Review: Elvis Presley - The Complete '68 Comeback Special 40th Anniversary Edition
Released: August 5, 2008
The story of Elvis' 1968 comeback special is well known. By that time, the music that Elvis, not begot, but certainly laid the groundwork for, had passed him by. While Elvis was busy making silly movies like Blue Hawaii and Harem Scarum, rock and roll was broadening its horizons and beginning to take itself a bit more seriously in light of the self-empowerment of a generation involved in the civil rights and anti-war movements. Naive teen sentiments embodied in songs like "Hound Dog" or "Heartbreak Hotel" seemed ridiculous in light of the turbulent times. Quite simply, rock and roll was evolving into rock while the King was off following someone else's lame muse.
In this environment, Elvis returns to perform four sets on two dates in front a small audience at NBC's Burbank studios. There was absolutely no chance for him to recover the raw edginess he had on "That's Alright Mama," even with the return of Scotty Moore and DJ Fontana. Times had changed and so had Elvis. Nonetheless, his performance is loose and free. Elvis is light and agile and lacks the self-consciousness that he would have had if he really was a has-been. Oddly enough, he was nervous about performing live after a seven year lay-off, but he told executive producer Bob Finkel, "I want everyone to know what I can really do." And that is exactly what he did. Against the odds, Elvis was on fire. Perhaps that adversity is just what he needed.
In addition to the original album with which most everyone is well-acquainted, this package includes the full shows from which the TV special was culled and the rehearsals. It's really the rehearsals that make this set. You can hear that the King is hungry again. You can hear how confident and loose he is. This isn't the same guy who was forced in embarrassing roles in bad movies, this is just an older version of the guy who took a love of C&W, R&B and gospel and mixed it with his raw, though somewhat naive, sexuality and changed the face of popular music. It's evident on the original album. It's evident in the full shows. But nowhere is it more clear than in the free-wheeling rehearsals. Elvis and his band stumble through "Blue Moon of Kentucky" and despite the stuttering performance, they just sound great. Rock n roll was never about perfection and that's demonstrated here as well as anywhere.
This is not the Elvis that made young girls scream (although he surely made plenty of middle-aged women scream), but it's a farther cry from the Elvis that died with so much bacon fat and prescription drugs in his system that he couldn't even sustain a bowel movement. In 1968, even if only briefly, he was the King.
If you're curious about my rating categories, read the description.