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

Elvis: The Ultimate Live Top Ten Hits (Part 4)

This is the finale of a four post series covering Elvis Presley’s best officially-released live recording of each of his US top ten hits.

[Read Part 3]

Released as a 2-LP set in 1987, The Top Ten Hits contained all 38 of Elvis’ top 10 hits on Billboard‘s key US charts. Other than a few outliers that failed to make the top 10 and are not on the set (“Blue Suede Shoes,” “Blue Christmas,” “Viva Las Vegas,” “My Way,” and “A Little Less Conversation”), it includes all of his most famous songs for the general public. Indeed, outside of boxed sets, The Top Ten Hits remains one of the most comprehensive Elvis releases to date when it comes to mainstream songs.

Today’s post will feature hits included on Side D of The Top Ten Hits, most of which were studio recordings on the original album.

01. Return To Sender (hit version recorded 1962)
Ultimate Live Version: August 1, 1976, Hampton Roads, VA, New Haven ’76
Per request, Elvis performs “Return To Sender” off the top of his head at a concert in Hampton Roads, Virginia. Included as a bonus track on New Haven ’76, this is the only officially released live version of the song. Considering it was recorded in 1976, the nadir of Elvis concert years, it actually isn’t horrible.

02. Devil In Disguise (hit version recorded 1963)
Ultimate Live Version: None available
It is unfortunate that Elvis never performed live in the mid-1960s. This song would surely have resulted in a classic rendition at that time.

03. Bossa Nova Baby (hit version recorded 1963)
Ultimate Live Version: None available
A medley of “Return To Sender” and “Bossa Nova Baby” might have been fun in his 1969 live shows to acknowledge a couple of hit songs from his 1960s movies.

04. Crying In The Chapel (hit version recorded 1960)
Ultimate Live Version: None available
Voice-wise, 1968 probably would have been the best time for Elvis to have performed “Crying In The Chapel” live. I don’t see where it would really fit in any of his four shows captured for the ELVIS special, though. August 1970 probably would have been a good vocal opportunity for it, too. I would love to hear the Blossoms or the Sweet Inspirations backing Elvis on this instead of the Jordanaires.

Elvis Presley performs “The Wonder Of You” at the August 13, 1970, Dinner Show, in Las Vegas, Nevada, captured for the ELVIS: THAT’S THE WAY IT IS documentary film (MGM)

05. In The Ghetto (hit version recorded 1969)
Ultimate Live Version: August 26, 1969, Dinner Show, Las Vegas, NV, From Memphis To Vegas/From Vegas To Memphis [Elvis In Person]
Elvis’ live versions of “In The Ghetto” never quite lived up to the studio versions. While he usually performed it strongly, he never seems as “into” the song. A stripped-down version, with just Elvis and an acoustic guitar would have been ideal.

06. Suspicious Minds (hit version recorded 1969)
Ultimate Live Version: August 25, 1969, Midnight Show, Hot August Night
An apparent mistake is actually what gives this live version of “Suspicious Minds” an edge over other stellar versions recorded in the same concert series. After James Burton’s opening guitar solo, Elvis fails to begin singing, so Burton continues the solo. Overall, this live version is even better than the studio master.

07. Don’t Cry Daddy (hit version recorded 1969)
Ultimate Live Version: February 18, 1970, Dinner Show, Las Vegas, NV, Greatest Hits, Volume One
While I love “Don’t Cry Daddy,” it does not work as well in a live concert setting, and I can understand why Elvis dropped it by 1971. That said, this live version is top-notch.

08. The Wonder Of You (hit version recorded live, February 18, 1970, Midnight Show, Las Vegas, NV, On Stage)
Ultimate Live Version (after hit recorded):
August 13, 1970, Dinner Show, Las Vegas, NV, The Way It Was
I have found that time behaves inconsistently in certain situations and for certain people. Elvis’ entire career, for instance, was compressed into about 21 years, yet he left a wealth of material behind that continues to forge his musical legacy. Elvis released his February 1970 live version of “The Wonder Of You” as a single in April 1970, and it peaked at number nine on June 27, 1970. Less than two months later, during one of the concerts captured for the MGM documentary movie Elvis: That’s The Way It Is, he introduces this August 1970 live recording by stating, “I had a record out last year that–-this year . . . this year, wasn’t it?–-that did pretty good for me. I’d like to sing it for you.” In this case, two to four months in “Elvis time” was like a year in normal time.

