on 24 December 1999
If you're going to have one CD to document one of the most important phenomenons in popular culture this Century alongside The Beatles, Television and Cinema, this should be it. This is Elvis at his peak, unrivalled except perhaps by himself a decade ago.
Elvis had spent the last 8 years since discharge from the army doing awful movies and awfuller music. Now he needed to get back to what he did best: perform.
The TV special was envisaged originally (by the Colonel) as Elvis doing a series of Christmas songs into camera. You can almost see him looking into camera from his stool and wearing a cardy saying "Merry Christmas everyone, wherever you are". But as things turned out, the Colonel, the critics and the public were in for a shock.
From the opening bars of "Trouble" you know this isn't Movie Elvis, singing to children and animals. This is Renaissance Elvis, getting back to what he was 10 or 12 years ago: a threat. Elvis had lost his edge after a decade making movies; now he seemed to have it back, and to top it off he's dressed head to toe in black leather.
The first disc is made up of the absolutely astounding opening medley of Trouble and Guitar Man - the raucousness in his voice on this sets the tone for the show and is a million miles from anything he'd done before, even at Sun; the "stand-up show" where he performs in front of an audience for the first time in God knows how long, again in black leather; and the pre-recorded "road medley", which was originally intended to be the backbone of the how but ended up seeming like an add-on; and the "Gospel Medley" Also thrown in are "A Little Less Conversation" from one of his films that they were going to use but didn't; "Memories" and "If I Can Dream".
The Stand Up show, as it became known to differentiate it from the sit-down show, was him, in a boxing-ring stage minus ropes (to make him "work the crowd" or to signify his career as being on the ropes?) and Elvis motors through some of his early hits, backed by an orchestra. Most are different versions to those used in the show itself, but no better or worse. One highlight of this part is when Elvis, in what sounds like a spur of the moment decision, attempts to jam, with full orchestra, to "Baby What You Want Me to Do". And kind of pulls it off, too, which not many could've.
The gospel medley is a fantastic and complex segueing of very different gospel songs which builds up from the beautiful spritual "Where Could I Go" to the belting it out "Saved".
The road medley again is a long and complex arrangement worked out loosely around the storyline of "Guitar Man". It wasn't included in full on the original CD for some unbeknown reason. It builds up finally to the added verse which basically sums up what Elvis is trying to do: get back to his roots.
It's the second CD which is the fait d'accomplis, though. Whilst the Beatles et al twiddle around in the studio, something Elvis could never have done, he makes his own statement about what rock and roll's all about. This is the sit down show, where Elvis and some of the guys just sit and jam. Belting it out on their guitars, guitar cases etc taking rock and roll back to the garages, school halls, clubs etc where it was first given life. One of the best things about this CD is the between song tomfoolery between Elvis and the guys which highlights the fact that he isn't what people tend to think of him as being.
Also included at the start of the second CD are a couple of recordings from rehearsals for the show which evidence the level of commitment Elvis had to this project, something he had never had before and, sadly, never had again.
This is the best thing Elvis ever did, except perhaps to burst on the scene in the first place and revolutionise popular music. Listen to this CD and you begin, tentatively, to understand why Elvis to a lot of people is more than a singer, he's a way of life.
on 8 September 2002
This album is the soundtrack to the '68 Comeback Special TV programme that relaunched Elvis Presley into a world that had largely forgotten why he was so famous in the first place.
After years or increasingly formulaic and forgettable films, Elvis went back to his roots in style and really knocked the opposition for six.
CD1 is the soundtrack of the show that was broadcast. It opens with a raucous version of Trouble/Guitar Man and from the opening verse, you know the man is going to deliver. CD1 includes many of the early hits, delivered live and spectacularly, but it also includes other hits plus a couple of medleys. The gospel medley gives Elvis the chance to go back to his original musical inspiration whilst the road medley lets him rock.
Although CD1 is excellent, CD2 is a real revelation. It contains other recordings from the concerts NBC recorded to make up the broadcast programme. Listening to it is like sitting in the audience listening to Elvis and his musicians jam. The mess about, they joke and interact with each other. In fact it's like they are sitting in Graceland jamming together for fun. There are mistakes and there are times when Elvis forgets the words but it all adds to the magic.
The whole album shows a raw, raucous, raunchy and rocking Elvis. Just the way he should always be remembered. Brilliant.
on 5 May 2013
The 1968 Comeback Special quiet possibly captured Elvis at his most hungrey for success, certainly at least since his first session at Sun in 1954. After years of increasingly bland Hollywood films Elvis was at a crissis point in his career. When this TV special aired on Dec 3 1968 in the US, he was immediately re-crowned as The King, such was the power of this performance.
It features a romp through his greatest ealy hits, a powerful gospel medley that pays tribute to his greatest musical love and the Guitar Man based "Road Medley", which captures the plot of his best Hollywood movies in a gritier, 15 minute rock opera that could be seen as a pre-cursor to a Meat Loaf album or Queen's Bohemian Rhapsody. It has the running theme of a singer on the road trying to earn a living taking the knocks before achieving the success, with several changes of pace in each segment, powerful vocals with quieter moments all of which provide the basic formula for the aforementioned.
This presentation on this 30th Anniversay CD from 1998, provides the extra material not part of the original album released at the time, due to constraints of the single LP vinyl format.
There is also room for a future extras, including the more powerful version of "A Little Less Conversation", which was the bassis of the 2002, No. 1 single. Listen to this and you will realise how subtle the remix was that produced the world wide smash that this single became.
"Baby What You Want Me To Do" was a song clearly in Elvis's head at the time and provide us with some rare and great free flowing guitar playing from Elvis himself.
If he needed a re-crowning moment this event was certainly it and for anyone who is interested in the history of Rock 'n' Roll music, Elvis fan or otherwise then this is a must have CD.