Friday, August 28, 2009

Uncle Floyd interview episode up now on YouTube

I've been asked to make entire episodes of the show available online, but haven't as of yet for a number of reasons, including time, bandwidth, and arbitrary enforcement of copyright claims and "adult" content on sites like YouTube. In any case, I decided that the Rudy Ray Moore episode shouldn't be alone up there, so I've now put up the entirety (minus my opening intro) of the Uncle Floyd Show cast interview that took place in the dressing room of the very-much-missed Bottom Line in Manhattan way back in 1997. I loved hanging out with these gents back then, and am very happy to say that Floyd Vivino, Artie Delmar, and Michael T. Wright are still in the game today, entertaining folks in various ways around the NJ/NY area (and beyond!). Mugsy died in 2005, but is well remembered by fans of the Floyd show for his great musical parodies, cartoons, and generally bugging Floyd from off-camera (see the Hour Magazine segment contained in this episode). This is an episode I enjoy revisiting, so I'm glad to share it with folks beyond NYC via this thing called the Net.

Part one is here:

Part two is here:

Part three is here:

Not feeling their Fab-best: the Beatles meet Peter Sellers

And on the trail of celebs visiting other celebs in their place of business, here we have Peter Sellers visiting the Beatles during the recording of their album “Get Back" which, of course, wound up being Let It Be. It’s not an unfriendly meeting, but it’s not exactly chummy. John cracks wise about drugs as Sellers is leaving (which is where the damned clips begins). Then there’s an amazing bit of John looking comatose. This is not the happy Dr.-Winston-O’Boogie-meets-Merkin-Muffley clip you thought it was gonna be:

Since that was such a sort of a downer, here are the Beatles and Sellers in happier times, as he presents them with a music award:

And maybe this one for good measure:

And, finally, because I never tire of this movie, but had never, ever seen the original trailer with Peter and Ringo contributing verbal nonsense:

These posters deserve my thanks, as does friend and Funhouse webmaster Arnold for pointing me to the “Get Back” encounter.

David Bowie visits Warhol's factory and starts to mime...

I shall have it known that I am not a mime hater. But there is a time and place for the art of pantomimickry, and I’m not sure it’s when you’re a hot young British rock star visiting Warhol’s Factory. Nevertheless… here is a mind-warpingly ridiculous slice ’o history, as we see young David Bowie visit the man whom he immortalized on “Hunky Dory.” As captured by somebody’s camera, David goes into a mime routine (yes, he does the invisible wall thing), and then just sorta hangs out while Angie yells stuff at someone in the background. This is extremely rare and I’m glad I’ve now seen it and preserved. Is it good? Well, that one’s up to you….

Thanks of course to the intrepid poster and to good friend Sara for pointing me to this one. (There’s a more innocuous part two, by the way — no more mime, though….)

A “wrecker” goes away: Deceased Artiste Larry Knechtel

Keyboard player, guitarist, bassist, and arranger Larry Knechtel died this week at 69. He most recently worked with the Dixie Chicks, Neil Diamond, and Elvis Costello, but had accumulated an incredible body of work as a session musician. One of his first professional stints was as a member of the Rebels backing Duane Eddy (quite a nice beginning in rock ’n’ roll). Among his many, many accomplishments are being a member of the Seventies uber-pop group Bread and being the unseen bassist for the Doors (on their studio recordings — yeah, they neeed one from time to time).

Knechtel was a part of the incredible group of studio musicians dubbed the “Wrecking Crew” by drummer Hal Blaine, the performers who played on not just dozens but hundreds of pop hits during the Sixties — pretty much everything recorded on the West Coast that wasn’t done by a self-contained band like the Jefferson Airplane. Thus, Knechtel was part of the ensemble that backed Nat “King” Cole and Sinatra as well as the Beach Boys, the Mamas and Papas, the Fifth Dimension, and yes, the Monkees (all those other groups didn’t play their own instruments, so it actually wasn’t a shock at all to insiders that the Monkees didn’t play theirs). The ensemble are thought of primarily in connection with their amazing work with Phil Spector and Brian Wilson. Here’s a trailer for a forthcoming (or did it already go?) docu on the group:

A little round-up of clips presenting songs Wechtel played on that are essential to me, each in their own way. First, an obvious one, “Secret Agent,” Johnny Rivers:

