How many times can they repackage Elvis Presley’s recordings, and how many times will we buy them?
The answers, apparently, are infinitely. All it takes is a new theme, a new batch of artwork -- and sometimes a few alternate takes or a set of newly remastered recordings -- and it’s solid gold at the cash register.
Certainly there aren’t any fresh insights on the newest Presley reissue, “Elvis at the Movies" -- unless you’re new to him. It that case, everything on this double disc is kingly cool, right down to the cover art and poster of a slightly menacing Elvis holding a double-neck electric Gibson -- in the words of “King Creole" -- like a tommy gun.
He’s gone, gone, gone.
Elvis made a ton of bad movies. But almost all of them had the saving grace of a decent song or two.
The best ones turn up on this album: the hoodlum anthem “Jailhouse Rock," full of 1950s violence; “Return to Sender," with its totally irresistible beat, from the totally forgettable “Girls! Girls! Girls!" -- and the fabulous “Flaming Star," from the movie of the same name, which was one of The King’s finest waxings.
True, the new CD’s 40-song lineup isn’t as much fun as the alternative compilation of Elvis’ movie music but RCA/Sony isn’t likely to release that one. A bootleg production on Dog Vomit Records, it has a title not printable in a family newspaper. But it rhymes with Elvis’ Greatest Hits.
Among its offerings are “Ito Eats" (from 1961’s Blue Hawaii); “Fort Lauderdale Chamber of Commerce" (from 1965’s “Girl Happy"); and, steaming at the top of the heap, “Dominic the Impotent Bull" (from 1968’s “Stay Away Joe"). There are 37 tracks in all.
The point is, for every decent film song that Elvis did, he also recorded a genuine stinker.
And there are piles of mediocrity in between.
Some of this so-so material, sad to say, turns up on “Elvis at the Movies." For instance, great tunes like “Can’t Help Falling in Love" and “Follow that Dream" are succeeded by two limp dishrags from “It Happened at the World’s Fair" (“One Broken Heart of Sale" and “They Remind Me Too Much of You").
There are more and more of these potboilers and throwaways as the set goes on. The album, which is arranged chronologically, suggests that the longer Elvis made movies, the less he seemed to care about the soundtracks.
That makes for some tough sledding on parts of Disc 2. Schlock like “This is My Heaven" and “(Such an) Easy Question" make infrequent fare like the simple rockers “Little Egypt" and “Do the Clam" sound like masterpieces.
But all this carping is relative. This is Elvis. The King. He is beyond criticism.
So suffice it to say that bad movie soundtracks don’t get any better than this.