09. Burning Love (hit version recorded 1972)
Ultimate Live Version: April 18, 1972, San Antonio, TX, Close Up
Featured in the documentary movie Elvis On Tour (MGM, 1972), this rockin’ version of “Burning Love” exceeds any other live renditions released thus far. The March 1972 studio master remains the best, however.

Well, that about wraps things up for our look at Elvis’ best officially released live recordings of his hit songs. Over 43 years after his death, Elvis Presley concert recordings continue to surface. With that in mind, we may have to check in on these live hits again in a few years.

Thanks for reading.

Your Conductor,
TY


“Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in me.”
John 14:1

Elvis: The Ultimate Live Top Ten Hits (Part 1)

Elvis Presley rocks “Heartbreak Hotel” during taping of 1968’s ELVIS special (NBC)

I was 13 years old during Spring Break of 1988. At that point, I had about a half dozen Elvis Presley albums to my name. At the record store that week, I bought my first 2-record set. The Top Ten Hits was part of an “Elvis Presley Commemorative Issue” series that marked a decade since his 1977 death. I eventually obtained all four of the albums in the series, though I never did mail away for the special bonus album (a future eBay purchase, no doubt).

I had been collecting Elvis records for about a year at that point, and The Top Ten Hits certainly firmed up the foundation of my new obsession by containing all 38 of Elvis’ top 10 hits on Billboard‘s key US charts. These are what I now call mainstream or “general public” Elvis songs in that they are his most famous songs. Back then, these were the ones that various radio stations would still play.

The only two general public Elvis songs that failed to make the US top ten and, thus, this album were “Blue Suede Shoes” (peaked at #20) and “Viva Las Vegas” (peaked at #29). If we include posthumous releases, 1977’s “My Way” (peaked at #22) and 2002’s JXL Radio Edit Remix of “A Little Less Conversation” (peaked at #50) are also general public Elvis songs that are not present on this 1987 release. Except for those few titles and maybe “Blue Christmas,” everything else is here from a mainstream audience perspective. Outside of boxed sets, which really belong in their own category, The Top Ten Hits remains one of the most comprehensive Elvis releases to date when it comes to the general public.

I wore this record out in my 7th and 8th grade years, to the point where many of these songs became boring to me for a time. I will at some point cover this and the other Elvis Presley Commemorative Issue albums as part of my ongoing Vinyl Elvis series. Today, however, I want to use The Top Ten Hits as a jumping off point for a series of four posts covering Elvis’ best live performance of each of his hits. As is the norm here on The Mystery Train Blog, the focus will be on officially released recordings. No bootlegs.

Today’s post will feature hits included on Side A of The Top Ten Hits, all of which were studio recordings on the original album.

01. Heartbreak Hotel (hit version recorded 1956)
Ultimate Live Version: June 29, 1968, 6 PM Show, Burbank, CA, ELVIS-TV Special
Recorded in front of small studio audience for Elvis’ 1968 NBC television special, ELVIS, this version of “Heartbreak Hotel” rocks more than any of his other takes on the song. It is unfortunately a shortened version, though, due to being part of a medley with “Hound Dog” and “All Shook Up.” I once created a splice with the June 27, 1968, 6 PM Show version of “Heartbreak Hotel” to partially rectify this (inspired by and in the same vein as the “Blue Suede Shoes” splice on the This Is Elvis album, except starting with the June 29 “stand up” show version and ending with the June 27 “sit down” show version).

02. I Want You, I Need You, I Love You (hit version recorded 1956)
Ultimate Live Version: June 5, 1956, Los Angeles, CA, A Golden Celebration
As performed on the Milton Berle Show, following a skit with the host.

03. Hound Dog (hit version recorded 1956)
Ultimate Live Version: December 15, 1956, Shreveport, LA, Young Man With The Big Beat: The Complete ’56 Elvis Presley Masters
The finale of one of Elvis’ greatest recorded concerts, this version of “Hound Dog” is not to be missed.