Pop music rarely gets as dramatic as Barry McGuire’s marvelously overbaked “Eve of Destruction”:

“Classical Gas,” Mason Williams (which I deeply love and which makes me fly back to the world of my childhood):

A Monkees song people haven’t heard to distraction (and which has been left on Youtube — Warner Music has pillaged the site; as if it matters, guys, everyone has your music for free, anyway....). From the first LP, “Tomorrow’s Gonna Be Another Day”:

Knechtel played on the perfect “Pet Sounds.” “God Only Knows”:

Flipping forward to the Seventies and an AM staple that I can’t shake out of my head no matter how old I get, Sammy Johns, “Chevy Van”:

And even though he played piano and arranged “Bridge Over Troubled Water” for Simon and Garfunkel, and played bass for the Doors, I think he should be remembered for his fancy playin’ on this ditty if nothing else. A singularly Seventies-sounding record, Bread’s “Guitar Man”:

Friday, August 21, 2009

Hidden in Plain Sight: Godard rarities on Daily Motion

Though nowhere near the insane rabbit-hole that YouTube is, Daily Motion contains many clips that are not on YT: primarily things that have a “wisp” of nudity or have been posted there so they will escape the errant Kopyright Kops who sporadically patrol YT (you pay on DM, however, by having to suppress the ads that pop up at the bottom of the image about once every three minutes). Since Godard is arguably the greatest living cinema master, I went diving to see what Uncle Jean rarities the site has to offer and found the items below.

First, a June 2009 interview with JLG in which he is quite happy to talk about his early exposure to cinema, Contempt, and the film frame, among other topics (no English subs):

Here is an absolutely goofy ad for Godard’s Detective (1985), which I’m willing to bet good money he had nothing to do with (unsubbed, but it’s so ridiculous you’ll figure it out — the trenchcoated guy is saying the dame didn’t want to see this great movie):

Here is a commercial that Godard *did* direct, with tongue-in-cheek while he was in the midst of his “Marxist phase” in 1970:

An early JLG short, Charlotte et Son Jules (1960, but made before Breathless), in which the young lead actor, Jean-Paul Belmondo, is dubbed by Uncle Jean himself (J-P was doing his military service, and Godard assured him that he would use him in his first feature in return for this indulgence):

In 1968, Godard, Chris Marker, and several other filmmakers put together no-budget “Cinetracts,” made on 16mm and meant to be seen as soon as possible in any circumstances whatsoever. This Cinetract, no. 19, looks to be the work of Uncle Chris rather than Uncle Jean. There are no subtitles, but this is a marvelously edited montage of photos of the May ’68 Paris riots, reminiscent of Marker’s La Jetée:

Cinetract no. 23 was definitely made by JLG, as his handwriting is literally all over it. Here is agit-prop filmmaking at its late-twentieth century best:

An exquisite short from 2000, “The Origins of the 21st Century.” The film is a wonderfully poetic survey of the horrors (and occasional beauty) of the twentieth century, that moves backward in time and is punctuated by images from a host of movies including The Shining, Breathless, Los Olvidados, The Silence and The Nutty Professor, and ends with the use of a beautifully appropriate moment from Ophuls’ Le Plaisir. (subtitled en Espanol). This is the height of Godard’s art:

Prière pour le refuznik (2006) is a pair of shorts about the Israeli conscripts who refuse to serve in the Occupied Palestinian territory. The first features a scene from Uncle Jean’s own Les Carabiniers set to a song by Léo Ferré:

The second is an even more beautiful meditation on the theme (called a “mini-oratorio” by one Net source). The final title evokes “Earth versus sky”:

Larger Than Life — but not on your laptop: Leone and Eastwood on YT

In my continuing survey of discoveries of full feature films on YouTube, here’s a gent who’s posted four classic modern Westerns, three starring Clint Eastwood, and one of Sergio Leone’s masterworks. I notice the traffic on this poster’s clips range from 1,000 to 10,000, which is great, because Eastwood’s Westerns are the last link with the great sagebrush sagas of classic Hollywood. (Kevin Costner be damned!)

