The December 1968 special Elvis was a proud moment as Elvis reclaimed his title as King of Rock and Roll.
Through much of the decade, Elvis had been churning out movies, his recordings limited by soundtrack offerings. But the rest of the music world continued to evolve. The Beatles, the Stones, the Doors and others had burst onto the scene. The very world that Elvis had helped forge was moving past him.
Now if Colonel Parker had had his way, this special would have consisted of Elvis standing in front of a Christmas tree crooning Christmas carols. Again, a retreat to the familiar, the formulaic.
Enter Steve Binder, a producer of experience and vision. His certainty that the special should be an allegory of Elvis’ life, a mixture of the rhythm and blues, gospel and country which formed Elvis’ genius, convinced Elvis to ignore the Colonel and trust the young producer.
The show begins with a production number of Trouble from King Creole, which evokes Elvis’ past. A country and western, song and dance version of Guitar Mantraces Elvis’ roots.
Perhaps best remembered are the segments taped before a live studio audience. Reunited with longtime band members Scotty Moore and D.J. Fontana, they sit on a small stage surrounded by fans. Elvis wears the famous black leather suit designed by Bill Belew and looks every bit the serious rocker. With new arrangements of his hits, these sessions are intimate and powerful.
For a finale, the Colonel was pressing for Silent Night. Yawn. Again Binder prevailed. Elvis appears on stage dressed entirely in white, standing before a huge backdrop of red lights that spell ELVIS. He sings If I Can Dream which was written just for this special. This song of hope is delivered with passion and conviction. A tour de force.
The ’68 Comeback Special with its marriage of the old to the new, re-established Elvis’ place as King of Rock and pointed the way for Elvis’ future.