Thursday, September 29, 2011

Review: "The Rolling Stones' Ed Sullivan Shows" DVDs

After The Rolling Stones made their first appearance on “The Ed Sullivan Show” on October 25, 1964, the host famously grumbled, “I promise you they'll never be back on our show. It took me 17 years to build this show and I'm not going to have it destroyed in a matter of weeks… I was shocked when I saw them.” The Stones, of course, would go on to shock funky, old Ed five more times throughout the ‘60s. SOFA Entertainment is now following up on last year’s terrific collection of The Beatles’ appearances on “The Ed Sullivan Show” and doing the same for The Stones. While the complete collection of six episodes on two discs is not due for release until November 1st, an abridged single disc edition missing the band’s first and final “Sullivan” appearances comes out next Tuesday.

Whether or not fans should drop their dollars on one of these DVDs is no moot point. You love The Stones, you need to check them out on “Sullivan” not just to scream and shout to their performances but to dig the context. These days “The Ed Sullivan Show” may be most famous for its Rock acts, but that was never the show’s central purpose. It was an extremely old-fashioned variety program catering to corny circus acts, awful comedians, and bland crooners. Seeing the filthy, furious Rolling Stones storm the stage at 1697 Broadway is like watching a hurricane wipe out Little Town USA. Not that everything on these discs but The Rolling Stones is unwatchable. Some of the shows deliver serious nostalgia value. A lot of the vintage advertisements are more entertaining than the actual acts. Some of those acts are genuinely impressive. However, a lot of this material requires a quick thumb on your remote’s “next” button.

The first show is the one that most riled Ed, although he’d have additional gripes about The Stones in shows to come. The shrieking crowd really seems to get under his skin here. Contrast Ed’s scowl when faced with The Stones' crowd to the delight and surprise he exuded when The Beatles elicited the same reaction several months earlier. The Stones rage through their definitive cover of Chuck Berry’s “Around and Around”, exit the stage to make way for a visibly nervous Stiller and Meara and Phyllis Diller, who makes a bunch of depressing and painfully unfunny self-loathing jokes, then they’re back to save the day with “Time Is On My Side”. Mick’s apparently unwashed hair sends Ed into a tizzy. Bill Wyman’s screeching falsetto brings the number to a strident conclusion. Fabulous.

Ed didn’t hold to his promise that “they'll never be back on our shew” very long. The Stones were back just six months later on May 2, 1965, to promote their latest single (“The Last Time”) and U.S. L.P. (The Rolling Stones Now!). At first, Brian Jones’s lead guitar is too low, so we don’t get enough riffing on “The Last Time”. The mix is a lot better on “Little Red Rooster”, so there’s plenty of his slippery slide. A raving rendition of “Everybody Needs Somebody to Love” notwithstanding, Ed seems to prefer a woman who balances wine glasses on her head, which he describes as “one of the greatest acts we’ve ever had on this stage in seventeen years.” Yeesh. Elsewhere we get four weird minutes spent ogling Michelangelo’s Pietà, Tom Jones sporting a proto-mullet and the tightest pants in Wales, and a special cameo by Roy Orbison! The Stones ride out the credits with an impromptu “2120 South Michigan Avenue”.

Most of the supporting acts on the February 13, 1966, show aren’t even good for a laugh. There’s a comedian who isn’t so much a comedian as a boring old fart with a bunch of “kids today don’t know how good they have it” rap. Sorry, daddy-o, but that kind of talk is why we pulled the plug on grandpa. We want The Stones. Then there are some naked guys painted gold and writhing in a dog pile. While I applaud the act’s groundbreaking homoeroticism, it’s all tease and no climax. We want The Stones! And though you’d have to be a drooling degenerate to not find Hal Holbrook’s recitation of Abe Lincoln’s second inaugural speech utterly riveting, WE WANT THE STONES!!! Well, we get them in three spectacular, full-color performances. First up is a jangly “Satisfaction”. Ed had his censors bleep out “Trying to make some girl” upon the original airing, but Jagger’s offending lyric is allowed to be heard in all its offensive glory on this DVD. Certainly, Mick and Keith’s unplugged performance of “As Tears Go By” was more to Ed’s liking, but he may have had another heart attack had he been able to decipher the lyrics to “19th Nervous Breakdown”. Fortunately, he couldn’t and we get an uncensored version of The Stones’ most recent hit. Mick Jagger is MICK JAGGER for the first time, strutting around like a Derbyshire Redcap and singing right into the camera lens to let you know exactly who is under whose thumb.

For some reason, the previous appearance was the last to display The Rolling Stones in the raw. When they returned the following September 11th, their backing tracks were canned, only allowing Mick and Keith’s vocals to transmit live. Oh well. It’s still a joy to see the guys aping along with a triad of incredible songs from their mid-‘60s golden era. Brian looks ultra cool cradling his sitar during “Paint It Black” while wearing an all-white get up. But then…then he outdoes that outfit with the pinstriped gangster suit he slips on for “Lady Jane” and “Have You Seen Your Mother, Baby, Standing in the Shadow?” Honorary mention to Charlie Watts, who looks righteous with his catfish moustache and the wire-framed shades through which he leers at his glockenspiel. The supporting acts are better, too, with Jim Henson’s Muppets bopping along with “Rock It to Me” by The Bruthers (ringers for Question Mark and the Mysterians). Louis Armstrong does his nice, ragtime rendition of “Cabaret”. Joan Rivers and Red Skelton are a lot more amusing than most of the comedians on these shows. Robert Goulet is awful, but this episode may be the most consistently entertaining one in the bunch. Points deducted for The Stones’ canned instruments, though.

The band is once again shouting along to prerecorded tapes on the January 15, 1967, program, but this appearance is historically significant enough to make up for any artistic cop-outs. Actually, the appearance is all about artistic cop-outs. Jagger can insist he never sang “Let’s spend some time together” all he wants, but the proof is right here on this DVD. Sure, he rolls his eyes to convey his displeasure and occasionally garbles the words, but there’s no denying that he caved to Ed’s longstanding “No sleepovers” policy. Mick suffers another blow when he gets thrown by the cold-start of the “Ruby Tuesday” tape. Fortunately, Brian’s green silk shirt, fellatio-style recorder miming, and big hat provide adequate distraction. We’ll call it a draw between Ed and The Stones. The guys’ appearances are bunched at the conclusion of this episode, rather than spread out as they are in the others, so feel free to skip ahead. The Muppets are back, but not as interesting as they were in the earlier show. The horrific spectacle of 44 nuns singing “Kumbaya” will likely pummel the last remnants of Christianity out of you. Petula Clark is the only other performer to really recommend on this episode, but that’s mostly because it’s hilarious to hear the men in the audience screaming for a change. She sings Bob Lind’s sappy hit “Elusive Butterfly” in her technicolor dreamcoat, then gets in her trademark mini to take part in a dance routine to “Colour My World”, complete with goofuses in bobbie uniforms and dolly birds swaying under a Carnaby Street sign. London swings!

