Wednesday, April 25, 2012

The squarest man in rock ’n’ roll: Deceased Artiste Dick Clark

The lionization of Dick Clark since his death has fascinated me in that, while the guy was indeed a part of all of our childhoods, he wasn’t a particularly “warm” media personality. Oh sure, his Top 40 DJ voice was mellow and very pleasant to listen to, and he had the cleancut good looks of any era’s boy next door. But Dick Clark was a host and nothing more. Like Ryan Seacrest today, he was an anodyne presence who had no show-biz persona to speak of — he ushered kids onto a studio set to dance to records and he ushered contestants onto a studio set to play a game ripped off of Password.

I’d like to tackle two of the most interesting aspects of Dick Clark’s reputation: his much-vaunted connection to rock ’n’ roll and its later incarnations, and the completely specious assertion that he “broke the color barrier” on TV dance parties.

First of all, while I don’t adhere to the definition that Nick Tosches supplies in his excellent book Unsung Heroes of Rock ’n’ Roll — namely, that rock was dead by the time Elvis “broke” in ’56 I would maintain that it was dying on the vine by 1958. At that point American Bandstand truly defined what remained of the cadaver — the new imitation Elvises (led by Fabian) and the pop starlets (epitomized by the always-forlorn Connie Francis — about whom, more later).

So Dick Clark became a “name” in American rock ’n’ roll by doing what was surely the cheapest fucking music show to ever air on a major network. Early on, when I was just a kid discovering the music of the Fifties through my mother, she distinguished for me between shows that had the performers playing live and the Dick Clark approach, which was pretty much ALWAYS (outside of his imitation Grammies, the American Music Awards) people lip-synching to their records — even if said records were several years (or several decades) old.

This was driven home for me by two events: a VH-1 all-weekend marathon of American Bandstand reruns in the early Nineties, and the explosion of YouTube as a hub for rare video clips. The former event found me feverishly taping the episodes and finding that, while they were historically interesting, they were almost without exception (save the legendary PiL appearance) a let-down, since the artists were always lip-synching and Dick’s interviews were useless pap.

In the second instance, I discovered a bunch of clips on YT that fans had put up from their bootleg collections that showed that Clark had indeed had on his shows an incredible roster of the great “lost” bands that made two or three albums in the Sixties and then disbanded (succumbing to internal friction and/or drug troubles).

But, again, the clips are wildly disappointing, since Clark was SUCH a cheap bastard throughout his career that even if the performer appeared on a primetime network show produced by him (as Captain Beefheart and the Magic Band did), they would be lip-synching to a fucking record. Here’s the Beefheart performance (read: lip-synch):

So, Clark could be hailed for having acts on AB that never appeared elsewhere on national TV, including Love, the 13th Floor Elevators, and the first version of the Magic Band. As examples of what made the bands special, the clips are mostly worthless — Clark's shows were the bookings a band would get if they couldn’t snag an Ed Sullivan or a Hollywood Palace or even an Andy Williams shot.

If you couldn’t get on the shows that had the artists perform live, you’d be on Dick Clark’s teen dance party, lip-synching to your record and answering dopey-ass questions from the “world’s oldest living teenager.” The official DC Productions channel on YT is in fact made up of nothing but these time-wasting chats.

The clips continue to appear and disappear from YouTube with some regularity (and if re-posted, have to be “disguised” from the search engine). Here’s Love guesting on AB. Watch ’em lip-synch because DC was one cheap bastard:

DC Productions also owns the libraries of several other rock-TV producers, including Murray the K — whose programs contained live performances and very interesting “concept” lip-synchs by the performers — and patrols YT and other clip-sites to make certain that footage isn’t seen as well.

The purpose of this trolling is to ensure that DCP cashes in on licensing for documentaries — where inevitably the footage looks great, but is, again, WILDLY disappointing in most every case. To illustrate that, here’s Dick saving dough again by having the 13th Floor Elevators lip-synch:

Now that I’ve dispensed with that aspect of the Dick Clark mythos, let me discuss his ubiquitousness on TV and the declaration that he “was a civil-rights pioneer,” a contention repeated a lot on the cable-news networks and conservative talk-radio (the latter kinda figures, doesn’t it, given Clark’s cleancut appearance and mediocrity as a music pundit).

