Hello there! This is another entry in our blog series Tim’s Cover Story Goes to the Movies. In these posts, we review a rock and roll tune that features prominently in a film.
This week’s entry is Can’t Help Falling in Love, a lovely pop ballad recorded by Elvis Presley that appeared in his 1961 movie Blue Hawaii. We will then discuss a cover of Can’t Help Falling in Love by UB40.
Elvis Presley and Can’t Help Falling in Love:
Elvis Presley is one of our favorite rock artists, and we have written many blog posts about his life and career. We began with a blog post about the song Hound Dog; a second post on the song Always On My Mind; a post about the song Heartbreak Hotel; a post on Blue Moon Of Kentucky; a post on the song Little Darlin’; a post on Long Tall Sally; and a post on Jailhouse Rock.
Here we will briefly review Elvis’ career around 1961, when he
filmed the movie Blue Hawaii. Next we will skip to 1968, the year of his so-called ’68 Comeback Special.
Elvis first burst into the public consciousness through the songs issued from Sam Phillips’ Sun Records studio. Elvis achieved regional renown in 1954 with his rockabilly cover of Arthur Crudup’s blues song That’s All Right.
By mid-1955, Elvis was beginning to carve out a national reputation. In November of that year, he was voted most promising young male artist at the Country Disc Jockey Convention. Elvis signed a deal with RCA Victor, and then signed ‘Colonel’ Tom Parker as his manager.
But it was in 1956 that Elvis achieved world-wide notoriety with his hip-shaking versions of songs such as Hound Dog and Heartbreak Hotel. Parents and music critics were outraged, teen-agers were enthralled, and Elvis became “The King,” a title he never relinquished during his lifetime.
Below is a 1956 photo of Elvis with his manager, ‘Colonel’ Tom Parker.Embed from Getty Images
Can’t Help Falling in Love in the film Blue Hawaii:
Blue Hawaii was Elvis Presley’s eighth movie, and his second movie in 1961. From the period 1964 through 1969, Elvis would film three movies per year.
The song Can’t Help Falling in Love, which features in Blue Hawaii, was written by Hugo Peretti, Luigi Creatore and George David Weiss. The melody is based on the late 18th century ballad Plaisir d’Amour.
The screenplay for Blue Hawaii was written by Hal Kanter, who would earn a nomination for Best Written American Musical from the Writers’ Guild of America. The movie finished among the top-grossing films of 1961.
Blue Hawaii would be the first of three Elvis movies to feature Hawaii as the locale. In March 1961, Elvis began recording the film’s soundtrack; shortly after that, producer Hal Wallis began shooting location shots around various sites in Hawaii. The final touches were recorded in Hollywood’s Paramount studios.
In Blue Hawaii, Chadwick Gates (Elvis) is the son of the proprietors of the “Great Southern Hawaiian Fruit Company,” a pineapple dynasty. Chad’s snobby mother (Angela Lansbury) expects her son to take over as director of this operation. As a side note, at the time of filming Elvis was 26 and Lansbury, who played his mother, was 35!
Much like Elvis in real life, Chad has just returned from a stint in the Army. His main ambition is to hang out with his surf buddies and to spend time with his girlfriend Maile Duval (Joan Blackman). As a result, Chad defies his parents and goes to work as a guide for a tourist agency.
Another character in the movie is Tucker Gates (Steve Brodie). His main role in the film is to goad Chad into a titanic brawl, a common feature of Elvis movies.
At left is a movie poster for Blue Hawaii. It features a surfboard, with a small picture of Elvis playing a guitar (or is it a ukelele?) near the bottom of the poster.
The Hawaiian islands are a major feature of Blue Hawaii. Most of it was filmed on the island of Kauai, although there are also several shots of Diamond Head on Waikiki.
One memorable song from Blue Hawaii is the title song, which is a cover of Bing Crosby’s tune from the 1937 film Waikiki Wedding.
And here is a clip of Elvis singing Can’t Help Falling in Love in the film Blue Hawaii.
Chad/Elvis sings the song just after giving Maile’s grandmother a music box that he picked up while on duty in Austria. Featuring Elvis’ soothing vocals, this is a beautiful and irresistible ballad.
Can’t Help Falling in Love was released as a single in 1962. It made it to #2 on the Billboard Hot 100, and spent 6 weeks as #1 on the Easy Listening charts. It became one of Elvis’ more popular songs in his live performances, and he often closed his concerts with that tune.
The Blue Hawaii soundtrack album was a blockbuster hit. It
was on the Billboard Pop Albums chart for 79 weeks, where it spent 20 weeks at #1.
The soundtrack album was nominated for a 1961 Grammy in the motion picture or TV recording category.
We will shortly show a live clip of Elvis singing Can’t Stop Falling In Love. This performance took place at a crucial point in Elvis’ career — the so-called “’68 Comeback Special” show broadcast on NBC TV from Las Vegas in Dec. 1968.
There were a number of dramatic twists in Elvis’ career after 1956. First off, he was drafted into the Army in 1958. Although he recorded a number of songs prior to his induction, which were released during his time in the Army, Elvis’ career suffered from the fact that he was never on tour or on TV during this period.
After his release from the Army, Elvis devoted more and more time to his movie career. Although his movies invariably made money (in part because they were so cheaply produced), and he continued to place albums on the charts, Elvis became almost an afterthought in the field of rock and roll.
