The 50th anniversary of Elvis Presley’s groundbreaking ’68 Comeback Special’ is this year, and to celebrate the occasion, it’s getting an exhaustive audio and video deluxe box set treatment which will be released Nov. 30.
‘Elvis Presley – ’68 Comeback Special (50th Anniversary Edition)’ is the definitive chronicle of one of the greatest rock-and-roll performances ever televised, showcasing the King at the peak of his powers. What makes this set unique is for the first time ever, all previously-released audio and newly-restored video from the taping of the special will be available in one package – including unused performances and studio outtakes. The package contains an entire disc showcasing the legendary sessions for the special recorded with Elvis and the Wrecking Crew.
The five-disc, two Blu-ray disc deluxe package also includes an 80-page book featuring rare photographs and a new oral history on the special, crafted from interviews conducted for Thom Zimny’s 2018 documentary, “Elvis Presley: The Searcher.” The newly-restored Blu-ray video was also overseen by Zimny. The content from the box set will be released digitally as separate audio and video products Nov. 30, days before the official anniversary of the special’s airing on Dec. 3, 1968.
Also, being released Nov. 30 is the two-LP vinyl presentation of ‘The King in The Ring.’ Originally released on vinyl for the first time earlier this year in a limited edition run for Record Store Day, the set showcases the standout, intimate “sit down” sets from the ’68 special. The laid-back live performances were recorded in the round before a small audience and featured a powerful ensemble, including guitarist Scotty Moore and drummer D.J. Fontana, both part of Elvis’ original classic backing band.
The anniversary of the electrifying moment in music history will continue into 2019 when NBC and Ken Ehrlich Productions team up for a 2-hour prime time television tribute to the original special. The 50th Anniversary of the ‘Elvis Comeback Special’ will feature an all-star group of music superstars recreating the spectacle – including the staging – of that legendary night. In addition to the musical performances, the production will include rare Elvis footage, outtakes and interviews from those involved in the original ’68 Comeback Special.’
The ’68 Comeback Special,’ which at the time was titled ‘Singer Presents…Elvis,’ was a pivotal broadcast event that upped-the-ante on Elvis’ career, the evolution of pop culture and the history of television. By that year, prior to the broadcast, Elvis was no longer seen by the mainstream as a viable rock and roll commodity. Since his discharge from the United States Army in 1960, his career path careened through a string of low-budget and formulaic films while the rock music scene was exploding with innovation, experimentation and an urgency in a turbulent era politically. Elvis hadn’t performed in public since 1961 and hadn’t appeared on television since 1960.
The special, recorded over several sessions in June 1968, presented Elvis in a variety of settings, from spectacular production numbers like “Nothingville,” “Guitar Man,” “Big Boss Man” and “Let Yourself Go” to the intimate “sit-down” performances of classic Elvis hits, reuniting the artist with Moore and Fontana, the guitarist and drummer who’d played alongside Presley on his earliest records and shows.
The black leather “sit-down” and “stand-up” sequences provided a retrospective of Elvis’ career to that point, highlighted with the new song “Memories,” written by Mac Davis specifically for the show. The special’s transcendent closing number was Presley’s now-classic, emotionally fueled performance of “If I Can Dream,” an anthemic new song penned especially for Presley and the special by W. Earl Brown.
The special was the most-viewed television program in America the week it aired and firmly reestablished Elvis as a major musical and cultural force.
“I think the ’68 Special gave him the confidence to get on the road again, knowing that people accepted him,” said Elvis’ ex-wife Priscilla Presley in a statement. “That show was so successful that he just knew this is what he wanted to do, go back and be with an audience.”
The success of the ’68 Special reignited Presley’s career in a major way. Shortly after the special aired, he entered American Sound Studio in Memphis for the sessions that generated “Suspicious Minds,” one of his most enduring No. 1 hits and his country-soul masterpiece ‘From Elvis In Memphis,’ which included the chart-topping “In the Ghetto.” Presley returned to live performances in 1969 with a record-breaking engagement at The International Hotel in Las Vegas, kickstarting a regular run of live shows that lasted for the rest of his career.
For an in-depth behind the scenes look at the making of the ’68 Comeback Special,’ director/producer Steve Binder has written the new book, ‘Comeback ’68 / Elvis: The Story of The Elvis Special.’ Now available at shopelvis.com. According to Binder, “The only time in network history, I think, that in prime time a variety special for a star like Elvis had no guest stars. He was the star, period.”
“I never saw Elvis perform,” said Priscilla Presley. “I only saw him for the first time in the ’68 Special.’ And I could not believe what I saw. It was like, oh my gosh, I get it. I get it. To actually see him on stage, walk out there, and own that stage. I’d never seen anyone control an audience like that in my life, with his magnetism, his energy, his look. It was like he rehearsed that show all his life.”
For millions of fans, including a young Bruce Springsteen, the ‘68 Comeback Special’ was a life-changing event.
“I remember I waited for weeks for the ’68 Special,” Springsteen recalled recently. “I knew it was coming. I can remember exactly where our TV was set up in the dining room, the exact place I was sitting. I mean, it’s one of those things that’s imprinted on my memory forever.”
Fans who pre-order’68 Comeback Special (50th Anniversary Edition) from Shop Graceland (store.graceland.com) will receive an exclusive gift with purchase while supplies last in the form of a ’68 Comeback Special 50th Anniversary limited edition coin.
To contact music columnist Michael Christopher, send an email to [email protected] Also, check out his blog at www.thechroniclesofmc.com