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Music Review: Elvis Presley – Viva Las Vegas

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1964 was a very busy year for Elvis Presley. Three movies, two soundtracks, one EP, assorted singles, his pursuit of Priscilla, and a public affair left very little time for anything else. The movie and soundtrack releases of Kissin’ Cousins at the beginning of the year and Roustabout at the end were poor to average at best. Sandwiched in the middle, however, was one of Elvis’ best movies that did not have a complete soundtrack release at the time. That oversight has been corrected in recent years.

Viva Las Vegas was Elvis’ most successful film, commercially. It also featured Ann-Margret, with whom Elvis would have a year long affair. The chemistry between the two is very apparent. They would remain friends until the end of his life. The film benefited from the direction of veteran George Sidney. He re-shot scenes over and over and from different angles. He angered Col. Tom Parker by exceeding the film’s budget, but did produce a slick, commercial movie that ranks as one of Elvis’ best and remains very entertaining.

The movie may have had the strongest set of songs of any Elvis film and it is inconceivable that a complete soundtrack album was not issued by the RCA label at the time. Ann-Margret, who sang a number of songs was also under contract to RCA, so that was not an issue. One single and a four song EP were all that were released in 1964. Today the full soundtrack has been issued on CD a number of times and is well worth seeking out.

“Viva Las Vegas” remains a classic Presley song. Elvis’ vocal performance can be called joyous. His voice had matured over the previous several years and had a quality and timbre that has rarely been matched. History says that Elvis recorded this song in one take. Why it failed as a single is beyond me as it stands on its own outside the context of the film.

Elvis was always able to take classic songs by other artists and transform them into his own creations. Here Elvis takes the rhythm & blue standard, “What’d I Say” and gives it a driving rock performance. Elvis acquits himself well when comparing this version to the well known Ray Charles performance.

Ann-Margret was a seasoned singer and performer by this time and she sings on a number of tracks. “The Lady Loves Me” and “You’re The Boss” which was not used in the film, but is included on the modern day CD releases, are duets and both show the chemistry between the two stars. She gives the songs a sensual appeal and Elvis has the professionalism not to overwhelm her vocals. Ann-Margret steps forward and sings lead on “Appreciation” and “My Rival.” Ann-Margret was such a visual presence at this point in her career that seeing her perform may be preferable to just listening to her but overall the songs are fine.

The album has a number of other treats by Elvis. “C’mon Everybody” is good up-tempo pop that Elvis had become very proficient at creating by this time in his career. “I Need Somebody To Love” gives the feel of a small Vegas lounge act and I say that in a good way. Elvis creates an intimate feel for the listener. “If You Think I Don’t Need You” goes in a different direction and shows just how versatile Elvis was on this soundtrack and in the movie. This is an up-beat dance number that almost makes me get up and dance. Elvis even gets some mileage out of the old standards, “Yellow Rose Of Texas/The Eyes Of Texas,” which very few performers could accomplish.

Viva Las Vegas, both the film and the modern day CD soundtrack, are essential Elvis and remain highly entertaining. It was amazing what Elvis could produce when motivated by good material and a sound script. The energy of and the attraction to Ann-Margret was also an important ingredient. This soundtrack has been released in several forms on CD but most all are will allow you to hear the movie Elvis at his best.

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About David Bowling

  • Jim Burrows

    The song “Viva Las Vegas” was recorded on Wednesday, July 6, 1963, after 7 takes, five of them being false starts.

    What history records is that the “Viva Las Vegas” sequence, when Elvis sings the song at mid-point during the movie, was shot in one take, and with the use of a single camera.

    Amazingly, Presley sings the song whilst simultaneously moving around the stage with at least four different women, pausing to sing to each one of them, never losing the focus, the positioning and the sequencing, inspite of delivering what are definitively four different set of moves and using both his arms and hands to reflect the lyrics.

    Rumour had it that Parker, Presley’s manager, was pretty upset that a classic, professional delivery such as the one Presley puts up, for this song, would have taken MGM less than 3 minutes to assemble, as well as its having been so economical, because of the aforementioned single camera used.