1965 saw three new Elvis films, along with three new, full soundtrack LP’s. For the first time in Elvis’ career, movies had completely taken over his output – there were no ‘regular’ albums to be seen as Elvis didn’t step into the recording studio to record anything but soundtracks. His Hollywood career was dominating and he was deep into it for at least the next year and a half – he did have the occasional non-soundtrack related release pop up here and there (mostly singles) around this time, but they were mostly recordings pulled from sessions years earlier.
While Elvis never completely disappeared from the public eye during this time as such, he certainly wasn’t making headlines in the way he did during the early part of the decade. He was constantly working but the work was becoming more invisible, especially because of the new-wave of rockers from the UK in particular and the 60’s revolution – Elvis was becoming irrelevant for the general public. The man who only ten years earlier led a revolution almost single handedly was now becoming only a memory of the “old times”.
Yet, not even long after there was starting to be some light at the end of the tunnel – a string of excellent non-soundtrack recording sessions in ’66 and ’67 started to show signs of Elvis properly returning to his own recording career. The Hollywood career was still very much going forward in the way it had been for the last couple years, but in May ’66 while “Beatlemania” was in full blast, Elvis went very much against the grain of the psychedelic rock scene and recorded another gospel album. The end result was one of the finest albums of his career and once it was released in March ’67 it earned him his first Grammy Award. September ’67 also saw another return to his roots with the country rock-influenced sessions with Jerry Reed. Among other songs, Elvis recorded Jerry’s own recent recording, ‘Guitar Man‘ which became a minor hit in the country charts and around the same time, also an opportunity regarding live performing arose – soon enough a deal was struck with NBC for Elvis to make a TV-special in 1968.
The filming started in June that year and among the elaborate musical numbers, Elvis gave four live shows that made the ‘back bone’ for the special. These shows would later become known as the ‘sit down’ and ‘stand up’ shows and are considered one of the high points of his whole career. They were powerful, engaging, wild and raw!
For the first time in years people would see a very different Elvis. Gone was the polished Hollywood look, cheesy musical numbers and bikini clad co-stars. This time it was all about Elvis returning to his roots and showing what he’s really capable of. That despite his Hollywood image he never lost his smoldering sex appeal and natural ability to give a performance that will grab you into a different world with him.
The live segments showed Elvis more menacing than ever, dressed in a full black leather outfit, hair slicked back and with slightly more rough edge to his voice than before – the oozing sexual charisma and ‘in-your-face’ style power and passion he put on his performing reminded you of the 50’s, albeit with a twist. This was like him shattering his polished ‘Mr. Nice Guy’ Hollywood image and proving he’s still a force to be reckoned with.
A full-page LIFE ad, as well as photos of Elvis in action from different segments of the 1968 TV-special.
The TV-special simply titled “ELVIS” aired on December 3, 1968 and came to be one of NBC’s top watched shows the whole year. It was a message from Elvis, for Elvis; not only did everyone see he still very much had it but it also made him realize this is what people want from him. As a direct result of the show, Colonel Parker started negotiating with interested parties for Elvis’ return to live performances. Funnily enough, the biggest offer came from a venue that hadn’t even been built yet, the International Hotel in Las Vegas, Nevada.
The initial approach to Parker was from Bill Miller just two weeks after the special had aired and eventually later in December ’68 Elvis was hired by Kirk Kerkorian for $100,000 a week over a four week engagement plus plenty of other “benefits”, and the actual contract would be signed in April ’69.
Before this, Elvis would also step back into the recording studio with no more full soundtrack recording sessions in mind He stepped into the legendary American Sound Studio in Memphis and during January and February 1969 recorded some of the best music of his career, even getting two chart toppers from the end results along with a highly praised LP-album, From Elvis In Memphis. With help from the producer Chips Moman and the groovy and skilled houseband at American Sound, the cuts were a mix of soulful r&b, down and dirty blues, contemporary pop, all mixed with country and gospel feel – the first single from the sessions was In The Ghetto, released in April 1969. It became Elvis’ first top-10 hit in four years and peaked at number 3, but possibly the most notable cut from these sessions was Suspicious Minds, released as a single in August and often regarded as the song that cemented Elvis’ comeback after the TV-special.
By the end of the year it would become his 17th number-one single. It was a strong cut as it was but even Elvis himself was pushing it – he adapted it into his live show and it got the royal treatment of being among the last numbers, often wildly performed and extended to a close to 7-minute version. Elvis would also attach a handful of other songs from these sessions to his new set list for August; some were performed only once, some, like the first single, the powerful message song In The Ghetto would be featured in his set even a year later.
For Elvis, this would be a new start; after nine years straight in Hollywood – after 30 movies – he had only one more left to be made. His 31st feature film, Change Of Habit would be filmed around the LA area in March/April 1969, then he’d literally change his (Hollywood) ‘habit’ into something else. Time had come to change the scenery, and that scenery would be under bright Vegas lights.
It was not only a return to live performances in general but also a return to what started his whole career, something that seemed almost like a reunion with his fans after a wait that seemed much longer than it actually was – it was an end of an era but it was also a start of a new one… only the sky was the limit.