Tuesday, January 31, 2017

What You Need Is A Change Of Habit

Elvis Presley and Mary Tyler Moore in Change Of Habit.
Having learned that actress Mary Tyler Moore had died, I dug out my DVD copy of Change Of Habit. It's been a long time since I watched this, Elvis' last scripted film, in which he plays a doctor (John Carpenter) and she one of three nuns (Sister Michelle) seeking employment at his free clinic in a deprived area of New York.

I have always found Change Of Habit entertaining and well acted. Including such contemporary problems as racism, violence and loan shark operators it's a far cry from the stereotypical Elvis Presley movie. In fact, it's hard to understand that Elvis made films like Clambake and Speedway only two years earlier.

One of the strongest scenes is the one where Elvis, aided by Mary Tyler Moore, helps an autistic child. Doctor and nun sit side by side, holding the girl while she kicks and screeches, all the while telling her to let out her anger and repeating how much they love her. Not very realistic, I learned today thanks to the internet and the article Elvis and autism: An unlikely couple. But emotional, nevertheless.

The movie has some humorous moments, too. When a loan shark, The Banker, turns up at the clinic, Elvis greets him with a straight face and the line "I can't help you Banker, I'm not a veterinarian."Another memorable scene has Elvis playing a bluesy version of "Lawdy, Miss Clawdy" on piano, with no vocals, in the nun's apartment.

Speaking of the music, Elvis recorded four songs for Change Of Habit on March 5–6, 1969, but one of them, "Let´s Be Friends," never made it into the movie. Instead, "Rubberneckin'" from the American Studios sessions in January that year, was used in the film, meaning the entire soundtrack was awarded to songwriter Ben Weisman.

In his book Elvis Presley: A Life In Music Ernst Jorgensen has nothing positive to say about the soundtrack recordings, writing that "Elvis must have wondered what he was doing there." Meaning, I guess, that the songs were a far cry from the Memphis recordings, and that Elvis had his mind on his upcoming return to live appearances at the newly built International Hotel in Las Vegas.

That might be true, but I have no problem with most of the material. The funky title track works well over the opening credits, and I also like the gospel number "Let Us Pray" which is used to great effect at the end of the film. (And I love it when Elvis is belting out "Rubberneckin'" in Dr. John Carpenters apartment above the clinic.)

The scene in the park where Elvis is singing "Have A Happy" on a merry-go-round after a touch football game is another matter. It really is out of place and does nothing to promote Elvis image as an adult actor. Why it was put in the script in the first place is beyond me.

But that's my only complaint, and I'd like to end with a passage from Gerry McLaffertys' book Elvis Presley In Hollywood, in the chapter that deals with Change Of Habit:
In his physial prime and with potentially a whole new career ahead of him, Change Of Habit marked Elvis Presley's final acting role. The waste of talent was horrendous. Although many further offers came his way he would never again appear in a scripted film.

Sunday, January 22, 2017

I'm Leavin' - The Lost Folk Album

Cover art for the vinyl LP I'm Leavin'.
Some 45 years after it was recorded by Elvis, the beautiful song "I'm Leavin'" by Michael Jarret is the title of an album. It was released on 12" vinyl for record store day last year, a compilation bringing together "the very best recordings of Elvis Presley’s work in the Folk and Country genres from 1966-1973."

In honor of Michael Jarret's birthday a few days ago, I played the album and was reminded once more of the haunting quality of the title song. In fact, I enjoyed the whole album, especially the A side where five of the six tracks are contemporary pop-folk songs recorded by Elvis in 1971. On side B, only one of the songs is from that category.

I've always had a soft spot for Elvis 1971 pop/folk recordings, and my brother put it wisely in a comment on this blog back in 2009: "His not so perfect vocals seem to suit (most of) the material." It's true, Elvis isn't always singing perfectly in a technical sense, but the emotion in his voice coupled with some excellent backing provided by his band makes for a great listening experience. Below is the complete track listing:

Side A
1. I'm Leavin'
2. Early Mornin' Rain
3. Good Time Charlie's Got The Blues
4. Until It's Time For You To Go
5. Help Me Make It Through The Night
6. Don't Think Twice, It's All Right (edited version)

Side B
1. You Asked Me To
2. Gentle On My Mind
3. Tomorrow Is A Long Time
4. I'm Movin' On
5. (That's What You Get) For Lovin' Me
6. Loving Arms

Listening to the LP I started to think of Elvis' lost 1971 folk music album. Certainly not the first fan to write about it, this concept would have been a great idea after Elvis Country. After all, when Elvis arrived at RCA's Studio B in Nashville on March 15, 1971, he brought with him folk oriented material that he had enjoyed from Peter, Paul and Mary's work, like "The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face," "Early Mornin' Rain" and "(That's What You Get) For Lovin' Me." Who knows what directions that session might have taken, had Elvis not been forced to cut it short due to suffering from a painful case of glaucoma, ending up in hospital.

Anyway, here is my shot at an Elvis folk themed album that could have been released at the time, where I have substituted the songs featured on I'm Leavin' that are not recorded in 1971 with recordings from that particular year.

