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Double Trouble FTD

Mon Aug 11, 2008 12:45 pm

If one LP justified the Presley collectors’ label series of soundtrack reissues in the “classic album” series, it’s the deluxe soundtrack CD to Presley’s 24th film Double Trouble. This may be hard to believe as the original soundtrack ranks with the weakest Presley LPs. Yet the scholarship of Ernst Jorgensen and Roger Semon has actually managed to turn a sow’s ear into compelling listen if not a silk purse.

Given the level of material on the original Double Trouble album, you might think that there would be no way to reclaim this album, outtakes, good sound and pretty pictures be damned. Yet, as the 13 outtakes (eleven of them previously unreleased) here show the problem was just as much a loss of the Elvis Presley aesthetic as it was a lack of good material. Gathering the master cuts from the session along with the outtakes, the new deluxe soundtrack presents the contradictory portrait of an artist completely in charge of his technical abilities but at sea in terms of his artistic vision.

As I mentioned earlier, the original soundtrack was no great shakes. It is marked by two of the worst songs in the Presley arsenal a remake of “Old MacDonald” and a piece of nursery rock “I Love Only One Girl.” On the original running order, these songs come back to back. No wonder the album has inspired so many bad memories.

While these are the type of novelty songs that made Elvis soundtracks a joke, the “straight” material is not exactly brilliant either. Doc Pomus and Mort Shuman whiff on the title song although the lines before each chorus aren’t terrible. “Baby if You’ll Give Me All Your Love” is sitcom rock featuring lines about bringing a love object pounds of pounds of chocolate candy to mitigate any sexual intent, and a rushed tempo to compensate for a lack of aggression. “Long Legged Girl (With the Short Dress on)” features a great crunching electric guitar riff opening but winds up just another novelty song, perhaps a hair more clever than the others. “Could I Fall in Love”, in its master form, ranks with the most anonymous of Presley film ballads.

Fans looking to the studio bonus tunes as some sort of compensation are to be disappointed. The best of this sorry light is “Never Ending” the kind of light Latinate tune that Elvis enjoyed in the early ‘60s and with which he embellished with some of his most continental vocals. The other tunes range from mediocre like Don Robertson’s uncharacteristically bland, “What Now, What Next, Where to” and Wayne and Weisman’s Brit Invasion interpretation “It Won’t Be Long,” to absolutely wretched, the too frantic and over arranged “Blue River.”

Things aren’t a complete waste though. “City By Night” is a cool cabaret type ballad with a jazzy feel. It has no stylistic parallel in Presley’s catalogue. “There’s So Much World to See” is a nice little pop blues. It doesn’t have any raunch but, it’s got a groove.

Then there’s that Presley professionalism and that sterling voice. Unlike say Paradise Hawaiian Style, Elvis has at least a professional commitment to these songs and it makes all but the most hideous tunes sound listenable. As he did time and again, Elvis spun straw into at least copper, if not gold.

But did Elvis truly get everything out of these songs that he could? The material would make it seem so. Yet, that’s what makes the outtakes here unearthed by Jorgensen and Semon so fascinating.

The Elvis we hear on the outtakes is far more interesting than the Elvis revealed on the master cuts. And I’m not talking about the enlightenment we can pull from between song banter. I’m talking about musical performance. There are outtakes here provided for every song but “Old MacDonald” recorded for the original film and, with the exception of “City By Night”, every alternate performance is better than the master version.

Tempos are faster, beats are heavier, Elvis’ singing is edgier and more aggressive as is the performance of the band. The second take of “Baby If You’ll Give Me All Your Love” which features a heavy drum beat, a crunching guitar and a “His Latest Flame” type piano riff caught me short, as it is so much punchier than the wimpy master. It approaches a real rocker. The great opening guitar riffs that open the first take of “It Won’t Be Long” had the same kind of effect.

