19 FUN IN ACAPULCO
Released in the USA November 15 1963
There is a scene in the movie A Hard Day’s Night where The Beatles meet a collection of beauties that includes a previous Miss World. The girls are amused by the chirpy humour of John Lennon and his mates. No hint, though, exists of sexual opportunities for the irreverent four. In 1963 The Beatles were hip, and Elvis was creating not so mature corn. But there is no point in being an icon if you do not provide gossip. Months before the album Fun In Acapulco was released Elvis had worked on the movie Viva Las Vegas and met Ann-Margret. The two stars had an affair. In Viva Las Vegas the physical chemistry between the stars is obvious. Despite the attraction that existed between them both Elvis and Ann-Margret returned to people that they may have wanted less but needed more. Yet their brief fling appears to have been one of those affairs where the memories lingered. And plenty of people, perhaps with reason, have been willing to connect lingering memories to unrequited love.
What the parents of Priscilla thought of the rumours about the man into whose care they had entrusted their teenage daughter is not known. Mother and father at least had the compensation of knowing that Elvis was no skinflint. Elvis, in the weeks that followed his return to Memphis, bought Priscilla a new Ford Corsair and $1600 worth of clothes. No doubt that kept her busy. In between making movies Elvis bought books in bulk and rented films in the same manner. Two of the books that he bought in 1963 were Lonely Life and Vocabulary Builder. He also watched the film All The Way Home. This was based on A Death In The Family the classic novel by James Agee. The Memphis rock and roll star had become a post war equivalent of the F Scott Fitzgerald hero Jay Gatsby. Elvis was wealthy but adrift and a man that needed to polish social skills if he was to succeed amongst people that provided opportunities. He was also someone that could not forget a woman that was lost, not Ann-Margret but his mother.
If anything, Ursula Andress was in 1963 more fashionable than Ann-Margret. Andress had missed the train that in A Hard Day’s Night had carried The Beatles to London but she had appeared, somewhat spectacularly, in the first James Bond movie Dr No. Inevitably there has been speculation about what happened between Andress and Presley. The friends of Elvis have insisted that the relationship was cool. His mates encouraged him to try with Ursula but Elvis was unimpressed by her wide shoulders. He was approaching 30 and had been welcoming and fighting off women since he was a teenage musician. Andress may have been beautiful but she did not have the hourglass figure of Ann-Margret. When it came to sex in 1963 I was a fifteen year old minimalist. I thought Ursula Andress was gorgeous, and so did the five schoolmates that watched the movie with me. We all half hoped that perhaps Elvis had been intimate with the lady. What Andress had done with other movie stars was not important. None of them had made music that had invaded our bedrooms.
If the charts had been revolutionised by the arrival of The Beatles, my mother still influenced my musical taste. Sex, though, was different. Back then most mothers did not welcome the sexual revolution, and it caused rifts between more than one mother and her son. It did not need, though, a sexual revolution for my mother and me to clash over the worth of Ursula Andress. ‘The woman hasn’t got a figure,’ said my mother. ‘She’s got some body, though,’ I said. Perhaps I put too much emphasis on the word body. From then on there were certain secrets that had to be kept from my mother.
There was also conflict between Parker and the executives at RCA Records. This had begun in the previous year when Parker and the RCA executives had failed to agree on Elvis doing a concert tour to promote his records. Parker had conned his way through that confrontation demanding a 43 performance concert tour that the people at RCA would be obliged to reject. Determined that records of Elvis would exist as a single element in the RCA catalogue, bully boy Parker was irked to hear of plans for the albums of Elvis to be included in The RCA Record Club. Parker threatened to withhold permission for RCA to issue the Fun In Acapulco soundtrack on record. The proposal by Parker was nothing more than one of his typical audacious bluffs. Because Parker was subservient to the demands of Hollywood executives, there was no chance of a movie album not being released.
