“If I Can Dream” is a song made famous by Elvis Presley, written by Walter Earl Brown and notable for its direct quotations of Martin Luther King, Jr. The song was published by Elvis Presley’s music publishing company Gladys Music, Inc. It was recorded by Presley in June 1968, two months after King’s assassination. The recording was first released to the public as the finale of Presley’s ’68 Comeback Special.
Although the song is not technically gospel music, Presley performed the song with the intensity and intonations of southern gospel. It has since appeared on various Presley gospel and/or inspirational compilations.
Brown was asked to write a song to replace “I’ll Be Home for Christmas” as the grand finale on NBC’s “Elvis” (June 20–23, 1968). He wrote “If I Can Dream”, and when Presley heard it he proclaimed “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.”
The song was published by Elvis Presley’s company Gladys Music, Inc.
When Colonel Tom Parker heard the song demonstrated by Earl Brown, he said: “This ain’t Elvis’ kind of song.” Elvis was also there, unbeknownst to him, and he said: “I’d like to try it, man.” Earl Brown said that when Elvis recorded the song, Brown saw tears rolling down the cheeks of the three back up singers. One of them whispered to him: “Elvis has never sung with so much emotion before. He means every word.”
Band-related errors prevented the first take from becoming the master. After filming for the TV special was completed for its eventual editing, then broadcast in December of the year, the song was released as a single – “If I Can Dream / Edge of Reality” – in November 1968. It charted on Billboard’s Hot 100 for 13 weeks, peaking at #12, with more than one million sales; though the RIAA has only certified the song as gold (500,000 units shipped) as of March 27, 1992. In Canada the song peaked at 6 on RPM’s top singles chart, lasting more than several weeks.