at the crossroads: on being an elvis fan in 1968 when all appeared lost

Es­ti­mated reading time is 23 minutes.

AS A SYMBOL OF PO­TENCY, by 1968 Elvis Presley was per­ceived by many as being, um, flaccid. His records had lost any sem­blance of al­le­giance to—or even recog­ni­tion of—the pas­sion and fervor of its country and blues roots. The sound­track music he had been recording for the req­ui­site three movies per year owed more to “How Much Is That Doggie In The Window” than to Big Boy Crudup or Hank Williams.

He was at a pro­fes­sional and per­sonal cross­roads: any single de­ci­sion could have un­done his ca­reer, per­haps even je­poard­ized the legacy of his ear­lier ac­com­plish­ments. It was do-or-die time and the man needed a put-up-or-shut-up challenge

Few fans today know the many downs and the oc­ca­sional ups of having ac­tu­ally been an Elvis fan in 1968, es­pe­cially if you were one of the few still buying each new so-so record and tickets for each new dreadful movie as they came out. It was a con­fusing and a fairly lonely experience. 

You had to have been there.


And frankly, there were few real fans left by the start of ’68. 



Elvis in 1967 was leaner but still that overindul­gent soft­ness in his face (dis­missed as poor eating habits but more likely poorer drug habits) and the bouffant-ish hairdo that was so out of place at the time. Ex­cept, of course, with hairdressers.

A solitary pleasure

The un­ex­pected de­mand for his records in the wake of his death and the huge in­flux of col­lec­tors since then would lead many to be­lieve that they were there all along. 1

They were not.

Going to a movie the­ater to see an Elvis movie during the second half of the ’60s was usu­ally a soli­tary pleasure.

Sup­porting the Elvis Movie Ma­chine was a kind of guilty plea­sure. 2

Most hip critics did NOT live through this era, so do NOT have the ac­tual ex­pe­ri­ence of going through the changes of habit that these records and these films entailed.


Second-generation Elvis fans of the ’60s saw the ’50s movies at Sat­urday mati­nees and bought all the old 45s for a nickel apiece at junk shops and yard sales.


And most diehard fans who grew up with Elvis in the ’50s aban­doned him in the early ’60s and didn’t re­dis­cover their love for him until Au­gust 16, 1977.

But that’s not me: I’m a second-generation Elvis fan who came of age watching Loving You and Jail­house Rock and G.I. Blues and Girls! Girls! Girls! at Sat­urday matinees.

Who bought the ’50s 45s for a nickel apiece at junk shops.

I am also of the gen­er­a­tion of Elvis fans who paid their al­lowance or after-school job money for tickets to the movies where there was every­thing but the plot, di­recting, and acting and the sound­track al­bums that pre­ceded them. 


Elvis_StayAwayJoe_poster_blue2 copy

This is easily one of the busiest, most col­orful posters for any Elvis movie! I’d like to say some­thing about the colors here, but this is a photo of a poster up­loaded onto the in­ternet. It may be some­what in­ac­cu­rate in terms of color rep­re­sen­ta­tion. So I won’t ex­cept to say that Elvis looks like he’s made of Her­shey’s choco­late! (More on Stay Away, Joe below.)

Your time hasn’t come yet, baby

For Elvis, the ’60s can be broken up into three major sec­tions: the First Come­back, the Hol­ly­wood Years, and the Second Come­back. The First Come­back is as short as one year (1960) but could be ex­tended to 1962. After that, songs that should have been re­jected as sound­track fodder found their way into his normal studio ses­sions and every­thing went down­hill fast.

The Hol­ly­wood Years began in earnest in 1961 when Elvis made three movies that pro­duced two sound­track EP al­bums and one LP album. His de­vo­tion to his studio work slack­ened off con­sid­er­ably in quan­tity and quality. One lack­luster movie fol­lowed an­other into 1969, often with a script so brain-dead that Brando or Nicholson couldn’t have saved it.

The Second Come­back had its roots in May 1966, when Elvis was con­trac­tu­ally forced to record some new non-soundtrack sin­gles and a new gospel album. RCA’s man-in-Nashville Chet Atkins as­signed Felton Jarvis to be Elvis’s full-time A&R man; their first ses­sions to­gether pro­duced some of Pres­ley’s best work in a while.

This in­cluded a Top 20 single, Love Let­ters, one of his best al­bums ever, HOW GREAT THOU ART. He also waxed one of his most tran­scen­dent record­ings ever, To­morrow Is A Long Time. Bob Dylan would later claim this as his fa­vorite reading of one of his songs by an­other artist.


First-generation Elvis fans of the ’50s didn’t have to do the clam with Queenie Wahine, or get into double trouble with a kissin’ cousin while slicin’ sand at a bloody clambake!


What­ever opinion one may have of Felton, things began hap­pening when he en­tered the scene: those ’66 ses­sions, the Jerry Reed ses­sions of ’67, and the ’68 come­back all hap­pened in the first twenty-four months of Fel­ton’s taking over the A&R position


Only if you be­lieve in such things.

But the come­back began in earnest in June 1968, when Elvis began work on his first (and only, re­ally) tele­vi­sion spe­cial. But we fans weren’t fully privy to that come­back until De­cember 3, 1968, when NBC broad­cast that special.

So the list below is broken up into two sec­tions: “Your time hasn’t come yet, baby,” in which Elvis tran­si­tions out of the Hol­ly­wood Years, and “Just let your­self go,” in which Elvis does! (Let him­self go, finally.)

Or did . . .







If you had been a good girl or boy throughout 1967, you re­ceived one of the above al­bums for a psy­che­delic Christmas: the Bea­tles’ MAG­ICAL MYS­TERY TOUR, Dono­van’s A GIFT FROM A FLOWER TO A GARDEN, the Jimi Hen­drix Ex­pe­ri­ence’s AXIS: BOLD AS LOVE, Jef­ferson Air­plane’s AFTER BATHING AT BAX­TER’S. and the Rolling Stones’ THEIR SA­TANIC MAJESTIES RE­QUEST. Four of these al­bums had gate­fold jackets that opened into col­orful packages!

Where we left off with Elvis in 1967

Had Elvis left the pre­vious year in good form or not? His pre­vious single had been Big Boss Man, a fine stomping blues number that was light years be­yond Frankie And Johnny and Spinout and (cringe) Long Legged Girl (With The Shirt Skirt On).

But by the end of ’67, every­thing was about your fa­vorite artist’s latest album, and Presley gave the world of rock & roll Clam­bake, the in­cred­ibly lame sound­track album to the even lamer movie of the same name!

What a mish­mash that album was! Seven songs recorded in Feb­ruary 1967 for the movie, plus five songs recorded in Sep­tember as pos­sible sin­gles. The movie songs in­cluded four of the most dreadful record­ings of Pres­ley’s ca­reer: Clam­bake, Hey Hey Hey, Who Needs Money, and Con­fi­dence. 3

Got that: one-third of the album was sub-par dreck even by Pres­ley’s ever-diminishing standards!

At a time when al­bums were get­ting better, stronger, and more con­sis­tent, Elvis al­bums were get­ting worse!!

To fur­ther mess with the heads of we fans, RCA in­cluded two of the strongest sides that Elvis had cut in years, Big Boss Man and Guitar Man!!!

In was an in­aus­pi­cious way to end a year full of amazing de­vel­op­ments in rock music.




If you had been a good girl or boy throughout 1967 but were an Elvis fan, Santa may have thought he was doing you a favor by leaving you this in­stead of one of the afore­men­tioned psy­che­delic gems. Of course, what we fans didn’t know then was that Elvis was se­cretly pushing the in­ges­tion of the ultra-rare psy­che­delic clam Tri­dacna mbal­avuana ly­ser­gicaa. Slurp down a couple of these ba­bies raw and you’ll be cut­ting loose and let­ting go be­cause who needs the worry and the strife?

Month-by-month with Elvis

Below the reader will find a month-by-month ac­count of the events of 1968 that were easily known by an Elvis fan then. Need­less to say, the list fo­cuses on the records and the movies re­leased that year.

Mini-reviews of each were in­cluded when I could find them easily, often from Lee Cotten. Sales fig­ures for the records came from two sources, Ernst Jør­gensen and Marc Hen­dricks. (Im­ages for the books can be found at the bottom of this page.)




Guitar Man / Hi Heel Sneakers

Bill­board: #43 / #__
Cash Box:
#39 / #69

Single: RCA Victor kicked off the new year with a smart move (for a change): they pulled the standout track from the CLAM­BAKE album and is­sued it as the new Elvis single. Sup­pos­edly, RCA tam­pered with Elvis’s mix of Guitar Man, moving Pres­ley’s voice up to the fore. Elvis com­plained but the single was is­sued with the RCA mix.

Re­views: Bill­board fea­tured both sides and said of Guitar Man that “this in­fec­tious rock number could easily prove one of his top sellers in some time.”

Sales: Hopes were high for this record, but ac­cording to Jør­gensen it was met with “dis­ap­pointing sales of less than 300,000” copies in the US. 

Ac­cording to Hen­drickx, Guitar Man even­tu­ally sold 400,000 in the US. It also sold 100,000 in the UK and passed 1,000,000 glob­ally. 4

Per­sonal ex­pe­ri­ence: I was 16-years old when Guitar Man ap­peared as AM-590 WARM’s Pick Hit of the Week. I was starting to pay more at­ten­tion to girls (and they to me) and pol­i­tics than home­work and base­ball. (Al­though Marvel su­per­hero comics re­mained the love of my life.)

While it would be great to say, What a great new single!, that praise was ham­pered by the fact that the track had al­ready been re­leased on the CLAM­BAKE album. Tech­ni­cally it was re­cy­cled and saying, What a great reissue as a new single! didn’t carry as much weight. 5




Elvis’ Gold Records, Vol. 4

Bill­board: #33

Album: So that fans weren’t buying the same track on two dif­ferent LPs, RCA com­piled A- and B-sides of million-selling sin­gles that had not al­ready been is­sued on an LP. Here are tracks that could have been used on this album if RCA wanted to re­cycle some of them from an ear­lier album to this one:

1960   A Mess Of Blues
            Wooden Heart
1961   Can’t Help Falling In Love / Rock-A-Hula Baby
1962   Re­turn To Sender
1963   One Broken Heart For Sale
            (You’re The) Devil In Disguise

            Bossa Nova Baby
1964   Kissin’ Cousins
            Viva Las Vegas / What’d I Say

            Ask Me / Ain’t That Loving You Baby
1965   Crying In The Chapel
            I’m Yours
1966   Frankie And Johnny
            Love Let­ters

1967   In­de­scrib­ably Blue

This could have been a killer col­lec­tion! The state­ment that Elvis and RCA had run out of gold by this time was a common com­ment then and has re­mained a common com­ment on this album for fifty years de­spite it’s not being re­motely accurate!

Re­views: Bill­board said, “To get enough gold to label this LP, the com­pany had to do some searching.” Like I said . . .

Sales: Ac­cording to Jør­gensen, this album sold “350,000 copies over the course of the year.” It even­tu­ally passed 500,000 and was cer­ti­fied for an RIAA Gold Record Award in 1992.

Ac­cording to Hen­drickx, ELVIS’ GOLD RECORDS VOL. 4 even­tu­ally sold 500,000 in the US. It also sold 100,000 in the UK and passed 2,000,000 globally.

Per­sonal ex­pe­ri­ence: I bought this album upon re­lease and was happy to have these twelve sides on an LP in stereo. I would have hap­pier if the album had been ti­tled ELVIS FOR EVERYONE VOL. 2



Stay Away / U.S. Male

Bill­board: #67 / #28
Cash Box: #50 / #26

Single: Bill­board only fea­tured Stay Away and said, “Elvis comes on strong with a folk flavor in this rhythm number.”

Re­views: U.S. Male spent six weeks on Bill­board’s “Hot Country Sin­gles” survey, reaching #55. It was the first Elvis record to make that chart since 1961!

Sales: Ac­cording to Jør­gensen, ini­tial sales were “just under half a million.”

Ac­cording to Hen­drickx, U.S. Male even­tu­ally sold 700,000 in the US. It also sold 100,000 in the UK and passed 1,000,000 globally.

Per­sonal ex­pe­ri­ence: I al­ways as­sumed that El per­formed U.S. Male with his tongue planted firmly in his cheek. If he didn’t, well, no wonder his mar­riage didn’t last long.




Stay Away, Joe

Movie: The movie was based on the novel Stay Away, Joe by Dan Cushman. Due to Pres­ley’s in­volve­ment with the movie, sales of the book in­creased no­tice­ably: “By golly, Elvis Presley sold books,” Cushman exclaimed!

The book Amer­ican In­dians And Pop­ular Cul­ture (Praeger Books, 2012) con­tains a chapter ti­tled “Elvis as In­dian in Film and Life.” Pro­fessor Michael Snyder noted of Stay Away, Joe, “The problem was no one in­volved ex­cept Elvis Presley ac­tu­ally cared about making a good movie about Amer­ican In­dians. Like others in­volved with the film, [Burgess] Meredith re­fused to take it seriously.”


