Review | Elvis: 'Roustabout' FTD Special Edition Classic Album CD

By: Toby Richard
Source: Elvis Australia
August 31, 2019

Roustabout was Elvis' 16th motion picture. Produced by Hal B. Wallis for Paramount Pictures, it was released to US theaters on November 11, 1964. The film follows Elvis in the role of bad boy singer Charlie Rogers, who joins a traveling carnival run by Maggie Morgan (Barbara Stanwyck) as a roustabout after losing his job as a musician. Maggie learns of Charlie's musical talents and promotes him as one of the carnival's attractions. Meanwhile, Charlie romances teenaged Cathy Lean (Joan Freeman), which leads to friction with her father, Joe (Leif Erickson), one of Maggie's employees.

While the film was not as big a hit as Elvis' previous film, Viva Las Vegas, it is still well-known for the iconic image of a leather-clad Elvis driving a red Honda motorcycle. Elvis wore a similar outfit in his famous '68 Comeback Special, which may have been inspired by Elvis' look in Roustabout. Still, the film is not among Elvis' best-known and its soundtrack is largely forgotten nowadays even though it was a number one album. It didn't produce any hit singles but - in addition to the hidden gems 'Big Love, Big Heartache' and 'One Track Heart' - the album includes a number of good up-tempo songs such as 'Hard Knocks', 'Wheels on My Heels', 'Poison Ivy League' and 'Little Egypt'. The latter two songs, along with 'Roustabout' and 'There's a Brand New Day on the Horizon', even appeared on RCA's critically acclaimed 1995 soundtrack compilation Command Performances: The Essential 60s Masters II.

Elvis: 'Roustabout' FTD Special Edition Classic Album CD.
Elvis: 'Roustabout' FTD Special Edition Classic Album CD.

Nevertheless, many casual fans of Elvis' music probably have never heard a single song from the Roustabout album except for maybe the Leiber & Stoller-penned 'Little Egypt', which was a 1961 R&B hit for The Coasters and was later performed by Elvis for the 'Guitar Man' production number in his '68 Comeback Special. Other than that, the songs from Roustabout are not widely known as they are rarely included on compilations. Not surprisingly, Roustabout is not among the first things to come to mind when we talk about Elvis in the 1960s. What usually comes up first is either Elvis' 1960 comeback album Elvis Is Back or his second comeback at the end of the decade that saw him returning to performing live and recording studio albums.

For the biggest part of the 1960s, however, Elvis was - as he said himself during his 1969 Las Vegas performances - in a rut making film after film in Hollywood. From 1964 until 1969, three Elvis feature films where released in theaters each year and the scripts to all those films became increasingly formulaic. Not only the stories presented in the Elvis films of the mid-1960s often left much to be desired but, starting around 1963, there was also a noticeable drop in quality regarding the songs that were written for the soundtracks. Ultimately, Elvis became frustrated with his film career and left the film business at the end of the decade, never to return again.

However, 1964 was quite an interesting year in Elvis' film career as it saw the release of one of his best-known films, Viva Las Vegas, which also had a good soundtrack that was inexplicably not released as an album at the time but only as an extended play. Beyond his film career, Elvis also continued recording strong material for a new studio album in 1964, which he had begun the year before. A number of great songs such as 'Memphis Tennessee', 'It Hurts Me' and 'Ask Me' were slated for inclusion in the proposed album. Unfortunately, that studio album never came to be as Colonel Tom Parker decided to use the recorded songs for single releases and as filler tracks on soundtrack albums. The mid-1960s studio album that could have been was eventually released as For the Asking (The Lost Album) in 1990.

In the early months of 1964, the idea of a new studio album was apparently still on the table, though. In January of that year, Elvis was eager to re-record 'Memphis Tennessee' and 'Ask Me', two songs he had already tried out the previous May, and it appears that the energy he put into those songs rubbed off on the songs he recorded for the Roustabout soundtrack only some two-odd months later. It is an often-told fact that Roustabout was Elvis' last album to reach the number one spot on the Billboard album chart until Aloha from Hawaii: Via Satellite came out in 1973 and did the same. That Elvis could reach the number one spot of the album chart in 1964/1965, at the height of the British Invasion, and do it with a soundtrack album to a film that received lukewarm reviews from critics upon release had not so much to do with the specific songs that were included in the album.

Elvis: 'Roustabout' FTD Special Edition Classic Album CD. Back Cover.
Elvis: 'Roustabout' FTD Special Edition Classic Album CD. Back Cover.

In fact, no lead single was chosen to promote the film. Instead, the cover of the unrelated single 'Ask Me' b/w 'Ain't That Loving You Baby' (a leftover from 1958) read 'Ask for 'Roustabout' LP Album'. Nevertheless, the commercial success of Viva Las Vegas earlier in 1964 and the fact that an accompanying soundtrack album was not available may have contributed to the soundtrack sales of Roustabout, which came out only a couple of months later. Even though Roustabout didn't produce any hit songs, the soundtrack is among the strongest ones of Elvis' 1960s films and the album certainly has its die-hard fans.

For many years, a release of Roustabout in Follow That Dream Records' (FTD) classic albums series was an often-made request that the label finally filled in July of 2017. One of the possible reasons why this definitive edition of the soundtrack album took so long to release was the possibility of more outtakes to appear after the early 2000s discovery of the previously unreleased alternate title song 'I'm a Roustabout' that was initially released on the 2003 compilation album 2nd to None. Nothing new has turned up since then, though, and the number of surviving outtakes for Roustabout remains relatively small. To make up for the lack of material, FTD chose to expand the album with newly remixed outtake versions of all eleven master takes. That not only doubles the humble 21-minute playing time of the original album but brings it up to 43 plus minutes as the remixed master takes additionally include take announcements, a few dialogue snippets and studio ambience before and after the actual songs.

