Elvis Presley: Roustabout

Mediocre soundtrack songs and a 21-minute running time

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.

1964’s Roustabout was Elvis’ sixteenth film, and had the unenviable job of following the smash Viva Las Vegas. Though the plot was formulaic, Elvis spiced things up by performing his own stunts. The soundtrack was recorded in Hollywood with the usual mix of West Coast studio players (including guitarists Billy Strange, Barney Kessel and Tiny Timbrell, and wrecking crew drummer Hal Blaine), Nashville transplants Floyd Cramer and Boots Randolph, and longtime Elvis associates Scotty Moore and the Jordanaires. The songs are mostly penned by Elvis soundtrack stalwarts, including Sid Tepper, Roy C. Bennett, Ben Weisman, Sid Wayne, Joy Byers and the trio of Florence Kaye, Bernie Baum and Bill Giant. Unfortunately there’s little here befitting a King.

The film’s carnival-related songs, “Roustabout,” “It’s Carnival Time,” and “Carny Town” are novelties that fail to transcend their ties to the film. The rest of the album isn’t much better, with throwaways like “It’s a Wonderful World” leaving Elvis bored. The best of the lot are a cover of the Coasters’ “Little Egypt” and Joy Byers’ throw-back rock ‘n’ roller, “Hard Knocks.” Elvis seems to connect with Byers’ lyrics of growing up poor, and Hal Blaine really stokes the beat. This was Elvis’ last #1 album until 1973’s Aloha From Hawaii: Via Satellite, and Sony’s reissue features a four-panel booklet and no liner notes discussing the music or its making. The 21-minute running time suggests that the earlier import two-fer might be more compelling to Elvis diehards. Still, the budget price and remastered sound make this reissue attractive. [©2010 hyperbolium dot com]

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