Back On The Track: 40 years since the Elvis ’68 Comeback Special

“I want everyone to know what I can really do.”
–Elvis to Executive Producer Bob Finkel, May 1968

Forty years ago tonight, Elvis Presley got himself back on the track. This evening marks the 40th anniversary of the first broadcast of the ELVIS television special on NBC. Elvis had spent most of the 1960s making entertaining but silly B-movies, with songs sometimes as bad as the women were beautiful.

On December 3, 1968, everything changed.

A highlight of the show, filmed that June, featured Elvis reinvigorating many of his old hits while performing a series of four live concerts before small audiences. He had been absent from the concert stage for over seven years, and absent from the general public’s consciousness for nearly as long.

The closing number of the television special was a new song, “If I Can Dream,” a tribute to Martin Luther King, Jr., and Robert Kennedy–who had both been assassinated earlier that year. The song’s message is as strong and relevant today as ever.

The ’68 special became NBC’s highest rated program of the year and served as the launching point for a new and exciting phase in Elvis’ career. Hit recording sessions and a triumphant, full-time return to live performances soon followed.

Be sure to check out Elvis.com‘s Photo Celebration of the ’68 Special. As for me, I will be watching ELVIS tonight.

“I’m never going to sing another song I don’t believe in. I’m never going to make another movie I don’t believe in.”
–Elvis to Producer-Director Steve Binder, June 1968