Perhaps the single best tribute done to Clark, in terms of its kitschiness, was the Piers Morgan episode which brought back the previous owner of that timeslot, the one and only Larry King (whose ridiculously hagiographic tributes to dead people I loved to pieces, as I have noted in the past). Morgan asked Larry to weigh in on Clark’s importance (the primary question asked on these shows is “why would you say so-and-so was SO important…?”).

The other guests were an astounding roster of MOR pop people from different eras, all phoning in — Morgan’s show will have none of the wonderful (and eminently watchable) circus-like aspect of King’s show, where everyone talked at once on separate satellite feeds. Thus, Donny Osmond was heard at one point, Paul Anka at another, Gloria Estefan at another, and a member of the Commodores and another gent from a Nineties black boy band to perpetuate the “Dick loved black people” story at another.

The standout guest, though, was Connie Francis. I don’t want to mock Ms. Francis’ appearance or her physical condition — suffice it to say she does not look well and has clearly had a number of ailments in the last few years. Her contribution to the program was fascinating, in that I remember the supermarket tabloid stories that accompanied her breakdown several decades ago, in which it was noted she hired a hitman to kill the people she hated — her dad was right at the top of the list and Dick Clark was somewhere close below him!

As Connie spoke, you could hear that Morgan was getting antsy, because her paean to Dick was an elaboration of her problems in years past, and how Dick factored into them. First, she noted that she had been “involuntarily” committed to institutions 17 times, and Dick “pleaded with me” on bended knee to take her Lithium. Then she added that Dick himself committed her once (!). The story was getting SO harrowing that Morgan did indeed cut her off.

I remember the TV “comeback” appearance she mentioned at one point.  She appeared on Clark’s short-lived primetime variety show, which aired live in the mid-Seventies. Francis came out and sounded off-key, and was a sad echo of her former self.

She noted on the Piers Morgan show that Dick has assured her “you can just lip-synch to the records.” (That’s how an only moderately talented DJ becomes a iron-clad millionaire.) Connie said it took “200 takes” to get what she wound up lip-synching to.

What I got out of this accumulation of detail was that, yes, Dick Clark did encourage performers to come back to show business after their personal crises (Gloria Estefan noted he was very helpful to her after her bus crash in the Nineties), but even if they shouldn’t be appearing on stage. Ms. Francis is a tragic and heroic figure for all the stuff she’s gone through in her life — and one gets the feeling that she would have been much better off if “friends” like Clark had left her alone to simply get well.

On a related note, a New York Times piece by Stephen Holden that appeared on Friday quoted documentarian Shawn Swords as saying that Clark “‘an alpha villain’ whose kingdom was ‘built on ill-gotten gains.’ In exchange for exposure on the air singers were expected to sign away their copyrights and all future royalties…. ‘I really think the man’s place in pop music history needs to be re-evaluated.’ ” Holden notes that “such things were common practice in the music business at the time.” But should we be saluting a guy involved in such practices?

Then there is the “civil rights pioneer” label. I have read different articles over the years addressing the matter of whether Clark integrated his teen dancers on AB. The truth is that he did it only when he had to. This important Philly Post article by Tim Whitaker spotlights research that professor Matt Delmont did for his book The Nicest Kids in Town: American Bandstand, Rock ’n’ Roll and the Struggle for Civil Rights in 1950s Philadelphia.
The article refers to Delmont’s discovery that Clark’s claim of early integration on AB was a myth concocted in the Seventies when Clark’s hoary old vehicle was getting its ass kicked by Soul Train in the ratings. Black teens were in fact turned away from the AB for the flimsiest of reasons, and there was in fact no integration (until, of course, it was more socially acceptable years later).

So Clark wasn’t the kind of truly influential and innovative music TV producer that Ed Sullivan, Don Kirshner, or even Burt Sugarman (The Midnight Special) were, nor was he a “civil-rights pioneer.” Add to these myths the vanity-move he made when he decided to continue appearing on his feeble New Years Eve show (which was annually taped in summer, except for Clark’s countdown in Times Square) well after his stroke and recovery.

