’68 Comeback Special

In the annals of auditory opulence, “Elvis” stands as the sonorous opus accompanying the televised spectacle of the eponymous American rock and roll luminary, Elvis Presley, in 1968. This resonant compendium, disseminated by RCA Records, emanated from the live resonances within the hallowed halls of NBC Studios in Burbank, California, complemented by supplementary studio endeavors at Western Recorders during the ephemeral epoch of June 1968. Subsequently ascending to the zenith of the Billboard 200 at the prestigious No. 8 echelon, this harmonious convergence, coupled with the televised extravaganza, wrought a renaissance in Presley’s vocational trajectory, resuscitating it from a prolonged period of waning commercial and critical fortunes. The RIAA duly anointed it with Gold certification on July 22, 1969, and Platinum laurels on July 15, 1999.

The sonic panorama encapsulated in the Elvis special’s live album manifests as the acoustic manifestation of the televised spectacle, a kaleidoscopic amalgam of studio harmonies and live reverberations. The live repertoire itself is a variegated tapestry, alternating between “sit-down” renditions with a diminutive ensemble and “stand-up” compositions accompanied by a symphony orchestra.

In stark contradistinction to the arduous monotony that often permeates feature film soundtrack productions, Presley approached this project with genuine enthusiasm. The auditory canvas of the album delineates Presley in three distinct tableaus: elaborate production sequences interweaving medleys of his oeuvre, an unceremonious ensemble rendering full-length compositions before a live audience, and two original compositions wherein Presley is buttressed by an orchestra amid a live auditory assembly. Of note, the two mellifluous ballads from this opus were disseminated as singles. “If I Can Dream” made its auditory debut earlier in the month, sharing the B-side with a melody from his concurrent cinematic offering, “Live a Little, Love a Little,” thereby effectuating a dual promotional thrust within a single phonographic artifact. This duet soared to the pinnacle of the Billboard Hot 100 at No. 12, marking Presley’s most exalted charting since 1965. Subsequently, “Memories” surfaced over a bi-monthly interval after its broadcast, concomitant with the title track of his subsequent cinematic endeavor, “Charro!” This strategic release maneuver propelled the album into the top tier of the chart, breathing vitality into a recording career that had languished at a despondent No. 82 in its antecedent iteration. Presley staunchly advocated for the preservation of the mono mixes for these harmonies on the album.

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The chronological tapestry of reissues unfurls as a symphony of untapped auditory wealth, wherein myriad hours of musical opulence were documented during the special’s genesis. RCA, on August 27, 1991, unfurled an augmented iteration for compact disc consumption titled “NBC-TV Special,” encompassing unabridged renditions of the medleys in select instances. The annus mirabilis of 1998 witnessed the advent of two expansive compact disc compilations: “Memories: The ’68 Comeback Special,” showcasing more exhaustive incarnations of the production and orchestral harmonies, and “Tiger Man,” spotlighting the entire evening recital of the two intimate ensemble concerts transpiring on June 27, 1968. The latter duo of small ensemble showcases subsequently graced vinyl grooves under the aegis of “The King in the Ring” during Record Store Day 2018.

In the verdant ides of July 1999, a solitary-CD corollary christened “Burbank ’68: The NBC-TV ‘Comeback Special'” made its debut under the imprimatur of Follow that Dream Records (FTD), the dedicated collectors’ label of Sony/RCA commemorated to unearthing archival treasures ensconced within RCA’s repository of Presley’s studio, live, and rehearsal recordings. “Burbank ’68” bestowed auditory aficionados with snippets of the June 25th rehearsal, the latter segment of the stand-up spectacle on June 29, and select studio renditions fashioned for the special.

On August 5, 2008, the magnum opus entitled “The Complete ’68 Comeback Special” was disseminated by Legacy, a monumental quadruple-CD assemblage encapsulating recording sessions and integral live renditions consummated for the special. This grandiloquent release commemorated the quadragenarian milestone of the TV special’s inception. May of 2016 witnessed the advent of an expanded incarnation of “Elvis (NBC-TV Special)” under the aegis of FTD (Follow that Dream Records).

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The chronological tableau transitioned to November 30, 2018, where the 40th-anniversary casket, “The Complete ’68 Comeback Special,” underwent augmentation and resuscitation as the ’68 Comeback Special – 50th Anniversary Edition. This opulent reissue introduced novel stereo interpretations of “Memories” and “If I Can Dream,” supplementing its auditory banquet with a bonus (fifth) disc housing sessions and alternate takes, many of which had erstwhile graced the FTD edition of the album. Additionally, two Blu-ray discs were appended to the trove, encapsulating visual delights. The 2018 iteration judiciously excised a rendition of “A Little Less Conversation,” heretofore included in the 2008 anthology and the 1998 opus “Memories: The 68 Comeback Special.” This editorial decision derived from the discernment that, while this version and arrangement of the composition had been contemplated for the special, it had ultimately been consigned to the annals as an alternative rendition (take 2) for its inaugural purpose in Presley’s cinematic foray, “Live a Little, Love a Little.”

About the Song

“Guitar Man” is a song written and originally recorded by Jerry Reed in 1967, reaching number 53 on the Billboard country music charts. Elvis Presley later recorded the song with Reed playing the guitar part, resulting in a minor country and pop hit.

Elvis Presley Versions:

  1. Original Recording:
    • Released: January 3, 1968
    • B-side: “High Heel Sneakers”
    • Recorded: September 10, 1967
    • Studio: RCA Studio B, Nashville
    • Genre: Rock and roll
    • Label: RCA Victor
    • Songwriter: Jerry Reed Hubbard
    • Producer: Felton Jarvis

According to Peter Guralnick’s biography of Presley, the singer had initially faced difficulties recording the tune and expressed a desire for “that redneck picker who’s on the original tune.” Reed was brought into the studio, and, according to the romanticized version, he nailed it on the first take. However, there are conflicting accounts, with a studio tape documenting multiple takes.

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The single spent one week at number one on the country chart. In 1968, Presley opened his comeback special with “Guitar Man,” creating a memorable sequence that highlighted his past and dangerous image. The song was featured in a medley with “Trouble.”

  1. Re-recorded Version (1981):
    • In 1981, “Guitar Man” was re-recorded with a new electric arrangement, preserving Presley’s original vocal. This version became his eleventh number-one country hit.
    • The record also peaked at number twenty-eight on the Billboard Hot 100, marking his last top-40 pop hit in the U.S.

Personnel (Elvis Presley versions): Credits sourced from Keith Flynn’s research of RCA and AFM paperwork.

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