It's a gift that keeps on giving.
Chris Jones 2008-11-28
The boy from Tupelo's 1968 special broadcast for NBC is a key text for many reasons. Elvis had quit the stage in 1961, pressed into a life of B-movie mediocrity by the odious grip of 'Colonel' Tom Parker, the world had all but forgotten why they loved Presley in the first place. It was Parker who directed Presley towards years of increasingly bland screen outings, filled with increasingly dull material and indeed, the '68 Special was originally planned by him as a schlocky Christmas special, full of carols and polystyrene snow. Luckily Presley and producer Steve Binder thought outside the box.
Elvis, sick of celluloid, wanted to prove he could still rock. And thus were born the Burbank sessions that not only placed Elvis in a dynamic extended costume piece based around the song Guitar Man and saw him make an impassioned plea for civil rights with the histrionic closer If I Can Dream, but also saw him dressed in black leather and rejoined by Scotty Moore (as well as D J Fontana) running through rowdy acoustic versions of hits, standards, blues and gospel. Joking with the crowd and his friends this was Elvis redux - sweating, growling, laughing and, most importantly, still displaying the electricity that got him noticed a decade before.
In one fell swoop the ratings-smashing broadcast single-handedly revived the King's chart and live career. Within months of its broadcast he was playing Vegas and scoring number ones again. Not for nothing was it subsequently known as the 'Comeback Special'.
Long available in disparate parts and truncated versions, this exemplary box set finally collects all the performances, outtakes and alternative versions that fans covet so much. It's THIS set of recordings alone that can be pointed to when Elvis detractors drag out the old 'nothing good after the army' argument. After a few years (and with the usual reliably bad advice from Parker) Elvis had descended into an even more horrific circle of show business hell. But in 1968 fans the world over got the present they'd waited so long for. It's a gift that keeps on giving.