'Blue Hawaii - The Expanded Alternate Album'
CD Review - By Piers Beagley
Blue Hawaii is one of Elvis' most successful films. Produced by Hal Wallis and directed by Norman Taurog it reached #2 of Variety's weekly list of Top Grossing films.
This new MRS look at Blue Hawaii features an expanded edition of the original soundtrack album.
It contains many previously unreleased out-takes and alternate versions of the soundtrack recording, including several new versions of the classic ‘Can’t Help Falling in Love’.
As a bonus, the CD is accompanied by a 40 page book containing many rare and unpublished photographs taken on and off the set of ‘Blue Hawaii’.
EIN's Piers Beagley checks it out to see what this budget release really offers to collectors.
Blue Hawaii was Elvis’ 8th film and after the dramas of 'Flaming Star' and 'Wild In the Country' it was a return to a family fun musical. With fourteen songs in the film the music was a key feature, although both the Hawaiian scenery and an enjoyable if lightweight plot did help make it one of Elvis' most enjoyable films.
Click here to EIN's in-depth examination of the actual film.
It had been only 8 days since Elvis had wrapped up the great ‘Something For Everybody’ sessions in Nashville’s Studio B. On March 20th Elvis reported to Paramount Studios in Hollywood before heading to the Radio Recorders studio for soundtrack rehearsals.
'Blue Hawaii - The Expanded Alternate Album' (March 1961. 33 tracks, 75 minutes).
Back in 2009 FTD released the Blue Hawaii 'Classic Album', two CDs featuring the highlights of Elvis' March 1961 Blue Hawaii recordings. It was reviewed by EIN at the time and was highly recommended. Look here.
The FTD Classic Album however missed out on a fair few original outtakes, presumably due to missing studio reels or the annoyance of too many False Starts. The near complete sessions have been released in the past on the TCB 4 vinyl LP bootleg 'Blue Hawaii/The Complete Session' or on the Laurel 3 vinyl LP 'Blue Hawaii box-set.
Now in 2012 MRS releases the 'Blue Hawaii - The Expanded Alternate Album' capitalising on the Public Domain 50-year expiry of the original recordings. Because of this, this rather interesting release contains the Original Album Masters plus a large number of the RCA/FTD Unreleased Outtakes.
To be honest upon its release it seemed like a rather secondary product from MRS (especially compared to the deluxe GI Blues box-set) and I doubted that there would be that much new to enjoy.
However having played it several times last week - admittedly perfect listening in a car driving along a palm-fringed Australian beach - there is actually a fair amount to enjoy in this new version.
Of course the majority of the officially unreleased tracks are False Starts and shorter Alternate Takes. However MRS have cleverly compiled them, starting with the most appropriate outtakes preceding the album Masters. This gives you a glimpse and a feel into Elvis' recording process.
Being more of a "budget" MRS release (less that £11.20 or US$17.60) the booklet this time has 40 pages, rather than their usual 100 pages – but is still in the same format as "Such A Night" or "Complete Louisiana Hayride Archives."
There are two short chapters describing The Film and The Recording Sessions as well as a time-line.
The other pages are filled with the usually delightful photos of Elvis in Hawaii, on the film-set or in the Studio.
Several of them are chosen for being rare or unreleased images.
It is worth noting that MRS has used hardly any photos that appeared in the FTD ‘Blue Hawaii’ release. Plenty of the photos are alternate shots of the famous photos you already have. For instance the famous shot of Elvis in the red shirt playing the Ukulele features several alternate photos here.
Several of the booklet photos are in stunning quality. (see below)
The overall design is stylish and like all recent MRS releases it includes a nice cut-away back-page to fit the cool looking CD itself (see end of the review below).
Overall it is a nice little package - if somewhat annoyingly the famous wedding scene photos are reversed with Elvis standing on the wrong side!
The CD starts with 'Blue Hawaii' Take 1 which is only a false start but does give you the feeling of the recording process and features slightly more studio banter than the same take used on the Blue Hawaii FTD.
This is then followed by the Blue Hawaii album Master. (see tracklist below)
This is how the CD continues with plenty of False starts and some studio discussions before the officially released song.
