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.