Archive for the ‘comedy’ Category

Some Long-lost Artist Biographies

Tuesday, July 14th, 2015

Way back in the depths of the Great Recession (2007-2009), one of my former writers (from my time as Editor in Chief of a now-defunct magazine I won’t dignify by naming) put me in touch with the good people at Amoeba Music. The California-based record chain had an ambitious plan: creating artist bios to serve as a resource on their website. Right alongside online ordering, visitors could click on an “Artist Biography” link, and read a concise bio about that act.

I was commissioned to do several dozen of these, but owing to that little worldwide financial debacle I mentioned earlier, the project was shelved indefinitely. And because the pieces I turned in before deadline were “works for hire,” they were the property of Amoeba. So I couldn’t publish them myself. Fair is fair.

Fast forward more than six years, to a couple of weeks ago. I stumbled upon one of those essays online! Turns out that – and I don’t know when this happened; could’ve been years ago – Amoeba has published five of the six essays I penned; most (but not all) of them include my byline.

If you enjoy any of the acts listed below, you might also find these short biographies an interesting read. For my part, I’m just happy that they’re available. All excerpts below ©Amoeba Music.

Badfinger
The story of Badfinger is one filled with tantalizing promise, modest success, and crushing tragedy. Initially viewed as something of an heir apparent to the Beatles’ legacy, a combination of naivete, emotional fragility and misplaced trust served to rob this quartet of greater fame; their brief time in the limelight (1970-1974) ended with the suicide of their primary songwriter, effectively spelling the end for this talented group. Despite the band’s tumultuous history, Badfinger has earned its place among the top tier of power pop groups. [read more...]

Blind Faith
The aptly-named Blind Faith is a textbook example of unrealized potential. Formed in 1968 from the remnants of other high-profile groups, this “supergroup” brought together some of rock’s greatest talents. The quartet issued one hastily-recorded album, did a quick tour and disbanded. In some ways, Blind Faith is no more than a footnote to the careers of three of its members. Yet in its lineup, approach and songs, the group possessed immense potential to push popular music in new and exciting directions. They made tentative steps in those directions, but left fans wondering what could have been. [read more...]

The Rutles
The mockumentary/rockumentary genre didn’t start with the 1984 film This is Spinal Tap. As far back as 1978, NBC-TV aired All You Need is Cash, a prime-time special that purported to tell the story of The Rutles, England’s “Pre-Fab Four.” Former Monty Python troupe member Eric Idle had conceived of the project years earlier, and the project’s musical director (Neil Innes from the Bonzo Dog Doo-dah Band) had already written and produced a few songs in a mock-Beatles vein both with The Bonzos and The Grimms. [read more...]

Spinal Tap
Rock music is often funny; rarely is it intentionally so. The 1984 film This is Spinal Tap was a faux documentary (“rockumentary” or “mockumentary”) that followed the exploits of fictional British heavy metal band Spinal Tap (“one of Britain’s loudest bands”). Like The Monkees before them, Spinal Tap went from being a fictional group to a real one; unlike The Monkees, Spinal Tap never had ambitions to be taken seriously. Turning every rock cliché on its head for laughs, Spinal Tap (the band and the movie) may be the most fully-realized parody in all of popular culture. [read more...]

The Tubes
The Tubes successfully combined rock, theatre and satire. Their biting combination of offbeat subject matter, complex yet muscular arrangements, and provocative presentation pushed the boundaries of rock like few before or since. Most modern visually-oriented acts owe a debt—knowingly or not—to the Tubes. [read more...]

The list of acts I was planning to cover for Amoeba (but didn’t) was long, and included Syd Barrett, Boston, Brinsley Schwarz, Junior Brown, Cheap Trick, Cream, Creedence Clearwater Revival, Neil Finn, Fleetwood Mac, Flo & Eddie, Fountains of Wayne, Robert Fripp, Gentle Giant, David Gilmour, Jefferson Airplane, Jefferson Starship, Jellyfish, John Lennon, Nick Lowe, Nazz, Porcupine Tree, Procol Harum, Raspberries, Redd Kross, The Replacements, Rockpile, Todd Rundgren, Soft Boys, Ringo Starr, Pete Townshend, Traffic, The Turtles, Utopia, Steve Ray Vaughan, Roger Waters, The Who, Brian Wilson, Johnny Winter, and Roy Wood. As you might note from the links embedded in that last sentence, I’ve since written about many of them – and even interviewed several – on this site.

As of this writing, my completed-and-submitted biography of Moby Grape remains unavailable. Far be it from me to suggest that the (allegedly, I say) dastardly Matthew Katz has anything to do with its omission. I’m sure he’s a lovely man. Really. Honestly. Everyone says so.

