It is a goal here at Vintage Leisure to eventually analyze every aspect of Elvis Presley’s recording career. We have previously tried to identify his very best recordings by breaking down his finest work from each decade in addition to his soundtrack releases. It is another aspect of his movie music that we are looking at today.
I thought we’d run down his best movie title songs. It is another sad if somewhat small beef we can have with Presley’s movie career that even sensible movie titles were replaced with the title of the latest single that Colonel Parker and RCA wanted to plug. This happened right from the get-go. In Presley’s first film, he plays Clint Reno, one of four Reno brothers. The original name of the film? The Reno Brothers. Makes sense. Of course, it was changed to Love Me Tender – ridiculous especially when considering how appropriate the original title was – because of the song that was placed in the film. The story of the real-life Reno boys had been told a year earlier with an even cooler title; Rage at Dawn.
King’s very next film suffered a similar fate. Loving You may be the best King Movie with the worst title. An excellent movie, it bore working titles ranging from cool – Lonesome Cowboy – to lame – Something for the Girls. Even this latter made more sense than the title it got but sadly, producer Hal Wallis considered how well titling the movie after the single had worked with Love Me Tender and did the same with this second film. Unfortunately, “following a pattern” was established early in the world of King Movies.
The titling of King Movies became less of a problem; monikers like Girl Happy and Spinout certainly fit the films they adorn. Often, the title track was the big number on the soundtrack, other times there actually was no title track; thankfully, there was no song called “Harum Scarum” commissioned. For the films for which there is no actual title track, we’ll plug in for ranking purposes the song that was used over the opening credits. For the record: Presley’s first four films – the “proper” films of the 1950’s – all contained an overture-type orchestral score over the opening titles with King making an appearance vocally during the opening of Loving You. G.I. Blues and the ridiculously-titled The Trouble With Girls also features an orchestra over the opening credits and is the only narrative film without a title track or song sung over the titles. So, without further ado, here’s one man’s ranking of the Best King Movie Title Tracks.
#30 “Love Me Tender” (1956) — From Elvis’ first film, “Love Me Tender” looms large in Elvis World. It is one of the songs most recognized as belonging to Elvis Presley and, though he would never record the song in the studio again, he would perform it often in concert. When performing it in Las Vegas, it was often during this song that Elvis would jump into the crowd and kiss the girls. It was his 12th RCA single and the 5th to go to Number One. It was also Number One in Canada and reached #3 US Country and #3 US R&B. “Love Me Tender” was based on the Civil War ballad “Aura Lea” (or “Lee”) written by Englishman George R. Poulton. Presley’s recording is credited to Vera Matson and Presley himself – neither of whom wrote a lick. The legendary Ken Darby adapted the old ballad for use in the film and used his wife’s name in the composer credits. Presley’s was added for publishing reasons. The song is Tail-End Charlie on this list because it is so slight it is almost inaudible. There is nothing compelling about the backing or King’s vocal. I don’t like to be negative but I simply find the song boring. Check out our look at Elvis’ Hollywood debut here.
#29 “Loving You” (1957) — The title track of Elvis’ second film is another somnambulant ballad. Written by the legendary team of Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller, the song was released on the B side of the film’s stand out track, “(Let Me Be Your) Teddy Bear” and it was only a moderate hit by Presley’s standards reaching #20 on the US Pop charts. King also waxed an alternate, up-tempo version that is moderately better than the master. Again, its a great movie but there’s just not much here in the title track.
#28 “Speedway” (1968) — Fittingly, this song lacks a certain verve considering it came at the nadir of Presley’s career as an album artist. Speedway was not Presley’s 17th album, it was his 17th soundtrack album and it set a new low for King’s LP releases. The album “jeopardized his recording career” and the insipid title track didn’t help as a vibrant one may have. The best thing about the album is that it made soundtrack LPs a thing of the past in Elvis World. “Speedway” was written by two men with names so obscure…I don’t know what. One of them has had a successful career in Italy. Not released as a single, which speaks volumes.
