With the intention of recreating the dynamic atmosphere of 1963’s Viva Las Vegas, MGM cast hot property Nancy Sinatra as Elvis’ co-star. Both Sinatra’s ‘These Boots Are Made for Walkin'’ and ‘Somethin' Stupid’ had recently topped the charts and whereas Colonel Parker had positively tried to keep Ann-Margret out of the limelight on Viva Las Vegas now he needed Nancy Sinatra’s solo number ‘Your Groovy Self’ on Elvis’ soundtrack album to help promote it. How things had changed.
At least Elvis seemed to be happier playing his role in Speedway. One obvious reason being that he had recently got married and on the movie set he happily announced that Priscilla was pregnant. Elvis looked slimmer, more interested and more fashionable than he did in his last two films.
Original Chart Releases
‘Let Yourself Go’ / ‘Your Time Hasn’t Come Yet Baby’ released nearly one year after the session in May 1968 the lead single only made #71 in the US Billboard charts.
Speedway – Soundtrack album released May 1968 reached a lowly #82.
This was so far Elvis’ lowest charting album of all time, even Double Trouble had made #47.
This was the first Elvis session without Scotty Moore as band leader and despite the inferior quality of the material the band still included some fine players. Chip Young played the lead guitar along with Tiny Timbrell and Tommy Tedesco. Pete Drake would add slide guitar while Larry Muhoberac was back on piano and Boots Randolph also returned on sax.
The soundstage engineers were Aaron Rochin and Lyle Burbridge. Although they had previously not worked with Elvis in the future both would become Academy Award nominees for “Best Sound”. Sadly the audio they mastered for the Speedway album could only be described as “Worst Sound”!
To save costs the session was booked at MGM’s soundstage which added no ambience whatsoever. So to add some fake excitement excess audio compression and echo was added which ended up with a very murky result. Compared to the audio quality of Clambake, which had been recorded in Nashville’s Studio B, this was a real step backwards. And what on earth was Elvis doing singing rubbish such as “Moonbeams play peek-a-boo, three away became two” (‘Five Sleepy Heads’) in 1967?
For the remaining soundtrack albums still to be released by FTD sadly no session tapes have been found. Back in March 2015 EIN contributor Ian Garfield wrote in his "FTD, What's Next, What If?" that with no session tapes available “There is an option to add the mono versions” and this is what FTD has done to create added value on this release.
However with the original four-track master tape available the team of Vic Anesini and Sebastian Jeansson have created “new remixes” of the eight soundtrack songs which restores a little audio clarity to the original dull recordings.
The twelve page booklet features a fine selection of photos and memorabilia. It also includes a good overview of the movie by author Alan Hanson which helps explain how the Charlotte 600 race increased the film’s popularity in the cinema. Surprisingly it did better at the US box-office than any movie since 1965’s ‘Tickle Me’.
Hans Otto Engvold also supplies another very interesting two pages on movie trivia and Chart information.
The UK premiere was at the Ritz, London, on July 11, 1968. When it went on general UK release from July 28, it was as a "B" film to How To Steal The World (a "Man From U.N.C.L.E." film). The British Safety Council had wanted a taped message from Elvis over the credits of Speedway telling people to drive carefully, but MGM couldn't get any cooperation from Elvis' manager Colonel Parker.
However, a written greeting from Elvis was projected before a special screening of Speedway at the annual UK Fan Club Convention, in Leicester, England, on July 21, 1968: "To all of you who have come from far and near, we hope this meeting brings you personal happiness and many newfound friendships. Our thanks to MGM for making available Speedway for this special showing. And I am also highly pleased to know that the Guide Dogs for the Blind Association will benefit from your meeting. I am truly honored by this tribute. Sincerely, Elvis."
His selection of movie reviews however put a far less positive spin on the film than the Alan Hanson article in the same booklet.
Due to the lack of original documentation this is the first FTD that does not feature an “In and Outtakes" section detailing the recording session.
