from graceland to burbank to graceland

Es­ti­mated reading time is 8 minutes.

BEST CLASSIC BANDS just pub­lished “Elvis Presley’s ’68 Come­back: Bur­bank to Grace­land” (although it should have been “Grace­land to Bur­bank”). It ad­dressed the tele­vi­sion spe­cial, the records as­so­ci­ated with it, and what fol­lowed. The ar­ticle de­clared, “By the final days of the decade, Elvis was ar­guably as fa­mous as he had been in the ’50s.”

I read the ar­ticle and sub­mitted this comment:

As I read the piece above, I kept thinking things like, “Wow—this is re­ally well written” and “Bravo—this guy knows what he’s talking about.” Then the writer men­tioned my fa­vorite Elvis movie, Finding Grace­land, and I thought, “I gotta write this guy a com­ment.” It was when I scrolled down to the bottom that I dis­cov­ered I had written this piece six years ago!

“Elvis” was the top-ranked show of the week, beating out Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In!

I don’t know what to blame my flag­ging memory on: old age (“My boy, my boy”) or so­briety (ten years without drugs or al­cohol and still counting). Oh, well—as someone once fa­mous once said, “Rock­ahula, baby!”

So it’s not a new ar­ticle that BCB has pub­lished but a six-year-old ar­ticle it has re­pub­lished. (And whether or not the ed­i­tors of the site will okay my com­ment re­mains to be seen.)

I am posting the BCB ar­ticle here on Elvis — A Touch Of Gold for the first time. While the text re­mains the same (ex­cept for some minor styl­istic tweaking), the BCB ar­ticle has dif­ferent photos and links to sev­eral per­for­mances from the ’68 Comeback.

To read the ar­ticle as it first ap­peared on the Best Classic Bands site, click here.

 

Graceland to Burbank: front cover of RCA Victor LPM-4088, ELVIS, from 1968.
The sound­track album for the NBC-TV spe­cial Elvis in­cluded both mono and stereo tracks but was re­leased with a cat­alog number (LPM-4088) that des­ig­nated it as mono. The front cover was a dra­matic im­prove­ment over the mostly in­sipid cover art that had dec­o­rated his LPs for years.

Graceland to Burbank

At 9:00 p.m. on De­cember 3, 1968, the tele­vi­sions of mil­lions of Amer­ican homes were tuned to NBC, where they were greeted with this wel­coming line: “If you’re looking for trouble, you’ve come to the right place.”

After an eight-year hiatus, Elvis Presley was back on tele­vi­sion. He was joined by gui­tarist Scotty Moore and drummer D.J. Fontana, both of whom had been with Elvis on his his­toric TV ap­pear­ances in 1956 and ’57.

Tele­vi­sion had changed a lot in those years: Presley was in glo­rious color for the first time! And he filled much larger screens than the tiny black-and-white sets that had shown a grainy ver­sion of him with Frank Sinatra in 1960, the last time he’d sung to a na­tional audience.

And it was only the be­gin­ning: For the next 60 min­utes, viewers saw and heard some of the rawest, hardest rock and roll music of their lives. And it worked: Elvis was the top-ranked show of the week, beating out the hugely pop­ular Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In. The re­views that fol­lowed were gen­erous, and the show’s pro­ducer, Bob Finkel, would later be given a Peabody Award for this special.

 

Graceland to Burbank: picture sleeve to Elvis Presley's single "Guitar Man" / "High Heel Sneakers," from 1968.

Graceland to Burbank: picture sleeve to Elvis Presley's single "A Little Less Conversation" / "Almost in Love," from 1968.
The so-called “pro­duc­tion” se­quences from the 1968 NBC-TV used two sin­gles: Guitar Man, a modest Top 40 hit ear­lier in the year, and A Little Less Con­ver­sa­tion, a flop when re­leased after the NBC spe­cial was completed.

Tell me why can’t my dreams come true

But it was the re­sponse of the people that mat­tered: In the wake of the tele­vi­sion broad­cast, the single from the show If I Can Dream—a heart­felt ap­peal for uni­versal broth­er­hood and acceptance—peaked at #9 on the Cash Box Top 100 survey. It was Presley’s first Top 10 single in three years, selling close to a mil­lion copies in the U.S. (It reached #12 on Bill­board.)