Side A
1. I'm Leavin'
2. Early Mornin' Rain
3. It's Still Here (unedited version)
4. Until It's Time For You To Go
5. Help Me Make It Through The Night
6. Don't Think Twice, It's All Right (edited version)

Side B
1. The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face
2. It's Only Love
3. I'll Take You Home Again, Kathleen (undubbed version)
4. Amazing Grace (alternate take 2)
5. (That's What You Get) For Lovin' Me
6. I Will Be True

I have included "Amazing Grace" as it had recently been a hit for folksinger Judy Collins when Elvis recorded it. Otherwise my track listing has a lot of common with both Piers Beagley´s Elvis: In The Early Morning Rain (2008) and George Smith's Elvis Presley: Exodus (2011). I especially like the prologue on the latter one, featuring the informal recording of "I Shall Be Released."

But back to reality and the I'm Leavin' 12" vinyl released in 2016. An album with that title has been long overdue and I'm happy for Michael Jarrett's sake. He deserves the credit.

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Aloha From Copenhagen

Terry Blackwood of The Imperials signing my copy of Aloha From Hawaii Via Satellite.
On this date, 44 years ago, Elvis performed his historical Aloha From Hawaii Via Satellite concert. Last year, on nearly the same date, January 7, three musicians who shared the stage with Elvis when he made his global telecast played another show, this time in Denmark.

Some 1 700 fans then celebrated Elvis´ 81st birthday with James Burton, Glen D. Hardin and Ronnie Tutt. Also present on stage during this Aloha From Copenhagen show was Terry Blackwood from the Imperials and Austrian singer Dennis Jale.

Poster for the Aloha From Copenhagen concert.
Living in Sweden means Denmark isn't that far away, especially when you are traveling from the southern part of the country. So when me and my brother, who is also a huge Elvis fan, heard about the upcoming event in Copenhagen, we decided it was something we couldn't afford to miss.

I remember it was raining pretty hard when we left the train station and headed towards the Falconer Centre where the show was to take place. I also recall we had trouble finding the place and practically stumbled across the back of the building, from where we could hear the band rehearsing inside.

Quickly locating the entrance and walking inside we found ourselves in the company of hundreds of fellow Elvis fans. And there was excitement in the air, maybe a bit like the real thing in the 70's, when people who shared the love for Elvis and his music went to see him in concert.

As for the show itself, it was an enjoyable evening. Having had the privilege to see the TCB Band on stage during a couple of "live on screen" concerts from 1999 to 2012, it's obvious the band members are getting older, but there was no mistaking the fun they had playing for the fans. This was especially evident watching Glen D. Hardin, who was hammering away on his keyboard with a smile on his face during the whole show. And James Burton got to play a lot of solos in songs such as "See See Rider," "That's All Right," and Johnny B. Goode," to the delight of the audience.

Terry Blackwood of the Imperials also brought a lot to the show together with the other two members of The Imperials. Looking back, some of the highlights included "An American Trilogy," "Suspicious Minds" and "Polk Salad Annie". A nice surprise was "Change Of Habit" which sounded great.

Tha autographs of James Burton, Glen D. Hardin, Ronnie Tutt and Terry Blackwood.
But the best part of the evening was after the show, when the musicians and singers signed autographs. A lot of fans had brought with them records for this occasion, and I was no exception. I thought my choice was perfect, an original copy of the double LP Aloha From Hawaii Via Satelllite with a separate insert listening the songs of the concert. James Burton, Glen D. Hardin, Ronnie Tutt and Terry Blackwood signed the back of the cover as well as the insert, and I also had the chance to change a few words with each of them.

Carefully protecting the album against the rain, me and my brother headed for the station and the train home to Sweden. Granted, Aloha From Copenhagen wasn't as historical a moment as Aloha From Hawaii, but in a way it was for us. It was probably to be the last time we attended a concert with the TCB Band.

Sunday, January 8, 2017

A Little Thing Called Confidence

"Confidence" was sung to and with a group of children in the movie Clambake.
Today would have been Elvis 82nd birthday, and as I always do on January 8, I try to listen a little bit extra to his music, watch one of his movies or remember him in some other way. With a newborn baby boy to take care of it´s been a bit of a challenge this time around.

But as I was about to turn the children's program off I asked my six year old daughter if she wanted to watch an Elvis clip on YouTube before going to bed. "Yes, the scene with the playground," she answered. So today we honored Elvis Presley by looking at him singing "Confidence" in the movie Clambake.

To be honest, my daughter prefers more moderns stars like Justin Timberlake, Shakira, Katy Perry and Justin Bieber plus a bunch of Swedish artists I wont bother you with. But for some reason she likes "Confidence," both on record and on film. Maybe it's because it reminds her of her own world with playgrounds and children her own age, maybe she just thinks it's a funny song.

"Look daddy, she is really cute, she looks like a princess with those blue hair ribbons," she commented the girl who is afraid to go down a slide. And she watched intently as the girl finally slides down and Elvis sets the sling going while the camera turns the whole scene upside down. She also read out loud the words "ice cream" on Red West's ice cream wagon, so Elvis has taught her some English words, also.

The scene with Elvis singing "Confidence" certainly isn't the most memorable one in his acting career, on the contrary. But watching it with my daughter and seeing it through her eyes always puts a smile on my face. For an exhausted daddy, it was a welcoming moment tonight. So, one again, thank you Elvis, and happy birthday!