Music Monday with PLC is a weekly feature written by my husband, Pat.
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ELVIS : 1968 Comeback Special
Last week - August 16, 2012 - marked the 35th anniversary of Elvis’s death, and the 25th anniversary of my first trip to Graceland. As a parent now, I look back with wonder that two friends and myself were able to convince our parents to let us make the trip. The three of us were still in high school and had just gotten our drivers licenses (one of us even having his wisdom teeth pulled days before), and we were allowed to take the family station wagon twelve hours to make a pilgrimage to Graceland. “Call us when you get there.” Ahh the pre-cellphone era. It must simply be the power of Elvis. I remember getting into Graceland some time after Midnight, and 30 seconds after that seeing our first Elvis impersonator. Foolishly, I debated whether I should ask him if I could take his picture. Then I realized, “Oh yeah, like the guy dressed in full Elvis regalia standing in the middle of Elvis Central might want to go incognito.” I discovered that apparently Elvis came in every shape, size, color and gender. Some were dancing, some were singing, some were doing karate, and many of them were simply walking around doing stuff. And after all, if you are going to just walk around doing stuff, why not do it dressed like Elvis. All hail the King.
Elvis burst on the scene around 1956 and started all kinds of revolutions. Then in the 60‘s he started making movies, and he kept on making bad movies. Over and over and over again. Then in 1968, Col. Tom signed him up to do a Christmas television special for NBC and the Singer sewing machine company. The special was simply titled “Elvis,” but it will forever be known as the “ ’68 Comeback Special.” Elvis, then at the age of 33, had not performed in front of an audience since 1961, and was stuck recording bad movie song after bad movie song. All the while the late 60’s pop music landscape was filled with titans like the Beatles, the Stones and many other heavyweights putting out some of the best music of their stellar careers. Elvis was simply a ghost of himself. Then someone stood up to Col. Tom and told Elvis that the king had no clothes. That man was the producer/director of the special, Steve Binder. So the king got some clothes, a killer black leather outfit to be exact, and took back his throne on the night of December 3, 1968 when the special aired.
Elvis found out that he still had it, and from this point decided he was going to sing songs that he believed in, rather than much of the schlock he was forced to record to fit a movie scene. And from the strength of this special, a determined Elvis went into Memphis’s American Sound Studios with producer Chips Moman and put out one of the best albums of his career, the great From Elvis in Memphis. The ’68 special had some highly produced choreographed pieces at the beginning, but then brilliantly put Elvis in front of a live audience with his original drummer and guitarist (and some amazing tambourine playing by Alan Fortas) and just let Elvis be loose and be Elvis. The result: Magic.
My favorite piece, however, came at the finale. 1968 was certainly a tumultuous time in American history. Elvis ended the special with a new song of peace and hope. Elvis’ legacy may be unfairly blemished by some, of racial comments not definitively linked to him or acts of supposed musical thievery, just ask Public Enemy. But on this song, written by Walter Earl Brown, Elvis echoes the words of Martin Luther King Jr., and gives the world, along with Lennon’s “Imagine”, one of the greatest pop songs of peace. Laying it down with the passion and dress of a Southern preacher, here is one of my top ten songs of all time: the iconic Elvis Presley “If I Can Dream” -
Occasionally, we all have to refocus ourselves in life. Don’t forget what makes you special, and don’t let people tell you what you can’t accomplish. In the words of L.L., “Don’t call it a comeback, cause I’ve been here for years”.
And in the words of Elvis, always be “Taking Care of Business in a ϟ ."
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- last week - The Cribs
- a while back - The Magic Numbers
- last season - Alabama Shakes
- full archive of Music Monday with PLC - HERE
P.S.: Check out how awesome www.elvis.com is. So much cool stuff, especially Elvis for Kids and 360 tours of Graceland.