My one disappointment here is that Elvis looked far happier and healthier than in his previous couple of films – sensational BIG hair - so it would have been nice to have more than just the two full-size photographs in the booklet. Joe Tunzi’s ‘Speedway’ book included some excellent photographs a few of which ought to have been used here.
Some booklet memorabilia
Speedway was the last Elvis album to be released as an LP in the choice of Stereo or Mono as monaural was being phased out. The mono vinyl version is a true Elvis collectable and the mono master is released here for the first time on a bonus second CD.
The session took place on the MGM Soundstage June 20, 21 1967.
Unfortunately the Original Album always sounded as if it was recorded in an aircraft-hanger with the drums echoing as if being played down the corridor in the toilet. Sometimes it is hard to believe that Elvis was even in the same room as the band.
The Mono release was a simple “fold-down” of the Stereo masters and sounded no better.
Very few Elvis releases were mixed exclusively for Mono and Stereo. The notable exceptions were from Chips Moman’s Memphis sessions where the mono singles were unique mixes (See EIN FEIM article here).
Only eight songs were recorded for the soundtrack and even then the ‘Big Boots’ imitation ‘Five Sleepy Heads’ was cut from the film as was the delightful ‘Suppose’.
Three older “Bonus Songs” were added to fill out the album and although better than the majority of the movie songs they hardly helped. ‘Western Union’ was totally derivative of ‘Return To Sender’ and so it had been left on the shelf since 1963. It might have worked on 1965’s Elvis For Everybody album but here it was totally out of place. ‘Mine’ from the September 67 session was fine for a gospel album but again seemed inappropriate here. The album and movie’s release were so delayed by MGM that one of the added songs ‘Goin’ Home’ was actually recorded at Elvis’ January 1968 soundtrack session for his next film Stay Away, Joe! Once again it was a real oddity that would have made more sense as a Stay Away, Joe B-side.
Several previously unreleased outtakes of the songs ‘Mine’ and ‘Goin’ Home’ are also included here, help add interest and make CD 1 a packed 79 minutes.
‘Let Yourself Go’ was a spliced Master and so luckily the saved alternate Take 5 is released here for the first time. The shorter ‘Movie Version’ of ‘Your Time Hasn’t Come Yet Baby’ is also included.
The album includes Nancy Sinatra’s solo ‘Your Groovy Self’ which while being a pleasant enough soundtrack song features a terribly bland vocal. In no way did Nancy inherit her father’s marvellous vocal talent. It is hard to believe that Nancy’s producer didn’t ask for “One more take, this time with more passion”!
Remixed Soundtrack Masters
The original session took place on the MGM soundstage and so it could never have the quality or ambience of Studio B or Radio Recorders so one cannot expect miracles here. Echo was also added to Elvis' vocal track.
These session tapes then had audio compression applied as well as reverb added to the whole tape. Presumably this was to try and add some “rock 'n' roll excitement” when all it really achieved was to add echoey murkiness.
Luckily the four-track MGM Masters still exist and remixed by Vic Anesini and Sebastian Jeansson we now get the benefit of hearing the original session without the unnecessary compression and added reverb - plus the occasional bonus of the complete take without the fade out. This also means one generation less of tape hiss.
These “Remixes” are not perfect but still sound much better than any version of the album yet released.
‘There Ain’t Nothing Like A Song’ which kicked off the session unfortunately is not one of the most improved tracks, possibly because Nancy Sinatra's vocal was an overdub. There might have been more potential here had Elvis and Nancy Sinatra actually been in the studio together and if they were hoping for the old Ann-Margret sensual spark this was a big mistake.
‘Your Time Hasn’t Come Yet Baby’ as with most of the ballads really benefits from these clean remixes and sounds far better than the album master.
However with lyrics “Your life's still a lollipop heaven, your teddy bear's at the foot of your bed” it was hardly going to compete for radio play against the chart hits of the day. Initially written as a sensual song for Elvis to serenade his co-star the movie’s storyline was regrettably changed.
