Last week I wrote about “bad boys” in film, and Elvis Presley’s name had cropped up. Now I have always been an Elvis fan, and am proud to admit it, so it seems disloyal to call him a bad boy when we all know he had impeccable southern manners and respected his elders. There is no denying however that he caused a furore in the middle-class homes of America when he started appearing on television in the mid 1950s. So much so that he could only be filmed from the waist up, his pelvic rotations proving too animalistic and vulgar for viewers to handle! It seems laughable now but a letter from the Catholic church was sent to FBI director J Edgar Hoover warning him that “Presley is a definite danger to the security of the United States – His actions and motions were such as to rouse the sexual passions of teenaged youth”. So you see where I am coming from when I say that he was branded a “bad boy”.
It makes me really sad now to think that many people only remember Elvis as the bloated, jumpsuited, cabaret singer who forgot the words to his songs and rambled incoherently during a performance (a lot to do with the sheer number of pretty appalling Elvis impersonators out there). I fortunately, have chosen to erase those Elvis images from my mind and remember mainly those great films from the ’60s, derided by the critics but loved by his fans. If you were a 10-year-old girl living in cold and windy Scotland, to watch an Elvis film set in Hawaii, was joy personified. My dad and I were great fans of musicals and during the long winter months when there was no gardening or outdoor chores to be done, we spent many a Sunday afternoon watching Fred Astaire, Gene Kelly and of course Elvis, sing and dance their way across our television screens.
And so it came to pass, that the first album I ever bought was an Elvis one. I am highly sceptical of those people whose supposed first purchase was something really cool like Pink Floyd. It is much more plausible that like me, their first purchase was something bought as a child with Christmas or birthday money from a relative, whilst accompanied by a parent. I remember that back in the late ’60s/early ’70s, the best place to buy records was Boots the Chemist’s music department (sounds strange I know but true) and the 10/- (ten shilling) postal order given to me as a present by an aunt was converted to pre-decimalisation cash and then used to buy “Elvis Sings Flaming Star” which was a compilation album released in 1969. An unlikely choice considering he had so many great film soundtrack albums to his name, but I am pretty sure the main reason was that it was a new release based on the success of the ’68 Comeback Special and was on sale for the special price of 9/6 (nine shillings and sixpence) so fitted my budget. I was happy however as the album was full of great Elvis songs including Flaming Star, the title track to the 1960 film of the same name.
Flaming Star by Elvis Presley:
I am pretty sure I had watched that film at some point with my dad, but it was one in which Elvis had a straight acting role with no songs. He desperately wanted to be taken seriously as an actor and turned in one of his best performances to date. Sadly, due to poor box office success compared to his previous films, where he always had a singing role, he was persuaded by his mentor and manager “Colonel” Tom Parker to return to the former. I wonder now how things would have turned out if he had been allowed to carry on with straight acting roles. It is often cited that his Hollywood years were his unhappiest – He knew the films received little or no critical acclaim but he was heavily controlled by those around him whose livelihood depended on them continuing. Generous to a fault, he did what was expected of him, and that hastened the start of his decline, as his dependence on prescription drugs ramped up a gear to cope with the relentless lifestyle.
Since buying my new turntable I have revisited the album but have just worked out today, when listening to the song again in the clip, that the key change I always thought happened half way through, must have been a scratch on the record causing the needle to jump. Only took me 45 years!
Flaming Star Lyrics
(Song by Sid Wayne/Sherman Edwards)
Ev’ry man, has a flaming star
A flaming star, over his shoulder
And when a man, sees his flaming star
He knows his time, his time has come
Flaming star, don’t shine on me, flaming star
Flaming star, keep behind me, flaming star
There’s a lot of livin’ I’ve got to do
Give me time to make a few dreams come true
When I ride, I feel that flaming star
That flaming star, over my shoulder
And so I ride, front of that flaming star
Never lookin’ around, never lookin’ around
One fine day, I’ll see that flaming star
That flaming star, over my shoulder
And when I see, that old flaming star
I’ll know my time, my time has come
After doing a little more digging it is all starting to make a bit more sense. We didn’t actually get to see the now legendary ’68 Comeback Special on television in the UK until about a year and a half later. I could only have been about 9 or 10 when it aired but I still remember that evening clearly. I had been sent down to our local village shop which opened late on a Friday – All the ladies at the tills were really excited about going home to watch Elvis later on that evening and were asking all the customers if they would be tuning in. I must have mentioned this to my family when I got home and thankfully we did watch this piece of television history. Elvis was clad in black leather, was looking good, singing well and turned in an amazing performance as only he could. He resurrected his career after years of being holed up in Hollywood churning out lacklustre movies and dubious soundtrack albums.
The sponsor of the NBC television special was the Singer Sewing Machine Company (yes really) and the company had put together an album called “Singer Presents Elvis Singing Flaming Star and Others” (all very confusing) as a promotional tie-in for retail outlets that sold their machines. In March 1969, after the success of the special, it was re-issued internationally for normal retail outlets as “Elvis Sings Flaming Star”, which is when I must have come across it. Wouldn’t have known any of this back story at the time but just goes to show how fascinating rock and pop trivia can be. RIP The King.