Monday 16 March 2009

Elvis PRESLEY: Pot Luck

 Pot Luck with Elvis.jpg

(#29: 28 July 1962, 5 weeks; 8 September 1962, 1 week) 
Track listing: Kiss Me Quick/Just For Old Time Sake/Gonna Get Back Home Somehow/(Such An) Easy Question/Steppin’ Out Of Line/I’m Yours/Something Blue/Suspicion/I Feel That I’ve Known You Forever/Night Rider/Fountain Of Love/That’s Someone You Never Forget 
I must confess slight initial bafflement in relation to this record; so used am I to Elvis albums throughout the bulk of the sixties comprising of film soundtracks that I searched myself trying to recall a movie entitled Pot Luck – 1962? That would have been Follow That Dream, an amiable if hopeless sub-Beverly Hillbillies yarn, the not-bad-at-all boxing picture Kid Galahad and the dire shape of dregs to come entitled Girls! Girls! Girls!, but no Pot Luck as such - before realising that this was that rarest of sixties phenomena, a proper new Elvis studio album (even though some of its tracks eventually threaded their way towards the soundtrack of 1965’s entirely useless Tickle Me). That isn’t to say that Pot Luck is a very good album, although it’s never less than interesting and committed; simply that Presley demonstrates a sense of dramatic and emotional focus which, 1966’s How Great Thou Art excepted, would be largely absent from his conveyor belt of productivity until 1969.
Interestingly, and peculiarly contemporaneously with Coltrane (and well ahead of Adam Ant), Presley experimented with a double rhythm section on the Nashville sessions which produced the material for the album; Buddy Harman and DJ Fontana twin up on drums while Bob Moore’s acoustic bass is balanced out by Harold Bradley’s electric. The focus is broadly on post-“It’s Now Or Never” numbers with a vague Latin/bossa nova feel, coupled with some sombre country ballads, but there is a suggestion of incipient trouble and doubt coursing even through things like “Kiss Me Quick,” a superior Pomus and Shuman “Now Or Never” rewrite; despite Elvis still donning Dino’s mantle – complete with a “That’s Amore” backing choir standing in for the Jordanaires who will become increasingly irritating as the album wears on, and the inevitable mandolin – the sense of impermanence and transience is never far away from Presley’s leers and licks.
“Just For Old Time Sake” is yet another Tepper/Bennett number and clearly designed as a “Are You Lonesome Tonight?” clone (though unsurprisingly there are also hints of “When The Girl In Your Arms”) but Presley escorts it out of its marimba/piano-decorated supper club by his fiercely soft concentration. “I made my greatest mistake,” he muses. “Ih-if-a-a-ii-you loved me (doing a Dean pastiche) then, you could love me once again,” he pleads, before leaving a huge, gaping question mark of a pause. “Gonna Get Back Home Somehow,” another Pomus/Shuman tune, rocks out of the paddock but is curiously weighed down by Boots Randolph’s baritone sax, against which Presley palpably struggles to escape: “Leavin’ now” (answered by a wriggling worm of a Scotty Moore guitar figure), “I’m leavin’ nowwww-uuuuuuhhhhh” and finally “I’m leavin’ NOWWWWWWWWWWWWW!!!!” Stooges of octave piano (Floyd Cramer) and tambourine spice up the middle eight, while Presley’s determination is underlined by his title pronunciation accompanied only by double bass and finger snaps.
In contrast, “(Such An) Easy Question” is a lope through some airs of blue which sees Presley pacifically fuming, “Why can’t I get an answer? Tell me!” He gets prickly: “Can it be that you’re too sh-hyyy?” Then he begins to demand: “Can you – TELL ME YES?” and is immediately underwritten by grave mass harmonies. By track’s end all he can do is slur and lick the phantom of an escaped ice cream cone. “Steppin’ Out Of Line” was an outtake from the Blue Hawaii sessions and rocks and howls exactly like that soundtrack didn’t; ravenous, thirsty, his ski slope of “in your sleep,” an explosively pregnant tenor solo from Randolph to which Presley responds with a deranged “UUUUUUUUAAAAAAARRRRRRGGGGGGHHHHHHH!!!!!,” the shop finally being shut down by Harman and Fontana shattering the complacent glass. Side one, however, chooses to conclude with cheese: “I’m Yours” is a courtly wedding waltz with Patti Page-ish double tracked lead vocals (and narration) which might just have been tolerable had it not been wrecked by some terrible Ken Griffin/Junior Showtime ice rink organ.
