Elvis Presley’s “Speedway” Reviewed
Speedway, Elvis Presley’s album # 32, released on May 1st, 1968, and the very definition of a May Day, was such a disaster sales wise, it, finally, put an end to all those movie soundtracks. This was the last one and it wasn’t very good. But it wasn’t terrible. A couple of the rockers were okay, and a Nancy Sinatra vocal lead on Lee Hazelwood’s “Your Groovy Self” isn’t as dated as its name, a one part stripper one part blues horns aplenty, jazz rock psychedelic future exercise. There are a coupla mediocre but not necessarily offensive band outs. And a couple of those Presley soundtrack songs, the execrable “Five Sleepy Heads” here, that’s like Being And Nothingness defined in song.
The first side sports two terrible Fred Wisemans and side two a black hole of three dastardly Sid Tepper songs. Some of this stuff, “He’s Your Uncle Not Your Dad” and “Five Sleepy Heads” for two, is atrocious, and some of the other stuff, “Western Union” is almost there but not quite there. Other songs, have no real reason to exist but then again, what does? Scotty Moore is gone for good (well not goooood, he will be on the ’68 Special).
But now that was album # 32 and now it is over, you can assess the soundtrack years in three types of songs.
1 – The Good –there were a large handful of great tracks, Ray Charles and Bob Dylan covers, some traditional Hawaiian songs, a few ballads that lasted his career and way way longer. On the Frankie And Johnny soundtrack we got some Great American classic songs from the 1800s.
2 – The Bad –well that is overstating the case, but third tier rockers and half completed ballads that sound like a lot of other over blown ballads and chronically pop rocky rockers that don’t quite work. Product, but not terrible product.
3 – The Ugly –those awful songs like “Old MacDonalds Had A Farm ” and “Earth Boy” –anywhere some little brat child sings with him. Lots of them, three or four songs an album, of Sid Tepper clap trap that had a huge hand in almost destroying Presley’s career. The novelty tracks were a shameful emasculating of a man god. Of all the things done to Presley in his short career, this was the worst, the bottom of the barrel: a pure embarrassment that made the King Of The World, the sexiest man that ever lived, the person who invented teenagers and sex at the same time, into a has been when he wss anything but.
Between Colonel Parker’s hunger for publishing rights and Presley’s need of a father figure, the entire Elvis career from 1960 to 1968 was the second law of thermodynamics, it cooled off and cooled off and cooled off. And while it might have seemed at the time as a study in greed, it wasn’t. What it ws was a study in Presley’s genius. For year after year, Presley stood like a rock between greatness and oblivion. With every reason to be a joke, he wasn’t. Every piece of crap song the hacks threw at him, he sang to at least a drawer.
Presley could have been nothing over all that wasted time, but it took six years before the sales slowed down, people loved Presley despite the material, they loved him because he was Elvis and because because he was Elvis, he loved himself enough to withstand the claims of self-parody, He died so young that eight years looms as nearly half of his recording career. If he was alive today, it would be a sixth of his career.
Listening to all these albums again after so many decades, they are better than remembered. Like I said, the good isn’t great and the bad is the worst, but the worst song in the world on a Presley album is better than the best song on a Sting album, because, hey, it has Elvis.