Elvis Comeback Special



This night 40 years ago as you settled into the Christmas season after a sad and dark year filled with assassinations, unending war, urban unrest, and the election of Richard Nixon as President, you may have turned on the television to check out what we now commonly call The Elvis Comeback Special. Of course it wasn’t called that at the time because no one had any idea Elvis was going to do kick some rock and roll ass and for one night fulfill the promise that was “Elvis.? In fact, if Col. Tom Parker had gotten his way, Elvis would have been sitting on a spare stage singing Christmas songs.

Before one can “comeback? two things must happen: First the one making the comeback had previously performed at a heightened level and second, that they’ve fallen far from those heights. No doubt by 1968 Elvis had fallen far from pinnacle he sat upon in the late 1950’s. Bad movies with even worse songs had defined Elvis’ career since 1961 and musically Elvis seemed trite compared to the music that then ruled ‘68. (Remember The White Album was released only 10 days before the comeback special aired).

The TV special itself is divided into a number of different performances. Running through it is a series of set pieces each one based on chorus of the song “Guitar Man? which tells the “Story of Elvis? from a boy leaving a dead-end town to that boy becoming a star, with stops at whorehouses, seedy nightclubs, and backwoods carnivals along the way. The highlight of the one hour-long special however are the concert performances, one alone (see pic above) surrounded by bouffanted girls as he belts out the hits and another with his old band reliving old times and old songs as if they were back on the porch at Graceland.

Those performances were so compelling, so antithetical to the Elvis of the last 8 years that they became legend and the source of the “comeback? in the comeback special. As Charles Taylor describes it in his excellent review of the special “What those audiences witnessed was the moneylenders being thrown out of the temple. The memory of "Do the Clam" or "Rock-a-Hula Baby," of "Double Trouble" or "Harum Scarum" was trashed. Elvis, acting as his own blade runner, retired the glazed replicant Elvis who had stood in for him for most of the preceding eight years.? In fact, Elvis became so wrapped up in the songs that there is reporting that he… ahem… brought new meaning to the word “climax? as he finished his performance.

The Special fittingly ends with Elvis singing If I Can Dream, (see video below) a message song that was an emphatic end to an ugly year and a performance that Elvis completely takes over. With the song building toward the finale, the camera switching back and forth from Elvis in white and Elvis in black leather, his swinging arm ardently sweeping away the dreck that was all around us and his career, Elvis clears a path for a new and brighter day.

After the Special, Elvis would go on to record From Elvis in Memphis, one of his greatest albums, the sessions from which such hits as Suspicious Minds, Kentucky Rain, and In The Ghetto were recorded. Unfortunately we know the story from there. Elvis couldn’t keep the comeback alive, he became bloated both physically and musically and once again became more like a joke than the king of rock and roll. But for one night forty years ago, the promise that was Elvis was alive and shone like a beacon.


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This page contains a single entry by Freealonzo published on December 3, 2008 9:18 AM.

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