’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

“Hound Dog,” a twelve-bar blues composition penned by the prolific duo Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller, made its maiden voyage into the musical realm. Originally etched into the annals by Big Mama Thornton on August 13, 1952, in Los Angeles, this bluesy masterpiece found its release via Peacock Records in late February 1953. Remarkably, “Hound Dog” marked Thornton’s sole foray into the limelight, achieving unprecedented success by selling over 500,000 copies and reigning supreme on the R&B charts for an impressive 14 weeks, seven of which at the pinnacle.

Thornton’s rendition of “Hound Dog” has earned its place among the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’s esteemed collection, securing the 318th spot in Rolling Stone’s 500 Greatest Songs of All Time in 2021. Additionally, the song received the coveted induction into the Grammy Hall of Fame in February 2013.

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The resonating chords of “Hound Dog” have been captured over 250 times in various renditions. Foremost among these is the iconic July 1956 recording by the legendary Elvis Presley. In 2004, Rolling Stone recognized Presley’s rendition, ranking it at an impressive 19th position on the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time list. However, a paradigm shift occurred in 2021 when Thornton’s version claimed its well-deserved place, displacing Presley’s recording. Presley’s rendition, a commercial juggernaut, sold approximately 10 million copies globally, securing its position as his best-selling track and a symbolic emblem of the rock ‘n’ roll revolution.

Presley’s musical prowess manifested as “Hound Dog” asserted its dominance across pop, country, and R&B charts simultaneously in 1956, maintaining its perch atop the pop chart for an unprecedented 11 weeks—a record that endured for 36 years. Recognizing its enduring impact, Presley’s 1956 RCA recording achieved Grammy Hall of Fame induction in 1988 and earned a coveted spot in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’s “500 Songs That Shaped Rock and Roll.”

The journey of “Hound Dog” hasn’t been devoid of controversies and legal skirmishes. Disputes over authorship, royalties, and copyright infringement erupted, fueled by the deluge of answer songs from artists like Rufus Thomas and Roy Brown. From the 1970s onward, “Hound Dog” has become a cinematic mainstay, gracing the soundtracks of films such as Grease, Forrest Gump, Lilo & Stitch, A Few Good Men, Hounddog, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, and Nowhere Boy. The timeless allure of “Hound Dog” persists, transcending eras and cementing its place in the cultural tapestry of music.

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