G.I. Blues was Elvis Presley’s first film after being released from the U.S. Army. It would top the album charts in the United States. Elvis released one of the songs from the soundtrack, “Wooden Heart (Muss I Denn)” as a single in England. It became a huge hit topping the U.K. charts for six weeks. For some reason, it was not issued as a single in the United States at the time.
Enter Joe Dowell from Bloomington, Indiana. As a 21 year old, he signed a recording contract with Shelby Singleton’s brand new Smash label. His first recording session included a cover of Presley’s “Wooden Heart (Muss I Denn).” The song was released June 26, 1961, as the label’s first single.
Exit Bobby Lewis. The summer of 1961 had been very kind to Mr. Lewis as his song “Tossin’ and Turnin’” had spent seven consecutive weeks at the top of the Billboard Magazine Pop Singles Chart. It was named the number one single of the year. All good things must eventually come to an end, and so it was for “Tossin’ and Turnin’” on August 28, 1961.
Joe Dowell and his label grabbed the brass ring the first time out as their version of “Wooden Heart” reached number one on that date and remained there for one glorious week.
The song was a re-working of an old German folk tune. The lyrics were sung in both English and German. Dowell’s release was a smooth pop/easy listening hit and a little different from Elvis’ film version. Ray Stevens’ organ, which sounded like an accordion, was the main instrumental sound. Dowell’s voice was made for this type of song as he had a laid back style with nice tone.
He would have another couple of lesser hits but would eventually be dropped by the label he helped make successful. He went into advertising and became a spokesman for a bank in addition to performing occasionally. He is currently considering a return to the recording studio.
Elvis finally released his version as the B-side of his 1964 Christmas single, “Blue Christmas,” which made for an odd combination. It was too late because in the United States “Wooden Heart” will always be associated with Joe Dowell.