The 1968 Comeback Special

In the years leading up to what would be remembered as his ’68 Comeback Special, Elvis Presley had drastically altered the music world with his unmatched Rock N’ Roll music, rebellious demeanor, and shocking hip centric dance moves. He had joined the Army, married Priscilla, and begun what would become an extensive career in the Hollywood movie industry. Similarly, within these years, America had loyally celebrated Presley and other 1950’s rockers, but had since developed a deep infatuation with the British Invasion and Beatlemania. To say Presley was no longer at the top of his game would remain a massive falsity, but, to elude to that fact that the public may have needed a reminder for who the king of Rock N’ Roll was… Now that, that may hold truth.

Initially, the Comeback Special was meant to be nothing more than a televised Christmas special initiated by Elvis’ manager, Colonel Tom Parker. Parker pitched the proposal to NBC, director Steve Binder, and his producer Bones Howe. Binder and Howe quickly recognized this extremely rare opportunity, but were unimpressed with the vision Parker had presented. The duo approached Elvis separately from Parker, and explained to him what an impactful and important performance this special had the potential to become. They stated that he should ditch the Christmas theme, and instead re-establish himself as a one of kind performer.

Judging by history, Elvis agreed.

Binder’s intent for this fresh take on Parker’s, not so popular, Christmas special, was to divulge the story of the blue bird. An individual who starts in a small town as an unknown guitar man, he slowly but surely works his way up to fame and fortune, all to come to the realization that true happiness is back home, amongst his family, sans the glitz and glamour.

The “off-the-cuff” portion of the special evolved from Binder and Howe witnessing the banter and undeniable friendships Elvis had with his backing musicians. Elvis had even insisted his original sidemen, DJ Fontana (drummer) and Scotty Moore (guitarist), be included amongst his comeback band. These relationships and memories brought forth by them, prompted improvised discussions between tunes during the performance. Shockingly, this portion of the special nearly never occurred as Parker was unimpressed by the idea, and Elvis, who had initially been on board, questioned his ability to speak freely. It was Binder who apparently reassured Elvis of his abilities, nearly forcing him onto the stage during the day of recording. Though somewhat out of his comfort zone, these instances became some of the most beloved as they highlighted Elvis’ playful nature, and brought a behind the curtain perspective on a man whom to most fans was unobtainable.

The final number was meant to be a Christmas tune to appease Parker, but instead, due to the recent deaths of Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert Kennedy, Presley sang “If I Can Dream” written by Earl Brown. The song projects a utopia of racial harmony and unity, extremely fitting for such a heated time in American history. Yet again, this song allotted Elvis the opportunity to express a personal and crucial component of his beliefs that many may have been unaware of.

Originally, NBC’s comments about the special were widely negative. Much like his hip shaking haters back in the 1950’s, NBC were taken aback by the black leathered, sweaty, floppy haired, Elvis and stated that they could not air the performance on television. Binder stood loyally behind the product and insisted that “this is what’s going to turn the audience on.”

That it did.

Airing on December 3, 1968, the ’68 Comeback Special was watched by 42 percent of the viewing audience, marking it the number 1 show of the season. The soundtrack was later certified platinum, and the single “If I Can Dream” made it to the top 12, becoming certified gold.

The ’68 Comeback Special became much more than a comeback. This group of performances provide undeniable evidence of the outstanding musician, performer, and vocalist Elvis had always been and remained to be. Showcasing his abilities while simultaneous celebrating his playful character and lasting friendships proved Binder and Howe’s intuition to be correct. That the world was ready and eagerly waiting to enjoy the music and performance that only the King of Rock N’ Roll could provide.

— Victoria Shaffer


Grow, Kory. “Inside Elvis Presley’s Legendary 1968 Comeback Special.” Rolling Stone, Rolling Stone, 16 Aug. 2017,
“Steve Binder Talks about Elvis and The ’68 Comeback Special” Youtube, uploaded by Elvis Australia, June6 , 2016.
Warren, Burke. “The Real Elvis Presley: The Incredible Story behind ‘The ’68 Comeback Special.’” Salon, 17 Jan. 2015,

9 thoughts on “The 1968 Comeback Special

  1. When people talk about Elvis, they often have their own favored era/look/whathaveyou. I was four years old when this special aired … and it is that leather-clad, swaggering Elvis that I call “mine.” Great job on this article.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Reblogged this on Opher's World and commented:
    It certainly was good to see that Elvis still had some fuel in the tank after a decade of poor output and terrible film performances.
    This was an older Elvis, a lot heavier and not nearly so lithe but none the less a return to some form.

    Liked by 1 person

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