#181: Blue Hawaii/Moonlight Swim by Elvis Presley

Peak Month: November 1961
17 weeks on Vancouver’s CFUN chart
Peak Position #1 ~ CKWX
Peak Position on Billboard Hot 100 ~ LP cut (Blue Hawaii Album) ~ did not chart
YouTube: “Blue Hawaii
Lyrics: “Blue Hawaii

Peak Month: November 1961
8 weeks on Vancouver’s CFUN chart
Peak Position #12
Peak Position on Billboard Hot 100 ~ LP cut (Blue Hawaii Album) ~ did not chart
YouTube: “Moonlight Swim
Lyrics: “Moonlight Swim

Elvis Aaron Presley was born on in a two-room house in Tupelo, Mississippi, on January 8, 1935. His twin brother, Jessie Garon Presley, was stillborn. When he was eleven years old his parents bought him a guitar at the Tupelo Hardware Store. As a result Elvis grew up as an only child. He and his parents, Vernon and Gladys, moved to Memphis, Tennessee, in 1948. The young Presley graduated from high school in 1953. That year he stopped by the Memphis Recording Service to record two songs, including “That’s When Your Heartaches Begin”. Elvis’ musical influences were the pop and country music of the time, the gospel music he heard in church and at the all-night gospel sings he frequently attended, and the black R&B he absorbed on historic Beale Street as a Memphis teenager. In 1954, Elvis began his singing career recording “That’s All Right” and “Blue Moon Of Kentucky” at Sun Records in Memphis.

In late 1955, his recording contract was sold to RCA Victor. In 1956 he had his first #1 record titled “Heartbreak Hotel.” He had a sound and style that uniquely combined his diverse musical influences and blurred and challenged the social and racial barriers of the time. Bill Haley & His Comets ushered in the rock ‘n roll into mainstream culture in 1955 when “Rock Around The Clock,” appeared in Blackboard Jungle – a film about juvenile delinquents and anti-social behavior in an inter-racial school. The song became an anthem for teenage rebellion.

However, it was Elvis in 1956 who ensured rock ‘n roll was here to stay with his swiveling hips and R&B infused songs with sexually suggestive lyrics. He had his first number one hit with “Heartbreak Hotel” in February 1956. He starred in 33 successful films, made history with his television appearances and specials, and knew great acclaim through his many, often record-breaking, live concert performances on tour and in Las Vegas. Globally, Elvis Presley has sold over one billion records, more than any other recording artist.

Between 1956 and 1957, Elvis Presley continued his chart-topping ways in Vancouver (BC) with “I Want You, I Need You, I Love You”, “Hound Dog”, “Don’t Be Cruel”, “Love Me Tender”, “Too Much”, “All Shook Up”, “(Let Me Be Your) Teddy Bear”, and “Mean Woman Blues” peaking at #1.

During this chart-topping streak, one of Presley’s Top Ten hits in Vancouver was “(There’ll Be) Peace In The Valley“. Another was “Treat Me Nice”.

Elvis kept on topping the charts into 1958 with “Don’t”, “Wear Your Ring Around My Neck” and “Hard Headed Woman”. He also starred in several films. His second film, Loving You, was released in 1957. Though it was not featured the film, the song “Have I Told You Lately That I Love You?” made it onto the Loving You Soundtrack album.

But during his chart-topping ways, he got a letter from Uncle Sam. Sergeant Elvis Presley served with the U.S. Army from March 24, 1958, to March 2, 1960. Meanwhile, Presley managed to climb to the top of the charts once in 1959 with “Big Hunk o’ Love”.

His return to civilian life saw a return to a string of successful single, album and film releases. From April 1960 to March 1961, Elvis topped the Billboard Hot 100 with “Stuck On You, “It’s Now Or Never,” “Are You Lonesome Tonight?” and “Surrender” for a total of 17 of 52 weeks in that timeframe. The album from his first film on return from serving in Germany, G.I. Blues, was a best-seller at the box office (#2 on Variety Magazine for the year 1960) and a number one album in October 1960. He released His Hand In Mine, a collection of sacred gospel music and in November, 1960, began to record his 6th studio album, Something For Everybody. It went on to become his 13th hit album.

Presley continued to have major hits in 1961-62. In Vancouver he topped the charts with “Marie’s The Name (His Latest Flame)” and “Little Sister”. Late in the fall the King of Rock n’ Roll had another Top Ten hit titled “Can’t Help Falling In Love”. The song was from the soundtrack from the film Blue Hawaii. The title track charted on the record surveys on Top40 radio in Vancouver in the winter of 1961.

Blue Hawaii/Moonlight Swim by Elvis Presley

“Blue Hawaii” was cowritten by Leo Robin and Ralph Rainger. Born Ralph Reichenthal in 1900  in New York City, he headed the Ralph Reichenthal Orchestra in the early 1920s. Rainger’s first credit on Broadway, 1926’s “Queen High”, was as duo-pianist in the pit with Fairchild, following the show’s break-in in Philadelphia. He later played for 1928’s “Angela” and “Cross my Heart”. His first hit “Moanin’ Low,” appeared in the 1929 Broadway revue The Little Show. 

With the shift from silent film to talking pictures, Rainger found work in Hollywood. He teamed up with lyricist Leo Robin to produce a string of successful film songs, including “I’ll Take An Option On You”, from the Broadway hit show Tattle Tales (1933). In 1932 Rainger and Robin wrote a number-one hit single for Bing Crosby titled “Please”. In the years that followed, Rainger wrote or collaborated on such hit songs as “I Wished on the Moon” (a #2 hit for Bing Crosby in 1936 from The Big Broadcast of 1936). “Love in Bloom”, made popular by Bing Crosby in 1934, became comedian Jack Benny‘s theme song. “June in January” – which Rainger and Robin wrote – was a number-one hit in 1934 for Bing Crosby. Crobsy had more Top Five hits with the songwriting duo in 1939 with “You’re A Sweet Little Headache”, “I Have Eyes” and “The Funny Old Hills”. Robin and Rainger cowrote “Faithful Forever”, for the 1939 film Gulliver’s Travels. It was nominated for Best Music, Original Song, but lost to “Over the Rainbow” from The Wizard of Oz.  They also cowrote the jazz standard “Easy Living” made popular by Billie Holiday, and the 1938 Oscar-winning song “Thanks for the Memory”, sung by Bob Hope in the film The Big Broadcast of 1938. Rainger wrote songs that appeared in nearly fifty films between 1930 and 1941. He died in a plane crash on October 23, 1942, when American Airlines Flight 28 crashed into a U.S. Army Air Corps bomber. In the initial 1942 press coverage of the crash, the collision was not acknowledged. Widow, Betty Rainger, later sued American Airlines and won a substantial judgement late in 1943.

Leo Robin was born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, in 1900. He had an aptitude for music and found himself on Broadway writing songs for Bubbling Over(1926), Hit the Deck, Judy (1927), and Hello Yourself (1928). After Ralph Rainger died in 1942, Leo Robin continued to collaborate with other songwriters. This included with Jules Styne in 1949 with “Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend” in the musical Gentlemen Prefer Blondes. Other notable songs Leo Robin wrote include “Beyond the Blue Horizon”, a song from the 1930 film Monte Carlo, that became Jeanette MacDonald’s signature song. In 1927 he penned “Sometimes I’m Happy (Sometimes I’m Blue)”, for the film Hit the Deck. Robin also wrote a Top Ten hit for Bing Crosby in 1934 titled “Love Is Just Around the Corner”. As well, Robin collaborated with Harold Arlen to write the pop standard, “For Every Man there’s a Woman”. In 1948, Leo Robin and Arthur Swartz cowrote “A Gal in Calico”, which was nominated for Best Original Song at the Academy Awards. It lost to “Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah”. Leo Robin died at the age of 84 in 1984. 

