Spinout is where Elvis Presley tentatively starts to climb back from his 1966 nadir by pushing at the boundaries of the formula Col. Tom Parker and RCA set for his soundtracks. At its core, Spinout is very much a soundtrack -- nine of its 12 songs were designed to slide into the film's nonsensical race car plot -- but there's a slight swinging spark to the production and, better still, there are some gems at the margins. Chief among these is a funky, folky version of Bob Dylan's "Tomorrow Is a Long Time," the first time Elvis actively engages with any of the musical or cultural upheavals of the '60s, and he knocks it out of the park; the distance that separates this from the rest of his 1966 work is startling. He's back on familiar ground singing the old Clovers single "Down in the Alley," but he tears into the tune, his zeal in singing an actual blues practically leaping out of the grooves. Although there's a pleasing sweetness to a rendition of Don Ho's "I'll Remember You," "Tomorrow Is a Long Time" and "Down in the Alley" are Spinout's unabashed highlights, the tracks that transcend their soundtrack origins, but the LP does deliver some relative pleasures. "Stop, Look and Listen" swings and jives, Doc Pomus & Mort Shuman's "Never Say Yes" is a cheerful rhumba, the title track cooks along with a groovy fervor, and "Smorgasbord" embraces its camp. None of these are great songs, not by any means, but they possess style, swing, and tunes, something Harum Scarum, Frankie & Johnny, and Paradise, Hawaiian Style all lacked, and the return of cinematic swagger is most certainly welcome here.
by Stephen Thomas Erlewine