Elvis Presley: Viva Las Vegas

Elvis and Ann-Margret burn up the Las Vegas strip

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 Viva Las Vegas was Elvis’ fifteenth film, and remains a favorite among fans for the electricity generated between Elvis and co-star Ann-Margret. For once Elvis was matched by an actress who could sing and dance with the same heat he brought to the screen, and the film featured some of the best songs that had been written or corralled for an Elvis film vehicle. With all that going for it, it’s anyone’s guess why RCA so completely fumbled the soundtrack’s release. At the time of the film’s debut the title track was issued as a single, backed with Elvis’ smoking cover of Ray Charles’ “What’d I Say,” and a four-song EP whose cover is reproduced for this CD. The rest of the soundtrack’s songs were scattered among numerous Elvis albums over subsequent months and years, with several (including two duets with Ann-Margret) held in the vaults until after Elvis’ death. Ann-Margret’s two solo numbers finally turned up on a Bear Family box set of her recordings.

It wasn’t until 1993 that a soundtrack album appeared as part of a two-fer pairing Viva Las Vegas with Roustabout. An even more complete version was released in 2003 by the collector’s imprint Follow That Dream. Sony’s new budget-priced reissue includes the same twelve titles as the two-fer, but still omits Ann-Margret’s solo tracks (“Appreciation” and “My Rival”) and the Forte’ Four’s “The Climb.” Those omissions aside, what’s here is top-notch, from Pomus and Shuman’s terrific title song through the sassy closing duet “The Lady Loves Me.” In between are many highlights featuring brassy blues, tender ballads and fiery vocal performances. Elvis sounds like he was having a lot of fun singing these tunes, and the dance dynamic between he and Ann-Margret begat great foot-stompers like “C’mon Everybody” (unfortunately missing the half-tempo coda from the film).

A medley of “The Yellow Rose of Texas” and “The Eyes of Texas” show Elvis could add a spark to standards, and two tunes that didn’t make the final film, the guitar rocker “Night Life” and the late-night Ann-Margret duet “You’re the Boss,” make good additions to the official soundtrack. A third non-film tune, the Latin dance tune “Do the Vega,” is more of a throwaway. The audio is reproduced in super-wide stereo with Elvis’ vocals sharp and clear at center stage. Sony’s reissue features a four-panel booklet and no liner notes discussing the music or its making. The 31-minute running time suggests that the earlier import two-fer or 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. [©2010 hyperbolium dot com]

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