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Queens Chronicle

Elvis’ last big show and Rita Wilson’s debut

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Posted: Thursday, April 4, 2013 10:30 am

Elvis Presley
“Aloha from Hawaii via Satellite” (RCA)

Long before 1973, Elvis Presley had established himself as one of the most famous entertainers in history. The irony is that a lot of baby boomers had never seen him perform an entire concert because they were too young during his golden hit-making years, from 1956 to 1962. While he still put out records, Elvis had spent most of the 1960s making mediocre movies for MGM.

The popularity of British rock groups, and later a slew of new American artists, may have unnerved the King. “Viva Las Vegas,” one of his most memorable tunes, only reached a high position of 40 on the Billboard singles chart in 1964, and its failure to do better was a reflection of the Beatles’ dominance of everything music-wise that year.

After years of playing the Las Vegas Hilton, Elvis had started touring again in the early ’70s. His four sold-out shows at Madison Square Garden in 1972 received rave reviews. “Burning Love,” released in the summer of 1972, was his biggest hit in a decade. Presley was then brimming with confidence when RCA Records approached him about doing a concert in one of his favorite locales, Honolulu, that would be broadcast live around the world on Jan. 14, 1973 — with the exception of within the United States, because a documentary film, “Elvis on Tour,” was still in movie theaters. NBC would broadcast the concert on April 4, 1973.

It’s funny how a lot of the same things that I both liked and disliked about that concert still hold true 40 years later. Being 15 years old at the time, I loved Elvis’s legendary rock ’n’ roll classics such as “Hound Dog” and “Blue Suede Shoes,” and it hurt to watch him treat both those songs as throwaways.

Another downer was seeing Elvis emulate a Sinatra-style crooner rather than being the rocker I imagined. The fifth song of the concert was the maudlin “You Gave Me a Mountain,” which was a surprise 1969 hit for Frankie Laine. Later that night the King also would cover Eddy Arnold’s “Welcome to My World” and Peggy Lee’s “Fever.”

There were some positives, however. Elvis showed that he could still rock when he wanted to with a lively rendition of Chuck Willis’ “See See Rider” and an update on one of his own hits, “A Big Hunk o’ Love.”

Elvis had a quick wit. In “Suspicious Minds,” he added a lyric. “You know that I’d never lie to you … No, not much!” At the end, he threw in “Lord, don’t let my pants split!’ referring to the famous tight white jumpsuit he wore for the show.

Sadly, “Aloha from Hawaii” was in retrospect Elvis’ last big hurrah. It’s worth a listen for that reason alone.

Rita Wilson
“AM/FM”(Decca)

Rita Wilson is a talented film actress who is, fairly or not, best known for being married to actor Tom Hanks. Unbeknownst to most, Wilson is a singer, and judging by her debut album, “AM/FM,” a very good one.

The title refers to the memorable hit songs that Wilson heard on various radio stations in her native Los Angeles when growing up in the 1960s and the early 1970s. You remember the kind of hits heard across the dial back then.

Wilson wisely does not overpower on Mount Rushmore-style pop anthems such as “Never My Love,” “Wichita Lineman,” “Cherish,” “Angel of The Morning” and “Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow?” — content to gently sing along to John Willis’ acoustic guitar licks and Matt Rollings’ excellent piano.

“Come See About Me,” which was an early Supremes’ hit but was subsequently covered much better by both Junior Walker & the All-Stars and Mitch Ryder & the Detroit Wheels, is handled adroitly by Rita. Wilson nicely conveys the mixed signals of the lyrics, as in one stanza she realizes that her relationship is over while in the next she fantasizes that her ex will be returning in the not-so-distant future.

The best track here is “Walking in The Rain,” which is closer in style to the Jay & the Americans’ 1969 hit recording than the 1964 Ronettes’ original. Wilson lacks the vocal power of Jay Black but conveys the joyous lyrics of being in love perfectly.

Interestingly, Wilson will be competing with her husband this month. Hanks will be opening on Broadway in “Lucky Man,” a show about the late journalist Mike MacAlary. Rita will be appearing at Below 54, the site of the legendary Studio 54 nightclub, from April 14 through 20, where she will undoubtedly perform many of the songs on this album.

Welcome to the discussion.