Things really changed by the time The Rolling Stones made their final appearance on “The Ed Sullivan Show” on November 23, 1969. Puffy-eyed Brian was gone; baby-faced Mick Taylor was in. Most of the performances are now completely canned. Mick mimes awkwardly to “Gimmie Shelter” and “Honky Tonk Women”. A jarring edit removes Merry Clayton’s solo in “Shelter”. Despite being far more nitty gritty than anything in “Satisfaction” or “Let’s Spend the Night Together”, the “I laid a divorcee in New York City” line is clear and complete in “Honky Tonk”. Oh, how times have changed. The only live scrap is Jagger’s vocal on “Love in Vain”, which the band apes on a set decorated like a psychedelic cave. Ella Fitzgerald, however, is allowed to actually sing both her numbers. I guess even Ed realized you can’t dub Ella. Good for her. Someone should have dubbed Rodney Dangerfield’s tired shtick about how his wife can’t drive and has a big mouth with something that was actually funny.

While it’s interesting to see The Stones doing something as innocuous as lip-synching on “The Ed Sullivan Show” just two weeks before the infamous Altamont Free Concert, it isn’t their most essential moment. Still, you don’t want to be without that debut performance, which is only on the two-disc edition of these DVDs. It may not shock you as it did Ed Sullivan all those decades ago, but it will probably get your ass wiggling. And though all of these episodes have great time-capsule value, you may find yourself utilizing the very considerate “Play All Rolling Stones Songs” option to cut right to the good stuff. Fortunately, there’s no shortage of Stonesy good stuff on these discs.

Preorder 4 Ed Sullivan Shows Starring The Rolling Stones and 6 Ed Sullivan Shows Starring The Rolling Stones at Amazon.com.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Review: 'Beatles for Sale on Parlophone Records'

Have there ever been four people more thoroughly scrutinized, analyzed, biographized, and chroniclized than The Beatles? Their tours and recording sessions, lives and wives, their music and lyrics, their merchandise and solo records, their political implications and shoe sizes have all formed the bases of Beatle books for Beatle people. Bruce Spizer has devoted the last decade to covering what may be the most vital byproduct of Beatlemania: the little 7” and 12” discs that housed all their spectacular music. His two volumes of The Beatles’ Story on Capitol Records, The Beatles on Apple Records, and The Beatles Solo on Apple Records are now joined by Beatles for Sale on Parlophone Records, co-authored with Frank Daniels.

Spizer and Daniels’s book gets in the grooves of every 45, L.P., and E.P. released on Parlophone Records in the U.K. (and that includes their records with Apple labels, which actually weren’t Apple records at all). Each chapter on each record follows a consistent formula. Brief background comments on the relevant record are followed by its chart history, including the records they displaced from the top of the charts (because pretty much everything The Beatles released went to the toppermost of the poppermost). Then the writers delve deeper with details on the writing and recording of each song, how the records were promoted, and significant live performances of them. Then they cross assuredly into the geek zone, breaking down the different pressings of the records, the variations and errors on their labels, etc. Even Spizer recognizes that these last details will only appeal to hardcore collectors, warning more casual readers that they may want to skip over the bits about matrix numbers and fonts in his forward.

Indeed, Beatles for Sale on Parlophone Records is largely aimed at serious collectors who want to know the precise origins of their vintage Beatles records. The luxuriousness of this over-sized, glossy-paged, full-color book makes it a collector’s item in itself (as does the steep price tag). But all fab fans will find something to enjoy in Beatles for Sale on Parlophone Records, whether it’s the plethora of wonderful photos or the abundance of trivial tidbits. I’m sure there are die-hard Beatlemaniacs who are already familiar with every scrap of historical info in this book. I’ve read a good twenty volumes on the band, and a lot of this stuff was new to me. I did not know that the “A Hard Day’s Night”/“Things We Said Today” was originally intended to be promoted as a double-A side. I now fully understand the economic reasons for placing a mere 11 or 12 tracks on the Capitol albums in the U.S. I was surprised to read how far the German translations of “She Loves You” and “I Want to Hold Your Hand” diverged from the original English lyrics. I was even more taken aback to learn that McCartney’s fuzz bass on “Think for Yourself” was not really a fuzz bass at all and that there is an odd connection between the “Flying” sequence in Magical Mystery Tour and Stanley Kubrick’s comedic masterwork Dr. Strangelove.

Spizer and Daniels also rise above the usual clinical collector’s guide writers by striking an informal, sometimes cheeky tone. The opening paragraphs of the Let It Be chapter are righteously funny. I also appreciate the attention they paid to aborted projects, such as both versions of the Get Back album and the Yellow Submarine E.P. that was scrapped in favor of an L.P. filled out with George Martin’s score. But someone needs to explain the difference between a tabla and a tamboura to the writers.

Get Beatles for Sale on Parlophone Records at Amazon.com here.

Pre-Order Deluxe Edition of The Rolling Stones' 'Some Girls'

We still don't have a track listing for the deluxe edition of The Rolling Stones' 1978 return-to-form album Some Girls, but you can pre-order it now on Amazon.com here.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Free Download of Atari-Style "Twin Peaks" Video Game!

Remember back in 1991 when the Atari video game company decided to cash in on the phenomenal success of the "Twin Peaks" finale by producing the one and only officially licensed "Twin Peaks" video game in which you, the player, controls Agent Cooper as he traverses the red-curtained innards of the mythical Black Lodge? No? Boy, did your childhood suck!

Well, now you can set things right both for yourself and little Dale Cooper, who we last saw trapped in the Lodge while his Killer BOB-infused doppelgänger was free to do very, very naughty things in the bucolic town of Twin Peaks. That's because the great Welcome to Twin Peaks.com has posted a P.C. and Mac friendly download of the Twin Peaks Black Lodge © game!

Wait a minute... according to the site, this game didn't actually get released in 1991. It was actually created just months ago by a certain genius named Jak Locke as an homage to both classic Atari games and the greatest T.V. show in the history of humanity! I've been hoodwinked!

No matter, because Locke's game is the sweetest kind of hoodwink. The Black Lodge game is both simple and challenging. The player encounters such beloved characters as The Little Man from Another Place, Evil Laura, Evil Leland, Little Jimmy Scott, and Killer BOB, himself! Moving furniture poses additional challenges. Snag the free download of this terrific game at Welcome to Twin Peaks.com today and find out how Annie really is!

Stephen King Officially at Work on Sequel to 'The Shining'

Psychobabble recently reported that Rochester, NY's Dryden Theater will be screening the original, extended, rarely-screened cut of Stanley Kubrick's adaptation of Stephen King's The Shining on October 22nd. A week later, news is spreading that King will be fleshing out his story even further. The author's official site reveals that his long-rumored sequel to The Shining is currently in the works. According to Stephen King.com:

"It's now official--Stephen is working on Dr. Sleep, the sequel to The Shining... Dr. Sleep's plot includes a traveling group of vampires called The Tribe which is part of the passage he read from."


Although I can't find any such information on King's site, Dread Central.com states that grown-up Danny Torrance will be a member of that touring vampire troupe. So, does this mean that little Danny is now a vampire? Or maybe he's just a sort of psychic mascot to the vampires, like Sookie Stackhouse on "True Blood". I guess we'll find out when King completes his book. Considering the guy's prolificness, he'll likely be finishing up page 6,052 early tomorrow afternoon. Until then, here he is reading an excerpt from Dr. Sleep at George Mason University last weekend.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Farewell, R.E.M... Welcome Back, GBV!

