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Jun 04

ELVIS PRESLEY – “Wooden Heart”

Popular14 comments • 2,118 views

#115, 25 March 1961

Presley may not have written his own material but his influence on its direction is pretty clear – how else to explain the bizarre Euro-stylings that crept into his records immediately after his army stint? “It’s Now Or Never” just about pulled its operatic ambitions off, but “Wooden Heart” is a recasting too far, a real ‘what was he thinking?’ moment. (Likely answer: Deutschmarks)

It’s funny enough to be quite likeable but you wouldn’t want it jumping out of a playlist at you. Elvis sings the song – twee even on paper – in a comedy burgher accent straight out of Heidi, with a fey music box arrangement. Then he does it again – in German. That bit was surely the Colonel’s idea. Marketing gold it may be, but this is calamitous stuff for the listener: a rotten record. If even a quarter of the people who bought “His Latest Flame” a year later also shelled out for this, it’s proof that a big enough star really can release anything and get away with it.

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Comments

  1. 1
    Joe Williams on 29 Aug 2005 #

    I might be wrong about this, as I haven’t seen the film, but I think the German bits are because it was in the film ‘GI Blues’, where I think Elvis played an American GI stationed in Germany (probably not that difficult a part for him to get to grips with)

  2. 2
    Waldo on 19 Apr 2007 #

    This piece of crap was Number One the day I was born. God help me.

  3. 3
    richard thompson on 7 Jun 2008 #

    I wasn’t born then but I’ve seen the film, this must have been when Lennon suggested he died when he entered the army.

  4. 4
    rosie on 14 Jun 2008 #

    You’ll all be shocked to hear, then, that when invited to choose nine records for my guest appearance on Bill Clark’s Abbey FM show in April this year, I chose this as one of my nine.

    Not because it ranks particularly high in my estimation (it doesn’t, but nor does it make me squirm) but because I clearly remember it being the first Elvis I ever heard.

  5. 5
    wichita lineman on 14 Jan 2009 #

    I think he sings it to a puppet in the film.

    Even the flip was less than exciting – Tonight Is So Right For Love – which is galling because at least in my fictional chart world I could have flipped the A and B.

    What’s more, the GI Blues soundtrack does include a few gems aside from Wooden Heart and Frankfurt Special: Shoppin’ Around had the swagger, and sensual vocal semi-colons of All Shook Up (also the opening lines “you’ve got the huggingest arms, the thrillingest eyes, you’re just my style and you’re just my size”). It was the Canadian flip to Wooden Heart.

    Best of all is Pomus and Shuman’s Doin’ The Best I Can, a ballad of abject surrender. The high, near-whispered vocal is keening and helpless. It was a single in tasteful Japan, while their Wooden Heart 45 had the celeste-led, exquisite Pocketful Of Rainbows on the flip. They win all ends up.

    No matter how hard I scrub, I can’t clean this stain from the UK/US Elvis discography. It’s so bad.

  6. 6
    Mutley on 9 Mar 2010 #

    If It’s Now or Never is Elvis sings Mario Lanza, this song is Elvis sings Julie Andrews. The rest of GI Blues could be Student Prince 2, with men in uniforms joshing in the Rhineland – the Drinking Song from the Student Prince and the GI Blues title song aren’t a million miles apart.

    Wooden Heart however is from the Sound of Music – perfect diction targeted at a group of admiring children. Of course, Julie’s golden period of Sound of Music/Mary Poppins was still a few years off, but she was already a big star in the USA. She appeared twice on the Ed Sullivan Show in 1956, around the same time that Elvis made multiple appearances on the same show.

    Elvis never set foot in Germany during the filming of GI Blues. Mario Lanza went one better than that with only his voice appearing in the Student Prince – he was replaced by Edmund Purdom who mimed to Lanza’s voice. This was because of a contractual dispute with MGM rather than because Mario was overweight, which many people believed at the time.

  7. 7
    thefatgit on 9 Mar 2010 #

    “Wooden Heart” feeds into the Hollywood myth machine of Europe being twee and backward-looking. The same euro-mythology of Jackie Gleason’s “Don’t Drink The Water” and the Gene Wilder version of “Willy Wonka and The Chocolate Factory”, that appear much later than this offering from GI Blues.

    Paranoid american audiences would recoil in horror that Europe or anywhere in the industrialised world, was perhaps more progressive and forward-thinking than the Good Old U S of A. The Sputnik launch demonstrated this mass delusion perfectly.

  8. 8
    wichita lineman on 8 Jun 2010 #

    Proof that it’s the song not the singer rather than “a big enough star really can release anything and get away with it”: this was never a single in the US, so an unknown called Joe Dowell covered it and scored a number one. I’ve never heard it but I’m guessing that, without even a neutered Elvis’s involvement, it has to be worse.

  9. 9
    Paulito on 7 Nov 2010 #

    I always had a soft spot for this one. It’s slight and cutesy, but it has an odd, novel charm about it nonetheless – and I’d certainly choose it over a competent-but-formulaic Elvis #1 like “Stuck On You” or “Good Luck Charm”. Its light German folk stylings are quite agreeable and, rather than proving that at this point Presley could “release anything and get away with it”, to me it merely demonstrates his good humour and versatility (by contrast, Joe Dowell’s cover version shows just how dull such a lightweight confection can be in less talented hands).

  10. 10
    richard thompson on 30 Mar 2012 #

    In the film Elvis is singing it to impress his co star, in the book Elvis over England the lead character says this is the only Elvis song he didn’t like

  11. 11
    wichita lineman on 11 Sep 2012 #

    Here’s a complete, original Pick Of The Pops from 1961 with Wooden Heart at number one. David Jacobs presenting. Very sedate. No one texting “gotta be Elvis at number one” or “that Shirley Bassey is peng”.

    http://www.radiorewind.co.uk/sounds/290461_potp_djacbs_full.mp3

  12. 12
    Jimmy the Swede on 11 Sep 2012 #

    Thanks for this, Lineman. A fascinating link. As I mentioned up-thread, this was all happening during my entrance to this world. Indeed the very day of my birth saw the very ill-starred Bay of Pigs invasion, which was the second biggest mistake Kennedy ever made.

  13. 13
    glue_factory on 11 Sep 2012 #

    Great post Wichita. Nice to hear a chart featuring both record-numbers being read out, and a bad Chinese impersonation.

  14. 14
    lonepilgrim on 17 Mar 2014 #

    I ticked this as a 6+ on the recent 1961 poll based on a very vague memory. Having listened to it again I would drop it to a 4 or 5. I don’t hate it – there’s something fascinating about the way Elvis croons the vowels as though he’s savouring them like a fine brandy but it is a bit lightweight.

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