Review of Elvis’ “If I Can Dream” rendition with the Philharmonic Orchestra

A “new” rendition of Elvis’ incomparable rendition of “If I Can Dream” has been made available on CD and/or download. There is no doubt that everyone had good intentions and put together a quality cd. Everyone of the musicians in the Philharmonic Orchestra are talented and that is a good thing. Same with the backup singers.
Over the years the estate has undertaken endeavors to have some of Elvis’ songs altered and released. I know the reasons are, in part, in order to garner some media buzz and to potentially reach new audience members who then will become Elvis fans. I have supported the estate, in many ways both publicly and privately, and I have no plans to do otherwise.
However, Elvis Presley was more than a singer. He was more than an exciting performer. He was, in every sense of the word, a music producer. Felton Jarvis, who I had the honor of corresponding with, was (at first) RCA’s record producer of Elvis’ recordings in 1966 but then went to work exclusively with Elvis until Elvis’ death in 1977. Felton readily admitted that Elvis was a perfectionist of his recordings. He “felt” the song. He was “moved” by the words and the enunciations. He surrounded himself with some of the greatest musicians, orchestra, and backup singers in the world. His songs oozed unique vocal inflections with meaning. With soul. Majestic in it’s impact. Ageless in it’s spirit.
Elvis’ performance in the 1968 Singer special entitled “Elvis” was Elvis’ first live performance in (approximately) 8 years. Elvis lost weight. He sang and rehearsed instead of having to focus on his movie contracts has he had been since 1960 where he was committed to (approximately) 3 movies per year. Elvis was saddened at the loss of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and bothered that his special man had been gunned down in Elvis’ (home) residency of Memphis Tennessee.
Steve Binder did a phenomenal job putting this special together along with “keeping it real” with Elvis. For the first time in memory someone was honest with Elvis. Binder knew that Elvis was a great talent but that the movies he had been making had diluted his impact pertaining to his recordings, impact, popularity, and ability to garner new fans. Steve Binder wanted to make Elvis’ music relevant. He wanted Elvis to lose weight and sing. He surrounded Elvis with possibilities and Elvis seized the opportunity. As an Elvis fan there are not enough adjectives, or words, to fully express how Steve Binder changed Elvis’ career and propelled him to international superstardom with a body of works to follow that will forever be among the greatest recordings ever made.
The backdrop of this was the 1960s. You had the Beatles, Beach Boys, Rolling Stones, Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, Motown, Vietnam, etc. Times were changing. People were changing. There were divisions of all kinds. And yet in this Singer TV Special of 1968 Elvis rose to this occasion with a blend of rock, gospel, humor, attitude, and with an unequalled vocal range with a sweat dripping performance for the ages.
Back when I was married my wife wasn’t an Elvis fan. She liked a few of his songs. But when it came to Elvis’ career she stated that Elvis, in his 1968 Singer special, was “the most handsome and the best”. I miss her.
There is a story behind the writing of “If I Can Dream” that is very special. I encourage Elvis Presley fans to seek out the works, endeavors, and words of those who have recanted the facts about Elvis – the SInger 68 special – etc. This includes but is not limited to; Marty Lacker, Billy Smith, Red West, Sonny West, Joe Esposito, Jerry Schilling, Alanna Nash, Sandi Pichon, Sandie Kaye Stevens, Steve Binder, http://www.Elvis.com and more.
“If I Can Dream” was a song that (initially) Elvis sang wearing black leather (not the best version but highly entertaining and moving) before a live audience and athen wearing his custom tailored white suit complete with his jet black hair, earned sweat, and bona fide emotions. He lived that song. Hearing that song left an impression long after Elvis finished and said “goodnight”. Long after the TV Special ended. In my case “If I Can Dream” was among the greatest recordings Elvis made and I have (literally) seen them all. Listened to them countless times. There is something important about Elvis singing this song. It’s not something one could easily put their finger on. Nonetheless it is apparent with every movement. Every hand gesture. Every exchange of the microphone. Every note of that brilliant song. Elvis put his talents on display and was rewarded with high TV ratings, a renewed career, options, and confidence.
As much as I respect, and appreciate, the estate’s decisions pertaining to this song I can’t help but be honest and state that Elvis’ versions recorded for the 68 Special, are exceptional and should be listened to as Elvis performed it. No duets. No fake holograms. No background singers. No changes. This performance, and the recording, can stand alone…on it’s own.
Finally, would anyone allow the Mona Lisa to be altered? The statue of David? Those are masterpieces that are appreciated for what they are. The works of a god given once in a millennium talent who, through their success and failures, were brave enough to pursue their talents. Long after they took their last breath the works they left behind are beautiful to the eye along with spawning a fawning respect.
These works of art were made by true…artists. They need no changes. For one to behold…is all that needs to happen. Elvis Presley was an artist. Elvis’ songs, including “If I Can Dream”, need to simply be…watched…and listened to…as they were meant to.
Take care and may god bless you.
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