Monday, September 21, 2009

Can't Live With Them: Elvis Presley: "Hard Headed Woman"

I have been thinking lately about the construct/canonical idea of rock 'n' roll being 'born' and then 'dying' and then 'coming back' as of late; if you like, the death and resurrection of a kind of music that from the beginning has honored and defended itself vociferously against any and all comers. Rock 'n' roll is not music for those who are comfortable or satisfied (actually no good music is, but that is for another essay). So what happens when THE symbol of rock gets enlisted? Is that a kind of death?

I am sure for many it was a sort of ending when Elvis was enlisted and then joined the army in early '58; The Man wanted him and got him. The man himself was uneasy (not to mention his label) about the prospect of no more recording or concerts, and recorded a lot of songs before getting his uniform and haircut. Anyone who went to see King Creole ('58, with Walter Matthau as the heavy) only heard "Hard Headed Woman" at the very end of the movie, which is something of a cheat, since it is (for all I know) the meta-commentary on its plot; but even if you know nothing, it is still a great song, a good-natured protest that "A hard headed woman and a soft hearted man/Been the cause of trouble ever since the world began" and then running through Eve, Delilah and Jezebel like any good Christian boy would, as examples. It is a blues song speeded up (written by Claude Demetrius) and with the New Orleans setting it has the New Orleans horns as well as Elvis' usual Jordanaires backing - in this song it is as if rock is already getting back to the blues, or maybe showing that there is barely any difference besides speed and determination in the matter.

Elvis himself is having a ball - the army clock is ticking and he's going to give it his all before he goes - so much so that instead of just "Uh-huh!" he sings "Uh-hah-hoo!" through the song, digging the bad girls and sympathizing with the guys who haplessly give in to them or just hang around with them. He also looks the complete badass on the cover of the single, which doesn't hurt, either. If this is rock 'n' roll's swan song, then it is a good one.

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