Here’s a clip from Tupelo’s favourite son and birthday boy (Elvis would have been 74 today!), Elvis Presley with the ’68 Comeback special version of his 1954 hit, “That’s Alright Mama”, as written and previously recorded by R&B artist Arthur ‘Big Boy’ Crudup whom Elvis had heard and admired as a young R&B fan.
The ’68 Comeback special was actually not called that (it was just Elvis, aired on December 3). But that’s what it was. Elvis spent most of the 60s doing mediocre movies and putting out the songs – some good, some not – on the soundtracks as singles.
But somewhere along the line, the King had lost his crown to a new generation of beat groups, all of whom still revered him. But, it was clear the man had something to prove to himself, and this live ‘jam session’ part of the show proved that he still had the juice, that he was still interested and able to deliver rock ‘n’ roll to the people who clamoured for it from him.
Just look at him! He’s a god in black leather, a tanned, raven-haired Adonis in human form, but clearly irradiating something otherworldly too. I have my own personal alternate history of Elvis in my mind, of course, since he soon became a parody of himself in the ensuing years.
Among other things, I wish he’d cut the Colonel loose. I wish he’d toured the world, sampled other cultures, and expanded his mind a bit. I wish he’d changed his diet, kicked drugs, and found a personal code for living. Then, he could have let the music take him where it wanted him to go. Then, he could have had a big tribute concert by the 1990s, singing with all of his fellow musicians and admirers.
But despite how history did unfold, I have to say this is my favourite Elvis period, from the Comeback special in 1968 to Aloha Hawaii concert in 1973. He became more than a singer in these years. He became divine, a paragon of untouchable artistic virtue. But, he flew too near the sun.
Happy birthday, Elvis!