04. Don’t Be Cruel (hit version recorded 1956)
Ultimate Live Version: January 6, 1957, New York, NY, A Golden Celebration

Credit: The Ed Sullivan Show channel (YouTube)

After Elvis released “Don’t Be Cruel,” he caught an act in Las Vegas that was doing a number of his songs. The lead singer was Jackie Wilson, and Elvis liked his version of “Don’t Be Cruel” better than his own. When Elvis performed the song on his third Ed Sullivan Show appearance in 1957, he incorporated some of Wilson’s upgrades to the song. What I love about this story is that Elvis inspired Wilson, who, in turn, inspired Elvis. Incidentally, this is the infamous “from the waist up” Sullivan performance where TV cameras were ordered not to show Elvis’ hips and legs – which, of course, only added to his legend. Watch it above or over on YouTube.

05. Love Me Tender (hit version recorded 1956)
Ultimate Live Version: June 29, 1968, 8 PM Show, Burbank, CA, ELVIS-TV Special
This live version, recorded for the 1968 ELVIS special, far exceeds Elvis’ original studio recording of the song from 1956. His voice is like velvet.

06. Love Me (hit version recorded 1956)
Ultimate Live Version: June 27, 1968, 6 PM Show, Burbank, CA, Memories: The ’68 Comeback Special
This was a close call with the August 12, 1970, Midnight Show, version of “Love Me,” but I slightly prefer the raw sound of the 1968 version.

07. Too Much (hit version recorded 1956)
Ultimate Live Version: January 6, 1957, New York, NY, A Golden Celebration
This is the only live version officially released of “Too Much,” to my knowledge, so it wins by default. A decent if sloppy version, performed on the Ed Sullivan Show and broadcast from the waist up.

08. All Shook Up (hit version recorded 1957)
Ultimate Live Version: August 26, 1969, Midnight Show, Las Vegas, NV, All Shook Up
The earliest available live version of “All Shook Up,” which is closer to the arrangement of the studio recording, is March 25, 1961, but the performance is tepid compared to his 1968 and 1969 versions.

09. Teddy Bear (hit version recorded 1957)
Ultimate Live Version: January 26, 1970, Opening Show, Las Vegas, NV, The On Stage Season: The Opening And Closing Shows 1970
This live version of “Teddy Bear” was a pleasant surprise on one of my favorite FTD releases.

10. Jailhouse Rock (hit version recorded 1957)
Ultimate Live Version: June 29, 1968, 8 PM Show, Burbank, CA, ELVIS-TV Special

Credit: Vevo’s Elvis Presley channel (YouTube)

As with a few of the others on today’s list, this incredible live version of “Jailhouse Rock” was captured for the 1968 ELVIS special. It almost equals the flawless studio recording. Watch it above or over on YouTube.

If only some of Elvis’ 1957 concerts had been recorded. Perhaps ultimate live versions of “Too Much,” “All Shook Up,” and possibly even “Jailhouse Rock” would have been among them. Every now and then, new recordings are unearthed. I maintain hope that a 1957 concert will eventually see the light of day.

I pray all of you are doing well and staying healthy. Drop a note in the comments below about some of your favorite live versions of these Elvis classics.

Blessings,
TY

[Read Part 2]


“Dear brothers and sisters, when troubles of any kind come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy. For you know that when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow. So let it grow, for when your endurance is fully developed, you will be perfect and complete, needing nothing.”
James 1:2-4

Tmydee scares away the competition in Elvis Trivialities #17

Tmydee not only won Elvis Trivialities #17 yesterday, but did it in record time! Steve’s 17-minute response time had stood for over nine years, but Tmydee has established the new standard – 15 minutes! It took me longer than that to write the post, Tmydee.

Tmydee receives a Halloween treat bag full of bragging rights of every flavor and a spot among The Mystery Train’s Night Riders, legendary Elvis trivia masters.

And the answer is…

1.) “Blue Moon”
2.) “Witchcraft”
3.) “Mystery Train”
4.) “Devil In Disguise”

are the Elvis songs represented by the following scrambled characters:

1.) ULBE MONO
2.) HICTRTWACF
3.) YTYEMRS RNTIA
4.) VEIDL NI GSUDEISI

As mentioned yesterday, in our universe, Elvis never had a Halloween album. In 1963, he did have two spookier-themed singles in a row, though. In June, he released “Devil In Disguise” b/w “Please Don’t Drag That String Around.” “Devil In Disguise” went to #3 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart. In October, he released “Bossa Nova Baby” b/w “Witchcraft.” The A-Side went to #8.

