Frankie And Johnny ( FTD / BMG )

And so it goes, BMG's Roger Semon and Ernst Jorgensen continue their expansion of the Follow That Dream release schedule to include deluxe reissues of more deleted soundtrack recordings. Although this music can no longer be justified as viable product at normal retail outlets, through Follow That Dream anyone can obtain the material on CD.

Housed in handsome, double fold out, 7" sleeves with full color information booklets, a "retro" design and more than a dozen outtakes each, these gorgeous packages are a real treat for the hardcore Elvis fanatic. The fidelity throughout is also remarkably clean. There's an old song about finding "where the sands turnin' into gold" - and that is exactly what these "bonus" Follow That Dream soundtrack discs achieve.

"Frankie And Johnny" sports a mixed bag of Dixieland-influenced tracks for Elvis' twentieth motion picture, a remake of a film from the late 1930s. However, after the debacle that was his previous effort, "Harum Scarum," his second 1965 project is almost worthy of attention. Almost. None of the songs completely embarrass the man, but nor do they add a thing to his legacy as a great American artist.

This is Elvis' second studio session of the year, held May 12 to 19.Sadly, every such visit is exclusively for the Hollywood factory. Presley is firmly on the assembly line, with no evident interest in applying his talent to the quality of songs blasting out of pop radio that month, like the Four Tops "I Can't Help Myself," "Back In My Arms Again" by the Supremes, or "Ticket To Ride" from the Beatles. The pop landscape has changed, and submissions for "Frankie And Johnny" are miles away from rock and roll.

That spring Elvis began checking out the Self-Realization Fellowship in Pacific Palisades, and its spiritual leader Daya Mata. Hollywood isn't the answer, and discussions Elvis has with her -- she reminds him of his mother-- offer a serenity he's not before experienced. This new outlook carries over to the filming of "Frankie And Johnny," as Elvis has an intellectual affair with co-star Donna Douglas, exchanging ideas and opinions about the Self-Realization fellowship and religion instead of dating. It may well explain his lack of engagement with the music.

As is a habit in the past year or so, Elvis skips out on some of the scheduled recording dates, forcing the musicians to cut instrumental versions of several songs. When in the studio, either live with the band or on vocal overdubs, Elvis gives a solid effort on songs even as wretched as "Petunia The Gardener's Daughter." Elvis cuts a medley of "Down By The Riverside" and "When The Saints Go Marching In" -- oddly credited to songwriters Giant, Baum and Kaye -- which he first sang at Sun Studios as part of the famed "Million Dollar Quartet" jam session. With a single example, one can track the path from passion and verve to stock emotion in less than a decade. In the end, only Joy Byers' pretty ballad "Please Don't Stop Loving Me" is worthy of additional attention, although the great team of Pomus and Shuman nearly come up with a winner in "What Every Woman Lives For."

Most all of the soundtrack session outtakes have snuck out on "imports," and those here depict the same dull, workmanlike effort on everyone's part. Of the bunch, the "Movie version" of the title track, sourced from a previously-unknown mono acetate, is a surprise. Across seven minutes, the acetate captures the true flavor of an authentic Hollywood musical, something the official album fails to do.

Another feather in FTD co-producer/art director Roger Semon's cap is the discovery of the unretouched cover shot of the original LP. Used for the deluxe booklet here, someone -- likely the "colonel" -- found Presley's face looking too chubby and opted to paste a head shot from 1964's "Girl Happy" on top of it! And poor Donna Douglas got airbrushed out as well. No amount of cover-up can mask the fact that Elvis got worse before he found his way home again, but "Frankie And Johnny" should never have been an assignment for the man from Tennessee. Shout it out!

[Johnny Savage, USA]