It’s 1975 and one of Presley’s associates is suddenly seized by dignity. He sees what’s wrong with Presley’s life. He goes to Presley. They talk.
Elvis Presley takes his associate’s words to heart. The guy is right. The drugs are killing him. First they purge the medicine cabinet. Help on withdrawal must be found. Quickly.
Then Elvis fires the people “working” for him. He starts with the Colonel. Then the Memphis Mafia.
He buys a Winnebago and plans a cross-country trip with Lisa Marie. They go incognito. He takes time to rest up, heal, enjoy the country and mull over a comeback. This time a sustained comeback. But there’s no hurry about it.
In the ’80s he spends a lot of time at Poplar Tunes, the legendary Memphis record shop. He likes the sounds of the albums recorded by Los Lobos, Peter Case, The BoDeans and a recent one by that other Elvis: Elvis Costello. All of them have T-Bone Burnett as producer. Presley decides to give Mr. Burnett a call. It’s time to discuss that long-awaited comeback album. Who knows? They might work up a recording as honest and spirited as “(Marie’s the Name) His Latest Flame.”
OK, we can stop pretending now.
But we can still listen to and consider “(Marie’s the Name) His Latest Flame.”
June 25, 1961 was very productive for Elvis Presley. At a Nashville studio that day, he recorded 5 songs. Three were written by Doc Pomus and Mort Shuman, “Little Sister,” “Kiss Me Quick,” and “(Marie’s the Name) His Latest Flame.”
All three songs are among the best of Presley’s post-Army recordings. “Little Sister” has a lowdown bluesy appeal. “Kiss Me Quick” possesses low-key theatrics with a jovial Italian flair. “(Marie’s the Name) His Latest Flame” has everything going for it. Musically, there’s a spare but wide-open sound. The band delivers a Bo Diddley-styled beat. The vocal performance by Presley is poised and direct. He handles the story in the song with grace. The story related is sad but void of dramatics.
As the song begins, the band’s persistent intro quickly gives way to the singer’s story. A very old friend of the singer’s came by that day. The friend was excited about a new love he had found. To hear him tell it, the girl was perfect. She also reminded the singer of someone he felt close to. The friend kept talking about his new love; he described her eyes and hair. The singer puts 2 and 2 together. The old friend has won the heart of the singer’s girl.
But what a fickle heart. Just a day ago she swore she was his forever. He remembers that as he holds back the tears and listens to his friend, even wishing him luck as he heads out. The name of the guy’s new flame is clear enough to the singer. And suddenly he feels all alone.
“(Marie’s the Name) His Latest Flame” has a timeless quality. The music could have been used for a Western. Close your eyes and there’s Gary Cooper walking those lonesome streets with the strumming guitar on the soundtrack. In fact the stoic nature Cooper often conveyed in his films is similar to the singer’s persona. He’s impassive, yet his pain is deep. The blow has been absorbed. He has to face it. The girl is no longer his. He may be walking those lonesome streets for awhile.
Doc Pomus and Mort Shuman wrote many of the greatest pop songs for the better part of a decade, beginning in the mid ’50s. Pomus was the principle lyricist and he put his natural storytelling skills to good use. Think of Ray Charles declaring his tale of woe on “Lonely Avenue” and the yearning of The Drifters’ “Save The Last Dance For Me.” Pomus could set the story up and carry it through. His lyrics for another hit by The Drifters, “This Magic Moment,” makes it clear why a lover suddenly believes in magic. Nothing else could explain such a feeling.
Doc Pomus only lived to the age of 65. He had a tough life that included struggles with polio. But he enjoyed — really enjoyed — much of the life he experienced. And he came up with great stories. One of the best stories made its way to Elvis Presley on “(Marie’s the Name) His Latest Flame.”