In 1968 Elvis Presley was a fading star. Having served a couple of years in the army, he then took a lengthy hiatus from his music career from 1960 to 1967 to focus on making movies. Although he was prolific – he made 27 movies in the 1960s – his body of work was largely critically panned. His movies were generally accompanied by a soundtrack of Elvis songs but it was clear that the his appeal to the public was waning.
Enter Steve Binder, a young producer and director with a rebellious streak, who had gained a level of notoriety for an earlier TV special and whom executives at NBC thought might be well suited to crafting a Christmas TV special with Elvis. Impressing Elvis with his honesty by telling The King flat out that he thought his career was “in the toilet” at that stage, the pair agreed to work together and Binder gave the musician exactly what he needed to reignite his career; a chance to record an album in front of a live, intimate audience of his fans. So was born Elvis Presley’s iconic ’68 Comeback Special.
A full 50 years on from it’s initial release and it’s not hard to see the impact this milestone of music has left in it’s wake. The concert features Elvis rekindling the magic that catapulted him to the top of the charts in his first live performance since 1961. Elvis, dressed in black leather, mixes his greatest hits with audience interaction and gives a masterful, soulful performance. It’s a far cry from what was initially envisioned by the TV network, but it was exactly the shot of adrenaline his career needed at a time when he was deeply unhappy with his own output.
The special features new footage of Binder and Elvis’s daughter Lisa-Marie, who was only months old when the concert was recorded, and the pair offer an interesting perspective about a man who spent so much time in the public eye but also deeply valued his privacy.
The concert itself is incredible. Elvis, feeding off the crowd and seeming more like the unrestrained rock and roll star of his earlier career is completely mesmerizing. Functioning almost like an “unplugged” session, the passion that flows through The King is infectious and his performance is bolstered by his energy and devotion to the audience.
The ’68 Comeback Special has always been than just a concert, more than just a TV special. It’s an opportunity to see a star fighting to remind the world what made him so great and it’s a showcase for his immense talent. This 50th anniversary re-release isn’t just for Elvis fans, it’s for music fans, for cinema fans, for fans of pop-culture everywhere to witness a genuine icon giving the performance of a lifetime.