Meaning of “If I Can Dream” by Elvis Presley
Although Elvis didn’t write “If I Can Dream”, it can be considered reflective of his own thoughts since he did actually drop it. This was in the late 1960s, circa the climax of a decade which was very challenging to the American collective psyche. More specifically, it was written a short time after the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. in 1968.
MLK was the type of leader that a lot of people could get with because he unwaveringly preached peace. Or, as famously stated, Martin ‘had a dream’. And so it is with the vocalist of this song.
That said, MLK was able to delineate his vision a lot more clearly and simply than Elvis Presley does. But what the gist of this song points to is the same general notion – that universal peace is in fact a dream. In other words, given that “we’re trapped in a world that’s troubled with pain”, such a day coming to pass doesn’t appear to be anywhere in sight.
But what Elvis appears to be ultimately saying is that he will continue to resist this trajectory. And the way he will do so is by continuing to dream of a better world and conduct himself accordingly, despite some of the greatest luminaries in that regard, i.e. JFK and MLK, having recently been murdered.
“There must be lights burning brighter somewhere
Got to be birds flying higher in a sky more blue
If I can dream of a better land, where all my brothers walk hand in hand
Tell me why, oh why, oh why can’t my dream come true? Oh why”
Facts about “If I Can Dream”
“If I Can Dream” is without a shred of doubt one of Elvis Presley’s most popular songs.
The song was written by Walter Earl Brown and is heavily inspired by the Civil Rights Movement in the United States. It was Presley’s explicit answer to the racial and political turbulence of 1968. The lyrics reference Martin Luther King Jr.’s historic “I Have a Dream” speech.
“If I Can Dream” was first introduced during Elvis Presley’s ’68 Comeback Special on NBC. This was a major television event that revitalized Elvis’s career. This song was used as the grand finale of the show.
The song marked a change in Elvis’s career because it was one of the first major hits he had that was not associated with a movie soundtrack, which was the primary source of his album releases in the 1960s.
Elvis’s recording of the song is notable for his powerful vocal performance, with the backing of orchestration and full choirs, which was unusual compared to the rock and roll for which he was known.
Some More Facts
Despite its inspirational, gospel-like style, this classic doesn’t mention God, which was unusual for this type of music at the time.
Released as a single in 1968, the song reached No. 12 on the Billboard Hot 100 in the United States and had even greater success in the United Kingdom, reaching No. 11.
The song resonated personally with Elvis, who was deeply moved by the song’s message of hope and brotherhood.