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McQueen’s Pop Culture Mix of Music, Comedy and Multimedia

Friday, June 5th, 2015

“Is it comedy?” asks McQueen rhetorically. “Is it music? Is it the weird hybrid cousin of both who is 32 and still sits at the kids’ table during holidays?” The answer to all of those questions is most likely yes. Live dates in cities across the eastern USA in May and June will give audiences the opportunity to decide for themselves (McQueen played Asheville NC on May 21).

Performances by McQueen (Adams) draw deeply on today’s pop culture, and as a result, his humor resonates best with those who have at least a working knowledge of what’s currently popular; put another way, he probably wouldn’t play well in front of an Amish crowd in Lancaster PA. “When I was in the UK workshopping the show I had some ups and downs the first week,” he admits, with a hint of frustration. “Who doesn’t know who Conan O’Brien is? So you run into things going over someone’s head.” But such incidents are the exception, not the rule. “With the constant information we have access to,” McQueen says, “audiences are well-versed” in the pop culture references at the core of his show.

That show incorporates projected visuals, live music performance, and vocal impressions. In both concept and execution, a McQueen performance is consistent with the ethos of sampling. He takes content from a variety of disparate sources, and reprocesses them through his own sensibility, creating something new and unique yet oddly familiar in the process. McQueen describes what he does as combining “parts of movies, songs, and moments [into] a soundtrack for scenarios that didn’t exist and giving them life. He explains, “This show is a culmination of finding a balance of my love of music and my offbeat humor.” And the friends with whom he collaborates in developing the material are “musicians, not comics,” he points out.

Even though it’s more or less a solo performance (“I have a lot of interaction with the fox,” says McQueen cryptically), the show is interactive, involving the audience. “Trial and error is this show’s best friend,” he admits. “Technology is a testy bitch; sometimes you are going to have mishaps, and sometimes it’s spotless.” Further, he notes that the audience is transfixed on the screen, “so I can definitely hide out during the show” if needed. The show’s elements of the unknown are an asset, not a liability. “I think the ability to improvise and move on the fly is what makes this show what it is,” he says.

The limited amount of traditional storyboarding and choreography means that there is plenty of space in a McQueen show for spontaneity. “It’s a constant evolution,” he says. “It’s a lot like songwriting. I work on a piece and I always want to add to it.” He admits that while parts of the show are loosely scripted, it’s “also is heavy on improvisation.” He laughs, “Like a guitar solo that goes ten minutes too long.”

For those who still wonder what a McQueen show is like – it’s definitely not traditional brick wall and bar stool stand-up, and it’s not exactly a concert – he offers a pop culture point of reference. “It’s been compared to watching Adult Swim Live.” He says that reviews of his shows in England sometimes likened him to The Mighty Boosh, “but I think that was out of how different the show is.” McQueen has an ace in the hole for making sure that his audiences don’t get too lost among the media culture references. “That’s why I have a cat in my show: everyone knows what a cat is.”

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Hundred Word Reviews for May 2015, Part 10

Friday, May 15th, 2015

Over the last nine business days, I’ve surveyed 45 albums of new, reissued, and/or archival music from a wide array of artists in jazz, prog, soul, rock and other genres. Each review has been exactly 100 words. Today I wrap up that series of capsule reviews with a quick look at five video releases.

Jack Bruce – The 50th Birthday Concerts
Though it’s long been in the archives of German television program Rockpalast, this set was presumably rush-released in the wake of Bruce‘s October 2014 death. A wildly varied set in terms of musical styles, this 2DVD document of 1993 concerts shows off the amazing versatility of the vocalist/bassist. Opening with a solo (acoustic) bass reading of J.S. Bach’s “Minuet No. 1,” switches to piano (with vocal) and then brings on supporting musicians (including multi-instrumentalist Gary Husband and Bruce’s sparring partner, drummer Ginger Baker.) All involved are in fine form as they tear through Bruce solo material and several Cream favorites.

Queen – Live at the Rainbow ’74
On the strength – or rather the lack thereof – of their 1979 double LP Live Killers, I decided that Queen were pretty dreadful live. Not Rolling Stones dreadful, but simply unable to draw upon the balance of refinement and energy that made their studio albums so rewarding. This set from a few years earlier (in other words, at the height of their powers) has set me right. Live sound reinforcement in the mid 1970s was primitive by today’s standards, but you’d never know it from this performance and recording. If anything, these versions are better than their studio counterparts.

Yes – 35th Anniversary Concert: Songs From Tsongas
Even a semi-hardcore Yes fan has to admit that they milk their repertoire pretty thoroughly. As Jon Anderson admits toward the end of this set, “We seem to get together so many times over the years.” This 2004 performance in Massachusetts was part of the Magnification tour, and featured the more-or-less classic lineup (Anderson, Rick Wakeman, Steve Howe, Alan White and Chris Squire) halfway through the final period they’d all make music together. A bit mannered – as are all Yes shows – it shows the five in full possession of their sharp musical faculties. An excellent show on Blu-Ray.