Add to these 22 tracks the aforementioned discarded alternate title song 'I'm a Roustabout' (take 10/master) - which was written for the film by Otis Blackwell and Winfield Scott and originally titled 'Roustabout' but renamed to avoid confusion - and you have close to 46 minutes of master take playing time. The rest of the 33-track CD, which clocks in at a generous 77 minutes, is filled with one alternate take each of 'Little Egypt' (take 21), 'Hard Knocks' (take 4), and 'It's Carnival Time' (Take 12) - all of which were used in the film as 'movie versions' - one instrumental take of It's a 'Wonderful World' (take 17) as well as all 16 (!) alternate takes of Elvis' vocal overdub for 'Roustabout', one of which (take 9) corresponds to the 'movie version'.

At close to 25 minutes (including the master), the vocal overdub session for 'Roustabout' makes up almost a third of the whole playing time of the CD, which is quite a lot. The 17 takes of 'Roustabout' are split up into seven tracks that are all placed chronologically at the end of the CD. The problem with this sequencing is that you get 25 minutes of the same song at a time, which can quickly become repetitive, especially considering that ten of these takes are false starts. Takes 6, 8, 9, 12, 13 and 16 are complete; take 17 is the master. This last third of the CD is certainly only of interest for completists, although takes 6, 8 and 16 of 'Roustabout' are a bit more interesting and fun because Elvis exchanges 'rovin' roustabout' with 'raving maniac'.

Elvis appears to be a bit frustrated to have to run through so many takes of the same song when overdubbing is usually done to save time but he seems to have fun doing it. When Elvis says 'almost' after take 11 false start, studio engineer Dave Wiechman adds: 'This is the kind of song you gotta live with - forever.' After take 15 false start, Elvis laughs and says: 'I knew it', to which Wiechman counters with a laugh: 'It's your hobby?' Elvis is laughing a lot during the 'Roustabout' overdub session and seems to be in a good mood. Listening to the remixed master takes and the outtakes from the Roustabout sessions, it becomes apparent that Elvis must have had fun recording the songs for the film. While Elvis sounds tired and unfocused on a number of his mid-1960s soundtrack recordings, he appears to be very relaxed and focused on Roustabout and delivers good vocals on virtually all of the tracks.

For film soundtrack recordings, the recording quality of the tracks is quite good. The stereo field is very pronounced and features the instruments mostly hard-panned to the left channel and the Jordanaires backing vocals hard-panned to the right while Elvis is in the middle. At some points, instruments can be heard in the right channel, too. On 'Wheels on My Heels', Boots Randolph's saxophone blasts through the right channel while it is on the left on 'Little Egypt'. The other musicians on the album include Scotty Moore, Hilmer 'Tiny' Timbrell, Billy Strange and Barney Kessel on guitar, Bob Moore and Ray Siegel on bass, D.J. Fontana, Hal Blaine, Buddy Herman and Bernie Mattinson on drums, Floyd Cramer and Dudley Brooks on piano as well as The Mello Men on backing vocals on 'Roustabout'.

The Roustabout sessions took place on March 2 and 3, 1964 at Radio Recorders in Hollywood. The backing track for the title track, 'Roustabout', was recorded later, on April 29, at the same studio, to which Elvis added his vocals on May 14. The studio engineer for the sessions was Dave Wiechman working with Paramount producer Joseph Lilley. Audio restoration and mastering was done by Sebastian Jeansson and the tracks were mixed by Vica Anesini and Sebastian Jeansson.

Compared to the original master takes, the remixed masters sound clearer as they were taken from the master tapes that don't feature the echo effect that was added after the sessions. The outtakes are almost all of the same good quality with the exception of 'I'm a Roustabout' of course, which stems from a mono acetate - it sounds much better here than on 2nd to None, though - and the previously unreleased movie version of 'It’s Carnival Time', which is also in mono. In the booklet, it is stated, on what releases the previously released outtakes originally appeared and which outtakes are previously unreleased. Seven tracks (17, 19, 23, 29, 30, 31, 32) are marked as previously unreleased. Additionally, two tracks (27 and 28) are previously unreleased in part.

Deluxe Packaging

As usual with FTD's classic albums, Roustabout comes in a 7" triple-fold-out cover that features a faithful reproduction of the original artwork and includes a 16-page booklet with many photographs (lobby cards, publicity shots, behind-the-scenes photos) and memorabilia (film posters, artwork, advertisements, letters, charts, session data, artifacts). The booklet also includes a short essay by Alan Hanson, a recount of memorable events in the making of the film, some movie trivia and information on the soundtrack album's sales, certifications and chart positions.

Elvis: 'Roustabout' FTD Special Edition Classic Album CD. Booklet Cover.
Elvis: 'Roustabout' FTD Special Edition Classic Album CD. Booklet Cover.


All in all, this is another definitive edition for one Elvis' film soundtracks released on the Follow That Dream label. Roustabout was one of the very last soundtracks to get the classic album treatment and will certainly be treasured by fans. The CD is filled with everything that is available from the soundtrack sessions and it is all presented in good sound quality. The visual presentation is also compelling and the liner notes are informative. A great package all around.

Buy Elvis: 'Roustabout' FTD Special Edition Classic Album CD

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