Archive for the ‘Television’ Category

‘Matt’ra Fact, It’s All Dark . . .’

Thursday, August 12th, 2021

Catching up with our DVR list, I spent close to an hour last evening watching an episode of Classic Albums from our local public television station, thoroughly enjoying myself as the members of Pink Floyd and some of their associates took us through the making and meaning of 1973’s Dark Side of the Moon.

The show wasn’t new. If I have things right, it was put together in 2003, before Richard Wright died, so he, along with Roger Waters, David Gilmour and Nick Mason were available for lengthy interviews for the piece, as were engineer Alan Parsons and several other folks involved with the making of the album, along with a journalist or two.

I don’t know that I learned anything really startling about the album, which I know probably as well as any album in my collection. I heard it for the first time (and many times thereafter) in the youth hostel where I lived during the second half of my time in Denmark in 1973-74, and I got my own copy a year later in the spring of 1975.

But it was a pleasant near-hour to spend last evening, hearing how the creators put their work together and hearing what they thought about it decades later. There was one touching moment: David Gilmour said that instead of hearing the work as it evolved and was assembled, he often wishes that he could have experienced what record-buyers did when they put on their headphones and listened to the album for the first time.

“That would have been nice,” he said simply and, I thought, a bit wistfully.

I tried to think back to the first time I heard the album and couldn’t isolate it; it was too much a part of the background of life at the hostel in early 1974. I do recall being startled the first time I heard “The Great Gig in the Sky,” which closed Side One in those pre-CD days. And in the show I watched last evening, the four members of Pink Floyd – talking about it thirty years after the fact – still marveled at Clare Torry’s improvised vocals for the track:

Some Bits Left Out

Wednesday, December 23rd, 2020

We took a couple of hours the other day to catch up on the HBO documentary The Bee Gees: How Can You Mend a Broken Heart. We enjoyed the music and the memories, learned a bit more about how the Brothers Gibb put together their sound, and – for my part, anyway – felt more than a little bit sad for Barry, the last surviving Gibb brother, as he talked about his memories of fellow Bee Gees Maurice and Robin and their kid brother, Andy.

Over the years, I’ve said something like “There are three parts to the arc of the Bee Gees’ career,” citing the Beatlesque phase of the mid- to late 1960s (covering the period from their first album and hits to 1969’s Odessa), the “pulling-it-back-together” phase from 1970 through 1974, and the disco/megastar phase from 1975 to 1980.

Probably over-simple, and I kind of missed one: The songwriting and production phase, which overlaps the last of my three phases. From 1978 on, the Brothers Gibb wrote and produced hits for so many folks that any hour on the radio was going to bring you two or three records with the Bee Gees’ fingerprints on them, stuff by Samantha Sang, Kenny Rogers and Dolly Parton, Diana Ross, and so many more (including brother Andy).

What I thought was just as interesting as the stuff the documentary reminded me about was the stuff that it left out entirely. There was no mention of the 1978 film version of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, an utter failure that featured Peter Frampton as well as the Bee Gees. (The best – and kindest – reaction I’ve ever read about the mess came from Beatle George Harrison: “I think it’s damaged their images, their careers, and they didn’t need to do that. It’s just like the Beatles trying to do the Rolling Stones. The Rolling Stones can do it better.”)

And there was at most a veiled mention of the period in 1969 and 1970 when the group split, with Robin Gibb trying out a solo career. No mention of Robin’s album Robin’s Reign or the album that Barry and Maurice put out at the same time, Cucumber Castle (a title taken from a track on the 1967 album The Bee Gee’s 1st). Neither of the two albums is very good, though I think Robin’s is the lesser of the two. On the other hand, that opinion might stem from the fact that I’d never heard Robin’s Reign until I found it online ca. 2007, while I first heard Cucumber Castle across the street at Rick’s in 1970 (and it made its way onto my shelves in 1989).