The Rutles – Anthology
Long before The Beatles got around to making their Anthology, some of the guys from Monty Python made a Beatles history (a “mockumentary” that predated This is Spinal Tap), All You Need is Cash. (They had help from one Hari Georgeson, as well.) It’s now legendary as one of NBC-TV’s lowest-rated specials ever broadcast (I saw it). This new Blu-Ray reissue greatly improves the audiovisual quality over earlier versions, and adds relevant bonus material (some earlier, some much later) to create an Anthology of their own. The packaging art alone is wickedly clever, as are the bits on the disc.

Various – A MusiCares Tribute to Paul McCartney
In 2012, the nonprofit organization MusiCares honored Paul McCartney as their Person of the Year. The gala event included a superstar lineup of artists paying tribute to Sir Macca. And while rock fans might be disappointed in the soft lineup (only Duane Eddy, Dave Grohl, Neil Young and Joe Walsh can be called rockers), the performances are nuanced and often quite good. Alison Krauss & Union Station win the night as they capture the beauty of “No More Loney Nights,” a highlight of the hour-long Blu-Ray. Neil Young & Crazy Horse, however, are in wobbly, old guy garage band mode.

See you next week as we return to one-a-day full-length reviews, features and interviews.

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Musical Parody Gets Into a “Grey” Area: 50 Shades! The Musical Parody

Thursday, February 12th, 2015

Ever since its 2011 printing, E.L. James‘ erotic romance novel 50 Shades of Grey has been an inescapable presence in pop culture. Though as literature – five hundred pages of dominance, submission, bondage, discipline, sadism and masochism stitched together with little character development – James’ “mommy porn” leaves much to be desired, there’s no doubting the novel’s success. A film adaptation hits theaters just in time for Valentine’s Day 2015, and the two followup novels have enjoyed similar success in the marketplace (along with inevitable widespread critical drubbing). An endless stream of tie-in (ouch) marketing has resulted in a variety of adult-oriented products bearing the 50 Shades brand.

Anything that achieves that level of success is a rich target for parody. And where E.L. James’ book is concerned, the most spot-on skewering of 50 Shades the book – and 50 Shades the marketing juggernaut – is the stage show, 50 Shades! The Musical Parody. A team of writers and choreographers with backgrounds in The Second City and Baby Wants Candy comedy troupes devised the musical as equal parts send-up and tribute. “There was a news story about the book every night, it seemed,” says Emily Dorezas, one of the parody musical’s producer/director/writers. “And then once we realized just how dirty it was, we thought that the juxtaposition of making it a musical felt like the right thing to do.”

Many reviewers have pointed out that while author James vividly describes BDSM and other activities, she betrays a paucity of imagination concerning such matters as word choice. There’s even a drinking game in which participants read aloud from 50 Shades of Grey, pausing to knock back a shot every time Christian Grey “cocks his head” or “steeples his fingers.” Dorezas is diplomatic on the book’s literary merits, and chooses her words with care. “It’s…not really plot-driven,” she allows. With that in mind, the parody’s writers devised a plot of their own. “The book club ladies are a kind of framing device,” Dorezas says. “And one of them goes through a change after reading the book. We wanted to show some growth in the characters, because if we were just making sex jokes, that would get old in about five minutes.”

Fans of sex jokes need not fear, however: 50 Shades! The Musical Parody is stuffed with innumerable laugh lines. An offstage announcer welcomes ladies, and then – after a pregnant pause – adds, almost as an afterthought, “…and gentlemen.” “I think we do a good job of getting across that this is a super-dirty show. Nobody ever brings kids,” Dorezas observes. “Now, husbands and boyfriends…that’s a different story. They’ve heard about the book, but sometimes they don’t quite know what it’s about. But a lot of men take the time to contact us after the show. I always quote the guy who wrote, ‘The party hasn’t stopped since we got home. And that was four days ago!’ We hear more from husbands than from wives.”

For those who haven’t read the book but are curious about the parody musical, Dorezas likens its sensibility to the approach South Park creators Matt Stone and Trey Parker employed with their smash stage hit The Book of Mormon. But Dorezas notes that the book upon which that show is based “has been around a long time, and it’s not as silly” as 50 Shades.

Emily Dorezas’ take on E.L. James’ first book differs from the critical consensus in a fascinating, perhaps unexpected, way. James “did self-publish the book,” Dorezas points out. “Sometimes people challenge it from a feminist point of view, because it’s about a woman in a submissive position. But one of the best depictions of feminism I can think of is E.L. James’ approach: ‘Oh, you don’t like it? I don’t care; I’ll publish it myself! I don’t care if you think it’s trash; I believe in it.’ And obviously she’s gotten the last laugh.”

