Elvis Presley – Aloha From Hawaii Via Satellite (review)

Elvis Presley – Aloha From Hawaii Via Satellite: Legacy Edition (RCA/Legacy) review

The Big “E” as big as he could be – reaching 1.5 billion viewers with this historical broadcast.

This is Elvis at the peak of his powers – 1973, before his life began to spin out of control, in front of the biggest crowd he would ever play for.  Aloha From Hawaii Via Satellite is the soundtrack from this monumental broadcast – the first, full-length concert beamed worldwide in color, using satellite technology, which was still in its infancy at the time.

The concert opens with the theme to 2001: A Space Odyssey – and what an odyssey it is. In a little under an hour, Elvis tears through two dozen songs, pulling from just about every corner of the planet – he could literally make any song his own.  Case in point – he begins the show with the old blues standard “See See Rider” – huh?  But, the band sprints to life and he nails it.  That segues right into what was his latest hit at the time, “Burning Love” – here played at a breakneck pace.

Elvis then promises “we’re gonna try and do all the songs you want to hear” before launching into, of all things, “Something” from the Beatles!  Wow, I don’t imagine anyone in the audience thinking “gee, I wish Elvis would cover the Beatles,” but he totally makes it his own.  Then comes another left turn – the tear-jerker “You Gave Me a Mountain.”  He lays waste to “Steamroller Blues,” a song written especially for him by James Taylor – and you can see why.  He imparts a weariness to “My Way” that Sinatra didn’t have in his original.

The show begins to take on a furious pace near the midpoint – he touches on his biggest hits, but sometimes only does a snippet: “Blue Suede Shoes” is barely a minute long, while “Hound Dog” clocks in at a mere 46 seconds, yet no one in the audience seems to mind.  Guitarist James Burton, who played on all those great Ricky Nelson sides of the 1950’s, gives a spirited performance on “Johnny B. Goode” – you just wish they would’ve stayed with that one just a little longer.

Considering this is such a high-stakes performance, being beamed all over the world at a huge cost, Elvis still is his comical self and seems unfazed by the pressure.  By this point in his career, any of the rough edges had been smoothed out. As the liner notes observe, this was more like a musical circus, with Presley as the ring leader, than a rock show.

He never stays too long on one style, deftly switching from the rock material right into Hank Williams’ (“I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry”) and Ray Charles’ (“I Can’t Stop Loving You”).  There’s plenty of bombast – especially on “An American Trilogy,” which was released as a single from the album.  The show ends with his tender ballad “Can’t Help Falling in Love.”

This new deluxe edition comes with a second disc, which features a run-through from earlier in the evening.  It was recorded just in case anything went wrong with the live broadcast.  The differences between the two performances are negligible – the whole show was well-rehearsed and with such a big production, improvisation was kept to a minimum.  Elvis does mess up the words to “Burning Love” on the alternate.  Plus, during band introductions, he mentions the amount of money that was raised for the event – this was a benefit concert for cancer research.

After the broadcast was over, Elvis and band went back to the stage in the wee hours of the morning, this time without an audience, and laid down five more songs. Done especially for the US audience (which, oddly enough, was not part of the live broadcast – they wouldn’t see it until months later), these are a real treat – four of them being from his Blue Hawaii movie and the last one, “Early Morning Rain,” a recent composition by Gordon Lightfoot.

Technology is a funny thing.  Nowadays, we can talk to anyone overseas via Skype with unbelievable quality for free. Yet, understand that this broadcast was years in the making and cost millions of dollars to put on, and you get an idea of just how special a concert this really was.  It’s also worth noting that this was the album that knocked Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon off the #1 spot on the Billboard Albums Chart!

One of the biggest-selling albums in the Elvis catalog, Aloha From Hawaii Via Satellite is made even better by the inclusion of the extra concert footage.  This is Elvis, the performer, at his absolute peak.  –Tony Peters