All of Unforgiven (1992):

For a Few Dollars More (1965) (containing the always-amazing Klaus Kinski as a hunchback):

The Outlaw Josey Wales (1976):

Leone’s epic Once Upon a Time in the West:

The Funhouse interview with Joe Sarno

I’ve uploaded two short clips from my 1997 interview with low-budget softcore filmmaker Joseph W. Sarno, hereinafter referred to exclusively as “Joe,” since he is a very nice gentleman. I talked to Joe at the Chiller Theatre convention, where it was the intention of the Chiller folk to bring him together with both Russ Meyer (who did show up) and Radley Metzger (who came but turned around and left on the first night). I interviewed Meyer (a brief clip is on YT), and had the pleasure of first meeting Joe at the convention.

Joe’s memory was bit a hazy during the interview, but that’s understandable, as I was not only asking him about films that were anywhere from 25 to over 30 years old, but it should be noted that at one point during his most prolific period in the Sixties he was making up to six movies or so a year. Here he talks about his early work, which was bound up with the “swinging” and “swapping” crazes, in particular his Sin in the Suburbs (1964). Many folks have remarked on how Joe’s ultra-low-budget effort seems to prefigure Kubrick’s slightly higher-financed Eyes Wide Shut. Take a look:

I also spoke with Joe about his cult movie Young Playthings(1972), a terrific softcore feature about a couple that encounter a woman who stages erotic "plays" in her apartment:

The film was raved about in The Incredibly Strange Film Book, but has been very hard to obtain in the U.S. since the book was published in the Eighties. One bootleg copy has been circulated far and wide on wavery VHS, and that is the only one that I and most film fans have seen. Here is a clip from it, which I’ve uploaded to Daily Motion, since YouTube has a pathetic problem with the human body (being American-owned and run).

Friday, August 14, 2009

He started it all: Deceased Artiste Les Paul

There’s nothing I can add to the official obits for guitar legend and musical innovator Les Paul, except to point you in the direction of clips featuring his amazing early work with his then-wife Mary Ford. They were stiff as hell as actors on TV, but my god, what music. Let’s start out with one that starts out with Les going full-tilt, “Whispering”:

Overdub heaven: “The World is Waiting for the Sunrise”

One of their biggest hits, a tune that still has it all, “How High the Moon”:

A 78 of the mega-catchy “Tiger Rag”:

And a quiet one to end on, “Vaya Con Dios”:

Filmation jumped the cartoon shark

Filmation was the cartoon studio that produced low-budget-lookin’ product for Saturday mornings, most notably the “Archie”-related shows and the wonderful Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids. One helpful YT poster has given us clips from several of the lesser Filmation shows. Firstly, there’s an item called Uncle Croc’s Block from the 1975-76 Saturday morning TV season which featured Charles Nelson Reilly as a kiddie show host. The concept was that he was supposed to be bad, and the show was supposed to be corny. I think they got those parts right. Here Charles meets one of the great unheralded comics/character actors, Carl Ballantine, as “Sherlock Domes”:

Here’s Phyllis Diller, showing up as a witch:

Filmation snapped up the rights to some hit live-action TV shows and converted them into awful cartoons. They had a Mork and Mindy animated series, but here is the unbelievably awful-looking, time-traveling sci-fi Happy Days cartoon, narrated by none other than Wolfman Jack!

Since it will soon be Labor Day, we have to throw in Will the Real Jerry Lewis Please Stand Up? cartoon:

And finally, a series of specials that I remember as being halfway decent, even if they were an obvious ripoff of Fat Albert…: the “Clerow Wilson” series hosted by the real Clerow himself, Flip Wilson:

Good things must be shared…

…and music must always be shared. Thus I give you two items recommended by friends:

George M. Cohan himself, doing that kinda loose-limbed dancing that Jimmy Cagney did in Yankee Doodle Dandy, and yes, appearing in blackface with his partner, the great “Schnozzola” Jimmy Durante, in the rarely seen 1932 movie The Phantom President. This is one of only two talking pictures featuring Cohan, and its wonderful tagline was “It’s nonsense and — I love it!”

And yet another piece of Shatner-iana: a techno remix of one of Bill’s serious monologues, this one about why men climb mountains, and why Captain Kirk loved them… a lot. It is indeed catchy.

Thanks to friends Rich Brown and John Walsh for the links.

A cranky rebuttal to every misty-eyed John Hughes obit

Okay, guys, enough self-congratulation and mooning over one’s lost youth in the empty, oh so very, very empty decade that was the 1980s. John Hughes’ death has occasioned a veritable horde of “god, was he a great moviemaker” homages, and I’ve just gotta step in and say the guy was talented, and made two, maybe three original and enjoyable pictures, but otherwise he was really a true product of the Eighties: all surface and no depth.

Let’s move to the facts of the man’s career. He started out as a fairly amusing writer for National Lampoon. He was not a Mr. Mike, a Doug Kenny (read: a humorist with an edge), but his pieces were funny and one in particular has stood out for most folks: the short story that spawned Vacation, which ended not with a cutesy fade-out but with the angry dad shooting the Walt Disney figure. Good ending, fun story, but the movie that was made from it really was not good (that’s me being kind, it’s a piece of crap). From scripting that hit comedy, Hughes turned to teenage life for subject matter and made two admittedly cute, good movies, Sixteen Candles and The Breakfast Club. And then all inspiration was gone, babies. It was all over. He rewrote the script for Sixteen Candles not once but fucking TWICE as both Pretty in Pink and Some Kind of Wonderful. I was college-age when these flicks came out, but I was fresh from the high school experience, and could see that what was once a “connection to the teenage mindset” was now a guy wringing what he could out of a single plotline (one person, choosing between a creepy richer person and the friendlier down-to-earth option they should’ve chosen all along). In the case of myself and my friends, we kept on seeing Hughes’ increasingly awful movies because they were pleasant and the girls in them were cute-looking and we wanted to see what everybody liked about them so much. Let’s not revisit them now and say they were the rebirth of screwball comedy and Rosetta Stones of American culture, huh?

Ferris Bueller was a smug piece of ain’t-I-cool douchery (yes, this is not one of your ordinary Hughes obits) that was simply a series of episodes, some of which were amusing, most of which were keyed into the greed-is-good Eighties mindset (and wee Matthew Broderick leadin’ a parade, singing rhythm and blues? Painful!). After the decent buddy comedy Planes, Trains and Automobiles (again, not a comedy classic, but pleasant — “pleasant” is the key word here), Hughes tried to do something “sophisticated” for his output, a young adult romantic comedy, She’s Having a Baby. This appeared to have been the linchpin of his whole career, because it flopped (Baby was, again, pleasant). And after that film flopped, it appeared that the gent who shamelessly rewrote one of his two most beloved scripts two more times wasn’t going to ever again touch characters who could exist in the real world. He became a scripter of live-action cartoons that were in-your-face, wasted talented performers (like John Candy), and were populated by ridiculous, usually screaming, “types.”

I should throw in here that, from all accounts, Hughes was a decent human being, an all-around nice guy, and a pleasure to work with. That’s all well and good, and should indeed be remembered when the man dies at a premature age. HOWEVER, let’s be honest about the guy’s filmic legacy, and let’s not forget that when he had finally the ability to make whatever he wanted to, he made the worst tripe imaginable as writer, director, or producer: from Curly Sue (his final directorial effort, which reeks) to the mega-hit piece-o-shit Home Alone to the dreadful Baby’s Day Out and sub-watchable items like the Miracle on 34th Street remake, Beethoven, Flubber, Dennis the Menace, Beethoven, Maid in Manhattan, Drillbit Taylor, and the ill-advised remake of a French farce, Just Visiting.

A few of Hughes’ obits have mentioned The Bee, his unproduced gag-filled sounds-abominable screenplay about a wacky bee that drives everybody crazy. This was the evolution of the man’s career: from accurate depictions of teens, to recycled accurate depictions of teens, to goofy adults getting hit several times in crotch, and then screaming, mischievous kids (not forgetting a protagonist who's a crawling baby and another that's a big ol' dog). If The Bee had been produced (they discussed Jackie Chan as the main victim for the titular insect menace), he would’ve finally had nothing but a crappy gag-mechanism in place with *no* human or animal protagonist — sort of a dream-come-true for a guy who was writing by rote, just pickin' up a paycheck.

Thus, the problem I have reading misty-eyed tributes like the one written by a hyper-nostalgic A.O. Scott — who really has to, has to, has to (!) take the final step and become a literary critic once and for all, as he writes excellent reviews of books for The New York Times Book Review, but seems to exhibit his love of mainstream crap in his movie reviews (is Spielberg really “the Best American Filmmaker,” A.O? Really? Honestly? No shit?). It can be found here, and one of his dopiest contentions is that Hughes was the Godard of his era, that JH did with The Breakfast Club and (gulp) Ferris Bueller’s Day Off what JLG did for mid-’60 youth in Paris with Masculin Feminin. Yeah, right. So A.O. is really sad over the death of a guy who made films he liked in his youth; I can completely relate, as several Deceased Artiste entries in this blog attest. But Hughes as the Reagan-era Godard? Does Scott realize that if you say he was, he embodies the spirit of an empty, soulless time in our history? Oh well, if he’s okay with that, then I am too — but I think he was simply going for the lazyman “crutch” that pop culture critics use when they need a quick comparison to juice the reader’s interest: “he’s definitely the new Dylan,” “she’s is soooo the new Marilyn,” and my recent dumb-ass favorite, "Michael Jackson was the Jackie Robinson of MTV!” It’s a clunky, shorthand method of writing that attempts to endear the reader by comparing something they can't yet understand with something they're all too familiar with (or something they should be familiar with). Granted, Scott digs himself in deeper by bringing up Godard's quote about the youth of the Sixties being the "children of Marx and Coca-Cola" just so he can get to "the children of Reagan and New Coke." When you got a crutch, don't forget to lean on it — that's good for at least an additional 'graph or two....

Scott also defends the fact that the teens he identified with in Hughes’ films (and Ferris Bueller is all about this sorta bullshit) were perceived by one critic as remarkably unrebellious kids who just wanna belong and be popular and have friends and money and, well, you know, be seen with a cute date. He answers, “so what?” (telling answer, that — “hey, they’re empty, but I liked their emptiness… it spoke to me…”), and then goes on to explain Hughes was, in essence, a chronicler of the era — and what was he chronicling with the plentiful bilge he made after his sextet of teen pics? The fact that the average moviegoer found crotch-slamming riotously funny?

John Hughes made two really good teen pictures, was involved in the creation of a few mediocre comedies that were at least watchable brain candy, and wrote some funny pieces for National Lampoon. The rest is all sentiment for one’s own youth as viewed through the prism of Molly Ringwald, Ally Sheedy, Anthony Michael Hall, Emilio Estevez, and … Judd Nelson? Now *there* is someone who has made some marvelously, intensely watchable bad movies. I myself will be sad when Judd hits the great divide….

Oh, and as for the cute-girl factor, did anyone go to see Hughes' awful Career Opportunities if they weren't a male lusting after Jennifer Connelly?

Friday, August 7, 2009

Voices of the New Wave: translated vintage Cahiers

As the world mourns the passing of a guy (that Hughes dude) whose career started with fairly decent articles in National Lampoon, proceeded with some era-defining cute comedies (remember, the Eighties was the Empty Decade, kids), and then morphed into being involved with some seriously awful films (Dutch, Flubber, Beethoven, and the scarily atrocious Curly Sue), I sit around reading very rare translated articles from Cahiers du Cinema about the great American filmmakers, including le cineaste to the right (I'm so proud I own that book).

The location for this is the Blogspot of J.D. Copp, which can be found here. Copp has been translating from French to English lists, “thumbnail” director portraits, reviews, and snippets from interviews that appeared in Cahiers du Cinema in the magazine’s golden age (the Fifties and Sixties, when the staff was comprised of many fledgling filmmakers and wannabe auteurs). I found that the best way to review Copp’s blog is to simply move from page to page (read: month to month), but you can also use the search function atop his blog to search the names of certain directors who are discussed in the items he has translated.

One caveat: Copp’s mode of translation leans to the literal and in fact might be declared "stiff” in certain linguistic regards (sorry, I’m a copy editor by day, I notice this stuff). One could argue that he could be a little more liberal in terms of rewording the French text into truly smooth English, but the service he’s providing to those who don’t read French at all, or who can, but don’t have ready access to the Cahiers archives, is indeed invaluable. To add to the positive side of the ledger, he also translates passages from books he’s reading in French (thus far untranslated into English, obviously) that have anecdotes concerning the Cahiers “posse,” most notably Truffaut and Godard.

Copp’s specialty are the “best” lists compiled by the magazine, which included a special feature called the “Conseil des dix,” which found ten critics assigning critical “ratings” to the latest releases showing in Paris. Included were the “Glimmer Twins” of the nouvelle vague (right), as well as their many compatriots including Rohmer, Rivette, and Chabrol. In the process, Copp’s blog presents many oddball pairings of critic and subject, including this note from our fave, Uncle Jean (Godard), who was looking forward to seeing South Pacific:
Such is the opening of South Pacific from the Rodgers and Hammerstein operetta where Joshua Logan has redone these couplets in his own words. Apart from that, Todd-AO, six million dollars, the Hawaiian Islands, Mitzi Gaynor, Rossano Brazzi, John Kerr and under the paternal eye of Buddy Adler, introducing France Suyen [sic]. Doubt is not permitted, esthetically speaking, the next film of Joshua Logan will be colossal."

Copp’s blog also focuses a great deal of attention on Truffaut, who of course was the most radical critic of the New Wave group — therefore the head-scratching that occurs when one confronts the fact that his later films were like the ones he was raking over the coals in the Fifties. His original storyline for Godard’s A bout de souffle (Breathless) can be found here.

Copp has been doing posts that group together excerpts from Cahiers reviews of certain director’s work. Among these are Wilder, Wise, Wyler (no, no Welles yet), Mankiewicz, and even the critics’ fellow cineaste Alain Resnais. The two things that Copp has included that are invaluable for me especially are translations of Godard’s narration for his epic Histoire(s) du Cinema, which still doesn’t have a legal release in this country, because ALL the distributors are terrified of having to clear the clips Uncle Jean used without legal clearance. Copp’s translations of JLG’s cinematic poetry (the words, that is) begins here.

Oh, and yes, Copp has provided us with translations of excerpts from dozens of Cahiers reviews of the films of (you guessed this one, right?) Jerry Lewis —seen in the pic to the right, reading the magazine! I heavily recommend you check out Copp’s survey-post which can be found here.

But being a major fan of Joseph Levitch et son cinema (and that of Frank Tashlin, the man he arguably lifted his directorial style from), I must repeat some of the juicer passages here. In this case Copp’s literal translation produces some passages that appear as if they were made up by a humorist trying to prove a point about “the French and their love of Jerry Lewis” (my response to that one is always to remind the scoffer that they also loved Ford, Hitchcock, Ray, Fuller, Cassavetes, Altman, and Scorsese before we did):
Today, it is possible to define Lewis's character, yet, it is not possible to define the respective roles of the director, the actor and the character which he embodies. But is not the key to this universe precisely this division? And is not his visage, metaphorically, the mirror?

At the beginning, the Cahiers boys were not very kind, referring to Scared Stiff as containing the “usual clowning of two half-wits of American film.” The Money From Home review refers to Martin and Lewis as “a pair of nitwits even more nitwit than all the others.” A later Godard review of Hollywood or Bust found Uncle Jean proclaiming that “in 15 years [it will be seen] that The Girl Can't Help It functioned, in its time, meaning today (1957), as a fountain of youth where the cinema of now, meaning tomorrow (1972) drew a renewal of inspiration.”

The very curious review for The Ladies Man (which in French was titled “the Stud for these Ladies”) gets into what the reviewer calls “argument Lewis” (“argument for Lewis” or "the case of Lewis" would be a more liberal translation). The last sentences of the snippet Copp reproduces say “Yes, there is a depth to laughter but there is also a shame of laughter. From one to the next, the argument Lewis, to our mind, offers a good example.” I assume this means one should feel, by turns, deeply happy and full of shame watching a Jerry picture.

Other odd remarks include one about Visit to a Small Planet: “Ever since he has gone out on his own, Jerry Lewis no longer bases his films on homosexuality, but on powerlessness.” Whoa, baby. And of course there are the moments where the praise was incredible, as with a positive review of the unbelievably indulgent The Big Mouth: “The refinements of construction, the physical-metaphysical reach of the slightest gag, the tidal wave of madness which bowls over the dimensions of space, time and cinema, force us to dedicate a special issue to their analysis. The Big Mouth marks the center of gravity, the inevitable outcome of the previous films of Lewis.”