“Blue Hawaii” first appeared in the 1937 film Waikiki Wedding, starring Bing Crosby and Shirley Ross. It spent over four months on the Billboard Pop charts, peaking at #5. In Waikiki Wedding, Crosby is cast in a romantic Hawaiian setting as Tony Marvin, a publicity agent for Imperial Pineapple Company. The atmosphere is captured from the start with a Hawaiian song over the opening credits and with Tony and his friend Shad, with pet pig “Walford”, present at a native wedding ceremony where Tony joins in the song. In the boardroom of the Imperial Pineapple Company, the President, J. P. Todhunter, defends Tony against charges of neglecting his duty, pointing out that it was Tony who thought of the idea of the “Pineapple Girl” contest. The winner of the contest was promised “three romantic weeks” in Hawaii and her happy impressions are to be syndicated in the press for publicity. Unfortunately it seems Georgia Smith, the girl from Birch Falls who won the Pineapple Girl contest, and her friend Myrtle are bored and intend to return home. The prospect of such adverse publicity enrages J. P., who tells Tony that he must do something to stop the girls from leaving. To give a little romantic colour, therefore, Tony sings “Blue Hawaii” outside the girls’ bungalow helped by a Hawaiian chorus.

“Blue Hawaii” paints a scene of Hawaii, moonlight on the sea, and a couple in love. In 1958 Billy Vaughn & his Orchestra charted “Blue Hawaii” to #30 on CKWX in Vancouver. Vaughn’s cover charted to #4 in Pittsburgh, #5 in Seattle, #9 in Boston and La Crosse (WI), and #15 in St. Louis. That same year Frank Chacksfield And His Orchestra had a Top 20 cover of “Blue Hawaii” in Seattle.

“Blue Hawaii” uniquely charted on the pop singles chart in Vancouver (BC), but not elsewhere on AM Top 40 radio in Canada or the USA. On CKWX in Vancouver “Blue Hawaii” peaked at #1, though on CFUN – where it peaked at #3 – the song charted for 17 weeks.

Building on the buzz around Blue Hawaii, Jane Morgan recorded a cover of the 1930s pop standard. It charted in the Top 50 in Worcester, Massachusetts.

“Moonlight Swim” charted only in Vancouver as a track from the Blue Hawaii soundtrack, and peaked at #12. The song was written by Sylvia Dee and Ben Wiesman. The song describes a couple going for a swim in the moonlight. They swim to a raft in the night sky, and pretend the raft is a desert island.

Ben Wiseman was born in 1921 in Providence, Rhode Island. He was penning songs for recording artists from the late 40s. These included Sons of the Pioneers, Dinah Shore, Guy Mitchell, Doris Day, Patti Page, Mitch Miller, the Four Aces, Frankie Laine, Roy Hamilton, Nat “King” Cole, Siw Malmkvist, Dean Martin, Jackie Gleason, Mitchell Torok, Rusty Draper, Don Cherry, Danny Valentino, Crash Craddock, Johnny Burnette and others. He wrote 57 songs for Elvis Presley on his own, or collaborating with others. His first song recorded by Elvis was “Got A Lot O’ Living To Do”. Wiseman also wrote “Frankie And Johnny”, “Follow That Dream” and “Fame And Fortune”. He also wrote “The Night Has A Thousand Eyes” for Bobby Vee in 1963, and Dusty Springfield’s “All I See Is You” in 1965.

Wiseman teamed up with Dolores Fuller Wiseman and co-wrote “Do The Clam” and “Spinout”  for Presley. Wiseman and Wise co-wrote many songs. One of them was a commercial flop for aspiring teen idol, Deane Hawley, titled “Pocket Full Of Rainbows”.  In 1954, Wiseman and Wise co-wrote “Let Me Go Lover”, a number one hit for Joan Webber. In 1957 they co-wrote “Lend Me Your Comb” for Carol Hughes. They later co-wrote “Wooden Heart”, a number one hit for Joe Dowell in 1961, and “Lonely Blue Boy” for Conway Twitty. Wiseman died in 2007 at the age of 85.

