21 plus minutes of the man who sang ‘like nobody’
Once Elvis Presley signed to RCA Victor in 1955, Colonel Tom Parker wasted no time in getting his young client a film contract, eager to maximum Presley’s star potential as much as possible (Presley himself was also keen to embark on a movie career, having been a big fan of James Dean and Tony Curtis). So, despite having little if any acting experience, Elvis would go on to perform in a staggering 31 films, beginning with Love Me Tender (1956), followed by Loving You and Jailhouse Rock (1957). In 1958, the year when Presley-mania was at its peak, incredibly the singer was drafted into the US Army, which necessitated that enough music (including one more film) be recorded in order keep Elvis in the spotlight while he was serving as a regular soldier.
Production for Elvis’ fourth film, King Creole, began in early 1958, and like his previous films, it needed a soundtrack, sessions for which took place over January and February, since Presley’s army induction was scheduled for March.
Joining Elvis was Scotty Moore (guitar), Bill Black (bass), DJ Fontana (drums), along with Kitty White and The Jordanaires (vocals). Despite the rushed nature of the recordings, Elvis, already accustomed to the rigours of the music industry, manage to work quickly, laying down enough songs to release an album.
The LP gets off to a fine start with the energetic title track “King Creole,” written by Leiber and Stoller, with who Elvis had enjoyed a successful working relationship. Both Scotty Moore and Tiny Timbrell duel it out on their guitars, while Elvis gets all hot under the collar with one of his briskest vocal performances yet. “Hard Headed Woman” also packs a terrific punch (the lyrics are especially amusing), where Elvis, despite being drafted by Uncle Sam, sounds fresh and confident.
Now it wouldn’t be a soundtrack, or more precisely, an Elvis soundtrack, without a few ballads. Of these, “As Long As I Have You” is arguably the best, thanks to Presley’s deeply expressive vocals, but “Don’t Ask Me Why” and “Lover Doll” are pretty lightweight affairs, even if Presley’s own singing is flawless.
The album takes the listener down to New Orleans with the cabaret/jazz/rock of “Trouble” and “Dixieland Rock,” which is basically a trad-jazz rewrite of “Jailhouse Rock.” His duet with Kitty White during “Crawfish” is another highlight, and even though it was likely recorded in the morning or afternoon, the song has a definite late night feel to it.
“Young Dreams” was clearly written with one intention: to impress Elvis’ young lady fans, of which there were many of. The title of next track “Steadfast, Loyal and True” pretty much says it all, with Presley crooning his way into the hearts and minds of millions of teenage girls across America. Not quite this listener’s cup of tea, but one thing’s for sure, Elvis certainly had the unique ability to sing as if he were looking straight at you, and only you.
The derivatively named “New Orleans” is probably about as seedy-sounding as Elvis ever got (it was a soundtrack after all), and concludes what at a mere 21 minutes in length would nowadays be considered to be more of an EP than an actual album in its own right.
Not only was Elvis’ performance in the movie considered to be one of his best, but the soundtrack as well (although Jailhouse Rock is certainly not far behind). In 1997 King Creole was reissued with seven bonus tracks, and of course much improved audio, easily making it the one to own. Apparently there is a 2CD edition (FTD), which includes many previously unreleased recordings some of which are without Presley’s direct involvement.
King Creole is another essential chapter in the multi-faceted career of Elvis Presley.