I do believe that people who have suffered debilitating strokes and other horrible health dilemmas should continue to work in the public arena, but Clark’s decision reeked of unabashed vanity — as did the plastic surgery that he appeared to have had to make his face resemble his earlier “world’s oldest teenager” look.

You see, there was no time after the late Fifties when he wasn’t on TV, and even though the programs were thin wisps of nothing (there’s not much overhead on a bloopers show, is there?), he continued to hang around the dial as he raked in millions. The notion of him retiring was untenable, even when he really needed to exit the public stage, since he had nothing to contribute, except to note he was still among us.

Thus, when the tributes came thick and heavy and the empty plaudits started racking up from folks who were attached not to memories of Clark but to the comforting feel of their own youth, I felt it necessary to write a Deceased Artiste about a person whose work I watched a helluva lot when I was young, but for whom I developed a deep aversion as I got older.

I will give DC one piece of praise: he was a fine game show host. Game show hosts can be brilliant (witness John Daly) or witty (Steve Allen) or just utterly charming (Garry Moore, Allen Ludden, Bill Cullen), but they don’t really need to be. Dick Clark was a great choice to host the COMPLETE ripoff of Password that was the [fill in the money amount] Pyramid. A nice voice and cleancut looks are excellent on a gameshow.

And if there was ever a fire or weather incident in DC Productions, the staff should rush out a tape of THIS performance, the *only* spontaneous moment in the history of American Bandstand, the aforementioned appearance by PiL:

Friday, April 20, 2012

A troika of talented Deceased Artistes: Helm, Finley, Frid

Too many talented folk are kicking off, and what I really want to do are tributes to some wonderful filmmakers who died recently. But since the departures are happening faster and furiouser, I’ll address the most "obvious" deaths — namely the three talented people who left this mortal coil in the last week. (No, not Dick Clark. He'll get his own entry, and I ain’t deemin’ him talented.)

We start out of, course, with Levon Helm of the Band. Other folks will do more complete tributes (while still others will simply write subtle and touching comments to adorn the YT vids of his work), so I’ll just go with the most obvious oldie that never wears too thin. (I’ve always loved the oddball reference to Spike Jones — who never sang, but did talk.) Oh, the wonders that were accomplished by “Marty DiBergi” back in those coke-fueled days:

and one TV appearance, backing his movie “daughter” Sissy Spacek on The Midnight Special.


The second member of the troika was William Finley, who was best known for acting in films by his friend Brian De Palma. He did have a handful of other roles (including a pair of performances in forgotten Tobe Hooper movies), and I do remember seeing him on The Joe Franklin Show promoting his mid-Eighties book on the sport of “Racewalking," but, yes, whenever, he is remembered, it will be for the films with De Palma.

He met De Palma at Columbia University, and worked on his shorts Woton’s Wake and Murder a La Mod (as an actor in both, and a set designer in the former). The first feature in which he had a prominent role — a really prominent role — was Dionysus in ’69 (1970). Finley plays the title role in a production by the Performance Group of The Bacchae, and gets to end the film on the up note, “A vote for Finley in ’68 will bring you Dionysus in ’69!" See the whole movie here.

Finley’s next memorable appearance in a De Palma film came in the wonderfully entertaining Hitchcockian nightmare Sisters (1973). Finley’s most significant scene is here, but you can watch the whole film below.

Finley’s finest hour, one which has enshrined him as a cult icon of sorts (in a very imaginatively designed super-villain outfit), was his performance as Winslow Leach, “the Phantom of the Paradise.” Finley is just terrific in the movie, lending a high-melodramatic note to his performance and contributing to the overall comic-book effect of the piece.

I have declared my devotion to Phantom on the Funhouse TV show, and recently wrote here about how Twentieth-Century Fox “blocked” a clip on YouTube of my interview with Phantom costar Gerrit Graham, because it included a 50-second clip from the film.

