“WHEN HER MOTOR’S WARM and she’s purring sweet, buddy, let me warn you, you’re on a one-way street. She’ll crowd you close, spin your wheels, then you’re gonna know how it feels to spin out.” These lyrics—somehow both pedestrian and a modestly clever bit of double entendre—opened Elvis Presley’s single “Spinout” in September 1966.
Spinout was also the title tune to his upcoming movie which, like most Presley cinematic vehicles of the mid-’60s, was a lightweight musical comedy. And, like the others, it was utterly irrelevant to the current pop music scene as well as the current movie scene.
It was an “Elvis Movie,” effectively a genre unto its own. Elvis had recorded the soundtrack for the movie back in February, at which time other things—bigger things—were happening in popular music.
The road to love is full of danger signs; too many guys were lost who crossed those double lines.
For example, only a few weeks after Presley wrapped up the Spinout sessions, Columbia began shipping promotional copies of the Byrds latest single Eight Miles High to AM radio stations around the country. Listeners heard what were arguably the strangest and most poetic lyrics that had ever found their way onto Top 40 radio:
Eight miles high and when you touch down,
you’ll find that it’s stranger than known.
Signs in the street that say where you’re going
are somewhere just being their own.
The Byrds delivered these surreal lyrics with dispassionate, otherworldly voices floating atop an innovative, avant-garde instrumental track. Inspired by the equally innovative playing of John Coltrane and Ravi Shankar’s playing of timeless Indian raga music, the record was without peer in 1966.
Eight Miles High proved to be “the psychedelic shot heard ’round the world” (and a nod to Dominic Priore for coining that phrase). It also proved to be problematic as it caused at least one prominent and influential trade publication to call for radio stations to stop playing the record so as not to promote drug use among the youth.
A one-way street
In comparison, most of the music that Elvis had been making for the past few years that passed for rock & roll was flaccid pop. During the mid-’60s, Elvis’s rocking singles were less-than-scintillating affairs from his movies such as Do The Clam, Frankie And Johnny, Spinout, and—Lord help us—Long Legged Girl (With The Short Dress On).
Spinout was a fairly tough rocker for Elvis at this time. Released in September 1966, it was coupled with All That I Am, the two sides charting separately, peaking on the Cash Box Top 100 at #32 and #39, respectively. Despite this lackluster showing on the pop charts, the single sold 400,000 in the US and, by 1968, had passed the million mark globally!
The SPINOUT album followed a few weeks later and while it was the “toughest” sounding Elvis album since ELVIS IS BACK in 1960, it was still rather silly when compared to what was happening elsewhere. The album quickly sold 300,000 copies in the US, making it into the Top 20 on the Billboard Best Selling LP’s chart. As RCA has not submitted SPINOUT to the RIAA for certification, we can safely assume one of two things:
1. The album has not sold 500,000 units in the US.
2. RCA cannot find the paperwork to submit to an RIAA auditor that proves the album sold 500,000 units in the US.
What is a wee bit weird about this lack of sales is that SPINOUT is far and away one of the better Presley soundtrack albums of the ’60s. In fact, an argument can be made that it was with these sessions for this album that Elvis took his first steps toward the resurrection of his career that culminated in the self-titled NBC-TV television special that he taped that was broadcast to almost universal acclaim in December 1968.
I intend to cover the Spinout movie and album and its place in the Presley pantheon in an upcoming article on my Elvis – A Touch Of Gold blog.
She’ll crowd you close
While Presley’s records still sold respectably in 1966, he was fast approaching the nadir of his career. In 1967 and most of ’68, sales of his records and movie tickets plummeted and he had become a joke among the new generation of rock fans.
During this time, I was a teenager and an active Elvis fan (one of the few I knew of in my high school) and a regular record buyer. It was fairly easy to “collect” Presley’s music as most of his back-catalog albums were steady sellers and remained in print.
I was also making friends with the owners and employees in all the local record departments and stores. Each person told me that they never returned an Elvis album because they knew it was always going to sell eventually. Another weird thing was that they kept copies of ELVIS’ CHRISTMAS ALBUM in stock because it was the only Christmas album that sold all year round!
As I didn’t have a lot of spending money, I kept an equally active eye on the discount bins of the various five-and-dime stores in the area. These were the forerunners of the cut-out bins of the ’70s and I often found albums selling for a fraction of their suggested list price. It didn’t take me long to realize that I never, ever found an Elvis album in those bins.
Then, in the summer of 1967, I was shocked to find an Elvis album in the 3-for$1 section at Woolworth’s. Even more shocking, it was the British pressing of the album, which was titled CALIFORNIA HOLIDAY instead of SPINOUT. I was aware of the title change because I was a regular buyer of the Elvis Monthly magazine that was published in England but somehow found its way to Leo Matus’s newsstand in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, in the mid-’60s.
I quickly pulled it and a few more titles from the bin and paid for them. What was heck was going on? I had never seen an imported record for sale before and, fifty years later, I wouldn’t even hazard a guess as to how it got there. I would not see another imported album for sale locally for another seven years!
She’ll spin your wheels
So, I made three main points above: Albums imported from other countries were not found in the majority of record stores in the US in the ’60s. When smaller shops that catered to collectors started popping up in cities other than New York or Philadelphia or Detroit, they often carried imports along with used records. This is where many of us saw the Beatles and Stones albums the way the Beatles and the Stones recorded and released them in the UK.
In the ’60s, Elvis records remained in demand all year ’round despite the crap he released. Many retailers simply did not return a Presley platter because they knew it would eventually sell. This is true even of the Great Mono Record Dump of 1968-1969 when the American record industry sold millions of mono (and some stereo) albums to wholesalers for pennies on the dollar. While such big sellers as the Stones and Dylan could be found for 99¢ at this time, I never saw a Presley album at this price.
In the ’70s, Elvis albums started showing up in cut-out bins for the first time. But by then, the way the record industry in the US manufactured and promoted records had changed drastically.
I intend to cover the reason for RCA in the US finally selling Elvis albums as cut-outs along with the explosion of cut-out LPs in the ’70s in my next Avid Record Collectors column here at Sixties Music Secrets . . .