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Elvis Presley’s “Aloha From Hawaii Via Satellite” Reviewed

They figure 1.5 Billion people watched the live (except in the States, it coincided with the Super Bowl and was put off for three months) in concert TV special Elvis Aloha From Hawaii Via Satellite, and the album of the concert phenomenon shown in 40 countries went to # 1 and stayed at # 1 everywhere. It’s an odd album, in some ways inferior to As Recorded, with a strange set of mostly current hits plus a big “American Trilogy”. Despite the Hawaiian locale, the concert itself didn’t reference the locale musically  till a final encore “Can’t Help Falling In Love”.

Yet even so, it is such a huge show it stands as testament to the Presleyness of Elvis, it is so iconic that it is its own standard: when people think of Presley after the movies what they think of is Aloha, the golden jumpsuit, the karate moves, the southern dreams, the high rock ballads, the rock and soul masterpieces: this is, in fact, Elvis, and would be so till the end of his life. You would think it would be the leather suit in a boxing ring, I mean the 68 Special, but it wouldn’t be that because that was US big and this was world huge: it was political huge, the face of the US and that face was tough but sweet, self-deprecating in its world conquering skills.

In many ways, and despite Vietnam and Nixon, it was a USA personified by a gentle but disciplined hand: the evolution of Presley was from hoodlum to reformed hoodlum, that teenage sulky heartbreaker would, in the movies, be reformed by love, and then, now, by 1973 be a distilled essence of manhood: he wasn’t mean or rough to women, walking from the helicopter to the car to the stadium, the women put the lay into lei, one after another, reaching for him, flowers around his neck, arms around his neck, they kissed him not like the teenyboppers of yore but with an adult desire. Presley took their sexual adoration in his stride, neither rushing to it or away but with a dynamic calmness. In those 50s photographs, Presley was a hound dog, a gorgeous kid in awe to his own skills, tongue on his upper lip. By the early 1970s, Presley was a divorced man, a grown up, and so the bruised lusciousness of the youngster had given way to the power of an unsurpassed adult sexuality: it didn’t bully or sneer, it was playful, self-confident, gentle, and very intense. The Presley of Aloha was at his very peak, not musically, but as a man presenting himself to the world, he was unsurpassed even by himself.

Aloha had its roots in the One World satellite show from 1967, where the Beatles ended the television event with “All You Need is Love”. It showed what the technology could do. But it was Nixon’s détente (wrong cold war, but you get it) with China in 1972 that caused Colonel Tom Parker to admire the ever shrinking world and wonder how to fit Elvis into it. The end result was an Elvis neither from the 50s nor the 60s, but the 70s: a present day MOR artist supreme.

And it was something else, a gift from the US to the entire world, a gentle reminder of what the US is. Presley personified to the rest of the world a US both strong and kind. This is the post WWII US,which saved the world and then, unlike the USSR, didn’t subjugate the world it saved. It won the love of the entire planet and has slowly eroded that love ever since. In 1973 but in the guise of Presley, a reminder of why the US was the US was broadcast again, and we fell in love with the States despite Vietnam not because of it.

I guess, experience tells me, women don’t love weak men but they also don’t love abusive men: Presley had become (Lennon would fathom a similar trick) both powerful and soft at the same time. It goes back to that figure bending head, kissing lips, and the women just dazzled by his sex, by the tone of his body, by his skipping through rock and country to soul and back. On the album he performs a transference from “Blue Suede Shoes” through “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry” to “I Can’t Stop Loving You”, a revisionism from rock to pre-rock to post-rock. It put Presley himself in the middle of the social upheaval he caused and swung forward and backward upon.

It is a confusion that Presley would get closer to grappling with in a couple of years as touring took its toll and Presley found his footing as a soul singer in the studio (it’s as if people fail to notice what fat Elvis was really doing, they were really drawn to the “What Happened” mess of it all). That what Presley in his late 30s wasn’t was remotely over, the Presley we get in Aloha was transitional and the set he played rested on no laurels nor leis. For all the arrangements into midriff bulge, his band was not second raters at all. Sure the orchestra was all over the place but the heart was James Burton, Jerry Scheff, and Charlie Tuft. And even if they weren’t, Presley at the Honolulu International Center was everything Colonel Tom Parker wanted it to be.

We could debate Parker (my take: he should have stopped the movies after “Blue Hawaii” and sent Presley on the road and to the studio), but there is no debating this move. Parker did what he wanted to do, he cemented Presley as the Greatest All  Round Entertainer of All Time. He beat out not just the Beatles but Frank Sinatra as well. In one fell swoop Presley was immortal not as the King Of Rock And Roll but as the King Of Pop. With an audience over a billion in strength, Parker stopped the world in its tracks to fall to the feet of a god in human form.

Listening to the album over forty years after the fact, it doesn’t hit me as his greatest work. Too big ballad and not enough rough edges and, though really this is to Presley’s credit, it isn’t oriented enough to pre–1968. Also the four Hawaii based songs recorded after the performance would be later released as an EP, they should have at least included “Ku-I-Po’ in the concert proper.

Some times it is still hard to believe he died so young, the man was 42 years of age, in comparison Donald Trump is 70 years of age, it is almost a sin we didn’t get decades more of Presley, get to see him work himself out of his barbiturates addiction and become the King one more time. The saddest thing about Aloha is that there isn’t an Aloha ten years later, that it just stops and then you get thousands of albums after his death, but it really ends. Parker said that nothing changes with Presley’s death but he was a liar: it did change, it stopped happening. Aloha feels like late period Presley but, in any normal lifespan, it is more like mid-period, the Stax sessions hadn’t happened yet. It seems beyond a doubt that Presley in his 50s would’ve been something to behold. Yet that is what this feels like, the juvenile jumpsuit notwithstanding, Presley appears older than he is because in 2017 we see the finish line looming.

Coming up was the divorced Presley, in the back of a limo, sunglasses on, on the road to another concert he’d have to pull himself together for. Aloha means both hello and goodbye.

Grade: A .

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