There is simply a level of spontaneous verve and creativity on these outtakes that there is not on the album masters. That is not to say that these are definitive performances or that the performances on these outtakes are classic performances. There is still work to be done on every performance. The material could be better. The arrangements are ragged. By comparison, the performances on the album are nearly flawless which is, I think, the problem. Elvis’ work on the album is squeaky clean. There are no mumbles, no memorable pronunciations, no sweeps within his range. The band plays without flaw but without passion. This is, of course, the antithesis of the Elvis style.

From the time Elvis hit Sun Records to the end of his career, Elvis aimed for the right feeling on his best recordings. Whether or not a recording was technically acceptable was a secondary concern at best. Here the quest for precision is paramount. Even more, it’s as if Elvis is afraid to challenge or offend the audience with even a hint of suggestion or aggression. Again, this is not Elvis.

Given that this recording came only a month or so after Elvis’ How Great Thou Art sessions, the artist certainly still had mastery of the Elvis Presley method. However, he appears unwilling or unable to use it in the movie system. The outtakes and early performances indicate that he is in tune with that aesthetic but deliberately pushed himself away on the masters. Was he just trying to please the suits with something they expected? Did he feel these sessions belonged to him in the way that Jailhouse Rock belonged to him almost a decade before? It’s an interesting question as the studios did provide Elvis with at least some breathing room. After all, his publishers provided the material and Elvis himself ran the sessions.

Perhaps the pressure of limits of recording for movies had worn him down. That challenge is illuminated here in the album’s finest musical revelation the un-dubbed master of “Could I Fall in Love.” In the movie, Elvis sings the song as a duet with himself on a record player. For that purpose, Elvis’ voice was overdubbed on the master. However, the duet overdub ruins the intimacy of the song.

Hearing the solo Elvis performance you really appreciate the beauty of the song’s melody thanks to Elvis’ beautiful vocal. He must sing the title phrase four different ways in the song. Using a delicate falsetto, the slightest vibrato and his gifts for timing and word emphasis (“Could I Fffall in love”) Elvis contributes one of his very finest mid-60s ballad performances. This would be a major performance if Randy Starr’s lyrics were not so incoherent and clichéd. It’s too bad the Colonel kept Elvis isolated from songwriters because Elvis should have commissioned a rewrite with a little less vague, a little more searching lyric to accompany this haunting melody.

You would never know just how good this song is from the master which not only features that intrusive overdub but also omits the second reading of the bridge which contains some of Elvis’ most tender singing. It’s not just repetitive.

But, who is to blame for the album master turning out the way it did? Many previous movie songs required overdubs for the film that Elvis axed for his masters. And what purpose was served by cutting out that second bridge?

That Elvis Presley could still be a great artist was evident in the recordings he made in Nashville a month before this. These recordings show that apparently Elvis saw no opportunity to simultaneously meld being a good employee with being a great artist. It would be one thing if Elvis threw these sessions away like he did with PHS and Clambake. That he deliberately checked himself creates a new mystery in his career.

That we can even ponder such an interesting contradiction is thanks to Jorgenson and Semon. Without the Presley collector’s label, we would not get such a picture of a minor album like this. Their musical scholarship makes up for some of the deficiencies they show in packaging some of these albums.

No one could blame them for the lackluster album cover which is a duplicate of the original lackluster album cover. However, the booklet here is kind of a disappointment. Nearly all the pictures from the film are common coin with virtually no candid shots or outtakes. There’s a nice b/w backstage shot of Elvis and the Colonel on the last page but that’s it. The liner notes are minimal. They reveal Elvis did not like the material. There’s also a nice little mention of Elvis meeting James Brown and Jackie Wilson around the time the film was made.

The actual amount of music on the CD, at 53 minutes, is a little on the short side as well considering the lofty price of FTDs. It’s especially irksome since most Elvis fans already have about half this music in similar or better sound. (I’m not a sound junkie but the jury is still out on FTD classics sound.) This all is further justification that the movie FTDs should be bargain priced.

Those obvious deficits aside, it’s the music that counts and Jorgenson and Semon have come through there with a compelling story. I would have never guessed these sessions had something to say without their diligent attempt to prove that there is still to more to learn in the Elvis Presley story.

