Should Elvis ever have been remixed? The practice is so ubiquitous in today’s voracious cultural circumstance that the subject seems almost moot. Nothing is sacred anymore. But back in 2002, when Dutch DJ Tom Holkenberg, aka Junkie XL (or JXL as often credited on this track) took on from the film ‘Live A Little, Learn A Little’, this was uncharted territory. The remix has been around for ages. I vividly recall buying ‘singles’ on CDs which came with four slightly altered versions of the same track (always inclusive of an ‘instrumental’). JXL’s track, resurrecting Memphis’ most famous son so that not only was he living, breathing, but he was providing the soundtrack to a that same year, was unlike those superfluous tracks. They were filler to make you feel as though your $6 was a really worthwhile investment – something like the DVD extras nobody ever watches. JXL’s big beat approach to a song that was over 30 years old and never a significant chart hit in itself, was different. It’s difficult to know what motivated the DJ to move away from the more ambient, original material he was working on at the time. It’s more impossible still to comprehend why Presley’s estate signed off on the remix, the first such remix to ever be authorized. Whatever the reasoning by both parties, ‘Little Less Conversation’ was a considerable gamble and a concerted effort to breathe new life into an old Elvis track that never got much love in the first instance. And it paid off in spades.
In 2002, when I was 13 and the World Cup meant the world to me, I was happy enough to have the festival of football introduced to me by way of a ghost from pop culture past. For a generation of kids, myself included, JXL’s track was the first real exposure we’d had to the hip-swiveling dude at the centre of so many of our parents’ reminiscings. Sure, we’d seen the movies in passing, playing at the sort of times on a Saturday afternoon that the only audience they could possibly hit was their target demographic. And we understood, from the hoopla that went on whenever ‘Jail House Rock’ came on on the Classic Hits station, that the quiffed one must have been kind of a big deal back in the day. But it took Junkie XL’s bringing the horns and guitars on the 1968 original to the fore and supplementing them with the tight electronic synth work of the day and big drums to properly introduce Elvis. In retrospect, beyond emphasizing certain parts of the mix, lowering Elvis’ voice a tad and throwing some nice, gospel-style harmonies into the fray, JXL’s remix wasn’t so much a remix as a reframing, slightly repurposing an old track to cash in on latent nostalgia value or otherwise a vague, amorphous reverence born out of perceived nostalgia. We knew that this guy was the stuff of our parents’ halcyon days and now, repackaged for our consumption, it would have been rude to turn ‘Little Less Conversation’ down.
That’s not to take away from JXL’s feat here. With all that previously identified nostalgia invested in Elvis as a persona and his back catalogue as a cultural artefact, this effort to freshen up the long-dead King’s contemporary appeal could have ended in absolute shambles. For some reason, I have since come into contact with some of JXL’s original recordings and, although sometimes slightly naff, these tracks indicate that the DJ, on the scene since 1988, has some significant talent of his own. What is impressive about ‘Little Less Conversation’ is that JXL has only touched it, marked it ever so slightly with his personal brand, so that Elvis, his Tennessee swagger and his timeless refrain at the core of it all are allowed proper space. Really changing anything significant about an Elvis song is an invitation for accusations of blasphemy. Instead, eking out the best parts of the original and amplifying them proved JXL’s aptitude and, moreover, his cultural sensitivity. As a result of his efforts (and, to a lesser extent, Paul Oakenfold’s later second draw effort at reviving ‘‘) a whole generation of kids now knows of the rock and roll great beyond the hamburgers and daughter that often sully his name. Back in 2002 when such things were still done, I’d have paid $6 for the privilege of that enlightenment.
Elvis vs JXL – Little Less Conversation