Girl Happy (Follow That Dream/BMG)

Thanks to another clever move from BMG's Roger Semon and Ernst Jorgensen, Elvis Presley's collector's label is now expanding its normal release schedule to include deluxe reissues of Elvis' 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 hard core Elvis fanatic. The fidelity throughout is also remarkably clean, although a careful ear will note the eleven masters prepared for the FTD edition of "Girl Happy" seem more "echo-laden." There's an old song about finding "where the sands turnin' into gold" - and that is exactly what these "bonus" Follow That Dream discs achieve.

"Girl Happy" was Presley's initial motion picture for 1965, continuing the "filmed travelogue" with soundtrack album, assembly-line aspect of his career. Coming in the midst of a huge upheaval in pop music led by the Beatles, the atrocious "Do The Clam" single bombed, while the film and album did only slightly better. The machine was beginning to grind to a halt.

The music was recorded in June 1964, and almost all of it is absolutely pedestrian. From the aforementioned horrors of "Do The Clam" to unmitigated crap like "Wolf Call" and "Fort Lauderdale Chamber Of Commerce," this was a sorry group of tunes. The material was again weakened at the session by MGM's requirement that the songs be taped "dry," depriving the result of any natural room ambiance.

Elvis does the best he can on items like the pleasant -- and ironic -- ballad "Puppet On A String," but with most of the others he's hardly present, a stark contrast to the commanding manner of his finest recordings. A revealing bonus track on the CD has engineer Dave Weichman suggesting that "Spring Fever" might be improved if Elvis perked up: "It should be a little happier, too, you're thinking of other things." Perhaps Elvis was recalling some of the great material burning up the national charts that week, like Dionne Warwick's "Walk On By," "I Get Around" by the Beach Boys or Mary Wells' classic "My Guy."

On another bonus outtake, the listener hears events come to a head after an aborted 24th take of "Do Not Disturb," as the song's odd construction overwhelms the singer. "That is undoubtedly the weirdest goddamn chord change, I think ... I've ever tangled with in my life," complains Elvis. "I'll beat the (slurred expletive) even if it takes ninety-four years of hard labor, come back at the end of the picture and record it for hours," he vows. "You want to take it from the top or pick it up El? The first was okay," encourages engineer Weichman. "It was okay, I don't like okay," Presley laments. Defeated and embarrassed, Elvis quickly ditched the remainder of the session, doing vocal overdubs alone on the rest of the songs several days later.

The sole bonus track added to the original 1965 LP, "You'll Be Gone," is a number actually co-written by Presley and friends Red West and Charlie Hodge. Taped at a March 1962 album session, it's a seductive little bossa-nova ballad and perhaps the best offering on the FTD reissue as well. Unusually, we receive an uncredited alternate take four, recently released on FTD's Long Lonely Highway, rather than the album's original master take three.

Undoubtedly due to someone's lamebrain idea of making Presley sound more "British Invasion"-friendly, the original master of "Girl Happy" was sped up about 7.8%. However, in the bonus section, this Doc Pomus and Norman Meade title track is restored to proper speed and -- surprise -- it's an improvement. Although not a great song, it's cute enough to draw a smile.

This is hardly the best work of Elvis Presley's career, but providing unavailable material is what "Follow That Dream" is all about. That these particular recordings are wrapped in a delightful, unique package is a brilliant idea -- even a Presley soundtrack cynic will find good reason to pick up a copy.

[Johnny Savage, USA]