Elvis Movies: ROUSTABOUT

Earlier this year, I began a rewatch of Elvis Presley’s movies. Today’s focus is one that I have not seen as often as some of the others – Elvis’ 16th movie, Roustabout.


“Elvis Presley as a Roving, Restless, Reckless, Roustabout”

Roustabout (Paramount)
Wide Release: November 11, 1964 (United States)
Starring: Elvis Presley, Barbara Stanwyck, Joan Freeman
Screenplay By: Anthony Lawrence and Allan Weiss
Story By: Allan Weiss
Music Score By: Joseph J. Lilley
Produced By: Hal B. Wallis
Directed By: John Rich
Running Time: 101 Minutes


Elvis Presley is Charlie Rogers in 1964’s ROUSTABOUT (Paramount)

Elvis Presley is Charlie Rogers in 1964’s ROUSTABOUT (Paramount)

In Roustabout, Elvis Presley stars as Charlie Rogers, a singer who ends up working at a carnival when Joe (Leif Erickson), a grouchy old carny, runs him off the road, damaging his motorcycle and destroying his guitar. Ah, Elvis Movies, you gotta love ’em.

The Morgan Shows carnival in 1964's ROUSTABOUT (Paramount)

The Morgan Shows carnival in 1964’s ROUSTABOUT (Paramount)

Despite the inane setup, Roustabout is pretty good! When Maggie (Barbara Stanwyck), the owner of the carnival, pays for a new guitar and repairs to his motorcycle, Charlie stays on as a roustabout until his bike is ready in order to spend more time with Cathy (Joan Freeman), Joe’s daughter. Joe, of course, is not amused by this turn of events.

Joan Freeman is Cathy and Elvis Presley is Charlie in 1964's ROUSTABOUT (Paramount)

Joan Freeman is Cathy and Elvis Presley is Charlie in 1964’s ROUSTABOUT (Paramount)

Outside of this movie, “roustabout” is not a term I have encountered. It essentially means an unskilled laborer. It seems to be used most often today in the oil rigging industry. In this case, Charlie does odd jobs at the carnival, such as helping to set up rides or even filling in at a candy apple stand.

When attempting to attract players for a game that Cathy is promoting, Charlie winds up singing and drawing a crowd. His roustabout days are soon behind him, for Maggie signs him on as a singer instead.

Charlie Rogers (Elvis Presley) begins to draw a crowd for Morgan Shows when the carnival signs him on as a singer in 1964's ROUSTABOUT (Paramount)

Charlie Rogers (Elvis Presley) begins to draw a crowd for Morgan Shows when the carnival signs him on as a singer in 1964’s ROUSTABOUT (Paramount)

It turns out that Maggie has a habit of bailing Joe out of trouble, and her carnival is facing financial ruin because of it. Charlie brings in the teen money, and the situation begins to improve until things come to a head between him and Joe, causing Charlie to switch to a rival carnival.

Barbara Stanwyck is Maggie Morgan in 1964's ROUSTABOUT (Paramount)

Barbara Stanwyck is Maggie Morgan in 1964’s ROUSTABOUT (Paramount)

Elvis does a fine job acting in certain parts of Roustabout. A scene between him and Barbara Stanwyck is my favorite of the film:

Charlie: “You collect strays, Maggie. And you got one in Joe. Why don’t you stop recruiting? They don’t make a family.”
Maggie: “What would you know about a family?”
Charlie: “Nothing!”

After Maggie walks away and can no longer hear him, Charlie repeats the line again, softly, sadly: “Nothing…” It is a quick moment, but certainly one of Elvis’ best in his 1960s movies.

Elvis Presley is Charlie Rogers in 1964's ROUSTABOUT (Paramount)

Elvis Presley is Charlie Rogers in 1964’s ROUSTABOUT (Paramount)

The rebellious Charlie is reminiscent of some of Elvis’ earliest film roles. For instance, Charlie remarks early on, “Look, if you’re not tough in this world, you get squashed, honey.” These words could have been taken right out of Vince Everett’s mouth in Jailhouse Rock (1957). Charlie also has traces of Deke Rivers from Loving You (1957) and even a little bit of Danny Fisher from King Creole (1958). At 29 during production of Roustabout, however, Elvis does seem a little old at times to be playing a rebel.

Even some of Elvis’ mannerisms in Roustabout remind me of his 1950s presence, otherwise left out of many of his 1960s movies. Elvis’ performance of “One Track Heart” in Roustabout, for instance, is quite reminiscent of his 1956 “Blue Suede Shoes” screen test, except with a less exciting song. Later on, during “Hard Knocks,” he does his more typical 1960s movie hand-clapping thing, though.

Elvis’ natural flair for comedy comes into play a few times in Roustabout. One example:

Cathy: “You must get your face slapped a lot.”
Charlie: “About 50–50.”

Pat Buttram does a terrific job playing the villainous Harry, the owner of the big-time carnival that is looking to put Maggie out of business. Another great couple of lines:

Charlie: “Not everybody is as big a crook as you are, Harry.”
Harry: “Well, everybody tries.”

Pat Buttram is Harry and Elvis Presley is Charlie in 1964's ROUSTABOUT (Paramount)

Pat Buttram is Harry and Elvis Presley is Charlie in 1964’s ROUSTABOUT (Paramount)

Charlie’s show goes over well, and Harry asks him to do an encore. “Nah,” says Charlie. “Always leave ’em wanting more.” This phrase, of course, was the philosophy of a real-life carny huckster, “Colonel” Tom Parker, when it came to managing Elvis. Parker also served as technical advisor on Roustabout and most of Elvis’ other films.

I try not to review soundtrack albums in this series, focusing any discussion of songs instead on how they appear in the movies themselves. However, I do want to point out in this case that Roustabout has one of the worst soundtrack albums – with nary a hit or highlight in sight. I was surprised, then, that just about all of the songs work perfectly in the context of the actual film. Perhaps based on the fun of seeing the movie, fans propelled the otherwise lackluster Roustabout soundtrack to Billboard‘s number one album position in January 1965. It would be over eight years before Elvis scored another number one album (1973’s Aloha From Hawaii via Satellite).

Joan Freeman is Cathy and Elvis Presley is Charlie in 1964’s ROUSTABOUT (Paramount)

Elvis Presley in a production number taped for 1968's ELVIS television special (NBC)

Elvis Presley in a production number taped for 1968’s ELVIS television special (NBC)

Roustabout obviously had an influence on some of the production numbers created for the 1968 ELVIS television special, even down to costuming. The denim outfit that Elvis wears at times in the movie is almost identical to one he wears during portions of the special, for instance. Roustabout is also one of the few times we see Elvis in leather prior to the special. The barker lines on the ELVIS-TV Special soundtrack album might even have been directly lifted from recordings made for this movie. The performance of “Little Egypt” in the ’68 special is better than the cringey one in Roustabout, incidentally, though the outdated song is a detriment to both productions anyway.

Charlie Rogers (Elvis Presley) at Harry’s carnival in 1964’s ROUSTABOUT (Paramount)


Boldly Go

Multiple uncredited cast members from Roustabout went on to play roles in Star Trek.

K.L. Smith plays the Sheriff in Roustabout and appears as a Klingon in the Star Trek episode “Elaan Of Troyius” in 1968.

Elvis Presley is Charlie and K.L. Smith is the Sheriff in 1964's ROUSTABOUT (Paramount)

Elvis Presley is Charlie and K.L. Smith is the Sheriff in 1964’s ROUSTABOUT (Paramount)

K.L. Smith is a Klingon captain in the 1968 STAR TREK episode "Elaan Of Troyius" (Paramount)

K.L. Smith is a Klingon captain in the 1968 STAR TREK episode “Elaan Of Troyius” (Paramount)

Other cross-overs include:

  • Dick Cherney [Roustabout: Carnival patron | Star Trek: A council member in “A Taste Of Armageddon” (1967) and a passerby in “The City On The Edge Of Forever” (1967)]
  • Carey Foster [Roustabout: College girl | Star Trek: An Enterprise crewmember in “The Squire Of Gothos” (1967), “This Side Of Paradise” (1967), and “The Alternative Factor” (1967)]
  • Teri Garr [Roustabout: Carnival dancer | Star Trek: Roberta Lincoln in “Assignment: Earth” (1968)]
  • Marianna Hill [Roustabout: Viola | Star Trek: Helen Noel in “Dagger Of The Mind” (1966)]
  • Jesse Wayne [Roustabout: Carnival worker | Star Trek: Chekov stunt double in “The Tholian Web” (1968)]

Some of these players will show up again in other Elvis movies not yet covered, giving them another chance to be featured here on The Mystery Train Elvis Blog.

