When Elvis Presley said Aloha from Hawaii 50 years ago, the whole world was watching - or close to it. The King, fashionably late, stepped onstage at Honolulu's International Center (capacity at the time: roughly 6,000) at 1:00 a.m. on January 14, 1973 for a scheduled 12:30 a.m. concert. Satellites were beaming the program to a reported audience of over one billion. Another fanciful claim by Colonel Parker? Perhaps. But Aloha was a technological achievement. It was the most expensive entertainment broadcast to that point in history and suitably lavish, with Elvis supported by his usual roster of friends: The TCB Band including James Burton, Jerry Scheff, Ronnie Tutt, John Wilkinson, Glen D. Hardin, and Charlie Hodge; Joe Guercio's orchestra; and vocalists Kathy Westmoreland, The Sweet Inspirations, and J.D. Sumner and The Stamps Quartet. Tickets were sold on a "pay what you can" basis, with all proceeds benefiting the Kui Lee Cancer Fund. All told, Presley raised over $75,000.00 for the cause, over three times the amount expected.
Anticipation ran high in the U.S. for the show, which wasn't aired until April 4. (The American airing had been delayed due to Super Bowl VII and a desire not to compete with the recently-released film Elvis on Tour.) When NBC-TV did finally air the show, it became the network's highest-rated program of the year. 57% of television audiences were watching. RCA Victor's soundtrack double-album, despite tacky cover art, became Elvis' final No. 1 album on the Billboard 200. Now, Aloha from Hawaii via Satellite is back for its third expanded edition in a decade, courtesy of Legacy Recordings. This 3-CD/1-Blu-ray set is the first to include the actual film of the show, premiering in the Blu-ray format. Despite following closely on the heels of a 2022 expansion from the mail-order Follow That Dream specialist label, there's unique audio here, as well.
Hawaii made sense as a locale for a Presley concert to rival his famous 1968 "comeback special." He had shot three movies in the 50th state (1961's Blue Hawaii, 1962's Girls! Girls! Girls!, and 1965's Paradise, Hawaiian Style); he'd even given a charity concert while filming Blue Hawaii. Its Grammy-nominated soundtrack album spent twenty weeks atop the Billboard 200, second only to West Side Story as the most successful soundtrack of the sixties. Aloha would strengthen the 38-year-old artist's already-tight bond with the tropical paradise.
Matt Ross-Spang's remix of the original album first heard on the 2022 Follow That Dream expanded edition of Aloha pops with clarity and crispness, bringing out new details both in Elvis' burnished performance and the large instrumental ensemble. Aloha was his fourth live album since 1969 and perhaps the most enduring, with the image of The King in his white American eagle jumpsuit, a colorful lei around his neck, one of the most familiar in pop music history. Ross-Spang has aimed for naturalism in his mix which better reflects the sound one might have experienced in the actual arena in terms of placement. The newfound vibrancy is evident from the concert's first moments, most particularly in its warm treatment of Presley's relaxed voice.
Energetic romps through "See See Rider" and then-recent hit "Burning Love" start off the show on a high note, following the bombastic "Also Sprach Zarathustra" fanfare. The live "Burning Love" is a particular treat. The original studio recording was released as a single on August 1, 1972, a couple of months after Presley's Madison Square Garden stand, and became his fortieth and final top 10 hit on the Billboard chart. At No. 2, it was kept from the top spot by another famed rock-and-roller, Chuck Berry, with his risqué novelty "My Ding-a-Ling." ("Burning Love" made the top spot on the Cashbox chart, however.) In Hawaii, Elvis savored his recent hit. It set the stage for a substantially different show than the one he had presented in New York. Only seven out of 24 songs were reprised from the MSG album ("Love Me," "Blue Suede Shoes," "I Can't Stop Loving You," "Hound Dog," "Suspicious Minds," "An American Trilogy," and the finale of "Can't Help Falling in Love") with that concert and album far heavier on his early "oldies." The Aloha Elvis was a contemporary one, leaning more on the present than on nostalgia.
Screams, yelps, laughs and gasps punctuate the album as Elvis clearly set his audience's temperatures rising. If the patrons at the International Center were caught in a trap, they didn't wish to get out as Elvis surveyed modern material including Mickey Newbury's "An American Trilogy," George Harrison's "Something," and James Taylor's tongue-in-cheek "Steamroller Blues." Taylor's original version of the song wryly satirized the blues; to the audience's squeals of delight, the TCB band laid down a torrid groove as Elvis wryly proclaimed himself a "napalm bomb guaranteed to blow your mind!" Who could argue?
Though Elvis didn't find room in his setlist for his 1970 hit "The Wonder of You," Marty Robbins' stirring "You Gave Me a Mountain" (a 1969 hit for "Rawhide" crooner Frankie Laine) is arranged in its style. It sat snugly in the Honolulu setlist alongside other anthemic songs such as the martial "What Now My Love" and grandiose "My Way." A live staple for Elvis, his 1971 studio version of the Paul Anka/Jacques Reveaux/Claude Francois song wasn't released until 1995. But "My Way" became associated with Elvis thanks to his impassioned live performances such as this one. A 1977 concert performance was released as a single shortly after his death, and it found success on the Pop, AC and Country charts. On the pop chart, it even eclipsed the original version by Frank Sinatra, for whom Anka wrote the song's English lyrics.
