Thursday, 2 October 2014

1972 - that's the way it is

In the summer of 1972 BBC 2 showed a series of Elvis films every Tuesday teatime.  It might not have been Tuesday.  It might not have been Summer 1972.  Perhaps it wasn’t BBC 2 at 6 pm, but that’s the way I remember it.  These films were bright, shiny, empty, beaty, big and bouncy, much like the gallery PopArt of the Sixties.  They looked good but there was nothing behind the façade.  Elvis didn’t really go to Acapulco, London or Hawaii; he was on a sound stage in Hollywood, knocking out three movies a year, taking three weeks over each.  There is an echo of Warhol’s silk screen rationale – bashing out product as quickly and efficiently as possible.  Don’t worry if the ink runs or the colour is too bleached or too much – we like it like that.  For the critics it is a commentary on the vacuity of modern life; for the viewer (of Elvis film or Warhol print) it is bright, shiny, empty, beaty, big and bouncy.

Elvis, Andy Warhol, 1963

Of course Warhol covered Elvis who was as American as a Coke Bottle or a serial killer.  There was a show at the Ferus Gallery in 1965 alongside multiple portraits of Elizabeth Taylor.  It didn’t go down that well.  Warhol wrote:

it was thrilling to see the Ferus Gallery with the Elvises in the front room and the Lizes in the back. Very few people on the (West) Coast knew or cared about contemporary art, and the press for my show wasn't too good. I always have to laugh, though, when I think of how Hollywood called Pop Art a put-on! Hollywood ?? I mean when you look at the kind of movies they were making then — those were supposed to be real???' 

Elvis, Flaming Star publicity still, 20th Century Fox, 1960

Warhol used a still from the movie Flaming Star, one of Elvis’ few “serious” films.  There were almost no songs in it, apart from the title track.  A song he sang to the Injuns round the campfire was dropped after it raised a round of laughter at a test screening.  The relative failure of Flaming Star against the much brighter, shinier, emptier, beatier, bigger and bouncier GI Blues released a few weeks earlier meant that Elvis stopped doing serious films.  (Note for pedants: Wild in the Country was already in production).

Being ten years old I didn't worry about all that.  All I knew was that I loved the songs and it was a shame the story got in the way.  Before long I was sitting there each Tuesday evening with a cassette machine and microphone, recording the songs.

At the age of 10 I became a fully fledged record buyer.  The first were all Elvis.  First single, first EP, first cheapo album, first proper album.     The first single was I Just Can’t Help Believing.  A schmaltzy ballad for sure but quality all the way.  Bought at Rumbelows in Wallasey, a white goods shop, selling fridges and washing machines. And Phonograms. And records. You could listen to the records in listening booths, basically sheets of hardboard full of holes with a speaker behind.  They used to get shirty if you asked to hear more than one record.  They didn't have much of a range either.

The first ep was actually a maxi single.  There were two released at the same time.  My mate bought one which featured Jailhouse Rock, Teddy Bear, Are You Lonesome Tonight and a stray called Steadfast, Loyal and True.   I bought the other which featured Heartbreak Hotel, Hound Dog and Don’t Be Cruel.  Heartbreak Hotel was classic and futuristic, far more progressive than the pop music of 1972.  All music from then on was measured against this yardstick. 

The first cheapo album was on RCA Camden called I Got Lucky. 
Never found a four leaf clover to bring good luck to me,
no rabbits foot, no lucky star, no magic wishing tree
but I got lucky (I got lucky)
yeah I got lucky (I got lucky)
when I found you. 

There were a whole series of Camden albums which had a (relatively) good lead track on each side followed by four or five clunkers.  And the first proper full price album, That’s The Way It Is. 

From Elvis I started to explore Rock n Roll.  The following season's BBC 2 teatime movies were Jerry Lewis films.  I watched the season waiting in vain for Great Balls of Fire.  Apparently that was another Jerry Lewis.

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