The Memphis Sound
Tue June 5, 2012
Tickled In The Theater, Crying In The Charts
When the Beatles came to Elvis Presley’s Bel Air home in 1965 for a meeting orchestrated by managers Brian Epstein and Colonel Tom Parker, John Lennon asked if Elvis had any ideas for his next movie project. Elvis said he would probably play a country boy with a guitar who meets a few girls and sings a few songs. Elvis couldn’t keep a straight face long after making that statement, and laughingly explained that the only time one of his films strayed from that format was the only time he came close to losing money on a movie.
1965 yielded three movies true to the format, Girl Happy, Tickle Me, and Harum Scarum. Only the first and last had actual soundtrack albums. Girl Happy was a beach movie in which Elvis went to the beach but never took off his shirt. The record “Do The Clam” was released as the single to build interest for the film. It was co-written by Dolores Fuller, whose previous claim to fame was playing Edward Wood Jr.’s girlfriend in both the movie Glen Or Glenda and briefly in real life (until he stretched her angora sweater). “Do The Clam” made it to number 21 on the charts.
No new tunes were written for Tickle Me, so the music for the movie consisted of previously released songs, some recorded almost five years earlier. Four of the movie songs came out on two singles. “(Such An) Easy Question” was co-written by Otis Blackwell, and almost made the top 10. The second single, “I’m Yours,” also made it to number 11. In the context of the biggest songs of 1965, they sound a little dated. It’s no wonder, since they were recorded years earlier. The remaining tunes came out on an EP single, which struggled at number 70.
Then there was Harum Scarum. The movie was shot on the same set used for Cecil B. Demille’s King Of Kings. It was Presley’s second film of the year to co-star Mary Ann Mobley, the first Miss Mississippi to become Miss America, who had worked her way up to second billing from a spot in Girl Happy. The soundtrack songs for Harum Scarum had no real hit potential, so for a single release, RCA went all the way back to Girl Happy and selected “Puppet On A String,” which hit number 14.
Elvis sole venture into the top five in ‘65 came from a song written in 1953. Artie Glenn wrote it, and his son Darrell recorded “Crying In The Chapel.” Sonny Till and the Orioles cover version hit number one on the R&B charts that year, and number six pop. Presley recorded it in 1960, while working on the gospel album His Hand In Mine. RCA kept it off the album, and finally released it in April of ‘65, calling it an “Easter Special” single. By the time it hit the peak of number three in June, 1965, I would have assumed it was drowning in British releases, but in fact it shared the top five with the All-American Beach Boys’ “ Help Me Rhonda,” Motown’s Four Tops’ “I Can’t Help Myself” and the Supreme’s “Back In My Arms Again.” And, oddly enough, another Memphis act shared space in the top 5; Sam The Sham And The Pharaoh’s “Wooly Bully,” atop Elvis at number two.
The Pharaohs were label mates with the next Memphis band to crack the top five in 1965. This band, barely out of high school, featured a future wrestling star and a phenomenal performer who still rocks his home town to this day. They broke through with yet another throw-away B-side which saved the day.