Both engineer Thorne Nogar and Paramount producer Joseph Lilley have input into the studio discussions during the session.
For some reason the 'Can't Help falling In Love' earlier outtakes - before take 13 - have never been officially released although they were featured on bootlegs 20 years ago. Here MRS presents all of these treats.
However it seems that someone must have stolen the original studio tape (reel 2 starts at Take 13) since here they still come off the old bootlegs albeit with improved audio.
In fact most of the outtakes seem to have been taken from the old bootlegs (not surprisingly if even Ernst doesn’t have all of the studio tapes) and around half of them are in mono. This can be a little jarring if listening on headphones as the tracks go from bootleg mono > fabulous Studio Stereo. But this is far less disturbing in an open-topped car driving down the beach!
'Almost Always' False Start 1 was not featured on the FTD and is a gem as it falls apart with Elvis coughing and laughing, "Hold It! Goddamn, hold It!"
To fans who wouldn’t already know, this album certainly shows how Elvis and the band "worked live" in the studio at his recording sessions developing a feel and changing arrangements as they went.
This would be true until the mid-sixties when the dreadful soundtrack material upset Elvis so that he sometimes went for the less painful vocal overdub process.
'No More' Take 1 False Start begins with the comment "New tempo, a little slower, easier now" and is indeed far slower than the Master which follows.
'Can't Help Falling In Love' unreleased takes 27/28 has Elvis noting that "we lost the tempo", even though they are so far into the session and the Master would be the very next take!
‘Rock-A-Hula Baby’ Unreleased take 4 is great to have even if it falls apart half way through. It is somewhere between the "rockier" take 3 (my favourite) and the smoother Master (Take 5) that follows.
Interestingly ‘Rock-A-Hula Baby’ was the final track cut at the session and it has never sounded like a finished Master to me, with the band still sounding out of tempo at times. Perhaps Elvis had had enough and wanted to head on home never thinking that this piece of "movie fluff" would be a big selling single.
The rather cute ‘Ku-u-i-po’ Take 8 Long False Start falls apart after the first verse for little apparent reason but seems to be due to the musicians making background noise during the intro.
'Ito Eats' Takes 6 and 7 with Elvis breaking up laughing (the only fun part of this silly song) were also missing from the FTD release - as are plenty of others short takes featured here.
'Island Of Love' takes 11/12 with more studio banter from Elvis were right before the final Master and are also "new" here.
I suspect that there maybe be too many incomplete takes here for "the general Public" who may skip through some of these - but for the Elvis CD collector these are a great selection of missing alternates not released by FTD. On some tracks there is also slightly more studio banter than was released previously.
For me some of the shorter False Starts begin to get annoying, for instance the ‘Island Of Love’ takes get nowhere, but are probably good for completists!
However there are several delightful alternates here and the early 'Can't Help Falling In Love' recordings (11 takes and False Starts) are sure to be essential for hard-core collectors.
'No More' unreleased Take 3 LFS is interesting for Elvis still feeling his way with the melody, "Not too fast" Elvis tells the band. 'No More' complete Take 9 is a delight featuring a lighter vocal and with Elvis still sounding unsure of the changing tempos. Officially Unreleased and a very nice addition to the collection.
Similarly the two unreleased ‘Aloha Oe’ Elvis vocals are cute, if very similar to the final version.
‘Slicin’ Sand’ Unreleased complete Take 17 is a great addition with Elvis throwing in all of his vocal mannerisms and having fun, but obviously knowing it would never be a final take. Listen out for Elvis’ unusual "Ah,ha,ha" at @2.51.
I can’t believe Elvis tried so many takes on this lightweight number!
The 'Can't Help Falling In Love' early takes are great fun to listen to. I still have them somewhere on crackly vinyl, luckily they sound much better here. On headphones you can hear the old background LP rumble here, albeit minimal, even on these improved versions.
Overall the studio banter sounds fun. This might be a shame in hindsight since the success of the ‘Blue Hawaii’ album would end up killing any movie creativity from then on!
