Recorded in late June in ‘Burbank’, ‘California’, the special, called simply ‘Elvis’, aired on December 3, 1968. Later known as the ’68 Comeback Special’, the show featured lavishly staged studio productions as well as songs performed with a band in front of a small audience — ‘Presley’ first live performances since (1961).
The live segments saw ‘Presley’ clad in tight black leather, singing and playing guitar in an uninhibited style reminiscent of his early rock-and-roll days. ‘Bill Belew’, who designed this outfit, gave it a ‘Napoleonic’ standing collar (Presley customarily wore high collars because he believed his neck looked too long), a design feature that he would later make a major trademark of the outfits ‘Presley’ wore on stage in his later years. Director and coproducer ‘Steve Binder’ had worked hard to reassure the nervous singer and to produce a show that was far from the hour of ‘Christmas’ songs ‘Parker’ had originally planned.
The show, ‘NBC’ highest rated that season, captured 42 percent of the total viewing audience. ‘Jon Landau’ of ‘Eye magazine’ remarked, “There is something magical about watching a man who has lost himself find his way back home. He sang with the kind of power people no longer expect of rock ‘n’ roll singers. He moved his body with a lack of pretension and effort that must have made Jim Morrison green with envy.” Dave Marsh calls the performance one of “emotional grandeur and historical resonance.”