Whether or not James has gotten laughs from this unauthorized parody is unknown. “I know she knows about it, but she hasn’t seen it,” Dorezas says. “But from everything I’ve heard, she has a great sense of humor. I think she’d have a great time at our show.”

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Album Review: Black & Blue – The Laff Records Collection

Thursday, January 15th, 2015

A new 4CD collection of vintage comedy records, Black & Blue: The Laff Records Collection exemplifies the abbreviation NSFW (“Not Safe for Work”). The low-budget stand-up comedy records (usually but not always recorded in front of raucously appreciative audiences) released on the independent Laff Records label in the 1970s were a sensation in African American communities across the USA. But to buy these records, you had to know whom to ask: titles like Eatin’ Ain’t Cheatin’ by Wildman Steve simply couldn’t be put on prominent display in a record store.

The story of Laff Records is a sort of underground, sub- or counter-cultural history. The labels’ so-called “party records” were put together using the smallest of budgets – the cover art is often amateurish, and the recording techniques won’t win any audio awards – but then those measures completely miss the point. These extraordinarily “dirty” records featured the likes of Redd Foxx and Lawanda Page, both giants in the black standup comedy world. The public at large knew Foxx as Fred Sanford on the hit TV sitcom Sanford & Son; they knew Page, too, as Aunt Esther, the uptight sister-in-law of the main character. But TV viewers would be shocked (shocked, I say) to hear Page on record, on her Pipe Layin’ Dan LP. There she runs through routines with titles like “Bustin’ Cherries” and “Douche Powder.” Needless to say, as with most Laff Records titles, Page’s LPs were not for the easily offended.

But there’s an undeniable (dare I say) charm to be found in routines like Jimmy Lynch‘s “Tricky Dick & Pussy,” Dap Sugar Willie‘s “Duck You,” and Mantan Moreland‘s immor(t)al classic, “That Ain’t My Finger.” And while this caucasian writer can merely hazard a guess here, one suspects that there was a certain degree of liberation at work, an I’ll-say-anything-I-want mindset that was, in its own way, empowering to both the comics and their (almost wholly black) listening audience.

To this day, original Laff Records are fairly difficult to come by; seemingly they’ve all been melted in conservative church bonfires, or (more likely) they’re hidden away in the collection of now-aging African Americans (note to self: hit some nearby intown garage sales this coming spring). Ten or so representative titles from the Laff catalog are now collected on this new 4CD set. Robert Townsend‘s brief essay helps modern listeners understand the debt that today’s black comics owe to these underground party records. And a richly detailed booklet provides biographical and contextual information about the performers and their recordings. There’s no Richard Pryor material here (though Laff released several Pryor discs, the man’s relationship with the label was contentious), but the lesser-known names make their raunchy mark nearly as well. With Black & Blue: The Laff Records Collection, Rock Beat Records are once again to be commended for their edgy (if limited-appeal) approach to compilations and reissues.

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Hundred-word Reviews: Deluxe Packages

Friday, March 7th, 2014

Each of these is a multi-disc set collecting archival (and sometimes previously-unreleased) music, but other than that, there’s little to connect these releases in any stylistic fashion: Celtic soul, proto-funk/pop, hard rock, comedy spoken word, and psychedelic post-punk. All have been sitting on my desk awaiting review for far too long. So, here ya go.

Van Morrison – Moondance (Expanded Edition)
Moondance was released in 1970, and several tracks – “Crazy Love,” “Caravan,” “Into the Mystic” and the title track ( a de rigueur dance-band number) – have since assumed “standard” status. And that kind of over-saturation can result in people forgetting just how good the album really was/is (see also: Led Zeppelin’s fourth LP). A new 2CD set appends eleven outtakes – all previously unissued – to the album. The outtakes add to the listener’s understanding of the album as an organic whole, and there’s even a 4CD version (with more unreleased goodies) available as well.


Various – Purple Snow: Forecasting the Minneapolis Sound
The Diminutive Purple One didn’t spring forth fully formed; the Minneapolis scene had long been a breeding ground for all kinds of r&b talent. And while most never broke out in any major way (Morris Day being a notable exception), they left behind a cache of music. Those crate-digging folks at Numero Group have unearthed the best of these and compiled them in three formats (2CD w/book, 4CD w/book, MP3). It’s really more of a book with a soundtrack than the reverse; at 144pp, one can delve deeply into the history of African-American modern r&b out of the Twin Cities.


Deep Purple – Now What!? (Gold Edition)
You can be forgiven for initially looking upon this release with skepticism. After all, Deep Purple’s high water mark came in the very early 1970s. Like so many hard rock bands of their ilk, they floundered creatively (and commercially) in the 1980s and beyond, releasing little of note and becoming somewhat faceless. So it’s some great surprise to learn that the group (comprised mostly of prime-era members) has roared back with their best album in decades. Now What!? sounds and feels like the Deep Purple of old, and a bonus disc of live tapes show that it’s not sessioner trickery.


The First Family – 50th Anniversary Edition
The early 1960s was a golden era for the comedy LP; releases from Bob Newhart, Allan Sherman and others enjoyed success in the marketplace. While those vintage LPs make for quite the dated, quaint listen today, they’re fun nonetheless. The First Family capitalized on craze for all things Camelot, when the public couldn’t get enough of the Kennedy clan. A followup album (cut five months later) got much less notice, and when JFK was killed in November of that year, most people quietly shelved the first LP. Both are gathered together with some bonus material for this 2CD anniversary set.


Red Temple Spirits – s/t
This package has an extremely high “boutique” quotient; how else to describe a set that places CDs in what look like embossed, wax-paper sleeves, encased in a gold-toned envelope? This is one set that won’t fit on your CD shelf, nor will it stand alone like some box set. And the music – post-punk from the late 1980s – isn’t the sort of pretty, filigreed stuff you’d expect to get this kind of treatment. It will appeal to fans of Public Image Limited; though RTS was California-based, vocalist William Faircloth added a veddy British vibe to the goth-rock proceedings.

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DVD Review: Happening ’68 Vols. 1-3 (Part Two)

Tuesday, February 18th, 2014

Continued from Part One

The aforementioned Aretha Franklin segment is of particular interest, as it shows the off-the-cuff nature of the program. As Lindsay is discussing the soul singer’s career with guest Jackie DeShannon, they note that Aretha was “on Columbia” (also Paul Revere and the Raiders‘ label) for five years, but “didn’t go anywhere.” The clear implication is that Columbia didn’t serve Franklin’s career well. An entire episode (aired March 15, 1969) is devoted to Wilson Pickett, who – unlike most musical guests – appears with his entire band. Pickett tears things up – even though he’s miming like everyone else (though some reports suggest the performance was live; you decide) — and gives a fun if brief interview.

A charming regular feature on Happening was the garage band contest. Local groups from around the country would mime to some or other cover version, and celebrity judges would pick the best. The list of prizes will boggle the minds of modern audiences (a Pontiac Firebird?! $2500 in Vox musical equipment?!) but the truly amazing part of all this is the tunes covered. One might hear a vocal version of Cannonball Adderley‘s 1966 hit “Mercy, Mercy, Mercy,” Spirit‘s “Got a Line on You,” a cover of Johnnie Taylor‘s “Who’s Makin’ Love,” and other left-field-for-daytime-TV tunes. Often the judges’ decisions are suspect, but it’s a hoot seeing these often pimply teenagers make their bids for the big time (grand prize included a “recording contract” with either ABC or A&M, but history does not record any great success visited upon whichever band won on Happening).

By 1968 an industry veteran, Mark Lindsay seems quite comfortable and natural in front of the camera. Lindsay comes off pretty well throughout, ad-libbing his way through brief, light interview segments with such stars of the days as Ross Martin (who surprises everyone by telling Lindsay that his show Wild Wild West is simultaneously “in great shape” and cancelled), Jay North (former Dennis the Menace, then star of the TV show Maya, with co-star – and Raider — Keith Allison), James Doohan (Star Trek‘s “Scotty”), Mission: Impossible‘s Greg Morris, and many others.

A “Happening News” segment featuring Teen magazine editor Sue Cameron offers up Hollywood gossip and so forth, presumably priming the teen audience for the adult versions to come in subsequent era in the form of Entertainment Tonight, Access Hollywood and similar shows.

Paul Revere plays the irreverent fool throughout, mugging and offering up endearing slapstick. He often calls Lindsay “Bobo” (huh?) and “my pony-tailed nitwit” and engages in endless in-jokery. Happening seemingly went to production with the barest of scripts, instead preferring to riff on the undeniable chemistry between Revere, Lindsay and their guests.

A nice bonus on many of these episodes is the inclusion of the original commercials. These show – should there remain any doubt – that the program was aimed squarely at teenage girls. But some of the ABC-TV commercials promoting other programs such as The Mod Squad (“Cops: one black, one white, one blonde”) and The FBI are a time-capsule scream.

These DVDs are highly recommended, but be warned that since these transfers are sourced from various private collector caches, the video quality varies episode to episode. These are pretty rare; when I discussed Happening with Lindsay, he admitted that he had only a couple of the episodes in his own collection. (I dubbed copies of some that I had, including a few poorer-quality transfers not found here.) Until DCP sees fit to release legitimate archival copies (assuming they even exist), these DVDs from [redacted] are your only option.

UPDATE: Available HERE. Aha…I am told that it’s no longer available. Okay, now (August 2015) it’s available again.

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DVD Review: Happening ’68 Vols. 1-3 (Part One)

Monday, February 17th, 2014

Though it’s often forgotten today, in the mid 1960s, Paul Revere and the Raiders were just about the most prominent rock’n'roll band in popular culture. Sure, The Beatles had their records all over the charts, and had films like A Hard Day’s Night and Help! And yes, The Monkees had their own weekly television show. But Pacific Northwest-relocated-to-L.A. legends Paul Revere and the Raiders got more screen exposure than The Beatles and The Monkees put together, thanks to their TV show Where the Action Is, televised Every. Single. Weekday. Just after school, Monday through Friday on ABC-TV, the Raiders served as the “house band” for this Dick Clark production. Featuring mimed performances from all manner of musical guests, plus goofy, vaudeville-styled skits, the show was a fixture of teenage viewers’ TV diet.

The show ran its course after a few seasons, but thanks to Raiders manager Roger Hart‘s idea about a vehicle for lead singer Mark Lindsay and bandleader Paul Revereone that, as he put it, took a look at what was happening on the pop scene – the duo scored their own variety show. A pair of shows, actually: Happening ’68 (shortened to Happening for its 1969 following season) was broadcast weekly, and a summer show called It’s Happening was televised daily throughout the summer of 1968.

None of these programs has ever gotten official/sanctioned release on any format; though a stunning-quality copy of the Where the Action Is pilot circulates among collectors, and scattered episodes of WTAI, Happening ’68/Happening and It’s Happening have been preserved in varying quality by fans, Dick Clark Productions has never seen fit to preserve – much less release – these exemplars of 60s mainstream pop culture. As Mark Lindsay told me in a 2010 interview, apparently Clark viewed WTAI in particular as a “red-headed stepchild” and had no interest in it once the show ended its run.

But thanks to those previously-mentioned collectors – and one specific intrepid collector – twelve episodes of Happening ’68/Happening are available on (unauthorized) DVD. Those twelve episodes – spread across three discs – build on the format of Where the Action Is, but put Revere and Lindsay out front as hosts.

The earlier episodes lean more on the duo kitsching around onstage in front of a studio audience; modern-day viewers will likely find those awful-pun-filled bits either charming or dreadful (or somewhere in between). There’s an innocent charm about them, which is not exactly the quality one might expect from pop culture product of 1968. (This was aimed at kids, however.) And the Raiders (with a band name shortened to nudge their hip-quotient back up) only occasionally appeared, miming to their latest single. And in general, said Raiders – especially short-timer bassist Charlie Coe – seemed to pretty well phone it in, barely making an effort at the choreography that had long been a group trademark.

Still, even semi-live-action clips of the Raiders performing “Let Me,” “Cinderella Sunshine” and other late-period singles is always a treat. And in one episode (originally aired May 25, 1968) the band tackles “Free,” a non-single, deep album cut from the band’s Something’s Happening LP. In that same episode – featuring the inimitable Lee Hazlewood doing his “Rainbow Woman” – the Raiders turn in a Spanish-language version of “Mo’reen.” To date, that track hasn’t surfaced on any of the Paul Revere and the Raiders CD reissues.

Other episodes – in mostly good quality black-and-white – feature an assortment of musical guests, ranging from Etta James, Aretha Franklin (on tape), Peter Lawford(!) doing a cheesy MOR tune, and more pop/rock acts that would appeal to most viewers. That last category includes Tommy Roe, The Grass Roots, The Cowsills, Tommy Boyce and Bobby Hart (in a youth voting-themed episode) and any others of note. The Friends of Distinction make their national television debut performing “Grazing in the Grass,” and a Peter Tork-less Monkees trio guests, taking part in an interview segment with Revere and Lindsay that ranks as the most revealing and intimate part of the entire series.

Available HERE. Aha…I am told that it’s no longer available. Okay, now (August 2015) it’s available again.

The review is continued here…

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‘Tis the Season…

Friday, November 29th, 2013

Okay, not everyone likes Christmas. Some are turned off by the commercial character of a day that is supposedly to commemorate the central figure of Christianity (a child who – most Biblical scholars agree – was born in the spring, by the way). Others dislike it for the music.

I don’t subscribe to either of those viewpoints: I like Christmas. A lot. It’s not my favorite holiday; that would be Halloween (for the costumes) or Thanksgiving (for the fellowship and food). But I do enjoy the secular focus upon taking time to share gifts with loved ones. Most years, I even set up that most pagan of Christmas symbols, my fiber-optic lit artificial Christmas tree, festooned with construction paper-and macaroni ornaments my now-adult kids made when they were tots.

And I like the music. Yes, really. I know that certain songs are overplayed, and people get sick of them by the Sunday after Thanksgiving (if not sooner). And I am no fan of Band Aid‘s “Do they Know it’s Christmas” nor Wham‘s treacly “Last Christmas.” And though I am a lifelong Paul McCartney acolyte, I too think “Wonderful Christmastime” is a stinker.

My favorites, though, include Roy Wood‘s perennial UK favorite, “I Wish it Could Be Christmas Everyday,” John and Yoko‘s “Happy Xmas (War is Over),” and the still officially unreleased full version of The Beatles‘ (admittedly repetitive) “Christmas Time is Here Again.” And there’s a special place in my heart for the instrumental genius of Dave Amels (Reigning Sound) and The SmithereensDennis Diken (and friends) as found on Husky Team‘s delightful Christmas in Memphis. Find that one if you possibly can; it’s a gem, and fun in any season).

I mention all this not to fill space but to give you the context for the point of view I bring to the capsule reviews of this baker’s half-dozen of holiday season offerings. In short, I enjoy Christmas music as a style enough to appreciate the fine examples of it. But that doesn’t mean that I’ll still be playing any of it come Boxing Day; at that point it all (with the exception of Husky Team) goes back on the shelf until next year. But in the meantime…

David Ian – Vintage Christmas Wonderland
If you like your holiday music in a classic vibe – think Frank Sinatra, Julie London and Mel Torme rather than Mitch Miller – then you’ll find plenty to like on this five-song EP. Ian on subtle, jazzy piano is joined by an upright bassist and drummer (mostly on brushes) for this low-key affair that also features tasteful string work and (on three cuts) an assortment of smooth male and female vocalists. Ian goes for a Vince Guaraldi vibe (also see below) on an instrumental reading of “O Little Town of Bethlehem” in this all-standards offering. Brief but fun.

John Fahey – Christmas Soli
What little I knew about Fahey suggested that his music would be a stiff affair. And maybe a bit pretentious: “Soli?” In my neighborhood we call ‘em solos. But this set – compiled from among the readings of public-domain Christmas songs found on four Fahey albums – is filled with heartfelt yet precise fingerstyle acoustic guitar work. A couple of the songs are not strictly solo pieces (er, soli) as they feature guitarist Terry Robb alongside Fahey. But for those who enjoy this style of music, this is a fine collection of traditional holiday songs within a folk instrumental idiom.

Various – Mad Men Christmas
Conceptually, this one’s a bit of a head-scratcher. The album’s subtitle – “Music From and Inspired By the Hit TV Series on AMC” (emphasis mine) – gives the compilers some breathing room, insofar as a a few of the twelve tracks are contemporary tunes. Those are by the likes of Jessica Paré (the totally-not about-the-holidays instrumental “Zou Bisou Bisou,” which sounds more like Pizzicato Five than anything else) and Nellie McKay‘s more thematically relevant “Christmas Waltz.” But ringers from Tony Bennett and Rosemary Clooney go some distance toward conjuring that pre-Beatles 60s vibe. Available exclusively at Target.

Vince Guaraldi – A Charlie Brown Christmas
In 2012, Concord re-re-released this album with unreleased tracks; this favorite contains the jazz songs that people who don’t like jazz, like. Disliking this will earn you the title “Scrooge,” as it’s delightful and – at least for members of a certain generation – evocative of pleasant childhood memories gathered ’round the TV set. The Library of Congress calls it a “culturally, historically, or aesthetically important” sound recording. Now in 2013, Concord has yet again reissued this set, this time making the digipak into a clever die-cut piece than can be manipulated into the three-dimensional shape of Snoopy’s doghouse.

Ernie Kovacs – Presents a Percy Dovetonsils Chrithmath
Televisionary Ernie Kovacs created a simpering character called Percy Dovetonsils, unknowingly presaging the public personae of Charles Nelson Reilly and Paul Lynde by more than a decade (though Kovacs’ character was more erudite and subtle). This limited-edition 10″ vinyl picture disc is a swell companion to the pink vinyl album from 2012. True, the humor is dated, but get past that and this is a hoot. One track from the …thpeaks album plus five unreleased poetry vignettes from the Kovacs Unlimited TV show make up this set. The jokes run right through the printed track lithting and liner noteth. Thilly.

Various – Psych-Out Christmas
Where Cleopatra Records are concerned, Santa’s gift sack is best described as a grab bag. How else to characterize this mishmash of covers and new material from the past and present? Hot modern psych band Elephant Stone are on hand with a dodgy cover of The Beatles‘ “Christmas Time is Here Again.” The Fuzztones rewrite “Farmer John” as “Santa Claus.” Iggy Pop ruins “White Christmas.” Other current acts turn in psych-inflected readings of holiday classics, but what, pray tell, does The Zombies classic “Time of the Season” have to do with this season? Perhaps Sons of Hippies know. Still, fun.

Special mention:
The Waitresses –
Just Desserts: The Complete Waitresses
Not a Christmas album at all, this new 2CD collection from Omnivore Recordings does include the group’s “Christmas Wrapping,” originally from their 1982 EP I Could Rule the World If I Could Only Get the Parts. Patty Donahue‘s sing-song delivery was and remains an acquired taste (one to which I have found myself largely immune) but the arty arrangements are outstanding, in a distaff Roxy Music sort of way. Art rock and white-boy reggae are filtered through a new wave sensibility. And “Christmas Wrapping” injects the holiday season with a much-needed bit of levity and irreverence, 80s style.

Happy Holidays. And there ain’t no “war on Christmas,” despite what the FOX propagandists might have their mindless followers believe.

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Album Review: 50 Shades! The Musical: Original Cast Recording

Friday, October 18th, 2013

I’ve recounted the story before of how I came to actually enjoy a musical. To recap quickly, I love rock music; show tunes, not so much. And having read the first 30-40 pages of 50 Shades of Grey, I found it to be the most amateurishly written piece of junk I’d ever read (and I was an editor of a music mag with college students on staff, so trust me). But when 50 Shades! The Musical came around, I had to go see it, as the subject was simply ripe for parody.

And they nailed it. The evening spent at the Bijou Theatre in Knoxville TN was a side-splitting way to spend a few hours. Laughs aplenty; the writers crafted a show with just the right tone: making fun of the book, but acknowledging its place – however tenuous – in popular culture. The sold-out audience couldn’t stop laughing.

And therein lay a small problem. The lyrics of the songs were filled to the brim with jokes and double entendres. So clever were these sung parts that the audience often found ourselves in a laugh uproar that prevented us from hearing what came next. By the end of the show, yes, we had laughed and laughed, but we had missed half of the material.

Seeing the show again wasn’t a practical option; the players quickly moved on to other cities. So when I discovered that 50 Shades! The Musical: Original Cast Recording would be released, I was keen to give it a spin.

It delivered more than I could have ever hoped. Just as I suspected, quite a lot of great material was drowned out by our peals of laughter.. But now with this twelve-track disc, audiences can catch what they missed. Definitely not safe for work, this album presents all of the musical numbers from the stage production. But one needn’t have seen the show (nor read the book, thank goodness) to enjoy it. All one needs is a good sound system, and a filthy (or at least open) mind.

I’ve decided that writing songs for a musical is a tricky business: there seems to be a definite stylistic format that must be followed. Unlike rock’n'roll, the vocal lines must be way out front, and the singers must enunciate clearly (no Bob Dylan-style vocalists need apply, thank you). And the song’s dynamics must be shoehorned into that style, too. The five-person team who wrote the songs clearly knows what they’re doing. On tunes like the soaring ballad “”There’s a Hole Inside of Me,” the female “Anastasia” lead (Amber Petty) delivers the ridiculous lyrics in a faux-sincere manner that strikes just the right tone. She emotes the lyrics that play with the listeners’ preconceptions. For example, when she sings, “How I’ve been waiting here on the block / I’ve had so much time to just take stock / He’ll have the key to open up my lock / And show me his huge throbbing…” Well, you can guess what comes next. Right? Wrong: it’s “confidence.” Elsewhere rhyming couplets include moister/oyster and other pearls.

“Could This Be the One” is a duet between Petty and improbable male lead Chris Grace. It moves the story (such as it is) along in hilarious fashion, and features one of the soundtrack’s few instrumental interludes. The tango-flavored “Mi Amor” makes less sense if one doesn’t know the story, but Nick Semar‘s fake-Latino accent is not to be missed, and once again the lyrics are a scream.

The entire ensemble is on hand for “Follow Him.” Not a Godspell number, it nonetheless has a gospel-ish flavor in arrangement (if decidedly not in lyrical subject matter). Grace’s spotlight number, “I Don’t Make Love” is at once the best and (for some of tender sensibilities) most delightfully offensive number on the soundtrack. The song sports an ersatz funky vibe, kind of a Below Average White Band feel, but that approach is clearly intentional.

“Red Room” is a melodramatic number that moves through several different musical styles; on one hand it’s the most traditionally “musical theatre” number, but lyrics about hot wax, bondage and “titty twisting” make it, well, a little outside. But funny; very, very funny. When the chorus double-times the litany of devices and practices, it’s just plain nutty.

“Any Other Couple” is another duet, one in which the two leads insist that they’re mundane and normal. Don’t believe it. As Grace sings, “We’re just like any other couple / Like anyone you’ve ever met / We get take-out at McDonald’s / And go home in my private jet.”

The title track is a showcase for the ladies’ reading club, as is the opener “Open Your Book.” The tune pokes fun at the demographic who actually read EL James‘ dreadful softcore softcover. The whole gang joins in for the obligatory big number and big finish, “How Much Can I Take” and a reprise of “There’s a Hole Inside of Me.”

Even if musical comedy isn’t your thing, check out 50 Shades! The Musical: Original Cast Recording. Or give it to someone you love. It’s a better, classier gift than feather handcuffs.

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