One has to consider that IF this session had been a failure Elvis’ later films & soundtracks might have been better!
Towards the initial takes Elvis is unsure and asks, "Is that intro right Charles?" and sounds very calm and understanding even when struggling through so many takes.
Later on Elvis stops a take noting, "Did you hear that (lyric) paper rattling?" and jokes "I’m shaking with my left leg!"
'Can't Help Falling In Love' near complete Take 5 is an absolute gem with less ukulele and less backing-vocals. Elvis drifts off the usual melody but it’s a great early version. Even in this early stage Elvis jokes, "Take 20 !"- little did he know what was coming!
Officially unreleased there is no doubt that this version would have been released had Ernst found the studio master tape.
Similarly 'Can't Help Falling In Love' officially unreleased complete Take 9 is delightful and a near perfect Movie version. "Ok, fellows let’s pop to it" Elvis says hoping for a Master take but unfortunately he still sounds a little reticent with his vocal at the start. Another great addition to the collection.
Having finished at the studio Elvis and the band then flew to Hawaii to perform at Pearl Harbour 2 days later. The FABULOUS live show was released on the Silver Box set and ended Elvis' intense month of work - 30 songs recorded - multiple gold records and possibly his best concert of all time and all completed in just one month.
Overall Verdict: Since FTD’s "Blue Hawaii" Classic Album covered nearly all of the session highlights this MRS Expanded Album could never be an essential purchase for Elvis fans. However if one considers value-for-money there is certainly enough here to make it a fun addition to one’s collection. For serious Elvis collectors it offers a nice compilation of the alternate takes missed out by RCA/FTD on the official releases – especially the early 'Can't Help Falling In Love' takes. While for the "General Public" it offers a nice booklet including some great photos of Elvis, along with a look at Elvis in the studio recording his biggest selling album. I was more impressed than I expected to be – and it is after all a MRS budget release costing only US$17.50.
Click here to order from Amazon UK>> Blue Hawaii - The Expanded Alternate Album (includes 40 page photo album)
- with free UK delivery
THE EXPANDED ALBUM
1. Blue Hawaii (Take 1FS Take 7M)
2. Almost Always True (Take 1FS Take 8M)
3. Aloha Oe (Take 4FS & SPM)
4. No More (Take 1FS Take 13M)
5. Cant Help Falling In Love (Tk 27FS Tk 28FS Tk 29M)
6. Rock-A-Hula Baby (Take 4FS Take 5M)
7. Moonlight Swim (Take 3M)
8. Ku ui po (Take 8LFS Take 9M)
9. Ito Eats (Take 6FS Take 7FS Take8FS Take 9M)
10. Slicin' Sand (Take 18LFS Take 19M)
11. Hawaiian Sunset (Master)
12. Beach Boy Blues (Take 1FS Take 2M)
13. Island of Love (Take 11FS Take 12FS Take 13M)
14. Hawaiian Wedding Song (Take 2M)
THE ALTERNATE OUTAKES
15. No More (Take 3LFS)
16. No More (Take 9)
17. Rock-A-Hula Baby (Take 1FS)
|18. Ito Eats (Take 1MM Take 3FS)
19. Slicin' Sand (Take 15FS Take 16FS Take 17)
20. Beach Boy Blues (Take 3MM)
21. Island of Love (Take 3FS, Take 5FS, Take 10FS)
22. Aloha Oe (Take 2)
23. Aloha Oe (Take 3)
24. Aloha Oe (Take 5SPM)
25. Aloha Oe (Take 7SPM)
26. Aloha Oe (MASTER OF SECTION 2)
27. Cant Help Falling In Love (Take 1FS Take 2FS Take 3FS Take 4FS)
28. Cant Help Falling In Love (Take 5LSF)
29. Cant Help Falling In Love (Take 6FS, Take 7FS)
30. Cant Help Falling In Love (Take 8LFS)
31. Cant Help Falling In Love (Take 9)
32. Cant Help Falling In Love (Take 10FS Take 11FS Take 12FS)
33. Cant Help Falling In Love (Take 18FS Take 23MM)
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