Elvis Presley’s “Clambake” Reviewed
This is the beginning of the beginning of the end of all those crappy godawful songs pushed on Elvis Presley for no other (t)reason than Parker being able to negotiate publishing rioyalties for songs neither he nor Elvis had anything to do with.
But that was then and this is Elvis married to Priscilla in May 1967, obsessing over the horses and stable he’d just bought, disinterested even in a relative good script for his TWENTIETH FIFTH movie, Clambake (a retelling of “The Prince And The Pauper” and absolutely disinterested in mush like the “High Hopes” rewrite, “Confidence” for this his 30th album. But why write about the all too typical Bennett and Tepper tracks, when Presley, as sick of em as we are, went to Nashville and recording some tracks he wanted to hear himself sing and we want to write about?
Was it worth it? The album kicks off with Jerry Reed’s (by pure coincidence ,I just caught Reed in “Smokey And The Bandit” -a terrific movie, with a light hand you don’t find anymore) “Guitar Man”. Reed went to Nashville to perform his guitar part and, in an act of immense intelligence, refused to give his publishing rights to Parker. It is the single best moment on an album that has more than one or two, a steamrolling country rocker that Presley, really, nothing bothered the man, he just claims this great song hands down: the rapid fire, slurry accented, hotspot singing is a complete show stopper, and the solo seems to hang in the air for a handful of bars and then Presley slams it back into place. Just the greatest, incredibly, after all this buggering about, he was still Elvis. But if that was the best moment, it wasn’t the only one because if you are in the market for Presley covering Ray Charles (actually, Eddy Arnold but really…) “You Don’t Know Me”, right off Modern Sounds Of Country And Western Music, and no it isn’t Charles, Presley, for a man with such a big voice, is the most subtle of singers, too subtle for mimickry. Near the beginning of the song he speeds up his delivery on the “I can hardly speak” line, and it is a pure entrance into the song,a n Elvis hook where there wasn’t one. Everything about Presley’s take is a vision of Charles heartbroken rasp retooled for Elvis. A sublime piano based take, and sure it is Ray redux, but it is so sweet, powerful, understated and intelligent, it does Charles absolute justice on every single level. Add a pounding rebounding “Big Boss Man”, a bossy, shoving, pleasure buzz take, all three of these songs would show up in concert in a coupla years, and they alone are enough to make this album major.
But that isn’t all, sure there is a lot of the usual crap but there was a good Tepper Bennett song, “A House That Has Everything”, and a terrific ballad, “The Girl I Never Loved” and if nothing else is quite good enough, those five songs are still a leap back into the pop arena and we are just a year away from the ’68 special.