Beginning in 1964, the `British Invasion’ had nearly wiped out American rock and roll. Among the few to survive the onslaught of the Beatles, Stones and other Brits were Motown artists and the Beach Boys.
So, Elvis had a lot to prove with a televised appearance before a live audience, which was recorded by NBC and broadcast in Dec. 1968. For one thing, it had been over seven years since his last live performance, at Pearl Harbor.
Elvis was determined to show that he was still capable of rocking and rolling. First, he exercised to get himself back into shape. Next, Elvis worked hard to bone up on his singing and stage presence. He assembled some of his old bandmates such as guitarist Scotty Moore, and dressed up in a slinky leather jumpsuit.
The NBC special was filmed on two different days. On each day, Elvis performed two one-hour segments, where each show had a different audience. Elvis played and sang, and also interjected thoughts and reminiscences about his career and the history of rock and roll.
The material from those four sets was then highly condensed into a one-hour TV special. Eventually the songs from all of these shows were released in a four-album set.
The ’68 Comeback Special’ gave Elvis’ career a gigantic shot in the arm. The format – one hour of Elvis performing solo – was unique for pop music on TV. At that time, the norm was to pack a show with as many guest stars as possible.
Elvis clearly wowed the television audience. Here he is singing Can’t Help Falling in Love.
Elvis is extremely appealing here. After a long layoff from public performance, he looked youthful and fit, and he showed off his voice both in ballads like this one, and in his energetic rockabilly classics.
The ’68 Comeback Special involved Elvis appearing on a very small stage, surrounded by the audience. The format for this performance is thought by some to have inspired the later “Unplugged” series of intimate acoustic performances.
The ’68 Comeback Special gave Elvis’ career a much-needed shot in the arm. A direct result of this show was that Elvis began to focus more on his concert appearances, as opposed to his movie roles. In any case, it is heartening to see Elvis rocking once more, and he is clearly having a great time!
UB40 and Can’t Help Falling in Love:
We first encountered UB40 in our blog post on the Neil Diamond song Red Red Wine. Here we will briefly review the career of this British band.
UB40 is a reggae-style pop band that was formed in Birmingham, England in 1978. The name was chosen from the title of a form used by the British government for people who signed up for unemployment compensation.
That form was “Unemployment Benefit Form 40,” or UB40 for short. One of the founders of the group was Ian Campbell. Campbell joined forces with keyboardist Mickey Virtue, percussionist Astro and other musicians to form a band. They chose the name “UB40” as all of them were unemployed at the time they joined the group.
Below is a photo of the multi-ethnic British reggae band UB40 from 1983. From L: Astro; Norman Hassan; Brian Travers; Ali Campbell; Earl Falconer; Jimmy Brown; Robin Campbell; Mickey Virtue.Embed from Getty Images
Over the next few years, the band polished their musical skills in a number of gigs around the U.K. Their first big break occurred when Chrissie Hynde, the lead singer for The Pretenders, brought UB40 to open for her famous U.K. rock band.
The group developed a strong fan base in Britain before they hit the big time in the U.S. with their 1983 album, Labour of Love. That album was a collection of covers, and it hit #1 on the UK album charts and #8 on the American lists.
Can’t Help Falling in Love was the first single release from the UB40 1993 album Promises and Lies. The song was another big hit for the group, reaching #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 charts and also hitting the top spot in many European countries. It was the best-selling tune ever for UB40.
This song also appears in the soundtrack of the 1993 Sharon Stone movie Sliver. By the way, that movie achieved a milestone of sorts by being nominated for seven Golden Raspberry awards (worst picture, worst director, worst screenplay, worst actor, worst actress, worst supporting actor, and worst supporting actress). Perhaps equally amazing, Sliver did not win a single Golden Raspberry award that year!
Here is UB40 in a live performance of Can’t Help Falling In Love. This took place in Rotterdam; I am not sure of the date.
Isn’t this a beautiful song? As you can see, the UB40 cover of Can’t Help Falling In Love features the band’s slow-rocking reggae style. And lead singer Ali Campbell shows off his lovely vocals.
The tune features a steady-thumping bass and drums, backed by a full horn section. This was the closing song in the concert, and the audience is singing right along with the band.
Despite their chart success, in 2008 lead singer Ali Campbell left UB40, and shortly afterwards Mickey Virtue also left the group. Both musicians cited issues with management and disputes over the direction of the band.
UB40 replaced Ali Campbell as lead singer with his brother Duncan Campbell. A couple of years later, Astro left UB40. This began a decided split in the group, as Ian Campbell, Mickey Virtue and Astro later teamed up and toured as “UB40,” at the same time as the re-formed UB40 was also touring.
Not only did this lead to some confusion among their fans, it left each version of UB40 bad-mouthing the other. The UB40 faction fronted by Duncan Campbell had adopted a country style that was mocked by the “alt-UB40” musicians.
Although the original UB40 lineup has now fractured, it is worthwhile noting the remarkable achievements of this band. The group was ethnically extremely diverse, containing English, Irish, Scottish, Jamaican and Yemeni musicians.
UB40 placed over 50 singles on the U.K. pop charts; in addition, they were also best-sellers in the U.S. and Europe. All told, the group sold over 70 million records worldwide, and they were nominated four times for the Grammy Award for Best Reggae Album.
So to all the present and former UB40 musicians, we say “Rock steady, mon!”