Elvis had recorded a studio album in June of 1963. To accommodate the production line of soundtrack albums that the movies were generating the intended album was never released. The studio recordings of June 1963 are not especially impressive but they would have bolstered Elvis fans whose faith had been weakened by successive movie musicals. Two of the songs from the abandoned studio album appear on Fun In Acapulco. On the back of the album cover the two added tracks are identified as bonus songs. Considering what was happening to the music of Elvis and what was being endured by his fans, the term bonus songs felt like an insult. Love Me Tonight and Slowly But Surely, though, are not without merit. Unlike the songs from the movie the two additional tracks reveal serious intent. Love Me Tonight is a ballad from Don Robertson. It is a little sweet but it also has the lyricism and mystery that distinguishes the songs of Robertson, a mystery that touches an ingrained instinct in Elvis. Slowly But Surely is an old-fashioned and listenable rocker but the lyrics lack humour, and a self-conscious Elvis is uninspired. But it has a beat emphasised by a fuzz guitar, and in 1963 that was something.
The album Fun In Acapulco has its advocates, and amongst them are people who have a reputation for being critical. You have, though, to belong to the world of Elvis to find the contents of Fun In Acapulco interesting although, in our postmodernist culture of today, people are less judgemental. But in 1963, when British groups were discovering rock and roll or rhythm and blues, the last thing Elvis needed was another movie album of fake exotica and novelty. Because the songs on the album are in the order they appeared in the film, the infamous There’s No Room To Rhumba In A Sports Car ended the first side. More than one author has quoted Rhumba In A Sports Car as the prime example of how Elvis stepped into the doldrums. But if it beggars belief that a talented Southern singer and musician was reduced to singing Hollywood product then similar reservations must exist about the rest of the album. Rhumba In A Sports Car is standard Hollywood fare, and Elvis even adds a little grit. The song may embarrass the champions of Elvis but it is not sub-standard for a Hollywood musical.
It may lack relevance but Fun In Acapulco is superior to the previous two movie efforts, Girls, Girls, Girls and It Happened At The World’s Fair. It is doubtful that anyone in the recording studio approved of the songs in Fun In Acapulco. But in between the grooves of the record one can hear a group of people that are at least enjoying well paid and diverting work. If the material is not to their taste, there is delight in the process. The musicians on the Fun In Acapulco sessions included Hal Blaine on drums and Barney Kessel on guitar. Both men were jazz stars. One suspects that neither complained. The material may be mostly fake but that does not prevent musical discovery. A vocal group called The Amigos was brought in to add Mexican atmosphere. Their sense of fun is obvious and infectious. Trumpeters Anthony Terran and Rudolph Loera are exceptional. Somehow just the two of them managed to create the sound of a full mariachi band.
Unlike Blue Hawaii which borrowed heavily from Hawaiian music, there is only one song on Fun In Acapulco that uses a traditional Mexican tune. Guadalajara is performed at the climax of the film. Elvis sings it in the original Spanish. He would have had expert help but to his credit he not only understands its authentic rhythms but manages a decent Spanish accent. The title song of the album is on the wrong side of doo wop when compared to its equivalent in Blue Hawaii but Elvis and the musicians are so slick they can be forgiven. The highlights of the album, though, are elsewhere. The Leiber and Stoller song Bossa Nova Baby had previously been recorded by the African American group Tippi and The Clovers. Elvis adds breathless and fluent rhythm. Don Robertson supplied Marguerita. Rock and roll it is not but there is a beat that supports a typical and worthwhile Robertson melody. The opening track to the second side of the album, I Think I’m Gonna Like It Here, is light pop jazz but it also has a charming swing. The musical masters present reveal their subtle skills. El Toro can be dismissed as melodramatic cheese, and perhaps it should be, but it is a serious effort by the songwriters. The song has drama and structure. Over fifty years later, and remastered so the musicians can be heard, the Fun In Acapulco album sounds nowhere near as bad as it is remembered. It may not be the equal of the other Hollywood efforts G.I. Blues and Blue Hawaii but despite no one being bothered to visit Mexico the musicians were determined to entertain. What helped was that they had some fun at the same time. Every other soundtrack album that followed Fun In Acapulco was inferior. Much worse was to appear later.
Howard Jackson has had eleven books published by Red Rattle Books including novels, short stories, travel books and collections of film criticism. His latest book Offended Shadows is now available here.