1966-1969: Page 2
January 12, 1968
NBC vice president Tom Sarnoff announces an Elvis Christmas TV Special, Elvis’ first TV appearance since 1960.
February 1, 1968
Priscilla gives birth to Lisa Marie Presley nine months to the day after she marries Elvis. It is a time of great happiness.
March 8, 1968
“Stay Away Joe” opens to mixed reviews and is #65 for the year.
March - May 1968
Elvis does soundtrack recording and filming for “Live a Little, Love a Little.” It is a sexy, more adult kind of comedy/melodrama. It, like “Stay Away, Joe” is a real departure from the typical Presley film. It is yet another breath of fresh air.
April 8, 1968
Elvis is deeply distressed by the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King. Elvis has been a long-time admirer and often quotes his “I Have a Dream” speech.
June 6, 1968
Robert Kennedy is killed. Elvis' thoughts and feelings on the losses of both Dr. King and Robert Kennedy eventually lead to a song being written that he sings in his upcoming TV special.
June 12, 1968
“Speedway” is released nationally and is #40. The soundtrack album goes only as far up the chart as #82.
Starting on June 3, Elvis rehearses for the taping of his first television special. A press conference is held on June 25. Videotaping is done June 27, 28, 29 and 30. Commonly referred to as the “’68 Special” or the “’68 Comeback”. The actual name of this landmark television special is “Elvis.”
The sixties have brought about great change in
music and pop culture, change for which Elvis helped pave the way over a decade earlier when he exploded onto the scene with his unique blending of pop, rock, country, R&B and gospel influences. Focusing on his Hollywood movie career in the sixties, Elvis has become less a part of the current pop cultural scene. He has been making one movie after another and many of the records he has put out in these years have been movie soundtrack albums. Elvis’ films in the fifties and early sixties were wonderfully successful, but as the sixties have worn on, the movies and records, though still profitable, have not been nearly so successful as they were before. Elvis has reached the supreme level of frustration with the state of his career and all its limitations on his creativity and artistic expression. He had hoped to become a serious actor, but Hollywood had other ideas and Elvis went along with them. His opportunities to show his true talents as an actor have been few. He is beyond ready for a change. By now, it has been more than seven years since Elvis has appeared in front of a live audience. Elvis has missed the closeness of his audience, the energy and excitement of live performing.
The “’68 Special” opens with Elvis singing a hot new version of the gutsy "Trouble," from his 1958 film “King Creole.” This segues into “Guitar Man,” which becomes the underlying theme of the show. Elvis is then reunited with two of his original fifties band members, guitarist Scotty Moore and drummer D.J. Fontana. They sit together on stage in the round, along with several other friends and associates of Elvis, for an informal session of singing, jamming and swapping stories. Parts of this jam session are woven throughout the show. There are also sequences of Elvis taking the stage alone and performing many of his greatest hit rockers and ballads. He also introduces a new song, “Memories.”
One can surmise that he pours out years of career frustration and pent-up creative energy into the performance of these songs. His natural talent, charisma, sensuality and stage presence have not been diminished by the years in Hollywood. In fact, Elvis looks, sounds, moves and grooves better than he ever has. At 33, he is better than he has ever been and better than anybody in the business. For the group jam session segments and solo stage performances, Elvis wears a two-piece, black leather outfit specially designed for the show by Bill Belew, who also designed the other wardrobe Elvis and the cast wear in the show. The look evokes the era of James Dean and the Marlon Brando type motorcycle films of the fifties, the era when Elvis was first proclaimed the King of Rock 'n' Roll.
In one of the jam session segments, Elvis speaks of the gospel origins of rock ‘n’ roll. This segues into the gospel music portion of the show, which has Elvis wearing a two-piece burgundy suit, singing "Where Could I Go But to the Lord," "Up Above My Head" and "I’m Saved.” During this segment, Elvis is backed by the female vocal group, The Blossoms, and accompanied by a troupe of dancers.
Toward the end of the special, Elvis appears in a lengthy production number that includes song, dance, karate and various situations. The number traces a young man’s journey from a struggling guitar player, through the challenges, dangers and compromises on the path to his dreams of success and superstardom. Something is lost along the way. Once the dream is achieved, the man realizes that he remains unfulfilled and that he has abandoned his true self. He decides to return to his roots, doing what made him happiest, what he does best. He sings “I’ll never be more than what I am... a swingin’ little guitar man.” The parallels to Elvis' own life are clear and deliberate, and his doing the “’68 Special” represents his own return to his true self, to his roots. Free from the confines of his Hollywood grind, this is Elvis the singer, the performer, the musician, the man - the real Elvis.
At the end of the special, Elvis appears alone wearing a simple white two-piece suit, standing in front of the towering backdrop of red lights that spell ELVIS. He sings a brand new song, "If I Can Dream," especially written for the show. The writers created the song based in part upon conversations with Elvis about his own thoughts on what was happening in the turbulent sixties. It seems appropriate that he closes the show with some sort of personal statement. His powerful and passionate performance of this song of hope for mankind is one of the most brilliant moments of his singing career.