Elvis Presley: Clambake

Three great tracks and some all-time clunkers

There are a number of commonly held misconceptions about Elvis Presley’s film career: Elvis couldn’t act, his movies were all throwaways, and the soundtracks were populated entirely with substandard material. But key films in the King’s catalog show that he could indeed act, if called upon, there are several high-quality dramatic and musical films in Elvis’ oeuvre, alongside many good lightweight romantic musical comedies, and his soundtracks are laced with hits and terrific albums sides. To measure the highpoints of Elvis’ soundtrack catalog by virtue of the low points (of which there are admittedly many) is to miss out on a valuable dimension of Presley’s musical career.

1967’s Clambake was Elvis’ twenty-fifth film and the third to co-star Shelley Fabares. Unlike the bulk of Elvis’ Hollywood-recorded soundtracks, this one was waxed in Nashville with a host of Music City A-listers, including drummer Buddy Harman, guitarist Charlie McCoy, pianist Floyd Cramer and steel guitarist Pete Drake. Also on hand were Elvis long-time associates, Scotty Moore and the Jordanaires. By this point the soundtrack songwriters were etched in stone, with contributions from Sid Wayne, Ben Weisman, Sid Tepper, Roy C. Bennett and Joy Byers. The soundtrack’s best cuts come from the few outside writers: Jerry Reed, credited as Jerry “Reed” Hubbard, contributed the super fine “Guitar Man,” Elvis struts his stuff on a cover of Jimmy Reed’s “Big Boss Man,” and Cindy Walker and Eddy Arnold’s “You Don’t Know Me” blows the regular soundtrack writers’ material out of the water.

After the success of “Do the Clam” (from the soundtrack of Girl Happy), the RCA brain trust must have thought releasing “Clambake” as a single would typecast their star as a seafood singer. That’s too bad, as it’s a catchy tune even if Elvis does have to sing “mama’s little baby loves clambake clambake.” Elvis rarely sounded less than professional on his soundtracks, even as he was dodging or hurrying through sessions, but you can always hear him engage a second gear for the better material. He doesn’t quite sleepwalk through the worst material, though a few vocals sound like first takes for which Elvis refused to soil himself with a second pass. Clambake features some of the most embarrassing lyrics Elvis was ever asked to sing (key evidence: “Hey Hey Hey”), and adding children on “Confidence” didn’t help.

This may be the most schizophrenic of Elvis’ soundtrack albums, featuring several highpoints that match the quality and artistry or his non-soundtrack singles. but intermingled with awful songs that could only have been contractual obligations. Just when “The Singing Tree” has robbed you of hope, Elvis closes with a superb, stone-country cover of Rex Griffin’s “Just Call Me Lonesome” that has him intertwined in Pete Drake’s steel guitar. Sony’s reissue features a four-panel booklet and no liner notes discussing the music or its making. The 30-minute running time suggests that Follow That Dream’s collector’s edition might be more compelling to Elvis diehards. Still, the budget price and remastered sound make this reissue attractive, especially if you pick out the hot tracks and skip the rest. [©2010 hyperbolium dot com]

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