If only “Devil In Disguise” had been paired with “Witchcraft” instead, and Elvis would’ve at least had a Halloween single!

Over on the For Elvis CD Collectors Forum, film expert Greystoke spotted that Vevo recently released an official music video for “Devil In Disguise.” For an Elvis video, it is a little out there, even though it takes the lyrics quite literally. It is certainly fun on Halloween and worth checking out.

Credit: Vevo’s Elvis Presley channel (YouTube)


The Mystery Train’s Night Riders

  • October 30, 2020: Tmydee (0:15)*
  • October 7, 2020: Sammy (3:18)
  • June 14, 2013: Alec (0:18) | Honorable Mention: Wellsy (3:01)
  • February 22, 2013: Thomas (13:36)
  • January 11, 2013: George Millar (4:19)
  • December 23, 2012: Thomas (0:36)
  • October 9, 2012: David (14:38) | Honorable Mention: John (22:06)
  • February 4, 2012: Thomas (13:52)
  • February 3, 2012: Thomas (2:18)
  • December 21, 2011: Wellsy (2:37)
  • October 31, 2011: Thomas (17:32)
  • October 1, 2011: Jimmy Cool (1:01)
  • September 9, 2011: Steve Brogdon (0:17)
  • August 6, 2011: Thomas (2:26)
  • July 9, 2011: Thomas (5:26)
  • June 23, 2011: Fred Wolfe (0:18)
  • June 22, 2011: Ty stumps the train (no winner)

*Record time


“Satan disguises himself as an angel of light.”
from 2 Corinthians 11:14

Gospel Elvis: “I Believe”

Today, I am beginning Gospel Elvis, a new, occasional series on The Mystery Train Blog. Gospel Elvis will examine songs of faith and inspiration that Elvis released during his lifetime. To be clear, each song won’t necessarily be “strictly” Gospel, but “Gospel Elvis” has a better ring to it than “Songs of Faith and Inspiration Elvis.” While I decided to start in 1957 for this first post, we won’t necessarily go in chronological order, either.


Elvis Presley in LOVING YOU (1957, Paramount)

Kicking off his first session of the new year, Elvis Presley recorded “I Believe” on January 12, 1957, at Radio Recorders in Hollywood. It was his first formal recording of a song of faith. The same session also produced the smash hit “All Shook Up,” which ruled atop the Billboard Top 100 chart for eight weeks to become the number one single of 1957.

RCA first released “I Believe” on the Peace In The Valley Extended Play (EP) album in April 1957. The song made its Long Play (LP) album debut on Elvis’ Christmas Album six months later. In October 1970, RCA released a reconfigured version of Elvis’ Christmas Album on its budget Camden label, leaving out “I Believe.” Instead, a reissue of “I Believe” appeared on the March 1971 Camden LP You’ll Never Walk Alone – one of the best of the Elvis budget releases.

Take a listen to Elvis’ recording of “I Believe” below or over on Youtube.

Credit: Vevo’s Elvis Presley channel (YouTube)

Ervin Drake, Irvin Graham, Jimmy Shirl, and Al Stillman wrote “I Believe” in 1952 for singer/actress Jane Froman. The most popular version, however, belongs to Frankie Laine‘s 1953 recording.

Elvis’ interpretation of the song did not seem to draw from Laine, however. Elvis named Roy Hamilton among his influences, and he no doubt had Hamilton’s 1955 version of “I Believe” in mind when he recorded it. Check it out on Youtube or below.

Credit: Roy Hamilton – Topic channel (YouTube)

What strikes me when listening to Hamilton’s sublime recording is that I can hear not only the influence on Elvis’ “I Believe” in particular, but also on Elvis’ vocals in general. Elvis had many influences, but most of them I do not hear as directly as that of Hamilton.

Now that we have heard two versions of “I Believe,” I want to attempt personally to interpret a couple lines of the lyrics within a Biblical context.

“I believe for everyone who goes astray, Someone will come to show the way.”

The truth is, as humans, all of us go astray. Jesus died so that our sins would be forgiven, however, and Heaven would still be available to us. He already paid for all of our sins, but our contribution to the admission ticket to Paradise is belief in Him (see John 3:16), for Jesus is literally the “way” to Heaven.