Aren't thirtieth anniversaries supposed to be happy occasions? Well, that doesn't seem to be the case with Athens, Georgia's favorite sons, R.E.M. Yesterday, the jangly darlings of '80s college rock radio announced they'd no longer be making records automatic for the people on their official web site. Peter Buck and Michaels Stipe and Mills had this to say:
"To our Fans and Friends: As R.E.M., and as lifelong friends and co-conspirators, we have decided to call it a day as a band. We walk away with a great sense of gratitude, of finality, and of astonishment at all we have accomplished. To anyone who ever felt touched by our music, our deepest thanks for listening." R.E.M.
That statement is followed by parting words from each of the guys, who generally chalk their split up to being old and not having much more to say. R.E.M. will say "so long" on November 15th with a double-disc greatest hits album called Part Lies, Part Heart, Part Truth, Part Garbage 1982 - 2011.

But as the old adage goes, "When the Rock & Roll gods close a door, they open a booby hatch." When Dayton, Ohio's Guided by Voices started making records in the mid-'80s, they pinched the R.E.M. sound so assuredly that they practically owed Stipe and the boys royalties. Of course, they soon developed into the beer-chugging, no-fi, pseudo-British-Invasion, indie legends that made Rock & Roll fun again in the '90s. Robert Pollard and his ever-changing line-up of cronies continued releasing amazing albums until 2004's Half Smiles of the Decomposed marked their electrifying conclusion. He then promised us GBV was no more. But a mere six years later they were back again for a mini-tour...and they were back with the line-up most fans rate as their "classic line-up." That's guitarists Tobin Sprout and Mitch Mitchell, bassist Greg Demos, and drummer Kevin Fennell. Apparently, the guys got on so well during their series of shows that they are now promising an electrifying revival. Pollard, Sprout, Mitchell, Demos, and Fennell have their first studio album since 1996's Under the Bushes, Under the Stars in the works for release New Year's Day 2012! According to Mojo.com, Let's Go Eat the Factory will include the following titles:

Laundry And Lasers
The Head
Doughnut For A Snowman
Spiderfighter
Hang Mr. Kite
God Loves Us
The Unsinkable Fats Domino
Who Invented The Sun
The Big Hat And Toy Show
Imperial Racehorsing
How I Met My Mother
Waves
My Europa
Chocolate Boy
The Things That Never Need
Either Nelson
Cyclone Utilities (Remember Your Birthday)
Old Bones
Go Rolling Home
The Room Taking Shape
We Won't Apologize For The Human Race

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Review: 'Little Symphonies: A Phil Spector Reader'

Little Symphonies: A Phil Spector Reader is a humble enough looking book, but like its subject, this little anthology is stuffed with ideas. Editor Kingsley Abbott did a swell job of collecting an eclectic range of articles on the brilliant, bizarre producer. Spector’s life is pock marked with tales terrifying and too-strange-to-be-true, the full breadth of which is certainly too unwieldy to adequately convey in a pocket-sized, 200-page book. So Abbott smartly maintains focus on the man’s music rather than his criminal madness. Of course, Spector’s notorious volatility and unsettling idiosyncrasies creep into much of the material in Abbott’s book.

Following a brief introduction from the editor, things really get underway with a Nik Cohn piece published in a late 1972 issue of Creem. The writer weaves his and Spector’s expectedly strange encounters with a tidy, yet opinionated overview of the producer’s career. Sleazy and beautiful, “Nik Cohn Visits Mr. Spector” is the kind of Rock writing that simply doesn’t exist anymore.

Now that we have our outline of Phil sketched, the details are ready to be painted between the lines. Greg Shaw’s “To Know Him Is to Love Him” (History of Rock- 1982) provides a solid image of Spector’s early career and initial hits. Bob Finnis’s “Phil Spector’s Wall of Sound” (Radio One: Story of Pop- 1973) presents an essential introduction to that echo-swathed monolith of clattering percussion, throbbing basses, chiming acoustic guitars, shimmering strings, and punishing drums. Interviews with producers Phil Chapman and Mark Wirtz probe deeper behind the wall, revealing how, exactly, Spector created his inimitable sound. This stuff is interesting for listeners but downright educational for producers both novice and veteran.

Little Symphonies continues to fascinate with a pair of interviews with Ronnie Spector conducted two decades apart (she is far more comfortable criticizing her ex-husband in the later discussion), several pieces on the mono and stereo variations of Spector’s records, a Richard Williams article and an interview with May Pang that paint portraits of the chaotic studio atmospheres during Spector’s sessions with John Lennon, and an account of the even more chaotic End of the Century sessions written by Dee Dee Ramone, himself.

Varied, entertaining, and endlessly informative with a refreshing minimum of overlapping information, Little Symphonies: A Phil Spector Reader provides a superb selection of Spectornalia essential for all Philophiles.

Get Little Symphonies: A Phil Spector Reader at Amazon.com here.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Kinks Mono Box Set Coming in November

For those who haven't invested in the recent double-disc editions of The Kinks' back catalog because the idea of owning stereo editions of the band's first seven L.P.s is simply too distasteful, a mono-only box set is on the way. All The Kink's original British albums from 1964's Kinks through 1969's Arthur will be joined by four E.P.s ("Kinksize Session", "Kinksize Hits", "Kweyt Kinks", "Dedicated Kinks") and a double-disc singles compilation. According to Spin CDs.com, the package also includes "a 32 page, pop annual style book with new notes, rare photos, memorabilia, discographical information and more." The Kinks in Mono is due this November 21st.

Pre-order The Kinks in Mono at Amazon.com here.

Original Edit of 'The Shining' Coming to Rochester, NY, in October

When Stanley Kubrick's adaptation of Stephen King's The Shining first opened in New York on May 23, 1980, the epic film was even more epic than the one with which we're all familiar today. Five days after the film's release, Kubrick decided to trudge back into the snowy Overlook Hotel and snip four minutes from his film. At the time, the filmmaker told The Evening Independent, “After several screenings in London the day before the film opened in New York and Los Angeles, when I was able to see for the first time the fantastic pitch of excitement which the audience reached during the climax of the film, I decided the scene was unnecessary.”

More than thirty years later, the Dryden Theater in Rochester New York will be screening the original, uncut version of The Shining. The film will screen for one night only October 22, 2011, at 8:00 PM. The theater's web site teases, "A brilliant study of domestic abuse and possession — demonic, creative, and familial — this is Kubrick’s horror masterpiece as you’ve never seen it, complete with a chilling coda cut from the original release." Will more Shining be better Shining? Rochester residents can decide for themselves on October 22nd.

The Dryden Theatre is located at 900 East Avenue, Rochester, NY 14607.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Review: John Landis's 'Monsters in the Movies'

John Landis made terrific monster movies such as An American Werewolf in London and Innocent Blood by not taking the genre very seriously. However, Monsters in the Movies: 100 Years of Cinematic Nightmares proves he is nothing less than awestruck by monster movies. You will be too as you peruse the spectacular array of photos he collects in this new coffee table book.