The sound­track album, ELVIS, reached the Top 10 on Bill­board’s LP chart, also the first time that had hap­pened in three years. These two records were hits around the world, the first time that Presley had en­joyed such global suc­cess since Crying In The Chapel in 1965.

In hind­sight, all of this looks al­most in­evitable: How could such de­ter­mi­na­tion, am­bi­tion, and ge­nius not be ap­pre­ci­ated on a mas­sive scale? But that was any­thing but pre­dictable when the show aired that De­cember, for on that late 1968 day, Elvis had fallen from the pin­nacle of success.

He had made too many movies and the num­bers at the box of­fice and for their sound­tracks had taken a no­tice­able hit. Whereas the sound­tracks from his seven films from 1957’s Loving You through 1963’s Fun In Aca­pulco never failed to reach the top 5 in sales, none of the six ti­tles from 1966 through spring 1968 even reached the top 10.

In the 1950s, Elvis had been the per­son­i­fi­ca­tion of rock and roll; it often seemed that he had sin­gle­hand­edly es­tab­lished the genre as the most pop­ular music in the world. By 1968, though, rock & roll had moved from the British In­va­sion, through folk-rock, and into psy­che­delia and pro­gres­sive rock—and all of that in just the past four years!

He also rec­og­nized that he needed a re­turn to relevance.

 

Burbank to Graceland: front cover for Singer Presents Elvis Singing Flaming Star album from 1968.
In re­turn for Singer spon­soring the NBC-TV spe­cial, RCA Spe­cial Prod­ucts di­vi­sion com­piled this album of eight pre­vi­ously un­re­leased tracks along with the title track. Singer was al­lowed to sell this album at its Sewing Center stores across the coun­tries months in ad­vance of the spe­cial’s broadcast.

Singer Presents Elvis

With the spe­cial in es­sen­tially un­charted ter­ri­tory, Presley’s man­ager Colonel Tom Parker found a “safe” sponsor: the Singer Sewing Ma­chine Com­pany. While the cor­rect title of the show broad­cast on NBC-TV was simply Elvis, be­cause of their backing and their pro­mo­tion, the show is often re­ferred to as “Singer Presents Elvis.” It is also known as the “NBC-TV Spe­cial” and “the ’68 Comeback.”

And it was a come­back: On De­cember 4, 1968, the day after the spe­cial, it was sud­denly okay—almost cool—to like all things Elvis again.

 

Burbank to Graceland: cardboard standee promoting the NBC-TV special Elvis that was displayed in Singer Sewing Center stores in 1968.
This is a card­board standee that was dis­played on the coun­ters of Singer Sewing Cen­ters in all fifty states. It is 22 x 28 inches and was folded in half (note the crease in the black back­ground) be­fore being shipped to the var­ious stores.

We’re caught in a trap

This cool pe­riod was car­ried for­ward by the records Elvis made with pro­ducer Chips Moman at Amer­ican Sound Studio in Mem­phis in early 1969. In The Ghetto, written by Mac Davis, found a white Southern man ad­dressing the prob­lems of black northern inner cities. In the hands of most singers, this song would have sounded con­trived, forced, and per­haps even pan­dering. Elvis made it sound like a gentle call-to-arms to the very brothers he had reached out to with his pre­vious single If I Can Dream.

The album was ti­tled FROM ELVIS IN MEM­PHIS and was a heady mix­ture of rock, country, and some­thing new for Elvis, Southern soul music. This album showed the world that he could make a solid album from the first track to the last. It ce­mented his new stature as a po­tent force in the rock market.

Then came the next single, Sus­pi­cious Minds, written by Mark James. This was so mas­terful a record that a single hearing could leave a lis­tener thinking he had just heard the greatest mo­ment in Presley’s career.

And just as im­por­tant as the music was the re­sponse: The records sold mil­lions of copies world­wide. In 1969 and ’70, Presley re­ceived more RIAA Gold Record Awards than he had re­ceived at any time in his career.

In July of ’69, Elvis re­turned to live per­forming on the stage of the In­ter­na­tional Hotel in Las Vegas, boosting his vis­i­bility and name recognition.

