Saturday, June 10, 2023

Review P.J. Proby Presley Style

The German Bear Family record label released various compilations that cover the songs that inspired Elvis Presley, for example in their ‘The Elvis Presley Connection’ series. Recently the label released ‘P.J. Proby Presley Style - Lost Songwriter Demos 1961 - 1963’, a compilation of demo recordings made by Proby before he had his breakthrough. 
Proby said, “I had a couple of the demos in my possession and had been looking for more, as I had recorded so many. When they came with all the ones they had found and offered them back to me, I said, ‘Wonderful! Wonderful!’. 

I cherish them as a fond memory of songwriters Ben Weisman and Ruth Batchelor and the days we recorded the demos because we were so close. I want to share them with the world, as they are such an important piece of history”.

Some of these recordings literally inspired Elvis, and now, after almost 60 years, we can listen to them. Reason enough to listen to this CD. 

The CD comes housed in a digipack with an insightful 34-page illustrated booklet. The liner notes by well-known Elvis fan, author and radio host Trevor Simpson - who wrote the books  ‘The Best Of British - The HMV Years’ and ‘Songs of Praise’ for the Follow That Dream collectors label - are thoroughly researched and well written. 
Interesting to learn that, having to make a living, some big names like Otis Blackwell and even members of Elvis’ TCB Band like James Burton, Glenn D. Hardin and Ronnie Tutt can be heard on demo recordings for songs Ben Weisman submitted to Colonel Parker and Freddy Bienstock, Hill and Range’s song finder executive.  

Have a look:

In the booklet Simpson also covers each demo on this disc in detail and where they fitted into the specific movies, adding extra insight, although I don’t always agree with his appreciation of the songs themselves. Here is my appreciation of the songs presented on this demo-compilation.
For starters, I must say that P.J. Proby did was he was hired to do, make sure that these demo’s sounded like Elvis to increase the chance that they would be selected as one of the 10 to 12 songs selected from a stack of 300 submissions for just 1 movie. 17 of the 21 tracks on this compilation are Wayne - Weisman compositions, three by Ruth Batchelor and Bob Roberts and 1 by other songwriters. The liner notes learn us that there should be around 5 other Proby Elvis demo’s, but they have not yet been found. 

 The CD opens with 'Cotton Candy Land' (submitted for 'It Happened at the World's Fair'), a strong opener, and Elvis followed Proby's lead very much. The song even made Luhrmann’s 2022 ‘ELVIS’ movie. ‘Take Me to the Fair' (submitted for the same movie) is a completely different song, jumpy in a sixties style. It is too up-tempo for the scene in the movie where Mike Edwards and Sue-Lin travel in the back of the truck. Eventually a different song with the same title was used. This song would be suitable for a nightclub or beach scene.
Weisman’s ‘Fun In Acapulco’ made it into the movie as the title track. Here we have a version performed a bit slower than the one Elvis recorded. But still very recognizable. 
Up next are some songs that did not make it into the 'Fun in Acapulco' movie. For ‘Me and Mi Amigo’ I can easily understand why, it kind of drags along. ‘Margarita’ on the other hand sounds like a girl with some energy, I actually prefer this one over the composition by Don Robertson as used in the ‘Acapulco’ movie as it would have been a better song to entertain the crowd in the scene. Perhaps this song would have gotten them out of their seats!
'Til Love Comes To You' isn't such a bad composition, it would fit in nicely in any Hawaiian movie Elvis did. For some reason the officials though ‘(There’s) No Room To Rumble In A Sportscar’ was a better song for the movie … 'Which Way Do I Turn' sounds like it is taken straight from a comedy capers scene in the movie, as you hear both a singer and another voice - do I hear Speedy Gonzalez? - playing a scene. This kind of material is not suited for our man.
'Slowly But Surely' is a great song, and you hear the quality of it in this demo too. Perhaps trying to fit in with the new music from the U.K., It sounds like it is part of what became known as ‘the British invasion’. Elvis version is a better recorded and performed song, but very nice to hear this original, it is easy to understand why this made the shortlist (as a bonus song for the soundtrack), but hard to understand that it was eventually skipped and used for the movie ‘Tickle Me’ as part of a cost-cutting-operation because the movie company was in trouble.
‘It's Carnival Time' (submitted for 'Roustabout') shows that some demos are just terrible, listen to that annoying organ! It is hard to understand that this one was picked from the several songs submitted by Weisman for ‘Roustabout’ and even being used twice in the movie! A quick fast forward for me. 

