Elvis Presley’s ’68 Comeback Special Celebrates 50 Years
On December 3rd, 1968 at 9pm EST, 42 percent of households that owned a television tuned in to watch the King of Rock and Roll revitalize his music career. Elvis Presley singlehandedly turned the music industry upside down in the 1950’s and was perhaps the most iconic figure of the 20th century. His life was truly the American Dream. Contrary to what Ric Flair says, Elvis was the original Rolex wearin’, limousine ridin’, jet flyin’, kiss stealin’, wheelin’ dealin’, son of a gun. From humble beginnings, Elvis became a star at a very young age, but he never forgot where he came from, which made him very well received with any audience. This NBC special relaunched his music career, after spending most of the 1960’s as a movie star. Elvis was not the best actor, but all of his movies made a profit, which was a tremendous feat in itself, but he was totally burned out from the movie industry. He started to dislike the roles he was playing, and the songs he was singing in the movies were just bad. It was a commercialized mess, but the NBC special remade Elvis a star overnight.
Performing in front of an audience was Elvis Presley’s calling, there is no doubt about that. As far as charisma goes, there wasn’t a single performer that even came close to Elvis. America was reintroduced to that 50 years ago today, and is still talked about today. The ’68 Comeback Special was originally supposed to be a Christmas special with Elvis singing a set list exclusively filled with Christmas songs. Although a Christmas special would’ve probably been a hit as well, I’m glad the direction of the show changed into the format that the world was introduced to 50 years ago. The show was an hour-long special and was the first time that Elvis performed in front of an audience in over 7 years. Although it was said by some of Elvis’ band members that this was really the only time that they have seen him nervous before a show, it certainly did not show in his performance. The TV special was created from private live concerts that Elvis recorded June 20th-29th of 1968.
Prior to the concert special, the music industry underwent some major changes since Elvis was a mainstream musical artist. The Beatles were at the peak of their career, Psychedelic music was on the rise, and the genre that he helped create was passing him by. His life in Hollywood made him feel almost trapped in contract obligations and he personally felt that he would not be loved the same way he was when he left the music industry. His movie albums were not doing well and his status as a serious musician was in serious doubt. To say the least, there was tremendous pressure placed on Elvis to be at his best and to regain his status as a serious performer in the concert series.
The most iconic thing about the television special was the ending. 1968 was not a great year for the United States. Civil Rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. and Presidential candidate Robert Kennedy were assassinated, riots were the occurring in larger cities, and the Vietnam War was under more scrutiny than ever before. The show’s closing act was supposed to be the Christmas song, “I’ll Be Home for Christmas”, but a special song was written for Elvis and he went ahead and recorded the song, despite his manager not wanting him to perform it. “If I Can Dream” was the name of the song that closed the show 50 years ago today, and I consider it one of Elvis’ most underappreciated songs. After hearing the song for the first time, Elvis was quoted as saying,"I'm never going to sing another song I don't believe in. I'm never going to make another picture I don't believe in."The song was a powerful anthem that was filled with raw emotion and contained a message that the world needed to hear at that point in time. The song’s message is just as strong today as it was 50 years ago.
Today is a huge day for Elvis fans everywhere. Today marks the day in which we can look back at time where the world’s biggest star made an appearance on television and re-inspired a nation of music lovers. If you don’t know the background of Elvis Presley, do yourself a favor and look it up. His backstory is a remarkable one and should be an inspiration to us all. While you are probably filling your playlists with Christmas music today, I urge you to take a break from Christmas music just for today and listen and/or watch the ’68 Comeback Special.
*The first 7 songs on this album are the songs heard on the televised ‘68 Comeback Special. Enjoy.