Yet as big and arena-worthy as Elvis was on these songs, he could also be low-key, as on a bluesy "Fever" and a touching reading of Hank Williams' "I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry." The sentiment in Williams' song must have cut the singer to the bone, especially given the recent upheavals in his personal life; he introduced it as "probably the saddest song I've ever heard" before offering some of his most deeply-felt vocals of the evening. He shifted from sublime pathos to brassy bombast with the transition from "Lonesome" to another country-and-western staple, Don Gibson's "I Can't Stop Loving You."
The purest rock-and-roll songs here are almost afterthoughts; Presley casually mumbled through the lyrics in brisk, loose renditions of "Johnny B Goode," "Blue Suede Shoes" and a particularly twangy "Hound Dog" that didn't even clock in at one minute's length. All of these songs, though, show off the camaraderie between the singer and his band. Elvis and the TCB crew showed off their considerable chops with a frenetic "Suspicious Minds," in which he can't help but change the lyric: "I hope this suit don't tear up, baby..." Elvis paid tribute to his beloved Hawaii via one of the album's most touching tracks, "I'll Remember You." Not to be confused with the Johnny Mercer/Victor Schertzinger "I Remember You," the song was written by Hawaiian singer-songwriter Kui Lee, who died of cancer at 34 in 1966. By time of the inevitable finale, "Can't Help Falling in Love," Elvis had wrapped not just the arena but the entire world around his fingers.
The second disc of the new box premieres Ross-Spang's brand-new mix of The Alternate Aloha, the rehearsal show captured on January 12, 1973 around 9:00 p.m. and first released in full in 1988. He's approached this slightly shorter show in similar fashion, and while it's not radically different from the final performance, it's now sonically comparable to it. The third disc has multiple takes (sixteen tracks in total) of the five additional songs Presley recorded at the arena at 3:00 a.m. once the audience had filed out. These five songs (four from Blue Hawaii plus a relaxed version of Gordon Lightfoot's "Early Morning Rain") would be inserted into the special U.S. version of the concert. Ross-Spang remixed all sixteen takes for the 2022 Follow That Dream release, and that mix is reprised here.
This new 50th anniversary set is the third major expansion of Aloha in a decade. The 2013 Legacy Edition featured the original 1973 album mix, a 2013 remix of The Alternate Aloha by Steve Rosenthal and Rob Santos, and one version each of the five bonus songs. The 2022 Follow That Dream edition debuted Ross-Spang's concert remix as well as his 16-track sequence of the bonus songs. (While some of these first appeared on the 1988 Alternate Aloha, some were released as far back as 1976 and 1978 on various compilations.) Discs 1 and 3 of the FTD were mastered by Jan Eliasson while Vic Anesini's 2013 master of the rehearsal show was used. Now, this 2023 box adds Ross-Spang's previously unreleased remix of the rehearsal show, and features an all-new (and expectedly superb) Vic Anesini mastering of all three discs.
The main attraction here is the inclusion of the first Blu-ray appearance of producer-director Marty Pasetta's film of Aloha from Hawaii via Satellite. The material on this disc has been issued before on DVD, but that 2004 release (and a later 2006 issue) is long out-of-print. Though the soundtrack has long been beloved, the flamboyant visuals of the athletic singer during this period are an integral part of the whole Aloha experience. (Elvis had embarked on a series of strenuous diets and workouts in preparation for these landmark shows.) He prowls the stage, winks at himself, gets lei'd by audience members, sweats up a storm, strikes countless poses, flashes his million-dollar smile, and altogether keeps the capacity crowd in the palm of his hands throughout. The film makes it even clearer that Elvis was much more invested in the new material rather than the rehashes of his greatest hits. The Blu-ray contains the main concert, the rehearsal show, and the "insert" bonus songs performance. Unfortunately, it does not include the footage of Elvis arriving in Hawaii or the NBC-TV cut, both of which were included on the 2004 double-DVD set. Audio has been upgraded, however, including 2.0 uncompressed LPCM stereo, 5.1 uncompressed LPCM surround, and Dolby Digital 5.1 surround. The colors of the video appear a bit different than on the '04 DVD but the upgrade, if any, is modest.
About all that's missing is the original quadraphonic album mix, as of this writing still unreleased in the digital era. The original Aloha from Hawaii LP was in four-channel sound; a stereo-only version was first issued through the RCA Record Club before supplanting the quadraphonic version in stores. The original 4.0 mix or even a new 5.1 version would have made for a definitive 50th anniversary reassessment of Aloha from Hawaii.
The set produced by Ernst Mikael Jorgensen is packaged in the by-now-familiar slipcased style of Legacy's other recent Presley releases. The slipcase replicates the original cover art rather than the revised design of the 2022 FTD set. It boasts a colorful 28-page booklet designed by Paul Bevoir with new liner notes by longtime Los Angeles Times critic Randy Lewis plus photos, memorabilia, and credits. The discs are housed in slots within an eight-panel folder; the Blu-ray gets added protection via its own paper sleeve.
Baz Luhrmann's 2022 biopic Elvis captivated a new generation of Elvis fans, many of whom are flocking now to Graceland for the annual Elvis Week festivities. With both audio and video components for the first time, Legacy's new box set of Aloha from Hawaii via Satellite is handily the finest presentation of this album yet (although collectors might justifiably gripe if they already purchased the very similar FTD edition last year). Fifty years after its premiere and over 45 years after his untimely passing, it's happily clear that Elvis has not yet left the building.
Aloha from Hawaii via Satellite is available now: