American critic Greil Marcus captures exactly the feeling one has when
viewing Elvis' 1968 TV special; no matter how many times one watches the
tape, it is consistently amazing. Elvis never looked more handsome, never
seemed more vibrant. And the most glorious portions of the program, save
the opening "Trouble/Guitar Man" and closing "If I Can Dream" segments, are
now known as the "sit down" shows.
This disc, one of the first Elvis "import" cd's, remains one of the best
ever, compiling songs not officially released from the 6pm and 8pm shows
given one night, June 27, 1968, in NBC-TV's Burbank studio 4 (where the
Tonight Show is now taped).
From visionary director Steve Binder's idea to capture informal jamming
(done in Elvis' dressing room with original bandmates Scotty Moore and D.J.
Fontana), an evening was set aside to simply tape these moments and see if
they yielded anything worthwhile. They succeeded beyond anyone's wildest
The shows themselves are unique experiences. Sitting around on chairs in
the now-familiar "boxing ring" stage, Elvis shuffles through songs more by
memory than a script, although a loose outline was placed in front of him
on a small table. Initially, Elvis plays acoustic guitar, Scotty picks
electric lead, D.J. taps his sticks on a guitar case (!) and Charlie Hodge
sings some harmonies and strums an unamplified electric. But after a few
numbers Elvis "switches axes" with Scotty and attacks the electric with the
same power he invests in his singing, running his fingers up and down the
bass strings just like in the early days. It's simple, basic and
He is slightly more nervous during the first show, looser and cockier
during the second. The 6pm audience is more sedate (stunned?) than the 8pm
crowd, which is distinguished by very audible screaming females! RCA,
overall, chose more numbers from the 8pm show, although the same songs done
earlier only pale in comparison to each other. These omitted performances
can stand on their own.
For whatever reason, guilt, anger or fear, Elvis Presley sings these songs
with an absolute fury; his voice hits the listener with such force it's
akin to defining the difference being dead and being alive.
After this night he never sung this way again.
The highlights are all over the disc, but favorites include a beautifully
mature rendition of "That's All Right, Mama" (Scotty's lead is note
perfect!), a totally committed version of "Love Me" (harmony provided by
Charlie Hodge -- these shows were Charlie's finest moment as well, feeding
Elvis' passion by egging him on to do more, go farther on each song),
"Tiger Man" done in the style of Rufus Thomas' 1953 Sun single, and the
stupendous 3:40 unedited version of "Baby, What You Want Me To Do", with
Elvis' electric guitar pounding out a rhythmic lead that is the epitome of
Although every second of each of these shows should be in one's collection,
this cd is a fine complement to the official 'NBC TV Special' available on
RCA/BMG, with little overlap. And please note that the 24 track listing is
actually 22, as two medleys are assigned one track number each ("When My
Blue Moon Turns To Gold Again"/"Blue Christmas" and "Santa Claus Is Back In
If you have not heard this material, you are missing the finest two hours
of Elvis Presley's career.
Sound rate ****