NBC’s 1968 Tribute Special Proved Elvis’ Genius – He Will Always Be The King of Rock and Roll
Last weekend, NBC hosted an Allstar tribute to Elvis Presley’s 1968 “Comeback” Special. The night was fun and lively, with snippets from the original. Tribute to Elvis came from stars of Country music, which has morphed over the years. It was possibly, the wrong perspective and clearly highlighted the differences between Rock and Roll, and country music. The bottom line – Elvis was The King of Rock and Roll.
Almost 65 ago, in July 1954, Elvis began his career. A few months after Elvis made his first recording at Sun Studios in October, Elvis appeared for an “audition” at the Grand Ole Opry. Rock and Roll as a musical genre had just been born, and Elvis was not the central figure he would ultimately become. He was still a Nineteen-Year-old kid at the start of his career.
Brought to Nashville by Sam Phillips to entertain a Country Music crowd, and a possible addition to the Grand Ole Opry’s lineup. Sam who owned Sun Records had high hopes for his new protégé. Elvis was a regional phenomenon, with records selling throughout the region. His unorthodox style made waves in every event where he appeared. The inclusion into the ‘Opry world would be icing on the cake. Sam, in the midst of a financial crisis knew what would happen if Elvis was chosen to become a regular.
Elvis’ performance was derided. His transformed country waltz classic. “Blue Moon of Kentucky” became a Rock and Roll classic. He brought energy and life to it. The song deeply contrasted differences between the music Elvis was performing, and what the ’Opry was selling. At the conclusion of the performance, country music and Elvis would go in two different directions. Told by the Opry manager that his career would be better served by continuing to drive a truck and his heart broken; Elvis never returned to the cathedral of country music. Elvis forged his own way becoming clear that he was singing Rock and Roll and not Country and Western
Elvis went on to become the greatest entertainer in history. Breaking all records. Highlighting without a doubt why Elvis was the King of Rock and Roll and not Country music. It is unfortunate that the tribute 50 years after his historic performance came from Country music entertainers. Elvis was not a country music star.
The tribute, beautiful and honorable did not have a single performer that could muster the energy that Elvis exhibited 50 years ago. Eight years after leaving live performing to make movies, Elvis came back to television and exhibited a performance for the ages. The 1968 NBC Special showcased Elvis as a force for Rock and Roll. Showcasing his roots; he proved that Rock and Roll music was a conjunction of Rhythm and Blues, Gospel and Country music. Elvis shepherded in the music of Rock and Roll because of the energy and vitality he brought to his performances. He starkly contrasted what music was at the time. The difference between what he was doing, and everyone else.
Elvis was not Country music he was not Gospel music or Rhythm and Blues (R&B). Country music was too slow for any comparison. While Elvis loved gospel music, Rock and Roll was not Gospel. R&B while it had energy, did not have the youthfulness and spontaneity that Elvis exhibited in his performances. R&B did provide a faster beat, but never was Rock and Roll. Elvis’s contribution to transform R&B, Gospel and Country music into a new genre influenced and changed the world. It ushered in, and profoundly altered the landscape of music. The 2019 NBC Tribute could not come close to capturing that energy or enthusiasm.
65 Years after Elvis sang “That’s All Right Mama”, and “Blue Moon of Kentucky” on Sun Records #209, music changed course. In 1968, 15 years after his debut, Elvis contributed the performance of a lifetime. Steve Binder, executive producer, told Elvis that he would show in pictures what Elvis was singing on records. Elvis delivered the only way he knew how – with everything he had.
2019, 50 years after Elvis’ 1968 special – not a single performer came up to the energy Elvis exhibited. The music mirror images and tributes to him, were performances that were flat in comparison. Watch the two specials side by side, and make your own conclusion. 65 years after Elvis rose to prominence, we learned that not one of our contemporaries were able to capture his genius. Not a single performer could come up to the power and fury he exhibited in each song. From Rock and Roll songs, and gospel, to ballads, not a single presentation by today’s stars could capture to the energy Elvis exhibited.
Elvis proved almost 65 years after his Opry performance, that what he delivered was never Country – It was Rock and Roll. While Rock and Roll has evolved since he started, Elvis is still “The King of Rock and Roll.” The All-Star Tribute could not dispel that. More than 45 years since he left us, we realized that the world will never replace him. It is just now that the world can understand his genius.