Given those caveats, the HBO film was well done and pleasant watching (and listening). I was especially tickled to learn that Barry’s falsetto – the group’s secret weapon during the period when they owned the world – was discovered pretty much by accident while recording “Nights On Broadway” for Main Course (which happens to be my favorite Bee Gees’ album).

Here, from 1970’s Cucumber Castle, is the quirky “My Thing.”

Saturday Single No. 606

Saturday, August 25th, 2018

I’m here only briefly this morning, as we’re in the midst of what has come to be called a “staycation.” The Texas Gal is taking few days off, and we whiled yesterday away with some shopping – nothing major, just a new toaster and some kitchen towels and place mats – and binge-watching the fourth season of Sons of Anarchy.

We began watching the show about, oh, a month ago. I’d frequently seen promos for the series about a California motorcycle club during its seven-year run (2008 to 2014) and was mildly intrigued but never enough so to make a date with either the television or the DVR. But we were watching something earlier this summer and saw a promo for Mayans M.C., an upcoming similar show created and produced by the same folks, and the Texas Gal was interested. So we Hulued and began watching.

And, as anyone who watched the show knows, one of the most effective portions is the music: Much of it is original to the show but a fair portion of it is very effective covers (and some is pulled from previously released albums by various artists, Patty Griffin, for one). From what I’ve been able to suss out – not wanting to dig too deeply into stuff online and find plot spoilers – the backing band for much of the music is a roots group called the Forest Rangers. Lead vocals come from various folks, some pretty well-known like Curtis Stigers and Indigenous, while others are lesser-known (to me, anyway) like the Stone Foxes, Noah Gundersen, and the Tarbox Ramblers. (Some of the most effective tracks have lead vocals from cast member Katey Sagal.)

I’ve spent hours on YouTube wandering through videos of music from the show, especially those posted by the Forest Rangers account – again, trying very hard not to blunder into spoilers – and I’ve added heavily to the figurative list of artists whose work I need to explore. Jake Smith, who records as The White Buffalo, was already on that list, but since hearing a tune he recorded with the Forest Rangers for a 2014 episode of Sons of Anarchy, I’ve moved him up a fair number of places.

Here’s the track that made me want more of his work: “Come Join the Murder” by The White Buffalo with the Forest Rangers. It’s today’s Saturday Single.

Catching Up

Wednesday, November 8th, 2017

For a few months now, the Texas Gal and I have been talking about taking a look at the NBC television series This Is Us. So this weekend, we did, letting our smart TV find the show’s first season.

We’ve binge-watched other shows, a prime example being Amazon’s The Man In The High Castle. We took care of two seasons of that in just a couple of weeks. And early this year, we took care of the first season of Outsiders on WGN in a week or so, catching up to watch the second – and final – season as it came around weekly.

But it’s turning out to be tough to binge-watch This Is Us. The time-shifting story of family life is one of the best television series I’ve ever watched. Or perhaps I should say that if the rest of the series – the third second season is airing weekly on NBC these days – is as good as the first five episodes have been, This Is Us will rank among the best television series I’ve ever watched.

But it’s hard to binge on.

Why? Because every episode aims at my heart and hits true. And it never seems to go over the top, except in the ways that life itself sometimes goes over the top. Add in the comic moments that seem to be pulled from someone’s life rather than written, and top those off with intelligent casting and production, and you have great TV.

And, in our household at least, damp eyes. As the credits roll to end another episode, the Texas Gal turns to me. “What’d you think?” I shake my head, unable to speak for a few moments, and then maybe we roll another episode. We managed two in a row the first night and two in a row the next. Last night, we squeezed one into our regular viewing. I think two per evening is going to be our limit.

I’m also very aware of the music used in This Is Us, of course. Ranging from the 1960s to today, lots of it is familiar and some is not, and I keep telling myself I need to find out what the unfamiliar stuff is. That’s how I came upon tunefind, a site that catalogs tracks used in movies and television shows. And that’s how I verified that a track used behind an opening montage in the third episode of the series was in fact a 1965 track that’s been hanging around in the digital shelves here for almost ten years.

Here’s the very spare “Blues Run The Game” by Jackson C. Frank.

‘And I Have Loved You Wild . . .’

Thursday, October 29th, 2015

Reality television has added another notch to its belt in our household: I’ve joined the Texas Gal in becoming a viewer of The Voice, the singing competition offered by NBC. She’s been a fan for some time, and as this season began, I joined her in the living room and found myself intrigued by some of the talent in the competition.

The structure of the competition – with head-to-head match-ups and so on – seems a little gimmicky sometimes, but one thing that does make it a better show than American Idol, which we’ve watched for years, is the opening round, in which hopeful contestants sing in blind auditions, with the chairs of the four judges facing away from them.

That means, of course, that the judges – Adam Levine, Gwen Stefani, Pharrell Williams and Blake Shelton – can only assess a contestant by his or her voice in that first round. That’s an interesting twist, which I like.

Anyway, this season’s contest is underway, and I’ll likely follow it to the end. I have a few favorites among the contestants still alive in the competition. Among those eliminated, one of the intriguing entries was the duo of Jubal Lee Young and Amanda Preslar. Young is the son of country musician Steve Young, and for the blind audition, the duo performed the elder Young’s most famous song, “Seven Bridges Road.”

They advanced, landing a spot on Williams’ team, but were eliminated in the next round. The show’s profile of the two showed them with their families, including, of course, Steve Young. I was startled for an instant to see that he’s looking old and a bit frail, but then I realized that the man is in his seventies. (He’s seventy-three, to be precise.)

And as Young and Preslar sang the elder Young’s song during their blind audition, I thought, not for the first time, about what a great song it is. A couple of years ago, I found a quote from Steve Young about the song’s inspiration:

I lived in Montgomery, Alabama, in the early ’60s and had a group of friends there that showed me the road. It led out of town, and after you had crossed seven bridges you found yourself out in the country on a dirt road. Spanish moss hung in the trees and there were old farms with old fences and graveyards and churches and streams. A high bank dirt road with trees. It seemed like a Disney fantasy at times. People went there to park or get stoned or just to get away from it all. I thought my friends had made up the name “Seven Bridges Road.” I found out later that it had been called by that name for over a hundred years, that people had been struck by the beauty of the road for a long time.

I shared Young’s original version of the tune then, and this morning, I thought I’d dig into the files and see what covers I have. The obvious one, of course, is the Eagles’ cover of the tune from their 1980 live album (a version that essentially replicates Ian Matthews’ 1973 version from his Valley Hi album). I’ve also got covers by Rita Coolidge and by Tracy Nelson with Mother Earth, both from 1971. I may dig up more – and there seem to be plenty of covers out there – but here’s Matthews’ version:

Missing The Midnight Special

Tuesday, January 20th, 2015

Rummaging around on Facebook over the weekend, I came across a link to a piece at the Rolling Stone website offering seventeen reasons to adulate Stevie Nicks. Now, I don’t adulate Nicks, nor do I need reasons to do so, but I do admire her and like a lot of her music, both with and without Fleetwood Mac.

So I didn’t need to click through for those seventeen reasons, but the video that was embedded in the piece tempted me. And I found myself watching the Mac’s performance of “Rhiannon” on the June 11, 1976, episode of The Midnight Special.

(Note: That video was deleted; the video below is from an April presentation of The Midnight Special, and a copyright notice below says the performance is from January 1976. Who knows? Note added December 13, 2020.)

I loved pretty much everything about that clip and wished for maybe the thousandth time that I’d paid more attention to The Midnight Special. The late-night Friday show* ran from February 1973 into May 1981, and I’m not at all sure why I didn’t watch it even occasionally, much less regularly.