‘Five Sleepy Heads’ is one of the tracks that continues past the original fade out and on ‘Who Are You? (Who Am I?)’ you can hear Elvis say at the end “Let's take it again” although this version, Take 6, would be the master.
Both these ballads again sound so much better / cleaner here. On the original release the excessive echo and added reverb made it sound as if Elvis was singing from behind the bathroom door.
‘Speedway’ while still sounding as if it was recorded in an aircraft-hanger the remixed complete Take 4 is still an improvement. Before the band kicks off Elvis sounded keen to get the recording over with, and dryly instructed the group, “Let’s go”. This excellent complete version, without the fade, continues to a fabulous ending where everybody collapses in laughter. This track has previously appeared on various bootlegs but in far worse quality. A nice addition to the collection.
‘Suppose’ was the only soundtrack song that enthused Elvis as the meaningful lyrics related more to his spiritual quest than anything he had recorded since How Great Thou Art. With Charlie Hodge playing piano, just as he had done on the home recording, the first take was a longer, extended version. With lyrics that touched on sadness, loss and even suicide this was unlike any recent soundtrack song. Elvis provided a compassionate vocal totally unlike any other song at the session which was sadly buried in reverb. Here Elvis’ vocal is cleaner and sounds much better.
‘Let Yourself Go’ - having rediscovered a little inspiration from the previous day’s ‘Suppose’, Elvis started the final day feeling more inspired and put his soul into the funky ‘Let Yourself Go’. Composed by Joy Byers (It Hurts Me, C’mon Everybody) Buddy Harman supplied the tight drumming with jazzy piano from Larry Muhoberac. Originally submitted for 1965’s Harum Scarum the original release was somewhat let down by the messy echo burying any real musicianship.
While ‘He’s Your Uncle Not Your Dad’ provided an interesting movie interlude reminiscent of an old MGM musical number, if Elvis needed any reason to stop recording abysmal soundtrack albums then this truly lame song about paying taxes was surely the final nail in the coffin.
Having said that, this is one of the remixes that benefits the most from losing the original reverb with the sound being so much cleaner here! This track truly demonstrates how bad the decision was to put reverb over every song.
‘Suppose’ - had been suggested earlier for Easy Come, Easy Go and although never recorded at the time Elvis had been interested enough in the song to tape it at Graceland. He had even requested that Felton Jarvis finish off the recording with a band overdub although it was never released until 1993’s ‘60s box-set’.
The ‘Nashville Master’ overdubs from March 20 1967 sadly do not do Elvis’ simple Graceland recording any justice. While the arrangement starts off sympathetically enough it is soon ruined by the out-of-place mandolin and the soaring over-the-top wail from Millie Kirkham. Hear the Graceland version on BMG’s 1999 ‘The Home Recordings’.
Suppose ‘Long Version’ - the original longer version has a gentler arrangement that features a more prominent steel guitar from Pete Drake and repeats the middle eight and the final verse. This is a lovely, gentle version and missing the Jordanaires unnecessary backing-vocals gives far more space to Elvis’ emotional vocal. The simple, sparse finale is a delight.
‘Let Yourself Go’ Take 5 – What a gem! With the loud intro handclaps this take supplied the first part of the spliced Master until the edit at “Let’s Go” @1.40. At this point Take 5 then becomes a wonderful alternate version with a less stringent guitar solo. “Oh Yeah” Elvis sings @2.12 and the playoff varies as Elvis continues “C’mon, let yourself go right now” to the end without the final “Let Yourself Go”. There’s also a little laugh in Elvis’ voice as if he knew the timing had messed up.
On Take 6, which would provide the second half of the Master, the ending works out fine even though Elvis comments afterwards, “No, No, that’s no good. I’m sorry.”
Take 5 sounds so different I am amazed that Ernst has never selected it for one of his main BMG compiles such as “Today, Tomorrow & Forever”.
A fabulous addition to anyone’s collection.
‘Your Time Hasn’t Come Yet Baby’ ‘Movie Version’ is the last alternate movie outtake. A gentler arrangement, without the Jordanaires, it is taken at a slightly slower tempo and has a feeling of a laid-back first take – which in fact it was. Another interesting addition.
