Elvis Presley: G.I. Blues

A few essential tunes and some soundtrack dregs

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.

1960’s G.I. Blues was Elvis’ fifth film and, unsurprisingly given the film’s topic, the first feature made after his discharge from the army. Like many of his soundtracks, this set includes several eminently forgettable pop songs, many from the pen of Sid Wayne. Elvis still manages to charm, even when asked to rhyme “thrillable” and “syllable” on “What’s She Really Like.” The driving train rhythm and twangy guitar solo underlying “Frankfort Special” suggest Elvis’ early work at Sun, but the lyric quickly reveals itself as only capable of narrating the plot. “Shoppin’ Around” also has a great rock ‘n’ roll beat and weak lyrics, and the lullaby “Big Boots” has a winning vocal, but similarly vacuous words. Better is the ‘40s-styled jazz melody and the Jordanaires close harmonies on Sid Tepper’s title song.

The album’s highlight is Elvis sweet and delicate vocal on “Wooden Heart.” Based on the folk song “Muß i’ denn zum Städtele hinaus,” the lyrics retain several of the original German lines, and released in the UK it rose to #1. In the U.S. it wasn’t released until four years later, and then as a B-side, missing its chart opportunity. Interestingly, Tom Petty covered the tune on the Playback box set, revealing in the liner notes that G.I. Blues was “the first album I ever owned.” The march-tempo “Didja’ Ever” is the film’s best musical number, with the sort of stagey lyric that would play well on the boards, and the album’s sleepers are the terrific ballads  “Pocketful of Rainbows” and “Doin’ the Best I Can.”

Like all of Presley’s soundtracks, Elvis rose to the occasion when presented with quality material, and managed to sprinkle some of his artistic magic on the rest. This one has Elvis regulars Scotty Moore, D.J. Fontana and the Jordanaires sitting in with the studio players. Sony’s reissue features a four-panel booklet, no bonus tracks, and no liner notes discussing the music or its making. The 27-minute running time suggests the bonus track laden import reissue might be more compelling to Elvis diehards. Still, the budget price and remastered sound make this edition very attractive. [©2010 hyperbolium dot com]

Tags: , ,

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.