41 years after his death and 50 years on from the 68 Comeback Special, Elvis Presley is still The King of Rock N Roll. The evidence is in The 68 Comeback Special itself, broadcast across several UK cinemas on Thursday with an accompanying documentary featuring Priscilla Presley and Special producer, Steve Binder.
“The whole show was magic and was probably one of the greatest things he did” says Priscilla of the show which originally aired on December 3, 1968.
The show featured Elvis’ first live television performance in seven years. The show, which captured The King performing with a full band in front of an intimate audience of diehard fans, was a personal triumph for Elvis at the time. His career, still under the guidance of Colonel Tom Parker had been overshadowed by a string of poor movies and declining chart success.
Producer, Steve Binder, who had recently produced a ground-breaking TV special featuring the talents of Petula Clark and Harry Belafonte, was close to Elvis age, and immediately struck up a rapport with the star. Binder’s production team came up with a setlist and format that allowed Elvis to remind the audience why he was a great performer.
“50 years later there is not one thing in the show that has dated, it’s as fresh today as when we did the show,” says Binder in the documentary which features a walk through of the NBC studio’s where the programme was recorded.
Binder is correct, Elvis looks impeccable from start to finish in a collection of suits including all-out leather, denim and an iconic white suit.
Raucous and rocking, Elvis winds the clock back to the 1950s and his early career with performances of early hits One Night, Heartbreak Hotel, Jailhouse Rock and All Shook Up, all done word perfect and with clarity.
During rehearsals, Binder noticed the energy and charisma of a dressing room jam session led by Elvis. Binder encouraged Elvis to bring the jam sessions to the stage of which Elvis agreed, on condition his old bandmates DJ Fontana and Scotty Moore could be brought in to play with him. This was arranged and one of the most magical moments in television history is created. A forerunner for the MTV unplugged sessions of a few decades later, Elvis talks to the audience and his bandmates whilst simultaneously having fun on stage.
Nowhere else do we see or hear footage of Elvis singing Lawdy Miss Clawdy and That’s Alright Mama with such authenticity. He even pokes fun at his caricatured image and film persona as he begins to curl his lip. “I got news for you baby, I did 29 pictures like that!” he tells the audience.
The 68 Comeback Special also features two staged medley’s showing Elvis ability to slot into other genres.
The Gospel Medley featuring Where Could I Go To, But To The Lord and Saved illustrates the marriage of rock n roll and gospel music. Even in the late 1960s, some people doubted that such genres could go together. How wrong they were as Elvis demonstrates that his music has its roots in Gospel.
Another medley sequence, Nowheresville is akin to a mini movie following the adventures of a Guitar Man from venue to venue. Set against a backdrop of saloon bars and beautiful girls, the sequence is awash with late 60s psychedelic cinematography, fight scenes, dance sequences and features Elvis performing songs such as TROUBLE, Guitar Man and It Hurts Me
The Special also features two mesmerising songs, Memories, a ballad which cools down after the jam session and the wondrous If I Can Dream, a song of hope and peace that wished for a better world following a year of the assassinations of Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King and the continuing Vietnam conflict. If I can dream is the icing on the cake to the ultimate performance, classic Elvis rebooted. We hear Elvis give his all, right up to the final to the final, “Thank you, Goodnight”. There is no applause, just the ringing echoes of awesomeness.
I first saw The Comeback Special in the early 80s and it has been remixed and re-edited on numerous occasions over the last few decades for video releases and TV broadcasts. This latest version is undoubtedly a big screen treat as are the bloopers and outtakes that follow the film. A rocking tribute for Elvis fans old and new if there is a performance that warrants Elvis claim to the King of Rock N Roll this is it – Don’t Miss it.
Encore screenings of Elvis – The 68 Comeback Special are scheduled for the remainder of August 2018 at selected venues. Visit www.cinevents-events.com for ticket details.