#27 “Frankie and Johnny” (1966) — This traditional song dates back to the turn of the last century and it is this that makes it a less-than-stellar track in the King’s celluloid canon. The 1966 film Frankie and Johnny – with “Come Along” sang over the opening credits – is a period piece in which King plays a riverboat gambler and entertainer. Most of the songs for this film, then, are “old-timey” songs – although “Hard Luck” ranks among Presley’s very best movie songs. King puts in a good vocal in the Dixieland arrangement of this title track but it has little to offer anyone who wasn’t around at the turn of the last century. Presley’s is one of more than 250 recorded versions of the song. Some lyrics were changed for Elvis’ version thus securing publishing for Presley’s (Colonel’s) publishing firm. There was a contribution from the movie’s incidental music composer, Fred Karger, who had worked on Gidget (1959) among other films. Presley’s single of “Frankie and Johnny” actually reached #25 on the US Pop charts, #3 Adult Contemporary and it somehow hit #4 in Canada. Presley does finish the song with some vigour.
#26 “Paradise, Hawaiian Style” (1966) — Uniquely in Elvis World, here is a film that has a title track but the title of the film is not referenced in the lyrics. “Hawaii, USA”, King sings in the song “Paradise, Hawaiian Style”; they went ahead and called the song that despite the lyrics. Like Speedway, this soundtrack marks a low point in Presley’s recording career. There is a richness in Presley’s voice here and some catchy percussion but it is otherwise unremarkable. “Paradise, Hawaiian Style” was used to greater effect during the opening of the 1973 Aloha from Hawaii via Satellite telecast.
#25 “Wonderful World” (from Live a Little, Love a Little) (1968) — I have reported before that – song-for-song – Live a Little, Love a Little contains Presley’s best soundtrack and I stand by that. You simply need to disassociate yourself from what you expect from someone called “The King of Rock & Roll“. When it comes to assessing Elvis’ music, often “this song is lame” can simply mean “that’s not rock & roll”. If – IF – we allow Elvis Presley to venture into a more adult contemporary realm, than this soundtrack and “Wonderful World”, sung over the opening credits, is filled with exemplary recordings (including the decidedly un-adult contemporary “A Little Less Conversation”). “Wonderful World” was written for Cliff Richard by Englishman Guy Fletcher and Australian-born Englishman Doug Flett. The two also wrote “Just Pretend” from That’s the Way It Is. “Wonderful World” is a delightful piece of music that does much to depict the joy to be found in Elvis’ movies. Read our review of Live a Little, Love a Little here.
#24 “Charro” (1969) — How thrilling the idea that Elvis Presley was going to make a movie in which he didn’t sing. It only took until 1969. On top of that, the film would be a gritty western in the style popular at the time. But “they” couldn’t resist. Elvis sang “Charro” over the opening credits. A pointless song but one not without its charm. It did contain a certain menace of the type found in western soundtracks of the time and was written by the crack team of Billy Strange and Mac Davis, two men responsible for much great music in Elvis World. It was clever to issue “Charro” as the alternate side of the single featuring “Memories”, a Top 40 song for King. The flip did not chart, natch.
#23 “Stay Away, Joe” (1968) — Elvis was singing less in the films released during this time and the songs – as they did throughout his movie career – ranged from insipid to inspired. Dang if “Stay Away, Joe” isn’t catchy but it is foolish coming from Elvis in ’68, the year of “If I Can Dream”. Think about that. Funny thing about this movie is, the song that featured over the opening credits, “Stay Away”, based on “Greensleeves”, is wonderful. The best thing about “Stay Away, Joe” is that RCA released the wrong take in 1970. Some pressings of the LP Almost in Love – and the cassette I owned – used alternate take 17 which features Elvis cracking up a bit. Certainly adds a wink and a smile while listening.
#22 “Clambake” (1967) — “Clammmmbake, gonna have a clambake!” I do love to sing this one, especially during summer holidays. But yet again we are at a low point in Presley’s career and Clambake features perhaps his most disinterested film performance. This limp soundtrack album is considered something of a turning point in King’s recording career. Promptly following the lacklustre, disheartening sessions for this album, an additional recording session in Hollywood was canceled and Presley and the boys soon adjourned to Nashville to cut tracks chosen by Elvis designed to get out of his rut. This title track is a fun one despite it’s asinine references to “Shortnin’ Bread”.
