'Frankie and Johnny'

FTD CD review


"FTD showboats down the Mississippi!"

(Piers Beagley, March 2004)

The last of the 6 extended movie soundtracks issued by FTD so far. Each one has been released with an improved mix of the original LP, plus alternate takes, and a colour booklet full of photos and information.

It seems an odd marketing policy to release these CDs in groups of three, since not everybody can afford the luxury of buying all 3 at once.

Plus many of us would have previously purchased them in RCA's "Double-Feature" series. EIN has an in-depth look at each one to see if they are worth buying again.

'Frankie and Johnny' (May 1965. 27 tracks, 72 mins).

Elvis Presley's 20th movie was another themed musical, this time taking on the flavour of the Mississippi showboat era. The New Orleans jazz flavour, that had worked so well in 'King Creole', unfortunately, didn't improve some very average 1965 songs. Elvis also ended up overdubbing the vocal to several of the tracks.

According to Memphis Mafia's Alan Fortas, this was because Elvis threw a tantrum on the first night of the sessions. Well if you'd seen 'Petunia, The Gardener's Daughter' as a suggested track wouldn't you have done the same?!

Again Elvis was still far more interested in exploring his spiritual side and spent hours discussing the 'Self-Realization Fellowship' with co-Star Donna Douglas who also happened to be a member.

'Frankie & Johnny', with the beautiful 'Please Don't Stop Loving Me' as the flipside, was released as the single in March 1966 making #25 in the charts.

The soundtrack LP made #20. This was Elvis' lowest LP chart position since he returned from army service.

The deluxe gatefold sleeve packaging contains some excellent photos and rare publicity stills. Similarly to Harum Scarum Elvis got to wear some cool costumes for the film even if he was a little overweight. In fact the real fascination here is to discover that Elvis was deemed "too fat" in the original cover photo and so RCA replaced his head with a shot from 1964's 'Girl Happy'! The art department however clearly got Elvis' head to body out of proportion!

For Elvis the real joy during filming was that 'Crying In The Chapel' surprisingly made #1 in the British charts. His first chart-topper since the true impact of The Beatles.

Unfortunately unlike all the previous FTD extended soundtrack CDs (but similarly to Harum Scarum) all the original Masters have been taken directly from the LP mix. This is a true disappointment as the original mix sounded so desperately flat, hollow and almost mono.

Whereas on all the previous FTD CDs the audio mix had been spatially opened up to create a really wide stereo sound, helping you appreciate Elvis' band, this CD shows no upgrade on the original LP at all! Similarly to the LP there is a problem with audio hiss and hum that could have really been improved on.

I can understand that Ernst states "You can't please everyone" and that Elvis fans had also complained about the remixes on 'Double Features'. However this is no excuse for not using the original Masters to recreate the original LP mix but without the dreadfully muffled mono sound. This would have also been a chance to clean up the multi-generation tape hiss. The jazz-band ambience really benefits from a proper stereo mix and without doubt the 'Double Features' version is actually a better listening experience, despite the added echo & occasional different mixes.

The booklet makes a point in noting interestingly that the track 'What Every Woman Lives For' original album version was "Not Available" - or maybe they just don't know the Take number. However the track is definitely identical to the original LP version, down to the tape hiss and even the background clink of (perhaps) Elvis' watch @ 1.57. The politically incorrect lyrics of this track have always been quite fascinating too!

Elvis unfortunately recorded several tracks as vocal overdubs including the beautiful 'What Every Woman Lives For' as well as 'Beginner's Luck.' So this leaves only 7 songs to make up the 44 minutes of outtakes to make an impression. However FTD have remixed the outtakes and every song is vastly improved at last getting the proper audio mix that they deserve. Now you get the complete 'Showboat' feel and a clarity to the band that you want to hear on every track. I really don't understand why FTD didn't do the same remaster to the original LP tracks.

Looking closer at the outtakes ..

'Frankie & Johnny' Tk 1,3&4- There is a lovely double-bass feel to this version, which is so lacking on the Master, and the jazz vibe is really captured. The earlier versions are at a slower tempo and with a very different mix. The Jordanaires really feature here and Elvis sounds far more enthusiastic. The ending is rough, & someone comments, "That's wild", while Elvis adds, "Let me write that in"! Take 4 is nearly complete but is fascinating when Elvis messes it up at the very end and apologises, "I'm sorry, I lost it."