During most of the early years – up to the middle of the summer of ’76, not long after above Fleetwood Mac performance – I could easily have watched the show on the old black-and-white in my room (with the sound turned down some so as not to wake my folks in the adjacent bedroom). After that, at least in a couple of places, I might have had to persuade a couple of roommates (or for a few years, the Other Half) to watch with me. But I never even tried.

So I never got on board, and I wish I had. There are selected performances from the show’s nine seasons available commercially, but I’m not about to spring the cash that Time/Life is asking for discs of those assorted performances. Instead, I wander on occasion through the valley at YouTube, finding bits and pieces of things I missed half a lifetime (or more) ago, things like Linda Ronstadt (introduced by José Feliciano as a country performer) making her way through a December 1973 performance of “You’re No Good” and a May 1977 performance of “Smoke From A Distant Fire” by the Sanford/Townsend Band.

It’s a seemingly bottomless trove of long-ago treasure, and I can easily get lost clicking from video to video (something that happens occasionally anyway, though with less of a focus). Well, there are worse things to get hooked on, I suppose. And for this morning, we’ll close with a performance by Redbone from February 1974, when they opened “Come And Get Your Love” with a Native American dance quite possibly pulled – though I’m not certain – from the Shoshone heritage of Pat and Lolly Vegas, the group’s founders.

*The show followed The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson, which meant that for most of its run, The Midnight Special actually started at midnight here in the Central Time Zone. When Carson trimmed his show to an hour in late 1980, The Midnight Special aired at 11:30 our time.

‘Baby, Please Come Home . . .’

Friday, December 19th, 2014

One of my favorite Christmas traditions – and I have very few – comes to an end tonight on the Late Show with David Letterman: Darlene Love’s annual performance of “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home).”

Love has performed the song on Letterman’s shows on NBC and CBS since 1986, and with Letterman retiring in the spring, Love said that this year’s performance will be her last of the song on any talk show, according to a piece in this morning’s New York Times.

The Times reports: “People say, ‘He can’t demand that’,” Ms. Love explained, sweeping back her curly platinum hair. “I say, ‘He’s not demanding.’ I made a point myself, and I want to do it just for David.” (The Times piece is here.)

I imagine I’ve seen Love’s last twenty or so annual performances of the song she first recorded in 1963 for the Phil Spector album A Christmas Gift For You, most of them when the show was aired and some of them afterward. It seems to me that my first viewing of one of Love’s performances came in the late 1990s, when I was flipping among the six channels on my TV late one December evening. I came across Letterman – whose show I generally ignored – promising viewers that Darlene Love would perform after the commercial break.

When the break was over and Love took the stage, I was overjoyed. And I’ve been so every year since. (I should note that in 2007, when Love was unable to perform on the show because of a writers strike, a recording of her 2006 performance was aired instead. I loved it anyway.)

And tonight, I’ll watch the last time as Love, 73, and a large cluster of musicians recreate – as closely as a live performance can, I think – Spector’s Wall of Sound. And I imagine, me being me, I’ll be a little misty-eyed as the performance comes to close. That’s okay. I’ll make sure I have some tissues at hand.

Here’s Love’s performance of “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)” from last year:

Diverted By Peggy Lipton

Friday, June 27th, 2014

Okay, right off the top, take a listen to Peggy Lipton:

I found that rather nice cover of Donovan’s 1967 single “Wear Your Love Like Heaven” after I saw it listed in the Billboard Hot 100 from June 27, 1970, forty-four years ago today. It was bubbling under at No. 112 and would get as high as No. 108 before falling out of sight. (One of the things I particularly like about Lipton’s record is producer Lou Adler quoting from Donovan’s “Sunshine Superman” in the introduction.)

