I'm never going to sing another song I don't believe in. I'm never going to make another picture I don't believe in.
– Elvis Presley after hearing ”If I Can Dream” for the first time.
Speaking of first times, I remember the first time I saw Elvis on TV. This was in the early 1980s. I must have been no more than ten. It was the day before Christmas and there was a rerun of the King’s ’68 Comeback Special on NBC. I was helping my mom decorate the tree and was doing a brilliant job too until the special began, and the medley of ”Trouble” and “Guitar Man” came on. After that, I was mesmerized. Not only did Elvis sound great, he looked great too – the epitome of rock’n’roll. I didn’t know it at the time but this began my long liaison with Presley’s music that continues to this day.
The ’68 Comeback Special has an interesting story behind it. Granted, it ended up being one of the most legendary performances in pop history but originally, this TV special was something nobody wanted to touch – not even Elvis himself. This is easy to understand as Elvis’ manager Colonel Tom Parker had intended the program to be something different altogether: a Christmas special with smulch written all over it. It was only thanks to the young producer/director Steve Binder that it took the shape it did.
Binder felt that Elvis had made enough second-rate movies in the course of the sixties and decided that the new TV special they were working on wasn’t going to continue that tradition. Rather, it was going to reintroduce Presley as a potent, timely and energetic performer. What this meant was that the original Christmas theme was scraped and a new one fused with black leather, sex and rock’n’roll was created. Mr. Binder, the world will be forever grateful for this makeover. I for one prefer black leather to Santa Claus costumes any day, at least when it comes to rock’n’roll.
Our track of the week, ”If I Can Dream,” was commissioned for the ’68 Comeback Special. After Binder had renegotiated the theme for the TV special and replaced the set of holiday songs with the King’s biggest hits, he realized he needed a brand new tune, an original, to replace "I'll Be Home for Christmas" as the show’s grand finale. The tune had to be powerful, something very special and trendy but more importantly, it had to have lyrics that were meaningful. Binder knew that the times had changed considerably from the early sixties. The Vietnam War had torn the nation in two and there was societal upheaval and unrest due to the civil rights issues. This tune had to address all of that and more. Only then, Binder felt, could Elvis once again rise to his throne and win over a whole new generation of fans.
Binder turned to a songwriter called Walter Earl Brown for the answer and Brown gave him ”If I Can Dream,” a song written as a tribute to Martin Luther King, Jr., who had been assassinated just two months earlier. “If I Can Dream” is undeniably one of the best soul-fused tracks ever written. It’s got an amazing tune and an outstanding lyric. The arrangement with its gospel choir and horn section is truly fantastic and the King’s vocal is simply put, out of this world. It still gives me goosebumps.
However, as much as I love “If I Can Dream,” the lyrics do carry a deeper, somewhat more world-weary and disturbing meaning for me these days. I do agree that the right attitude makes all the difference: If we lose our hope, we lose everything. There is so much pain and suffering in the world that in order for us to survive, we must believe in the “strong winds of promise that will blow away all the doubt and fear.” However, it’s now 2019, more than fifty years after “If I Can Dream” was recorded and we are still dealing with exactly the same issues. The world is still plagued by racism and war. In the West, these issues exist in a slightly different context than they did in the late 1960s but still, if we are honest, rather than changed, these issues have gone through a metamorphosis. Why?
Well, in my experience, people rarely change for the better. Sometimes, after hardships and a fall from grace, certain individuals are able to look in the mirror and improve. However, a far more common change is when somebody close to you drops their mask and acquaints you with who they really are. That’s when you more often than not realize that you are in deep water and that you never really knew them in the first place.
However, that’s people. How is any of this relevant from the perspective of our track of the week, criticizing nations and their politics, wishing for a better tomorrow?
Well…nations are made of people, aren’t they? Perhaps that’s why they possess all the same weaknesses.
You can learn more about Elvis Presley here:
About the curator - Tommi Tikka
Tommi Tikka is a linguist, poet, professional songwriter, recording artist and a music aficionado. He started playing guitar when he was four and writing songs when he was six. Consequently, he doesn't remember a time when he wasn't playing or writing. It's fair to say, music and lyrics are not just something he loves to engage himself in. To him, they are a way of life.
You can check out his current band The Impersonators here:
And the music of his previous group Carmen Gray here: Spotify