“The only person in­volved who ac­tu­ally cared about making a good movie about Amer­ican In­dians was Elvis.”


Meredith later ac­knowl­edged, “The reason I took the role [in Stay Away, Joe] was to get fi­nan­cial backing to do the Chayefsky play.” 6

Re­views: Va­riety called this movie “a dim artistic achieve­ment.” The New York Times said that it “could scarcely seem more em­bar­rass­ingly tasteless”!

Sales: Among its biggest films of the year, Va­riety ranked Stay Away, Joe at #65 for 1968 with a rental of $1,500,000. This figure rep­re­sents rental fees paid by the­aters to dis­trib­u­tors; the box of­fice take would be con­sid­er­ably higher.

Per­sonal ex­pe­ri­ence: I saw this in the the­ater, one of the few in an ever-dwindling au­di­ence that paid for a new Presley ve­hicle. I was 16 and thought the movie was one of Elvis’s fun­niest and was un­aware that it could be seen as being “po­lit­i­cally incorrect.”




We Call On Him / You’ll Never Walk Alone

Bill­board: #__ / #90
Cash Box: #__ / #__


Re­views: Bill­board fea­tured both sides and said that “Presley is in top form with two equally po­tent ballad sides.”

Sales: Ac­cording to Jør­gensen, Parker pushed RCA to push this record hard for Easter, “but whether or not RCA fully sat­is­fies his cam­paign di­rec­tives, the single sells only 50,000 copies.” 

Ac­cording to Hen­drickx, You’ll Never Walk Alone even­tu­ally sold 130,000 in the US, and passed 200,000 globally.

You’ll Never Walk Alone was nom­i­nated for a Grammy Award for Best Sa­cred Performance.

Per­sonal ex­pe­ri­ence: I bought this single upon re­lease and liked it but thought it a rather poor choice if Elvis and RCA thought it was going to get any AM radio airplay.




Let Your­self Go / Your Time Hasn’t Come Yet Baby

Bill­board: #71 / #72
Cash Box: #55 / #63

Single: Be­lieve it or not, Your Time Hasn’t Come Yet Baby was a bigger country hit than U.S. Male: it spent eight weeks on Bill­board’s C&W chart and reached #50!

Re­views: Bill­board fea­tured both sides, saying they were “Two equally po­tent sales items.”

Sales: Ac­cording to Jør­gensen, “it at­tracts little radio play and 150,000 less sales than U.S. Male,” or ap­prox­i­mately 300,000 copies sold in the US.

Ac­cording to Hen­drickx, Let Your­self Go / Your Time Hasn’t Come Yet Baby only sold 230,000 in the US. It also sold 100,000 in the UK.

Per­sonal ex­pe­ri­ence: I bought this one, too, and thought it was going to be a big hit. I still think it should have been a hit and am per­plexed that so many people think it was a mediocre choice as a single.




Bill­board: #82

Album: De­spite the cliff-like drop-off in sales of Elvis movie sound­tracks in the pre­vious few years, they re­mained the staple of his album output.

Re­views: I could not find a re­view of this album in any of the trade pub­li­ca­tions of the time.

Sales: Un­known (but nothing to write home about, even after fifty years). As this album has not been cer­ti­fied by the RIAA for a Gold Record Award, I as­sume that it has not sold 500,000 copies in the US.

Ac­cording to Hen­drickx, SPEEDWAY even­tu­ally sold 300,000 in the US and passed 1,000,000 globally.

Per­sonal ex­pe­ri­ence: I ac­tu­ally don’t re­member if I bought this album at the time.





Movie: Elvis and old friend Nancy in a typ­ical Presley vehicle—except that Ms. Sinatra gets her own solo, Your Groovy Self (see video below). Cars, songs, girls, and Elvis looks better than he has in a few years.

Re­views: Roger Ebert was kind while dis­missing the movie as fluff: “Speedway is pleasant, kind, po­lite, sweet, and noble, and if the late show viewers of 1988 will not dis­cover from it what Amer­ican so­ciety was like in the summer of 1968, at least they will dis­cover what it was not like.”

The Hol­ly­wood Re­porter said, “The plot is tissue-thin.”

Sales: Among its biggest films of the year, Va­riety ranked Speedway at #40 for 1968 with a gross of $3,000,000. This figure rep­re­sents rental fees paid by the­aters to dis­trib­u­tors; the box of­fice take would be con­sid­er­ably higher.

