In Case You've Been Wondering . .
Here we go again...
It's been a year now since the last issue of On The Beat. As too often happens, I lost all control of my time and let 1979 slip by without OT8 #4. To those of you who've been waiting - sorry for the delay. To those of you who've forgotten - surprise. Let's get on with it.
So, what's happened? Well, for starters, Elvis made his first appearance on the big screen in a terribly un-funny movie called Americathon. That was after he made another amazing sweep through the U.S. between February and April. Of course, there was the highly publicized fight with Bonnie Bramlett in which he slagged off all Americans in general and Ray Charles in particular. This led to an unprecedented press conference in New York. There, Elvis said that his comments were made just to annoy Bramlett. He wasn't a racist at all, he said. The button on his lapel which read "Desire Me" told the whole story.
You might also remember that this happened at the worst time possible. Armed Forces had just hit the Top 10 in Billboard and the single had just been released. The crucial point had been reached; long time fans had pushed the LP to that point, now it was time for Columbia to do its part with good promotion. But, with the "blind nigger" comments now big news (even PEOPLE mag did a 2-page layout on it), CBS made it official, albeit unstated, policy to let Elvis die a quick death and take the heat off the record company... high ranking source within Columbia said later that "the big guys were very upset", and weren't willing to weather the storm of bad press that would accompany bigger sales. No further singles were released (Accidents peaked at 104) and the album quickly vanished from the charts and playlists. There was even talk within the company of dumping him from the label.
All of this was ridiculous. Elvis never was and isn't a racist. The year before his remarks about Ray Charles, he'd headlined a Rock Against Racism show in London. He was drunk, plain and simple. That's not an excuse - just the fact. He put his foot in his mouth and paid the price for it.
Elvis, though, can not be totally left without any blame for lack of publicity and sales. He was offered cover stories by both Newsweek and Rolling Stone, but turned them down. If he wants to continue his policy of granting no interviews, that's fine. But with that choice must come the realization that the road is going to be tougher. You don't have to follow all the rules, but you do have to play the game to win.
Which doesn't mean that I'm on a soapbox telling him what to do or that I'm just bitching about Columbia Records. I just get frustrated when, each time it seems that he's so close to breaking through, someone throws another log in his way.
But, that's off the track, which is (in case you've forgotten) sorting out the past year. Much of the rest of 1979 was spent touring Europe and Scandinavia. During all that, he did take time out to produce two albums. The first, for The Specials, was released towards the end of the year. It's a frantic, high-speed tour through the new ska revival. But, more than a mere revival, it is a new sound all its own, the best synthesis of black and white music ever put to vinyl. (Take notice Ms. Bramlett) Elvis' production is almost unnoticeable, which for this album, is the highest complement possible.
E.C. spent some more time at the board producing an as-yet unreleased LP by THE ATTRACTIONS. It was scheduled for October or November 1979, but as that coincided with the legal problems with RADAR Records, it never came out. Hopefully it will be released after GET HAPPY!! cools off. Look for a great Steve Naive composition called "Sad About Girls."
As long as we're talking about RADAR, it's probably a good time to mention the demise (almost) of that label. Toward the end of '79, as it [looked] like Radar was ready to go under, Jake Riviera gathered up Elvis and Nick Lowe and went shopping for another label. Warner Bros. (WEA) the parent company of Radar screamed foul and claimed it had the exclusive rights to Elvis and Nick. Riviera Global, undaunted by WEA's protests, went ahead anyway and pressed up 500 copies of "I Can't Stand Up For Falling Down" on 2-TONE records (the SPECIALS' label) and distributed them to radio and press people in the UK. WEA sought an injunction against it and it looked like Elvis would be caught up in the same type of situation that kept Bruce Springsteen from recording for 2 years. But, about a month ago, an agreement was reached whereby Jake, along with ex-Radar president Andrew Lauder, would run F-BEAT records, a subsidiary of WEA.
That settled, the single was released on February 8 and the LP on the 15th. But I'm getting ahead of myself. There were other things that happened. There was the duet of Stranger In The House with George Jones, released on the LP My Very Special Guests. The cover featured director's chairs with everyone's name on the back, with Elvis' lying knocked-over on the floor. Aha! Incidentally, Elvis never actually sang with George; he went in and recorded his part and George added his half later on.
Back in England, Elvis played his first support gig in almost 3 years when he was billed second to Paul McCartney and Wings in a benefit concert for the Kampuchean (Cambodian) Refugees. All reports coming back said that he both upstaged the act before him, Rockpile, and totally blew Wings away. Later in the month, at a private show for contest winners, E.C. quipped about Paul's "Incident in Tokyo" and dedicated Accidents Will Happen to him.