#21 “Double Trouble” (1967) — I think, from here on in, I can say that the title tracks are “good”; no excuses needed. Well, maybe I will say that they are good for movie songs. “Double Trouble” is an energetic tune and it – and “City By Night” – are the only things I can tolerate about this film. This track was actually written by the venerable team of Doc Pomus and Mort Shuman. We are still in the doldrums, though. At this low point in a stellar recording career, Presley cut “Long Legged Girl (with the Short Dress On)”, at a painfully brief 1 minute and 29 seconds, his shortest single to make the charts (#63) and an unfortunate version of “Old MacDonald”, the recording of which had King so steamed that he bolted the studio.
#20 “Easy Come, Easy Go” (1966) — Very listenable in the same way “Double Trouble” is, this vibrant title track features guitar from Scotty Moore. The soundtrack for Easy Come, Easy Go was released on the then-fading EP format; Presley’s last. It didn’t chart and sold abysmally. Read about this film here.
#19 “Harem Holiday” (from Harum Scarum) (1965) — One of the rare occurrences – especially from the mid-60s – when the title of the film and the title track didn’t match. But you know what? “Harem Holiday” is a great song and how fun to sing; “If Romeo had a harem holiday, you can bet that Juliet would have never been his girl forever…” The film and the soundtrack are considered low points but what’s funny is – the album is not bad. Take it like Sinatra doing a bossa nova album. Forget that it’s a soundtrack to a silly film and listen to it as a concept album of sorts – Elvis Sings Melodies from the Middle East. Something else; the album reached #8 – NUMBER 8! – on the Top LPs chart in 1965. 1965!
#18 “(It’s a) Long, Lonely Highway” (from Tickle Me) (1965) — Here we have a cheater. We cannot analyze the songs in Tickle Me from a “soundtrack” standpoint. Because they are not “movie songs”. They are legit tracks that Elvis recorded in the early 1960s before he was swallowed by Hollywood. “Long, Lonely Highway” – another from Pomus/Shuman – is a good song and appropriate to the opening credits showing King traveling by Greyhound. Get the full skinny on this film here.
#17 “Wild in the Country” (1961) — I have a soft spot for this gentle tune from the songwriting team that brought you “Can’t Help Falling in Love”. You might ask how this song is any different and so much better than “Love Me Tender”. Perhaps its the vibrancy of Tiny Timbrell’s acoustic guitar or it may just be the connection to this excellent film.
#16 “Girl Happy” (1965) — From here on in, the title tracks are excellent, all among the best of Elvis’ movie music. “Girl Happy” is a song that easily exists outside the confines of the action of the film. The lyrics are clever and reinforce the idea of Elvis the Lover. Never released as a single, this tune was written by Doc Pomus with a different partner, Norman Meade.
#15 “Roustabout” (1964) — I’ve said it before; this film and its title track are King Movies in a nutshell. Every word of this tune basically depicts the basic Elvis film plot. Like “Girl Happy” though, this song is great and need not be tied to the movie. A totally different tune called “I’m a Roustabout” was written by Winfield Scott and Otis Blackwell and recorded by Elvis for the film but not used. Roustabout‘s soundtrack was a Number One LP in the year of the Beatles.
#14 “Kissin’ Cousins” (1964) — This one actually rocks and Presley sounds fully engaged. Co-written by Randy Starr who gifted the world “Almost in Love”. Every Southern-accented word that comes out of King’s mouth is a delight to hear on this song that reached #12 on the Pop charts. We have a disclaimer here: for some unknown reason, a totally different – and quite charming – song with the stellar title “Kissin’ Cousins (Number 2)” plays over the opening credits of this goofy film.
#13 “Fun in Acapulco” (1963) — “AH-capulco, swaying in the breeze…” A delightful song that sounds as lovely as Acapulco must’ve been in 1963. I’ve often said that this film could be one of my favourites were it not for all the process shots; if King had actually gone to Mexico, the movie simply would’ve worked – and looked – better. The title track sashays nicely and Presley sounds relaxed. He himself never sings the words “fun in Acapulco” in the song.
#12 “Flaming Star” (1960) — One of Presley’s greatest films is one of the many that need not have had a title track recorded. This though is an appropriate country and western-sounding song the went to #14 on the Pop charts in 1960, a time when western ballads were popular. An alternate version was recorded bearing an early working title of the film, “Black Star”. Read about one of the grittiest King Movies here.
#11 “Beyond the Bend” (from It Happened at the World’s Fair) (1963) — “Beyond the Bend” is another quintessential King Movie song – in jaunty presentation and in lyrical content. Like “Roustabout”, the song speaks of one who is unencumbered; by responsibility, by job, by family. Someone celebrating freedom who doesn’t care that he or she has nothing but instead is content with the ability to travel and experience life. This is the essence of King Movies. Read our review of this one here.
#10 “Girls! Girls! Girls!” (1962) — In the “Girl Happy” tradition of Presley songs that celebrate the opposite sex. Both songs I grew up with on the cheapie LP Elvis in Hollywood that was released upon his death in a black box with a photo album and other records. This was written by Leiber and Stoller for their group the Coasters who released it as a single in the summer of ’61.
#9 “King of the Whole Wide World” (from Kid Galahad) (1962) — A great song from a great movie. In the film, Presley sings this carefree movie ditty with added orchestral backing while sitting on the back of a truck. With grit, he bites into “come on, let’s sing! Sing, brother, sing”. Elvis was still making great movie music at this time.
#8 “Follow That Dream” (1962) — In a rarity, Elvis does not sing this title track over the opening credits. That honour goes to one of my favourites of his recordings, “What a Wonderful Life”. Presley’s character, Toby – one of his best – sings along to the radio on this track while being interviewed by a dishy social worker. “Follow That Dream” is one of Bruce Springsteen’s favourite Elvis songs and he has performed it in concert. As is his wont, the Boss tweaked the lyrics to address those who may be downtrodden but who need to keep focused and…follow that dream. A nice, shuffling number in King’s hands.
#7 “Change of Habit” (1969) — Starting here, the rest of the tracks represent the pinnacle of Presley’s title tracks and movie music. I initially fell in love with this tune through the budget release album it was on, Let’s Be Friends; actually, a delightful record. “Change of Habit” features the legendary Carol Kaye playing a groovy fuzz bass. Renowned for her work with the Wrecking Crew, she is not noted for sessions with Presley. Neither is the drummer, Carl “Cubby” O’Brien, a former Mousketeer. The two combine though to make a killer rhythm section. Add Presley’s blue-eyed soul vocal, nice guitar strumming and fine piano work and this song is excellent.
#6 “G.I. Blues” (1960) — One of the first movies I ever saw contains a title track that is a staple of Presley’s recordings. This much-loved song ties itself to the Army with the Jordanaires’ “hup-hup-hup”-ing and martial snare drumming. Again, Presley is engaged as he tears into the chorus. This track is brimming with charisma in many ways.
#5 “Viva Las Vegas” (1964) — Even more so than “G.I. Blues”, this song is inextricably tied to Elvis Presley and is one of the three or four songs most identified with him. The jangling guitar always gave it a reckless, samba-type sound to me. Here is another song that just brims with character and charm. Infinitely listenable.
#4 “King Creole” (1958) — Presley’s greatest film has one of the best title tracks, highlighted by an excellent guitar solo from James Burton, one of his many. In fact, this whole soundtrack is great and among Elvis’ best. Watch him perform this tune as Danny Fisher in the film; during the electric guitar solo he is supposedly playing on an acoustic instrument, he looks back at Scotty and the two smile. Scotty – and I doubt they’re playing live – is nevertheless playing his solo note-for-note exactly like the record. When the film might have been called Danny, a song with that name was recorded.
#3 “Blue Hawaii” (1961) — Not only is Blue Hawaii one of the most delightful visual documents ever produced by man, the film has a wonderful soundtrack loaded with songs that lyrically and musically celebrate the leisure of the islands. On top of all this, the titles themselves – in sparkling blue – are a pleasure to behold. This tune has been recorded by many since its debut in the 1937 film Waikiki Wedding starring Bing Crosby.
#2 “Spinout” (1966) — Everything gels nicely on this sterling number. The drummer is in the pocket and the guitar sparkles. Presley for his part is a ready teddy and really digs into it. “Spinout” was released as a single and became another Top 40 hit for the Memphis Flash.
#1 “Jailhouse Rock” (1957) — Vintage Leisure considers “Jailhouse Rock” Elvis Presley’s 4th-greatest recording and places it among his top 3 vocal performances. The film – probably his 2nd-best after King Creole – contains his finest dramatic acting. My only beef is that the song is presented in the film in a big production number and is embellished in a way that neuters the ferocity of this wonderful record. A Number One song on charts the world over, it is among the five most recognizable recordings by Elvis Presley.