1965 was yet another busy year for Elvis Presley. During these twelve months, he had starred in three movies and released three albums – two of which had been soundtracks for the movies Girl Happy and Harum Scarum. The latter would end up being one of the more obscure movies ‘The King’ had starred in (despite its box-office success) and the soundtrack itself would similarly become one of Elvis’s lesser-known treasures.
In Harum Scarum, Elvis plays Johnny Tyrone, an American movie star who visits the Middle East for the premiere of his new movie, only to end up being kidnapped by a man who wants him to assassinate the king. As expected, everything works out for Johnny throughout the enjoyably bad movie, which also starred Mary Ann Mobley, who of course was also famous for being crowned Miss America 1959. This movie was a minor success.
We are treated to an east-meets-west sway throughout the soundtrack that would subsequently be explored (and executed brilliantly) by artists such as The Beatles and The Byrds. Opening the album, we have Harum Holiday, a pleasant number that details the character’s journey to the Middle East. Elvis is in good form here: he portrays his characters anticipation well, and that – coupled with the band’s good musicianship – definitely make this one of the highlights. Next up is My Desert Serenade; a moody song that with its shuffle and backing vocals (courtesy of The Jordanaires) almost feels more like a song that belongs in a western movie..
Afterwards, we experience our first exotic taste with Go East, Young Man which is very similar in mood to the last song with its wearied vocals. Mirage largely continues with the same exotic and drowsy atmosphere and ends up being a tiring effort that really fails to inspire; as does Kismet, which proves to be another throwaway, ten-a-penny filler. Shake That Tambourine ends up being a breath of fresh air just for its high-tempo rockabilly-esque groove; it is immediately followed by Hey Little Girl which sees Elvis going back to somewhat more familiar territory in rock and roll, although not fully, but at least it’s a flashback to the era in which he made his name.
Golden Coins and So Close, Yet So Far (From Paradise) are a couple of easy-listening ballads, although both are very different in style. Golden Coins continues on that Middle Eastern atmosphere, whilst So Close, Yet So Far (From Paradise) is characterised by a laid-back melancholic sound with the singer yearning for the woman he loves as exemplified by: “I reach out for you, but each time I do, I always find you gone”. It’s a nice track even if it does feel somewhat undercooked. Animal Instinct is a fun, whimsical number that is enjoyable simply for the lyrics and swinging music; in fact, it almost comes across as a parody with all of the animal references, but actually, it was just a bonus track that got featured on the soundtrack like the final track, Wisdom of the Ages. Wisdom is a much stronger, deeper, more introspective ballad; it’s also the best ballad on the entire soundtrack, making it more surprising that it was not included in the movie.
Despite the album’s rushed creation (each song on this album was recorded during a three-day period in February 1966) and reports of Elvis Presley feeling slightly disillusioned during the production, enjoyable moments are in good supply and arguably a deep cut or two amongst the short outing. Despite the poor reviews garnered by both the movie and soundtrack, it wouldn’t really negatively impact Elvis’s career: he soon came back with yet another movie and yet another soundtrack. The rest, as they say, is history.