Cowriter, Sylvia Dee, was born in 1914 in rural Arkansas. Her birth name was Josephine Moore. Dee wrote the words to a nonsense song that peaked at number-one in 1945 for Sammy Kaye called “Chickery Chick”. In 1951 she penned “Too Young”, a number-one hit for Nat “King” Cole. In 1963, Sylvia Dee also co-wrote “The End of the World”, a country-pop hit for Skeeter Davis. In 1968 Sylvia Dee also wrote “Suppose” for Elvis Presley’s movie, Speedway. As well, Dee wrote “Robot Man” for Jamie Horton, and “Please Don’t Talk To The Lifeguard” for Diane Ray. At the age of 52, she died in 1967.

In 1962 Presley released his seventh studio album, Potluck. From that album the song “Kiss Me Quick” would peak at #34 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1964. But his song, “Suspicion”, climbed onto the CFUN chart in the summer of 1962. Also in 1962 Elvis was filming a number of movies. The first to be released in the summer of ’62 was Kid Galahad, which included the song “King Of The Whole Wide World”. Presley also enjoyed hit singles with “Good Luck Charm” and “She’s Not You”.

His next film, Girls! Girls! Girls!, was released in late October. However, the debut single from the soundtrack, “Return To Sender”, was released in September prior to the film appearing in theaters. In Vancouver (BC) the title track from the film, “Girls! Girls! Girls!” also charted on the C-FUNTASTIC FIFTY.

Elvis continued to enjoy more Top Ten hits between 1963 and 1965. His most notable hits were “One Broken Heart For Sale”, “(You’re The) Devil In Disguise”, “Ain’t That Loving You Baby”, “Such A Night”, “Bossa Nova Baby” and “Crying In The Chapel”. Less successful in the USA was “Witchcraft” which stalled at #32 on the Billboard Hot 100. But in Vancouver, the song peaked at #4.

After 1965, Elvis found it increasingly challenging to enter the Top 30. Between the end of 1965 and the winter of 1968 Presley released 22 singles and only four of these made the Billboard Hot 100’s Top 30. But in 1969, Presley had his best year since 1962 charting three singles into the Top Ten with “In The Ghetto”, “Suspicious Minds” and “Don’t Cry Daddy”. Between 1970 and 1983 Elvis released 36 singles, including eight posthumous singles. Of these, “Burning Love” and “The Wonder Of You” were his most successful and six others made the Top 20 on the Billboard charts.

Over his recording career Elvis Presley earned 14 Grammy Award nominations including for Record of the Year with “A Fool Such As I” (1959) and “Are You Lonesome Tonight” (1960) and won six Hall of Fame Awards. After his comeback tour in 1968 Presley had continued to tour extensively, with 168 concerts in 1973, a pace he kept through the mid-70’s. By 1976 he was suffering from multiple ailments: glaucoma, high blood pressure, liver damage, and an enlarged colon, all believed to be related to prescription drug abuse. He died on August 16, 1977, and a funeral was attended by over 80,000 mourners. His legacy continues to live on. There were also numerous sightings of Elvis including around the 40th anniversary of his death in 2017.

March 30, 2022
Ray McGinnis

graceland.com (Elvis bio)
Elvis Presley: Rock’s First Icon,” Rolling Stone, September 22, 1977.
Paul Lichter, The Boy Who Dared to Rock: The Definitive Elvis, (Garden City, NY: Dolphin Books, 1978).
Elizabeth Nix, “7 Fascinating Facts About Elvis Presley,” History.com, July 1, 2014
Wendy Sauer, Elvis Presley: A Complete Reference, (Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 1984).
Leo Robin – Bio,” Songwriters Hall of Fame.
Ralph Rainger – Bio,” Songwriters Hall of Fame.
Dave Laing, “Ben Weisman: Hit songwriter to the stars, from Nat King Cole to Elvis,” Guardian, May 24, 2007.
Sylvia Dee, Lyricist, 52, Dies; ‘Too Young’ Among Hit Tunes,” New York Times, 1967.
C-FUN-Tastic 50,” CFUN 1410 AM, Vancouver, BC, November 5, 1961.
Fabulous Forty,” CKWX 1139 AM, Vancouver, BC, November 11, 1961.

For more song reviews visit the Countdown.

Leave a Reply

Sign Up For Our Newsletter