An honorable mention goes to Elvis’ pal Lance LeGault, who appears as a barker in Roustabout and plays Captain K’Temoc in the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode “The Emissary” in 1989.


Elvis Presley takes a pummeling as Charlie Rogers in 1964's ROUSTABOUT (Paramount)

Elvis Presley takes a pummeling as Charlie Rogers in 1964’s ROUSTABOUT (Paramount)

Roustabout Tote Board

    • Songs: 11
    • Punches: 11
    • Kisses: 8
    • Karate Chops: 4
    • Slaps: 2
    • Motorcycle Crashes: 2

Songs In Roustabout

  1. “Roustabout” (1964), written by Bill Giant, Bernie Baum, & Florence Kay
  2. “Poison Ivy League” (1964), written by Bill Giant, Bernie Baum, & Florence Kay
  3. “Wheels On My Heels” (1964), written by Sid Tepper & Roy C. Bennett
  4. “It’s A Wonderful World” (1964), written by Sid Tepper & Roy C. Bennett
  5. “It’s Carnival Time” (1964), written by Ben Weisman & Sid Wayne
  6. “Carny Town” (1964), written by Fred Wise & Randy Starr
  7. “One Track Heart” (1964), written by Bill Giant, Bernie Baum, & Florence Kay
  8. “Hard Knocks” (1964), written by Joy Byers
  9. “Little Egypt” (1964), written by Jerry Leiber & Mike Stoller
  10. “Big Love, Big Heartache” (1964), written by Dolores Fuller, Lee Morris, & Sonny Hendrix
  11. “There’s A Brand New Day On The Horizon” (1964), written by Joy Byers

The Mystery Train’s Roustabout Scorecard

  • Story: 6 (out of 10)
  • Acting: 8
  • Fun: 8
  • Songs: 6
  • Overall: 7 (Worth Watching)

Further Roustabout Reading Around The Web


Click image for larger, full-color version


“Since Jacob was in love with Rachel, he told her father, ‘I’ll work for you for seven years if you’ll give me Rachel, your younger daughter, as my wife.’ ‘Agreed!’ Laban replied. ‘I’d rather give her to you than to anyone else. Stay and work with me.’ So Jacob worked seven years to pay for Rachel. But his love for her was so strong that it seemed to him but a few days.”
Genesis 29:18-20

March 1992: The Elvis Beat #1

And now, one from the archives. I first started writing about Elvis back in 1992. Thirty years ago now, I began an official fan club whose sole purpose was to allow me to write an Elvis newsletter. Not wanting to compete with any existing clubs in my area, I named mine “The Elvis Beat: International Elvis Presley Fan Club.”

The “International” part reflected the lofty ambitions of 16-year-old me. Though The Elvis Beat never obtained any members from outside of the United States, I see The Mystery Train Elvis Blog as a realization of the dream to connect with fellow Elvis fans from all over the world.

I published the newsletter sporadically over the next five years. Most of the time, I printed a master copy using a PC and an ink jet printer. Early issues included literal cut and paste jobs on the paper to include photos, as I did not have a scanner. Then, I would have copies made. Unfortunately, my original master copies have disappeared, but I still have my archive of newsletter copies.

At first, I charged a nominal fee to join, but I soon made it free with the request that members send postage stamps if they could to offset some of the costs. To their credit, most members did send stamps. Still, I would have been in trouble had membership ever exploded much beyond 50 at any given time.

Eventually, I decided to end the club, mostly because I was unable to keep any kind of schedule going on the newsletter. Soon after releasing the last issue in 1997, I began to learn how to create web pages. My first web site would be devoted not to Elvis, though, but to Star Trek.


The Elvis Beat #1 (Cover)

The Elvis Beat #1 (Cover)

Elvis stamp unveiled

On February 24, at the Las Vegas Hilton in Nevada, the dream of millions of Elvis fans finally became reality. United States Postmaster General Anthony Frank, along with Milton Berle and Barbara Eden, officially unveiled two possible versions of an Elvis Presley stamp, one of which will become an official U.S. postage stamp.

The two stamp finalists were chosen from more than 50 entries, according to Frank. One is a circa-1950’s Elvis and the other is circa-1970’s. The public will be given the opportunity to select their favorite through the use of five million ballot cards which will be available at post offices in the month of April. The ballot cards must be mailed with the appropriate postage.

The winning stamp is expected to be announced in May at Graceland, and will be issued in 1993 as the first in a series of American music legends expected to be issued over several years. “He broke new ground,” said Frank, who went on to say that Elvis was the obvious choice to begin the series.

Elvis fans have been lobbying for this recognition for years. Pat Geiger of Vermont began the “Elvis Presley Postage Stamp Campaign” in 1983, and thought that having the stamp passed would be a “simple thing.” In 1987, the first year Elvis became eligible, she quickly found that it wouldn’t be that easy. But after the initial rejections, Elvis is finally to be honored six years later than she had planned.

The Elvis fans have won, and now it is up to the general public to pick their favorite Elvis.


Now (2022)

Elvis Stamp Official Ballot (1992)

Elvis Stamp Official Ballot (United States Postal Service, 1992; from Tygrrius’ collection)

It’s amusing for me to remember how seriously I took the whole Elvis stamp business. If it were taking place now, I would probably only give a brief mention here of the stamp.

Not long before the release of this first issue, I even wrote a “letter to the editor” that appeared in both of our local newspapers in which I defended the 1973 stamp design against typically vicious media portrayals of it as “fat” and “old.” No need to get into that here, because if there’s one thing Elvis fans can agree on is that he was not overweight or old in Aloha From Hawaii.

After releasing this newsletter, I can remember going to the post office the first day the stamp ballots became available. I grabbed three of them: One to vote and two to keep. You see, I considered it wrong to vote more than once. Remember, this was serious business. Turns out, I should have used all three ballots, as my choice was beaten rather handily. But that’s a topic for the next issue!


Then

Back to 1992, here’s a look at some of the other content from that first issue.

In A Flash (page 2): Covered three additional news stories (“That’s The Way It Is and Elvis On Tour outtakes to be released,” “Graceland is named a national historical landmark,” and “Five disc set to be released for fifteenth anniversary”).

Editor’s Corner: (page 3): Included a brief welcome to the first issue and a re-print of my defense of the 1973 stamp.

Walk a mile in his shoes (page 4): Speaking of things I find funny that I cared about back then, I devoted two whole pages to reviewing various portrayals of Elvis in movies or TV shows, ranging from 1979’s Elvis, starring Kurt Russell, up to the 1990 Elvis TV series, starring Michael St. Gerard (with lots of mostly bad ones in between). If you are curious, I determined Gerard as being the best of the lot. I pretty much stay away from these kinds of movies now, but I’d probably still pick Gerard as the best. We’ll see if Austin Butler can deliver the goods in the upcoming ELVIS movie.

Reader’s Comments and Memories (page 6): I wanted The Elvis Beat to be interactive and inclusive, so this page consisted of me begging for people to send content.

Elvis Super Trivia Challenge (page 7): Twenty questions, with the answers printed upside down at the bottom of the page (probably another literal cut and paste job to achieve the upside down text, but I honestly don’t remember). Questions ranged from, “What song is played at the conclusion of ELVIS (1968 TV Special)?” to “Which LP albums did Elvis record in the ‘Jungle Room’ at Graceland?”

The 1956 Albums (page 8): This was a word search containing the songs from the albums Elvis Presley and Elvis. It was a nod towards the types of content I had seen in other Elvis newsletters at the time. I soon dropped this concept.

In Dreams Of Yesterday…1971 (page 9): I could think of no better way to conclude the first issue of The Elvis Beat than to include Elvis’ entire acceptance speech for being recognized as one of the ten outstanding young men of 1970 by the national Junior Chamber of Commerce (Jaycees). I still find his words from that moment inspiring:

“Thank you very much, ladies and gentlemen. I’d like to thank the Jaycees for electing me as one of the Outstanding Young Men.

