Elvis Presley. The King. It was actually a 1987 compilation of hits (and some weird choices too) that was my proper introduction to Elvis – so I’ve got a bit of a thing for the slightly weirder collections and the oddball albums. I love the hits. The classic concert performances. I love some of the almighty cheese from this godly ham. And I come and go with my Elvis appreciation. I never really feel like listening to him much these days – but I went in deep for a while.
So nowadays, I’m more interested in the things I’ve never heard, or the things that other people have never heard – and lots of the middling stuff from the 60s. The post-war, pre-Comeback Special years. The movie soundtracks particularly.
But this is really special I think. The story goes, some bootlegger known only as “Richard” thought it might be fun to pull together a bunch of outtakes and silly songs from the soundtracks and things and basically send up Elvis’ legacy. Sick and tired of the idea of him as this deity, “Richard” wanted to remind people – or point it out for the first time, perhaps – that there was a lot of shit.
Problem is, there’s almost nothing wrong with this at all. Especially if there’s something wrong with you.
My love of exotica compilations and camp sets of lounge-bar oddities and then sincere records by the likes of Harry Belafonte, Tom Jones, Elvis himself of course and many others – from impersonators offering parodies, to the real deals doing as best they can – has prepared me well for Elvis’ Greatest Shit.
It’s fast becoming one of my favourite Elvis Presley albums.
You’ll hear him sing Old MacDonald Had A Farm. You’ll hear a song about Yoga (“Yoga Is As Yoga Does”) and then you’ll hear live versions of songs that were huge in Elvis’ catalogue (Are You Lonesome Tonight?) and outtake versions of big songs (Can’t Help Falling In Love). It’s all designed to show you the other side – away from glitz, glamour and monster hits. These are, apparently, the mistakes.
But when someone’s as big as Elvis was (and/or is) you want to know about the mistakes. You want to hear the weirdness – for somewhere in there is the truth. A better version of it, and closer to actual facts, than the pantomime-pomp of manufactured sincerity.
Besides, when I first heard Elvis on record (obviously I knew all the Jailhouse Rock, Blue Suede hits from the radio and, well, everywhere) I was intrigued by the nonsense of Didja’ Ever and the naff-gooning of Wooden Heart. Those songs mean the most to me. Now, that’s not always been the case since, but they are the things I think about when I think about Elvis Presley. And his strange and complicated legacy. A big stuffed toy of a performer. But a peerless force for a while when on this earth.
Elvis’ Greatest Shit, to me, is a prank that backfires. Which I love so much about it. And I can happily listen to The Bullfighter Was A Lady or Song of The Shrimp or He’s Your Uncle, Not Your Dad just as much – or maybe more – than Suspicious Minds and In The Ghetto and A Little Less Conversation. (And yeah, I love all of those things too).