So, I suggest, if you haven’t seen Phantom, you check it out ASAP. It seems *whole chunks* have been up for nearly two years. Here is the opening:

And another sizeable bit that includes the brilliant horror-rock sequences (that are post-Alice and decidedly pre-KISS):

I will set aside the grumbles at Fox and say farewell to Finley, whose gawky, haunted performance in that film will keep him alive for a long, long time to come.

And speaking of haunted horror figures, we just learned yesterday of the death of the actor who incarnated the first “guilty vampire,” Barnabas Collins himself, Jonathan Frid.

I outlined my utter love for Frid’s characterization at length in an entry I wrote about Dark Shadows this past Halloween. But now for the inevitable obit: Frid was a classically-trained stage actor from Canada who was never quite at ease with playing a vampire on a daytime soap — which, of course, worked perfectly for Barnabas’ haunted quality.

He was both a master ham and a performer who was able to carry off very emotionally complicated scenes. Sometimes he did this by confounding his fellow actors with his own made-up lines (my personal favorite “bloopers” on the show were when Frid did this, and you saw the look of dismay in his fellow actor’s face).

He did, however, look incredibly cool and regal as Barnabas and created a completely iconic character, who truly is important in the history of horror/fantasy. Barnabas was a cursed bloodsucker who time-traveled with ease (and Dr. Julia Hoffman), and constantly was in the throes of yet another dilemma.

I salute Frid for having embraced in his final years the role he was eager to shed — in the final months of the show he told Dan Curtis he would stay, but would no longer play Barnabas (thus, an odd storyline cribbed from Wuthering Heights, in which he was “Bramwell Collins”). However, odd (or just downright goofy) the new Tim Burton DS feature turns out to be, it can’t erase memories of Frid in his cloaked finery as Barnabas. He was one of the coolest vampires ever.

I linked to several great DS clips in my Halloween entry (some of which went down in the interim — I knew that fan wasn’t going to be able to post on YT the entire run of the series as he/she planned….). Herewith an equally nice sampling, but before I get to the embeds, I offer you Mr. Frid’s own site, a fan’s posting of rare DS photos, and a solid collection of Frid’s dramatic soliloquies on DS

The fan-generated material on DS is fascinating, as with this person’s “annotated” storylines from the show. Herewith, the relationship between Barnabas and his very own Renfield, Willie Loomis (John Karlen):

Frid on The Merv Griffin Show at the height of his fame:

Frid guests on the extremely corny time-capsule game show The Generation Gap. Prepare for your mind to be blown:

On to a pair of non-Barnabas clips, which I uploaded to YT a few years back. First, a wonderful Frid blooper that Oliver Stone kept in his debut feature, Seizure (1974). The film is, to put it plainly, kinda nuts.

Frid plays a writer whose creations (a dwarf, played by Herve Villechaize, a “queen of evil,” played by the always sexy Martine Beswicke, and an African-American giant) come to life and try to kill the guests he’s invited over for the weekend. I spoke to Frid about the film briefly at a DS convention, and he said it was terrible, Oliver Stone was a horribly un-subtle director (he felt the same way about Dan Curtis, incidentally — check out the over-the-topness of the House of Dark Shadows feature.

Perhaps he was sorta mad that Stone used his haunted (and sometimes bewildered) quality so acutely in his first (admittedly very sleazy) feature. Here is the blooper that was left in the film — it is a gem:

Seizure does work on a very odd sleazy level. Perhaps one of its weirdest scenes not involving Herve Villechaize is this forced knife duel between Frid and the very sexy young Mary Woronov:

Now, I turn to prime Dark Shadows. First, the kitschy side, with the bloopers that are extremely amusing but all the more so because each one of them actually aired on the show. DS was a very low-budget production, and so they rarely did retakes — unless Frid began to curse (but more about that when I finally get around to posting a clip from my interview with the show’s costar Kathryn Leigh Scott). Thus, a LOT of odd moments were broadcast as part of the show:

Fan-created videos are of course the bulk of the DS tributes on YT (now that MPI has indeed pulled down the posters who were attempting to put the entire DVD library up on the site). There are fan-made music videos like “The Return of Barnabas Collins,” but nothing quite compares to the serious “meller” quality of the music-vids created by an engineer here in NYC when the show ran on public television.