'Please Don't Stop Loving Me' - A crucial song to the Soundtrack and here we get 5 outtakes. The Master took 19 takes to complete and, interestingly, the earlier versions are in a lower key and also a slower tempo that doesn't quite suit the song. As Take 2 fails Elvis apologises, "No, I'm sorry". However the different backing arrangement of the earlier versions create a lovely, sparser feel. Take 10 was featured on 'Today, Tomorrow & Forever' and is exquisite with the guitar, the backing vocals, as well as Larry Muhoberac's piano mixed to perfection. Compared to the dull sounding original this should have been the Master.

'Everybody Come Aboard' - The earlier takes have a much funkier rock'n'roll beat compared to the Master. On Take 1 Elvis fluffs the words and apologises. Take 2 has a cool ending and falls apart delightfully. There's a great blend here of Showboat jazz & D.J. Fontana beat that is missing from the other songs. By Take 10 the final arrangement has been worked out but again this mix is so much better than the LP version.

'Chesay' - A real 'soundtrack song' but it's still fun listening to Elvis & the band work out the arrangement. The audio mix is a real improvement and Take 1 is very different from the final Master. There are lots of lyrics and Elvis understandably misses his intro several times, as well as the ending, but he still shows his good humour. At the start of Take 6 Elvis famously sings a line of the Rodgers & Hart musical number "With a song in my heart".

'Petunia, The Gardener's Daughter' - O.K, so it's quite fun when Elvis messes up the end of take 2 but do I really have to listen to Elvis sing, "I'm as daffy as a daffodil"? Exactly ten years earlier on May 13th 1955, in Jacksonville, Florida, 14,000 fans rioted & invaded Elvis' dressing room tearing his clothes & shoes off. The original story is that at the end of the concert Elvis said to the crowd, "Girls, I'll see you backstage". The real truth is that after closing the show with 'Baby, Let's Play House' Elvis told the crowd, "Hey, in 10 years time I'll be recording 'Petunia, The Gardener's Daughter'"! Understandably the crowd went ballistic. They didn't want to hear it then, & I don't have to now!

'Look Out Broadway' - The vibe is good with Elvis laughing. Still another show tune but here Ray Walker's excellent bass vocal, which was buried in the original Master, sounds just fine. Eileen Wilson provides the female vocal.

'Shout It Out' - The original mix of the Master is just dreadful so, although it is such a slight song, it is greatly improved here. On Take 1 you can hear that Elvis isn't comfortable with the pacing and he messes up the lyrics saying, "I'm sorry, excuse me fellows, ah, that one spot.." Take 2 falls apart delightfully at the start when Elvis' voice cracks, which gets everyone laughing.

'Frankie & Johnny', Movie version - The final track and a full 7 minutes of the complete film number. Longer than any available bootleg version, and sounding just fine even though it is from a mono acetate. Elvis' voice has a certain edge to it which makes this track a great addition.

Verdict - Frankie & Johnny is very different from most Elvis movies in that it has a genuine theatrical feel to the soundtrack. While the songs weren't particularly contemporary at the time this is still pure Southern Showboat theatre. While the lack of audio improvement on the LP Masters is a real disappointment, the Showboat theme is still something a little different. So if Elvis, gamblin', showtunes and riverboats appeal to you then this soundtrack won't let you down.

Note - FTD are going to have to be extremely smart if they hope to make exciting soundtrack CDs out of 'Paradise, Hawaiian Style' (the songs did not excite Elvis and they were all vocal overdubs), 'Spinout', and 'Double Trouble'. However Ernst, showing great confidence, assures us that the new outtakes will make them all worthwhile.


If you have ever enjoyed the happiness & fun of Elvis' movies then FTD's Special Edition Soundtrack series are well-worth exploring. EIN suggests you buy the essential 'Viva Las Vegas' and then continue with your favourite selection of Elvis' movies.

Check out all of our previous Soundtrack reviews
Loving You
Viva Las Vegas
Fun In Acapulco
Kid Galahad
Girl Happy
Harum Scarum
Paradise, Hawaiian Style
Double Trouble
It Happened At The World’s Fair
Follow That Dream
Tickle Me

Reviewed by Piers Beagley

EIN Copyright 2004