Per­sonal ex­pe­ri­ence: I did not pay to see this movie in a the­ater but saw it as part of a double-feature at a drive-in.

During this month, Elvis taped his first tele­vi­sion spe­cial for NBC-TV.




This photo of Elvis with his 1964 Rolls Royce Phantom is all over the place—and it’s a fake. When I found the photo, I no­ticed that while the en­tire image is sharply in focus, Pres­ley’s head is not. Then I no­ticed that while the car casts a midday shadow on the ground be­neath it, Elvis does not. 

Elvis do­nated his 1964 Rolls Royce to be auc­tioned off for a Hol­ly­wood charity for men­tally re­tarded chil­dren. This was typ­ical of Presley—a no­to­ri­ously gen­erous giver to charities—and atyp­ical of wealthy people, no­to­ri­ously un­gen­erous period.

The car was valued at $35,000 at the time: ac­cording to the con­ser­v­a­tive Con­sumer Price In­di­cator, it would be worth $270,000 today. Using the more re­al­istic Her­shey Bar Index, that $35,000 would trans­late into $650,000 in 2016 dol­lars! 7

Ei­ther way, it was a hel­luva do­na­tion, and it caught a lot of peo­ple’s attention.

Elvis recorded the theme song to his next movie, Charro. The song was arranged by Hugo Mon­tenegro, who had just had a big hit with his arrange­ment of Ennio Mor­ri­cone’s theme song to the quin­tes­sen­tial spaghetti western, The Good, The Bad And The Ugly from 1966.

This re­ceived at­ten­tion be­cause photos of the un­shaven Presley, looking like he was bucking for Clint East­wood’s role in those spaghetti west­erns, were being cir­cu­lated as ad­vanced pro­mo­tion for the movie.




In Au­gust, filming con­tinued at Apache Junc­tion, Ari­zona, for Charro. Photos of the un­shaven Elvis found their way into the trade pub­li­ca­tions. Be­lieve it or not, fans were so starved for a “new” non-Spinout/Clambake Elvis that we thought this was groovy!

Mean­while, Colonel Parker sees a rough cut of the tele­vi­sion spe­cial and is in­censed that there’s not a single Christmas song in the show! For­tu­nately, Elvis and the guys cut a re­laxed ver­sion of Blue Christmas in the sit-down ses­sions on June 27 (“I’d like to do my fa­vorite Christmas song of all the ones I’ve recorded”). It is in­cluded in the final cut, and Colonel is assuaged.




Almost In Love / A Little Less Conversation

Bill­board: #95 / #63
Cash Box: #63 / #53

Single: Both sides of this, the fifth single of the year, were from the movie Live A Little, Love A Little, a title that ap­par­ently was meant to sound hip but prob­ably en­sured that people stayed away from the­aters at the time it was playing. It’s hard to be­lieve that Elvis, the Colonel, and RCA thought to pro­mote the nice I mushy ballad as the A-side.

Re­views: Bill­board re­viewed Al­most In Love and called it “a smooth ballad [that] should hit hard.”

Sales: Ac­cording to Jør­gensen, this single sells “just over 100,000 copies.”

Ac­cording to Hen­drickx, A Little Less Con­ver­sa­tion even­tu­ally sold 350,000 in the US and passed 500,000 globally.

Per­sonal ex­pe­ri­ence: I didn’t like these two tracks as a single but bought the record nonetheless.




Live A Little, Love A Little

Movie: This movie was based on the novel Kiss My Firm But Pliant Lips by Dan Greenburg.

Re­views: Va­riety said the movie was one of Pres­ley’s “dimmest ve­hi­cles.” The Mo­tion Pic­ture Herald said, “Au­di­ences may grow a little weary of psy­cho­log­ical studies of frigidity.” (!)

Due to a poor per­for­mance in the US, the film was not re­leased at all in many re­gions, in­cluding the UK.

Per­sonal ex­pe­ri­ence: Again, I did not pay to see this movie in a the­ater but saw it as part of a double-feature at a drive-in.



Singer Presents Elvis Singing Flaming Star And Others

Album: As part of the deal to get the Singer Sewing Com­pany to sponsor the Elvis Presley tele­vi­sion spe­cial, the com­pany re­ceived this unique album to sell ex­clu­sively in Singer Sewing Cen­ters throughout the US.

Re­views: As this album was only avail­able at Singer Sewing Cen­ters and not re­leased to the gen­eral mar­ket­place, I do not think that it was re­viewed in the trades at the time.

