You might have heard about Danzig Sings Elvis when it was released in April. If you did, then like me you thought that Glenn Danzig (keywords: punk, metal, goth, horror, loud, shirtless) was out to have some fun with Elvis Presley (keyword: sex).
Danzig lives in a world as dark as Trent Reznor’s:
If you want the answer
If you want the truth
Look inside yourself
There you’ll find the noose
(“How the Gods Kill”)
Elvis wants to be your teddy bear! How was this collaboration supposed to work?
The answer is, it doesn’t. But not for the reasons you’re probably thinking of.
When I first heard that Danzig (founder of the bands The Misfits, Samhain, and, of course, Danzig) was going to cover the King, I immediately thought of Pat Boone’s In a Metal Mood (1997). Boone, who made his reputation defusing Black music for white teenagers, took up the challenge of covering 12 hard-rock classics.
The two albums even have similar covers:
Sadly, Boone lost his challenge. The clichéd big-band arrangements and the chorus of women from the lite-rock channel were silly, but the biggest problem was Boone’s voice. The man who sold more records in the 1950s than anyone except for Elvis has a voice that’s smooth and seamless, but not steamy. His version of Van Halen’s “Panama” achieved some warmth, probably because Van Halen gave us a show tune with killer guitars. But when he gets to the spoken-word part about driving a car on a hot night and reaching down between his legs, he reminds you that he’s Pat Boone.
Boone said at the time that he was performing a parody of his own image. I enjoyed the joke, and I give the man credit for trying something different. That’s not nothing. In a Metal Mood in that sense is not bad, but also not good.
You Shouldn’t Have to Be an Elvis Scholar to Listen to an Elvis Record
Pat Boone in his private life probably doesn’t have Metallica in heavy rotation on his iPod. But Glenn Danzig sees Elvis as one of his influences. When he conceived and recorded Danzig Sings Elvis, he was serious. I understood that the moment I cued up the first track, “Is It So Strange,” and heard the straightforward vocal and the muted back-up band. I also wondered if my computer had been hacked, or if I was suffering from an undigested bit of beef.
Danzig Sings Elvis fails for two reasons. They may be the most interesting, or surprising, things about this album.
First is Danzig’s voice. When he’s not bellowing about Satan, it turns out he has a gruff tenor voice that can be tender and pleasant to listen to. He shows the hurt. He has more than a hint of country in his voice, or at least something vaguely rural. He knows Elvis inside-out. But Danzig is in his mid-60s, and his voice is not what it was.
Second is the set list. There’s a trap here, and to be fair to the artist, I don’t see how Danzig could have escaped it. The 14 songs are from Elvis’ earliest records (1955 – 1960), except for two from the early 1970s. Danzig chose not to go head-to-head with the King on the best-known songs. But instead of “Heartbreak Hotel” and “Hound Dog,” we get mostly obscure numbers. They were certainly obscure to me.
Someone older than me (I was born in 1955) or more knowledgeable than me (a legion of listeners) might know that Elvis had recorded a song called “Danny” that was a hit in 1960 for Conway Twitty under the new title of “Lonely Blue Boy.” It’s in this set under the latter title. Glenn, please don’t assign me homework.
That person might also know that Elvis recorded “The Girl of My Best Friend.” Several artists have. I didn’t recognize it. The singer is in love with his best friend’s girl: “The way they kiss/their happiness/will my aching heart ever mend?” All I could think of was that Danzig, as I understand him, would’ve held that best friend down and beaten the crap out of him.
There are also two songs here that I associate with other artists: “Always on My Mind” and “Fever.” Not to slight Elvis’ versions, but when you hear “Always on My Mind,” don’t you think of Willie Nelson? Doesn’t “Fever” make you think of Peggy Lee? Danzig covering Willie Nelson or Peggy Lee is not what this album promises.
I never thought I’d hear Glenn Danzig say, “You give me fever when you kiss me.”
“Baby Let’s Play House” has the only guitar break on the record, “When It Rains It Really Pours” is bluesy and not very Elvis-y, “Pocketful of Rainbows” is unexpectedly pretty, and Danzig shows why so many people have performed “Always on My Mind” and “Fever.” That’s it for the notable tracks.
“Pocketful of Rainbows” has grown on me. But overall, I can’t recommend Danzig Sings Elvis. If Glenn Danzig came to your birthday party and sang this set, you’d be happy. (Or you’d be afraid to say anything.) But if you had paid for this, you wouldn’t be. Though I can only recommend Danzig Sings Elvis to Elvis scholars and the most ardent fans, it did make my respect for Danzig grow. He tried to do something different, not as a parody but from love. That’s not nothing.
Header image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons/Jonas Rogowski.