Comeback ’68 / Elvis: The Story of the Elvis Special (Meteor 17)

 

Some subjects have been so thoroughly written about, it is inevitable that eventually there were literally be no more new information to share. In such cases, the only thing to do is to focus on specific incidents or topics related to the subject at hand. As much as we love him and find his story compelling, Elvis Presley’s life has been exploited and examined––and whitewashed, if we are honest––to the point where it’s almost unnecessary to read any further books about him. Comeback ’68/Elvis: The Story Of The Elvis Special is an example of how to take a well told  story and make it interesting again.

Author Steve Binder was a television producer of the highest order. In 1968, he was seen as a progressive young talent admired for having produced the controversial moment in television history known as “the touch,” where Petula Clark touched Harry Belafonte’s hand on live national television. Although seemingly harmless now, 50 years ago such a move was scandalous. Binder made television history, and this risky, bold move gave him a certain credibility in Hollywood.  Being the hip young TV producer, it isn’t surprising that Elvis Presley’s people would tap him to help orchestrate a major television special.

Presley needed something, anything to revitalize his sagging career.  Even though his career had been bogged down by mediocre movies, they had still proven to be good returns on investment, being made for cheap and grossing impressive profits.  Unsurprisingly, by 1966 Presley movies had plateaued and were offering diminishing returns.  Having sacrificed his recording career for Hollywood career,  he rarely released non-soundtrack material, and when he did, the records simply disappeared into obscurity.

Manager Tom Parker had captained Elvis’s career into mainstream respectability, While transforming the rebellious Elvis into the All-American Boy had been a deft move that had indeed make him more successful than he had been in his initial career, Parker refused to budge from the formula. Presley’s fortunes were in such decline, Parker realized that he had to break one of his cardinal rules: Presley would haveto do television.  It was the only way to guarantee Elvis would have an audience. So Parker agreed that the time was right for Presley to appear on the small screen.

From the get-go, Binder and Parker clashed. Parker’s instinct for a wholesome television show nearly derailed the program before it even began filming.  So devoted to the idea was Parker that at one of their first meetings he presented binder with the itinerary for the show, a blending of Christmas songs and religious music with no real representation of Presley’s rock’n roll career. So sterile was the show, Presley did not even speak to the audience until the end credits. Binder knew that this would be a flop and said as much. Parker expected Binder to budge; he refused to do so.  Parker threatened to pull the plug numerous times, but Binder knew that Parker and Presley knew they were up against the wall and that this show was much more important to them than it was to him.  Thankfully, cooler heads prevailed, and on December 10, 1968, Elvis Presley was back.

Comeback ’68/Elvis: The Story Of The Elvis Special  captures the tension, excitement, and nervousness of Elvis leading up to his big comeback, and unlike many other books on Presley, this estate–approved biography is not a idealistic glossing over. Instead, it offers a fascinating insight into one of the most important musical moments in the 20th-century:  the return of the rock’n roll prodigal son.  Binder has a fascinating story, and even though it’s a familiar one, he has made it fresh and new not only by offering his side of the story, but also by sharing a ton of memorabilia from that era, ranging from behind-the-scenes photos to memorandum and documents on the business side of things.  Binder’s book is a definitive text and is a must-own for both Elvis fans and music historians alike.

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