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Ramblings of a Lifelong Fan – Part 30 – Elvis’ ‘68 Comeback Special…OMG

After Elvis came home from the army, he once more began making movies and stopped touring. I can’t imagine how that must have felt to fans, waiting so anxiously for his return, then being unable to see him live in concert. Although, seeing him on the big screen was definitely a treat as well. 🙂

When the concept of a special featuring Elvis first came about, Colonel Parker originally had the idea of Elvis singing Christmas carols. But director Steve Binder wanted something more. After noticing how relaxed and natural Elvis was in rehearsals, and how he and the other musicians played off one another, joked around and impulsively performed old blues and rock and roll songs, he decided to run with that theme and he and his crew did everything they could to recreate that situation and help Elvis relax. Elvis was reluctant to perform live, he was sure people would laugh at him, but Binder brought in Scotty Moore and Bill Black, the musicians Elvis started with, to put him at ease. (Unfortunately, the other member of the group, DJ Fontana, had passed away in 1965.) Although Elvis was terrified, not long after taking the stage, he managed to set it aside, or at least to appear to. According to Binder: “If you look closely at the opening seconds of the show, there’s a close-up of Elvis singing. You can see his hand on the mike – and it’s visibly shaking. Then he sang 8 or 9 strains, and he was back.”

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What developed was a phenomenal, ground breaking show, a mixture of big number performances with extravagant settings, such as the sequence with gospel songs and the musical ‘skit’ featuring Guitar Man and Big Boss Man. The ending number was a spectacular performance of Elvis, looking incredibly handsome in a white suit, singing ‘If I Can Dream’ a song written especially for the show, based on Elvis’ feelings about some of the issues going on in the world, including the assassinations of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Bobby Kennedy. Watch here:

 

The most memorable and impactful segment of the show had to be the ‘in the round’ jam session. Elvis in black leather, sitting around, joking and belting out some of his finer songs with his buddies surrounding him. Although I know Elvis was nervous, it certainly doesn’t show. He looks relaxed, sexy, confident as he smiles, jokes, and projects the famous Elvis swagger and charisma. Here is a little taste:

 

 

The show aired December 3, 1968, but I’ll be honest. I don’t recall seeing it at that time. I don’t know if my parents just didn’t allow us to watch it, or didn’t think about it (I was seven years old). My first memory of seeing the special was the following year in August, 1969 when my family traveled from Oklahoma to California, making stops in various states, including to visit my half-brother in Colorado. (They piled 5 kids in a station wagon Mom earned from selling Tupperware, and we embarked on the well over a thousand miles journey…what were they thinking???)  I’m guessing the special was re-broadcast, or my memory is totally skewed, but I have this recollection of being at my half-brother’s house, and the 68 Special playing on his television. I was enthralled, captivated, couldn’t take my eyes off the screen. I’d already loved Elvis for as long as I could remember (and at 8 years old, that wasn’t all that long :)), but it was my first time to actually see him perform, other than in his movies, to see his amazing stage presence and the way he interacted with an audience and held them under his spell. Fortunately for all of us lucky enough to have seen Elvis in concert (for me, 3 times), this was the beginning of Elvis’ return to live performances.

The 68 Special was a smashing success. It was viewed by 42% of the audience and was the number one show that year, receiving critical acclaim and rave reviews. Elvis was indeed back.

What about you? Have you seen the special? What did you think?

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