ELVIS PRESLEY: A LISTENER’S GUIDE (BOOK ANNOUNCEMENT)

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ELVIS PRESLEY: A LISTENER’S GUIDE

By Shane Brown

July 5th, 2014 saw the 60th anniversary of Elvis Presley’s first commercial recording session, the night on which he cut That’s all Right, the song that would launch his career. Less than six months later, on January 8th, 2015, will be celebrations for what would have been Elvis’s 80th birthday. Since Elvis’s death in 1977, hundreds (probably thousands) of books have been written about Presley, but very few concentrate on the most important thing: the music.

When I first became interested in the music of Elvis Presley as a teenager back in the early 1990s, the first book I bought was Elvis Presley: A Study in Music by Robert Matthew-Walker.   It was hardly a hefty tome, but it did what I wanted at the time – it gave me some guidance through the minefield of Elvis’s legacy which was then being issued, slowly but surely, on CD. In 1995, Matthew-Walker updated his book, calling the new version Heartbreak Hotel, but much of the new material centred of details of Elvis’s life, rather than his music. In fact, even in this extended work, the author managed to discuss individually virtually all of Elvis’s recordings within less than one hundred pages. As far as I’m aware Matthew-Walker’s book(s) are the only one to discuss the merits (or otherwise) of all of Elvis’s music literally on a song by song basis.

Matthew-Walker’s A Study in Music was/is an important book, and it seems rather strange that other full-length works of a similar nature did not follow it.  Bearing this in mind, I hope that Elvis Presley: A Listener’s Guide will manage to be a rather more thorough critique of Elvis’s music. Working through from 1953 to 1977 one session at a time, one song at a time, the book discusses the remarkable (and yet often frustrating) legacy that Elvis left behind. All recordings released during Elvis’s lifetime are discussed, as well as those released posthumously where appropriate.

Why do we need a new critique? Well, times change and opinions change with them. Our views on Elvis’s music are still based on what critics wrote forty or more years ago. Of course, the critics who panned Elvis in the 1950s were quickly proven wrong as the years passed, but the accepted view of the 1960s and 1970s recordings is still based on contemporary reviews, often from rock critics who somehow couldn’t see how or why Elvis was recording material outside of rock ‘n’ roll. As I discuss each session, therefore, I make reference to, and quote from, those contemporary reviews from the 1950s to the 1970s – around 170 of them – in order to put into context my own evaluation of the recordings.

This is not primarily a book of facts or figures – there are plenty of other works on the market that can supply those. What there isn’t on the market is a “listener’s guide” to Elvis’s music, in which each and every master recording is discussed. I haven’t written this because I think people should agree with my evaluations or thoughts but because, as we approach what would have been Elvis’s 80th birthday, it seems important to take a fresh look at the one thing that seems to be ignored most: the music.

Elvis Presley Song by Song: A Listener’s Guide will be available in mid-August, 2014. The paperback edition will be 6in x 9in, and will contain approx. 320 pages. A Kindle version will also be available.  

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The “gay cake” row.

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The “gay cake” row has been rumbling on for a few days now.  The BBC website states the following:

“A Christian-run bakery that refused a customer’s request to make a cake with a slogan supporting gay marriage could face a discrimination case in court.

Ashers Baking Company declined an order from a gay rights activist, asking for cake featuring the Sesame Street puppets, Bert and Ernie.

The customer also wanted the cake to feature the logo of a Belfast-based campaign group called “Queerspace”.

The cake was ordered for a civic event in Bangor Castle Town Hall, County Down, to mark International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia”

The arguments on the web over the issue are becoming heated, which is rather surprising considering this appears to me to be a clear cut case of discrimination – just as in the case of the B&B that refused to allow a gay couple to share a room a few years back.  However, not everyone agrees.  Tina Calder of “News Letter” website write the following:

“While my personal opinion is to live and let live and I support everyone’s right to choose I have to say that includes the bakery.

I may think it is wrong for the bakery owner to refuse to make the cake but the solid facts of the matter are that this business proprietor had an absolute right to decline any order they didn’t want to service.

Surely serving a customer is at the discretion of the business owner?

If we are going to insist on fighting for equality then it’s important that we extend that right even to those we don’t agree with.

We may not believe in the same ethical principles as one another but it is important to respect people’s right to hold their opinion or beliefs.”

So, Miss Calder, the “serving of a customer is at the discretion of the business owner?”  Would you feel the same way if the cake owners had a sign in their window saying “no ethnic minorities?”  Would you feel there was anything wrong with that?  After all, it’s up to the discretion of the business owner who they serve, right?

Bollocks.

Unsurprisingly, the Daily Mail (ever the voice of reason!) have rather exaggerated the issue:

“The challenge to the Christian-run Ashers Baking Company is the first likely legal case in which anyone has been told it is against the law to refuse to take part in gay rights publicity campaigns.”
Errr, that’s not strictly true.  They were being asked to provide a cake – that they were getting paid for.  That’s hardly the same as holding them at gunpoint and making them walk down the street in drag with a rainbow flag.

