Elvis Presley’s “Harum Scarum” Reviewed
I remember the Christmas of 1965, eight years old, in the back of my Mom’s Corsair, driving through Stockport and with one of the earliest cassette players listening to it over and over and over. I swear that season it was all we listened, and we would do the same in the summer of 1966 where the latest album blasted over the speakers all day long at a hotel in Majorca. The Christmas of 1965? The album was Rubber Soul.
And a month earlier, Elvis Presley had released his 24th album, Harum Scarum. A complete disaster. Perhaps it wasn’t his worst album ever, and the movie was kinda interesting, an updating of “The Sheik” with Elvis as a movie star, kidnapped in the Middle East and winning the girl and by proxy the Kingdom. With a bit more thought “Harum Scarum” might have been a lot of fun, a wall of mirrors, fourth wall breaking, romp. It wasn’t, but it was fun enough for a Sunday afternoon.
But the album… man, it was a shockingly bad disaster of terrible songs with only the slightest of attempts to entertain a Middle Eastern flavor. Presley was clearly sick to the back of his teeth with this crap, he could take the movies I guess, boring but doable, but the songs were really really poor. Over the past five years or so, on a twelve song album there would be three or four good enough songs, on Harum Scarum there are none. Maybe every one was worn out, the next few albums would be just as bad as well, the same bunch of stable employees were churning out the same, not really songs, I don’t know, song structures.
What can I say about “Shake Your Tambourine” -it is an exercise in thanatology to discuss. “Animal Instinct”, “My Desert Serenade”, “Golden Coins” -it isn’t that they are the worst exercises in musical futility Presley has ever sung, it is the relentless lousiness, it is bad without respite, it is bad with no end in sight. And Presley is tired and he is bored and the old snap has gone, he can’t seem to give them the usual razzamatz, he can’t sing through the song to reach a place it should never be, the way he had done for years and years.
If you must listen to one song, try “Go East, Young Man” -the Jordainaires give it some sweet back up and Presley does what he can, the chorus is catchy, plus I like the “To say the least, go East…” The bridge is a dog, but the rest is alright.
Meanwhile, Lennon was closing out Rubber Soul by quoting Elvis Presley.