They perfectly capture the mixture of emotions that DS provoked during its initial run and still can provoke today: an amusement at its highly melodramatic tone and also a fascination for its very tightly scripted (and yes, quite well-acted, under the *no-budget* circumstances) storylines.

Farewell and thanks a lot, Mr. Frid. You were an indelible presence on daytime TV. I only hope that the coffin isn't chained like last time. Willie should be along any minute now to let you out.... (Couldn't resist.)

Monday, April 9, 2012

The Media Funhouse interview: Deceased Artiste Claude Miller

A number of very talented folk have died in the last few weeks and I hope to get around to saluting each one of them, but I wanted to jump the gun for one gentleman, filmmaker Claude Miller, who died last week at 70. I interviewed Mr. Miller back in 2002 when he was in NYC to promote screenings of his film Alias Betty (the U.S. title for Betty Fisher et autres histoires).

He only made 16 fiction features in his nearly five-decade career in film, but during that time he also worked as an assistant to a trio of New Wave legends (Truffaut, Godard, and Demy) and wrote and produced for other directors. His finest work — a number of exceptional thrillers adapted from British and American authors, and his female coming-of-age pictures — is truly wonderful and will live on for some time to come.

Here he speaks about his one-time boss, and friend, Francois Truffaut:

And here he gives a very smart answer to my query about the two mediocre American movies made from his French originals:

The voice you hear on the clips is that of translator Robert Gray, who did a great job providing instant translation of Mr. Miller's answers.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Happy Easter! The “incredibly strange” Christian music-videos of Carman

Every year at Easter I feature an exploration of Christian kitsch on the Funhouse TV show. There are certain favorite subjects of fascination, and one of those is most certainly Carman. He is a mono-monikered Italian-American gent from NJ who has recorded music in every conceivable modern-day pop genre and created music videos that basically reproduce all the tenets (read: visual and editing tropes, and clichés) of each of the genres.

I’ll spotlight a mere three jawdroppers here. The first is solid slice of Nineties white-boy rap executed with the Xtian boy band DC Talk. It’s hard to pick my favorite gonzo line from Carman’s lyrics, but I think one of the finalists would have to be “Praise the Lord with your feet!”

Carman’s appropriation of pop-culture tropes is fascinating, and nowhere is this better illustrated than in his Xtian Western video(!). The clip is fascinating for several reasons, among them the fact that different classic Western themes (The Magnificent Seven, Bonanza and Wild, Wild West themes) were licensed for the video.

He also deftly blows away not only the notion of alcoholism, but also "false" religions (which include major world faiths — whaddya think that guy in the turban represents?). The melody is snatched from "Ghost Riders in the Sky":

And the oddest little item Carman ever cranked out is surely his weird “SLAM” video, which combines comic book imagery, A Clockwork Orange, the Batman TV show, and that goofy-ass synchronized Rhythm Nation dancing that was so popular in Nineties music-vids.

Yes… he is that Christian that hell warned you about! Carman is one strange and enthusiastic music-video maker. May we explore him for several Paschal seasons to come….

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

They coulda been contenders: memorable and infernally catchy also-ran pop tunes

Since I’m on the topic of YouTube frustration (see below), I want to put the spotlight on a YT poster who has done exemplary work sharing his pop-culture obsessions. He's also had some trouble with copyright holders that don’t wanna *release* the material in question, but don't want anyone hearing it in the meantime. I bring you one music lover’s picks of the pop songs “that should have been bigger hits.”

The poster in question, who calls himself nccvball, has done a wonderful job of assembling medleys of music from the years 1968-89. The only overriding theme is that all of the songs included in the medleys made the Top 100 but never became major hits (although I can attest to the fact that some did have heavy-duty airplay in many markets).