That's a far cry from the first review of a solo Jer movie, The Delicate Delinquent, which was one of many times the critics mentioned that Jerry was at his best when directed by Tashlin (which is definitely true): “With Tashlin absent, Dean Martin's partner is not the equal of Fernandel on his worst day.” Damn, that hurts.

Thanks to friend Paul for the discovery of Copp’s treasure trove of translation!

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Power-pop for weekend consumption

When the tedium of daily life is just a bit too much, mindless pop music is the best solution. Perhaps because I was a child of the Seventies, I veer immediately to what was labeled “power pop” and was at one point known by the gimmicky nickname, “New Wave.” In April of last year I offered links to a number of key tunes (the last, most pungent example can be found here), and returned to the topic in October when I offered an all-too-brief personal survey of ’79 new wave.

In this post I return to those thrilling years of yesteryear by first of all mentioning tha the lame-asses at Warner Music have pulled from YouTube any and all postings of Bram Tchaikovsky’s “Girl of My Dreams,” so you must go immediately to our pals at Never Get Out of the Boat and listen to this sterling bit of perfect power-pop right NOW! (there's an embedded player right on the page, babies). I remember that the local oldies station, WCBS-FM, at the time the song was released included it in their playlist, saying it would become a classic. It didn’t, of course, sell millions, but it is fondly remembered by all of us who were addicted to it at the time (and still crack out the “Strange Man, Changed Man” LP to indulge).

And on the YouTube front, we discover the song that received much publicity some months back when Avril Lavigne released her latter-day power-pop ditty Girlfriend. It sounded quite familiar, and I immediately thought of the Ramones' “I Wanna Be Your Boyfriend”. But those with memories even longer than mine remembered this Rubinoos item that still packs a kick (although Avril’s music-makin’ machine speeded the sucker up for the redo):

I identify power pop with the late 1970s, but there were a bunch of precedents for this sound, most notably the top-10 British hit-meisters The Sweet, whose Greatest Hits album is something I’ve worn out over the past few years. Here's “Wig Wam Bam” (which was gloriously celebrated in a great “Love and Rockets” — the comic, not the band — story several years back):

And from Cleveland, the Raspberries, with two of their biggest PP hits, including the wonderfully come-on, “Go All the Way” (never had pop seemed so… straightforward):

Let’s move back to the late Seventies, and celebrate a Deceased Artiste, Philly rocker Robert Hazard. Hazard was best known for having written the MTV hit “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun” (his version here, different in its approach and lyrics from Cyndi's hit). His most memorable bit of Eighties hookiness, though, was “Escalator of Life.” Scope out this arch little vid made for the record:

I close out with two songs that have stuck in my brain since I first heard them quite a long time ago. The first comes from the band that Bram Tchaikovsky left to go solo, The Motors. Their 1980 EP “Tenement Steps” is deserving of a place in any Seventies pop fan’s library, and it can be found (along with the band’s albums) at the Digivinyltal blog. Apparently, there are no live recordings or TV lip synchs of the awesome song "Love and Loneliness" available, so one fan has put up a video of the EP cover, with the song playing in the background. It doesn’t convey at all the power of this killer tune, so I recommend you download the EP from the DVT blog. If you need a quick reminder of what the song sounds like from across the room, the link below is worth a click — with, again, the caveat that the melodramatic pop-rock majesty is lost. "Now loneliness is there/ despite the love we make/ And loneliness knows where to find the friends we make/ And the place we live/ is just a new street number/ on an old address/ called Love and Loneliness."

And every single time I find myself thinking or saying the phrase “I don’t want to argue…” in real life, my mind automatically produces the words “I don’t want to budge/take this number down before you call up the judge…” The absolutely perfectly produced tune in question is The Records’ “Starry Eyes.” (I hadn't remembered the legal pun, "The writ has hit the fan...") To hear the real song, go straight to this YouTube upload. I love this song deeply, and recommend the single first and foremost, but a reasonable, not as pitch-perfect, version would be this live TV performance:

One wistful commenter for one of these vids noted, “They tell me not to live in the past, but the music was so much better then….”