Hoodoo Hump-Loader

I got the itch, the burnin’ sensation, the midnight twitch and the pelvic gyration. I got a hunch and I’m going back, all the way back to Memphis and the Cathedral of the Celluloid Geeks. I’m doing my devotions, all the way round the Stations of the White Trash Cross, listening to the whang-whang hymns and the croaking toad-man’s self-loading prayers.

Just like the first Quasi gibbered: “Me - want - Esmerelda! We want googoo sly gypsy girl bang-bang.”

Hear me now! Hear this song. Maximum deformo all night long.

After making ClambakeA Change of Habit, and Charro!, where could the King go but straight to Hugo? And so, behold: the great lost cinematic atrocity. Just like the never-seen posters proclaim: “Elvis IS the Hunchback of Notre Dame.”

Forget the frug. Away with the waltz and the watusi. Electric slide? Let it glide. Funky chicken and mash potato? They’ve both gone to Zero. Peace be upon Polka’s name, but it doesn’t have the same slam-weight as the all night festal freak-out. The minuet and boogaloo are naught and nil when The Human Gargoyle comes roaring out of his jungle room and takes over the dance floor.

Hail, hail, rack and rule! Long live the Lord of Graceland and the Pope of Fools. Breaker, breaker - Sieg heil for Der Elvis, the once and future genetically-pure Spaz-fuehrer, laid out on a platter of crowder peas, corn bread and dixie-fried bacon.

In Paris, they had the Quasi-modo. In Vegas we’ve got the Total-modo: the full-fledged, flat-out, fire-breathing modo dragon in a white astronaut jump suit and a helmet of crow-black hair. We’ve got the Croaking Gizzard and the Wizard of Bloat. We’ve got the Blue Light special at the K-Mart cathedral, where celestial sky-shine haloes our Hunka Hunka Burnin’ Voodoobator.

He reaches apotheosis only three weeks before he dies, wIth his three minutes of solo star-turn “Unchained Melody.” If anyone is the real American H.B. of N.D., it’s Elvis at the lip of the Vegas nightclub grave. Draw back the curtain and see the Big E, almost dead, yet still sexy, bloated like a whale gasping out his last breath on some empty beach. His face, encased in a mask of suet, is beyond confidence, beyond charisma. Here and now, Elvis has reached the point of egomaniac no return.

He takes possession of the piano and a minion grovels close, holding up a mike. The King bangs out the first chord and he’s pure sound and fury, a bulging funk-fuel, a 55 gallon drum of pure monster energy. Gaze upon the fullness of Master E, the vastness beyond good and evil, beyond thought. Behemoth, titan, monstrosity, Elvisaurous Rex with his tiny arms and massive hams spread on the piano bench, he sings the gospel squat-thrust, poisoned tongue lolling out, listening to the tolling bells inside his head.

At the end of this “Unchained Melody” he groans and shakes the sweat off his face, he grunts and twists, utterly possessed. He is the Savior of falsetto sleaze and the Christ of corpulence, crucified before a thousand oozing fans. The song reaches its wild keening climax, the chains break, and he’s free, free, God-almighty free at last.


Here is the ghost in the Top 40 machine, a spectral cry to raise the dead. Here is the gleaming slice of occult vinyl that goes where no song has gone before, and comes back with the prettiest corpse in Hollywood history. Hear the exhortation to some nameless “kid” - and understand why there is a legend that the track was actually cut in James Dean’s tomb.

Pulsing from a million radios in the holy year of 73, David Essex’s “Rock On” is a fulcrum balancing both past and future, one of the crucial songs of this most crucial of years. Echoing in a haze of Jamaican dub (with reverb-soaked bass playing lead, tom-toms and congas giving a jungle vibe, dead stops opening into absolute harrowing silence, and no guitar) it anticipates music that will be supposedly cutting edge ten years later. “Rock On” also harks back to 50s-era poppy dreamland, conjuring up summertime blues and blue suede shoes.

It’s obvious, though, that more than nostalgia animates the singer. This compulsive call to “Rock On” rises years before cretin-metal devil horn handjiving. It doesn’t mean merely to get stupid and loud. This “Rock On” points toward ghosty resurrection. The question “Where do we go from here?” comes from nowhere and finds no answer. Sadness and death linger in the grooves. Multi-tracked vocals add to the opioid reverie. “See her shake on the movie screen.” Who is the “Baby Queen”? We never find out.

The hypnotic bass on “Rock On” is played by the great Herbie Flowers. Creating the brilliant throb-bottoms for 1972’s “Jump Into the Fire” and “Walk On the Wild Side,” anchoring Bowie’s Diamond Dogs album and hundreds of other hits, Herbie Flowers was the primo bass presence of the era.

Disco too lurks in the grooves. The strings on early-70s dance-hits are universally despised by critics and ignored by dance-floor fans. But the pocket-orchestra riffing is exactly what lifts disco from its banality. Disco’s beat is moronically monotonous, and the lyrics idiotic (“boogie oogie oogie” indeed). However, the sleaze of studio strings and quasi-jazz horn intrusions are exactly what brings the devotee back again and again.

As a one-hit wonder who ended up far more successful acting than making music, David Essex here does the cinematic mind-meld. The song veers toward romance (“prettiest girl I ever seen”), then fades into a lost-soul call: hissing slippery sibilants (“sssssssh”) and gospel wails (“oh my soul!”). More trance than dance, more necromantic spell than pop song, “Rock On” still lingers in the ether - tugging at the souls of dead stars and lonely planet kids who remember, or who have convinced themselves that their music-spawned memories are real.