Teaming up with Elvis' 1968 Comeback producer Steve Binder, Joe Tunzi has published '68 At 40 Retrospective' a quality hard-backed book of 120 colour pages. Featuring 8 chapters which all examine different aspects of bringing this life-changing programme to air, the book is very stylish and beautifully laid-out.
The press release promised 100 never-before-seen photos from private collections and, although the settings must be familiar to everyone who has carefully watched the TV Special, there is a real excitement in being able to study every stunning classic Elvis moment in detail. While some of the photos are a little grainy - possibly because they are zoomed in for closer detail - the overall design and printing make up for any minor disappointment. In particular the blue-shirt rehearsal close-ups and 'If I Can Dream' photos are astounding.
There are plenty of close-ups to revel in where the sweat pouring from Elvis’ skin glows as his musical soul is revitalised.
There are also comments from fans who were there at the time featured in the book, including EIN’s good friend Joan Gansky. (Go here for her look at the 40th Anniversary Celebration in L.A. that was attended by Priscilla, Steve Binder and others)
"I don't remember screaming - we were in the moment. I was listening to every word Elvis sang,
didn't want to scream. I didn't want to miss a word of his singing."
-JOAN GANSKY - audience member
"Going to the taping was one of the most exciting things I have ever done as an Elvis fan.
When he sang "All Shook Up," Elvis looked right at me and I tried not to scream."
-JUDY PALMER - audience member
Best of all are Steve Binder's recollections, giving us yet more insights on this special event and all the tricky production decisions that he had to make a stand for. For instance the case of NBC and Singer wanting Elvis’ "sweaty" scenes recut!
>>> As far as I was concerned this was not going to be 'traditional television' but had to be an authentic rock 'n' roll concert. If his hair was mussed up and he was sweating profusely, so be it! If cameras or equipment, normally hidden from the television audiences view, was seen in the shot... who cared? Well, NBC and the Singer Company evidently cared a lot. The minute they saw the raw Elvis and sweat pouring down his face from the hot lights and leather suit, they I asked me to either re-shoot or take those scenes out of the special. One NBC executive, Dick Loeb, actually commented to me, "You can actually see sweat stains on his shirt under his arm pits and you won't be able to show that on prime time television. You'll have to edit that out of the show." Thank God they didn't get their way.
Binder supplies a lot of his fascinating personal memorabilia and also has a very nice style of writing that shows his honesty, love of the project and what he ultimately achieved.
There are some wonderful artefacts like his 'Snowmen’s League Of America' membership card along with hand-written notes and some fascinating pre-production sheets.
In some early notes the TV special is to be called "JUST ELVIS" and the final number is only indicated as ‘Big Ballad’ as opposed to the yet-to-be-written ‘If I Can Dream’.
It is also fascinating to discover that some very different and strange songs were initially thought of. Imagine Elvis singing 'Wooden Heart' or even 'Cotton Candy Land' in the '68 Special! 'Little Sister' and ‘Long Lonely Highway' and Roustabout’s 'Wheels on My Heels' were also considered.
Another section of interest is the finer details about the known argument with The Colonel who instead wanted a "Perry Como" styled easy-going special of Christmas songs. When you read about what the wily old Colonel had planned, the thought that Elvis might have given in to his bullying is positively frightening. There seems little doubt that without the resurgence of the creative and musical power of Elvis, via the Steve Binder produced 68 Comeback as it was finally broadcast, there probably would have been no Vegas resurrection!
It is also fascinating to discover that the devious old Colonel Parker once again managed to trick some of the key creative people in Elvis’ life out of their well-deserved earnings.
In this extract Steve Binder describes their music production deal.
>> "The contract for the ‘Comeback Special’, according to a June 13th William Morris Agency memo, stated that Steve Binder & Bones Howe would be responsible for the writers, choral director, choreographers, and musical conductor/arranger. …
The Colonel phoned me back and personally gave me his word of honor that there would definitely be no RCA song or soundtrack album released from the television special so we had nothing to worry about. Fred phoned me to back up the Colonel's conversation. I was very naive and took the Colonel and the William Morris Agency at their word.
Here's the kicker, before the special had even started production, the Colonel made a deal with NBC to turn over the audiotapes from the special to RCA without charge. A deal that would have amounted to millions of dollars in music rights. Elvis got a free album out of the budget of the television special.
And after the special was delivered to NBC, the Colonel mailed to my home a $1,500 cheque along with an agreement for me to sign waiving all my legal rights to the soundtrack and congratulating me on the release of the album. Instead of signing the agreement, I sent the unsigned check back to the Colonel with a short note telling him where he could put it. To this day, Bones or I have never received one penny from the soundtrack earnings."
Stories like these, along with the insightful comments and production notes – and of course the marvellous photographs - makes this retrospective an exciting look into a show that we thought there was nothing new to learn about.
As a bonus, an A4 Steve Binder signed photo, of Elvis and him discussing the production, was also supplied with the original release of the book. The photo can be seen below in the press release which also shows more content from the book.
Verdict: This retrospective is a perfect complement to the 'The Complete 1968 Comeback Special' 4CD set and unlike the usual photo book will provide hours of fun and memories. This book is of course an expensive treat at around $100. However if you can afford it, it is an essential purchase. There is a rumour that most copies have already sold out, so if you are a fan search it out from your local dealer. With so much interest hopefully there will be a re-print. Joe Tunzi's best book so far.
Go here for more information the book and JAT publications.
Review by Piers Beagley
Copyright EIN - September 2008
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