To Jump to yet another totally unrelated topic, 1979 saw a few more of Elvis' songs turn up on other groups' albums. Perhaps the most bizarre ofthese is the latest LP by the Outlaws, "In The Eye Of The Storm," on which they bludgeon Miracle Man in their standard three-guitar fashion. On the upswing, however, Dave Edmunds turned in an admirable cover of "Girls Talk." My only complaint is that his version is too long. Carlene Carter's version of Radio Sweetheart, despite flubbing the lyrics (and we all know how easy that is to do...) is a nice bouncy arrangement of one of El's bounciest songs so I can't complain and neither should you. There is also one apocryphal song on the new album by The Searchers. The song is called "No Dancing" and is credited to Plangent Visions Music, but bears no relation to the original "No Dancing " The writer is listed as Noel Brown.
El will find the biggest royalty check in his mailbox, though, from the new Linda Ronstadt LP Mad Love. On it, she does "Party Girl," "Girls Talk" and "Talking in the Dark." If she keeps this up, he'll never have to record another song in his life. Just package up the latest and send it off to her care of Jerry Brown. Look what it did for Karla Bonoff!
Change channels. BOOTLEGS, When it comes to bootlegs of Elvis, the operant word is CAUTION. All too often, the same show is repackaged and pandered as being new material. As an example, the show he did at the El Macombo in 1977 has been issued under 5 different titles, one even claiming to be from the '79 tour. If you are looking for a boot of the 79 tour, the only one I've seen is called Big Opportunity. It's a show from February recorded in Seattle, recorded from the audience and pressed on a sickly red, white & blue vinyl.
Two more boots, 7" 45s, done by a fan (instead of the usual profiteers) had the right idea and the heart in the right place, but the pressing quality leaves much to be desired. The first, CORNERED ON PLASTIC, has 4 unreleased songs: Wave A White Flag, Cheap Reward, Hoover Factory and Really Mystified. The packaging is great, but the pressing, done on poor quality red vinyl, is nearly unlistenable. The other record, from the same source, sounds worlds better, but it still isn't up to snuff. It has alternate takes of Stranger In the House and I Just Don't Know What To Do With Myself done for the John Peel radio show in London, backed with a live Hank Williams medley of Honky Tonk Blues and Honky Tonkin' recorded in Tulsa on the 1978 tour.
I hear that the guy who put these packages together is planning on putting out a six-track EP of early demos, including "Jump Up" and "Poison Moon." This time, he is going to a different company to get it pressed, so hopefully it will sound better.
Your best bet for live recordings of Elvis (or any group for that matter) is through the trading of TAPES. It's much closer to being legal and you're much more sure of what you're getting. And, Elvis won't beat down your door, demanding your payments.
Speaking of Elvis (smooth transition there), he's apparently gone the full route in his transformation from snarling misogynist to a reg'lar nice guy. He spent much of the time at his last London gig, joking with the audience, even mingling with them afterwards, chatting and signing autographs. Over the summer, he appeared, unexpected, at a Yachts concert on, of all things, a boat on the Mersey River. Afterwards, he joked with the press and flashed his gapped pearly whites whenever asked for an autograph or to pose for a snapshot. Another role? Just another phase? For a little insight from the horse's mouth, listen to "TheImposter."
So it has been a year. An important year for Elvis in which he sorted out a number of important and major problems in his life. For most other artists, that would have been an impossible year to come out of intact. Yet, Elvis has emerged even stronger, more complete than if he hadn't gone through it all. Because, as cool as he played if for the past three, it was inevitable that things would come to a head eventually. That he's made it out of the mess is just another indicator of his drive and dedication to his music.
That's it. The rave's over.
Now get happy!!
The following pages are the net result of many hours spent by myself and Jack Wolak listening to and then relistening to ad infinitum the new LP GET HAPPY!! I'd withstand Chinese bamboo torture to vouch for the correctness of 95% of these lyrics. As for the other 5%, they are the best we could come up with. This is presented as a service to Elvis' fans to help them better understand the songs. I'll leave the editorializing to NME, Rolling Stone and the rest. Let us know of any errors you find.
Once again, thanks to Jack Wolak for the help. (Lyrics omitted here.)
The Family Album
Shades of the Sinatra clan! Elvis doesn't come by his musical talents by sheer luck. At the left is a picture of his father, ROSS MacMANUS, a singer in his own right. Ross spends the better part of every week travelling the cabaret and club circuit in England and Scotland.
Ross doesn't do much recording now, but one of his 45's,PATSY GIRL, was a big hit in Germany.
Some comments from Ross: "I think El's a genius, really. Your I son is always your son, but you don't ever think they'll do something fantactic and then suddenly they do. I'm amazed."
"Show business is a drag really. I don't think I ever recovered from Sammy Davis Jr. hugging Nixon on TV."
"I love it when young girls come to me in the club and ask for my autograph. As I'm signing, they say, 'you are Elvis Costello's father, aren't you?'"
Ah yes, the little twinkle in his family's eye! Young Declan Patrick MacManus sups with his friends at his sixth birthday celebration. El is the one with the white shirt and dark tie in the back.
Incidentally, according to Ross, (and who should know better?), young Dec was named after Declan Flynn, a schoolmate of El's grandfather, Patrick MacManus. Flynn later went on to become a famous Jesuit priest in England.
For all you trivia buffs, El came screaming into the world on August 25, 1955.
Well, back to the party.
Who stole my ice cream?