The Memphis Sound
Tue March 13, 2012
Fun In Acapulco Via Rio
Col. Tom Parker didn’t want Elvis Presley to leave the country. Parker cited security nightmares and instability abroad. Folks who have researched it also figure the Colonel originally came to the states illegally under dark circumstances, cemented his place here by enlisting in the armed services under a fake name, and might have had trouble getting back in should he leave the US. Whatever the back story, this turn of events turned the movie Fun In Acapulco into, more or less, watching someone else on film having fun in Acapulco while Elvis himself had fun on the Paramount back lot. At this point in time, Presley’s movie soundtrack albums were outselling his regular studio albums, and this soundtrack did yield a top 10 single, “Bossa Nova Baby.”
The writing team of Leiber and Stoller had washed their hands of actively working for Elvis Presley. There was a great run of creative input from the duo all the way from “Hound Dog” through “Jailhouse Rock,” but following their treatment during the King Creole project, the composers unhitched their wagon from Presley’s star. Jerry and Mike decided that no monetary riches were worth giving up so much ownership of their work, and especially not worth the ignominy of having Col. Parker feel he owned them. So any further Leiber-Stoller songs cut by Elvis would have to be covers of previously released material.
In the case of “Bossa Nova Baby,” Tippie and the Clovers recorded the original version. This group was a latter-day iteration of the band that first recorded Leiber and Stoller‘s “Love Potion Number 9.” The Elvis version was captured in a January 1963 movie soundtrack session at Radio Recorders in Hollywood, and would top out at number 8 on the charts.
Now, to address the license taken with bossa nova in the context of Fun In Acapulco. “Bossa Nova Baby” itself is a rocked-up fun tune, but not really an example of the bossa nova style, per se. Plus, bossa nova doesn’t have that much to do with Acapulco. Acapulco is a seaport and resort city on the Pacific coast of Mexico. Bossa nova, descended from samba, was a Brazilian thing. Now, that’s a whole other hemisphere, ocean, and language. About the same time rock and roll experienced its infancy in the US, songs such as Joao Gilberto’s “Bim Bom” were giving birth to bossa nova in Brazil. While Samba was born in the the favelas of Rio De Janiero, the poor side of town where Latin and African rhythms co-mingled, bossa nova was the cultural interpolation designed to appeal to the affluent seaside revelers. Gilberto’s wife, Astrud, would make her vocal debut, teaming with jazz saxophonist Stan Getz, on one of the genre’s biggest international hits, “The Girl From Ipanema.”
Fun In Acapulco was released to theaters in late November, 1963. A somber America was looking for escape from the dark days following the Kennedy assassination, and enough folks found their way into the theaters to make the film the top grossing movie musical of the year.
Presley’s movies were dissed by critics, but, as Colonel Tom be would quick to point out, no Elvis film ever lost money. In a way, it mirrored what Presley went through with his singing career in the 50’s. At that time the critics dismissed his music as uncouth, uncivilized and devoid of worth, but the people who went to record stores voted with their dollars to indicate otherwise. Similarly, in the 60’s critics called his movies unimaginative, predictable and formulaic. But that means there must have been millions of people who were fans of consistency. In fact, Presley’s top money-making movie of all time would premiere the following summer. It would pair him with a new actress who would give him a run for his money on star billing, and it would return a triumphant Elvis to the site of one of his few spectacular failures in the 50’s.