Madcity Music Sheet, March 21, 1980

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Get Happy!!

Twenty thoughts on twenty songs (Ten on each side)

James Bessman

1. Elvis' first album had the most audacious cover imaginable. Barely three months after Presley's death, here was this soon-to-be-famous gangly pigeon-toed stance, Buddy Holly glasses, and goofy grin, with "E-L-V-I-S-I-S-K-I-N-G" spelled out hundreds of times in the tiny checkerboard boxes.

2. Elvis' second album had him looking directly at whoever looked at the jacket, lining the viewer up to be shot by his Hasselblad camera. On the round red label on the disc itself, instead of the golden "C-O-L-U-M-B-I-A" in circles around the edge was, in the same lettering style, "C-O-S-T-E-L-L-O."

3. Elvis' third album had a painting of charging elephants on the front cover. The first batch of albums contained the special Live at Hollywood High limited edition EP, which ensured that much of them would be snapped up quickly.

4. Elvis' fourth album, with its garish colors, bold lettering, and lively photoart, looks like a late '50s / early '60s rock 'n' roll album jacket. It also has 20 songs, 10 on each side, thus continuing this singular tradition of always coming up with something odd for each new Elvis release.

5. Sides One and Two on the jacket are reversed on the round disc labels, so it's impossible to know where to begin listening if you care about starting out with Side One (as I do). Permit me, then, to suggest beginning with Side One on the label (Side Two on the jacket) — the side which starts with "Love for Tender."

6. Actually, it doesn't really matter which side you play first, as each side can be listened to as a complete and separate album in itself. Thus we have here two albums on one disc (not a two-record set) for the price of one, another first in the unique Elvis marketing strategy.

7. And what better name for the new album by rock's last angry man than Get Happy!!!

8. As the title suggests, Get Happy!! is an upbeat album and has the exhilarating pop feel of most of the first Elvis album together with production throwbacks to the second and third albums.

9. As for "our friend" Producer Nick Lowe (who signs his cute little note to us on the back cover that way), the record should still the criticism leveled at him from many who felt he overdid it, to put it mildly, on Elvis' third album. Though some tunes retain the heavy keyboard orchestration so prominent on much of the preceding work, each tune stands alone as a brilliant piece of pop craftsmanship. Besides, with 10 songs on a side (the longest being 3:30, with most clocking in at under 2:30), there just isn't enough time or space for extravagant instrumentation.

10. Future Linda Ronstadt songs might be: "Motel Matches," "Riot Act," "Love for Tender," "Secondary Modern." As for the three Elvis songs she has included in her new album, "Talking in the Dark" (a B-side on the British "Accidents Will Happen" single) actually sounds much better than Elvis' version, though she doesn't fade out with "Without you I miss fucking in the dark" the way Elvis does in his charming way. "Girls Talk," which she picked up from Dave Edmunds' last album, is also beautifully sung. I haven't heard "Party Girl" yet, but it sounds like a perfect vehicle for her.

11. "Girls Talk" is also the B-side of Elvis' current British single, Sam & Dave's "I Can't Stand Up for Falling Down," which is the first cut on jacket-Side One. Elvis' version is murky in tone; most interesting but not sweetly melodic as in the Edmunds and Ronstadt versions.

12. As with all of Elvis' albums, the words are next to indecipherable the first couple hearings. But then, with each successive playing, the lyrics become more and more clear as another layer of veneer is stripped away with recognition, to the point where, when playing the album for friends, you get pissed as hell when they complain that they can't hear what he's singing.

13. "Motel Matches": "Falling for you without a second look / Falling out of your open pocketbook/ Giving you away like motel matches." A slow ballad that somewhat resembles "Little Triggers," "Motel Matches" is breathtakingly beautiful, very difficult to sing yet sung spectacularly from the heart.

14. "Temptation": Hats off here to Booker T & the MG's, as this one sounds a lot like "Green Onions." The song moves forward fluidly on Steve Naive's organ line, climaxing with the same suspended ending found on "Hand in Hand."

15. "Secondary Modern": "This is the hand that you never shook / You never gave me the chance that I took / Secondary modern / Well there won't be a problem till the girls go home." Another stunning vocal performance, this time on top of an exquisitely understated bass-heavy arrangement. Elvis' almost-gently straightforward vocal rises in the last verse, topping off in the sweetest falsetto this side of Smokey Robinson.

16. "New Amsterdam": "New Amsterdam it's become much too much / Till I have the possession of everything she touches / Till I step on the brake to get out of her clutches / Till I speak double Dutch to a real double duchess." This is the most heavily produced track, with deep cello tones and woodwinds, and an organ right out of "Whiter Shade of Pale." The net effect is one of darkness and gloom, but with a timeless quality that is mesmerizing.

17. "The Human Touch": Merrily he rolls along up Pete Thomas' crackling ska drum rhythms.

18. The remaining songs, like the favorites above, vary in sex, race, color and creed. However, they do lack the previous albums' personal and political angry intensity, and instead overflow in lyrical and melodic cleverness.

19. Gone, though perhaps for good, is the extraordinary bitterness of the entire second album and parts of the first and third. It seems that by now Elvis has indeed gained his revenge upon his many tormentors, and has bitten the hands that fed him so successfully that he is no longer obsessed by the need to bite. And yes, all miss — all who are still angry — that raw, aching, razor-blade of a voice that helped them get even with their own personal Radio-Radio's. But, as Elvis found out in the nick of time, one can only go so far with an extreme viewpoint before running out of fresh things to say about it.

20. Don't get me wrong. Get Happy!! is not happy, but it's not sad either. It's state-of-the-art pop music, and it's without doubt as gripping as anything Elvis has released in his phenomenal output over the past two and one-half years.


Madcity Music Guide, March 21 - April 3, 1980

James Bessman reviews Get Happy!!.


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1980-03-21 Madcity Music Sheet cover.jpg

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Page scans.

Cover illustration by Parnell Nelson.
1980-03-21 Madcity Music Sheet illustration.jpg


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