The filmmaker divides the book into the various familiar categories to provide brief overviews of vampires, werewolves, mummies, space monsters, and the rest before inundating readers with the photos that are its reason for existing. A fabulous double-page, behind-the-scenes shot of the Metaluna Mutant from This Island Earth. A creepily eroticized picture of little Linda Blair in her demon makeup that says as much about the subtext of The Exorcist as any extended analysis. An ultra-rare image from the 1863 photomontage “Henry Robin and the Specter.” From the classics to the cheap-o exploiters, the most ancient relics to the most recent CGI pot boilers. Some 1,000 films are represented in this gorgeous, gorgeous book.

Landis’s text initially seems disappointing. His opening chapters on vampires and werewolves are primers that will reveal nothing to faithful horror hounds and lack the cheeky, sometimes curmudgeonly, irreverence that has made him such a welcome talking head in horror documentaries. But he quickly loosens up to crack wise about the Resident Evil movies (“You could take random scenes from each of these films and cut them together and I don’t think anyone would notice”), the unseen genitals in Zemeckis’s Beowulf, and other flicks that don’t quite rise to his standards.

Landis’s writing gets even more intriguing when he allows his personal politics to come into play, as when discussing the conservative nature of mad scientist films and the need to suspend his own atheism to appreciate The Exorcist. Best of all are his interviews with Christopher Lee, Joe Dante, David Cronenberg, Sam Raimi, Guillermo Del Toro, Ray Harryhausen, Rick Baker, and John Carpenter. Because he’s on chummy terms with these various actors and filmmakers, the conversations are casual and provocative. He gives Cronenberg a hilariously hard time regarding the unintended reactionary nature of his films. Someone needs to give Landis his own talk show!

Get Monsters in the Movies: 100 Years of Cinematic Nightmares at Amazon.com here.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

A Stones Avalanche: 'Some Girls' Deluxe and The Rolling Stones CompleteEd Sullivan Performances

As The Rolling Stones gear up for their 50th Anniversary next year, the Stones news is piling up. Last week Psychobabble reported that Eagle Rock Entertainment has a Some Girls era live DVD and CD in the works for a November 21st release. Now it seems a deluxe version of Some Girls will appear that same day. According to The Second Disc "Jagger told German television network ZDF that 'I’ve just been in the studio finishing some outtakes from 1978 … They’re going to be released [on] a rerelease of Some Girls. So these are going to be some 10 extra tracks from that time [that] were never released. Some of them had no vocals, so I had to do the vocals again. I did the same thing on Exile on Main Street'.”


While we wait for that release to materialize, there's Sofa Entertainment's DVD sets collecting The Stones' performances on The Ed Sullivan Show. First up is a budget set scheduled for an October 4th release, which collects four shows from 1965-1967. A more complete collection gathering six appearances from 1964-1969 will appear on November 1st. As was the case with The 4 Complete Ed Sullivan Shows Starring The Beatles, the DVDs will not only include the Rock & Roll you bought them for, but all the acrobats, corny comedians, jugglers, and puppets that filled out the remainder of Ed's funky old show. In some cases, the non-Stones segments are genuinely intriguing: a 1964 appearance from Dusty Springfield, The Muppets performing a "Rock 'n' Roll Routine" in '66, Louis Armstrong singing "Cabaret" in that very episode, a couple of songs from Petula Clark and an encore from The Muppets in '67, and Ella Fitzgerald doing her Ella Fitzgerald thing in '69.

Preorder 4 Ed Sullivan Shows Starring The Rolling Stones and 6 Ed Sullivan Shows Starring The Rolling Stones at Amazon.com.

'The Phantom of the Opera' coming to Blu-Ray

Since it's in the public domain, there are lots and lots of sub-par prints of Lon Chaney's groundbreaking Phantom of the Opera floating around out there. Cinephiles who like their images spic-and-span should be thrilled to learn that Phantom will be skulking its way onto fancy-schmancy blu-ray this November 1 (sorry, kids, you'll just have to watch your grainy old copy if you want to enjoy this classic during Halloween season). Aside from a truly horrifying close-up of Chaney's rictus on the cover, this disc sports the following features:

* Brand-new HD digital transfer of the 24fps version of 1929 reissue (Academy Aspect Ratio; 16x9 pillar-boxed) from the 35mm negative, with tinted sequences including the Bal Masque sequence in two-strip Technicolor. Featuring a brand new music score by Alloy Orchestra, plus Gaylord Carter’s famous theatre organ score, released for the first time in stereo;

* Brand-new HD transfer of 20fps version of 1929 reissue with tinting, Technicolor and hand-coloring. Symphonic score composed by Gabriel Thibaudeau, performed by I Musici de Montreal, conducted by Yuri Turovsky with Claudine Cote, soprano presented in stereo, along with a new full-length audio essay by Dr. Jon Mirsalis;

* Standard definition presentation of the original 1925 release from a 16mm tinted source copy. Accompanied by a new piano score by Dr. Frederick Hodges.

*Theatrical trailer
*Photo Gallery
*The complete Phantom Script
*Phantom Souvenir Program Reproduction

Thanks to Bloody Disgusting.com for these specs.

Pre-order The Phantom of the Opera on blu-ray on Amazon.com here.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Not Bad for a Long-Haired Weirdo: The Monkees and Radical Television

“[P]eople put us down…They say we’re totally manufactured, totally nebulous, have nothing to do or say. But no statement is a statement, you see. Absolutely. Not doing anything is something, man.”
-Mike Nesmith

In the above quote from the August 10, 1967, edition of The Houston Chronicle, Monkee Mike Nesmith's embarrassment regarding criticism that his band and show were vacuous is palpable. But did he have a point? Was The Monkees project really so insipid that the only way to give it the sheen of legitimacy was to offer the flimsy defense that "no statement is a statement"? Or was Nesmith just as guilty of overlooking the true political statement of The Monkees as his critics?

Mike Nesmith in 1967.


45 years ago today, Mike Nesmith, Micky Dolenz, Peter Tork, and Davy Jones first invaded network television with their goofy antics and pleasant pop songs. That’s not all they did. “The Monkees” gleefully shattered any number of television rules. Without any parental supervision (the only recurring adult in their world was their greedy landlord, Mr. Babbitt), The Monkees were free to expose the phoniness of T.V., satirize other shows, break the fourth wall to address the audience directly, and indulge in plenty of pure surrealism. All of this was highly unusual in an age of dim-witted, formulaic fare: “F Troop”, “My Three Sons”, “The Beverly Hillbillies”, “Flipper”, “Gilligan’s Island” (which aired opposite “The Monkees”), “I Dream of Jeannie” (which aired after it).

Stylistically, “The Monkees” had more in common with the sly pop-art parody “Batman”, which had debuted on ABC the previous January. More subtly, it tread in the footsteps of “The Twilight Zone”. Like Rod Serling, “Monkees” creators Bob Rafelson and Bert Schneider used their series to smuggle politics on the air in a seemingly harmless package. Just as Serling knew sci-fi and fantasy were not taken seriously enough to scrutinize, Rafelson and Schneider apparently understood that sitcoms—particularly those as silly as “The Monkees”—could sneak below the censorship radar. “The Monkees” rarely ran aground of NBC’s bowdlerizers. When it did, it was for innocuous things, such as showing a woman in a bikini (which was blurred out of “Too Many Girls” in re-runs) or using the word “Hell (which was bleeped out of “The Devil and Peter Tork”). This left the producers, writers, and the stars of “The Monkees” to get on with communicating their collective statement and radicalizing American television.

“The Monkees” was the first show to bring anti-establishment, long-haired young people into American living rooms on a weekly basis. Unlike the shaggy, “commie” criminals Friday and Gannon apprehended every week on “Dragnet”, or the daft Beatles parodies that appeared on shows like “The Munsters” or “The Flintstones” from time to time, hippies were the protagonists of “The Monkees”, and they often imparted their message of peace. That may not seem very radical, yet such messages are regarded as downright anti-American during wartime. This is not some dated attitude limited to the Vietnam era. Recall that after Bush invaded Iraq in 2003, Warner Brothers altered an image of Amanda Bynes flashing the peace sign from advertisements for the banal teen comedy What a Girl Wants for fear it would be viewed as a war protest.



Although stylistically radical, the season-one “Monkees” scripts did not delve deeply into political content. That was reserved for the unique candid interview segments used to both fill out short episodes and give viewers a more intimate portrait of their new idols. Half way through that debut season, Rafelson was picking the Monkees’ brains about prejudice against long-haired men (Tork invoked “the civil rights act” when harassed about his shaggy locks) and the recent teen riots ignited by an imposed 10 PM curfew on the Sunset Strip. Dolenz was among the protestors at the media-dubbed “riot,” where the worst act of violence was a single overturned car. As he explained, “In actuality, since I was there, they’ve been demonstrations. But I guess a lot of journalists don’t know how to spell ‘demonstration,’ so they use the word ‘riot’ because it only has four letters.” That’s a prickly statement to come from a supposedly vacuous puppet with “nothing to do or say” and air on T.V. in the first month of 1967. For the first time, a network sitcom was giving direct voice to young people and standing unequivocally on their side. The hippies, heads, peaceniks, and commies had taken over television.

(The Sunset Strip interview segment begins at 6:08)


Acid booster Timothy Leary was among the first critics to recognize the political impact of “The Monkees”, writing in his book The Politics of Ecstasy (1968):
“[T]he Monkees use the new energies to sing the new songs and pass on the new message… At early evening kiddie-time on Monday the Monkees would rush through a parody drama, burlesquing the very shows that glue Mom and Dad to the set during prime time. Spoofing the movies and the violence and the down-heavy-conflict-emotion themes that fascinate the middle-aged.

And woven into the fast-moving psychedelic stream of action were the prophetic, holy, challenging words. Micky was rapping quickly, dropping literary names, making scholarly references; then the sudden psychedelic switch of the reality channel. He looked straight at the camera, right into your living room, and up-leveled the comedy by saying: ‘Pretty good talking for a long-haired weirdo, huh, Mr. and Mrs. America? (sic)’ And then ZAP, flash. Back to the innocuous comedy.

Or, in a spy drama, Micky warned Peter: ‘Why this involves the responsibility for blowing up the entire world!’

Peter, confidentially: ‘I’ll take that responsibility!’

And Micky, with a glance at the camera, said, ‘Wow! With a little more ego he’ll be ready to run for President! (sic)’

Why, it all happened so fast, LBJ, you didn’t even see it.”

As Leary alludes, the show’s subversiveness was particularly cagey since it was aimed at T.V.’s most impressionable viewers: pre-teens. “The Monkees" helped dose its adolescent viewers with a healthy—and necessary— tab of anti-establishment sentiment. “Question your leaders,” The Monkees told their viewers. “Peace is an answer,” they said. “Your individuality is your individuality.” Nesmith’s “no statement is a statement” line is contradicted by one in the series’ otherwise dopey theme tune: “We’re the young generation and we’ve got something to say.” The subversive messages tucked inside “The Monkees” may have assisted an even younger generation to develop the desire to have something to say too.



While other groups were parroting messages of freedom and revolution, The Monkees were actively applying them to their own lives. Just five months after the series debuted, Mike Nesmith dropped the bomb that his group did not play the instruments on their records, instructing The Saturday Evening Post to “Tell the world we’re synthetic because, damn it, we are.” When he insisted that he and the guys, who had already been performing as a live band for months, should be allowed to play on their recordings, Herb Moelis of Colgems Records reminded Nesmith that he was under contract and had no say in the production of The Monkees’ disks. Reaching the limits of flower-power pacifism, Nesmith put his fist through a wall and told Moelis, “That could have been your face, motherfucker.” Although serious musicians Nesmith and Tork had the most invested in the mutiny, actors Dolenz and Jones stuck by them in the kind of act of solidarity on which revolutions are built.

Before long, The Monkees were granted freedom to write, choose, and record their own music. Because their show and records were so popular, the execs wanted to keep the guys happy… and keep them from walking out on their contracts. The move resulted in the two best albums of The Monkees’ career: Headquarters and Pisces, Aquarius, Capricorn, & Jones, LTD. They didn’t just use their newfound freedom to up the quality of their records; they upped those records’ political content. This further radicalized their T.V. show, as The Monkees now romped to songs decrying war (“Zor & Zam”, Tork’s “For Pete’s Sake”, which served as the closing theme throughout the second season), chronicling the Sunset Strip protests (Nesmith’s “Daily Nightly”), satirizing drug dealers (“Salesman”) and the establishment (Dolenz’s “Randy Scouse Git”), presenting scandalous sexual situations (“Cuddly Toy”, “Star Collector”), sneering at the police and celebrating pot (the group-composition “No Time”), and criticizing suburban conformity (the big hit “Pleasant Valley Sunday”). Released after the show went off the air in 1968, Micky’s “Mommy and Daddy” (“Ask your mommy and daddy what happened to the Indian…”) was even more pointedly political.



The Monkees also wrangled greater control over the extra-musical content of their show, increasing the level of improvisation and bizarre in-jokes (“Save the Texas prairie chicken!” “Frodis!”) while often appearing visibly stoned on camera (particularly apparent in “The Monkee’s Paw”). Rafelson and Schneider gave Tork and Dolenz permission to direct episodes. Dolenz’s “Mijacogeo”, which he also scripted, is a scathing criticism of television’s brain-deadening effects. The hero of the piece is a giant, alien marijuana plant with a football for a head and a weirdly touching peace philosophy. Appropriately, this most radical of “Monkees” episodes was the last one to air in the series’ original run. Rafelson and his boys were now free to get even further out with the one and only Monkees movie. Co-written by Jack Nicholson, Head took an even sharper blade to T.V. and continued the massacre to slice up the war in Vietnam, American conservatism and consumerism, and The Monkees’ manufactured image.

Nesmith and Dolenz in “Mijacogeo (The Frodis Caper)”

Despite their numerous achievements, The Monkees couldn't buy themselves a lick of praise from the press or the increasing snobby rock audience. Yet the company they kept further validated the guys' hip credentials. As has often been repeated, they introduced The Jimi Hendrix Experience to mainstream America by inviting the band to open for them during their 1967 tour (the pre-teen audience was not receptive, and Hendrix and his band soon booked). They did the same for Frank Zappa and Tim Buckley by giving the musicians guest spots on their T.V. show. The Monkees were championed by tastemakers, such as Zappa, John Lennon, Jerry Garcia, and Eric Burdon, and were reportedly scheduled to appear on an early episode of The Who’s proposed T.V. show “Sound and Picture City”. The program never materialized, but Dolenz and Keith Moon remained good friends. The Byrds only criticized the contrived way The Monkees were assembled with “So You Want to Be a Rock and Roll Star”. In truth, The Byrds respected the guys, even inviting Nesmith to sit in with them on stage at the Berkeley Community Theatre in August of 1968. Byrds bassist Chris Hillman accurately described the Monkee as “a great songwriter and singer” in a 1973 interview with Zigzag magazine. Neil Young and Dewey Martin of Buffalo Springfield played on several Monkees recordings. The Springfield also selected longtime friend Tork to introduce them at the Monterey Pop Festival. George Harrison recruited Tork to play banjo on the score he composed for the 1968 film Wonderwall. Lennon invited Nesmith to the recording of the orchestra on "A Day in the Life", and the Monkee appears in a filmed document of the session. Perennial genius Brian Wilson was the first signee on a petition calling for their induction into the cliquey Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
(Monkee chats with Beatle at 3:24)

Alternately, “The Monkees” T.V. show could be embarrassingly status quo at times, particularly with its habitual portrayal of women as personality-devoid sex objects and the cringe-inducing stereotypes of “The Monkees Chow Mein”, “Son of a Gypsy”, and “It’s a Nice Place to Visit.” Of such things, Nesmith, Dolenz, Tork, and Jones had no more control than The Beatles had of the depiction of “filthy Easterners” in Help! “The Monkees” did not exist entirely outside of its era, but it certainly subverted it more radically than any comedy program before it. Not bad for four long-haired weirdos, huh, America?
The Monkees backstage with Jack Nicholson while making Head.

Friday, September 9, 2011

20 Things You May Not Have Known About Otis Redding

If Otis Redding hadn’t met his end in a plane crash over Madison, Wisconsin, on December 10, 1967, he may have been celebrating his 70th birthday today. Although The King of Soul is long gone, his raggedy growl continues to rip hearts in half and jolt feet onto the dance floor. Here are twenty trivial tidbits to help make your personal dictionary of Otis Redding complete and unbelievable.


1. After Little Richard deserted his band The Upsetters to start preaching instead of rocking, Otis Redding shimmied in to sing with his idol’s former band.

2. Otis Redding first stepped foot in Stax after chauffeuring Johnny Jenkins and the Pinetoppers to the studio for a recording session. When it ended 40 minutes ahead of schedule, Redding asked if he could cut a song. Although producer and Stax co-founder Jim Stewart wasn’t bowled over by the recording, he released “These Arms of Mine”, nonetheless. The single became Otis Redding’s first top twenty hit on the R&B charts.

3. As amazing of a performer as Otis Redding was, he was terribly intimidated by the explosive stage work of Sam and Dave. After a tour in which he had to follow the duo night after night, he reportedly told his manager Phil Walden, “Don’t you ever put me with them motherfuckers again.”

4. Otis was taking a physical exam required for a life insurance policy when his frequent collaborator Steve Cropper suggested the band cut a version of The Rolling Stones’ recent monster-hit “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction”. By the time Redding returned from his physical, Cropper had the backing arranged and Otis was ready to lay down his vocal.

5. Keith Richards wrote the classic fuzz guitar riff of “Satisfaction” for brass, but did not get a chance to hear his song arranged the intended way until Otis Redding covered it. In his autobiography Life, Richards wrote that he didn’t like “Satisfaction” until he heard Otis do it.

6. Otis Redding paid tribute to another British institution when he covered The Beatles’ “Day Tripper” on his Dictionary of Soul album in 1966. The Beatles were equally moved by him; George Harrison revealed that the “Drive My Car” riff was inspired by the one on Redding’s original version of “Respect”.

7. Otis Redding first heard a soul artist tackle the standard “Try a Little Tenderness” on the 1964 L.P. Sam Cooke at the Copa, which he listened to so often he literally wore it out and had to purchase a replacement copy.

8. Otis Redding hired singer/pianist Katie Webster for an opening slot on his 1966 tour when he first heard her singing from his dressing room at the Bamboo Club in Lake Charles, Louisiana. He dashed out to hire her so fast that he didn’t get a chance to put on his pants first.

9. Among Otis Redding’s nicknames were The Big O, The Mad Man from Macon, Rockhouse Redding, and The King of Soul.

10. After soul artists started dubbing the upcoming Monterey Pop Festival “whitey’s festival,” Otis Redding was hastily booked in an attempt to stamp out further accusations of racial bias.

11. When Otis landed in England with the Stax/Volt Review in 1967, he was greeted by The Beatles’ personal limo, which they’d sent along to escort him and the other members of the package tour from the airport.

12. Although he hated the food, Redding supposedly loved England… particularly its rainy weather. He told journalist Jim Delehant that if he ever decided to relocate from the states, he’d settle in England.

13. A strict professional, Redding reportedly fined band members who showed up late for gigs.

14. Elvis Presley’s eight-year reign as “world’s best male vocalist” on Melody Maker’s annual pop poll ended in September 1967 when readers voted Otis Redding the new king of the mic.

15. By 1967, Otis Redding still hadn’t broken into the pop top-twenty with a record of his own. However, he did co-write and produce “Sweet Soul Music”, a #2 pop hit for his protégé Arthur Conley, which included the name check, “Spotlight on Otis Redding now, singing fa fa fa fa fa fa fa fa.”

16. Redding’s incredible success at the Monterey Pop Festival inspired him to write a crossover song that might finally win over the white audience. After spinning Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band over and over to uncover its hit formula, he wrote “(Sittin’ On) The Dock of the Bay”. The next day he called his manager and told him, “Phil, I wrote that fuckin’ million seller we was talkin’ about.”

17. On March 16, 1968, “(Sittin’ On) The Dock of the Bay” became the first posthumous number one hit in Billboard charts history.

18. The pallbearers at Otis Redding’s funeral were fellow soul legends Solomon Burke, Don Covay, Sam Moore, Joe Simon, Percy Sledge, Johnnie Taylor, and Joe Tex.

19. Shortly after Redding’s death, journalist Ritchie Yorke not only accused Jagger and Richards of stealing “Satisfaction” from Otis Redding, but charged that the King of Soul recorded his version before The Stones. Of course, there wasn’t a lick of truth in Yorke’s bizarre accusation, which Steve Cropper corroborated in a subsequent interview with Rolling Stone.

20. In 1982, The Reddings had a #55 hit with their cover of “(Sittin’ On) The Dock of the Bay”. Otis’s sons Dexter and Otis III were the first artists to have a hit with a number-one song originated by their parent.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Track List for The Who's 2-Disc Deluxe 'Quadrophenia'

Seems like a bit of wasted opportunity to utilize so few of Townshend's demos of songs that didn't end up on The Who's album, but whatever. This should still be a decent budget alternative to the Super Deluxe box set. Pre-order the double-disc deluxe edition of Quadrophenia at Amazon.com here.

And now, the tracks:

Disc: 1
1. I Am The Sea - The Who
2. The Real Me - The Who
3. Quadrophenia - The Who
4. Cut My Hair - The Who
5. The Punk And The Godfather - The Who
6. I'm One - The Who
7. The Dirty Jobs - The Who
8. Helpless Dancer - The Who
9. Is It In My Head - The Who
10. I've Had Enough - The Who
11. 5:15 - The Who
12. Sea And Sand - The Who
13. Drowned - The Who

Disc: 2
1. Bell Boy - The Who
2. Doctor Jimmy - The Who
3. The Rock - The Who
4. Love Reign O'er Me - The Who
5. The Real Me - Pete Townshend
6. Cut My Hair - Pete Townshend
7. The Punk - Pete Townshend
8. The Dirty Jobs - Pete Townshend
9. Is It In My Head? - Pete Townshend
10. Any More - Pete Townshend
11. I've Had Enough - Pete Townshend
12. Drowned - Pete Townshend
13. Is It Me? - Pete Townshend
14. Doctor Jimmy - Pete Townshend
15. Love Reign O'er Me - Pete Townshend

'Some Girls'-Era Live Stones Show Coming to DVD and CD in November

On November 21, Eagle Rock Entertainment will be unleashing a previously unreleased live set from The Rolling Stones' 1978 tour. According to the official press release, Some Girls Live in Texas 1978 "will be available on four different formats: DVD, Blu-Ray, plus special edition DVD + CD and Blu-Ray + CD digipack presentations including a reproduction tour program. Bonus features on all formats will include a new interview with Mick Jagger. Worldwide theatrical distribution deals including the US (in October 2011) will be announced soon... Originally shot on 16mm film, the concert footage has been carefully restored with the sound remixed and remastered by Bob Clearmountain from the original multi track tapes."

Here's the Set List
1) Let It Rock
2) All Down The Line
3) Honky Tonk Women
4) Star Star
5) When The Whip Comes Down
6) Beast Of Burden
7) Miss You
8 ) Just My Imagination (Running Away With Me)
9) Shattered
10) Respectable
11) Far Away Eyes
12) Love In Vain
13) Tumbling Dice
14) Happy
15) Sweet Little Sixteen
16) Brown Sugar
17) Jumpin’ Jack Flash

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Holly Hop and Berry Pickin’: Buddy and Chuck and the Invention of Rock & Roll’s Future

The package was completely unexpected: he was white, geeky, gangly, bespectacled. His hair was a little oily-looking, but neatly cropped in contrast to the wild pompadours that Elvis, Jerry Lee, and Little Richard favored. He wore a conservative two-piece suit in contrast to those guys’ baggy trousers and flashy lamé. None of this fit the Rock & Roll image. Nonetheless, Buddy Holly was one of its great innovators. And if Elvis was the face of Rock & Roll, the cat who struck the genre’s most iconic image, Buddy was the guts. He wasn’t gorgeous and groovy; he was the content in the grooves. With Chuck Berry, Buddy Holly revolutionized Rock & Roll music more profoundly than any other artist of his era. And, yes, that does include Elvis.


Without question, Elvis Presley deserves more credit for popularizing Rock & Roll than any other artist in the genre’s history. He created a tizzy with his beautiful face, beautiful baritone, and gritty sexuality. Yet his greatest influence on Rock & Roll is the inspirational role he played for a new breed of musicians whose music bore little similarity to his. He may have dazzled Lennon and Jagger and Townshend and Dylan and the rest, but most of those artists appropriated few of his records’ signatures. The 2/4 beat of Elvis’s Sun recordings is evident in much of Dylan’s mid-‘60s electric work, but it was hardly pervasive beyond the ‘50s. On the odd occasion a singer attempted to mimic his baritone—as Dylan did on “Lay Lady Lay” or Robert Plant on “Candy Store Rock”—the results sounded more like parody than tribute. That Elvis was never a songwriter further limits his personal impact. As an icon, he was without peer. As a force that would instigate Rock & Roll’s most radical musical developments, he is overshadowed by a pair of audacious trailblazers.


The music of Chuck Berry and Buddy Holly constituted the two main ingredients of Rock & Roll, the bullion in a soup that would brew The Beatles, The Beach Boys, The Ronettes, The Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan, The Who, The Kinks, The Velvet Underground, Hendrix, Led Zeppelin, The Ramones, The Clash, Elvis Costello, Holly Golightly, The White Stripes, The… well, if they plucked a guitar or crooned into a mic, they likely owe these two guys a tip of the hat and a pint of lager. Berry brought the pace: revved up like a ’57 Thunderbird, gunned along on power chords accelerated with a pinky swing to the sixth. With his limber riffing, Berry took Rock & Roll’s most essential tool and zapped it to life like Dr. Frankenstein. Richards, Clapton, Hendrix, Page, and Beck were listening. He also brought something to Rock & Roll that would crop up in the work of all the followers mentioned above and every other rocker who mattered: literate flair. Berry didn’t spew moon and June clichés; he spun yarns. Saying he loved a girl wasn’t adequate for the duck walker; he needed to convey his frustration about being unable to undo her seatbelt while fumbling in the front seat of his car. He needed to protest being inundated with bills, fast-talking salesmen (you listening, Jagger?), schooling, the military, and all the other monkey business. He needed to create fully fleshed characters: the road-bound daddy distraught because he can’t get a phone call through to his daughter back home, a prehistoric monkey who raises the ire of all the other animals in the jungle, the hot-picking country boy with dreams of being “the leader of a big old band.” Berry’s tall-tales were the seeds that sprouted “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction”, “Like a Rolling Stone”, “Janie Jones”, too many others.

Buddy Holly was not as fleet-fingered on the frets as Chuck Berry. His lyrics didn’t display as much panache. He was a moon and June guy, not a storyteller. But whereas Berry was content to repeat the same tune, guitar riff, and chord-progression over and over and over again, Buddy was a restless composer and musical innovator. No two Holly songs sound the same, and the same cannot be said of any other rocker of his generation. He made Rock & Roll the one thing its early proponents never expected it could be: eclectic. He could pump out a Bo Diddley beat on “Not Fade Away”. Flip that record over and find the twee pitter-patter of “Everyday” (surely the first Rock & Roll song to feature the celesta!). The fatalistic “That’ll Be the Day” is a soulful swing; “I’m Looking for Someone to Love” is euphoric, finger-snapping pop. Listen to “Words of Love” to hear the invention of jangle-pop, because The Beatles and The Byrds sure did. Listen to “Listen to Me” to hear the invention of Latin-Rock nearly a year before “La Bamba”. Listen to “Well…All Right”. Yes, you are hearing the birth of folk rock. And with the last tracks he recorded, something even more fascinating was taking place. Employing the strings of arranger Dick Jacobs on “True Love Ways”, “Raining in My Heart”, and “It Doesn’t Matter Any More”, Buddy Holly invented the orchestral Rock & Roll that would seem so innovative when The Beatles started using violins and cellos in the mid-‘60s.

Those final tracks also revealed the development of Buddy Holly’s compositional skills. Breaking away from the limitations of the I-IV-V blues progression, he took his music in adult territory that probably still didn’t endear him to late ‘50s adults. Yet he certainly endeared himself to the young writers who would enact the innovations Holly’s untimely death on February 3, 1959, prevented him from doing himself. That maturity is evident in Roy Orbison’s work of the early ‘60s. Formerly a rock-a-billy raver, Orbison expanded his vocabulary of chord-changes and arrangements with “Only the Lonely”, “Running Scared”, and “Crying” that sound like the next logical step after Holly’s late-career work. Incorporating instruments beyond their four-piece line-up was still in The Beatles’ future, but the influence of Holly’s inventive melodies and harmonies are already present in “Please Please Me” (originally conceived as an Orbison-eque torch song), “From Me to You”, “She Loves You”, others.


