Every Friday night we smooth our way into the weekend with music, the universal language. These selections demonstrate that despite what is being passed off as art today, there is plenty of really good music available. Come along and enjoy.
Knowing that I’m a huge Elvis fan a friend of mine several weeks ago asked if I was going to see the Elvis biopic starring Austin Butler that premiered today. I honestly couldn’t give a definitive answer.
I’m no fan of Elvis impersonators. With the exception of Kurt Russell who I believe gave a credible performance in a late 1970’s TV movie and the late Tom Green of Milwaukee I harbor a great distaste for impostors of the King. To me they only give, even unintentionally, a tremendous disservice to Elvis’ image and legacy. Not to mention they just simply aren’t all that good.
If I would see the biopic (I passed it on it today) I’d undoubtedly sit there and criticize over and over.
‘That’s not right.’
‘That didn’t happen.’
‘Elvis wouldn’t say or do that.’
‘The vocals are awful.’
And I could be wrong. The movie might be terrific.
Even so, there will be never be anything like the real deal, and that’s my focus this week.
A rap on Elvis is that he couldn’t act. Those critics probably never saw 1958’s “King Creole,” considered by fans and critics as his very best film.
Having flunked graduation for a second time and needing cash to support his unemployed father, Danny Fisher (played by Elvis) takes a job as a busboy in New Orleans nightclub, run by mobster Maxie Fields (Walter Matthau). There he encounters Fields’ kept mistress – fading singer Ronnie (Carolyn Jones).
“He [Elvis] was an instinctive actor,” said Matthau. “He was quite bright…he was very intelligent…He was not a punk. He was very elegant, sedate, and refined, and sophisticated.”
“As the lad himself might say, cut my legs off and call me Shorty! Elvis Presley can act…Acting is his assignment in this shrewdly upholstered showcase, and he does it.”
Howard Thompson, Review of “King Creole,” New York Times, 1958
“A Presley picture is the only sure thing in Hollywood.”
Hal Wallis, Producer of nine of Elvis’ films
When Elvis came out of the Army one of his subsequent films was the immensely popular “Blue Hawaii.” The soundtrack album was on the Billboard Pop Albums chart for 79 weeks, where it spent 20 weeks at #1. It has been certified by the RIAA for sales of three million copies in the U.S.
“Blue Hawaii” and the previously released “G.I. Blues” were so big that they set the stage for a formula for future Elvis films with familiar elements:
A fight scene, usually ending with Elvis winning and fleeing the scene
Elvis singing in a car or while riding a motorcycle
“Silly” plots or insignificant plots that usually involve Elvis in romancing a female with songs
Beautiful young women
Elvis as a man trying to succeed on his own talents and merits
A soundtrack that sold a ton of records
The Viva Las Vegas choreographer, David Winters, followed the co-stars into Ann-Margret’s dressing room one day to discuss the song (“Cheek to Cheek” sung by The Jubilee Four). But when he put on the music, all they could see was each other.
“He put on the tape,” Ann-Margret remembered. “We listened to it once, watching each other from across the room, staring into each other’s eyes and thinking. We didn’t say a word. We didn’t have to.”
After their silent bond was forged, Elvis asked the choreographer to play “Cheek to Cheek” again. Their connection came alive and developed into a full-on dance, right there in Ann-Margret’s dressing room.
“The moment the music started, Elvis and I just started to move,” Ann-Margret wrote in Ann-Margret: My Story. “Nothing had been rehearsed, but to watch you wouldn’t have known that. We covered the entire room, bumping into the furniture, shoving it aside, circling each other like a couple of caged animals.”
It was in that “spontaneous burst of creativity,” Ann-Margret revealed, that most of the choreography for “Cheek to Cheek” was set. A stunned Winters simply told them, “Great. Just do that.”
Elvis’ movie contracts ended, removing the chains that prevented him from doing live concerts. He hit Las Vegas, and eventually all of America. No, the movies of the 50’s and 60’s never won any awards, but his documentary chronicling his shows on the road captured a Golden Globe.
That’s it for this week.
Have a great weekend.
This week the LA Times ran a column wondering if Elvis mattered anymore. Here’s a portion.
Chris Isaak, a singer who has kept the fire of early rock ’n’ roll alive throughout his career and who appears on the “Elvis” soundtrack as well as providing the vocals for country star Hank Snow in the movie, has seen how Presley’s peers are being forgotten.
“I was talking to a young girl, and she’s a successful singer, so she knows music,” Isaak recounted. “I said, ‘Are you putting harmonies like the Everly Brothers on this?’ And there was a blank look in her eye. I said, ‘Are you acquainted with the Everly Brothers?’ She had no clue. That was kind of shocking to me. I think a new generation will see this movie and go, ‘Wow. I love this music. Who is this guy?’”
Elvis’ amazing special, “Aloha from Hawaii,” aired on January 14, 1973, and it was the first entertainment special by a solo artist to be broadcast live around the world.
There was no set ticket price for the concert; instead, donations were given. The more the donation, the better the seat. Elvis actually purchased a ticket for himself and his entourage at $100 each (which, with inflation, would be over $575 in today’s money).
He asked that donations and merchandise sales go to the Kui Lee Cancer Fund, which had been established following the songwriter’s death in 1966. Lee wrote “I’ll Remember You,” which Elvis covered in many of his concerts, including in the “Aloha” special. The goal was to raise $25,000. A total of $75,000 was raised for the fund.
Elvis’ “Aloha from Hawaii” aired in more than 40 countries across Asia and Europe. The special didn’t air in the United States on January 14, though. There was another major TV moment happening on U.S. televisions on January 14 – Super Bowl VII – so “Aloha from Hawaii” aired on April 4. It is estimated, though, that between 1 and 1.5 billion viewers watched the king’s special.