And yet side two commences with the same scenario seen from a far more fearful perspective; “Something Blue” is an intensely internalised country performance, and while Elvis works through the song’s old/new/borrowed bits of lyrical business he suddenly finds himself facing a desert. In the aisle, walking behind her (remember Eddie Fisher?), he abruptly sobers up. “I feel I’m walking to my doom,” he intones, “I’m really not the best man in this ro-oo-oo-ooom” pronounced as though he’s about to roll right out of the room and into the pits of hell. There is some call and response work with the choir (as with the Jordanaires, far more effective on the ballads) and the scenario is tied up by a never more doleful, elongated baritone sax burp. “Suspicion” – Pomus and Shuman again, and top ten as a very belated single release in 1976 – echoes and presages its 1969 counterpart with scratching harpsichord, its references to “torment” and his wildly vanishing refraction of a shout of “Why torture me?” in each chorus as though Wile E Coyote has yet again failed to find ground beneath his feet as he hurtles off the edge of the cliff.
“I Feel That I’ve Known You Forever,” composed by Pomus with a lyric by Alan Jeffreys, might be the album’s most fragile track, another slow, uncertain (but comparatively brief – 99 seconds) Tennessee waltz with a lovely chord change on the “contraire” of “Your face so fair, me au contraire” before he suddenly erupts with an escalating triple breath cadenza of “Forever, forever, FOREVER!,” almost threatening to detach the roof from its studio. “Night Rider,” the last Pomus/Shuman track on the record, returns to fast Latin-tinged rock, led by Randolph’s stuttering tenor, though Presley’s half-tempo vocal presents us with the improbable picture of a Gerry Anderson theme tune. Despite terse commentaries from Cramer’s piano and Scotty’s guitar, and despite Presley’s evident angst (though tinged with more than a hint of the reasons why she ran away in the first place – “keep her at home”?) doesn’t really transcend its ultra-lite “Mystery Train” wannabe status.
With “Fountain Of Love” we are back in Dean Martinland, complete with light, extended double entendres – Presley makes “just come and drink” sound like “just come and breathe” – and Grady Martin offers some suitably sardonic commentary on his acoustic lead guitar but it struggles not to turn into “It’s Now Or Never Part 98.”
But then we arrive at the astonishing closer (and with more than a hint of Closer about it, if you’re asking) “That’s Someone You Never Forget,” the only song on the album to be co-composed (with Red West) by Presley himself (another one, “You’ll Be Gone,” co-written by Presley with West and Charlie Hodge, appears on the CD of Pot Luck and skilfully skirts as close as possible to “Begin The Beguine” as copyright royalties will allow; the CD version of the album, incidentally, plays wild and free with the original track order, interspersing five bonus tracks seemingly at random, but I have chosen to concentrate on that order as structurally and emotionally it makes the most sense). Here the backing singers begin to be used creatively, their sonorous “ooooohhhh-OOOOOOHHHHHH” ebbing waves exactly counterpointing Presley’s tortured vowels with a sense of tonality more akin to Debussy than the Opry. Presley himself, for the most part, barely ascends from a thinly detectable whisper and it is clear that we are intruding on a very private mourning – this is a lost love which has no hope of coming back in this world. “The LIT-tle things you planned,” he trembles. The “of” of “You’ll think of her each day” is obscured by a tremulous sob. The lullaby of celeste fails to resolve his stinging, lethal, internal pain. “But you know,” he concludes, “they’ll never replace the one who waits for you,” before working up to a terrible, if brief, crescendo and then settling down into the waves, the waves which won’t stop rolling, where have they been. The song was written with his mother in mind and provides the umbilical cord which would never break, and indeed leads in emotional part to the long black limousines we will subsequently encounter. The real Elvis, revealing himself before diving back under the Hollywood covers for the rest of the decade. We will rejoin him when the covers get brutally thrown off him, and he discovers, much to his surprise, that he’s the one who did the throwing.