Sales: I don’t know if anyone has ever found any sales records from Singer re­garding this album, so your guess is as good as mine.

Com­men­tary: The album con­tained ten tracks: Flaming Star had been a Top 20 hit on Bill­board in 1961 as the fea­tured track on an EP. Seven other tracks were mostly for­get­table af­fairs from sev­eral mostly for­get­table movies.

But there were two big at­trac­tions to the record: Elvis’s ver­sion of Chuck Berry’s Too Much Monkey Busi­ness rocked and ac­tu­ally made ref­er­ence to Viet Nam! It would have made a much stronger single than Let Your­self Go and Al­most In Love.

The record ended with a fierce ver­sion of Tiger Man, the first recording from the up­coming tele­vi­sion spe­cial to be released.

After the deal with Singer ended in early 1969, RCA Victor reis­sued this album as Elvis Sings Flaming Star on their Camden budget line. That record sold at least 500,000 copies. It was reis­sued again on the Pick­wick im­print and sold at least an­other 500,000 in the wake of Pres­ley’s death in 1977.

Per­sonal ex­pe­ri­ence: I bought this album at the Singer Sewing Center the day that it came out. The NBC-TV spe­cial was al­ready get­ting at­ten­tion in the media and I was psy­ched! I also picked up all the little free goodies that RCA Victor was cir­cu­lating there (booklet, tickets, etc.). I was able to for­give some of the sound­track dross on the record be­cause of Tiger Man, an out­take from the up­coming special.



Elvis was in­ducted into Play­boy’s Music Hall of Fame, the closest thing to such an honor that ex­isted at the time. Of course, he went in after Frank Sinatra. And the Bea­tles. And Herb Alpert. On the bright side, he beat out such Playboy readers’ faves as Three Dog Night, Blood Sweat & Tears, and Chicago.

I could write at length about the build-up and the an­tic­i­pa­tion we fans un­der­went in Oc­tober and No­vember over this show. While it may seem dif­fi­cult to be­lieve in hindsight—and given Pres­ley’s preter­nat­ural pres­ence and per­for­mance on the show—many of us were afraid that he would blow it.

He didn’t and nothing was the same ever again.





If I Can Dream / Edge Of Reality

Bill­board: #12 / #__
Cash Box: #  9 / #__

Single: The A-side her­alded the up­coming tele­vi­sion spe­cial; the B-side the up­coming movie. First print­ings of the pic­ture sleeve from No­vember read “If I Can Dream As Fea­tured On His NBC-TV Spe­cial.” Second print­ings from De­cember re­placed that blurb with a piece of filigree-like artwork.

Re­views: Bill­board said that If I Can Dream was “one of his strongest com­mer­cial en­tries in a while.”

Sales: Ac­cording to Jør­gensen, ini­tial sales reach “some­thing like 800,000” copies.

Ac­cording to Hen­drickx, If I Can Dream even­tu­ally sold 1,250,000 in the US. It also sold 150,000 in the UK and is just under 2,000,000 globally.

Per­sonal ex­pe­ri­ence: I bought this upon re­lease. I thought it one of the best records Elvis had ever recorded. My opinion hasn’t changed.



Elvis (aka Elvis NBC-TV Special)

Bill­board: #8

Album: This fea­tured record­ings done for the NBC-TV spe­cial at NBC’s studio and sound­stage in Bur­bank, Cal­i­fornia, in June 1968. At the time, it was the longest LP that Elvis had released.

Re­views: I could not find a re­view of this album in any of the trade pub­li­ca­tions of the time.

Sales: Ac­cording to Jør­gensen, this album “sells more than 500,000 in its ini­tial chart run.” Sales of ap­prox­i­mately 600,000 copies qual­i­fied the album for an RIAA Gold Record Award in 1969.

Ac­cording to Hen­drickx, ELVIS even­tu­ally sold 1,750,000 in the US. It also sold 250,000 in the UK and passed 3,000,000 globally.

Per­sonal ex­pe­ri­ence: I ran to the record store after school to buy this album. I ran home from the record store to play this album. It was prob­ably the most in­tense emo­tional re­sponse I had ever had to a new Elvis album in my life. Of course, given the al­bums of the pre­vious few years, there hadn’t been much competition.




Elvis (Singer Presents Elvis)

Tele­vi­sion: The Singer spon­sored spe­cial is broad­cast on De­cember 3. It beat out Rowan & Mar­t­in’s Laugh-In for the top spot as the most-watched show that week.

