Search This Blog

Saturday, May 23, 2020

Elvis Presley: Viva Las Vegas


1) Viva Las Vegas; 2) Whatʼd I Say; 3) If You Think I Donʼt Need You; 4) I Need Somebody To Lean On; 5) Cʼmon Everybody; 6) Today, Tomorrow And Forever; 7) Santa Lucia; 8) Do The Vega; 9) Night Life; 10) The Yellow Rose Of Texas / The Eyes Of Texas; 11) The Lady Loves Me; 12) Youʼre The Boss.

General verdict: Perhaps Elvisʼ finest attempt at reinventing himself as an early Sixtiesʼ idol — for about fifteen minutes, sure, but it would be overkill to demand any more.

As if there wasnʼt already a lengthy history of ironic developments and weird embarrassments in Elvisʼ post-Army career, the Kingʼs camp threw in another one — for some utterly unknown reason, the soundtrack to Viva Las Vegas, possibly one of the accidentally finest movies from that period, was not released at all as a proper LP in 1964. Instead, one song was released as a single (Ray Charlesʼ ʽWhatʼd I Sayʼ, with the title track as a B-side!), and four more as a short EP, far from the most common format typically associated with the King. As a result, the final product flunked, and then it took about half a century to actually put together an official CD that would contain all the music from the movie. Quality control my ass.

Both the movie and the soundtrack were clearly intended as a desperate shot in the arm for Elvis, what with the British Invasion as well as numerous and ever more daring teen pop outfits on local soil threatening to bury the man once and for all. And for a very, very brief period it might even have seemed like it worked — in no small measure owing to the figure of Ann-Margret, the first of Elvisʼ female co-stars in a position to actually outplay the King himself: she was young, she was hot, and she was deliciously and confidently Modern-Girl to the core, next to whom Elvis could end up looking antiquated... and he was, yes, but also at the same time briefly rejuvenated and amped up to offer some tentative competition.

Even if you never saw the movie, or even caught a glimpse of Ann-Margretʼs iconic orange sweater, you can still feel the chemistry between the two leads during their two duets. Musically, both are generic — ʽYouʼre The Bossʼ is a lounge-blues tune from Leiber and Stollerʼs backlog, while ʽThe Lady Loves Meʼ is a Tipper-Bennett creation in the old-fashioned comic musical style. But there is a wonderful atmosphere of playfulness and sexy competition, with Elvis playing a bit of a naïve hunk and Ann-Margret being the seductively independent vamp. It is all rather kiddie level by todayʼs standards, of course, but watching this or listening to this brings on just the right mood vibe — playful, colorful, half-innocent and half-provocative — that was so unique to the early Sixties.

But what is far more surprising is that the average quality of the musical material used for the soundtrack somehow seems respectively upscaled, certainly so when compared to most other soundtracks surrounding it. Just take a look at the first three tunes on the finalized LP/CD. There is the title track, one of the finest Pomus-Shuman creations, whose insane tempo, furious (for Elvisʼ Sixties standards) lead guitar licks, and clearly enthusiastic vocals still make it proudly stand out — just look at all the innumerable covers released over the years, and even if the Dead Kennedysʼ version was clearly ironic and sarcastic, they still profited heavily from the loads of rockʼnʼroll energy planted in it by its creators.

The second track is a cover of Ray Charlesʼ ʽWhatʼd I Sayʼ — like any cover of that song, it fails to rise up to the fiendish levels of provocativeness of the original (no sex noises, for one thing), but when did we last hear Elvis covering Ray? With those bulgy sax leads, girly backing vocals, surf-style drumming etc., this is another attempt at converting Fiftiesʼ R&B into giggly early Sixtiesʼ teen entertainment, but quite a successful one. And then the third track, ʽIf You Think I Donʼt Need Youʼ, is a Red West-penned number in the style of Ray Charles — a direct stylistic rip-off if there ever was one, but performed with the same verve and fun as ʽWhatʼd I Sayʼ itself. And get this: itʼs a new soundtrack LP, and it begins with three songs in a row that do not suck. Oh, thank you, Ann-Margret. Thank you, Beatles. Thank you... Mr. James Bond? Whatever.

Of course, this sort of consistency cannot last forever — eventually, we are still treated to a set of sloggy ballads recycling old vocal moves (e.g. ʽToday, Tomorrow And Foreverʼ, with distinct echoes of ʽLoving Youʼ), subpar Latin dance numbers which are more clumsy than playful (ʽDo The Vegaʼ), hillbilly anthems (ʽThe Yellow Rose Of Texasʼ) and Italian serenades (ʽSanta Luciaʼ). Still, at least there is Joy Byersʼ ʽCʼmon Everybodyʼ, a song more likely written to accommodate one of Elvisʼ and Ann-Margretʼs dance routines than any other purpose, but still rowdy enough to fit in with the overall head-spinning nature of the album.

It would be ridiculous to insist that Viva Las Vegas and its atmosphere was a culturally significant counterpart to something like A Hard Dayʼs Night — neither Elvis himself nor the big machine working for him at the time could be capable of properly and believably capturing the genuine spirit of the early Sixties (and, of all places, Las Vegas was probably the least suitable one to try and do it). But at least they tried, and in doing so, accidentally struck a small spark of life, one that could perhaps be kindled further with the right people at the wheel. Unfortunately, if there is anything that this thorough survey of the Kingʼs lonesome road through the Sixties truly proves to the surveyor, it is that all signs of life in that period came by by accident, and nothing else. 


  1. You are really gritting your teeth and plowing through these. Godspeed. I'm enjoying the read.

  2. The first five songs are really good