“Jesus told him, ‘I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one can come to the Father except through me.'”
John 14:6 NLT

Early Christians were even called “followers of the Way,” including in Acts of the Apostles in the New Testament.

“I believe above the storm the smallest prayer can still be heard.”

I was surprised to discover in the course of research for this post that there is actually some debate among Biblical scholars about whether God truly hears every prayer. To be clear, I do not claim to be a Bible expert. Though I have read it cover-to-cover four times, and currently working on two more read-throughs, the Bible is a dense work. However, in my humble opinion, there is no debate here. Of course God hears every prayer. He’s God! He’s omniscient. Does he grant every request? Of course not, but that’s a whole other discussion.

[Side Note: An interesting oddity about the Elvis version of “I Believe” is that he sings “the smallest prayer can still be heard” whereas the other half dozen or so versions I listened to by various singers for this post, including Hamilton, sing, “the smallest prayer will still be heard.” As this is The Mystery Train, I naturally used the Elvis version of the lyrics.]

One of the wonderful aspects of prayer is that you need not shout for God to hear you. He does, indeed, hear the quietest voice. In fact, you need not speak your prayer at all. You can think to God at any time, and He hears you. For believers, this is taken even a step further. If we can’t pray or don’t know what to pray, the Holy Spirit even steps in and prays for us (Romans 8:26-27).

In life, all of us encounter many storms. As a follower of Jesus, I now find comfort in Him through any such disturbances. I went through multiple life-changing events last year, for instance, many of which could have turned into tumultuous storms, but I approached each of them with much prayer, and Jesus brought me peace (John 14:27) and calm.

“The ropes of death entangled me; floods of destruction swept over me. The grave wrapped its ropes around me; death laid a trap in my path. But in my distress I cried out to the LORD; yes, I prayed to my God for help. He heard me from his sanctuary; my cry to him reached his ears.”
Psalm 18:4-6 NLT

My first exposure to “I Believe” was probably Elvis’ You’ll Never Walk Alone album. When I was a teenager in the 1980s, my family and I were on vacation somewhere or other. Anytime we went to a different place, I would always scour any store we happened to visit for Elvis items not available at home. At a Kmart or similar store, I found a cassette tape version of You’ll Never Walk Alone.

By this time, I had my first Walkman. This was about the third pre-recorded Elvis tape I ever owned. I would go on to acquire less than a dozen total, as my focus was on records and, later, CDs. Tapes were usually either releases I couldn’t find on record or gifts from others. Of course, I probably made well over a hundred Elvis mix tapes for my own use, which was the real appeal of cassette decks.

Anyway, I knew nothing about You’ll Never Walk Alone when I bought it. I just saw it had a lot of song titles I didn’t recognize. It was actually the first Elvis gospel album I ever owned. I can remember playing it on my Walkman in the car ride home from that vacation. Headphones allow for such an intimate listening experience, and they were perfect for You’ll Never Walk Alone.

I didn’t have any Elvis reference books at the time, so I thought the songs were all recorded around the same time. It sounded like a coherent album. In reality, the compilation included songs from throughout the range of 1957-1969. Elvis’ gospel and Christmas songs from various decades mix together better than his other music.

“I Believe” kicked off Side 2 of the cassette. As with many other songs on that release, it became a favorite. What I love about Elvis’ version of the song is how his voice eases back and forth effortlessly between gentle innocence and assertive conviction. I should note that I believed in God for as long as I could remember, but I was more skeptical about the Jesus aspect. However, I would explore and encounter Him in different ways over the years, including through Elvis’ many gospel recordings. It wasn’t until 2018 that all the puzzle pieces came together for me, and I was led to Jesus.

At that point, as a new creation (2 Corinthians 5:17), I began to experience the world in fresh ways. For instance, I was never an “outdoors” person. Now, I am often drawn to it. Walking in parks has become a favorite activity.

Music I had heard for decades began to take on new meanings. Suddenly, Elvis’ catalog of gospel was not just a collection of beautifully performed songs, but the most compelling and personal statements of his entire career.

My best friend taught me something she calls, “finding signs of Him.” What she means by that is taking a few minutes to stop, breathe, listen, look, and find God. There are signs of Him everywhere. “I Believe” understands this as well with the lyrics, “Every time I hear a newborn baby cry or touch a leaf or see the sky, then I know why I believe.” Evidence of God literally surrounds us.