Re: Double Trouble FTD

Wed Aug 13, 2008 10:37 pm

Whew! That was a long read! I've always liked the brass arrangement on the title track and the jazzy "City by night".

Re: Double Trouble FTD

Mon Aug 18, 2008 6:19 am

Very interesting reading
Ive always liked DOUBLE TROUBLE, good songs with different styles
one thing for sure: its better than PHS
lior :smt006

Re: Double Trouble FTD

Mon Aug 25, 2008 2:18 pm

Thanks. A good read LTB. One of the interesting things about this FTD release is indeed the world of difference between the masters and the outtakes.

Re: Double Trouble FTD

Mon Aug 25, 2008 6:38 pm

This and many other FTD classic issues the outtakes sound so much sharper than the masters, check out the Harum Scarum soundtrack they sound sharper and better balanced which is strange to me?????

Re: Double Trouble FTD

Tue Aug 26, 2008 3:53 am

Shaky wrote:This and many other FTD classic issues the outtakes sound so much sharper than the masters, check out the Harum Scarum soundtrack they sound sharper and better balanced which is strange to me?????


Because the masters are the original lp mixes, but the outtakes have been mixed with modern technology for the ftd release.

Re: Double Trouble FTD

Tue Aug 26, 2008 10:45 am

It's not about the difference in sound and the mix of masters and outtakes, it's the overall musical performance by Elvis and the band which is so markedly different in the case of Double Trouble, as likethebike clearly pointed out.

likethebike wrote:The Elvis we hear on the outtakes is far more interesting than the Elvis revealed on the master cuts. And I’m not talking about the enlightenment we can pull from between song banter. I’m talking about musical performance. There are outtakes here provided for every song but “Old MacDonald” recorded for the original film and, with the exception of “City By Night”, every alternate performance is better than the master version.

Tempos are faster, beats are heavier, Elvis’ singing is edgier and more aggressive as is the performance of the band. The second take of “Baby If You’ll Give Me All Your Love” which features a heavy drum beat, a crunching guitar and a “His Latest Flame” type piano riff caught me short, as it is so much punchier than the wimpy master. It approaches a real rocker. The great opening guitar riffs that open the first take of “It Won’t Be Long” had the same kind of effect.

There is simply a level of spontaneous verve and creativity on these outtakes that there is not on the album masters. That is not to say that these are definitive performances or that the performances on these outtakes are classic performances. There is still work to be done on every performance. The material could be better. The arrangements are ragged. By comparison, the performances on the album are nearly flawless which is, I think, the problem. Elvis’ work on the album is squeaky clean. There are no mumbles, no memorable pronunciations, no sweeps within his range. The band plays without flaw but without passion. This is, of course, the antithesis of the Elvis style.

Re: Double Trouble FTD

Thu Oct 16, 2008 9:02 pm

likethebike wrote:As I mentioned earlier, the original soundtrack was no great shakes.

That is an understatement.


likethebike wrote:The Elvis we hear on the outtakes is far more interesting ...

Perhaps, but an old proverb springs to mind here, "You can't make a silk purse from a sow's ear."

And if one dares to contemplate what other major rock artists were doing in the summer of 1966, this material just seems like so much dross.

FTD did the best it could, and their thoughtful presentation of the Double Trouble OST is appreciated.

Re: Double Trouble FTD

Tue Jan 27, 2009 1:52 am

More feedback to come, LTB, but congrats on taking the notion of a "review" seriously!

Re: Double Trouble FTD

Tue Feb 16, 2010 8:03 am

drjohncarpenter wrote:
And if one dares to contemplate what other major rock artists were doing in the summer of 1966, this material just seems like so much dross.

FTD did the best it could, and their thoughtful presentation of the Double Trouble OST is appreciated.



Absolutely - he sure wasn't doing what he could've been doing at the time.

I know Double Trouble is junk. I know he recorded the entire album in five minutes and wanted to smash his head into a wall soon afterwards. I still dig the songs and vocals on it. A very guilty pleasure for me.