(Blast from the past - Elvis Monthly January 1963)

Blast Off

By Graham Straw

This year, once again, Elvis was voted the world's No. 1 Singer and musical personality in the NEW MUSICAL EXPRESS poll. He topped the charts five times, and his LP Blue Hawaii was reported to be his best selling album ever. The critics were at last converted, even the mums and dads enjoy listening to his records. Everything is just fine. Or is it?

As an Elvis fan who has bought nearly all his records from That's All Right, Blue Moon of Kentucky, etc., right up to the Pot Luck LP, I say that things have never been worse, and there are several other fans I know, who support my view.

When he first started recording again after his army spell there wasn't a great deal of difference between his new discs and his pre-army ones. With El turning out records like Stuck on you, Such A Night, Mess of Blues and Reconsider Baby, and beginning to lean more towards the blues there was a promise of great things to come.

But instead we were given the "new" Elvis. Records like It's Now or Never, Wooden Heart, Surrender and Wild In The Country, all hit the top of the hit parade and in no time at all Elvis had forgotten all about the gimmicks that made him famous. When compared to most of the records in the top twenty they are very good but when compared to his fabulous pre-army discs they are very ordinary indeed.

He first became a big star because his fabulous, unique, highly individual style set him apart from the rest of the field. His records were bursting with explosive rhythm, packed with excitement and were, and still are, a joy to listen to. He sang and moved just how he felt, but nowadays he moves and sings as if it were all carefully rehearsed.

His wiggle, rasping shout, stutter, evil mumbling, breathy ballad voice and terrific sense of rhythm, all Presley trademarks, have now all disappeared. His deep South drawl has been replaced by a horrible false accent (especially on the ballads), and there is no longer any enthusiasm in his voice. Just play the two versions of Blue Suede Shoes to see what I mean. I think it's a tragedy that such a brilliant unique style should be forsaken for such an ordinary, unimaginative style.

However, it is not only his singing that is on the down grade: the instrumental backing group no longer swing as they did on Treat Me Nice, Big Hunk 'o Love, etc. The guitar sounds thin and tinny compared to its earlier richness (although Little Sister was a big improvement) and Floyd Cramer's piano doesn't swing as it used to. I also think that too many instruments are used nowadays, with the result that his backing sounds fiddling and messy.

The arrangements lack imagination, hence the sameness that is spreading among his latest records, especially the ballads, and why do the Jordanaires sing with El now, as if they were a choir. A good example of a bad arrangement can be heard on Little Sister. It could have done with a chorus less and a piano solo instead.

The sound balance is also at fault, El's voice being less prominent than it should be, and some of the songs Elvis is recording nowadays don't even deserve the attention of Cliff Richard and Co. (what's happened to Leiber Stoller, Otis Blackwell and his other rock songwriters?).

You may say that if his records are so bad then why do they sell as well (if not better) than his pre-army discs. This is because the standard of popular music has dropped quite a lot during the last two years. Record buyers of today are, on the whole, squares and they will buy anything that lacks excitement, just look at the top twenty. The names of Bill Haley, Little Richard, Fats Domino and Chuck Berry, mean very little to them, and I'll bet that few of them are familiar with El's old records.

If you think I'm wrong about the last line then take a look at the latest Elvis top twenty. To say it is a farce is an understatement. There are only six pre-army discs in the top twenty, and the top record is always his latest single.

Hound Dog, Blue Suede Shoes, Such A Night, Teddy Bear, Don't, One Night, A Fool Such as I and many others, don't even appear in the top twenty, whilst records like Good Luck Charm, Angel, Hawaiian Wedding Song and No More all appear. Can you honestly say that the latter are better than the former? The answer is obviously "no," as anyone who has heard both sets of records will agree (unless they are squares, in which case they shouldn't be Elvis fans to start with). This proves that the majority of fans who read your magazine, who vote for the top twenty, who buy the records, have sprung up in the last couple of years, and know little about his pre-army masterpieces, for if they did I am sure they would be dissatisfie with his present output.

Aren't most of the older fans who still buy his discs brainwashing themselves into believing that if it's Elvis it must be good. I know I was until the terrible Blue Hawaii LP finally brought me to my senses.

Elvis has proved his versatility (if it needed proving) by singing Italian, German, French, and Hawaiian songs. Now I hope he will go back to the songs he can really sing. The rocking, bluesy, big beat type of songs that were once associated with him.

The Marcels, Del Shannon, U.S. Bonds, Bobby Lewis, Dion and Chubby Checker have all hit the U.S.A. No. 1 spot last year with good, solid rock 'n' roll numbers and yet Elvis hasn't been at No. 1 since March, 1961 (Surrender).

Surely, if virtually unknown singers (apart from two of them) can succeed where Elvis fails it proves that his records just aren't up to the standard of the rest of the rock 'n' roll field. And yet three years ago these same artistes wouldn't have stood a chance against El.

I did not enjoy writing this article, I wish there had been no need to write it at all, but I wanted to let you know how I felt about El's present record output.