Liner Notes- 08.Sept. 2022
KSTP, The King, and Kuala Lampur
Note: This year I’ve taken on the challenge of listening to & reviewing 100 new (to me) records. This is the latest in the series.
Elvis Presley- Aloha from Hawaii Via Satellite
I'm a fan of milestones.
I suppose it's only natural when you work in a field where your hire date dictates pretty much everything. This year I'll celebrate a milestone "workaversary." Off the clock, I have a big 2022 wedding anniversary right around the corner. Next year will mean a trek home for a 30-year HS reunion.
Longtime readers also know that I've made a habit out of writing up songs on the anniversaries of the release.
So yeah, a big fan of the whole mark your calendars thing.
That's a long way around to tell you I missed the 45th anniversary of Elvis Presley's death last month. My memory was jogged only after I wrote up a brief look back at Nike's "Secret Tournament" commercials that played ahead of the 2002 world Cup. What does that have to do with anything, you ask?
The song used in the ad was a remix of Presley's "A Little Less Conversation."
And I wrote it to mark the 55th anniversary of the original's release.
The truth is I'm not a very big Elvis fan. If pressed to pick, I guess I would go for his later work. What can I say? "Swarthy" Elvis is my guy.
In the late '90s, I lived in Memphis and made the required trek to Graceland (when in Rome and all that). I'm willing to bet I'm one of the few people who were more interested in checking out his airplanes—a Convair 880 and Lockheed JetStar for those keeping score at home— across the street than the mansion itself. They did not disappoint. The surrounding area very much did.
Longtime readers might recall my coming into a large collection of records. I had returned home to help my mom downsize and repatriate a box of my records that I'd left behind in a rush to move east. I was looking for a single box. Instead, I found 4.
Through various moves, relocations, and clearing out of storage units, boxes belonging to my mom, my dad, and stepfather were all comingled with mine. "Aloha from Hawaii (Via Satellite)" must've belonged to my mom.
Four years before he fell off his toilet and shuffled off this mortal coil, Presley recorded Aloha. Being a 2-disc set meant listening to more Presley in one sitting than I likely ever had before.
First up is "Also Sprach Zarathustra," which adds a pompous (if pleasant) touch. Totally on-brand for late-stage Elvis.
Next up was See See rider, done initially by Ma Rainey in 1928 and by everyone and their brother since then. It's also one of a handful of Elvis tracks I genuinely like. I'm not sure if hearing it early was good or bad.
This record is a mix of original songs and covers both. Before we get to side 4's runout groove, we'll hear songs first done by Rainey, Geroge Harrison (the best Beatle!), Chuck Berry, and more.
Speaking of Harrison, it was all I could do not to skip Presley's rendition of "Something." Not because it was bad per se, but because the original (TK link) is so good.
James Taylor's "Steamroller Blues" fares better here. Presley's voice feels like a perfect fit for a song originally written as satire. It ends Side 1 on a good note.
Bonus: Rick James and Isaac Hayes performed the song on an episode of the A-team.
Side 2 kicks off with a cover of Sinatra's "My way." I almost flicked the needle again (see above), but on further review and another listen, it's not bad- primarily as it builds toward the end. That's really where Presley shines.
Outside of "Johnny B. Goode," The balance of side 2 is...okay. It's six songs of what I would consider standard issue Elvis. Nothing terrible, nothing spectacular.
The back half of the double LP starts with "What Now My Love," another track done by seemingly everyone. Seriously; Shirley Bassey, Al Martino, The Temptations, and even Miss Piggy have all performed it. Herb Alpert's take is most notable for being at Disney more than anything else.
60s TV was weird, ya'll.
While I could've gone my whole life and been okay without hearing this version of "Fever," side 3 redeems itself with "Suspicious Minds"- another of the handful of his songs I like.
Side four's "What Now My Love" is a beautiful moment. The track was written by Hawaiian Kui Lee, who lost a battle with cancer seven years before the concert. Donations at the show all went to the center bearing this name. I imagine it meant a lot to those in the audience, and I'd bet there wasn't a dry eye in the house.
The record ends with "Can't Help Falling In Love," which seems appropriate given that it was initially on his "Blue Hawaii" soundtrack, which I also somehow now own.
Bottom Line: Not a terrible record, but one I likely won't listen to again before the next significant milestone deathaversary.
I also think it would've somehow made it more remarkable if the plane sitting at Graceland had been the one he flew over to Hawaii for this show, but he wouldn't buy that until two years later.
It was undoubtedly a popular record (where any of his records not?), reaching #1 on both the pop & country charts. By 2002 it had gone 5x platinum. That should be expected given that A) there are plenty of hits, and B) It's Elvis, obvs.
He does seem to mail in the early material while going all in on later songs. Listening to the former, one can almost see Col. Tom Parker just offstage demanding he play the hits, with Presley obliging…but only so much. Or maybe he was already out of shape and winded despite losing quite a bit of weight preparing for the show. I dunno.
One thing that is terribly overlooked here is Ronnie Tutt's drumming. It is ferocious on this record, doing more than anyone else to keep the TCB band tight. It's almost completely buried under here. Only through sheer force of will does Tutt's sound come through.
Look, I can appreciate a good horn (and/or strings) section as much as the next guy. And while I can also respect this show being considered his last great stand, no one knew that at the time.
I have to wonder how some of these songs would've sounded without all of the excess & spectacle. Less is more, and a little bit would've gone a long way—everything in moderation and all that.
There's probably a metaphor in there somewhere.
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