When I was a child, ladies and gentlemen, I was a dreamer. I read comic books, and I was the hero of the comic book. I saw movies, and I was the hero in the movie. So every dream that I ever dreamed has come true a hundred times.

These gentlemen over here, it is these type people who care, who are dedicated. You realize that it is […] possible that they might be building the Kingdom of Heaven. It’s not too far-fetched from reality.

I’d like to say that I learned very early in life that:

‘Without a song, the day would never end,
Without a song, a man ain’t got a friend,
Without a song, the road would never bend,
Without a song.’

So I keep singing a song. Goodbye. Thank you.”

[Originally Published March 3, 2012; revised March 24, 2022]

Elvis Movies: SPINOUT

Mike McCoy tests his #11 427 Cobra in 1966's SPINOUT (MGM)

Mike McCoy tests his #11 427 Cobra in 1966’s SPINOUT (MGM)

Today, we will look at Elvis Presley’s 22nd movie, Spinout. Before we do that, however, I want to take a sidetrack to mention Baz Luhrmann’s ELVIS film. I usually dislike movies that attempt to portray Elvis, so I was fully intending to skip this one. That is, until I saw the preview trailer that Warner Brothers released last week.

Credit: Warner Bros. Pictures channel (YouTube)

The ELVIS trailer shocked me. Austin Butler seems to have captured the essence of Elvis. He has the body language and moves down without looking like an impersonator. I figured he would look like a clown once they showed him in a jumpsuit, but he pulls that difficult look off, too. I loved the unexpected use of “Unchained Melody” from 1977, which gave me chills. The production design is obviously top-notch, with a keen attention to detail.

The story of Elvis is a challenge to portray in an effective way. It is a tale of both triumph and tragedy. His life is both inspiring and depressing. He achieves the American dream many times over, but slowly allows it all to erode.

“The image is one thing, the human being is another,” Elvis said in 1972. “It’s very hard to live up to an image.” Once Elvis died in 1977, the image won and the human that he once was all but disappeared. Can Luhrmann’s film humanize Elvis again? If the script is as solid as the trailer, this could really turn out to be something special. ELVIS opens in the United States on June 24.

No need to wait until June to enjoy Elvis, though. Let’s take a drive with the real Elvis in Spinout.

Elvis Presley is Mike McCoy in 1966's SPINOUT (MGM)

Elvis Presley is Mike McCoy in 1966’s SPINOUT (MGM)


“It’s Elvis with his foot on the gas and no brakes on the fun!!!”

Spinout

Spinout (MGM)
Wide Release: November 23, 1966 (United States)
Starring: Elvis Presley, Shelley Fabares, Diane McBain
Written By: Theodore J. Flicker & George Kirgo
Music Score By: George Stoll
Produced By: Joe Pasternak
Directed By: Norman Taurog
Running Time: 93 Minutes


In Spinout, Elvis Presley stars as Mike McCoy. Is Mike a racecar driver who also sings or a singer who also races cars? Folks, we don’t ask such questions when watching an Elvis Movie. We just sit back and enjoy the ride.

View from the #9 car, driven by Mike McCoy, during the Santa Fe Road Race in 1966's SPINOUT (MGM)

View from the #9 car, driven by Mike McCoy, during the Santa Fe Road Race in 1966’s SPINOUT (MGM)

Outside of the cars, there is not a lot of action in Spinout. The film focuses more on the romance side of the Elvis Movie formula. Three, count them, three women are vying for Mike’s affections. There’s heiress Cynthia (Shelley Fabares), who runs him off the road in the opening scene. There’s also author Diana (Diane McBain), who declares him the “perfect American male,” with the prize being herself, naturally. Even the drummer in his band, Les (Deborah Walley), has been secretly holding feelings for him.

Deborah Walley is Les, Diane McBain is Diana, and Shelley Fabares is Cynthia in 1966’s SPINOUT (MGM)

Deborah Walley is Les, Diane McBain is Diana, and Shelley Fabares is Cynthia in 1966’s SPINOUT (MGM)

Mike is initially unable to decide what to do about his admirers. “I’ve gotta think about it,” he says. “I’ll let you know after the race. I think better when I’m driving.”

Shelley Fabares is Cynthia Foxhugh in 1966's SPINOUT (MGM)

Shelley Fabares is Cynthia Foxhugh in 1966’s SPINOUT (MGM)

Spinout is the second of three Elvis Movies in which Shelley Fabares appears. She is one of my favorite Elvis co-stars, so I really don’t understand how Mike found deciding among the three women to be so difficult. Anyway, the movie also includes a couple of fun in-jokes in regards to Elvis’ real-life past – the Ed Sullivan Show warrants a mention and Mike refers to a wandering canine as a “hound dog.”

Though production on Spinout began only a few months after the premiere of the Get Smart television series, be sure to listen out for Mike doing what sounds to my ears like a quick Don Adams impression with Agent 86’s “Would you believe?” catch-phrase.

Mike McCoy (Elvis Presley) rehearses "Never Say Yes" in 1966's SPINOUT (MGM). Note the 12-string guitar.

Mike McCoy (Elvis Presley) rehearses “Never Say Yes” in 1966’s SPINOUT (MGM). Note the 12-string acoustic electric guitar.

Mike does sing quite a bit in the movie. “All That I Am,” “Am I Ready,” “Never Say Yes,” and “Spinout” are all strong songs. “Never Say Yes” is rare in the Elvis catalog in that it includes the “Bo Diddley Beat,” which is fun to hear. On the other side of the coin, “Smorgasbord” is awful.

Mike McCoy drives the #9 car during the Santa Fe Road Race in 1966’s SPINOUT (MGM)

Mike McCoy drives the #9 car during the Santa Fe Road Race in 1966’s SPINOUT (MGM)

For a movie named Spinout, there is less racing than you might expect. The Santa Fe Road Race featured in the finale is well-filmed. A humorous subplot involving Mike’s #11 car being stolen by another man vying for Cynthia becomes tiresome, though. Mike ends up substituting for Shorty Bloomquist (James McHale) in car #9 to chase after his own car. Look quick and you’ll see Elvis’ friends Red West and Joe Esposito in Shorty’s pit crew. Cynthia also winds up driving onto the road course, so she and Mike tangle again, creating a bookend of sorts to the opening.

Spinout sometimes qualifies as fun, but all too often feels like it is running on empty.

Mike McCoy (Elvis Presley) races in 1966’s SPINOUT (MGM)

Mike McCoy (Elvis Presley) races in 1966’s SPINOUT (MGM)


Spinout Tote Board

  • Kisses: 28
  • Songs: 9
  • Cars Driven By Mike: 4
  • Women Chasing Mike: 3
  • Cars Crashed Into Water: 2
Audience members look on as Mike McCoy (Elvis Presley) sings "Adam And Evil" in 1966's SPINOUT (MGM)

Audience members look on as Mike McCoy (Elvis Presley) sings “Adam And Evil” in 1966’s SPINOUT (MGM)

Songs In Spinout

  1. “Spinout” (1966), written by Sid Wayne, Ben Weisman, & Dolores Fuller
  2. “Stop, Look, and Listen” (1966), written by Joy Byers
  3. “Adam And Evil” (1966), written by Fred Wise & Randy Starr
  4. “All That I Am” (1966), written by Sid Tepper & Roy C. Bennett
  5. “Never Say Yes” (1966), written by Doc Pomus & Mort Shuman
  6. “Am I Ready” (1966), written by Sid Tepper & Roy C. Bennett
  7. “Beach Shack” (1966), written by Bill Giant, Bernie Baum, & Florence Kaye
  8. “Smorgasbord” (1966), written by Sid Tepper & Roy C. Bennett
  9. “I’ll Be Back” (1966), written by Sid Wayne & Ben Weisman
Elvis Presley is Mike McCoy and Shelley Fabares is Cynthia Foxhugh in 1966's SPINOUT (MGM)

Elvis Presley is Mike McCoy and Shelley Fabares is Cynthia Foxhugh in 1966’s SPINOUT (MGM)

The Mystery Train’s Spinout Scorecard

  • Story: 2 (out of 10)
  • Acting: 5
  • Fun: 4
  • Songs: 6
  • Overall: 4 (For Elvis Fans Only)

Further Spinout Reading


TMT Files: Mike McCoy

Click image for larger, full-color version


“I do everything to spread the Good News and share in its blessings. Don’t you realize that in a race everyone runs, but only one person gets the prize? So run to win! All athletes are disciplined in their training. They do it to win a prize that will fade away, but we do it for an eternal prize.”
1 Corinthians 9:23-25

Vinyl Elvis #3: HIS HAND IN MINE (1960)

Portions of this post originally appeared in a review I wrote of His Hand In Mine for the album’s 60th anniversary in Kees Mouwen’s Elvis Day By Day 2020: The Year In Review. The 2021 volume is available now.


HIS HAND IN MINE (RCA, 1960; from Tygrrius’ collection) | Click image for full-color version

His Hand In Mine
Label: RCA
Catalog Number: LPM-2328
Recorded: 1960 | Nashville
Released: 1960

1960 was Elvis Presley’s most productive year to that point in his career. He recorded 52 studio masters, released 3 albums, and filmed 3 movies; and all that with being out of commission for almost the entire first 3 months while completing his stint in the U.S. Army.

For the 25-year-old singer, the albums Elvis Is Back! and His Hand In Mine represented artistic achievements on par with his outstanding work in the previous decade. The latter title was his first Long Play (LP) sacred album, a follow-up of sorts to his 1957 Extended Play (EP) sacred album Peace In The Valley.

Elvis recorded the entire His Hand In Mine album the night of October 30, finishing in the early morning hours of October 31, 1960. Amazingly, the record was in stores within a month – presumably rushed to have it ready for the Christmas season. RCA released His Hand In Mine in both mono and stereo formats.

As a second generation Elvis fan, I first heard His Hand In Mine in the early 1990s on CD. As with so many Elvis albums, I have bought it a number of times in different CD configurations over the years since then. When Kees asked me to review the album for its 60th anniversary back in 2020, I sought out a vinyl version – a first pressing of the 1960 mono release.

One of the things I enjoy about collecting used records is pondering their history. I imagine a young Elvis fan in 1960 buying this album at her or his local record shop and taking it home to play it for the first time. What else is happening in November 1960?

Inner sleeve of HIS HAND IN MINE (RCA, 1960; from Tygrrius’ collection) | Click image for color version

How many others owned this particular copy of His Hand In Mine before it made its way into my hands 60 years later? Whose hands will hold it 60 years from now?

The album is in remarkable condition for its age. The outer sleeve, featuring a photo of Elvis at the piano, taken during a break while filming Flaming Star, is still vibrant. Only a small tear beneath the RCA logo on the front cover, where a fan was perhaps too aggressive in removing a price tag, and minor splitting in the bottom seam betray its age. The inner sleeve, promoting Elvis Is Back!, is in great shape. On the vinyl itself, there are but a few little crackles in quiet portions. Whether this is an indication that the original owner(s) did not play this album very often or simply treated it with reverence, there is no way to know.

When I first heard His Hand In Mine nearly 30 years ago, I believed in God but had little understanding of Christianity. While I thought Elvis’ voice sounded beautiful on many of the songs, I really did not connect with them beyond that. I did occasionally play this or one of his other sacred albums on a random Sunday, seeking something.

In 2018, I accepted Jesus into my heart, and I was literally reborn (2 Corinthians 5:17). While I still stumble every day, I now have a personal relationship with Jesus through daily reading of the Bible and prayer that helps me get back on track to becoming who He created me to be.

As for Elvis’ sacred recordings, they began to take on new meaning for me. It is within this context that I want to examine His Hand In Mine.

Side 1 of HIS HAND IN MINE (RCA, 1960; from Tygrrius’ collection) | Click image for full-color version

Side 1

  1. His Hand In Mine
    The album kicks off with the title track, “His Hand In Mine.” Elvis’ voice is full of new confidence and strength on this slow number – as compared to 1956’s more faltering “Love Me Tender,” for instance.
  2. I’m Gonna Walk Dem Golden Stairs
    Up next, the pace picks up with “I’m Gonna Walk Dem Golden Stairs.” This song sounds like Elvis fulfilling his dream of being in a gospel quartet. The line “When Jesus says to me, ‘Well done'” recalls the following verse from the Bible: “His lord said unto him, ‘Well done, thou good and faithful servant: thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things: enter thou into the joy of thy lord'” (Matthew 25:21 KJV). As a Christian, I do not fear death, as I know it is when I will go to meet Jesus. I pray I will live the rest of my life such that He will say, “Well done.”
  3. In My Father’s House
    There is an even more direct Scriptural reference in the next song, “In My Father’s House.” Elvis sings, “In my Father’s house are many mansions; if it were not true He would have told me so.” In the Bible, Jesus states: “In My Father’s house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you” (John 14:2 KJV). Elvis’ vocals are exquisite on lines like, “Jesus died upon the cross to bear my sorrow. Freely died that souls like you might have new life.” A highlight of the album.
  4. Milky White Way
  5. Known Only To Him
    “Known Only To Him” is an interesting 1960 recording by Elvis because it is one of those where portions sound like his later voice from the 1970s. His inspirational and Christmas songs do tend to blend together better across the decades, though, compared to many of his other recordings. It would have been interesting to hear Elvis take another try at this song in 1970 or 1971, even if live. I don’t think he would have been able to better this version, though.
  6. I Believe In The Man In The Sky

Side 2 of HIS HAND IN MINE (RCA, 1960; from Tygrrius’ collection) | Click image for full-color version

Side 2

  1. Joshua Fit The Battle
    My first complete read-through of the Bible in 2018 had a secondary and unexpected benefit of filling in details for me on a number of songs. For instance, in the upbeat “Joshua Fit The Battle,” I had always heard the lyrics as, “I know you’ve heard about Joshua, he was the son of none.” Yes, for 25 years I thought Joshua was an orphan until I finally learned that his father’s name was Nun. The song recounts the battle of Jericho, which is featured in chapter 6 of Joshua in the Old Testament. In his later years, Joshua was one of only two adults from Moses’ original followers to make it to the Promised Land.
  2. Jesus Knows What I Need
    “Jesus Knows What I Need” is one of those songs that speaks Truth whenever I need comfort. I can imagine Elvis singing this one around the piano with friends. A bit of trivia: In subsequent pressings of His Hand In Mine, this song’s title was corrected to “He Knows Just What I Need.”
  3. Swing Down Sweet Chariot
    The humorous “Swing Down Sweet Chariot” takes us back to the Old Testament. Called “Zeke” in the song, the prophet Ezekiel’s encounter with the chariot of God is described in chapter 1 of Ezekiel. Though I love this song, I much prefer the alternate version of Elvis’ 1968 re-recording that features the Blossoms as the backing vocalists.
  4. Mansion Over The Hilltop
    Like “In My Father’s House” on Side 1, “Mansion Over the Hilltop” and “If We Never Meet Again” on Side 2 provide beautiful illustrations of the Perfect Place, Heaven. In “Mansion,” a favorite line is, “Someday yonder we will never more wander, but walk on streets that are pure as gold.” I just love the sound of Elvis’ voice as he paints this picture.
  5. If We Never Meet Again
    Elvis’ mother, Gladys, passed away in August 1958 at the age of 46, and I’m sure Elvis had her in mind while recording “If We Never Meet Again,” which states: “If we never meet again this side of Heaven, as we struggle through this world and its strife, there’s another meeting place somewhere in Heaven, by the side of the River of Life – where the charming roses bloom forever and ever, and separations come no more.” The “River of Life” is from Revelation 22:1 in the Bible, which describes God’s throne in Heaven. Elvis was only 23 when he lost his mother. At a September 1958 press conference before leaving to be stationed in Germany until his return to the U.S. and civilian life in March 1960, he had this to say about her, captured on the Elvis Sails EP: “My mother, I suppose since I was an only child, that we might have been a little closer. Everyone loves their mother, but I was an only child, and Mother was always right with me, all my life. It wasn’t only like losing a mother, it was like losing a friend, a companion, someone to talk to. I could wake her up any hour of the night, and if I was worried or troubled about something, she’d get up and try to help me.”
  6. Working On The Building
    I first heard the energetic “Working On The Building” on the 1988 album Elvis In Nashville and loved it right away. Take 2, released on the 2006 FTD edition of His Hand In Mine, is also a favorite. In the gospel segment of the 1968 ELVIS television special, wheelbarrows can be seen as part of the set decoration – reminding me of this 1960 song, which was unfortunately not performed on the show. “I’m working on the building, it’s a true foundation,” sings Elvis. In Matthew 7:24-27, Jesus talks about the importance of building a strong spiritual foundation. “Working On The Building” serves as a perfect conclusion to His Hand In Mine.