Re­views: Most re­views were glowing. Be­lieve it or not, the show was greeted with less than en­thu­si­astic re­sponses from some sources. Va­riety stated, “He still can’t sing!” What in Grom­mett’s Wholly Name were they sniffing during the show?

The idiot, ahem, the critic for The Los An­geles Times ac­tu­ally wrote, “I don’t think many viewers care to see singers sweat on TV.”

Per­sonal ex­pe­ri­ence: I still re­member sit­ting on the floor in front of the tele­vi­sion set in the living room of my par­ents’ house on the evening of De­cember 3, 1968. My brother and sister were in­ten­tion­ally run­ning and horsing around to annoy me be­cause I loved Elvis. This was the greatest tele­vi­sion ex­pe­ri­ence of my life, matched only by the moon landing in 1969.

Com­men­tary: Colonel Parker signs Elvis to a con­tract to open the show­room of the new In­ter­na­tional Hotel in Las Vegas, Nevada, in July 1969. Presley will re­ceive $100,000 a week, which will turn out to be one of the best deals in the his­tory of Las Vegas.

In fact, let’s call it a steal for Vegas!

De­spite the stag­ger­ingly un­prece­dented in­come that Pres­ley’s stay will bring the In­ter­na­tional every other hotel and restau­rant, and bar in Vegas, the crafty Colonel will con­tinue to com­mand stag­ger­ingly less than his boy’s worth for years to come.

In Eng­land, the New Mu­sical Ex­press mag­a­zine once again named Elvis Presley the “Out­standing Male Singer of the Year.”



This is what the newly con­structed In­ter­na­tional Hotel would like eight months after Colonel Parker signed Elvis to open the show­room in July 1969.

Thoughts of an Elvis fan in 1968

For those of us who sat there on De­cember 3, 1968, glued to our tv sets, and watched the res­ur­rec­tion of a star and the cre­ation of a legend, we thought we’d never have to live through any­thing like the first 337 days of 1968 again.


The re­lease of a se­ries of lame sin­gles (Rags To Riches and Life and It’s Only Love and Until It’s Time For You To Go and An Amer­ican Trilogy) and anemic al­bums (LOVE LET­TERS FROM ELVIS and ELVIS NOW and MADISON SQUARE GARDEN and RAISED ON ROCK and HAVING FUN ON STAGE) ac­com­pa­nied by em­bar­rassing per­for­mances and no-shows in Vegas and on the road and all that was all only 800 days away but that’s an­other story!



FEA­TURED IMAGE: Lo­ca­tion filming for Charro began on July 22, 1968, and was com­pleted in the first week of Sep­tember. The movie didn’t open in the­aters until March 1969, but im­ages of the new ‘new’ Elvis popped up in trade publications.

The ‘new’ Elvis was the leaner Elvis with the sculpted side­burns that made the Star Trek crew look timid. The new ‘new’ Elvis was the un­shaven dude in the poster above. For­tu­nately, the movie tanked and we got only the ‘new’ Elvis from that point on.


Elvis 1957 goldsuit standup 1000


POST­SCRIP­TU­ALLY, these books were re­ferred to or used for this ar­ticle. Each is ex­cel­lent; each is recommended.





Quotes re­garding record re­views and movie re­views are from All Shook Up – Elvis: Day-By-Day, 1954-1977, by Lee Cotten (top image). Sales fig­ures and quotes re­garding those sales are by Ernst Jor­gensen from Elvis – Day By Day: The De­fin­i­tive Record Of His Life An Music, by Peter Gu­ral­nick and Jør­gensen (middle image). Marc Hen­dricks ap­par­ently had ac­cess to RCA’s vaults in New York and came up with dif­ferent num­bers, along with ap­prox­i­mate sales for the UK and ac­cu­mu­lated world­wide sales. These were pub­lished in Elvis A. Presley – Muziek, Mens, Mythe (“Music, Man, Myth” and bottom image). There have been sev­eral edi­tions since 1993, this one is from QM Pub­lishing (1998)



1   In a pre­vious ar­ticle (“I was going to sub­scribe to your site, but if you men­tion drugs once”) I wrote this cap­tion to a poster from Live A Little Love A Little: “Being an Elvis fan in 1968-1969 was con­fusing and re­warding experience—especially if you were one of the few still buying tickets for each new movie. Pres­ley’s last six at­tempts at re­viving a ca­reer in Hol­ly­wood all failed, but were a hoot to watch.” This mo­ti­vated me to write this ar­ticle that you are reading right now.

