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Elvis Presley’s “G.I. Blues” Reviewed

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His 11th album, G.I. Blues,  was  the  first  to clearly position  Elvis Presley as a matinee idol and therefore the first clearly Elvis Presley new era movie soundtrack. A scant 20 minutes of songs from the hugely successful movie, plus two other songs, including a rerecording of “Blue Suede Shoes” taken a touch cooler than the original but none the worst for that.

At the time of its release G.I Blues, the sight of Elvis singing to puppets, was considered the final emasculation of the satyr teen God of Love, the end of the line for rock and roll as teen rebellion. But some 45 years later neither the movie nor the soundtrack play out the same way. While it is true that by the middle of the 1960s, Presley was a wooden hearted shell of himself, appearing in poorly written and poorly executed “Z Flicks” with very bad songs, “G.I. Blues” is an “A rated” “B movie” -a slight but charming story of G.I. Tulsa days before he is due to leave the army and a bet as to whether he can spend the night with a dancer. Juliet Prowse as the dancer is fine and Tulsa is smart, sexy and still one of the guys. It plays off his bio with sterling results, sold a million and the album was a hit as well.

As for the songs? This is the crew that would sustain Presley for the next eight years. Composer  Ben Weisman is responsible for “Wooden Heart” and an additional 56 songs before it would be over, Fred Wise, who wrote “A – You’re Adorable” is here, working with Weisman on “Pocketful Of Rainbows”. Sid Wayne would write “It’s Impossible” for Perry Como, here he writes the faux rocker “Frankfort Special” with Sherman Edwards, the composer of the Broadway hit “1776”, Sid Tepper a name you certainly recognize if you have been following these reviews,  co-wrote the title track.

The concept is a full world of Presley, rock and roll but done as an Army march, ballads, two children’s songs (don’t forget “Big Boots”), with a full rock band (not a pop band -though that would come later) including DJ Fontana and Scotty Moore, recorded over three days in 1960. When compared to just about everything that had come before, the album plays out as a fall to earth, but with the help of time it doesn’t sound that way now. As Barry Holdship recently noted, Presley sang everything with complete conviction and this is certainty why  fairly good songs,  becomes a  a masterpiece of pop rock. A dreamy come on, a pop salvo, good humored, mainstream pop smash.

Elvis sings with absolute assuredness, he nails em exactly right, never overstating the case, never overplaying his hand. Like his performance in the movie it  takes the role for what it is and doesn’t put stuff in it that doesn’t belong there, it looks, acts and performs like a great American icon, so much bigger than life he can let the role play itself. The other day I was watching “Kissing Cousins” and trust me cowboy, nothing in 1960  is close to the horrors of “One Boy, Two Little Girls”.

Whatever you might think of what comes next, “G.I. Blues” was a triumph of content.

Grade: A



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