Back cover of HIS HAND IN MINE (RCA, 1960; from Tygrrius’ collection) | Click image for color version

I enjoy looking at album covers while playing records. His Hand In Mine includes liner notes on the back by Robert Kotlowitz. He explores Elvis’ early faith through attending the First Assembly Church of God in Tupelo, Mississippi.

An interesting tidbit in the liner notes, which I do not recall reading elsewhere, is, “Gladys and Vernon Presley, with their small son [Elvis] standing between them, became a popular trio singing hymns at camp meetings, revivals and church conventions.” Truth or legend?

The liner notes also include a quote from Elvis’ mother: “When Elvis was just a little fellow, he would slide off my lap, run down the aisle, and scramble up to the platform of the church. He would stand looking up at the choir and try to sing with them. He was too little to know the words, of course, but he could carry the tune.”

Except for a quick session in June 1958, which was a couple of months before his mother’s death, Elvis made no formal recordings while serving in the Army. While Elvis Is Back! and the G.I. Blues soundtrack afforded no such opportunities, I firmly believe His Hand In Mine is a “labor of love” by Elvis in tribute not only to Jesus but, as Kotlowitz states, to Gladys Presley.

Back inner sleeve of HIS HAND IN MINE (RCA, 1960; from Tygrrius’ collection) | Click image for color version


“The eyes of the LORD are everywhere, keeping watch on the wicked and the good.”
Proverb 15:3

Elvis Movies: DOUBLE TROUBLE

Guy Lambert (Elvis Presley) departs for Belgium in 1967's DOUBLE TROUBLE (MGM)

Guy Lambert (Elvis Presley) departs for Belgium in 1967’s DOUBLE TROUBLE (MGM)

“[F]or the most part, Elvis movies take place in Elvis Land, a time outside of time, a time where Elvis is King, there is no outside world, there is no larger context – because when you have Elvis, that’s all the context you need. He justified films merely by being in them. You can imagine how that could be a disheartening experience for someone so competitive as Elvis, someone so determined to do well, but it is just one of the elements that make him fascinating as a performer.”
-Sheila O’Malley, 2012, The Sheila Variations

In his lifetime, Elvis Presley released 31 narrative movies and 2 documentaries. At the height of his film career in the 1960s, he was cranking out 3 movies a year.

When I was a teen, the local video rental store had dedicated sections for Action, Drama, Romance, Musicals, Horror, Science Fiction, and the like. It also had an entire section called Elvis Movies, with shelves full of VHS tapes of many of his films and concerts. Like Monster Movies or Superhero Movies, Elvis Movies really are their own genre. As writer Sheila O’Malley aptly notes above, they also occur in their own little reality.

As a second generation Elvis fan, and a child of the late 1970s and 1980s, my first exposure to Elvis Movies was not in the theater or even on VHS, but on broadcast television. A local, independent UHF channel would show a mini-marathon of themed movies on Saturday afternoons. On some Saturdays, for instance, I watched a double or triple feature of Monster Movies like King Kong vs. Godzilla (1963). On other Saturdays, I watched two or three Elvis Movies on this station. I can still hear the announcer excitedly proclaiming, “Up next, more Elvis in Harum Scarum!”

Though there are occasional exceptions, Elvis Movies are usually not remarkable achievements from an artistic perspective. Near the end of his film career, Elvis admitted that his movies made him “physically ill.” Though I cannot confirm the authenticity of this next quote, Elvis is also purported to have once said, “The only thing worse than watching a bad movie is being in one.”

As a child, though, I loved watching Elvis Movies with my family. They were fun, and Elvis played any number of characters of interest to an 8-year old: A racecar driver, a cowboy, a boxer, an Army man, etc. Elvis was the ultimate action hero, destined to win every fight and every girl. Elvis had a natural comedic flair, and there were also action scenes, often involving karate, that kept me interested as well. Of course, music was ever-present. The quality of many of his movie tunes were subpar, to say the least, but I didn’t really notice this back then, either. Elvis Movies were complete fantasy packages, as entertaining to young me as watching Godzilla and King Kong duke it out.

At some point, I suppose in my early adulthood, I began to see Elvis Movies in a different light. Maybe it was slogging through those dreadful movie tunes as I began exploring his entire catalog of music. Maybe it was reading about how much he disliked making them. Maybe it was the constant re-running of his movies on cable stations every January and August. At some point, I began to find it harder to sit through Elvis Movies. The completist in me has collected all of them on DVD, and I have watched each at least once. I don’t return to most of them too often, though. I love movies almost as much as I love music. I watched nearly 100 movies last year, but only one Elvis Movie.

In the spirit of that 8-year-old who watched a string of Elvis Movies on Saturday afternoons so long ago, I’ve decided to rewatch Elvis Movies over the next few years. I’m going to approach this in a random fashion, for that is how I first watched them. Along the way, I plan to blog about them. While I won’t go as deep into the details of these movies as someone like Gary Wells over at the Soul Ride blog might, I’ll hit what I consider the highlights as well as quirky tidbits that jump out at me, often on a personal level. Up first is Double Trouble.


“Elvis takes mad mod Europe by song as he swings into a brand new adventure filled with dames, diamonds, discotheques, and danger!!”

Double Trouble

Double Trouble (MGM)
Wide Release: April 5, 1967 (United States)
Starring: Elvis Presley, John Williams, Yvonne Romain, Annette Day
Screenplay By: Jo Heims
Story By: Marc Brandel
Music Score By: Jeff Alexander
Produced By: Judd Bernard and Irwin Winkler
Directed By: Norman Taurog
Running Time: 92 Minutes


You would be forgiven if, based on the movie’s title or the fact that he appears twice on its poster, you expected Elvis Presley to play dual roles in Double Trouble, his 24th film to be released. Alas, this is not the case, for he had already performed that schtick a few years earlier in Kissin’ Cousins (1964). The double in the trouble represents our hero, singer Guy Lambert (Elvis), being torn between two love interests – the innocent but zany Jill (Annette Day) and the seductive Claire (Yvonne Romain). The movie isn’t really about any of that, though. While Guy seems intrigued by Claire, his heart is obviously with Jill – despite his own misgivings, including a subplot involving Jill’s age that is cringe-worthy by today’s standards.

Instead, Double Trouble tries to be a madcap comedy/thriller. Most of the comedy external to Elvis doesn’t really work (I’m looking at you, Wiere Brothers).

Annette Day is Jill Conway and Elvis Presley is Guy Lambert in 1967's DOUBLE TROUBLE (MGM)

Annette Day is Jill Conway and Elvis Presley is Guy Lambert in 1967’s DOUBLE TROUBLE (MGM)

Double Trouble doesn’t really work as a thriller, either. Someone wants Guy and/or Jill dead. Though the ultimate mastermind of the murder plot might come as a surprise, this revelation comes about through the hackneyed explanation of a hired killer right before he is going to off his victim. Guy, of course, saves the day, and the would-be killer ends up succumbing to the very trap he had planned for his target. Death is rare in Elvis Movies, but it does happen.

1967’s DOUBLE TROUBLE includes multiple murder attempts (MGM)

Double Trouble is also rare among Elvis Movies in that it takes place in Europe. The film opens in London, England, and then takes us to Belgium. Not really, though, as Double Trouble was filmed in Culver City, California.

In Double Trouble, the Belgian police drive Volkswagen Beetles. The interesting thing about this, for me, is that, as a child, I was obsessed with wanting a red VW Beetle. I drew pictures of one throughout my elementary school years, often including a police siren on top and other special devices, like spotlights and ejection seats. Though I have no memory of picking up this particular fascination from an Elvis Movie, sure enough, a red VW Beetle police car appears during a chase sequence.

A Volkswagen Beetle police car appears in 1967’s DOUBLE TROUBLE (MGM)

Double Trouble marks the acting debut of Annette Day (Jill). You wouldn’t know it from the film, as she does a commendable job in both comedic and dramatic scenes. I love watching her observe and then mimic Elvis’ movements as he sings “Old MacDonald” to her. Unfortunately, this is Day’s only movie.