‘Goin’ Home’ – Recorded at the Stay Away Joe session six months later plenty of these outtakes (seven in fact) were released on that FTD soundtrack album.
It was the last song of the night, it was after midnight and everyone was drunk on the good vibe and no matter what the band did Elvis burst out laughing or just gave up.
Thirty takes were needed to finally cut the Master and only two previous takes were anywhere near complete.
Officially previously unreleased Take 16 starts with Elvis saying over the tom-tom intro “Play ya’ ass off DJ” so again it was never going to be a useable take. While the vibe feels ok Elvis definitely calls it to a halt halfway through by singing, “Where the night-winds sing and the Eagles shit”! – Perhaps this is why Ernst has never selected this take until now!
Take 23 is however complete and previously unreleased. Close to the acoustic-guitar driven final arrangement this was the best take of the evening so far, only spoilt by Elvis’ knowing laugh at “When a woman looks you in the eye”. It was a few takes afterwards that Elvis then started adding his ‘Papa-Oom-Mow-Mow’ line that would make it onto the album master.
‘Mine’ – Although recorded at the September 1967 “Guitar Man” sessions, outtakes of this song were for some reason omitted from the FTD classic album of the same name.
Two complete alternate takes featured here have been previously released. Take 4 on the FTD ‘So High’ and Take 9 on the ‘Close-Up’ box set. Here we get another five outtakes including the early first attempts.
There is some interesting studio banter and a little rehearsal here to eavesdrop on making it feel more like a recording session.
Unreleased Takes 1 & 2 don't get anywhere while Take 3 is a nice light arrangement that sounds fine until Elvis drifts off key halfway through, “Goddamn” he explains.
Complete Take 4 is an improvement over the Master with a better acoustic guitar mix along with a less dramatic arrangement.
Take 8 is a delight as Elvis' microphone has not been faded up. “Are you going to sing Elvis?” joked the engineer, “I had your mic off. I'm sorry”.
Elvis delightfully replies, “I should have told you, this was going to be a whole album of instrumentals!”
Take 9 and unreleased Take 13 are both fine versions, sounding better for having the piano higher in the mix and less of the “church-organ” sound and high fals
Bonus Mono disc
Since Speedway was the last Elvis album to be released in mono I am more than happy to have it as a bonus disc in this set.
However while 45 rpm mono singles often had a cutting-edge to their sound designed to have a real impact if heard on the car radio, sadly Speedway in mono is the same terrible muffled audio but with even less discernibility.
The film’s title track still sounds like an almighty echo-ey muddled mess.
Some tracks from the stereo album that actually did have some brightness such as ‘Your Time Hasn’t Come Yet Baby’ unfortunately now have any of their vibrancy removed by being folded down to mono.
It's a real shame as this was a potential collectable had any effort be made at the time of its release to improve the audio for the mono master.
Even with the film’s extra success in the cinema when the album was finally released in May 1968 it tanked at number 82. Elvis’ worst-selling album to date by far.
In the past Colonel Parker had guided Elvis to his greatest successes but now it was to his biggest failures. In some ways Elvis fans have to thank the awfulness of Double Trouble, Clambake and Speedway as finally making Elvis realise that to save himself and his career he finally had to challenge The Colonel and follow his own instincts. The career saving NBC TV Special was just around the corner
Overall verdict: Remarkably with such lacklustre original material FTD have managed to create a rather worthy classic soundtrack album. The "Remixed Masters" certainly improve on the original audio while previously unreleased ‘Let Yourself Go’ Take 5 is almost worth the omission on its own. Along with some interesting alternate outtakes from the Bonus Songs the packed Disc 1 is far more enjoyable than perhaps it should be.
The original album would be one of the dullest and worst-selling of all time – and certainly one of my least favourites - yet this is another commendable Soundtrack release from FTD to add to the collection.
Review by Piers Beagley.
-Copyright EIN July 2016
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