Blue Hawaii (1961)

Blue Hawaii is a romantic western Hawaiian dream come true: a rejection of traditional  western values and customs in favor of the (supposedly) carefree lifestyle of native Hawaiians. Elvis plays Chad, an heir to a pineapple company, who returns from two years overseas in the Army. His parents want him to take on the family business, but he wants to make his own way, working as a tour guide with his girlfriend Maile (sounds like “Miley”) and hanging out with his “beach boy” friends.

Glad to be home?

I’m not sure if we’re supposed to feel this way, but Chad comes across like a bit of a jerk. When Maile first picks him up at the airport, he kisses the airline stewardess on his way out of the plane to make her jealous. To calm her down as they drive off, he assures her (through song) that he was almost always true to her. Even when he meets up with his friends, they ask him all about life overseas and what girls he met, but he doesn’t ask them any questions in return. They missed him, but he didn’t miss them?

But this is an Elvis movie, and Elvis movies are all about the music. The songs in Blue Hawaii are top-notch, with the highlight ballad “Can’t Help Falling in Love” as well as “Rock-a-Hula Baby” (performed during his welcome-home party at his parents’ estate) and “Slicin’ Sand,” a bizarro song Elvis sings with his tour group.

The real scene-stealer, however, is Angela Lansbury as Chad’s mother. From the very first scene when she’s serving an unnamed cocktail to the countless Mai Tais she clutches, she simply can’t keep the drinks coming fast enough. Of all the non-native Hawaiians, she is the most unabashedly racist (calling her Asian servant “Ping Pong”) and classist, though she is nothing like the monster she portrays in The Manchurian Candidate. She is barely even a villain, her greatest fault being ignorance and not hatred or even evil.

One of the film’s Mai Tais in action

Blue Hawaii comes from a very different time and place, but is a delightful journey for anyone who revels in the romanticized vision of the islands so common in the 1950s & 60s. (I know I do!) Filmed on location, we get some great exterior shots of beaches, hotels, restaurants, and even the interior sets are gloriously mid-century modern. This is a vacation to a dream world you “can’t help falling in love” with.

Harry Owens and his Royal Hawaiians – “Voice of the Trade Winds”

Search the world over for enchanting and romantic music and you will find none to compare with that of the Hawaiian Islands. For here is the music of leisure, happy vacation times, and fond “Alohas”…music that is the memory of the blue Pacific.

Distinguished far and above the many who play and sing of this island paradise is the name of Harry Owens, leader of the famous Royal Hawaiians. An accomplished musician, conductor and composer of many famous Hawaiian songs, Owens is world-renowned for his interpretation of this lovely and ever-popular musical art.

This is the sentimental song of the tropics…the dreamy nod of the palms…the soft sound of gently-breaking waves on golden sands. This is the Voice of the Trade Winds – Hawaii!

21958656551_e4c83df750_bWho wouldn’t want to listen to that? Such is the description of Harry Owens’s album Voice of the Trade Winds, a dreamy, lush record of Hawaiian orchestral music.

Several of the tracks are well-known standards (“My Little Grass Shack,” “Blue Hawaii”) with five Owens originals, including the title track and “Sweet Leilani.”

This album first came on my radar from Trader Sam’s Grog Grotto at the Polynesian Village Resort in Walt Disney World – it can be seen hanging on the wall above the bar.

Interestingly, Voice of the Trade Winds is not part of the instrumental area loop for Trader Sam’s Grog Grotto, and cannot be heard anywhere on Disney property. However (and this is the Disney Parks music junkie/completionist in me), its placement in Trader Sam’s makes it an implicit part of the soundscape, if not an explicitly heard one.

Its lush orchestrations are a bit of a foil to the dark, rhythmic exotica of the Trader Sam’s area loop, but more cleanly fits in as part of Sam’s collection of his travels ’round the world. Harry Owens himself was the bandleader at the Royal Hawaiian Hotel in Waikiki, one of the premiere Hawaiian resorts. It would not be a stretch that a typical Hawaiian tourist, either staying at the hotel or even visiting, would hear the sounds of the Royal Hawaiian orchestra or pick up one of Owens’s records. Voice of the Trade Winds, or any Harry Owens album, could be the keepsake of any Hawaiian visitor during that time.

Whatever the source – a Hawaiian visitor of yesteryear, or a resident of the mainland yearning to experience the Islands, the record entered my collection just this past weekend at the Tiki Caliente 8 (as in, the 8th year) in Palm Springs, CA. This several-day tiki affair features art, collectibles, food, and of course drinks, celebrating Hawaiian & Polynesian culture, both authentic and kitschy. Voice was one of three albums I bought, and the instant I saw it I recognized it from its perch at Trader Sam’s Grog Grotto.

This album is not available on CD, and only some of the songs are available as MP3. As Hawaiian music goes, it’s unique for its blend of better-known orchestral stylings with a big band feel. This does sound like a hotel jazz band, in the best way; there is an energetic and economical quality to this album that the sleepier records just can’t match. Mix yourself a Royal Mai Tai, sit back, and let yourself be transported by the Voice of the Trade Winds.