Jill Conway (Annette Day) snaps along as Guy Lambert (Elvis Presley) sings "Old MacDonald" in 1967's DOUBLE TROUBLE (MGM)

Jill Conway (Annette Day) snaps along as Guy Lambert (Elvis Presley) sings “Old MacDonald” in 1967’s DOUBLE TROUBLE (MGM)

I enjoyed watching many of the songs in the context of this film far more than I do listening to the soundtrack album in isolation. Elvis does appear quite stiff at times, though, particularly during his opening number, the title song. Incidentally, I really enjoyed the funky instrumental opening to the film and wish that ambience had been present on the actual Elvis music.

I admitted long ago that I’m a fan of Elvis’ version of “Old MacDonald” but the beautiful “City By Night” and “Could I Fall In Love” are Double Trouble‘s musical highlights.

A child (portrayed by Laurie Lambert) and Guy Lambert (Elvis Presley) ride a carousel as he sings “I Love Only One Girl” in 1967’s DOUBLE TROUBLE (MGM)

If you go with the flow, as is necessary with most Elvis Movies, Double Trouble is entertaining.


Boldly Go

Stanley Adams plays Captain Roach in Double Trouble. Adams is known to fellow Trekkies for his portrayal of Cyrano Jones in the Star Trek episode “The Trouble With Tribbles” (1967) and the animated Star Trek follow-up episode “More Tribbles, More Troubles” (1973).

Stanley Adams is Captain Roach in 1967's DOUBLE TROUBLE (MGM)

Stanley Adams is Captain Roach in 1967’s DOUBLE TROUBLE (MGM)

Leonard Nimoy is Mister Spock, Stanley Adams is Cyrano Jones, and William Shatner is Captain James T. Kirk in the 1967 STAR TREK episode "The Trouble With Tribbles" (Desilu)

Leonard Nimoy is Mister Spock, Stanley Adams is Cyrano Jones, and William Shatner is Captain James T. Kirk in the 1967 STAR TREK episode “The Trouble With Tribbles” (Desilu)


Double Trouble Tote Board

  • Kisses: 13
  • Karate Chops: 9
  • Songs: 8
  • Karate Kicks: 4
  • Broken Windows: 2
Elvis Presley is Guy Lambert in 1967's DOUBLE TROUBLE (MGM)

Elvis Presley is Guy Lambert in 1967’s DOUBLE TROUBLE (MGM)

Songs In Double Trouble

  1. “Double Trouble” (1966), written by Doc Pomus & Mort Shuman
  2. “Baby, If You’ll Give Me All Of Your Love” (1966), written by Joy Byers
  3. “Could I Fall In Love” (1966), written by Randy Starr
  4. “Long Legged Girl” (1966), written by J. Leslie McFarland & Winfield Scott
  5. “City By Night” (1966), written by Bill Giant, Bernie Baum, & Florence Kay
  6. “Old MacDonald” (1966), written by Randy Starr, based on the traditional composition
  7. “I Love Only One Girl” (1966), written by Sid Tepper & Roy C. Bennett, based on the traditional composition “Auprès de ma blonde
  8. “There Is So Much World To See” (1966), written by Sid Tepper & Ben Weisman

The Mystery Train’s Double Trouble Scorecard

  • Story: 2 (out of 10)
  • Acting: 5
  • Fun: 6
  • Songs: 5
  • Overall: 4 (For Elvis Fans Only)

TMT Files: Guy Lambert

Click image for larger, full-color version

 


“And whatever you do or say, do it as a representative of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through him to God the Father.”
Colossians 3:17

2021 Songs of the Year

Well, folks, congratulations for making it to 2022!

My traditional first post of each year is an analysis of my music listening trends for the previous year. I know you have been waiting anxiously to learn about these numbers, and there were a few surprises in the 2021 data.

Out of exactly 5,000 Elvis Presley tracks in my digital collection on iTunes, the one I played most often in 2021 across all devices was a shocker…

Credit: Vevo’s Elvis Presley channel (YouTube)

I did not backup the undubbed/unedited version of “Merry Christmas Baby,” as released on Back In Nashville, to iTunes until December 8, 2021, and I stopped playing Christmas music after December 25 – so it was at a huge disadvantage to Elvis tracks that I have been playing all year. However, it still took the prize for my most-played song of the year with 14 plays.

In a tie for second place with 13 plays each were the master versions of “Mystery Train” (1955), which of course inspired the name of my blog, and “Any Day Now” (1969).

The win for the alternate version of “Merry Christmas Baby” is even more remarkable considering the track clocks in at over 8 minutes, whereas “Mystery Train” is about 2 and a half minutes, and “Any Day Now” is about 3 minutes.

This means the alternate “Merry Christmas Baby” played for about 114 minutes total in 2021, while runners-up “Mystery Train” came in at about 33 minutes and “Any Day Now” at 39 minutes for the whole year.

I listened to 3,333 Elvis songs on my devices in 2021 (including duplicates). That is an average of 9 Elvis songs a day. I listened to 1,747 different Elvis tracks during the year.

Out of 6,663 non-Elvis tracks in my collection, my most played song overall in 2021 was Bethel Music’s “It Is Well,” with lead vocals by Kristene DiMarco. Featured on the 2014 album Live At The Civic: You Make Me Brave, this recording played 11 times on my various devices this year.

Credit: Bethel Music channel (YouTube)

My other top-played songs by artists not named Elvis Presley were:

  • Joy” by for KING & COUNTRY, Burn The Ships, 2018, 10 plays.
  • God Only Knows” by for KING & COUNTRY, Burn The Ships, 2018, 9 plays.
  • “Fine Fine Life” by for KING & COUNTRY, Crave, 2011, 9 plays.

Overall, I listened to 6,350 recordings using my digital devices last year (including duplicates). That works out to 17 songs a day. I listened to 3,751 different tracks during the year.

My music listening was way down in 2021 compared to previous years. These numbers are about half of what they were in 2020. I would chalk it up to the ongoing global pandemic (i.e., not having a commute to work greatly reduces my music listening time), but this was also true of 2020. So, I am not sure what is going on in my music listening habits. I know I still love music, though, especially by Elvis!

As we continue to face the surging virus, I pray that you and your family have a 2022 full of health and peace.

Blessings,
TY


“Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a huge crowd of witnesses to the life of faith, let us strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily trips us up. And let us run with endurance the race God has set before us. We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus, the Champion who initiates and perfects our faith. Because of the joy awaiting Him, he endured the cross, disregarding its shame. Now He is seated in the place of honor beside God’s throne.”
Hebrews 12:1-2

An Elvis Presley Christmas Countdown

Elvis Presley performs “Blue Christmas” during taping of 1968’s ELVIS special (NBC)

Well, folks, it’s been quite awhile since I’ve posted. In case you don’t remember me, I’m the once and future conductor of this little blog we like to call The Mystery Train.

Christmas is my favorite time of year, which is one of the reasons I wanted to write. In fact, believe it or not, I had actually planned to write anywhere from 6 to 25 posts this month. I’m definitely a dreamer. In one form or another, I’ve been trying to start this one post since Thanksgiving. Yes, Christmas is my favorite time of the year, but also one of the busiest.

“Next week this time it will be all over,” my uncle tells me. As much as I love the Christmas season, I do almost dread the actual day coming because he is right, it means it is just about over. My mom loved Christmas as much as I do, and I remember it making her sad when everything went back to “normal.”

One thing I’ve done the last few years that helps, though, is leaving up some of my Christmas lights throughout the inside of my home. Turning those colored lights on can bring back some of the magic, even if it is March!

At the rate I’m going, it may well be March before you see this post. So, I’d better get on with it.

I enjoy doing lists and rankings, so I was really surprised to find that I apparently haven’t done one with a Christmas theme before. Therefore, I present a countdown of Christmas songs by Elvis Presley. This is, of course, one fan’s opinion.


#20 White Christmas (1957)
Elvis’ Christmas Album
Writer: Irving Berlin
Comments: Elvis’ 1957 version of “White Christmas” borrows heavily from the Drifters’ 1954 recording of the song but unfortunately falls short of that high watermark. This is Elvis’ worst Christmas song, so stick with the Drifters, Burl Ives (1965), or Bing Crosby (1940s) for this one.

#19 The Wonderful World Of Christmas (1971)
Elvis Sings The Wonderful World Of Christmas
Writers: Charles Tobias & Albert Frisch
Comments: How did the weakest song on Elvis’ 1971 Christmas album become the title track?

#18 O Little Town Of Bethlehem (1957)
Elvis’ Christmas Album
Writers: Phillips Brooks & Lewis Redner
Comments: There is a childlike yet sincere quality to Elvis’ voice as he tells the story of the birth of Jesus on “O Little Town Of Bethlehem” that makes this recording stand out, despite how it plods along at times. Nat King Cole recorded the best version (1960).

#17 The First Noel (1971)
Elvis Sings The Wonderful World Of Christmas
Writer: (Traditional)
Comments: Fourteen years later, here again we have Elvis telling the story of the birth of Christ – this time in “The First Noel.” While, like its predecessor, it does plod along at times, it is still a solid recording of this classic. Mahalia Jackson (1968) and Frank Sinatra (1957) recorded the best versions of “The First Noel.”

For reasons unknown beyond a CD tie-in, this Elvis version inspired a 1999 children’s book. I remember running into it at a bookstore in a shopping mall back then and being quite surprised. Not enough to buy it, though!

#16 It Won’t Seem Like Christmas [Undubbed Master] (1971)
Back In Nashville
Other notable versions: 1971 Master (Elvis Sings The Wonderful World Of Christmas ), 1971 Rehearsal (preceding Take 6, Elvis Sings The Wonderful World Of Christmas [2011 FTD Edition])
Writer: J.A. Balthrop

Credit: Vevo’s Elvis Presley channel (YouTube)

Comments: One of the things I love about Christmas music is that it actually represents so many different genres that otherwise wouldn’t share the same rotations, playlists, or compilations. Under the “Christmas” banner, you can get everything from Gospel to Rock ‘n’ Roll to the Blues to Country to Electronic to Classical to Jazz to Rap to Children’s Music to Pop to “Oldies” and probably 53 others I am leaving out.

While it doesn’t hit quite that many sub-genres, Elvis music is similar in that Elvis did not restrict himself to one type of music. One of the reasons I love being an Elvis fan is hearing his takes and combinations on so many different styles – the Blues, Gospel, Rock ‘n’ Roll, Pop, Country. As for Elvis Christmas Music, “It Won’t Seem Like Christmas” is the first entry of many on this list that reflects a melancholy view of the holiday. I love sad songs, and Elvis had a way of infusing sadness and regret right into the sound of his voice that really resonates with me.

While I haven’t played the rest of the set, I dipped into the Christmas songs on the recently released and unimaginatively titled Back In Nashville for the sake of completeness on this list. I’m glad I did, because a few of the versions there, as mixed by Matt Ross-Spang, trumped my previous favorites of particular songs. Stripped of its orchestral and background vocal overdubs, “It Won’t Seem Like Christmas” becomes even more poignant.

I now see why these posts take me so long. I originally intended the “Comments” to be one sentence or less per song, but I hope you forgive and enjoy the tangents.

#15 On A Snowy Christmas Night [Undubbed Master] (1971)
Back In Nashville
Other notable versions: 1971 Master (Elvis Sings The Wonderful World Of Christmas )
Writer: Stanley Gelber

Credit: Vevo’s Elvis Presley channel (YouTube)

Comments: Though I wish Elvis had recorded another couple of takes to really nail the song, I still love what we have in “On A Snowy Christmas Night,” a song that reminds us what the season is all about. The undubbed master fittingly gives more prominence to a church-style organ.

#14 If Every Day Was Like Christmas (1966)
If Every Day Was Like Christmas/How Would You Like To Be [RCA Single]
Writers: Red West & Glen Spreen

Credit: Vevo’s Elvis Presley channel (YouTube)

Comments: The powers-that-be chose to slot 1966’s “If Every Day Was Like Christmas” one-off on a 1970 budget reconfiguration of 1957’s Elvis’ Christmas Album, but for me it fits far better with his powerful 1970s style. The lyrics even reference “a wonderful world,” making it a natural for 1971’s Elvis Sings The Wonderful World Of Christmas. (Note that this album cover is shown in the official video above, so perhaps the song indeed appeared on a subsequent reissue of Elvis Sings The Wonderful World Of Christmas as well.) A number of popular artists later hit similar themes in their Christmas songs (e.g., Bon Jovi’s “I Wish Everyday Could Be Like Christmas,” 98 Degrees’ “If Every Day Could Be Christmas”), but Elvis did it best.

#13 Silver Bells [Undubbed Master] (1971)
Back In Nashville
Other notable versions: 1971 Master (Elvis Sings The Wonderful World Of Christmas )
Writers: Jay Livingston & Ray Evans

Credit: Vevo’s Elvis Presley channel (YouTube)

Comments: “Siver Bells” paints a Norman Rockwell-esque portrait of a bustling city during Christmas. The Back In Nashville version far exceeds the original Elvis release due to the absence of the overpowering male background singers that plagued so many of his masters from 1956 onwards. I respect that Elvis originally wanted to be a member of a gospel quartet, so it was part of the sound he sought. However, many (not all) of his recordings sound so much better to these ears without the Jordanaires, the Imperials, the Stamps, Voice, whoever.

#12 Santa Bring My Baby Back (1957)
Elvis’ Christmas Album
Writers: Aaron Schroeder & Claude DeMetrius

Credit: Vevo’s Elvis Presley channel (YouTube)

Comments: The fun “Santa Bring My Baby Back” was a favorite of my mom, so I think of her dancing along whenever I hear it.

#11 If I Get Home On Christmas Day (1971)
Elvis Sings The Wonderful World Of Christmas
Other notable version: 1971 Undubbed Master (Back In Nashville)
Writers: Tony Macaulay & John MacLeod

Credit: Vevo’s Elvis Presley channel (YouTube)

Comments: Elvis recorded three different songs about seeking home on Christmas. “If I Get Home On Christmas Day” sounds the most optimistic in terms of his chances of actually getting there: “Though I’m half a world away, if we’re patient and we pray, I know I’ll get my chance with you this time.” A beautiful song that leaves us wondering, year-in and year-out, did he make it home this time?

#10 Blue Christmas [Unedited Live Master] (1968)
Tiger Man
Other notable versions: 1968 Live (June 27, 6 PM, Memories), 1957 Master (Elvis’ Christmas Album)
Writers: Billy Hayes & Jay Johnson
Comments: Elvis was on fire during taping of the 1968 ELVIS television special for NBC and delivered in a live setting improved versions of a number of his classics, including 1957’s “Blue Christmas.” RCA truncated the live master first released on ELVIS-TV Special, so 1998’s Tiger Man CD is my go-to version since it is unedited. What I love about this version from the June 27, 8 PM “Sit Down Show” is that Elvis sounds like he doesn’t want to let the song go, repeating its simple lyrics again and again as he strums away on electric guitar.

#9 O Come All Ye Faithful [Take 1 & Take 2 Splice] (1971)
Memories Of Christmas
Other notable versions: 1971 Master (Elvis Sings The Wonderful World Of Christmas), 1971 Undubbed Master (Back In Nashville)
Writer: (Traditional)
Comments: Elvis only recorded two takes of “O Come All Ye Faithful.” He laid down a great performance on Take 1, but tried an extended version for Take 2 that added 75 seconds to the song. Unfortunately, portions of Take 2 were not as strong as his Take 1 performance. Take 1 became the master. 1982’s Memories Of Christmas album brilliantly spliced Takes 1 & 2 to make the definitive version of this Christmas classic. Get used to that word, “definitive,” because I will be using it often from here on out. While I love the recently released undubbed versions, “O Come All Ye Faithful” actually benefits from majestic orchestral and background vocal overdubs that serve to herald the arrival of our Lord.

#8 Winter Wonderland (1971)
Elvis Sings The Wonderful World Of Christmas
Other notable version: 1971 Take 10 (Master, Alternate Mix, Back In Nashville)
Writers: Dick Smith & Felix Bernard

Credit: Vevo’s Elvis Presley channel (YouTube)

Comments: Sometimes I don’t understand my fellow Elvis fans. One such instance is that I would guess that roughly 90% of those fans who post online trash Elvis’ performance of “Winter Wonderland.” I must admit, I don’t get it. At all. Elvis puts a rock-n-roll spin on “Winter Wonderland,” complete with a “signature Elvis ending,” and creates, yes, the definitive version. I’m a proud member of the 10% who love Elvis’ take on this song, which is why it ranks so high on this list.

