Sunday, May 11, 2008
Elvis on Vinyl: Loving You (1957)
Next time someone tells you that none of Elvis’ soundtrack albums are among his best releases, pull out a copy of Loving You and turn that sucker up to eleven to shut them up. Recorded at a January and February session at Paramount’s Scoring Stages and Hollywood’s Radio Recorders, with Elvis’ Key band filled out with rhythm guitar player Tiny Timbrell and pianist Dudley Brooks added in for even more fire power, the powerful Loving You LP is an adventurous run through heavy rock to western twang to affecting ballads…song for song it stands as one of Elvis’ key and most influential works from the fifties.
The LP begins with a real powerhouse; in the shape of the classic Claude DeMetrius tune “Mean Woman Blues”. One of the great rock and roll songs of all time, Elvis’ ferociously smooth vocal take along with the band in full swinging mode (not to mention some really great background work by The Jordanaires) makes for a real thrilling lesson and an ideal opening to the LP.
An even more commercial, if not artistic, triumph follows “Mean Woman Blues” with the massive hit “Teddy Bear”. This undeniably infectious, if lightweight, Karl Mann and Bernie Lowe song was reportedly a favorite of producer Hal Wallis and the song is still one of the ones Elvis is most identified with and would, of course, go onto to be one of the biggest hits from Elvis’ early career.
One of the three, extremely varied versions, of “Loving You” follows. This gorgeous Lieber and Stoller song is among my favorite Elvis ballads and the take used for the LP is among the most delicate and genuine from the session. With The Jordanaires lilting vocals behind him and some wonderfully communicative piano playing by Hawkins guiding the song, “Loving You” is an understated masterpiece…just simply gorgeous.
The album starts rocking seriously again with Barry Gibb favorite “Got A Lot O’ Livin’ To Do”. Featuring some thunderous drumming by D.J. Fontana as well as some of the most delightfully trippy lyrics of Elvis’s early career (courtesy of Schroeder and Weisman), “Got A Lot O’ Livin’ To Do” is, from beginning to end, an absolute adrenaline rush.
The song originally designed as the title track, “Lonesome Cowboy”, follows and it is among the most haunting tracks from Elvis in the fifties. With a clomping percussive pattern that recalls Elvis’ legendary Sun Sessions take of “Blue Moon” from a few years before, this Tepper and Bennett creation is a dramatic and incredibly lonely chiller guaranteed to give even the most jaded fan goosebumps.
With its great train like vocal opening from The Jordanaires, Lieber and Stoller’s “Hot Dog” is another party classic. Incredibly short at just past a minute, this would have made an ideal choice for mega-Elvis fans The Ramones later on. It’s a shame they never gave it a crack…
Even better than “Hot Dog” is the wild Jess Mae Robinson track, “(Let’s Have a) Party”, a crazed down-home classic that would be a real favorite to two young boys from Liverpool named Paul and John. The future Beatles spent hours close to their record player trying to decipher the lyrics Elvis was singing like they held some sort of secret key that needed to be deciphered…thankfully they discovered it and “Party” stands as one of the great least mentioned and most influential songs from Elvis in the fifties.
Fat’s Domino’s famous “Blueberry Hill” follows and, in all honesty, Elvis’ version just doesn’t measure up to the shattering original. Still, it’s not a bad take even if it is among the weaker moments on the record.
Another cover, this time Cole Porter’s “True Love”, is up next and it’s a real beauty. Popularized in a gorgeous version by Bing Crosby and Grace Kelly the year before in the film High Society, Elvis’ version just melts and its still a real pleasure to revisit.
A song more associated with Elvis’ next movie, Jailhouse Rock, follows but the Schroder and Weisman track “Don’t Leave Me Now” is welcome on any album you can get it on. Featuring another great match between the vocals of Elvis and The Jordanaires, the Loving You LP version of “Don’t Leave Me Now” is a real success.
The underrated Scott Wiseman song “Have I Told You Lately I Love You” follows and the admittedly slight song is transformed into a yearning classic by Elvis’ smooth croon. Listening to it, you can almost picture the lost love he is trying to convince of his passion sitting right in the studio with him.
Ivory Joe Hunter’s “I Need You So” is given a slow burlesque grind feel by the band and it’s a nice if slightly under whelming ending to the album. While not as powerful as the rest of the record, it at least allowed RCA (along with a few other tracks) to expand the album to a full length LP since the original film of Loving You only contained half a dozen or so songs in its running time.
The LP of Loving You soared to number one in mid 1957 and it remains one of the great Rock and Roll soundtracks of all time. While perhaps not scaling the heights of the King Creole album on the horizon, it is one of the most unjustly neglected of all of Elvis’ long players and deserves wider recognition.