 

Burbank to Graceland: picture sleeve to Elvis Presley's single "If I Can Dream" / "Edge of Reality," from 1968.

Burbank to Graceland: picture sleeve to Elvis Presley's single "Memories" / "Charro," from 1969.
Two sin­gles taped during the NBC-TV spe­cial were re­leased: If I Can Dream was re­leased weeks prior to the show’s broad­cast and be­came Pres­ley’s biggest world­wide hit in three years. Mem­o­ries was re­leased sev­eral months later and en­joyed a more modest suc­cess on the na­tional pop charts.

Pilgrims are going to Graceland

By the final days of the decade, Elvis was ar­guably as fa­mous as he had been in the ’50s. Due to the stag­gering growth in com­mu­ni­ca­tion media—especially globally—and the growing in­terest in celebri­ties’ pri­vate lives, many as­pects of Presley’s life be­came house­hold words.

Among those as­pects of Presley’s life at­taining their own in­ter­na­tional celebrity were his wife Priscilla Presley and Elvis’ Mem­phis home, Grace­land. In fact, the two are con­joined: after es­tab­lishing her­self as a suc­cessful ac­tress, Priscilla be­came the guiding force in es­tab­lishing Grace­land as one of this country’s most vis­ited places. Under her eye and hand, the name “Grace­land” began to take on cul­tural meaning—metaphorical if not al­most spir­i­tual meaning—beyond merely being the home of a star.

The most fa­mous use of Grace­land as a metaphor is Paul Simon’s bril­liant album of the same name, GRACE­LAND (1986). Ac­cording to Simon, the song Grace­land is partly about a trip to Elvis’ home by a man with his 9-year-old son “trying to find some kind of so­lace from a loss of love” there.

 

Burbank to Graceland: poster for the 1999 movie Finding Graceland with Harvey Keitel.
The nut­shell de­scrip­tion for Finding Grace­land at the IMDB is, “An ec­cen­tric drifter claiming to be Elvis Presley hitches a ride with a young man and they find them­selves on an ad­ven­turous road trip to Mem­phis.” The movie is so much more than that!

Trying to find solace

This theme was car­ried on more di­rectly and more poignantly in David Winkler’s 1999 film Finding Grace­land. Harvey Keitel, one of the least likely ac­tors on the planet to “play” Elvis, is a lost soul who be­lieves that he is, in fact, Elvis Presley, that he took a leave of ab­sence from being “the king” to get away from the crazi­ness and find some com­fort with the people. His people.

Finding Grace­land deals with his need to re­turn home, to Grace­land, to find so­lace and clo­sure in his life and to his journey. It is a lovely movie that does not re­quire even liking Presley, but it does re­quire the viewer to know some­thing about Graceland—which everyone does.

Those sixty min­utes of music and pas­sion and play­ful­ness changed so many things on De­cember 3, 1968. And Grace­land has, over the en­suing years, be­come a metaphor with a life of its own. As Paul Simon sang, “I’m going to Grace­land for rea­sons I cannot ex­plain. Maybe I have a reason to be­lieve we all will be re­ceived in Graceland.”

 

Burbank to Graceland: photo of Elvis persorming "Nothingville" during the 1968 NBC-TV special Elvis.

FEA­TURED IMAGE: The image a the top of this page was cropped from this scene from the “pro­duc­tion” sec­tion of the 1968 NBC-TV spe­cial Elvis. The pro­duc­tion was built around a story in­volving a young man moving from the country to the city and finding him­self a job in a bor­dello. Here Elvis lip­synced to one of the spe­cial’s three newly written num­bers, Billy Strange and Mac Davis’s Noth­ingville.

 

Elvis GoldSuit 1959

POST­SCRIP­TU­ALLY, there’s not a lot to say. Should you want ad­di­tional back­ground in­for­ma­tion about being an Elvis fan in 1968 be­fore he res­cued his rep­u­ta­tion along with the rep­u­ta­tion of his dwin­dling number of fans with the NBC-TV spe­cial, click here.

For ad­di­tional in­for­ma­tion about the Best Classic Band ar­ticle, click here.

 


 

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