To conclude our look at “I Believe” today, I want to sign off with my favorite version. This is Mahalia Jackson, 1953. Listen to her voice, surely evidence of God.

Credit: Mahalia Jackson – Topic channel (YouTube)


“And it is impossible to please God without faith. Anyone who wants to come to him must believe that God exists and that he rewards those who sincerely seek him.”
Hebrews 11:6

Sammy takes all the chips in Elvis Trivialities #16

A trickily-worded question did not fool Sammy, and he became a first-time winner when he correctly answered Elvis Trivialities #16 yesterday.

And the answer is…

Elvis Presley included the song “What’d I Say” from Viva Las Vegas, his 1964 movie with Ann-Margret, in 1969 concerts at the International Hotel in Las Vegas.

Elvis’ take on the Ray Charles tune was the B-Side of “Viva Las Vegas.” As for the A-Side, Elvis never once performed “Viva Las Vegas” live in Las Vegas or anywhere else, as far as has been documented. He did reference the movie title on occasion during his career monologues in his 1969 shows.

Ann-Margret and Elvis Presley in VIVA LAS VEGAS (1964, MGM)

For whatever reason, “What’d I Say,” the B-Side of the 1964 single, got slightly more traction, though it was inferior to the A-Side, “Viva Las Vegas.” “What’d I Say” hit #21 and “Viva Las Vegas” unfortunately only made it to #29 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart. “Viva Las Vegas” and “Blue Suede Shoes” are probably Elvis’ best-known songs that failed to become top ten hits upon initial release.

Sammy takes home a big bucket of chips from the bragging rights table. He also becomes a member of that esteemed group of certified Elvis trivia experts, The Mystery Train’s Night Riders. Congratulations to Sammy!

You never know when the next Elvis Trivialities question will arrive. Will it be in seven minutes? Seven days? Seven years? Hedge your bets now by subscribing to The Mystery Train Blog. Then, you will be notified whenever there is a new post. “All you need’s a strong heart and a nerve of steel” to win Elvis Trivialities.


The Mystery Train’s Night Riders

  • October 7, 2020: Sammy (3:18)
  • June 14, 2013: Alec (0:18) | Honorable Mention: Wellsy (3:01)
  • February 22, 2013: Thomas (13:36)
  • January 11, 2013: George Millar (4:19)
  • December 23, 2012: Thomas (0:36)
  • October 9, 2012: David (14:38) | Honorable Mention: John (22:06)
  • February 4, 2012: Thomas (13:52)
  • February 3, 2012: Thomas (2:18)
  • December 21, 2011: Wellsy (2:37)
  • October 31, 2011: Thomas (17:32)
  • October 1, 2011: Jimmy Cool (1:01)
  • September 9, 2011: Steve Brogdon (0:17)*
  • August 6, 2011: Thomas (2:26)
  • July 9, 2011: Thomas (5:26)
  • June 23, 2011: Fred Wolfe (0:18)
  • June 22, 2011: Ty stumps the train (no winner)

*Record time


“Wait for the LORD; Be strong and let your heart take courage; Yes, wait for the LORD.”
Psalm 27:14

Thank You, Mac: The Last Verse

I want to pause a few moments to celebrate entertainer Mac Davis, who passed away on Tuesday. The songwriter/singer/actor/musician was 78.

Among Elvis fans, Davis is best known as the writer of the hits “In Ghetto” and “Don’t Cry Daddy,” both of which Elvis recorded at his 1969 American Sound Studio sessions in Memphis. Standing with “If I Can Dream” (1968) as one of the few socially conscious Elvis songs, “In The Ghetto” broke Elvis’ four-year drought of top ten hits when it made it to #3 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart in 1969. “Don’t Cry Daddy” made its chart debut later the same year and eventually peaked at #6.

As a teenager in the 1950s, Davis became an Elvis fan and attended concerts in Texas. When, as an adult, he attended Elvis’ August 25, 1969, Midnight Show at the International Hotel in Las Vegas, Elvis introduced Nancy Sinatra to the audience. He then had Davis stand up as well:

“There’s a guy sitting in her booth that’s one hell of a songwriter, ladies and gentlemen. He has written some beautiful stuff, and he wrote one of my biggest records. I’d like you to say hello to Mac Davis. He wrote ‘In The Ghetto,’ ladies and gentlemen.”

