Oh boy, here we go. So, needless to say, this is an artist who needs no introduction – he’s Elvis! The King! Although, one wouldn’t get that sense from this song alone… but let’s back up a little bit. The release of this song comes during the latter period of Presley’s comeback period. While this period had, since 1968, proved to be very profitable to the performer, resulting in a bunch of new hit singles and an illustrious string of tours and Las Vegas performances, what goes up must eventually come down. Amidst the sellout crowds and ever-increasing popularity of his shows, his health had deteriorated drastically, troubled by expanding abuse of barbiturates. While this had a negative effect on his live shows – many of which he visibly struggled to get through – his high publicized downfall also prevented him from being very present on the pop charts as well (although he remained a staple in the country and adult contemporary charts). While I wouldn’t dare suggest that his very real health crises were the one and only reason behind the depleting quality of his releases, it certainly couldn’t have helped.
Despite seemingly everything working against him, though, “My Boy” did end up becoming a number-one adult contemporary hit, one of the very last of his career before his death in 1977. It should be noted, though, that this was one of the many covers that Elvis had recorded during the latter parts of his career. It was originally written and performed in the early 70s by Claude François under the title “Parce que je t’aime, mon enfant”, with English-translated lyrics by Phil Coulter and Bill Martin. The first recorded rendition of this English version came from Richard Harris, who released the song as a single back in ’71 – so the song already had a bit of history before Presley took a stab at it. In terms of content, it details the emotions of the speaker, a father in a struggling marriage, while describing the details of the loveless marriage to his young, sleeping son. It’s sad stuff, for sure, and there’s nothing like a touch of French melodrama added into an already-melancholic situation to really get those tears a-falling (see also: “Ne me quitte pas” – whew).
Yet as is the case with many English translations of these French compositions, there’s always something that gets lost in translation and the resulting encryption is relatively schmaltzy and disingenuous. The bombast of the arrangement of the song itself is certainly its more prevalent and strongest quality; it just makes so much sense that this came from the same person who wrote the original French version of “My Way”. But something about this particular recording just feels so bland and dull in its presentation. It’s devised of three separate parts that, sonically and thematically, feel pretty interchangeable for the most part. The lyrics should have detailed out a beautifully tragic tale that interlaces adult heartbreak with childish naivety, but instead we get super basic lines like, “I have laughed, I have cried / I have lost every game / Taken all I can take / But I’ll stay just the same”. On this note, it makes sense that this translation was given to us by the duo that composed many of Eurovision’s grandest, overblown hits.
But sadly, that’s not all who is to blame here. Presley really sounds like he’s merely phoning in a performance and he very possibly could be doing exactly that, offering only the bare minimum emotional content needed to make the song happen. This is nowhere close to touching the ball of energy that came from such recordings as “Jailhouse Rock”, “Heartbreak Hotel”, and even later recordings like “Burning Love” and “Suspicious Minds”. Instead, we’ve got an autopilot performance that doesn’t even try to give us any of the emotional intensity that the subject matter of the song would require. I guess some things are bound to get lost in translation when dealing with cross-continental emotions, but it also doesn’t help that we’re getting this single from a performer who is dangerously close to burning out altogether. Reading about Elvis’ final years always makes me really sad, and the fact that his final studio recordings in this time were maudlin garbage like this and nary a glimmer of magic in sight.