#7 Merry Christmas Baby [Single Edit] (1971)
Merry Christmas Baby/O Come All Ye Faithful [RCA Single]
Other notable versions: 1971 Undubbed/Unedited Master (Back In Nashville), 1971 Master (Album Edit, Elvis Sings The Wonderful World Of Christmas)
Writer: Lou Baxter & Johnny Moore
Comments: While the album edit (5:45) of “Merry Christmas Baby” as well as the unedited performance (8:08) are surely of interest to us Elvis fans, the single edit (3:15) of this jam feels just about right. As much as I love Elvis’ rendition of “Merry Christmas Baby,” it was not the best choice for the A-Side of a single, though. Ironically, RCA was sitting on another recording that could have proven much better.

#6 Here Comes Santa Claus (1957)
Elvis’ Christmas Album
Writers: Gene Autry & Oakley Halderman
Comments: With all due respect to Gene Autry, Elvis’ recording of “Here Comes Santa Claus” is, that’s right, the definitive version. I love how the world’s foremost rock ‘n’ roll star practically swings the lyrics, “Here comes Santa Claus, here comes Santa Claus,” near the end of the song.

Credit: Vevo’s Elvis Presley channel (YouTube)

#5 Holly Leaves And Christmas Trees [Undubbed Master] (1971)
Back In Nashville
Other notable versions: 1971 Master (Elvis Sings The Wonderful World Of Christmas), 1971 Take 4 (Back In Nashville), 1971 Take 2 (Elvis Sings The Wonderful World Of Christmas [2011 FTD Edition]), 1971 Take 8 (If Every Day Was Like Christmas)
Writers: Red West & Glen Spreen

Credit: Vevo’s Elvis Presley channel (YouTube)

Comments: Full of a sad nostalgia for Christmases past, the quiet “Holly Leaves And Christmas Trees” shines as an example of Elvis at his best. Perhaps that is because the song “gets” Elvis, for it was written by his friend and bodyguard Red West, who also penned 1966’s “If Every Day Was Like Christmas” earlier in this list. West, who passed away in 2017, wrote a number of solid songs for Elvis, including 1972’s “Separate Ways” – which mirrored the singer’s collapsing marriage and concern about the impact to his daughter, Lisa Marie. West seems like he was a tough guy, and I guess you’d have to be to protect a man like Elvis, but many of his lyrics reveal a sensitive side and obviously appealed to Elvis.

#4 I’ll Be Home For Christmas (1957)
Elvis’ Christmas Album
Writers: Walter Kent, Kim Gannon, & Buck Ram

Credit: Vevo’s Elvis Presley channel (YouTube)

Comments: Elvis was only 22-years-old when he recorded “I’ll Be Home For Christmas” in 1957. By comparison, Bing Crosby recorded the song at the age of 40 (1943) and Frank Sinatra recorded it at the age of 42 (1957). While the versions of Crosby and Sinatra are classics in their own rights, the Elvis version sounds more heartfelt – and world-weary – making it the definitive version.

#3 Silent Night (1957)
Elvis’ Christmas Album
Writer: John Freeman Young, Joseph Mohr, & Franz Gruber

Credit: Vevo’s Elvis Presley channel (YouTube)

Comments: “Silent Night” is Elvis’ best faith-based Christmas song, but did he record the ultimate version? He’s certainly in the conversation, but with strong competition yet again from Bing Crosby (1930s & 1940s). However, I have to give a slight edge over both men to Nat King Cole’s version (1960). Whether you prefer Elvis, Cole, Crosby, or one of hundreds of other renditions, “Silent Night” perfectly illustrates the birth of Jesus Christ, transporting you there.

#2 I’ll Be Home On Christmas Day [Re-recording] (1971)
Memories Of Christmas
Other notable versions: Nearly all of them, including 1971 Take 4 (Back In Nashville), 1971 Master (Elvis Sings The Wonderful World Of Christmas), 1971 Re-recording Take 9 (Today, Tomorrow & Forever), 1971 Re-recording Take 2 (I Sing All Kinds)
Writer: Michael Jarrett

Credit: Elvis Presley – Topic channel (YouTube)

Comments: Elvis made two separate series of attempts at “I’ll Be Home On Christmas Day.” The first was multiple takes of a country-flavored rendition in May 1971 that resulted in what eventually became the album master. Elvis used a bluesier approach when he tried the song again in June of that year, again going through multiple takes. That the incredible June re-recording was passed over in favor of the May version still boggles my mind. The re-recording of “I’ll Be Home On Christmas Day” languished in RCA’s vaults for over a decade until the excellent Memories Of Christmas album finally brought it to light. By then, Elvis had been dead five years.

In my alternate universe, the bluesier “I’ll Be Home On Christmas Day” would have been Elvis’ A-Side Christmas single of 1971, backed with “Merry Christmas Baby.” What a one-two punch that would have been. They could have even left the original version on the album, making the single even more unique.

The writer of “I’ll Be Home On Christmas Day,” Michael Jarrett, also wrote “I’m Leavin’,” which Elvis released as an A-Side earlier in the same year. Despite Elvis’ belief in the song, it failed to ignite record-buyers. Perhaps that factored into Jarrett’s Christmas song being passed over for single consideration. As much as I love “I’m Leavin’,” though, “I’ll Be Home On Christmas Day” is a far better song. In fact, it is almost the greatest Elvis Christmas song ever, but that honor instead goes to….

#1 Santa Claus Is Back In Town (1957)
Elvis’ Christmas Album
Other notable version: 1968 Live (Tiger Man)
Writers: Jerry Leiber & Mike Stoller

Credit: Vevo’s Elvis Presley channel (YouTube)

Comments: “Santa Claus Is Back In Town” is the quintessential Elvis Christmas song. It is perhaps second only to “Reconsider Baby” as his best blues recording, and even that is almost too close to call. According to Jerry Leiber, he and Mike Stoller wrote “Santa Claus Is Back In Town” in five minutes in the bathroom of the recording studio when Elvis needed another tune for his 1957 Christmas album.


I also have to give an honorable mention to “Santa Lucia,” which Elvis recorded in 1963 for the movie Viva Las Vegas – later released on the Elvis For Everyone! album. Elvis’ version, which uses Italian lyrics, is not technically a Christmas song, but the Swedish version of “Santa Lucia” traditionally kicks off the Christmas season in Sweden. Indeed, I recall waking up early one Christmas morning and seeing some kind of news broadcast or documentary that included footage from Sweden, including “Santa Lucia.”


While I have always loved Christmas, it has taken on even more meaning for me since I was saved in 2018. The observance of the birthday of Jesus Christ should be the solid foundation of a season which otherwise can all too often collapse under the weight of never-ending “Black Friday Sales” and other enticements to shop til you drop in search of the perfect gift.

It turns out that the perfect gift doesn’t need a Black Friday Sale, for it has no cost to you – yet it is priceless. Eternal salvation is yours through accepting Jesus, the Son of God, into your heart. You don’t have to be perfect nor become perfect to accept the perfect gift and follow Jesus. I sure wasn’t perfect then, I’m not perfect now, nor will I ever be perfect. However, my entire life changed, and I gained a new perspective illuminated by His light.

Elvis accepted that perfect gift, too. He even passed his blessings on to us with songs about it, including some of the ones we have discussed today. Despite his God-given talents, Elvis wasn’t perfect, either. It seems his every shortcoming has been documented multiple times over. Yet, God still loved him and welcomed him to Heaven.

He has places for all of us there, too. Don’t leave yours empty.

The dreamer side of me thinks I might sneak another post in before Christmas, but the realistic side of me knows that is highly unlikely. With that in mind, I want to take a moment to thank you for reading The Mystery Train Elvis Blog. I pray you and your family have a Merry Christmas and a Blessed New Year!

TY

“Give thanks for all you’ve been blessed with and hold your loved ones tight, for you know the Lord’s been good to you on a snowy Christmas night.”
–From “On A Snowy Christmas Night” by Stanley Gelber; Elvis Presley song, 1971


“No one has ever gone to Heaven and returned. But the Son of Man has come down from Heaven. And as Moses lifted up the bronze snake on a pole in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, so that everyone who believes in Him will have eternal life. For this is how God loved the world: He gave His one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him will not perish but have eternal life. God sent His Son into the world not to judge the world, but to save the world through Him.”
John 3:13-17 NLT