After introducing a number of other celebrities, Elvis went on to perform “In The Ghetto” and threw in a “Thank you, Mac” after the song concluded. These moments are captured on CD 9 of Sony’s Elvis Live 1969 boxed set, which I just finished reviewing here last week, as well as on FTD’s Hot August Night CD.

Davis co-wrote with Billy Strange several other Elvis songs, all recorded in 1968, including “A Little Less Conversation” for the film Live A Little, Love A Little. In Ken Sharp’s Writing For The King: The Stories Of The Songwriters (FTD, 2006), Davis notes that he actually had Aretha Franklin in mind when he wrote the song and then worked with Strange to change the lyrics to better suit Elvis when submitting it for use in the movie.

After appearing in the 2001 version of Ocean’s Eleven, an alternate take of “A Little Less Conversation” found a surprising new life in 2002 when a JXL remix for a Nike commercial during the World Cup became an international hit. In Writing For The King, Davis notes he was shocked to hear the song during the 2001 movie, and his kids in 2002 were even more shocked their dad wrote the “Elvis vs. JXL” hit. When a friend called him and told him the song had been remixed and had hit number one:

“I mentioned something about it to my boys and they both jumped up and down. They said, ‘Wait a minute, are you talking about the song in the commercial?’ And I said, ‘Yeah.’ They said, ‘God, well, all the kids in school are singing that. You wrote that Dad?’ They were totally impressed. I had never impressed them with anything before that.”

The Elvis recording would go on to serve as the opening theme to the 2003-2008 TV series Las Vegas, starring James Caan, Josh Duhamel and Nikki Cox. It has been used in countless other movies and trailers as well.

Davis and Strange composed two numbers that the singer recorded for his 1968 ELVIS special, “Memories” and “Nothingville.” That same recording of “Memories” later featured in the film Elvis On Tour (1972) as well as various posthumous documentaries, including 1981’s This Is Elvis.

They also wrote “Clean Up Your Own Backyard,” featured in the movie The Trouble With Girls, and the title song of the movie Charro.

After spending the early parts of his career writing songs for others, Davis went on in the 1970s to become a star in his own right, with multiple hits, including “Baby, Don’t Get Hooked On Me” and “I Believe In Music.” In Davis’ 1980 Greatest Hits album, he included the note: “A special thanks to Billy Strange for starting it all & all those who believed: Elvis Presley, Clive Davis & especially Sandy Gallin.”

Davis also began an acting career in the 1970s that extended all the way to 2019. In 1979, he appeared with Nick Nolte in the sports comedy North Dallas Forty. In 1993, Davis hosted two television specials about Elvis, America Comes To Graceland and Elvis: His Life And Times – a re-edit of a 1987 BBC documentary, I Don’t Sing Like Nobody/Cut Me And I Bleed. Both versions are memorable as being among the best of such productions about Elvis.

Among a long list of other television credits, Davis appeared in a 1995 episode of ABC’s Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman. My niece and I never missed an episode on Sunday nights. Though he ostensibly played a villain on the show, Davis’ affable personality shined through.

As a huge fan of the comeback era, I cannot overstate Davis’ contributions to that portion of Elvis’ career. The movie songs he co-wrote with Strange brought Elvis fresh material that was of a quality unheard in his films since King Creole (1958) and Jailhouse Rock (1957) a decade earlier. We usually have to grade Elvis’ 1960s movie tunes on a curve, but the Davis-Strange compositions are among Elvis’ best songs, period, movie or otherwise. The same, of course, goes for “In The Ghetto” and “Don’t Cry Daddy.”

I want to leave the last word on Davis to Davis. From Writing For The King:

“I loved Elvis’ version of ‘Don’t Cry Daddy.’ I thought it was really poignant and really sweet. […] I do remember thinking that I should have written another verse for it. But that was me. That’ll be on my tombstone, ‘I was still working on that last verse.'”

Mac Davis as cult leader Larry Smiley in LOIS & CLARK: THE NEW ADVENTURES OF SUPERMAN – “Just Say Noah” (1995, Warner Brothers)


I’m praying for Davis, his family, and friends.

Blessings,
TY


“Don’t let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God, and trust also in me.”
John 14:1