Several other Weisman compositions didn't make the 'Roustabout' movie either. 'Happy Go Lucky Me' is something Elvis probably could have worked with as it is upbeat enough. But it wasn’t selected, probably as it did not distinguish itself enough. It could have made any Elvis movie when the boy gets the girl. 
'Carnival of Dreams' is a 13 in a dozen song ... forgettable. Next! And that is ‘I’ll Keep Your Secret', it has a touch of blues, and would it have been recorded like that it may not have sounded that bad at all. This is a composition Elvis could have worked with adding an emotional layer to the composition. Too bad it did not make it into a movie, perhaps the scene it was written for ended on the floor of the cutting room.   
Where 'Happy Go Lucky Me' would have fit in pretty much any movie, so does 'Everything I Need', at the same spots actually, as the theme of the songs is the same. 'The Greatest Show' somehow reminds me of 'Follow that Dream' as it deal with the performance you have to make on the Greatest Show called life. 
'A Fool To Wonder' is one of the better sounding tracks and actually a nice song that Elvis probably would have sounded better if Elvis had done his magic this composition. Simpson noted that there was no evidence available that this song was submitted for a movie, it was probably intended for Elvis' May 1963 recording session in Nashville. Probably submitted for the same session was 
'Come And Get It'. This one sounds like it's part of that British invasion too. It has a "small hint of the Stones" with that guitar lick in the back and the "Yeah’s". That said, it isn't close to the quality songs from the British rockers. 
I could not find the fast forward button 'Where is Pappy' (submitted for 'Kissin' Cousins') fast enough, especially the howling dog sound is terrible. I'm actually glad this song did not make it to any movie. 
The 'Snap To' song isn't special. It was submitted for the same movie as the previous song, but with that marching beat it would have fitted into the 'G.I. Blues' soundtrack too. Perhaps the composers found some of their inspiration there.
'Whatta They Know' (also for 'Kissin' Cousins') opens promising but unfortunately it tinkers off into nothing. Followed by 'In My Dreams', in part written by Proby, is the kind of song for early in one of Elvis' movies where the boy is still dreaming about the girl he likes. You do hear this song was written with Elvis in mind as I seem to recognize some of the vocal trick Elvis could have done with his voice. According to the booklet Elvis heard it and liked it, but due to the way his sidemen Esposito wanted to handle the copyrights, Elvis did not record it. Ricky nelson did, with James Burton playing the guitar.  
The CD ends with 'Because of Love' as a bonus song. Listening to this simple version I would not have picked this song, but I'm glad Elvis and his team did, as he recorded a nice version for 'Girls! Girls! Girls!’. This illustrates what he could add to a song. 
The quality of the audio on this set varies a bit. The liner notes suggest that they came from vintage metal acetates, but I doubt that as I seem to hear a tape-error on one of the songs. So some of them may have been taped somewhere during the last 60 years. Bear Family remastered them all, so this is the best material available. But for Elvis and movie fans that shouldn't be a real problem, as most of them will listen to these recordings as study material. 
I usually prefer the original - as in Elvis’ - recording of a song, so I never did pay that much attention to other people singing “his” songs before or after he did. We usually find the type of demo recordings we get on this compilation as bonus material on bootleg releases, like the recent 'Come What May' (Millbranch label), but also on FTD's 'The Making of Viva Las Vegas'. 
This CD is an interesting release for both Elvis and movie fans as it gives a nice insight into how the music for Elvis' movies came about. It also learns us how Elvis would learn and process new material presented to him. He listened closely to the demo's getting to know the song, often following the lead vocal when he laid down his vocals on tape. 

It does help that the songs presented on this disc were written with him in mind and sung by a professional making sure it sounded like Elvis could have recorded it.
I must compliment P.J. Proby, an artist in his own right, on how he professionally recorded these songs for the songwriters. "Making it sound like Elvis" as we learned from Simpson's liner notes, helped to 
take the first hurdle - Colonel Parker and Freddy Bienstock - in trying to get Elvis to record your tune. 

I for one am glad Bear Family took the time to create a complete overview which helps us to further understand and build our knowledge of Elvis movie music library. It fills a gap for collectors in the history of Elvis movie music and completes previous releases like Don Robertson’s ‘And Then I Wrote - Songs For Elvis’ and  ‘Glen Campbell Sings For the King’ from a few years back. 
For more information on this CD and previews, visit the >>> Bear Family website