'Harum Scarum'

FTD CD review

FTD's latest soundtrack offering lacks needed audio enhancement

(Piers Beagley, February 2004)

The fifth of the 6 extended movie soundtracks issued by FTD. Each one so far 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.

Exotic Elvis - 'Harum Scarum' (Feb 1965. 25 tracks, 66 mins)

The Many Elvis fans deluxe gatefold sleeve packaging contains some excellent photos and rare publicity stills. It was during this period in his life that Elvis had considered becoming a monk and started visiting the spiritual 'Self-Realization Fellowship'. If you had seen the pre-production script of 'Harum Scarum' you would have probably done the same!

However Elvis was tempted by the chance to try the 'Valentino' look and to wear some exotic costumes. Elvis certainly had a great smouldering look as Johnny Tyrone and the snaps with The Colonel are very amusing.

A fascinating insight is also provided by a list of songs suggested for the soundtrack but that were rejected. These include 'Please Don't Stop Loving Me' and amazingly, 'Let Yourself Go'!

Unfortunately, unlike all the previous FTD extended soundtrack CDs, I was shocked to find that 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, muffled 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 improvement on the original LP at all!

A real opportunity was missed out on here since, surprisingly, this Movie soundtrack was actually recorded at Nashville's Studio B. Why the laziness on FTD's part when all the others are so good? Here, without doubt, the 'Double Features' version really wins out, despite the added echo & occasional different mixes.

Two tracks 'Mirage' & 'Go East, Young Man' were vocal overdubs which leaves just 9 songs to make up the 41 minutes of outtakes to make an impression. Luckily FTD have remixed the outtakes and every song sounds so much better, with a lovely rich bass mix as well as the clarity to the band that you wanted to hear on every track.

Looking closer at the outtakes ..

'My Desert Serenade' Tks 2&3,7 - The surprise is that Elvis seems in such good humour throughout the sessions despite the quality of the songs. At the end of Take 7 he jokes, "My dessert horse, the one I rode in on". Elvis starts Take 2 by singing one line of the Bobby Darin song "More". If only he had recorded that instead! Elvis is a little unsure of the timing on the earlier takes & sounds a little reticent. FTD should have been brave enough to also include Take 1 (available on bootleg) where the songs falls apart halfway through with Elvis exclaiming amusingly, "Oh Shit, cut it!"

'Hey Little Girl' Tk1,2,3 - Take 1 falls apart with Elvis apologising, "Hold it, hold it. Whoops, whoops," while take 2 ends with Elvis laughing. Despite the slightness of the song on Take 3 you can easily hear Elvis' feet dancing to the rhythm while at the start Elvis suggests, "Pick it up just a little bit." It is just amazing that Elvis sounds so enthusiastic for such a lightweight song. No matter the material he sure did try his best! The song is fine for a 1962 creation, but for 1965?

'Shake My Tambourine' - It is astounding that Elvis worked this song through to a remarkable 38 takes! In fact on the first night of the session it was the only song recorded at all. FTD treat us to 8 outtakes and they are all great to listen to. Elvis is positively enthusiastic and these are fun & very amusing. On Take 7/8 Elvis laughs, "I can't feel it - I'm having to read it!" Halfway through he sings, "What tambourine?" and the ending is just delicious as it falls apart. It sure isn't the Master but it's fabulous fun. A gem. Take 10 is another delight as Elvis miss-pronounces 'Tiny feet' as 'teenie feet' and laughs deliciously at himself, "I can't believe I said that! Teenie, Queenie!" How interesting to note that the poor man was yet to record 'Queenie Wahine's Papaya'.

'Golden Coins' - A cute song that here really benefits from the lack of echo that was added to both Elvis and the band in the original. The earlier versions have a much sparser arrangement compared to the Master and a very different ending. Take 8 has a beautifully clear Elvis vocal which has been lifted above the band and is a real treat.

'Kismet' also delights with a similar treatment and a fabulous vocal.

'Animal Instinct' - Any song that dares to use the lyric. . "I'm like a Lion who's been caged, And you're the meat I needed" . . . deserves to have every version released! Elvis is unsure of the melody on Take 1 and it's fun to hear him practising. It ends with him saying, "Hold it, hold it. Is that right?" I love the deep bass melody on this tune and the mix is great. It's hard to believe that the culprits for this song (Giant/Baum/Kaye) actually wrote the sensational 1969 'Power of My Love'.

'So Close, Yet So Far' - The key song to the whole soundtrack. It was the start of the second day and Elvis seems tired as he yawns at the start of Take 1. He comments, "There's a couple of places I can't find itů but I'm looking!" With no added echo and with a simpler arrangement this is totally delicious. The booklet says that this is the same take as on Collector's Gold but it is incorrect. Take 1 here shows Elvis slightly rushing the lyrics but by Take 4, on 'Collector's Gold', Elvis is sounding smoother & more laid-back. (The Master was a splice of Take 3 & 4). A brilliant song that deserves this new audio mix.

'Harem Holiday' Tk1&2 - Again another soundtrack classic! Any song that contains the rhyming couplet "If Romeo had a Harum holiday.. You can bet that Juliet would have never Been his girl forever" .. deserves to be celebrated. What a theme song! What a great Elvis 'B side' it should have been. The perfect tacky flip-side to 'Do The Clam'? I love this song!

The lyrics were updated by the Master which used a vocal overdub. Here they are "Time for travelling, Time for travelling wild & free" On the Master they are "Gonna' travel, Gonna' travel wild & free" The audio mix here is tremendous and without the superfluous added echo. The band is opened up with a great spacial sound, Floyd Cramer's piano is just right and Elvis' vocal is right there rockin' with the band. This track unfortunately emphasises just how badly the Masters needed to be re-mixed properly. On Take 1 Elvis misses the intro and then fluffs the lyrics but still keeps going. Take 2 has Elvis again sounding reticent and coming in late to the first verse but is a funky delight. Did I say that I liked this song?!

'Wisdom Of the Ages' - Another great stereo mix with a fabulously improved vocal. At the start Elvis suggests, "Maybe a little faster." This version is at a faster tempo than the Master which has a cooler groove.

Verdict - Harum Scarum is a soundtrack you either love or loathe! The fact that FTD have done nothing to improve the terrible sounding Masters is a real disappointment and leaving out 'So Close, Yet So Far' Tk.4 (from C. Gold) was also an oversight. The booklet is as excellent as ever, and with the outtakes running nearly twice as long as the original LP, if you like the sound of exotic eastern Elvis you will enjoy this CD.

Check out our other FTD soundtrack reviews:

Viva Las Vegas

Fun In Acapulco

Frankie & Johnny

Spinout

Copyright EIN, 2004

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