Lipton was better known in the late 1960s and early 1970s as one of three young stars (along with Michael Cole and Clarence Williams III) of the television series The Mod Squad, which centered around three young folks who agreed to work as undercover cops in order to stay out of jail. The series ran from September 1968 through August 1973 and was, says Wikipedia, “one of the earliest attempts to deal with the counterculture. Groundbreaking in the realm of socially relevant drama, it dealt with issues such as abortion, domestic violence, student protest, child neglect, illiteracy, slumlords, the anti-war movement, soldiers returning from Vietnam, racism, and the illegal drug trade.”

(Was it that good? I never watched the show much back then, but I’ve taken in a few clips on YouTube in the past few days, and what I’ve seen seems slow and a little clunky. But that’s a perspective from more than forty years on, so I dunno.)

Lipton might be better known these days as the mother of Rashida Jones, who plays Ann Perkins on NBC’s Parks and Recreation, or for having played Norma Jennings in the 1990s television show Twin Peaks, or perhaps as the ex-wife of Quincy Jones, to whom Lipton was married from 1974 to 1990.

But it was as Julie Barnes in The Mod Squad that the utterly beautiful Lipton came to the public’s attention. She sang at least once during the show’s run. In a 1969 episode, she auditioned for a roadhouse singing job with a performance of Carole King’s “Now That Everything’s Been Said.” (Sharp-eyed viewers will note the presence of a young Tyne Daly and, behind the drum kit, Hal Blaine.)

Her 1968 self-titled album included a cover of Laura Nyro’s “Stoney End,” which was released as a single; it bubbled under at No. 121. A single-only release, “Lu,” bubbled under at No. 102 in early 1970, followed by “Wear Your Love Like Heaven,” which was also a single-only release. Discogs.com lists one Canadian and one Japanese single; the B-side of the Japanese single was “Just A Little Lovin’ (Early In The Mornin’),” originally released (as far as I can tell) by Dusty Springfield as the B-side to her 1968 hit “Son Of A Preacher Man.”

Here’s Lipton lip-synching “Just A Little Lovin’ (Early In The Mornin’)” on The Hollywood Palace in 1969, followed by a bit of “Little Green Apples” with Sammy Davis, Jr., and a bit of show-business nonsense. (How about that? Two posts in a row with Sammy Davis, Jr.!)

After digging into Lipton’s brief musical career, I was intrigued to learn that a CD entitled The Complete Ode Recordings will be released near the end of July. As I’ve dug into stuff the past couple of days, I’ve guessed that the various non-album singles were intended to be on a unreleased second album I’ve seen mentioned vaguely (most notably at All Music Guide) that I assume will be included on the CD. Given that I like what I’ve heard of Lipton’s work – and adding in that Blaine and other members of the famed Wrecking Crew as well as reed man Jim Horn are listed in the credits for Lipton’s album at AMG – I may have to invest in the CD when it comes out.

I admit to getting sidetracked into Ms. Lipton’s career. Next week, we’ll do what I originally planned: We’ll take a listen to Donovan’s original version of “Wear Your Love Like Heaven” and then dig into a few other covers. And now that I’ve been reminded of “Just A Little Lovin’ (Early In The Mornin’),” we’ll likely dig into covers of that one, too.

Saturday Single No. 369

Saturday, December 7th, 2013

I saw this morning that Mavis Staples – whom a commenter at a Facebook music group called “a national treasure” this week – has been nominated for a Grammy in the Americana category for her album One True Vine.

And as I read that news, a video played on YouTube showing a performance by the Staple Singers of “If You’re Ready (Come Go With Me),” which was No. 12 in the Billboard Hot 100 released forty years ago this week, on December 8, 1973.

Sometimes the universe speaks, even about things as ultimately as inconsequential as the selection of a record to highlight. So here, in a performance that likely took place in June 1974, are the Staple Singers performing “If You’re Ready (Come Go With Me),” today’s Saturday Single.

‘Shadows Of The Night . . .’

Thursday, August 16th, 2012

The public fascination with vampires over the past few years has baffled me. From Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight books and the films that have resulted from them through the HBO series True Blood to the recent film Dark Shadows, the vampire fetish that’s taken hold in American pop culture mystifies me. And I’ve purposely missed most of it. I watched the first episode a few years ago of True Blood and found it less than compelling, and that’s all the vampiring I’ve done.

I suppose there’s an explanation somewhere for the fascination, probably something about how pop culture reflects the times, frightening and uncertain as they are, and about the need to escape. And it’s certainly less stressful to watch horrible, scary (and occasionally romantic) films and movies (or to read the corresponding books) than it is to reflect on the very real tales of homelessness, hunger, murder, drought and flames (and all the rest) that wait for us when the entertainment is over. When we watch and read, we know it’s all fictional and temporary, unlike the worries outside our doors, and we know that we can get up and leave or turn off the TV or close the book, and thus get rid of our fears.

The same thoughts probably hold true for the recent parallel fascination with zombies. And those thoughts have held true for many years in American pop culture (as well as other pop cultures, too, as evidenced by Godzilla rising from the ashes of nuclear holocaust in Japan in the 1950s). When we worry and are frightened, our worries and fears find their ways into our books, onto the big and small screens and – to an extent – into our music.

This year’s movie isn’t, of course, the first time that the vampires of Dark Shadows have been offered to the public. The original Dark Shadows was a TV soap opera on ABC from 1966 into 1971. A year after the show went on the air, it was ripe for cancellation. Then the writers introduced the character of Barnabas Collins (played by the recently deceased Jonathan Frid), whom Wikipedia describes as a “200-year-old vampire in search of fresh blood and his lost love, Josette.”

Viewers went nuts, and the show prospered. Wikipedia says: “Dark Shadows was distinguished by its vividly melodramatic performances, atmospheric interiors, memorable storylines, numerous dramatic plot twists, unusually adventurous music score, and broad and epic cosmos of characters and heroic adventures. Now regarded as something of a classic, it continues to enjoy an intense cult following.”

And, as pop culture phenomena often do, Dark Shadows crossed over media lines. In mid-June 1969, a single titled “Quentin’s Theme” – credited to the Charles Randolph Grean Sounde – entered the Billboard Hot 100. “Quentin’s Theme” was named for Barnabas Collins’ brother (played by David Selby), and the music had been used in numerous episodes of the series, according to a Dark Shadows wiki. In August, the record peaked at No. 13 (No. 3 on the Adult Contemporary chart).

Back in June, however, shortly after the “Quentin’s Theme” single entered the chart, an episode of Dark Shadows had once again featured the same tune, this time accompanied by Selby’s recitation of the lyrics. Shortly thereafter, a single including Selby’s recitation was released. Titled “Shadows of the Night (Quentin’s Theme)” and credited to the Robert Cobert Orchestra, it entered the Billboard Hot 100’s Bubbling Under section at No. 135 on August 16, 1969, forty-three years ago today.

A week later, the record moved up to No. 125 and then it fell out of the chart, so despite the popularity of Dark Shadows, not a lot of folks were impressed. But the record did impress someone who worked at KRCB radio in Council Bluffs, Iowa. In the station’s Big 15+6 survey from August 16, 1969, the record “Shadows of the Night (Quentin’s Theme)” was one of the six singles listed (without ranking) under the Big 15.

For that, KRCB stands alone: Of the more than one hundred surveys from August 1969 available at the Airheads Radio Survey Archive, that one edition of KRCB’s Big 15+6 is the only survey to list “Shadows of the Night (Quentin’s Theme).”

Despite the single’s lack of success, however, things weren’t entirely dire on the Dark Shadows musical front: On August 23, 1969, an LP of Cobert’s music from the series entered the Billboard album chart and peaked at No. 18 in an eight-week run. And as the year neared its end, Cobert was nominated for a Grammy for his work on “Shadows of the Night (Quentin’s Theme).”