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June 1968. The designer Bill Bellew was in charge of immortalizing in our retinas that image of Elvis of captivating sexuality, so that we all eternally identify him with his return and resurrection.

A statuesque Elvis Presley, draped in smooth, form-fitting black cordovan leather, with a high Napoleonic collar that further frames the beauty of his face, stands Backstage at NBC studios, trembling and scared. He does not want to go on stage, fear paralyzes him. Eight years away from his beloved audience on stage, playing at being an actor.

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He has worked very hard to return to being the cultural icon that revolutionized America, but it was time to go on stage and the ghosts trapped him again…

Steve, I can’t do it…my mind is totally blank and I don’t remember anything I sang in rehearsals…” he told Steve Binder, the show’s producer and director.

But Steve had always believed in Elvis; He loved him, admired him, trusted him and took him by the hand.

Binder was the person who brought Elvis back to his renaissance as an artist, and he wanted that show to be a turning point in his career.

Charlie Hodge, Elvis Presley and Steve Binder, June 1968
Charlie Hodge, Elvis Presley and Steve Binder, June 1968

He had the genius of bringing out the best in Elvis at all times. The day he passed through the door of his dressing room, and saw him as he was in privacy, in the spontaneity of his music, singing with his friends; he knew that this was the Elvis he wanted on the show: a pure Elvis, without artifice, just as he was.

In this way, his brilliant mind gave rise to the idea of ??what would become the most authentic passage of “Comeback”: Elvis surrounded by his friends in the Sit Down ring, once again giving us all the best of himself.

Elvis Presley June 1968 - NBC Comeback Special
Elvis Presley June 1968 – NBC Comeback Special

Elvis was no longer the boy who stood on tiptoe when he sang, the singer condemned by reverends, deputies, and parents’ associations; He was a mature Elvis, but he kept his roots and his values. But the ultimate test for him was yet to come, he had not yet faced the final challenge: performing alone in front of his audience.

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On that day, his friends would no longer be sitting next to him and that ring would be empty; only him, the orchestra in the shadows, his fears, his immense greatness and his audience.

Elvis would go out into the ring with overwhelming force, an aggressive, sexual spirit, full of courage and vigor.

Despite his ghosts, his voice would start in a heartrending way, presaging a majestic show; here was that more mature Elvis again, with feline strength and renewed sexuality and vitality. His performance would captivate the public, with the strength of the artist who sings from his bowels, with the spirit that he never lost. Elvis had reaffirmed his resurrection.

Elvis Presley June 1968 - NBC Comeback Special
Elvis Presley, June 1968, NBC Comeback Special

The gospel segment of the program concerned Elvis in a very special way. But this time, not because I was afraid of the results. His concern was due to the great respect that singing to his God meant for him, so he would take it as something very personal and intimate, since the gospel left its mark on him, to its very essence, from the first day he attended the Church in his native Tupelo.

Steve planned it as a double segment: on the one hand there would be a medley with his gospel songs, and on the other, since Steve always loved dancers, there would be a dance number. That is why this sequence begins, performed by the dancer Claude Thompson, who, when he disappears from the scene, gives way to a group of beautiful women dressed in white and men dressed in black, with an impressive Elvis, in the background, singing in prayer to his God, impeccably dressed in the color of the same blood shed on the cross.

Elvis would continue to sing gospel music after this show, and his music would always be infused with it, but he would never again make as resounding a statement as he did in this medley. This would be another of the three great moments of this Special.

Elvis Presley June 1968 - NBC Comeback Special
Elvis Presley, June 1968, NBC Comeback Special 

But during the making of the program, Elvis, in addition to that internal struggle with his insecurities, was also devastated by the recent assassinations of Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy.

Elvis would spend a lot of time talking to Steve Binder about these assassinations and the situation in his country, expressing, at the same time, his sincere wishes for brotherhood and his dream of building a better world.

It was at that moment, when Binder had a new insight, and knew that Elvis had an important message to convey to his country and the world. And it was this feeling of Elvis that led to the creation of the song ”If I Can Dream”; a tribute song to Martin Luther King, which directly alluded to his 1963 speech, “I Have a Dream.”

Elvis Presley June 1968 - NBC Comeback Special
Elvis Presley “If I Can Dream” – June 1968 – NBC TV Special

Steve Binder, could not allow his program to end with a Christmas song, as the colonel had planned, and overwhelmed by Elvis’s despair in the face of the recent murders, he had a new initiative, one of those that made him a genius and he told Walter Earl Brown, who was in charge of the vocal arrangements: “Write me the best song you ever wrote.”

And for that dreamy Elvis, eager to convey a message of peace and understanding, Brown created “If I Can Dream.”
Elvis recorded the song on June 23, 1968 at Western Recorders, Studio 1, in Hollywood.
[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gZsh2W9IO-s]

Let’s close our eyes for a moment… let’s imagine Elvis in the studio, singing with the lights off, completely absorbed in the song, microphone on the floor and on his knees.

Tears fell down the cheeks of the backup singers, and no one present had ever witnessed such an emotional and heartbreaking scene.

When Elvis performed the song for the show, he did it with such emotion and passion that he sang as if his dream were our dream, it was the cry of an artist in deep lament.

At the end of the song, Elvis raises his arms, almost in a crucifixion pose, as if the song has drained his very essence, making the music bleed and opening our souls, wide, to his message.
[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u-pP_dCenJA]

Information provided by ELVIS. El Chico de Tupelo.
Rosa Garcia Mora


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