and “Hi-Heel Sneakers.” Un­for­tu­nately, they were re­leased the same time as the Clam­bake album, so any counter at­tempt stalled. Al­though recorded al­most five months later, “U.S. Male” had us re­gaining hope that “There is light at the end of the tunnel.”

    • I re­member 1967: first came “In­de­scrib­ably Blue,” a gor­geous recording but not the best thing to choose for a single. It was a modest hit.

      It was fol­lowed by “Long Legged Girl (With the Short Dress On),” which never should have been written, let alone recorded and re­leased! It was a chart disaster.

      Next, “There’s Al­ways Me,” a six-year-old track that was a fan fave but an­other lousy choice for a single. It, too, was a chart disaster.

      At this point, with the movies and these sin­gles, Elvis was dig­ging his own grave and we all got to watch, helplessly.

      Then, lo and be­hold, “Big Boss Man”! I re­member thinking, “Holy crap (I did not curse when I was a teenager), where did that come from?!!!?” As down and dirty a record as it was, get­ting anyone (in­cluding disc jockeys) to take Elvis se­ri­ously was a daunting task at this point. Nonethe­less, it was a modest hit (and prob­ably the blue­siest thing to reach the Top 40 in years).

      Ap­par­ently, everyone in the Presley camp ex­pected “Guitar Man” to take Elvis back to the upper part of the charts. As good as it was, coming while psy­che­delia was still at its peak, the country-funk of “Guitar Man” just high­lighted how out of touch Elvis was with what was hap­pening in the very in­no­v­a­tive, heady world of pop and rock music.

      There was a light at the end of the tunnel but we wouldn’t see it until “If I Can Dream” was re­leased nine months later ...

  3. When I first heard “If I Can Dream” over the radio in my home­town known as the Windy City, I knew the up­coming Singer Present Elvis TV spe­cial was going to be some­thing special.

    Al­though many fans (me in­cluded) didn’t see it at the time, what broke through the Hol­ly­wood, stuck-in-a-rut Elvis was in, were the How Great Thou Art sessions—but that’s an­other story for an­other time.

    • Hearing “If I Can Dream” on the radio for the first time was one of the peak mo­ments of my life as an Elvis fan. This is some­thing that only fans our age un­der­stand be­cause most of the older fans—the ones that had rev­eled in the glory of the ’50s Elvis—had stopped being ac­tive fans (buying every new record, paying for tickets for every new movie, fol­lowing every new bit of news that made it out of Mem­phis or Los An­geles, etc.) years be­fore there was even a need for Elvis to make a “come­back.”

      The How Great Thou Art ses­sions should never be un­der­es­ti­mated! The three most im­por­tant people in Pres­ley’s cre­ative ca­reer in the ’60s were Felton Jarvis, Steve Binder, and Chips Moman and without Felton, Steve and Chips might never have even ap­peared in The Elvis Presley Story.


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