Elvis Comeback Special (1968)

In 1968, Elvis Presley’s ethically dubious puppet-master Colonel Tom Parker was facing dwindling returns from his suede-shoed cash cow. Despite a euphoric reception from the standard hordes of hyperventilating teeny-boppers when he returned from two years of national service in 1960, his career began to slide as the decade wore on, a fickle fan-base tempted away by the so-called ‘British Invasion’. Elvis had put music on the back-burner to focus on films, but his recent cinematic output had left a lot to be desired. For a while, it looked like the game might be up for the boy from Tupelo.  

Parker, struggling to squeeze Presley’s now-standard million dollar fee from film moguls, got funding for a Christmas TV special instead. At first it was set to be a fairly tame affair, Elvis crooning his way through a set of festive standards, which, presumably, would’ve done little to bolster his flagging street cred. Fortunately for Presley, NBC assigned the project an ambitious and imaginative director in the form of Steve Binder, who seized on it as an opportunity to reboot Elvis’s career and set about planning a multi-medium extravaganza.

The man himself was understandably nervous. He hadn’t performed live since 1961, when a Hawaiian benefit concert raised $64,000 towards a monument to the crew of the USS Arizona, sunk during the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour. The remaining members of his original mid-50s band, including his guitar-slinging stalwart Scotty Moore, were summoned for rehearsals, and Binder watched, enraptured, as the old musical comrades jammed and reminisced about the old days between trial-runs of the shows more extravagant set-pieces. It was subsequently decided that the show would be a game of two halves – one section dedicated to lavish, bombastic, heavily-staged sections, another to this intimate and informal alternative.

 

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