By Chris Willman
July 09, 2004 at 04:00 AM EDT

Forget its original title: The NBC special that rescued Elvis Presley from irrelevance at the height of the counterculture has long since become known as ”the ’68 comeback special,” a phrase that’s entered the lexicon as shorthand for miraculous rejuvenation. (Brian Setzer named a band after it, and buffs have been known to use it in a sentence: ”That leather jacket is very ”68-comeback-special’ on you.”) Neophytes can learn what the fuss was all about — and old-timers can test their patience for hours of alternate takes and bloopers — via the three-disc Elvis: The ’68 Comeback Special, which instantly stakes a claim as one of the half-dozen essential DVDs for any rock fan’s library. Uncut versions of the show’s soundstage performances are manna from pop heaven — most crucially Presley’s semi-acoustic reunion with ’50s cohorts Scotty Moore and D.J. Fontana, where these go-cats simultaneously recreate the invention of rock and foreshadow the invention of ”MTV Unplugged.” A

Some of that phoenixian oomph was gone by the 1973 satellite broadcast commemorated in Elvis, Aloha From Hawaii, but this is the scene of his last real hurrah, with El in near fighting trim and still-kingly voice. Here, you realize, is the only guy, possibly ever, who could take a fan’s kerchief, wipe his chest, return it, and make you think ”Cool!” instead of ”Eww!” B+