October 28th sees the release of my first feature film, Shangri-La Suite. It tells the story of two lovers-on-the-run during the summer of 1974. Their names: Jack Blueblood and Karen Bird. Their aim: to kill Elvis Presley. It stars Emily Browning, Luke Grimes, Avan Jogia and Ron Livingston (as the King). Burt Reynolds narrates. The trailer can be seen here. Justin Gage, the man behind Aquarium Drunkard (and my good friend), served as the project’s music supervisor. Justin has been kind enough to offer me a platform here, leading up to the film’s release, where I can write about some of the artists and tracks that inspired our movie and helped shape its creation.
Roy Hamilton’s original recording of “Hurt,” written by Jimmie Crane and Al Jacobs, is the kind of song you’ve heard a million times before. A fine fifties ballad sung with restraint and class. Saccharine; unremarkable. It fails to leave much of an impression, especially when compared to the weight of superior, mid-tempo tearjerkers recorded in that era.
Timi Yuro’s version of “Hurt,” however, is a revelation, and with good reason, the more famous of the two early recordings. Recorded in 1961, seven years after the original, Yuro’s interpretation is lightyears wiser than the source material. Where Hamilton’s is stuffy, old-fashioned, spooky; Yuro’s is soulful, turbulent and timeless. The lyrics, clichéd and forgettable in the original recording, sound confident and clear when sung by Yuro. From the moment she belts out that defiant first cry — the word ‘I’ — she commands your attention and sustains it with ease.
Elvis Presley recorded “Hurt” in 1976, a year before his death, and it perfectly encapsulates the sorrow of his later-life (which is how it eventually found its way into our film’s soundtrack). Though not as immediately powerful, Presley’s take on “Hurt” shares Yuro’s sense of authority and experience; it’s raw pain. And while the King’s cut suffers from some unfortunate mid-seventies studio-cheese, the soul in Presley’s voice — after all those years; near the end — is still plain and undeniable and unparalleled. The fact that his pipes were in such good condition that close to his death is remarkable. The dude meant every word that he sang, even up until the last year of his life.
We couldn’t afford to license Presley’s version of “Hurt,” and so it’s Yuro’s interpretation that soundtracks Shangri-La Suite’s climax — when Jack and Elvis finally come face to face. It’s my favorite needle drop in the movie and the song I’m most excited to reintroduce to the world when the film comes out later this month. words / eddie o’keefe
Previously: Link Wray :: Girl From The North Country