The Comeback Kid

Greedy triple-disc excavation of The King's finest hour

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By the time7 The Beatles landed in America in 1964, Elvis was already churning out on average three movies a year, having forsaken his R&B roots to rake in a fortune as Hollywood’s highest-paid movie star of the ’60s. Come 1967, the year the Fabs released Sgt Pepper, the once infallible “King Of Rock’n’Roll” could be seen in a leotard, warbling “Yoga Is As Yoga Does” in the pitiful Easy Come, Easy Go. Something had to change.

It did, in 1968, when Presley agreed to make a Christmas TV special for the NBC network. As legend has it, manager Colonel Tom Parker wanted Santa suits and “chestnuts roasting on an open fire”. Thankfully the show’s ambitious young producer, Steve Binder, had other ideas. The result was Elvis, a one-hour programme sponsored by Singer sewing machines in which Binder encouraged Presley to rediscover the raw, bestial talent he feared he’d destroyed by one Harum Scarum too many.

The joy of what is now known as the ’68 Comeback, above and beyond the obvious jaw-agog submission to Elvis’ brilliance, is the measure of how he clawed himself out of the mire into which he’d sunk. Nowhere is his renaissance more tangible than on the famed black-leather ‘boxing-ring’ sit-down performance (the genesis of MTV’s Unplugged), where he returns to his ’50s rockabilly womb flanked by his original Sun Studios-era band (disc one also allows us to indulge in the two complete sit-down shows in their swoonsome entirety). Just as mesmerising are the ostensibly ridiculous production numbers?one can only wonder what Parker must’ve made of the moment Elvis interrupts the tender “It Hurts Me” to coolly karate-chop a small army of thugs against a psychedelic wah-wah freak-out worthy of The Mothers Of Invention.

Like a similar two-disc polish job on 1973’s Aloha From Hawaii (Rating Star ), this supersize special edition arrives under the bigger umbrella of this year’s 50th anniversary of 1954’s debut single, “That’s All Right” (and, so the Presley estate claim, by proxy the 50th birthday of rock’n’roll itself). However, it’s these vivid freeze-frames of the black leather sex-god huffin’ and a-sweatin’ through “Tiger Man”, and that of his pristine white alter ego purging mankind’s sins on “If I Can Dream”, that endure above all other images of Elvis. If nothing else, remember him this way.

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The Velvet Underground, The Black Crowes, Bunny Wailer, Richard Thompson, Nick Cave, Rhiannon Giddens, Laurie Anderson, Blake Mills, Postcard Records, Mogwai and The Selecter
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