Our long time member Deano1 suggested to add a new series: original album reviews, here is his first go: Kissin Cousins.
Kissin’ Cousins Soundtrack LP (released 4/1964) - ** out of 5
In today’s vernacular, it is said that a TV series or a movie franchise has a “jump the shark” moment when it has reaches its peak and begins a downhill slide to mediocrity or oblivion. If ever there was a “jump the shark” moment in Elvis’ career it was with the movie and soundtrack album “Kissin Cousins”.
Looking back at the times, it isn’t hard to see why the movie was made. “The Beverly Hillbillies” was the number one show on TV in both 1963 and 1964 and the “culture shock” of southerners meeting city folks was big business in Hollywood. It only made sense that Colonel Parker and MGM would make an Elvis vehicle using this theme. Arguably it was the worst Elvis movie ever made up to that point and it was a definite major step down in terms of quality and content. While the quality of the movie is not up to par with the previous efforts, the soundtrack was an even bigger disappointment in the Elvis LP catalog.
The LP and movie were released at the height of Beatlemania and it is hard to imagine these releases being more ill-timed for an artist that had been on top for the last eight years. Upon release, the movie (#26 at the box office for the year) and LP (reaching #6 on the Billboard LP chart) were successes; however they are now considered artistic nightmares. The success of the album could be attributed to loyal Elvis fans who automatically bought each new Elvis release. It would make sense that those who purchased this subpar Elvis album were not as quick to buy subsequent releases. Elvis’ next album release “Roustabout” did hit #1, but spent less weeks on the chart than “Kissin Cousins” and it was the last top five movie soundtrack LP of his career.
With that said, let’s review this album from the standpoint of a die-hard Elvis fan. I consider myself a self-professed Elvis apologist and I can find enjoyment from most all of his movies and music so please consider this when reading the review.
The album starts off with the song “Kissin Cousins, #2”, a song of little substance that sounds like it was recorded in a garage while Elvis wore a bucket on his head. The sound throughout the soundtrack portion of this album is flat and dull which is a complete contrast from the full sound of the previous soundtrack LP “Fun in Acapulco”. The opening song only lasts for 1 minute and 16 seconds so we won’t spend a lot of time on this poorly written song (“kissin’s allowed ‘cos we’re proud to be cousins”) and the underwhelming vocal performance by Elvis.
“Smokey Mountain Boy” is the second song and if you can block out the horrible whistling by the background singers (I assume the Jordanaires are the ones making this racket) it is a very slight improvement from the first track. Again the lyrics leave a lot to be desired (“gettin’ me a big old grizzly bear”, did the writers even realize grizzly bears don’t live in the Southern part of the U.S.?) and Elvis sings it okay, but he seemed to put a lot more into silly songs such as “Ito Eats” and “No Room to Rhumba in a Sports Car” on previous soundtracks.
Track three is an improvement over the first two from a vocal standpoint as Elvis uses that famous lilt in places; however he still sounds totally uninspired (I can’t blame him really). “There’s Gold in the Mountains” is not going ever be considered a great Elvis song or even a good one although I could have seen it as one of four songs released on a “Kissin Cousin” extended play. Passable, but nothing more.
“One Boy, Two Little Girls” is in my opinion one of the two worst movie ballads of Elvis’ career (“Kismet” from “Harum Scarum” being the other”). This is a horrible song about Elvis’ character Josh Morgan loving two little girls and having to decide which one should be his bride. Elvis’ warm tender voice could usually elevate a dull ballad, but in this case it doesn’t. He sounds bored and the sound quality is again way below the standards of an accomplished artist. I realize Elvis had a cold when he was supposed to record the songs so the tracks were laid down and Elvis sang over the pre-existing tracks (think karaoke). That said, Elvis could do better although this song as it is written is not worth the effort.
A quick, energetic “Catchin’ On Fast” follows and despite being energetic, it is not in any way rock and roll or even close to it. It would be one of the worst tracks on any of the other previous Elvis soundtrack albums. Here it is the second or third best track on side one.
Side one closes with a fine ballad “Tender Feeling”. The instrumentation is a little overbearing at time and one wonders how much better it could have been if Elvis had recorded it live with the band and the Jordanaires. Despite this imperfection, Elvis’ vocals are greatly improved on this song. In the movie, his look-alike cousin Jodie Tatum sings the song and luckily his hokey southern accent suddenly disappears. Still there is a certain spark in Elvis’ voice that seems to be missing. Easily the best track on side one and I give it four stars as a stand-alone song.
A ballad that recorded for the movie, but was not included in the movie starts off side two. “Anyone” is nicely written ballad and seems to have real potential. The problem is the music drowns Elvis’ uninspired vocals. The performance comes across as a rehearsal with Elvis barely singing in places and projecting poorly in others.
From tepid waters to embarrassment is how to best describe the first two tracks on side two as the subpar “Anyone” leads into the abysmal “Barefoot Ballad”. In the movie, Elvis’ look-alike hillbilly cousin sings the song so we are “treated” to Elvis singing this “song” in a fake southern accent. Unbelievably bad lyrics that incorporate the children’s song “Dem Bones” in addition to the bad accent and Hollywood interpretation of what mountain music sounds like leads to this horrible entry into the Elvis songbook.
“Once Is Enough” is a drastic improvement from the first two tracks. When a song written by Tepper and Bennett is one of the best songs on an album you know there are problems. Elvis puts some energy into this song and for the first time on the album the mixture of sound and vocals is reasonable. While not a standout in Elvis career, it is a solid track and again would have been one of the songs I would have picked for a “Kissin Cousins” four track extended play.
Concluding the soundtrack portion of this album is the song “Kissin Cousins”. A nice rollicking tune that RCA released as a single with the non-soundtrack song “It Hurts Me” as its flipside. The single sold as well as Elvis’ previous single “Bossa Nova Baby” despite peaking four notches lower on the Billboard chart at number 12 (the Beatles held down the top five positions the week that “Kissin’ Cousins” peaked). My only real complaint on this song is why they didn’t have Elvis record a movie version (as a duet with his cousin) and one with Elvis singing the entire song in his natural voice for the single and movie release. As previously mentioned, I am not a fan of the accent.
Side two closes with two bonus songs from the May 1963 recording sessions. A good ballad “Echoes of Love” and an entertaining upbeat “Long Lonely Highway” show Elvis could still make good music in 1963 despite most of this albums offerings. Neither are classics, but they are pleasant additions to this album and give me confidence in giving the album two stars.
Recently I played my vinyl version of this soundtrack after listening to the “Fun in Acapulco” soundtrack and I am still shocked by the sharp decline in production and Elvis’ vocals. It is amazing to me that an artist of Elvis’ caliber and status would at this point in his career allow this kind of release (movie and soundtrack). Perhaps he was bored and maybe he figured he had eight unparalleled years at the top and being a formulaic movie actor was his future. Maybe, but regardless there is no reason for the quality of his work to have as drastically declined as it did with this release.