Sunday, September 25, 2022

Review Blue Hawaii (SACD)

The ‘Blue Hawaii’ soundtrack album was originally released in a mono and a stereo version on October 20, 1961. It spent almost a year on the Billboard Album Top 10, including 20 weeks at the top spot, making it the second best-selling album of 1961. 


The success of this Grammy nominated soundtrack - which included the classic ‘Can’t Help Falling In Love’ - and its predecessor ‘G.I. Blues’ pretty much set the pace for Elvis Presley releases for the remainder of the decade as both soundtracks sold way better than Presley's two regular releases of the time, ‘Elvis Is Back!’ and ‘Something for Everybody’.


In 2022, both the soundtrack and the movie received a High Definition re-issue, respectively on 4K HD / Blu-ray by Paramount and as a Super Audio CD by Mobile Fidelity. A “sonic treatment befitting rock royalty” according to the publicity. 




The designer from Mobile Fidelity created a modern replica design for this gate-fold mini LP edition of the original. The CD comes housed in a felt-like fabric, protecting the golden disc. The only thing missing are the sleeve-notes, especially on the work the label did on the audio for this high-end release. This release is limited to 3,000 copies worldwide.




The recording sessions for the songs on the ‘Blue Hawaii’ LP took place on March 21, 22, and 23, 1961 at Radio Recorders in Hollywood. It involved contributions by top musicians and backing vocalists like The Jordanaires and The Surfers (backing vocals), Boots Randolph (saxophone), Hank Garland, Tiny Timbrell, Scotty Moore and Alvino Rey (guitars), Floyd Cramer and Dudley Brooks (piano, celeste), Bob Moore (double bass), D.J. Fontana, Bernie Mattinson and Hal Blaine (drums, percussion). Everything in place to guarantee quality musical and vocal backing for Elvis’ voice.


The songs on this album varied from up-tempo Rock and Roll (‘Rock-A-Hula Baby’), smooth ballads (‘No More’, ‘Can't Help Falling In Love’ and ‘Island Of Love’), Hawaiian classics (‘Aloha Oe’ and ‘Ku-U-I-Po’), personal “guilty pleasures” (‘No More’ and ‘Moonlight Swim’), movie fluff (‘Slicin’ Sand’, ‘Beach Boy Blues’) and unfortunately “crap” like ‘Ito Eats’). As with more Elvis releases, there is ‘something for everyone’ on the album. 


Overall it is a pretty enjoyable album to play as it only takes the first ten seconds of this album to transport yourself to the calming, breezy atmospherics beaches of the famous Pacific Islands




It’s the audio that should make the difference for this release, and which should be the reason to consider adding it to your collection. Spoiler alert, its good! 


The original album already was a very well recorded soundtrack with engineer Thorne Nogar and Joseph Lilley as the producer for Paramount, so the bar was set high for the Mobile Fidelity team. 


Over the past sixty years several producers and engineers worked with this material for the many re-releases of this album. Most recent in 2007 (Sony repaired as many clicks, pops, bad edits and dropouts as they could) for the ‘The Complete Elvis Presley Masters’ collection, the ‘Franklin Mint’ set and most of the commercial releases that were released in years to come. For the Follow That Dream label audio engineers Vic Anesini and Sebastian Jeansson worked on the tapes for the FTD release of the album (2009), the Memphis Recording Service also worked on their expanded edition of the soundtrack (2012) and finally, the Radio Recorder bootleg label issued their remastered set ‘The Blue Hawaii Recording Sessions’ (2022). So plenty options to choose from.


Each “engineer” working on these tapes has their own (signature) settings on the equalizer, adding some color to the mix or trying to perfect the mix for a special mono, stereo, vinyl CD or even SACD release. As each format has its own characteristics and some engineers created mixes to fit those specifics. Just listen to recent mixes of Elvis’ material, most have some added reverb, giving them “some punch” as many fans stream their music to smaller stereo speakers. This way the songs don’t sound too thin or low-quality. 


For this Super Audio release the audio was mastered by Rob LaVerde at the Audio Fidelity Sound Lab, and he returned to the original mater tapes (probably a high quality digital copy). The gatefold mentions: “Any sonic artifacts present are a product of the original master tape. Attempts to eliminate them would have negatively impacted the integrity of the presentation.” There are some small errors on that tape you hear on this disc too. Try to spot the little drop out on the backing vocals on the ‘Hawaiian Wedding Song’ (you may need some “golden ears” for that though). 


Other “evidence” is that the Jordanaires are placed on the left in the mix, an anomaly on the original ‘Blue Hawaii’ LP, as these singers would usually find a place on the right side of our man. 


You need to realize that the mix and mastering you hear on this gold colored disc is the original master that was used for the 1961 stereo LP release. Not having some of the added “punch” like modern mixes, you may think the sound on this SACD may sound different or perhaps even “thinner”, but this is exactly what record buyers in 1961 heard when they bought this soundtrack. So for some fans this MoFi-mix may provide a slightly different or even new listening experience.


Listening closely to the disc on my headphones I must say I enjoyed it. The audio is very clear with good stereo separation, Elvis’ vocal nicely centered with some echo creating the special Hawaiian sound for this soundtrack (using tubular reverb for the sound experts), richness and many details audible. You can hear the fingers of the guitar player going over the strings ('Rock-A-Hula Baby’), the brushes on the drum ('Can't Help Falling In Love') or the air going over the reed of Booth Randolph's saxophone ('Almost Always True'). 


These little details illustrate the extra you get from an HD release. Online a fan described the experience of listening to the SACD on the For Elvis CD Collectors Forum as: “The difference is just as you listen to the CD sound in a small room on tiny speakers and switching to the Super Audio sound you are listening to in a much bigger room on very big loud speakers. Just "wow".”




In the end it comes down to personal preference and the audio-equipment used to listen to an high-end release like this one. For me this release may become the go-to CD as it features the original stereo mix in great audio-quality, combining the best of both worlds. 


I look forward to the Mobile Fidelity vinyl edition of this soundtrack, which is due later this year according to the pre-order options from some on-line retailers. This quality audio from old fashioned vinyl may make this project come full circle.

For more information on the album and SACDs visit the >>> Mobile Fidelity website.