For much of the Sixties, Elvis Presley’s most visible presence was on the big screen, in a seemingly endless series of films that ranged from fun (Viva Las Vegas) to forgettable (Easy Come, Easy Go). For that reason alone, the King’s December 3rd, 1968, “comeback” special for NBC was a welcome return to form. Yet, entirely on its own it remains simply one of Presley’s finest moments as an electrifying entertainer, and a landmark event that revolutionized the presentation of live music via television.
On November 30th, a comprehensive, deluxe box set featuring a dizzying array of audio and video components will celebrate the special’s 50th anniversary. The five-CD and two-Blu-ray disc set will mark the first time ever that all previously-released audio and newly-restored video from the taping of the special will be available in one package. Spotlighting unused performances and studio outtakes of Presley in his element, the collection also features an entire disc of the legendary sessions for the NBC special, which Presley recorded with the studio musicians collectively known as the Wrecking Crew.
Also included in the set will be an 80-page book featuring rare photographs and ephemera, and a new oral history on the special, crafted from interviews conducted for Thom Zimny’s documentary Elvis Presley: The Searcher, which premiered earlier this year on HBO.
Presley’s longtime drummer D.J. Fontana, who joined guitarist Scotty Moore for the special, recalled that in spite of some initial trepidation, the singer — famously clad in black leather — quickly eased back into the spotlight.
“Elvis was hardly ever nervous — but he was then,” Fontana told Rolling Stone in 2017. “We played a couple of songs, and it got loose after a while, and it turned out fine. He just had been out of the public eye for a long time.”
Fontana and Moore are both featured in the two-LP vinyl release The King in the Ring, also included in the boxed set. Released in limited quantity for Record Store Day earlier this year, the set showcases the laid-back “sit down” sets from the special, performed in the round for an intimate audience. The style and impact of these performances are now seen as the precursor to MTV’s Unplugged series that followed decades later. A two-hour prime-time NBC special in tribute to the original is also planned for next year.
The box set is now available for pre-order via Amazon and various digital outlets.