Viva Las Vegas

Elvis Presley

RCA, 1964

REVIEW BY: David Bowling


Nineteen sixty-four was a very busy year for Elvis Presley. Three movies, two soundtracks, one EP, assorted singles, his pursuit of Priscilla, and a public affair left very little time for anything else. The movie and soundtrack releases of Kissin’ Cousins at the beginning of the year and Roustabout at the end were poor to average at best. Sandwiched in the middle, however, was one of Elvis’ best movies that did not have a complete soundtrack release at the time. That oversight has been corrected in recent years.

Viva Las Vegas was Elvis’ most successful film commercially. It also featured Ann-Margret, with whom Elvis would have a yearlong affair. The chemistry between the two is very apparent. They would remain friends until the end of his life. The film benefited from the direction of veteran George Sidney. He re-shot scenes over and over and from different angles. While he angered Col. Tom Parker by exceeding the film’s budget, he did end up producing a slick, commercial movie that ranks as one of Elvis’ best and remains very entertaining.

The movie may have had the strongest set of songs of any Elvis film and it is inconceivable that a complete soundtrack album was not issued by the RCA label at the time. Ann-Margret, who sang a number of songs was also under contract to RCA, so that was not an issue. One single and a four song EP were all that were released in 1964. Today, the full soundtrack has been issued on CD a number of times and is well worth seeking out. my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

“Viva Las Vegas” remains a classic Presley song. Elvis’ vocal performance can be called joyous. His voice had matured over the previous several years and had a quality and timbre that has rarely been matched. History says that Elvis recorded this song in one take. Why it failed as a single is perplexing as it stands on its own outside the context of the film.

Elvis was always able to take classic songs by other artists and transform them into his own creations. Here, he takes the rhythm & blue standard, “What’d I Say” and gives it a driving rock performance. Elvis acquits himself well when comparing this version to the well-known Ray Charles version.

Ann-Margret was a seasoned singer and performer by this time and she sings on a number of tracks. “The Lady Loves Me” and “You’re The Boss” – which were not used in the film but are included on the modern day CD releases – are duets and both show the chemistry between the two stars. She gives the songs a sensual appeal and Elvis has the professionalism not to overwhelm her vocals. She steps forward and sings lead on “Appreciation” and “My Rival.” Ann-Margret was such a visual presence at this point in her career that seeing her perform may be preferable to just listening to her, but overall the songs are fine.

The album has a number of other treats by Elvis. “C’mon Everybody” is good up-tempo pop that Elvis had become very proficient at creating by this time in his career. “I Need Somebody To Love” gives the feel of a small Vegas lounge act, and I say that in a good way as Elvis creates an intimate feel for the listener. “If You Think I Don’t Need You” goes in a different direction and shows just how versatile Elvis was on this soundtrack and in the movie. This is an upbeat dance number. Elvis even gets some mileage out of the old standards, “Yellow Rose Of Texas/The Eyes Of Texas,” which very few performers could accomplish.

Viva Las Vegas, both the film and the modern day CD soundtrack, are essential Elvis and remain highly entertaining. It was amazing what Elvis could produce when motivated by good material and a sound script. The energy of and the attraction to Ann-Margret was also an important ingredient. This soundtrack has been released in several forms on CD, but most will allow you to hear Elvis at his best.

Rating: B+

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