Steve Doughty of the Daily Mail goes on (and on…):

“Mr Lee was turned down not because of his sexual orientation but because of the provocative nature of the cake he wanted baked.”
Hardly provocative given that we are living in 2014.  We are talking about two characters from Sesame Street here.

Of course, the Daily Mail article has the backing of the “news”paper’s readers. “Daffodil” suggests that:

“the answer is ,,,Bake the cake and charge ’em £ 1000.00. that should do it .”

This might be a great decision.  The bakery could then donate the £1000 to “Daffodil” so that she could go to evening classes and learn how to use full stops, commas, and capital letters.  A win-win situation.

Meanwhile, “Papillon” writes states that the situation is:

“forced tolerance. makes a lot of sense. I feel so guilty to be a white heterosexual male. I must be the bad guy.”

Well, Papillon might well be the bad guy.  He does, after all, have an avatar of a man cocking a pistol (oh, the irony).

“F2” asks the following question:

“Should gay bakers be forced to make cakes with “Oppose Gay Marriage” slogans?”

Whether we like it  or not, that is a question that needs to be asked, even if the scenario is as unlikely as being asked to bake a cake with a slogan on it supporting gay marriage.

What seems most odd, however, is why a certain group of people believe that rules do not apply to them because they believe in a man in the sky.  Yes, they have a right to believe what they want – and I have no argument against that – but if they run a company (whether a B&B or a bakery) designed to serve the public, then that is what they should do.  The law that states that business owners have a right not to serve people at their own discretion is archaic and needs to be changed.   This may well be a test case for that if it ever gets to court.

The key thing here, though, is that religious beliefs should not be used as a valid excuse for discrimination.

 

 

 

Jeremy Spenser

 

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It’s interesting that the Network label have chosen to use the appearance of Jeremy Spenser as one of the selling points on the packaging of the DVD of Wonderful Things (1959), which was released last week – he “smoulders” apparently. It’s a film that hasn’t been seen for decades, it seems, and, having just watched it, we haven’t really missed a great deal. The script is limp, Frankie Vaughan makes a strangely unlikeable lead, and the songs are less than stellar. The one thing that makes the film watchable is Jeremy Spenser, in a supporting role as Vaughan’s brother. Even saddled with a clunky script, dodgy accent, and what appears to be an inability to button his shirt up, it is Spenser to whom our eyes are drawn whenever he is on screen.

Many will be asking “who is Jeremy Spenser?” Well, Spenser started out as a British child actor, progressed into a teen heart-throb, made a move towards leading man material, but then fells into smaller and smaller film roles before disappearing from the screen altogether. Following roles in Summertime (1955) and It’s Great to be Young (1956), it looked as if Spenser would make the transition into leading man material easily. But his career seemed to falter after Ferry to Hong Kong (1959).

Perhaps his best-remembered role is It’s Great to be Young, a charming little British semi-musical from 1956 featuring John Mills as a music teacher who gets the sack for playing piano in a pub, only for the kids at the school to stage a sit-in in the gym in order for him to be reinstated. Spenser plays the boy who masterminds the sit-in and sets the screen alight with slightly tongue-in-cheek youthful exuberance. The film was outdated by the time it was released (the kids love jazz not rock ‘n’ roll), but that doesn’t matter. It’s a sweet little film, and one that was shown with great regularity on UK TV during the 1980s and early 1990s.

He is slightly less successful in The Prince and the Showgirl (1957), in which he stars alongside Laurence Olivier and Marilyn Monroe. Spenser plays a young king, but the reserved nature of the role didn’t really suit him (not that I have ever liked the film much anyway). One could argue his sympathetic portrayal of Miguel Hernriques, an officer on board the Ferry to Hong Kong was one of the few redeeming features of that film – one in which Orson Welles gives an almost ridiculous performance. The romance between Curd Jurgens and Sylvia Syms is unrealistic, and Spenser’s portrayal of the vulnerable young officer is about the only thing that rings true in the whole film.

And then it was over, it seems. Over the next few years, his name slipped further and further down the credits of the films he appeared in, until his final appearance in Fahrenheit 451 in which he literally is seen eating an apple – and nothing else. What appeared after that appears to be a mystery, although the internet does come up with various theories and a forum or two has a member who claims to know Spenser and tells us he is alive and well. A couple of people report having played chess with him a decade or so ago.

In the end, his whereabouts now is unimportant (providing he is happy and healthy, of course). What is known is that when Spenser’s brother, David (also an actor), passed away in August 2013, The Guardian reported that Jeremy was still alive.  What’s clear even from a relative dud such as Wonderful Things is that a fine actor, and even greater screen presence, ended his career (or had it ended for him) much too soon, and just at the point when it should have blossomed. It appears that even working with the likes of Vivien Leigh, Marilyn Monroe, John Mills, Laurence Olivier, Orson Welles and Dirk Bogarde couldn’t guarantee a successful career. Or perhaps it was playing supporting roles with those luminaries which caused the problem in the first place. We shall probably never know. However, when I saw this portrait of him recently, I realised he is clearly the greatest screen Dorian Gray that never was.

jeremy spenser