The poster — who, for the lack of any simple-sounding moniker, I shall refer to as “nccvball” — puts historical data about the songs and artists onscreen as the songs are playing. He hails from Philadelphia and possesses a detailed knowledge of both the American and Canadian charts (his well-researched info refers to [gasp!] print-pubs, like the one to the right). He has informed me that the project began as an article he was writing about pop songs that should have gone further up the charts. Given the incredible detail he’s put into these videos, I’d suggest he join us here in the Blogspot sphere, since BS does indeed house some seriously devoted pop-culture fans.

I stumbled upon his YT channel several weeks back and was delighted to hear several songs I hadn’t heard in three decades. The first was "New York City," a tune that got played on the radio here in NYC in the year it came out (1979) and was included in a radio promo for a few years afterward. The tune has been engrained in my brainpan for a long time, and yet I had no idea who recorded it.

Turns out it was Canadian musician Walter Zwol, who had previously had a successful band named Brutus. Our friend nccvball has put up a video for the studio version of the tune and also has uploaded this wonderful clip of Zwol singing the song on a German TV program where the audience seems utterly distant (no dancing for these young folk!). He does his damndest, though, dancing up a storm and trying to sell the song, as the young Germans regard him with mild tolerance. It’s quite a catchy anthem:

Another skull-crusher for me was a power-pop song from 1980 by the band Spider. It’s called “New Romance (It’s a Mystery),” and the song was another one I hadn’t heard since the early Eighties, but which I knew by heart.

Nccvball’s video notes explain that Spider was led by Anton Fig (the drummer in Paul Schaffer’s band on Letterman) and his then-wife, vocalist Amanda Blue. The song was written by the band’s keyboardist, Holly Knight, who went on to write, among others, “Better Be Good to Me” for Tina Turner and “Rag Doll” for Aerosmith.

This is power-pop at its hookiest, and I’m glad I had it shaken loose from the recesses of my memory. For one time, and one time only, I will switch off in this entry from nccv’s account (where he posted this video for the song) to link you to the official music video (which I have absolutely no memory of) that was uploaded after nccv started his “excavation” of lost pop-rock:

While I’m grateful to nccv for uploading the Zwol and Spider vids, the major “rabbit-hole” he has created on YT is a series of videos detailing songs that “should have been bigger hits” in the Sixties, Seventies, and Eighties. The videos cover the years ’68-’89, and there are generally anywhere from 10-15 tunes per 10-minute video. As a verse or two and the chorus play, onscreen info contextualizes the song and the artist.

The videos offer terrific windows into what styles of music reigned from the Nixon era through the Reagan era in the U.S. Our poster friend has put an incredible amount of work into the videos, and they are all worth your time, but I will note that I found the medleys from the Seventies and early Eighties to be filled with really fun, memorable stuff, while the late Eighties songs seemed feebler in comparison.

Perhaps this is just a reflection of my own memories from the periods involved — nccvball is a gent in his 30s, so perhaps he looks at the more recent eras of pop with a less jaundiced eye than I do. Or maybe there was indeed a certain kind of pop craftsmanship that began to wane in the post-MTV period.

In any case, his videos do a valuable service of unearthing songs that were “buried” decades ago and are dim memories to those who were alive and listening to FM radio regularly during the periods in question. Given his “devotion to the cause” and free labor, it was almost certain that the copyright holders, who in most cases haven’t done anything with the music in question since it was initially released, would see fit to either have his videos blocked or “muted” on YT. The companies in question are the usual suspects — WMG, UMG, EMI, SME — and they are incredibly short-sighted, since nccv is actually shining a light on their “dead” product.

Be that as it may (and, as Steve Allen used to say, I doubt it ever was), I want to offer up some links to the wonderful and labor-intensive vids put up by nccv. Prepare to be assaulted by at least a few brainworms (and maybe a few memories) in the process. The 1973 medley includes Andy Pratt’s “Avenging Annie” (first time I ever heard “fuck” in a song as a kid — and Pratt is now an Christian musician! ), Michael Redway (who did the uncredited Viv Stanshall-esque vocals on the Casino Royale closing theme), and the Incredible Bongo Band for some “Bongo Rock.”