 By 1968, the feeling of guilt had be­come one with the feeling of stupidity.

3   How Can You Lose What You Never Had and The Girl I Never Loved were two of the best sound­track songs in re­cent memory and they were dropped from the movie! Go figure.

4    The dis­crep­an­cies be­tween Jør­gensen and Hendrycks’s sales figures—whether small or huge—can be ex­plained: the for­mer’s may be based on ini­tial sales or in­com­plete fig­ures, while the latter may take in the whole pic­ture over a longer pe­riod of time. (Or not.)

5    Here’s the way it more or less worked in the ’60s for es­tab­lished artists: new single re­leased to radio sta­tions, who play record. Air­play pro­duces de­mand. Single re­leased and the artist’s diehard fans all buy it within days of re­lease and it shoots up charts. Sales in­crease air­play, which in­creases de­mand which pro­duces more sales which moves a record fur­ther up charts which in­creases airplay . . .

Sim­i­larly, a new Bea­tles Dylan Elvis album was re­leased and sev­eral hun­dred thou­sand fans bought it im­me­di­ately! RCA might have lost a few hun­dred thou­sand sales for Guitar Man by re­leasing it eight weeks ear­lier on the CLAM­BAKE album. De­creased sales meant less air­play which meant less de­mand etc. We’ll never re­ally know . . .

6    Actor Burgess Meredith was di­recting Chayef­sky’s play The La­tent Het­ero­sexual in 1968 and was coming up short in backing.

7    I used local Seattle prices, which is $1.49 for a 1.55 ounce Her­shey bar in 2016. As prices tend to be on the high side here, the $655,000 value for the Rolls may be a wee bit less in other parts of the country.


4 thoughts on “at the crossroads: on being an elvis fan in 1968 when all appeared lost”

  1. Your ar­ticle is spot-on! In June 1968, we did hear some DJs men­tioning a Christmas Spe­cial was in the works and RCA would be re­leasing an­other Elvis Christmas album. Thank good­ness they were only half-right!

    • I don’t re­member a lot of ad­vance in­for­ma­tion “leaking” out about the spe­cial back then. Part of the reason is that there simply wasn’t a way to get that info then and part of the reason is prob­ably that there wasn’t a whole lot of ex­cite­ment about an “all Elvis” tele­vi­sion spe­cial at the time. Hell’s Belles, during the week of the spe­cial’s broad­cast, TV Guide gave the cover to Ann-Margret’s tele­vi­sion spe­cial in­stead of to Elvis!

  2. Don’t know if any recording ex­ists of the June Press Conference. 

    It was quiet over the air­waves about the Singer Spe­cial but might have been for fans not to know Elvis’ whereabouts.

    When did you first know that this wasn’t going to be an­other Christmas Perry Como-type special?

    For me, it wouldn’t be until No­vember when passing a Singer Store and seeing the ban­ners hanging up and the Singer Presents Elvis Singing Flaming Star and Others (LP) at the counter listing “Tiger Man” with two as­ter­isks: “Recorded live (monaural) at the NBC Tele­vi­sion Stu­dios Bur­bank, California.”

    When I heard “If I Can Dream” over the air­waves, there was no doubt this was going to be some­thing special.

    • Everyone in­volved with the spe­cial played their cards close to the vest. I have it in my ad­mit­tedly faulty memory banks that I first saw the opening salvo of pro­mo­tion (the ban­ners, the album, the give­aways, etc.) at the local Singer Store in October.

      There was a TV Guide-like pub­li­ca­tion back then that listed the con­tents of the three tele­vi­sion sta­tions for the up­coming week. I don’t re­member its name and it may have been re­gional and ser­vicing the East Coast. Un­like TV Guide, it fea­tured the Elvis spe­cial on the front cover with an ar­ticle in­side that was sev­eral pages long. These were the first photos that I saw of Elvis in his leather suit. It also men­tioned some of the songs he would be singing. When it listed two of my all-time faves, “Trouble” and “One Night,” I knew things weren’t going to be Como-ish!

      RCA held “If I Can Dream” back until the last weeks of No­vember. The first time I heard it, chills went down my 17-year-old spine.

      Here is the re­view in the No­vember 23, 1968, issue of Bill­board. The ed­i­tors did not pick it for their Top 20 Pop Spot­light but rel­e­gated it to their Top 60 Pop Spotlight:


Leave a Comment