Had Buddy Holly lived, would he have taken those next steps before his students did? Miles from the prude his image implied, he might have led the psychedelic brigade before John and George’s dentist spiked their coffee with LSD in early ‘65. Or maybe he would have put his zeal for instrumental experimentation and studio trickery, such as overdubbing, to use as a producer. Most likely, he would have continued writing and singing and performing and recording. And though he may not have remained consistently at the top of the charts, he would have remained consistently popular and influential. And we don’t need “maybes” or “what ifs” to qualify that last point, because it’s the stone truth. It’s in the hiccups of Ronnie Spector and Joey Ramone. It’s in the thump of Keith Moon’s cardboard kit on “See My Way” and the heavy, black frames on Elvis Costello’s face. It’s in The Everly Brothers’ “True Love Ways”, The Rolling Stones’ “Not Fade Away”, The Beatles’ “Words of Love”, Blind Faith’s “Well… All Right”, Blondie’s “I’m Gonna Love You Too”, The Raveonettes “Everyday”, and all those tracks on the Rave On Buddy Holly tribute album released just a few months ago. Buddy Holly did not live to experience his own legacy, as his fellow pioneer Chuck Berry did, but it exists and it persists, never to fade away.

Buddy Holly was born 75 years ago today.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

David Lynch Mentions "New Film"

David Lynch spent the majority of a recent interview with Rolling Stone discussing his music career and upcoming album Crazy Clown Time, but the most (potentially) exciting bit arrived toward the end. When Greg Prato asked the renaissance man about the project in his pipeline, Lynch said, "I'm working on a documentary of Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, I just took part in a documentary of a 16-country tour I did on meditation, consciousness, and peace. And I'm working on another new film, but it's not there yet. I just finished a one-minute film for the Austrians."


Lynch has mentioned the Maharishi doc before, and he churns out short films on a fairly regular basis, but what is this "new film" he mentioned? Indiewire.com speculates it could be one of the projects he's teased in the past, such as an animated film called Snootworld or a sequel to Mulholland Drive. Psychobabble would be most pleased with either of those possibilities, just as long as that "new film" is a new feature film. That would be another 2011 wish fulfilled. Too bad Prato didn't ask a follow-up question, but what's the Internet without an abundance of wild speculation?

Friday, September 2, 2011

Psychobabble’s 150 Essential Horror Movies Part 7: The 1980s

In this feature, Psychobabble creeps through more than 90 years of horror cinema to assemble a highly personal list of the genre’s 150 most monstrous works, decade by decade.

101. The Shining (1980- dir. Stanley Kubrick)

Made the year before its release, The Shining is more in step with ‘70s horror than that of the decade in which it was released. Brooding and psychological, the film does not prognosticate the monster movies that would make a big, special-effects-aided comeback in the ‘80s. Stephen King took issue with this adaptation of his novel, belly-aching that Stanley Kubrick ignored the book’s focus on a family made horrific by alcoholism. That theme isn’t missing from Kubrick’s film, it just isn’t belabored. Jack Torrance’s injuring of his son Danny while drunk is the focus of wife Wendy’s awkward conversation with a wary pediatrician. His complete breakdown is preceded by a hallucinatory drinking binge. His ambling gate and inarticulate grunting while hunting Danny evoke an angry lush. Although the film is unambiguously supernatural, Kubrick wisely allowed the true nature of Torrance’s deterioration to remain open to interpretation. Has the caretaker of the sprawling Overlook Hotel become a brute killer because of drink? Or is he possessed by a previous caretaker notorious for slaughtering his own family years earlier? Is it the building, itself, possessing him? Is cabin fever the cause? Or an equally non-supernatural lack of love for his wife and son? Like Leatherface or Michael Myers, the Jack Torrance of Kubrick’s film cannot be diagnosed neatly, making him less predictable, more frightening. The author may have had a more legitimate complaint against the casting of Jack Nicholson in the lead role. The actor was known for playing volatile men, and his presence telegraphs the trouble to follow long before he and the family even arrive at the Overlook Hotel. Yet Nicholson is so iconic as Torrance that his performance transcends criticism in the same way Lugosi’s Dracula does. His raving monster is matched by Shelley Duvall’s exhausting performance as Wendy. Duvall’s believably terrified reactions bring the film to a boil. Those frantic performances contrast Kubrick’s clinical pacing and simmering fright scenes beautifully. The Shining is dynamizing when Shelley is panting and Jack is shouting his pop culture-informed threats (“Heeeere’s Johnny!”... maybe the mayhem is all T.V.'s fault!), but the most disturbing moments are Danny’s slow crawl toward scrawling the not-so-cryptic “Redrum” across the wallpaper, recurring images of a bloody tide flooding from elevator doors, and the apparition of dead-eyed, doppelgänger sisters who intend to play with Danny “forever and ever and ever.”

102. An American Werewolf in London (1981- dir. John Landis)

‘80s horror really got underway with An American Werewolf in London. Through the decade, the genre essentially split into two streams: low-budget slasher pictures inspired by Halloween and mega-budget, special effects laden blockbusters born from Jaws. An American Werewolf in London falls into the latter camp. With its brightly lit, on-screen transformations masterminded by Rick Baker of Star Wars fame, Werewolf was a spectacular specimen of how far movie magic had come. Although some of the effects have dated (the Nazi-zombies are guys in rubber masks; the wolf that terrorizes Piccadilly Circus looks like the prop-on-wheels it is), the film has not, largely because there isn’t anything else like it. An American Werewolf in London simmered in John Landis’s imagination for ten years before he realized it as a truly bizarre stew of comedy, romance, surrealism, tragedy, and horror. The film works sincerely on each of those levels, Landis masterfully orchestrating its various ambitions without ever straying off course. David Kessler and Jack Goodman are American college kids backpacking through England who meet their fates after wandering from a road leading them through the misty moors. A werewolf slaughters Jack, leaving his soul in grisly limbo. David receives a transformative bite. Jack begins appearing to his friend in scenes that are horrifying because of his increasingly rotten body and funny because of the incongruity between his friendliness and his monstrous appearance. Jack’s visits are also sad because he implores David to kill himself for the sake of the people he killed in his animal state. Like The Wolf Man, which it references often, An American Werewolf in London hooks viewers with monsters and special effects, but affects them deeper with its lovable, tragic hero committing horrendous acts against his will. David Naughton is astounding as Kessler: full of puppy-dog energy after his lycanthropic infection, charmingly seductive when wooing a pretty nurse, pitiable when suffering his agonizing transformations, hilarious when fleeing the zoo in which he awoke in the nude, gut-wrenching when saying farewell to his little sister on a pay phone. Equally winning and tragic, Griffin Dunne as Jack and Jenny Agutter as Nurse Alex deliver two more of horror’s finest performances. Landis pulls off one of cinema’s greatest directorial feats, supplying relentless imagination and fierce energy. And when he’s done, he ends it all with shocking abruptness. Why say anything more when there’s nothing more to say?

103. Poltergeist (1982- dir. Tobe Hooper)
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