In the 1974 entry, we hear the unforgettably catchy “Captain Howdy” by Simon Stokes, the prefab group First Class (actually studio singers Tony Burrows and Chas Mills), the terrific Oscar Brown Jr. singing his “Lone Ranger” tune, and a song I identify with the Smothers Brothers (who sang it every week on their Seventies comeback show), Rick Cunha’s “The Yo-Yo Man.”

I jump ahead a few years to 1976 for nccv spotlighting tracks by the Tubes, the ever-awesome Suzi Quatro, Penny McLean (from Silver Convention) and her single “Lady Bump” (no comment), and, yes, the Hudson Brothers.

The 1980 medley deserves a listen, if only for the wonderment that was the Flying Lizards' “Money” (which I heard on the radio ALL the time at that point but apparently wasn’t a big seller, despite schlubs like me shelling out for the 45).

If you want to hear a song that could’ve only existed in the early Eighties, try the 1983 medley for one of my forgotten faves, Robert Hazard’s deadly serious/wonderfully ridiculous statement about mankind, “The Escalator of Life” (“we’re shopping in the human mall” — don’t ask, seriously…).

I close off the quick-links with the 1985 medley, which includes Bruce Cockburn’s awesome “If I Had a Rocket Launcher,” and the 1986 medley, which has the ultimate mind-melting brainworm (just you try and forget the friggin’ thing!), Opus’s dubiously philosophical “Live is Life.”

Now we get to the serious stuff, the video comps from nccvball (no, I have no idea what the nick means) that did literally send sparks flyin’ outta my ears. First off is the transitional year of 1970, when bubblegum ruled the airwaves simultaneously with hard rock and funk. Among the acts spotlighted here are Klowns (a Ringling Bros. tie-in act groomed by Jeff Barry that featured a young Barry Bostwick!), super-pop from the duo Dunn and McCashin, rock from Ten Wheel Drive (with vocalist Genya Ravan), a pre-“Joko” Elephant’s Memory, and a Jake Holmes song that I know by heart (but from a Helen Schneider cover).

Even more importantly: the big “show-stopper” from a movie that few folks have seen (but WAS featured on the Funhouse), The Phynx!!! As a closer, the inimitable Serge and Jane (if you need last names, go and thoroughly immerse yourself in Gainsbourg’s brilliant music).

Another banner year in these compilations is 1971. Forgotten songs by the post-Monkees Mike Nesmith and Davy Jones, hits from future stars Stoney and Meatloaf (well, one became a star…), a great-sounding horn-drive band called “The Mob,” some hardcore bubblegum from Billy Sans, and variant versions of early Seventies hits “Chirpy Chirpy Cheep Cheep” and “Mammy Blue.” All this, and a Ron Dante song called “Hot Pants,” too.

The compilation for 1972 features two acts I know nothing about, Bill Chase (a jazzman who has done wonderful work with horns and electronics music) and Bang (a group that boasted a raunchy guitar sound).

Also included in this medley are the National Lampoon (I LOVE “Deteriorata,” with Norman Rose and Melissa Manchester on vocals; Christopher Guest was the composer). Nccv has also put the spotlight on two commercial tie-in acts, “the Rock Flowers” (intended to sell a line of dolls to little girls), singing songs by Ellie Greenwich, Toni Wine, and Carole Bayer Sager, and the fucking Sugar Bears (yes, a tie-in studio act intended to sell the cereal) featuring Mike Settle from the New Christy Minstrels and Kim Carnes as singers.

One of the most entertaining collections is a group of instrumentals from 1976. Included is Michel Polnareff’s catchy theme for the film Lipstick,, Bob Crewe’s attempt at disco, and a tune from Gary Glitter’s back-up group the Glitter Band. Also present are three tunes I do vividly remember, Hagood Hardy’s mellow “The Homecoming,” John Handy’s irrestible “Hard Work,” and Walter Murphy’s “Flight ’76.”

As the Seventies ended, the music mix on the pop charts got even stranger. The 1978 medley features the hard-rock band Angel (the anti-KISS act, with a very catchy tune), Canadian diehards Chilliwack, Zwol’s “New York City,” AND the completely unforgettable “Ca Plane Pour Moi” by Plastic Bertrand (which, to my aging “new wave” ears, should have been a hit for five years).

The 1979 compilation features a number of names I knew primarily from spending sifting through cutout bins in the early Eighties: Moon Martin, Charlie, Pousette-Dart Band. Also appearing here are Cherie and Marie Currie, and my own pick for the best coulda/woulda/shoulda hit for that year, “Mirror Star” by the Fabulous Poodles.

I include the 1982 compilation here because our YT-poster friend put as much work into it as all the others, but because it feature two *indelible* tunes, the Waitresses’ “I Know What Boys Like” (which was everywhere on NYC radio at that time, but which I guess didn’t hit the Top 40) and the Monroes' scarily catchy “What Do All The People Know?”

As noted above, I think the late Eighties signaled a serious fragmenting of the music industry (and this was several years before the Internet began its true downward spiral). There were still infernally catchy pop tunes, but pop-rock production across the board just wasn't as exciting as it used to be (a function, no doubt, of the use of rampant sampling and computer "polishing" techniques).

In any case, out of all his medleys, the last nccvball creation I loved (in chronological fashion) was the one for 1984. Included are “the Coyote Sisters” (Leah Kunkel and friends), Naked Eyes, and Martha and the Muffins under the revamped name “M+M” (the music video for “Black Stations, White Stations” was on a late-night syndie show that reran seemingly indefinitely in the mid-Eighties).

There is no better place to end a discussion of pop music than with a mention of producer extraordinaire Jim Steinman, whose work contains the very essence of pop music. Spector-like in its production, Wagnerian in its sincerity, Steinman is the real deal, a pop songwriter who works from the hook outwards. Thus, I welcomed nccvball’s inclusion here of Steinman’s studio creation Fire, Inc. doing the SUPER-melodramatic “Tonight Is What It Means to Be Young” from the soundtrack of the colorful near-future action flick Streets of Fire.

Nccvball has noted he has some Nineties comps in store, but I for one would very much welcome any more “lost” or hidden items from the Sixties and Seventies. For the only way to truly erase one brainworm is to replace it with another….

The fair use image comes from this very enlightening blog post.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

The Fox bean-counters speak: Funhouse interview clip "blocked" on YT

I received a notification the other day from YouTube telling me that one of my videos had been “blocked” by a copyright holder. Not taken down, mind you, but blocked (what that means I discuss below). The clip in question is from my interview with Gerrit Graham, which concludes with a 50-second snippet from Phantom of the Paradise, illustrating what we’d been talking about in the interview.

The clip clearly serves as a promotion for the movie, which Fox released on DVD a few years back. Whoever trolls on YT for that company didn’t feel that way, though, and that makes for some serious stupidity. What makes the situation even sillier is, again, the fact that they didn’t have the clip taken down, just blocked — which means if you already have the URL you can view it, but it can’t be searched for in the site’s search engine, and if you go to the mediafunhouse channel (where it is still visible), you cannot click through to see it.

This is of course much ado about nothing. But Fox does like to make this kind of trouble — a previous notification from YT informed that the company had made note of my using a clip from The Panic in Needle Park in a clip from my interview with Jerry Schatzberg. In that clip the claim was patently ridiculous, since the footage was overlaid onto Schatzberg talking about the film — thus, as I called it in the clip description, “the audio commentary that never was.” Thus the studio was all right with it remaining on the site. Goddamn, glad you were, guys, the fucking thing only serves to draw attention to a movie you released on DVD, but pretty much "buried" in the process.

This “burying” by Fox of their cult items is fascinating. The many fans of Phantom of the Paradise — 24,000 (!) of whom have watched my Graham interview clip to date — are well aware that the U.S. DVD release of the film contains no extras, whereas the French two-disc release has a host of wonderful supplements, including a full-length featurette that includes comments from all of the key participants, including De Palma.

The fact that Fox hasn’t seen fit to acquire and release these extras (which are, natch, in English) in the U.S. speaks to the fact that they really don't care much at all about the film. In the meantime, here is the contested clip, which can indeed be linked to in a blog. You are outta your ever-lovin’ mind, Fox bean-counters!

UPDATE: I re-upped the clip, minus the "offending" footage: