Posted February 11th, 2012 08:12 PM IPThanks for one of your finest reviews - a perfect commentary for this Episode.
My congratulations to Clodagh - I've never heard of this award before so she may still hold the title, though I feel bad for Legs Larry Smith of the Bonzos who must have felt the accolade was rightfully his own.
The Dave Clark Five and Marmalade demonstrate pretty well how mainstream chart pop (of the "beat group" variety) had stalled in the vacuum left by the end of psychedelia. Perhaps that helps to explain how an oddity such as Zager & Evans became such a huge one-off hit. I'm pretty sure no-one took this song seriously but small children liked it because of the counting.
At the other extreme, Something In The Air is (IMO) one of the greatest one-hit wonders. Funny you should say this episode feels like the end of an era, because that's the mood I attribute to this record, thanks to a combination of a rousing lyric but melancholy vocal, the slightly sombre sound of the band with the strings and brass plus a piano interlude that arrives from somewhere past. Yet again it's so good that this clip survives, unlike Thunderclap Newman's Top of the Pops appearances which I guess are all wiped. On their first one I seem to remember Speedy Keen as the singing drummer (with constantly nodding head), but subsequently he switched to fronting the band with a guitar as he does here.
And finally ... this is the first time I have watched whole episodes of Beat Club, thanks to your reviews and the links (and the uploaders, of course). I have seen many Beat Club clips before on British TV - there was a series in the 1980s called Best of Beat Club and I used to have a cable channel that showed similar compilations. But I'm sure I never saw Rainbow People before. I'd remember if I had because seeing this lead singer was a jaw-dropping moment for a former child of 1970s England.
Posted February 12th, 2012 03:22 AM IPThanks for the tip about the Wurzels/Rainbow People guy, Varitone; I literally had no idea (frankly, I'd never heard of that band before). Just to make certain, I did a little bit of research, and you're absolutely dead on: it is the same guy (look here). I'm gonna go back and edit that bit of information in. It's so fascinating to find out how much connective tissue there is between bands from that period, no matter how obscure they were.
Thanks for reading as always. I'd been familiar with several of the best-known black and white Beat Club clips for a long time (and the majority of all of the color-era performances through bootlegs), but it's only been in the past year that I'd seen any of the full episodes myself. Seeing the performances in context has been a completely different trip for me as well. I'MCOMINGI'MCOMINGI'MCOMINGI'MCOMING
Beat-Club Episode 46
8/30/1969 All performances mimed, except where noted
1. Opening montage
2. Deep Purple – Hallelujah*
3. Three Dog Night - Try A Little Tenderness
4. Film: James Brown interview feature*
5. Film: Feature on May Spils and Werner Enke
6. Procol Harum - Long Gone Geek (with interview)*
7. Tim Rose - Hey Joe *
8. Interstate Roadshow - Grindy Grind
9. Windmill - Big Bertha
10. Beat Club News: Top 7 / Piper Club / German Underground Farmers / Record repair
11. Jimmy Ruffin - I've Passed This Way Before*
12. Steamhammer - Junior's Wailing (live)
13. Steamhammer - When All Your Friends Are Gone (live)
14. The Move – Curly*
15. Humble Pie - Alabama ‘69
16. Humble Pie - Natural Born Bugie*
17. Closing credits
As the end of the 1960s approached, the chasm between pop and rock was widening, with the latter increasingly seen as a ‘serious’ art form, while the former was merely disposable escapism. No matter how spurious this view was (and the majority of the previous two and a half years on Beat Club had gone a long way towards combating it), it would become the prevailing musical divide for much of the next decade. For fans of heavier or more progressive rock, ‘commercial’ was becoming the nastiest pejorative term that could be thrown at a musical act. If you wanted to keep your hipster cred, it was no longer cool to dig both Jimi Hendrix and, say, the post-Graham Nash Hollies; you had to take sides. For the past year, Beat Club had attempted to toe the line, striking a balance between both extremes, but with episode 46, for the first time the show began to choose what side it was on. The group of adolescents who had started watching Beat Club when it debuted four years earlier was growing into young adults, a demographic that tends to take itself more seriously by nature, and if the show was going to remain the hippest trip in Germany, it was going to have to change with the times. This is not to say that pop music was banished from the show overnight, but for the first time, the balance of power was beginning to tip decisively towards heavier, more album-oriented rock bands. The fact that some of these rock bands would be in hindsight more difficult to take seriously than their pop brethren scarcely seemed to matter.
Although most of the program’s raw ingredients temporarily stayed in place for this episode, the way in which they were presented was noticeably tweaked to keep pace. With the Go-Go Girls now all but shut out of the picture, dancing, one of the key components of Beat Club since the very beginning, was no longer a factor. The presence of the audience would be further minimized as well. Although no audience had been present for the filming of many of the Beat Club musical performances over the mimed era, they were at least brought in for the final hosted taping session for each episode, and applause was always piped in at the end of each song. Here, the audience is only present for a couple of segments, and even then, applause is never heard. This is a show that wants you to know that it doesn’t give a fuck what you think of its performances anymore. Most importantly of all, though, was the fact that after this episode, Beat Club’s longest-running non-musical segment, as well as its longest-serving co-host, would never be seen on the show again. This is what they call a transitional episode, ladies and gentlemen, and like most transitions, it’s awkward, only partially successful, and not up to the standards of what had come before or would come after. At times, the episode feels more or less like the ones that preceded it, and there is a generous helping of brilliant performances, but in some spots, it feels like Mike Leckenbusch is trying way too hard to court a more progressive audience. In short, it’s one of the weirdest installments of the show to ever air.
It also happens to be more than a little (unintentionally) hilarious. You can’t just suddenly make a switch to presenting your television show as an edgy, wigged-out extension of the musical underground when your previous episode had opened with a late-period Dave Clark Five record, especially when one of your co-hosts is Dave Lee Travis. But during the nearly interminable montage that opens this episode, that’s exactly what Beat Club is trying to pull off. Jettisoning the “Touch of Velvet” theme music temporarily, the show instead immediately throws us into the deep end of cut-up film, accompanied by bits of Steppenwolf and Cream music. Among the disconnected images are snippets of the art film “Now” shown a few episodes back, still photos of prominent politicians, footage of astronauts on space walks, and random bits of on-the-street interviews with elderly people. At irregular intervals, the bottom half of Uschi’s face appears to blankly count down in German, one number at a time. When Uschi and DLT finally appear in full after four minutes, the oddest aspect of the episode comes into play: for whatever reason, both appear to have been instructed to deliver all of their hosting dialogue in a bloodless, unblinking monotone. Being an inveterate ham, DLT is incapable of fully committing to this approach, but Uschi is a natural at it, coming across as positively robotic throughout the entire episode. She hardly blinks on camera at all throughout the hour, and the effect is either unsettling or hilarious, depending on the context. The hosts’ introductory segments were obviously filmed separately from everything else on the show, and without a crowd to play off of, DLT is deprived of any further opportunities to inappropriately paw on jailbait audience members on his last episode.
The introductory sequence finally dispensed with, it’s time for the Beat Club debut of Deep Purple. With the recent additions of singer Ian Gillan and bassist Roger Glover cementing the band’s classic Mark II lineup, Purple was poised for the transition from British Vanilla Fudge knockoff to ‘70s metal gods. The band’s first single with the new lineup, “Hallelujah,” still hewed fairly close to their early approach: a cover of a hippie dippy anthem from the pen of the Cook-Greenaway team (aka David and Jonathan) transformed into a dark, bluesy slab of heaviness. The upbeat go-go bridge section doesn’t quite work, and the lyrics come off as even dumber than Purple’s usual fare, but musically, this is an impressive track, highlighted by Ritchie Blackmore’s dramatic guitar and Gillan’s soon to be famous banshee wails. The clip is comprised of three separate band performances—one on a blacked-out stage with horror-movie lighting, one on an equally bright set, and a third in front of the tinfoil wall—with an abundance of solarization effects added as the song progresses. In the first laugh-out-loud introduction of the episode, Uschi interrupts the performance thirty seconds in to mechanically intone simply “DEEP PURPLE” before the band quickly returns. “Hallelujah” would flop on the charts, and following a roundly mocked rock concerto project with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra later in the year, Deep Purple would set its sights on becoming one of the fastest, heaviest bands in the world. By the time they’d return to Beat Club two years later, they’d have achieved their goal.
Of course, Beat Club wasn’t about to make a wholesale switch away from featuring pop acts all at once, so there are still a handful featured on the show, the first being the not entirely welcome return of Three Dog Night. On this occasion, it’s really more of a one-dog performance, though, as the group’s take on Otis Redding’s version of “Try a Little Tenderness” is a solo vehicle for Corey Wells. Chuck Negron and Danny Hutton are nowhere to be seen. In fact, it’s hard to see much of anything in this clip; the psychedelic patterns overlaid across the screen threaten to completely overwhelm the band throughout most of the song. But that’s okay in this case, since the performance is little more than an exhibition of vocal blackface, with Wells proving that under no circumstances should he be allowed to ever come within 100 miles of an Otis Redding song again. Annoyingly, this isn’t even the only time he’d perform the song on Beat Club; when Three Dog Night returned three years later, “Tenderness” would be subjected to an even more obnoxious live mauling.
Fortunately, we have the Godfather himself on hand to clean up the mess and show us what soul really looks like. It’s a bit of a shame that James Brown’s only appearance on Beat Club consists of a film piece rather than a performance, but what’s here is pretty great. The film begins with footage of JB and his band onstage, accompanied by a mashup of studio recordings. Brown, looking like the coolest motherfucker on the planet in a turtleneck sweater and plaid suit, is then interviewed on a suburban street somewhere. He speaks of his place in the Black Pride movement, specifically on the usage of the term ‘black’ itself. The subject then turns to the reality of soul music, which Brown refers to as “life in the raw,” stating that Europeans understood it before even white Americans did. (He must have seen the Corey Wells debacle too.) His most interesting comments concern the role of dancing in his act, which he regards as being even more important than his singing. White people, he says, won’t take the time to try to understand the messages of his songs unless he’s able to hook them in with his dancing first. Finally, Brown acknowledges B.B. King as being the man in showbiz he admires most, due to the way he’s gone about his business dealings. The film concludes with 45 seconds of pyrotechnic onstage dancing from JB, this time with a live performance of “Mother Popcorn” left intact on the soundtrack. Although it would likely have been mindblowing to see a full Beat Club performance from Brown, this feature captures a powerful snapshot of one of the most important musical artists of the 20th Century during one of the prime eras of his career, and it’s not to be missed.
Another film follows, with German director/model May Spils and actor Werner Enke, recent collaborators on the film Zur Sache, Schätzchen, shown goofing around in an apartment. Basically, they just sit around smoking and looking bored, until Enke hits upon the idea of enacting a toy horse race, which Spils wholeheartedly gets into. At the end, Enke points a rifle into the camera, and the ensuing gunfire sound effect leads us directly into the next performance.
Procol Harum makes its final mimed-era Beat Club appearance with “Long Gone Geek,” the b-side to “A Salty Dog,” filmed at the same session that had yielded that classic clip. “Geek” is heavier and more playful than the band’s usual style, built around raucous drumming and a cock-rocking guitar riff. The group performs in front of their A Salty Dog album cover, with various members taking turns replacing the grizzled sailor inside the life preserver. The song is pretty cool on its own, but a new presentation idea is tried out in this instance: the performance is abruptly halted three times, and portions of a backstage interview with the band members are inserted. This stop-start approach would reach maddening extremes at certain points in the following year, but it works okay here. The interview itself is primarily interesting for including Keith Reid, the group’s rarely seen frizzy-haired lyricist, who was considered a full member despite never performing with the band. The topics chiefly consist of some general talk about touring America and trying to achieve a hit single. The interview takes a meta turn at the end when organist Matthew Fisher specifically mentions the group recently appearing on Beat Club. Also note the copy of Silver Apples’ debut album lying on the table next to Robin Trower. Like Deep Purple, it would be another two years before Procol Harum would return to the show.
Nearly a year to the day after his first appearance on Beat Club, Tim Rose returns with “Hey Joe,” filmed at the same session. While it’s odd for the show to take such a long time between airing clips from the same taping, the DLT-accompanied text crawl makes the motive crystal clear. We’re informed (in English, for some reason) that although “Hey Joe” had been Jimi Hendrix’s first hit, Rose had done the original version. Never mind that this assertion happens to be untrue (the song had been a standard L.A. garage cover for years, with bands as famous as The Byrds and Love recording their versions before Rose); by airing this more obscure version of a famous Hendrix song, Beat Club was able to further its counterculture credentials. It is, however, true that Jimi had largely based his slow, bluesy version of the song on Rose’s, which still sounds powerful in this context. Rose may lack the electric firepower of Hendrix, but he makes up for it with a passionate vocal performance, which in its gruffer moments almost resembles Captain Beefheart.
Interstate Roadshow is the most obscure band to appear on this episode by some margin. Label mates of The Equals, the band’s only single release, “Grindy Grind,” shares a bit of that band’s signature pounding attack (hell, the b-side was even written by Equals frontman Derv Gordon), with a touch of Strawberry Alarm Clock-style psych thrown in. The band performs it spread across the normal Beat Club set, with a couple of unidentified ladies loosely dancing above them on a platform. This is one of only two places in this entire episode where you’re aware of the presence of an audience; given the odd construction of this show, it’s possible that this is an outtake from a previous month. In any event, it’s one of the more overtly fun performances to be seen this week.
“Grindy Grind” segues directly into the crashing wah-wah guitar chords and jazzy flute intro to Windmill’s “Big Bertha.” The group appears all dressed in white, spiritedly grooving in front of a woodcut windmill design. After the powerful intro is through, the song settles into a pleasant enough pop song that sounds essentially like a Dave Dee record with louder drumming. Which makes sense, since Windmill turns out to be another band under the control of the Howard-Blaikely writing/management team, just like DDDBM&T was. Unlike their previous cash cow, though, Windmill never took off (except in Belgium, where “Big Bertha” somehow made it to #1); they’d only release a couple of singles before lead singer Dick Scott was killed in a car accident in Germany. Upon recovering from the loss, the remaining members would go on to reform as the prog band Tonton Macoute.
The final chords of “Big Bertha” are cut short by the “Reaction in G” intro to this month’s installment of Beat Club News. Uschi opens by blankly staring into the camera and reading the Hit Parader Top 7 list. Although brief and perfunctory as usual for 1969 shows, this countdown is notable for two reasons: first, for some fucking reason, she announces that she’s reading the New Zealand Top 7 list rather than the British one. (Oh my, aren’t we hip and unusual?) Secondly, this happens to be the final Top 7 list ever shown on Beat Club. The Hit Parader countdown was the oldest recurring feature on the program, having been introduced all the way back on episode 2, but for a show trying to give the impression of being in touch with the underground, a monthly focus on charting pop hits just wouldn’t do anymore. For what it’s worth, Elvis’ “In the Ghetto” is the last #1 record reported on Beat Club. Android Uschi’s final countdown now completed, News begins in earnest with a feature on the Piper Club in Rome. Inside, a hot blonde singer in a white suit is onstage doing an Italian-language version of “If Paradise Is Half as Nice.” (Initially, she’s only shot from behind, and I wasn’t entirely sure I wasn’t watching Robin Zander instead.) She then switches to a similarly translated “River Deep, Mountain High,” and the segment ends. Next, we revisit the German Underground piece from a few episodes back, specifically the part where the topless, full-body painted woman screams and pounds on the drums while her male companion overblows on a horn. It turns out that when they’re not terrifying rooms full of German teens, they’re a married couple living a simple life on a farm with their young child. Other than some horrifying masks hung on their wall, and the strange glee the man seems to get from intentionally pissing off his sheep, they seem like a sweet, homey country family. This segment is soundtracked by Led Zeppelin’s “Black Mountain Side,” by the way, marking the first appearance of that band’s music anywhere on Beat Club. Finally, our last News segment belongs to the droll/severe Professor Pedro, a German man who runs a record repair shop, all the while hilariously smoking a cigarette through a pipe. The Professor fixes a warped disc by sandwiching it between two pieces of glass and submerging it in hot water, then repairs a scratch using an exacto knife. At the end, he auctions off a 45 of Frankie Ford’s “Sea Cruise” to a group of teenagers while brandishing a hammer in one hand, giving the amusing impression that if the kids don’t bid high enough, he’s ready to smash the record to bits. That was an entertaining round of News, although there was nothing in particular of great musical interest.
The musical performances resume with Beat Club’s second ever Motown act, the much underrated Jimmy Ruffin. Best known for his classic “What Becomes of the Brokenhearted,” to this day Ruffin still lives in the shadow of his better-known brother, former Temptations vocalist David. He did manage to score several other hits during the late ‘60s, though, the most recent of which at this point was a U.K. re-release of his 1966 single “I’ve Passed This Way Before.” The three-year-old song, with its smooth, pop-tinged melody and spoken-word intro, might sound a bit out of place among current trends in r&b, but it comes off great in this setting anyway. Performing on the set in front of an audience (with one of Interstate Roadshow’s saxophones still lying on the floor behind him), Ruffin lays it out under a single spotlight. From time to time, the camera focuses on a young boy from the audience, adding a touch of extra poignancy to the song.
The single most unintentionally humorous hosting moment of an episode already overburdened with them heralds the arrival of the episode’s sole live performers, Steamhammer. The band starts playing, only to be interrupted by the camera zooming right up to DLT’s face as he menacingly intones, “THIS IS STEAMHAMMER.” The band plays a little bit more, then is interrupted again by another “THIS IS STEAMHAMMER” zoom. Then it happens a third time. Dave got almost no opportunities for shenanigans on his last episode, but man did he make that one count. At any rate, in “Junior’s Wailing,” the first of their two consecutive songs, Steamhammer sounds exactly how you’d expect a band called Steamhammer to sound. You know, chugging boogie rhythms with heavily affected blooze vocals and a singer who mostly addresses his lover simply as ‘woman’ in the lyrics. They’re obviously trying to be taken seriously as a legitimate blues group, but the drummer has a huge double-kick drum set, they’re playing through Hiwatt stacks, and you get a sneaking suspicion that none of them has ever heard a blues record that goes back farther than Fresh Cream. For the final verse, they briefly morph the song into “Rock Me Baby,” just for the sake of further authenticity. The only odd element is the presence of an Ian Anderson-lookalike sax player who never stops soloing throughout the entire song, even during the verses and guitar solos. The sound engineers thoughtfully fade him down during those parts so that you can hear the other guys a bit, but he’s still audible down there. Especially during the outro, where the guitarist and saxophonist are blowing simultaneously, it just makes the whole thing sound like a fucking mess.
Because that first song went so well, Steamhammer is allowed a second spot immediately afterward, with the singer using the gap between songs to announce the title, “When All Your Friends Are Gone,” to a non-present audience. This one is at least somewhat better, mostly because the woodwind player’s switch from honking sax to jazz flute is less obtrusive in the mix. The first couple of minutes otherwise play out more or less like the first song did, until halfway through, they decide to channel their inner Jethro Tull and switch from fake blues to fake jazz. And, you know, they don’t completely embarrass themselves. But in their two songs, Steamhammer ends up doing little more than summarizing the potential pitfalls of the switch to a more progressive format: when attempts at artistic legitimacy fall flat on their faces, the results are generally more ridiculous and tedious than unsuccessful pop attempts. At the time, there was a tendency to view any rock band basing itself on a different genre (blues, jazz, classical, country, etc.) as being by definition more sincere and artistically worthy. And it seems that a lot of bands that frankly weren’t very good got a free pass from hipsters at the time because of it. Beat Club would feature a multitude of legitimately great bands over the next three years as the show explored the less commercial side of the rock scene, but there would be a fair share of Steamhammers (and worse) along the way. That had always been the case, though; even during the show’s most consistent period, you had to wade through David Garrick and Leapy Lee performances. The only difference was that David Garrick never stretched his songs out for minutes on end to accommodate jazz flute solos.
Thank God for The Move. The innocently melodic “Curly” is possibly a slight step down from the band’s previous run of singles, but it’s still fantastic, and coming after Blueshammer…er, Steamhammer, it seems like the sun parting the clouds. Appearing seated together inside a picture frame, the group, now including new bassist Rick Price, belts the song out with glee. Carl Wayne mimes the guitar part and brilliantly handles the lead vocal, while Roy Wood chiefly busies himself with playing two recorders at once. At certain points, the clip breaks into a more conventional standing performance from the band, where it is revealed that Roy has shown up for the occasion in a chain mail tank top. The Move would be one of the few pop bands with enough underground cred to continue appearing on Beat Club into the live color era, but this would be their last single with Wayne in the band. By the time they’d return the next year, Jeff Lynne would be established as Wood’s new creative foil.
The final musical act of the day contains a lot of faces familiar to Beat Club viewers. Three out of Humble Pie’s four members had previously appeared on the show in different bands: guitarist Peter Frampton with The Herd, bassist Greg Ridley with Spooky Tooth, and most importantly, the great Steve Marriott with The Small Faces. The fact that creative lynchpins Marriott and Frampton had both split from their former pop-charting bands in a bid to be taken more seriously as artistes surely endeared them to serious rock fans, making Humble Pie a natural choice to close an episode like this. The band’s first song on the show, Marriott’s album track “Alabama ’69,” lays the new band’s artistic ambitions out clearly. A primarily acoustic backwoods stomp sung in Marriott’s best faux-country accent, the song decries the state of racial inequality in the southern United States. Although Steve was too talented of a guy to make a track like this completely unlistenable, in retrospect the song doesn’t come off well. If the concept of a draggy, overlong country song written by a British pop star in the persona of a black Alabama sharecropper looks suspect on paper, it comes off just as poorly in execution. The videos of marches, riots, and police harassment projected behind the band don’t exactly win any points for subtlety either.
Humble Pie’s second song comes off better. “Natural Born Bugie” (pronounced ‘boogie’), the band’s debut single, had immediately shot up to #4 in England upon its release the previous month, and it plays up Marriott’s new slightly comedic sex-fiend persona more effectively than “Alabama” had his social conscience. Not that it’s a particularly outstanding record either; it’s little more than a generic blues-rock groove musically, and like its predecessor, it’s a bit overlong at four and a half minutes. The biggest problem, though, is the band’s insistence on democratically spreading the lead vocal chores between three band members, despite the fact that neither Ridley nor Frampton can sing a tenth as well as Marriott. So the song gets off to a slow start in its first couple of verses, coming across as nothing that your average local bar band couldn’t pull off just as well. Then Steve finally arrives after the guitar solo to handle the third verse, and the true reason for this band’s existence becomes clear. If the other two guys had sung the entire song, you probably wouldn’t even notice it blaring out of a jukebox; as soon as Marriott roars in for the second half, you have to sit up and take notice. He’s that kind of frontman. Humble Pie would never have a pop hit anywhere close to the magnitude of “Natural Born Bugie” again, becoming known primarily as an album and live act. That lack of pop appeal made them perfect for Beat Club’s new focus, though, and the group would appear a couple more times in the color era.
The month’s musical performances now complete, it’s time for the last stand of Dave Lee Travis on Beat Club. He sits in front of a studio monitor, dorkily playing air guitar as Android Uschi goes through her dour-faced closing monologue. After mock-wiping a tear from his face, DLT announces, “yes, for me, it’s goodbye, everybody. We hope you’ve enjoyed the show—lots of good sounds—and of course we’ll be back with, uh, the very forward-looking sounds soon with another Beat Club.” Given the rueful emphasis DLT places on ‘forward-looking,’ and he and Uschi’s generally down-in-the-dumps demeanors here, I don’t think there’s any doubt that he was fired from the show against his will. (As we all know, when DLT wants to quit a show by his own choice, he handles it by melodramatically storming off on-air.) It’s not like the reasons for his dismissal are hard to figure out; if you wanted your TV show to be taken seriously by artsy German underground rock fans, would YOU want Dave Lee Travis hosting it? That said…I never thought I’d say this, but I’m actually a little sorry to see the jackass go. Aside from the fact that finding fresh new ways to insult DLT on a regular basis has become one of my favorite sources of amusement, I’ve got to admit that the guy was an integral part of the vibe of Beat Club’s first golden era. For better or worse, I can’t imagine what the mimed pop era shows would have been like without him. Of course, I can’t imagine the live rock era with him present, either; he definitely left the picture at the right time. So don’t worry about DLT. He’d end up alright; at this point, he still had that prestigious Pipe Smoker of the Year honor in his future to look forward to. The true head-scratcher is that in the wake of DLT’s departure, Mike Leckenbusch would somehow manage to replace him with somebody who was possibly even worse at his job.
At any rate, just to get in one last ‘look how fucking hip we are now’ moment for the episode, the final credits roll over the famous image of Frank Zappa sitting on a toilet, a favorite counterculture poster at the time. Don’t get me wrong; I love Beat Club’s progressive era. The color episodes were the ones I was immediately attracted to back when I was first becoming aware of the show, and when I started writing about the program, those were the ones I was really looking forward to tackling. And I’m still looking forward to them. But having grown just as fond of the mimed black and white period, I’ve got to say that there’s something annoyingly forced and slightly smarmy about the manner in which the show executed its transition away from a pop music focus. By the time Beat Club began color broadcasting in January of 1970, it would have its shit sorted out, and the show would be firing on all cylinders again, but some of the last few episodes of 1969, regardless of the quality of the music, feel a little off in terms of presenation. It’s like Leckenbusch knew where he wanted the show to end up, but had no idea how to get there, and just randomly shot around in the dark until he hit his target. Sometimes it worked, and sometimes it would result in some of the most cringe-worthy moments in the show’s history. For the most part, the unique September episode would work brilliantly, though, becoming one of the most memorable hours of Beat Club ever.
(Edited by halleluwah)I'MCOMINGI'MCOMINGI'MCOMINGI'MCOMING
Posted February 27th, 2012 07:39 PM IPBrilliant, brilliant review - I'm really enjoying reading these and have already run out of superlatives.
The production experiments in this particularly odd episode are hit & miss but so perfectly of their time. "THIS IS STEAMHAMMER" is hilarious, but typical of presenters being told to try doing it differently from the way they had always done it.
You're spot on, of course, about the pop / rock divide - funny then that the episode starts with Deep Purple who managed the neat trick of being a "proper" rock band whilst having hit singles. Not this one though. I didn't know Hallelujah was a Cook/Greenaway song - from this record I wouldn't have guessed what this line-up would go on to achieve.
Couldn't agree more about Try A Little Tenderness (and we have to suffer it again later in the series?) - love how this is followed by the James Brown piece.
I know nothing about Steamhammer, except that Status Quo used to play "Junior’s Wailing" live. Incidentally, the Quo admitted that they were never students of the blues like the R'n'B bands of the 60s claimed to be and they arrived at their three-chord boogie blueprint by copying "Roadhouse Blues" from The Doors. As you say, the same may well be true of Steamhammer.
"Curly" - great record. I think Carl may have a wry smile when he finds himself miming not only his own vocal but also Roy Wood's parts in the chorus.
"Natural Born Bugie" is the only Humble Pie song I knew until I saw Beat Club clips (er, what does it mean exactly to be a "natural born woman"?). I think they found more success in the USA than in the UK - perhaps that's where they were aiming, given all the American references in these two songs. It was probably more difficult for Steve Marriott to reinvent himself in Britain, where he was always much loved as the cheeky cockney chappie who sang Sha-La-La-La-Lee and Lazy Sunday. Hearing Natural Born Bugie now, it's still a good record but I can't get past how much it borrows from The Beatles "Get Back" and plain steals the guitar riff at the end of the chorus from "Revolution".
I guess this is about the time DLT started his long tenure at the BBC. He seemed to be on the radio an awful lot in the 1970s and was a regular presenter of Top of the Pops for years. The familiar awkward clowning never ceased, yet there often seemed to be a latent aggression about him - maybe the former was necessary to suppress the latter.
Posted February 27th, 2012 09:28 PM IPThanks, Varitone! You too, Joe!
Humble Pie was really hit-or-miss in the studio, but for big, dumbassed early 70s cock-rock, it's hard to beat sides 1 and 4 of their Rockin' the Fillmore live album. Marriott really beats Robert Plant at his own game handily on that one. I guess it's kind of the opposite in the states; other than "Itchycoo Park," the Small Faces never took off here, but that live album made Humble Pie pretty big for a time. I never heard any Small Faces on the radio at all growing up, but I used to hear "I Don't Need No Doctor" and "30 Days in the Hole" quite a bit.
Yeah, that second Three Dog Night version of "Tenderness"...hoo boy. Don't worry, though; I think that's on something like the second to last episode of the entire series. Which means that at the rate I've been writing lately, we shouldn't have to worry about seeing it until, um, about Christmastime or so. I'm hoping to have the next episode up in the next couple of days. It's a good'n. I'MCOMINGI'MCOMINGI'MCOMINGI'MCOMING
Beat-Club Episode 47
9/27/1969 All performances mimed, except where noted
1. Film: Maurice Gibb, Lulu, and Barry Gibb interviews
2. Fat Mattress – Naturally (live)
3. The Who – Overture*
4. The Who – Pinball Wizard*
5. Pete Townshend Interview*
6. The Who – Tommy Can You Hear Me*
7. The Who – Smash the Mirror*
8. Pete Townshend Interview*
9. The Who - Sally Simpson*
10. The Who - I'm Free*
11. Pete Townshend Interview*
12. The Who - Tommy's Holiday Camp*
13. The Who – We’re Not Gonna Take It*
14. Beat Club News: Blind Faith – Sea of Joy (on film) / erotic art / Vanilla Fudge interview
15. Film: 1969 Isle of Wight Festival recap*
16. Fat Mattress – Mr. Moonshine / Noel Redding Interview (live)
17. Fat Mattress – Magic Forest (live, with end credits)
In a year when rock and roll was making its most concerted effort yet to be taken seriously as an art form, no album loomed larger than The Who’s Tommy. Pete Townshend’s first album-length attempt at the rock opera concept he had pioneered three years earlier with the song “A Quick One,” Tommy collected its author’s thoughts on spirituality, child abuse, the drug culture, the nature of celebrity, the commercialization of religion, and a host of other topics all in one sprawling, messy package. The album’s convoluted plotline led to much intellectual discussion among rock fans and press of the type that had previously been reserved for Bob Dylan, and The Who found themselves suddenly adding prestigious opera houses to their touring itinerary. Although neither the first nor possibly even best rock opera album made at this point (The Pretty Things’ S.F. Sorrow at least beat it on the first count, and maybe the second, too), Tommy was the one that captured the public’s imagination on a grand scale. Due in part to the band’s performance at Woodstock the previous month, the album was even starting to catapult The Who into superstar status in America, something none of the band’s early hit singles had managed to achieve. Given Beat Club’s new focus on rock’s more forward-looking aspects, addressing the album was a no-brainer. To this end, Mike Leckenbusch devised a daring and unprecedented plan: over half of the hour-long episode 47 would be devoted to The Who, including mimed performances of eight full Tommy songs and extended interviews with Pete Townshend regarding the album’s meaning. Never before had such a large percentage of a Beat Club episode been devoted to a single artist. (Okay, okay…The Lords took up about half of episode 4, but are you really gonna count that?) Given the ambitious nature of the project, Leckenbusch had spent more than his usual month focusing on it; all of The Who’s material was filmed on August 27 and 28, before the previous episode had even aired. This may help to explain why at times episode 46 had felt like a disjointed collection of castoff performances.
In the end, Leckenbusch hedged his bets on the episode just a bit; rather than making the whole thing an hour-long Tommy special, the show would be filled out by live performances from another band in addition to the usual filmed news features. This gives the show a somewhat schizophrenic quality, with the other material sitting uneasily alongside the central Who section. Many Who fans know that Beat Club devoted a special episode to Tommy in 1969; very few of them are aware that the show was bookended by three Fat Mattress songs.
Foregoing a proper title sequence for the second episode in a row, the show opens with Eddie Vickers interviewing Bee Gee Maurice Gibb and his new wife, Lulu. Given that both were among the biggest pop stars in England at the time, their marriage early in the year had created a press sensation. The interview is loudly dubbed, and it’s difficult to make out much of what either of them is saying, but from what you can hear, they spend most of the time making googly eyes at each other and talking about how in love they are. (It wouldn’t last, unfortunately.) Vickers then separately interviews Maurice’s brother Barry. The eldest Bee Gee had publicly stated his disapproval of the wedding, and his comments here find him in stuffy damage-control mode, giving vague answers about whether he thinks marriage is good for a pop star’s career. I’m not sure how to interpret the gangland shootout footage that closes this opening segment. Is it meant as a commentary on the brothers fighting in the press, or is it another act of Mike Leckenbusch symbolically killing off his show’s Top 40 pop image?
In any event, we’re now taken to the Bremen studio, stripped bare of its usual set decorations, where a now smiling and fully human Uschi introduces us to her new co-host. Against my better judgment, I feel obligated to report to you that it turns out to be none other than Dave Dee, who had appeared on the show often enough that he may as well have been a full cast member anyway. On first glance, it’s entirely reasonable to ask what the hell Mike Leckenbusch was smoking to make him think this was a good idea. Beat Club was already in the process of hurtling itself headfirst into the ice-cold waters of progressive rock, and he just hired a guy who was showing up to sing novelty pop songs dressed as a fucking bullfighter just a few months earlier to be the new co-host? But on closer inspection, the move…almost makes sense. For his part, Dee had just left Dozy, Beaky, Mick, and Tich with the publicly stated aim of establishing himself in a serious acting career; he was looking to branch out from being a pop star. In the press at the time, Dee even described hosting Beat Club as his ‘dream job.’ From Leckenbusch’s standpoint, Dee was still popular with many of Beat Club’s viewers, and if the show was going to keep the teenybopper segment of its audience tuning in for episodes featuring Blodwyn Pig and Yes, it would help to have an already beloved face guiding them through it to soften the blow. Plus, he already had an established on-air rapport with Uschi, so the chemistry between the hosts wouldn’t be an issue. And hell, he was even named Dave, so they wouldn’t even have to change the personalized coffee mugs in the dressing rooms (assuming they had any). Unfortunately, there was one factor Leckenbusch hadn’t counted on: Dave Dee was a fucking terrible television host. No matter how comfortable he may have been performing pop songs in front of audiences, when it came time to introduce bands on camera, the guy looked ill at ease literally all the time. Watching him stumble his way through one wooden line reading after another, you can’t really feel anything but pity. (And disbelief…this guy REALLY thought he could make it as an actor???) Gerd Augustin may have been a bit awkward in front of the camera, but may as well have been James Bond compared to Dave Dee.
Dee, nattily dressed in a three-piece suit, begins his Beat Club hosting career by faltering through a German-language introduction of Fat Mattress. Let’s be honest: this group is remembered these days for one reason only: they were the band that Noel Redding was dumb enough to leave The Jimi Hendrix Experience for. As it turns out, they also have another link to Beat Club’s history in the form of singer Neil Landon, who had previously appeared a couple of times as a member of The Flower Pot Men back in 1967. Although the band has gone down in rock history as little more than a byword for bad career moves, they’re surprisingly not terrible. They’re not exactly that good, either, but when approached with appropriately low expectations, Fat Mattress is at least mostly listenable. “Naturally,” the first of three songs the group would perform on the show, is a spry pop rocker built on a decent guitar riff and some nice harmonies. Redding is obviously no Hendrix as a lead guitarist (in fact, his solo here kind of sucks), but the band does an acceptable job overall. The audience surrounds the stage on all sides, and the earthy live presentation feels more like the earliest days of Beat Club than anything we’ve seen on the show since 1966. Still, the real meat of the episode is coming up immediately after this, and if you still have Fat Mattress on your mind a couple of minutes from now, there’s something wrong with you.
Appropriately, The Who’s 32-minute Tommy feature begins with the album-opening Overture, a complex instrumental that introduces most of the opera’s key musical themes. After about 45 seconds of pinball machine close-ups, the band, minus Roger Daltrey, fades in at the bottom of the screen, miming the entire piece in one unbroken shot. At the time, The Who routinely played a slightly abridged version of the whole album at each concert, in a far more raucous, freewheeling power-trio arrangement than was heard on the heavily layered studio recordings. During their entire Beat Club special, the band appears to be miming to the studio versions in a manner more befitting the live ones; even during acoustic guitar passages, Townshend continues to hammer away at his electric, to occasionally amusing effect. (As a sidenote, you have no idea how many hobos I would kill to get my hands on the Rickenbacker 4005 bass Entwistle plays on this show. Like, three at least.) At the end, an animated representation of the geometric sphere from the album’s cover arrives to engulf the band.
Following the Overture, the show skips the entire first half of Tommy to segue directly into “Pinball Wizard.” From a thematic standpoint, focusing only on the opera’s second half, without exploring the protagonist’s often harrowing experiences in his catatonic state, robs the storyline of much of its power, but condensing a 75-minute album into half an hour demands certain sacrifices. At any rate, it’s a safe bet that if The Who had appeared on this episode in a regular one-song guest spot, this is the song they would have played. And this would have made a great standalone Beat Club clip. The band’s biggest hit single in two years, “Pinball Wizard” is visually staged in layers here. There’s a shot of Keith Moon’s frantic miming in the back, overlaid by the band emblem from the head of his kick drum, topped off by alternating shots of the other band members in the foreground.
After “Pinball Wizard,” we’re taken to the first of three extended segments where Pete Townshend fields questions about Tommy from an unidentified German interviewer. Townshend, one of the most loquacious interview subjects in all of rock, spends the first of these segments simply recounting the plot of the opera, up to the point that Tommy begins to attain his “higher level of consciousness.” This immediately segues into band performances of two brief songs. The first, “Tommy Can You Hear Me,” finds all four members gathered together in the middle of the stage lip-synching the harmonies in a decidedly jokey, chummy manner. This is one of two portions of this episode to later find its way into the documentary The Kids Are Alright. Back in rock mode after the communal singalong, the band goes straight into the album's funkiest track, “Smash the Mirror.” The climax of this track, signifying Tommy’s emergence from his psychosomatic handicaps, is illustrated via the mirror-smashing sequence from the album’s accompanying artwork.
We then return for the second portion of Townshend’s interview. Pete begins by stating that he doesn’t believe Tommy has an actual message, but nonetheless continues to talk for a good couple of minutes about many of the spiritual concepts contained therein. Shown a lyrical passage from the song “Sensation” that seems to paint Tommy as a sort of messiah, Pete denies this and maintains that it was meant to be more a statement of the character's self realization after having the opportunity to see himself for the first time.
After Pete and the interviewer debate Tommy’s supposed messianic properties, we cut to the band performing “Sally Simpson.” The odd track out on Tommy, the song momentarily takes the story away from the main characters to follow a teenage girl caught up in the hysteria surrounding Tommy’s newfound spiritual-pop-celebrity status. She goes to one of his sermons, attempts to jump up onstage to touch him, and is injured by the security as they remove her. Although the song may be one of the least essential on the album in terms of pure plot, “Sally Simpson” is perhaps the most perceptive commentary on the relationship between performers and their audiences Pete Townshend ever wrote. And he tended to write about that topic a lot. The band members are carefully arranged in the frame here, taking full advantage of the depth of field as they recede into the more distant parts of the studio. The slowed-down monitor footage of fans losing their shit at rock concerts that accompanies them is a nice touch.
A freeze-frame on the face of one of the screaming fans serves as a transition to “I’m Free,” for my money the most effective visual moment of the episode. The entire song is done in silhouettes and shadows, with the contrast levels of whites, grays, and blacks between them constantly shifting. It’s brilliant to see The Who reduced to flat shapes on a screen, because you realize how immediately identifiable each one of these guys still is without the benefit of any details at all. The fact that Mike Leckenbusch was able to present the same band in a different visual setting for each of is eight songs is a testament to his imagination as a director.
The third portion of Townshend’s interview is the longest and most entertaining. It finds him starting to get a little combative with the interviewer after the hapless German states his belief that “Sally Simpson” is about Tommy living the literal life of a pop singer. Pete’s “you’ve got that completely wrong” pique at this particular point is amusing, but he still patiently explains the song to the guy in detail. The next bit would become the second portion of this episode immortalized in The Kids Are Alright: as Pete nervously bites his nails, the interviewer asks him a long, wordy question regarding viewing Tommy as a comment on the narcissism of youth culture, to which Pete simply replies, “er, yeah.” Or so it seemed in the film, where it was edited to appear as if Townshend had decided to blow off a pretentious question rather than answering it. In reality, Pete never is content to answer a question in only one word, and so it’s revealed here that he goes on to reply in an equally long-winded manner. Townshend reiterates that no part of the opera was completely thought through at the time it was written, before he continues his narration of the album’s plotline from before, picking it back up at the point when Uncle Ernie reappears to profit off of Tommy’s celebrity. We then cut to the band miming the brief linking number “Tommy’s Holiday Camp,” here sung by Keith Moon (with Daltrey subbing in on drums) despite the fact that the performance on the record was Townshend. It’s funny to see Keith repeatedly looking back at Pete for the cue to say “welcome” at the end, even though he still misses it.
The Tommy segment of the episode naturally ends with the album’s final song, “We’re Not Gonna Take It.” This is a long track, broken up into three distinct sections, and the show offers up a beautifully sympathetic visual interpretation to go along with it. Utilizing Mike McInnerney’s album artwork to the greatest extent of any of the song clips on this show, the camera roams around his surrealist paintings in close-up behind the band. The use of the deaf/dumb/blind crowd image during the closing “Listening to You” section matches up especially well. Even better is the lovely “See Me, Feel Me” section, where we are shown a series of grainy still frames of the befringed Roger Daltrey captured in full macho frontman mode. The contrast between Daltrey’s hyper-masculine onstage demeanor and his fragile delivery of the lyrics here makes for the most poignant moment of the show. Returning full-circle to the beginning of the Overture, the pinball background returns; as the track fades out, it seems like the effects guys are trying to squeeze in as many simultaneous images back there as possible. Like the album that inspired it, Beat Club’s special half-episode on Tommy is a grandiose, often brilliant, and sometimes frustratingly messy affair. The show probably could have done a better job in some ways (the fact that they omitted some of the album’s strongest songs in favor of a few relatively unimportant linking tracks is one), but overall, this stands as a benchmark moment for Beat Club. Aside from the fact that each song featured here could have made a striking standalone clip, it’s admirable that the show even attempted to make a move this ambitious. It’s difficult to imagine any other pop music show of the era delving this deeply into the inner workings of a single album in this fashion, let alone mostly succeeding at it. It would be nearly three years before Beat Club would again turn over the majority of an episode in tribute to a single artist. From a more prosaic standpoint, it should also be noted that this remarkable Tommy segment would mark the last time The Who would ever perform on Beat Club. They’d have a promo film shown the following year, but the fruitful, nearly three year tenure of the band as repeat guests of the show was now over.
Now, here’s the awkward thing about this episode: after The Who segment is finished, there are still another 22 minutes to fill. Maybe it would have been more dramatically effective had Tommy finished the show off, but as it stands, the “Listening To You” fadeout directly bumps up against the intro to Beat Club News. Strictly speaking, it’s difficult to call the first item here a ‘news’ story in particular: it’s just a film of Blind Faith playing the first two and a half minutes of “Sea of Joy” at their free Hyde Park show back in June. The studio version of the song has been substituted for the live one they played that day (which is fine with me, since that performance was listless as hell), so there’s not even much documentary value. In fact, I’m not sure why this is here at all. Either a.) they were just intending to show this clip as a regular promo film, but couldn’t decide where in the show to put it, so they just stuck it in News, or b.) it was intended as a tribute piece to commemorate the short-lived band’s breakup, which did happen right around this time. If so, some sort of announcement would have been helpful, though. At any rate, the next bit of News focuses on an exhibition of erotic art currently running in Hamburg. Predictably, the vast majority of the art transports us through the wild and wonderful world of boobs; the exhibition doesn’t seem very interested in throwing the ladies a bone, so to speak. It is fascinating that in Germany, a show like this could be held over 40 years ago and attended by a variety of respectable couples, fathers holding infants, and old ladies, without anybody batting an eye. It’s certainly difficult to imagine this exhibition taking place at all where I live, even today. (Rick Santorum did just win a presidential primary in this state, after all.) For the last News feature, we have an interview with all four members of Vanilla Fudge, and if you’re anything like me, this prospect should fill you with girlish glee. Pete Townshend could speak pretentiously during interviews and get away with it, because the guy was a genius, and he could back up all his high-minded talk with brilliant work. On the other end of that spectrum, we have Vanilla Fudge, a band whose stupidity-to-pretension ratio is off the charts. The most amusing part of this particular interview is how eager the band is to proclaim that the already clichéd ‘back to basics’ approach of their new album, Rock and Roll, is far and away the best way to make music. In other words, you can read this as, “Ummm…sorry you didn’t like our pseudo-classical album-length sound collage based on a combination of hippie mysticism and Sonny Bono covers.” This week’s “This is Steamhammer” moment: bassist Tim Bogert is asked what he wants to happen in the audience while he plays, and he humorlessly stares back at the reporter and deadpans, “just, uh, good vibrations…I want them to do what they want to do…whatever gets them off, y’know what I mean?” Some kind soul has been thoughtful enough to place this whole interview on YouTube.
Following News, Uschi returns for the first time in about forty minutes, only to immediately send us away to a five-and-a-half minute filmed report on the recent Isle of Wight Festival. Held only 11 days after Woodstock, the 1969 edition of the festival was seen by many as something of a British analog. Although a bit smaller, with a lineup containing slightly fewer big-name acts, the Isle of Wight festival did manage something Woodstock didn’t: it hosted Bob Dylan’s first public performance in three years. The film presented here only has time to fully recap the first day of the festival before the plug gets abruptly pulled on it, but there are some fantastic bits of footage on hand. We’re given our first Beat Club glimpse of The Edgar Broughton Band, a motley gang of glue-sniffing freaks who would become important players on the show within the next year. Marsha Hunt performs in an outfit that looks almost like a template for Betty Davis’ sexually liberated ‘70s look. The Nice manages to get tiresome in less than a minute of screen time, while Joe Cocker sounds great on just a few seconds of “Let’s Go Get Stoned.” The Bonzo Dog Band chaotically honks away on saxophones, reminding me of how much I miss them appearing on Beat Club. The second day opens with some nice, atmospheric footage of Richie Havens and folk-jazz group Pentangle (man, I’d kill yet another hobo for a chance to see that band do a studio session on the show), before going downhill with a smirking Vietnam-themed talking blues song from Tom Paxton. Just as Bob Dylan appears for a performance of “Highway 61 Revisited,” the film abruptly cuts off due to time constraints. I’d rather them have cut something else from the episode altogether and show more of the Isle of Wight film, but oh well.
They could have cut out one of Fat Mattress’ songs, for instance. We return to the main studio for the last ten minutes of the episode, where Dave Dee stands with Noel Redding, set to conduct his first-ever interview. It plays out about as poorly as you’d expect. Dee’s first question goes okay, as it’s merely an “introduce your bandmates” softball. His second, asking whether Redding regrets leaving Jimi Hendrix, meets with an awkward “I don’t want to talk about that,” and the interview is suddenly over. Smooth, Dave. Fat Mattress proceeds with their next song, “Mr. Moonshine,” and they probably should have stuck with their basic pop-rock sound, because the moody progressive thing they try here really doesn’t work. Oh, there’s nothing especially wrong with the dark choruses, but Redding’s poorly sung verses kill the vibe immediately, and the unnecessary jazz bridge doesn’t fit in at all.
The air being drained from the room by the second, Uschi tries to make quick work of her sign-off, while Dave insists on drawing his out. When they’ve finally collectively finished, they throw it back over to Fat Mattress to play the episode out with “Magic Forest.” Written and sung by the band’s bassist, this returns the band to the realm of inoffensive not-badness we first witnessed on “Naturally.” They even manage to work up a decent head of steam towards the end of the song and sound like a respectable rock band for a moment. For Noel Redding, the wrong-headedness of quitting the Jimi Hendrix Experience wasn’t just measured by the relative mediocrity of Fat Mattress; it was also compounded by the fact that within a few months of this performance, he would find himself departing from that band as well. Redding unfortunately never amounted to much afterwards, and without their ex-rock star source of automatic press interest, Fat Mattress only sputtered on for one more album before imploding.
There’s no other Beat Club episode quite like this one. By the time the credits start rolling during that third Fat Mattress song, you’ve almost forgotten that half an hour earlier you were in the midst of the most ambitious extended piece the program had yet attempted. And in addition to the two extremely uncomplimentary episode halves, it also happened to be the debut of the show’s new co-host. It’s an oddball display by any measure, but one that features as many compelling moments along the way as any episode from 1969. The next month’s episode would find Beat Club settling back down to normality, delving further into the world of extended rock workouts.
(Edited by halleluwah)I'MCOMINGI'MCOMINGI'MCOMINGI'MCOMING
Posted March 4th, 2012 07:40 AM IPClassic selection of interviews in this Episode. Glad Dave Dee wasn't given the job of the Pete Townsend interview. That interviewer, whoever he was, did well to engage Townsend so deeply in the subject and get some real insight into his art.
By the way, I think the shootout clip at the end of the Bee Gees is the final scene from the film "If...."
From what I know of Beat Club, the Tommy segment is one of its finest moments. It's good to see how the album was treated when it was still fresh. Townsend gives wonderfully lucid answers - saying there is no actual message and it wasn't written as a fully formed concept, yet it does manage to address some big issues that fuel his creativity.
Great also to see The Who presenting it as a band thing, although with such a long stretch of miming I did find myself wishing they could have done a live performance. But, as you say, Beat Club did a great job with the visuals. Love your observation about the four members in silhouette. I always thought that The Who, more than any other band, set the blueprint for band member archetypes which they demonstrate in every appearance they ever made.
These days I'm not actually a huge fan of Tommy - I much prefer The Who Sell Out and Who's Next, but thanks to this episode and your review (enlightening as always - thank you) I can see just what a big deal it was at the time.
The Vanilla Fudge interview is joyously embarrassing. Carmine Appice makes a noble attempt to rescue it, but then Tim speaks ...
I mentioned before that there was a 1980s series on British TV called Best of Beat Club. It was presented by none other than Dave Dee, actually doing a much better job than he does here. I don’t think his Fat Mattress interview qualified as the Best of …
Posted March 8th, 2012 01:10 AM IPThanks as always, Varitone. Sorry it took me a bit to respond.
Man, you're helping me out with some of your observations. I had no idea where that shootout footage was from. I'd never seen If..., but looking up the plot of it just now (violent uprising in public school), it makes at least a little bit of sense. I couldn't get a satisfactory enough translation of the german onscreen titles during Maurice and Lulu's interview to bother mentioning them, but they seemed to say something about 'young people in showbiz.' So maybe Maurice is being pegged as the rebellious young kid rebelling against his older, sterner brother's advice? I'MCOMINGI'MCOMINGI'MCOMINGI'MCOMING
Posted March 23rd, 2012 10:35 AM IPOkay, I know it's been over three weeks since I've written anything, but I'll be back into it soon. Haven't had much time or energy to do anything creative at all recently, but that seems to have just opened back up. I know you must be chomping at the bit to read all about Tea & Symphony in the next show.I'MCOMINGI'MCOMINGI'MCOMINGI'MCOMING
Beat-Club Episode 48
10/25/1969 All performances mimed, except where noted
1. Opening Credits
2. Blodwyn Pig - The Modern Alchemist (live)
3. Film: Maurice Gibb/Lulu/Barry Gibb interviews (repeat)
4. Ten Years After – Good Morning Little Schoolgirl (live)*
5. Tea & Symphony – Boredom
6. Beat Club News: Christopher Lee interview / Düsseldorf audition for Hair
7. The Nice – Hang On To a Dream (live)
8. Beat Club News: Conservative party/Marc Boyle/Kunst & Police/Hare Krishna/London Street Commune
9. Barry Ryan – The Hunt*
10. Joe Cocker – Delta Lady*
11. Chicken Shack – Tears In the Wind*
12. Marsha Hunt – Desdemona*
13. Vanilla Fudge – Shotgun*
14. Closing Credits (Shotgun continues)
After the atypical Tommy extravaganza in September, Beat Club’s 48th installment offered a first look at the program’s new status quo in the context of a ‘regular’ episode. Not that it had arrived at anyplace definitive yet, though; to some extent, every show of the Dave Dee era could be considered transitional. So there is a bit of a mishmash going on here: the episode is frontloaded with live performances that tend to emphasize extended instrumental workouts, before settling into a series of more concise mimed songs, mostly by returning artists. Unfortunately, on this occasion the more progressive first half is mostly tiresome in comparison to the excellent second, so it takes a while for the episode to get off the ground. After a two-month absence, “A Touch of Velvet, A Sting of Brass” reclaims its rightful place as the show’s opening theme music. The new accompanying title sequence is a rapid-fire barrage of discotheque dancing, the apple-eating woman from Michael Cooper’s film “Now” that had aired back in March, and a cameo from Procol Harum organist Matthew Fisher. Uschi greets us in an appealingly tight sweater, while Dave Dee begins to cultivate his on-air persona that he would milk throughout his Beat Club tenure: an awkwardly laid-back, goofily grinning schumck trying and failing to come off like a hip FM DJ.
The first live performance of the episode comes via the Beat Club debut of Blodwyn Pig. A heavy blues-jazz-rock band formed by ex-Jethro Tull guitarist Mick Abrahams, the group would never hit it particularly big in a commercial sense, but would manage to stake out a semi-prominent place among the progressively-minded Island Records scene. As it appears on their debut album, Ahead Rings Out, the band’s instrumental “The Modern Alchemist” is one of the better attempts at jazz by a rock group of the era, but the performance shown here is unlikely to convert anybody into a raving Pighead. For one thing, Abrahams, the one reason anybody these days would probably know about these guys in the first place (aside from Aerosmith always talking about them in interviews), is absent altogether, and the group appears as a rather weedy-sounding sax/bass/drum trio here. A more pressing problem is that the show cuts directly to the final third of the performance mid-stream, skipping out on most of the best parts. As a result, what we get here is mostly a display saxophonist Jack Lancaster engaging in the favorite party trick of honky Roland Kirk wannabes everywhere by blowing into two horns simultaneously. (Double-sax performances seen on Beat Club so far: two. Take a drink.) Now, as jazzy sax players in rock groups go, Lancaster isn’t bad (he’s a hell of a lot better than that jackass from Steamhammer, for instance), and the band does get locked into a decent groove for a bit, but by and large, removed from its proper context, this comes across as little more than two minutes of dicking around. Fortunately, Blodwyn Pig would return the following year for a more representative and satisfying performance.
Assuming that most of “The Modern Alchemist” was cut out due to time constraints, what we see next is especially strange. It’s simply a repeat of the entire Maurice Gibb/Lulu/Barry Gibb interview that opened the previous episode. Aside from the lack of scrolling titles this time, nothing has been changed in any way, from the cute googly-eyed Maurice/Lulu bits to the closing Malcolm McDowell shootout footage. I have no idea why this was repeated here, but it does offer a final farewell to two important players in Beat Club’s pop era: The Bee Gees and habitually unobtrusive interviewer Eddie Vickers.
Ten Years After may have been many things, but ‘unobtrusive’ was never one of them. Led by blooze shouter/guitar smoker Alvin Lee, the group specialized in overblown boogie marathons in the mold of their memorably interminable performance of “I’m Goin’ Home” at Woodstock. Unlike Blodwyn Pig, TYA is afforded an extended slot at this point to jam out their one-chord reduction of Sonny Boy Williamson’s blues standard “Good Morning Little Schoolgirl.” Now, most of what I said about Steamhammer when I wrote about the August show could hold equally true for Ten Years After; they come off as unsubtle, showy, and clueless about what blues authenticity means. But I’ve got to say…I kind of like this anyway. Most people point at Lee as the group’s main attraction, but his speed-demon repetition of stock guitar licks and cartoonish vocal style (“I wanna BAWWWWL yewww! ALL NIGHT LONG!”) get old real fast for me. No, it’s the rhythm section I dig here; even when Lee’s endless doodely-doodely-doo gets tiresome, they’re able to keep the performance energetic and tense. Dig how the track suddenly explodes out of a simmer once the drums crash in halfway through the jam section. Comically mustachioed bassist Leo Lyons in particular is a hoot, repeatedly whacking his brain against the inside of his skull as he fires off Jack Bruce-derived lines. He has the appearance of a man focusing every fiber of his being towards internally exclaiming “FUCK YEAH!” for six minutes straight. Alvin Lee and his horse-faced lip puckering can suck it; Lyons is by far the most entertaining guy in the band to watch. More entertaining still is the visual treatment here, which moves from spooky high-contrast to rotating geometric beams centered on a solarized eyeball. In a sign of the changing times, there is a pair of dancing girls superimposed over the screen, but in contrast to the Go-Go Girls’ synchronized tightness, they just flail about like stoned hippies at a be-in. With most of the labyrinthine stage set that had characterized most 1969 Beat Club episodes now dismantled, “Good Morning Little Schoolgirl” also marks the debut of the final major set piece the show would introduce before permanently switching to all bluescreen backgrounds in the color era: a massive backdrop painted in amorphous psychedelic swirls. Overall, this performance has its obnoxious points (Lee), but I find it to be entertaining as hell anyway, and the high point of this episode’s generally flat first half. This would be Ten Years After’s only appearance on Beat Club.
Dave Dee affects his best lethargic FM DJ voice to introduce the episode’s first mimed performance, Birmingham-based group Tea and Symphony’s cover of Procol Harum’s album track “Boredom.” The original version has never been a particular favorite of mine (it’s not terrible or anything, but it’s always felt like just a throwaway bit of goofy end-of-side-one filler to me), and this group doesn’t bother to add much. In fact, they basically play the entire thing note-for-note, copying the whimsical recorder/marimba arrangement identically. Tea and Symphony makes a game attempt to capture the acid carnival folk look, but The Incredible String Band this is not. There’s nothing particularly bad happening here, but if you want to hear this song, there’s no reason to choose this over the Procol Harum original (or to upload it to YouTube, apparently, since this doesn’t seem to be on there). Like Ten Years After, Tea and Symphony would never make a return visit to Beat Club.
The first of two Beat Club News segments on today’s episode follows, beginning with an interview with actor Christopher Lee. At the time, Lee was a fixture of Hammer horror films, particularly famous for his portrayal of Dracula. Despite this, the dignified actor maintains that he had only taken part in one actual ‘horror’ film (he prefers terms like ‘shock’ or ‘terror’), The Curse of Frankenstein, and emphasizes that he does not wish to by typecast due to such roles. Amusingly, the interviewer continues to refer to them as horror films throughout the remainder of the piece, even after the admonishment. The interview progresses into a discussion of uncomfortable makeup, with Lee reserving particular disdain for the red contact lenses he has to wear as Dracula. The show attempts to illustrate these contact lenses with a film clip, seemingly forgetting for a moment that it’s being broadcast in black and white. The second News feature descends into pure bathos, as we’re subjected to five minutes of footage from an audition for a Düsseldorf production of Hair. Sweet Jesus, there is some terrible singing going on here. A Harry Nilsson lookalike sits at a piano, switching between equally inadvisable bass and falsetto registers. Two pretty but tin-eared girls mangle a swing-time arrangement of “Yesterday.” A pair of guys trying to cover up their thick German accents with corny Broadway inflections do irreparable damage to “Blowin’ in the Wind.” (And these are the guys who ended up getting the parts, for fuck’s sake.) The worst/oddest moment comes at the end, as a longhaired hippie does the whitest possible version of Howlin’ Wolf’s “I Asked For Water (She Gave Me Gasoline),” accompanied by bongos and harmonica. The Christopher Lee interview was thoughtful and interesting, but avoid this shit at all costs.
I’m starting to think this is one of the worst-paced episodes of Beat Club I’ve seen so far, because following that five-minute misstep is the longest and dullest live performance that had aired on the show up until this point. As with so many of the more unpleasant things in this world, it’s all Keith Emerson’s fault. In the year-plus since The Nice had made their first appearance on the show with their instrumental take on “America,” the group had been reduced to a keyboard/bass/drums trio, and without a lead guitarist, Emerson was now fully in charge. The band's cover of Tim Hardin's “Hang On to a Dream” is for my money the first truly tedious extended live performance in Beat Club’s history. Alvin Lee’s small eternity spent playing the exact same fast guitar runs over and over earlier in the episode came close, but at least he had a rocking band to back him up. “Dream,” however, is nothing more than seven and a half minutes of life that you and the fifteen or so kids standing cross-armed in front of the stage are never getting back. The brief introductory and closing verse sections (you know, the parts Hardin wrote) are played decently enough. In fact, the moody, hushed feel here could nearly even be described as haunting, despite the hilarious touch of the drummer punctuating each chorus with a single triangle note. Then there’s a painfully inept and mercifully short bowed bass interlude, before we’re treated to the centerpiece of the performance: nearly five minutes of Emerson piano wanking. The other two guys are relegated to a static four-chord jazzy shuffle, with the drummer doing nothing but shaking a tambourine (why did he even bring his entire fucking drum set to Germany in the first place?). Emerson starts with some bluesy runs, before reaching inside the piano to pluck the strings for a while, a trick that never sounds anywhere near as cool as he thinks it does. Then he just runs through a library of all the jazz and classical licks he knows, and…fuck it. I’ll be damned if I’m giving play-by-play on the whole thing. Suffice it to say, it’s one of the dullest five-minute stretches ever shown on Beat Club, and although the return to the verse section at the end is a nice bone to throw us, it’s a lost cause. Remember that film of the hippie guy on vacation from a few episodes back? “Hang On to a Dream” makes that look like a three-ring circus of entertainment. Thankfully, The Nice would not re-appear on Beat Club, but Keith Emerson would pull this type of crap on a grander scale as a member of Emerson, Lake, and Palmer fourteen months later. You’ve been warned.
The episode’s halfway point slipped by unnoticed while we were collectively nodding off to sleep there, and it’s suddenly already time for the second extended Beat Club News segment of the show. In truth, this isn’t so much a regular assemblage of news features as it is the debut of a style of film that would become prevalent on the show over the next two years. In essence, it’s an 11-minute series of vignettes meant to collectively contrast with each other to paint an overall picture of segments of London society in October of 1969. The framing device, which continues to pop up throughout, is footage of a fund-raising ball held for the Conservative Party, attended by all varieties of stiffly dancing rich old white people. This is interrupted by an interview with Marc Boyle, a prominent artist and designer of liquid light shows for many British groups, including The Jimi Hendrix Experience and The Soft Machine. Surrounded by what I assume are his wife and child, Boyle explains the difference between the overhead projected San Franciscan light shows and his own vertically projected style. Following a short return to the Conservative Party schmucks, we hold on a steady shot of some guy staring into the camera as the announcer tells us about a new Beat Club feature, Filmredaktion (Film Editorial), in which people can presumably send in films to be shown on the program. I’m going to be honest; my lack of ability to understand German is a bit of a liability here, as it is in the following bit, titled “Kunst & Police,” which seems to be nothing more than some teenagers watching a British cop show on TV. This gives way to a couple of minutes of footage of English Hare Krishna followers chanting and praying in a temple, before we’re taken to the last News bit: a feature on the politicized London Street Commune. An intense curly-haired guy, melodramatically identified only as “John Smith(?),” stands in front of a bonfire in an alley and talks about his partnership with hippies, Hells Angels, and Black Panthers to achieve his radical political goals. We wrap things up with one last visit to the Conservative fundraiser, and I suppose the point of the whole film is to make these people seem hopelessly out of touch with the new subcultures of underground music, radical politics, unorthodox religions, and, er, TV-watching teens popping up throughout England. Unlikely as it may seem, this bulky News segment would prove to be just as much a foreshadowing of where Beat Club was headed as any of the musical content of this episode. By 1971, sociopolitical film assemblages like this would routinely take up twenty minutes out of many episodes. I can’t say it would turn out to be one of my favorite elements of color-era Beat Club (on this show, the pop culture and musically focused films tend to be a lot more entertaining than the more serious pieces), but this still has to be recognized as a milestone in the show’s history.
Let’s be honest; the first two-thirds of this episode have been by and large a pretty drab affair. You know there’s something wrong when you’re forty minutes into a show and Ten Years After has provided the best material for your highlight reel. Fortunately, the run of five consecutive mimed performances that closes the show is mostly great, salvaging what would otherwise probably be the weakest episode of 1969. We start with the final Beat Club performance by our old friend Barry Ryan. “The Hunt” finds Ryan reigning in the epic melodrama of “Eloise” and “Love Is Love” just a bit, lacking the overwhelming effect of those earlier singles, but it’s still an imposing production by any other standard. The song is mostly underpinned by a jaunty, ragtime-esque lope reminiscent of “Martha My Dear,” with a decent helping of the Ryan brothers’ trademark ethereal musical twists thrown into the mix. Decked out in fringe and massive sideburns, Barry manages to not stick out like a sore thumb in the context of this episode, coming across as a breath of fresh air after the oppressively serious content of the show’s previous twenty minutes. Although he’d make a minor appearance in a film in a following episode, Barry Ryan would never perform on Beat Club again, and would retire from the music business altogether in the early 70s.
A brief linking film follows, showing a man and a woman (who is, er, obviously not wearing a bra under her dress) bounding towards each other across a field in slow motion, before meeting up for a proverbial roll in the grass. A bemused Dave Dee, who must not have seen many recent episodes of the show he’s now hosting, comments on the strangeness of the film, then mangles his introduction of Joe Cocker in an attempt at humor. In the ten months since his Beat Club debut, Cocker had hooked up with Leon Russell and The Grease Band as his chief musical collaborators, resulting in a markedly funkier, more southern-fried approach. His version of Russell’s “Delta Lady” bore the distinct imprint of its author’s American melting-pot approach, giving Cocker his second U.K. top 10 hit. The disheveled singer’s spastic performing style is in full force here, visually buoyed by various contrast effects splashing across the screen, and it’s another of the episode’s strongest moments. Cocker would return to Beat Club four months later with another product from this same filming session.
You’ll never read anything about Chicken Shack without some comparison to early Fleetwood Mac appearing somewhere in the article. There are good reasons for this: aside from the fact that their original keyboardist Christine Perfect left the band to join Mac after she married bassist John McVie, the two bands shared more than a little in terms of their approach to British blues. What Chicken Shack lacked was a mindblowing talent on the level of Peter Green, relegating them to permanent close-but-no-cigar status. The Megadeth to Fleetwood Mac’s Metallica, if you will. That said, the band’s subtle blues waltz “Tears in the Wind” is a fairly strong, atmospheric track on its own merits. Dylan-haired bandleader Stan Webb doesn’t possess a great singing voice for blues, but he acquits himself reasonably well, and his economical guitar solo is reminiscent of Danny Kirwan’s softer work in Mac. This song seems like an odd choice to be given the full-on psychedelic liquid light show backdrop, but the combination works surprisingly well.
If Marsha Hunt’s Beat Club debut back in June had made it clear she was no shrinking violet, her return ups her sexually charged performing style to nearly alien levels. Dressed in knee-length high-heeled boots, leather breeches, and an enormous floppy afro wig, with her eyes outlined with thick white makeup, Hunt launches into a cover of “Desdemona” by Marc Bolan’s pre-T. Rex group John’s Children. The freakbeat stomper has been disfigured into a rampaging wall of funk, presided over by Hunt’s wild, untrained howl. This is a heavy record, and Hunt seems determined to perform it in a manner somewhere between seduction and demonic possession. She wraps the microphone cable around her neck, violently writhes around the stage, and opens her eyes and mouth to disturbing levels as she stares into the camera. At the end, she exaggeratedly licks the microphone. The decision to stage this performance inside of the claustrophobic mirrored cube was genius, as the reflected light washes the image out into a luminous haze, adding to the strange, otherworldly nature. Depending on the viewer’s perspective, this whole thing could be either brilliant or revolting, but it’s certainly bound to provoke some kind of strong reaction, which I’m sure was the point. For me, this is the most bizarrely compelling moment on the episode by a considerable margin, and the fact that nobody’s seen fit to upload it to the internet is a damn shame. You need to look this up on the full episode link above, but it's worth it.
After Hunt’s sex-bomb freakout, the transition straight into Uschi’s composed hosting sign-off is funny as hell. She and Dave banter around for a moment before sending us off to Vanilla Fudge’s take on Junior Walker’s “Shotgun,” the one moment where the extended jamming and mimed portions of this episode meet head-on. As is normal for Fudge, this is equal parts awesome and hilariously embarrassing. The band recasts the dance-soul standard as a pile-driving rocker, built on an admittedly slamming drum groove. Carmine Appice is a complete cheeseball, but for a few minutes, he earns his lofty reputation here. Some aggressive, scratchy wah-wah guitar adds greatly to the propulsive drive of the track. So on one hand, there’s enough cool stuff going on for me to let it squeak by with a recommendation asterisk. On the other hand, this is Vanilla Fudge we’re dealing with here, so you also have to contend with: 1.) obnoxious, strained oversinging, 2.) a fucking godawful bass solo that sounds like it was flown in from another song in a completely different tempo and key, 3.) an inappropriate classical organ breakdown, 4.) the retarded everybody-hit-everything-really-fast-at-the-same-time ending that would make Spinal Tap blush, and 5.) way too much screen time given to the thick back hair exploding out of the sleeves of Mark Stein’s tank-top shirt. I can’t fathom how this band is able to suck this bad and rock this hard at the same time. Halfway through, the closing credits roll, letting the mimed jamming continue on for a couple of minutes afterwards. This would be Vanilla Fudge’s final performance on Beat Club, and I can’t decide whether I’m relieved or sad about that fact.
Beat Club’s facility at staging three-minute mimed pop performances, honed over three years of practice, had become something of a safety net for the show. Even as the balance gradually tipped further towards live performances, lipsynching still served a valuable function. On an episode like this one, where the live jamming fell flat, the show’s sure footing with making magic out of miming was the only thing that saved the whole hour from unmitigated disaster. That safety net was about to be removed. Episode 48 would be the last time in the show’s history that mimed performances would outnumber live ones; the next few episodes would contain only one or two apiece, and the practice would be gone altogether by the following spring. The show still had yet to find its footing in effectively presenting live progressive rock, but it would have to figure it out fast. Starting with the next episode, the show would be removed almost entirely from its comfort zone, and from here on out, it would live and die on the strength of its live performances.
(Edited by halleluwah)I'MCOMINGI'MCOMINGI'MCOMINGI'MCOMING
Posted April 11th, 2012 12:49 PM IPThanks, Joe! I really need to familiarize myself more with Tim Hardin; that song is great. If I'd have heard the original before the Nice version, I probably would have been even MORE offended when I wrote that.I'MCOMINGI'MCOMINGI'MCOMINGI'MCOMING
Posted April 12th, 2012 07:08 AM IPThanks for a great review of a less than great episode. I'm not sure whether I cringed more at the Hair auditions or the clumsy sociopolitics, but both capture something of that age.
I'm not too familiar with Ten Years After but, like you, my eye is drawn to Leo Lyons and his passionate but peculiar relationship with his instrument.
As a prog fan from my teens, I am quite fascinated by The Nice because they were before my time and, apparently, helped to spawn the whole genre. But they were not great. Their musical evolution seems to have been Emerson's search for ways to show off his keyboard dexterity. Unfortunately, he lacked taste and judgement - even by prog standards - as demonstrated here by his piano exercises going nowhere.
Still, I get the feeling (could be wrong of course) that collectively The Nice were aware of their shortcomings and, in the spirit of the times, enjoyed trying to disguise them with ever more audacious arrangements and showmanship. (I'd be pretty sure any such perspective was not carried through to ELP, however.)
You're absolutely right that the final third of the episode makes it worthwhile, Marsha Hunt especially. I knew Marsha's version of Desdemona at a very young age, so it's quite a thrill to see this and find it's just as unsettling now as it was then.
Beat-Club Episode 49
11/29/1969 All performances live, except where noted
1. Opening Credits
2. Man - 2:30 Definitely
3. Film: Interview with Robert Stigwood*
4. Yes - No Opportunity Necessary, No Experience Needed*
5. Caravan – Magic Man (mimed)*
6. Beat Club News: Gottfried Mehlhorn waits for The Beatles at an airport
7. Beat Club News: New York Rock and Roll Ensemble profile
8. Champion Jack Dupree – School Days*
9. Champion Jack Dupree – Calcutta Blues*
10. Babylon - Into The Promised Land (mimed)
11. Beat Club News: Bill Graham interview*
12. Man - Brother Arnold's Red And White Striped Tent*
13. Delaney & Bonnie And Friends - Poor Elijah/Tribute to Robert Johnson*
14. Delaney & Bonnie And Friends - Where There's A Will, There's A Way*
15. Closing Credits (with Delaney & Bonnie And Friends - Comin' Home)
(The Beatles’ promo film for “Something” was also shown on this episode.)
The last time Beat Club had aired a mostly live show was episode 18 at the Marquee Club in March of 1967. Over two and a half years and thirty episodes later, the program had elevated mimed pop performances to an art form during the Dave Lee Travis era. With DLT now in the rearview mirror, the show had gradually made live performances a more important part of its makeup, and starting with this episode, it officially turned the corner: miming would never again be the default setting for Beat Club. Given the show’s recent unremarkable track record of spotty live performances (Steamhammer, Fat Mattress, The Nice, etc.), the switch to making them the dominant focus could understandably be cause for concern. Fortunately, it turns out we needn’t have worried. Episode 49 finds Beat Club showing the first signs of gaining some control over its new progressive format, and barring the atypical Who special, it stands as the most satisfying installment since the final all-pop show back in August.
For the next several episodes, Beat Club would maintain a habit of beginning each show with a non-sequitur cold open before the “Touch of Velvet” title sequence. Here, we start with an outtake from episode 38, showing Tiny Tim walking onstage with a briefcase and tuning up his ukulele. The opening titles play out, and Uschi gives her introductions standing in front of a pop art print decorated with repeated images of Marsha Hunt. (Her performance last time must have made an impression on the producers as well.)
Dave Dee then throws us to our first band of the day, the Welsh group Man. Although best known for adopting a jammy West Coast psych approach, in this early incarnation, Man seems to be primarily concerned with straight-up blues-rock. They weren’t opposed to sensationalism, though, posing nude for the cover of their debut album and receiving a UK ban for the simulated orgasm in their single “Erotica.” (As Dee notes, the song became a hit in France anyway.) The group’s first song here, “2:30 Definitely,” begins with a couple of minutes of a Yardbirds-style harmonica-driven raveup, growing in intensity before settling into a more measured blues riff. The band vamps on this for a bit, and just at the moment you expect the vocals to come in, the song is abruptly cut short by the next feature. This practice of Beat Club cutting the opening number of each episode short is getting annoying. No matter; Man would return later in the episode for a more impressive full song.
In contrast to the ponderous film content of the previous episode, we’re back in lighter but more interesting territory this month, with a pair of rare interviews with two of the most important behind-the-scenes figures in the ‘60s rock world. The first is Australian-born super manager Robert Stigwood, best known for his guidance of The Bee Gees and Cream. Throughout the interview, Stigwood comes across as the very caricature of the foppish multi-millionaire gone off the deep end. His palatial estate is filled with all manner of expensive-looking antiques, including a life-size sculpture of a camel(!), he hops in his Rolls-Royce and drives the hapless interviewer in circles around the driveway for no apparent reason, and is attended to by a stereotypically stiff butler. Just remember: every time “How Deep Is Your Love” gets played on the radio, it just helps pay for more bullshit like this. Stigwood offers some insight into his approach in handling his superstars’ egos, stating that he’s just interested in promoting musicians’ individual images; whatever groups they may pass through in the meantime are basically irrelevant. (This may help explain why his protégé Eric Clapton had just quit Blind Faith, his fourth group in only five years, after a matter of months. More on that later in the episode, by the way.) He also makes the jaw-dropping revelation that he demands 25% of an artist’s earnings in order to manage them, which is fucking ridiculous. In terms of succinctly summing up everything decadent, cynical, but ultimately fascinating about the backdoor dealings of the ‘60s English pop scene, this segment is hard to beat.
With Beat Club’s newly adopted progressive focus, you knew it would only be a matter of time before Yes showed up. No other band would end up profiting so much from the genre’s ascendancy, and no other band would receive quite as much backlash as a result of it. The thing is, for all the eggheaded muso tendencies people like to ascribe to prog (for good reason, much of the time), Yes was at its core an energetic, melodic rock band, at least early on. They just happened to be able to wiggle their fingers really fast and had a singer who got a little too into Herman Hesse for his own good. Yes wasn’t even hated by critics at first; it’s worth remembering that Lester Bangs, the hippest rock writer around, reviewed their first album jointly with The Pretty Things’ S.F. Sorrow at the time, and he ended up raving on it while panning Sorrow as the pretentious one. I’ll go out on a limb and proclaim that I think for their first four or so years as a recording band, Yes was a legitimately great group. That said, what you see here is markedly different than what the band would eventually become. At this point, Yes only had one album out, and were more of a psych band with slightly wanky embellishments than an all-out prog monster. In fact, this is so early in their career that their Beat Club debut happens to be the earliest surviving footage of the band. They play a cover of Richie Havens’ “No Opportunity Necessary, No Experience Needed” which wouldn’t even be released until their second album seven months later. The band is in great form here, particularly the rhythm section, which chugs along with sweaty glee. Original guitarist Peter Banks might not have quite the facility of his eventual replacement, Steve Howe, but he’s no slouch either, and even aloof elf Jon Anderson gets in on the action with a surprisingly energetic vocal performance. Despite the band’s pompous reputation, it’s striking how much less pretentious they come across here than a more accepted heavy band like Vanilla Fudge did on all of their appearances on the show. Throughout the clip, the band’s original speech-bubble logo continually zooms in from the background, cutely replaced by one proclaiming “No!” at the end. By the time Yes would return to Beat Club in 1971, they’d be a lot closer to the sound one normally associates with the band.
Following Yes, Dave Dee throws us to another side of the prog coin with the much less hyperactive “Magic Man” by Caravan. Amusingly, the method he uses to try to seem hip to these new sounds is to simply mutter a mock-stoned “ohhhhhh yeeaahhhh” as an introduction. Right. This is one of only two mimed performances on today’s show, a leftover from Caravan’s previous appearance back in June. Truth be told, this is kind of a sleepy song, with another shaky vocal performance from Pye Hastings, but it still succeeds at putting across a nicely dreamy vibe. It’s the type of song that initially seems hookless and unappealing, but works its way in with repeated listenings, particularly if you focus in on the ghostly keyboard washes. The slowly spinning sunray/star field imagery overlaid across the screen works well, and this stands as the spookiest, most atmospheric moment on the episode. Like Yes, Caravan would not return to Beat Club until 1971.
The first of two separate Beat Club News segments on the episode follows. We open with a way-too-long vignette in which actor Gottfried Mehlhorn stands on the tarmac at the Köln airport waiting for The Beatles to show up. He’s holding the photo prints from the White Album and wearing an “I love The Beatles” button, and he dorkily vamps for a few minutes of mock-comedic anticipation. The plane finally lands, and The Beatles aren’t on it, leading Mehlhorn to angrily throw the photos down and stomp on them in disgust. That was…pointless. Of course, what the world didn’t know yet was that despite the recent release of Abbey Road, The Beatles had effectively already been broken up for a matter of months at this point; they just wouldn’t make it official until the following spring. As a sidenote, the promotional film clip for “Something” was originally shown somewhere on this episode, but without a telltale edit, it’s hard to tell where. This seems like as logical a place as any to put it, I guess.
After a brief announcement from Uschi, Beat Club News moves on with a seven-minute feature on The New York Rock and Roll Ensemble. At a time when rock bands from The Moody Blues to Deep Purple to The Left Banke were attempting to infuse classical music into their sound, this group took the opposite approach. Centered on three honest-to-goodness Julliard-trained musicians, they played oboes and cellos and used classical pieces as the harmonic bases for their own rock songs. Predictably, in their backstage interview segments, they mostly come across as nerdy conservatory students trying way too hard to act like fun-loving, hedonistic rockers. (“Lately I’ve been into a nude bag! If you take that camera and put it down there, I DON’T HAVE ANY PANTS ON!” Mmmm hmmm.) On the basis of the clip of them playing their Bach-based song “Brandenburg,” they may be highly capable musicians, but in terms of rocking ability, they’re somewhat lacking. Regardless of the execution, it’s at least still an interesting idea for a rock band, and two of these guys would go on to have pretty noteworthy careers after the group broke up in 1973. The pants-phobic drummer/oboist later changed his name to Mark Snow and became a composer of TV themes, most notably The X-Files, while the oboist/keyboardist who tries to light up a fake joint backstage turns out to be none other than Michael Kamen, later arranger-for-hire to everybody from Pink Floyd to Metallica to Kate Bush. Regardless of how lame they might come off here, just remember, one of these guys was responsible for the string arrangement in “Comfortably Numb.” So be nice to him.
This is a breakthrough episode for Beat Club, not only because it finds the show returning to a predominantly live format, but also because it displays a broadening definition of what it means to be musically progressive. Yes, it was progressive at the time to put on a bunch of high-minded album-oriented rock bands from weird little labels like Island or Vertigo. But here, the show seems to be realizing that it’s just as adventurous, if not more so, to give some time to the opposite end of the spectrum: the earthy, unadorned sounds of the American South. To that end, we have a pair of songs on hand from New Orleans-born blues pianist Champion Jack Dupree. A former professional boxer (hence the nickname), Dupree recorded some classic boogie-woogie sides during the ‘40s and ‘50s before permanently immigrating to Europe at the beginning of the ‘60s. By 1969, he had settled in Germany, making him a natural to appear on Beat Club. Sitting alone onstage, Dupree vamps on the ivories and introduces his first song, “School Days,” by reminding the audience that he never had a chance in his own life to go to school. He then launches into the song, a brutally honest confession of illiteracy and regret, likening lack of knowledge to slavery. Throughout the solo slow blues performance, Dupree pounds the keys with a kind of ragged grace, belting the lyrics out in a manner that lets you know he’s not faking it. You know, it’s all fine and good to be a pasty white European 21-year-old with a shiny new Rickenbacker you bought with your record company signing bonus, but being confronted with lines like “I cannot read, I cannot write/I cannot even sign my name…I ain’t nothing but a prisoner and a slave/because I have never went to school,” sung by an old man who means them literally, has a way of making that other stuff seem kind of frivolous, you know? There’s a lot of really good stuff on this episode, but “School Days” is just on a different plane.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Xx4LbDSd6Fk (The only version of “School Days” I can find online is an alternate take from the same Beat Club session. This one is played at a much faster clip, with a distinct gospel feel. It’s great, but you really need to click on the full show link above to see the originally aired slow version. It’s about 29 minutes in. Trust me on this one.)
Dupree is then joined by a backing group and starts into an upbeat version of his classic “Calcutta Blues.” This is a more standard barrelhouse shuffle, the type of thing Dupree could play in his sleep, and he sounds great here. Unfortunately, his band, who looks like a pickup group of unswinging German honkies, is a bit pedestrian, and they can’t even approach the rock-solid groove of the original recording. That turtlenecked guitar player sounds like the guy who played in my first band when I was 16, ferfucksake. So maybe Jack could have picked some better sidemen to accompany him, but when you’re a 60-year-old bluesman living in Germany, your options are limited, I’d imagine. Still, don’t let that detract from the power of Dupree’s performance, which oozes effortless cool. After this triumphant Beat Club debut, it would be two years before Champion Jack would return to the program.
The show wisely doesn’t attempt to throw any actually good artist to the wolves by having them follow Dupree. Instead, they sacrifice Babylon, a psych-pop vocal duo comprised of blues singer Carol Grimes and ex-Herd member Lewis Rich. Their only single, “Into the Promised Land,” is the subject of the show’s second and final mimed performance, and it’s kind of a laughable song. Oh, Grimes is a decent singer, and her chorus hook works alright, but Rich is a blustery buffoon behind the mic (don’t forget, in his previous band, Peter Frampton was considered by far the best vocalist), sounding like a cross between David Clayton-Thomas and Will Ferrell’s impression of Robert Goulet. Overall, it’s just a forgettable, horn-drenched pop trifle dressed up in blooze shouting and a forced fuzz guitar solo in an effort to sound psychedelic. At least the clip looks cool; over a backdrop from Bosch’s “The Garden of Earthly Delights,” the two singers’ figures rush up and down the screen repeatedly, to hypnotic effect. It takes a lot of balls to waste your best effects work on the worst song on the episode. Carol Grimes would go on to have some semi-notable world music releases in the ‘70s, but Babylon disappeared almost immediately after this. Unsurprisingly, this clip seems to be impossible to find on the internet.
Beat Club News makes its final return with the episode’s second interview with a guiding light of the ‘60s music scene, this time promoter Bill Graham (amusingly misnamed onscreen as ‘Billy Graham,’ a name with very different connotations). The contrasts between Graham and Robert Stigwood are striking. While Stigwood seemed to be going out of his way to play up the effete, deceptively calm rich guy persona, New Yorker Graham is more intense and direct, interviewed in his small, cluttered office. He comes across more as a passionate, honest musical observer, allowing himself a broad smile when talking about his favorite classical composers. He goes on to discuss his disappointment with rock stars who get so caught up in their own fame that they neglect their creativity, and tap-dances around the issue of whether he is permissive about people smoking grass at the Fillmore. (If you listen to the German dubbing closely, it becomes clear that the people at Beat Club seem to directly translate ‘grass’ as ‘hash.’ This piece of information will come in handy over the next year. Trust me.) Graham’s interview is abruptly cut short by a knocking at the door. This would turn out to be the last dedicated installment of Beat Club News, which is a bit of a shame, since it happens to be my favorite recurring feature segment ever on the show. But really, the show would continue air occasional interviews and news pieces for the next couple of years; they just wouldn’t be given a snappy moniker anymore.
With the demise of News, it’s time to properly get to know Man. And it turns out they have more to offer than the opening jam fragment indicated; “Brother Arnold’s Red and White Striped Tent” is one of the best early Allman Brothers pastiches I’ve ever heard (a neat trick, since it was released before the Allmans even had a record out). Based on a similarly doomy harmonized guitar/organ riff in waltz time, the song zips along as a jazzy blues until a series of “Elizabeth Reed”-esque tight unison riffs takes us to a more straightforward organ solo. After another round of Allmans-y blues waltzing, the band gets stuck on one chord for a crashing outro with stinging acid rock guitar playing. No wonder Quicksilver Messenger Service’s John Cipollina ended up briefly joining these guys later in the ‘70s. With the exception of some mediocre vocals (we’ll be getting really used to that caveat soon, by the way), this is some really good stuff. Given their memorable showing on their debut episode, Man would go on to become repeat Beat Club guests, appearing a couple more times in the color era.
The American couple Delaney and Bonnie Bramlett never became superstars in their own right during their five-year period of marriage/musical collaboration, but they managed to exert an outsized influence over some of the biggest names in rock and roll during that time. Things had begun to get interesting for the couple earlier in the summer during a stint opening for Blind Faith. Eric Clapton decided he liked their music better than his own band’s, and in a classic passive-aggressive rock ‘n’ roll fuck-you, abruptly left Steve Winwood & Co. in the lurch to join the Bramletts. This of course marked the immediate end of Blind Faith. Clapton tries to present himself as this sort of levelheaded everyman blues scholar character, but he can be a Neil Young-grade band-jumping asshole when it suits him. The sudden presence of Clapton on lead guitar naturally raised the Bramletts’ profile immediately, garnering them the climactic final slot on this episode of Beat Club before the new aggregation had even released any music together. With or without Clapton, Delaney and Bonnie already had a unique sound going at the time, a sort of melting pot of soul, country, rock and roll, and gospel; think a less idiosyncratic (and less Canadian) version of The Band with a woman singer and fewer keyboards. This melting pot approach is displayed immediately with their medley “Poor Elijah/Tribute to Robert Johnson.” The groove is relaxed but tough, with the guitars tangling cleanly instead of crunching. Bonnie has a gospel belter type of voice, but as soon as Delaney opens his mouth, it’s obvious that Eric Clapton’s entire yawn-inducing solo career is basically just a prolonged attempt to ape this guy’s style. Except, you know, Delaney actually sounds pretty good when he does it, while Clapton sounds like he literally records most of his vocal takes while sleeping. “Poor Elijah” is more of a southern Gothic country story-song, while “Tribute to Robert Johnson” is slightly more gospel-influenced. If you’re not listening closely, you’d be hard-pressed to tell these are supposed to be two different songs, though. Despite being essentially the reason Delaney and Bonnie were invited to play on Beat Club in the first place, Clapton seems trying hard to be as low-key as possible throughout this song. Again, just like his entire fucking solo career.
After the medley, Uschi and Dave Dee lengthily sign off on the episode before throwing us back to Delaney and Bonnie and Friends to close things out. (Once again, Dave tries to woo us down to his mellow level with the “ohhh yeahhh” trick, because it clearly worked so well the first time.) “Where There’s a Will, There’s a Way” is an energetic soul-rock song sung as a more forceful duet between Bonnie (who suddenly has all this weird studio reverb applied to her voice) and Delaney. Clapton’s short flurry of a solo here is probably a bit closer to what people would have expected from him, but the real instrumental star is drummer Jim Gordon, who propels the song forward with some tasty breakbeats. The entire band here deserves mention for a simple reason: after they left Delaney and Bonnie the following year, Gordon, pianist Bobby Whitlock, and bassist Carl Radle would reconvene around Clapton as Derek and the Dominos; Layla is a direct result of the fresh collaboration you’re seeing here. Hell, everybody onstage here ended up sort of famous; even horn players Bobby Keys and Jim Price would become satellite Rolling Stones members for a while.
After “Where There’s a Will” finishes, the band immediately starts a third song, the blues-rocker “Comin’ Home.” The credits start rolling, and only about 45 seconds of the song are shown on air before the episode comes to an end. Somebody still bothered to put it up on YouTube for some reason anyway. Just over a week after this episode aired, Delaney and Bonnie and Friends would record a live album in England containing all three of the songs they performed on Beat Club. Despite the commercial push of having Clapton on board, the band wouldn’t last long into the new year, and by 1972, the Bramletts’ marriage would be over as well. Though not the most musically transcendent material on the episode (that still belongs to Champion Jack Dupree, and I’d even say Yes and the second Man song are at least neck-and-neck with it), the Delaney and Bonnie segment is the most historically important footage to be found here, capturing a brief merging of musicians that happened to set off a much longer-lasting impact than anybody could have expected at the time. On a more prosaic note, it also marks the final time Eric Clapton would appear on Beat Club in any capacity, after having been featured a couple of times apiece with Cream and Blind Faith.
Is it just me, or did that episode seem to go by in about half the time of the previous one? When Beat Club is having an “on” month, there isn’t an hour of music television that zips by faster. But when things are amiss for some reason (flat performances, ponderous films, awkward pacing, having an entire third of an episode taken up by, say, a single late-period Iron Butterfly song, etc.), that same sixty minutes can make you feel like you’re somewhere around hour nine of an uninterrupted staging of Wagner’s Ring Cycle. But episode 49 was certainly one of the good ones, a return to the consistency that had characterized several of the excellent early 1969 shows. After three months of awkward transitional programming, it seemed as though Beat Club had perfected its new winning formula just in time to end the ‘60s on a sure-footed note. As usual, the truth would be a little messier than that.
(Edited by halleluwah)I'MCOMINGI'MCOMINGI'MCOMINGI'MCOMING
Posted April 27th, 2012 05:35 AM IPHA! School Days was incredible, but Calcutta Blues was pretty darn awful - Jack of course was amazing, but man, either the bass player changes chords too early or the guitarist is in the wrong key. Man, that was nasty."Nick is the Mode guy. Jon is the Duran guy."
Quote: Matinee Idyll (129) wrote:
HA! School Days was incredible, but Calcutta Blues was pretty darn awful - Jack of course was amazing, but man, either the bass player changes chords too early or the guitarist is in the wrong key. Man, that was nasty.
Yeah, it's pretty rough. I think that happened a lot when old-school blues musicians, who were often used to playing solo and bending song structures to their own needs, got paired up with straight, structured type of musicians. A lot of John Lee Hooker's studio work with session players suffers for that reason, too; he'll sometimes go like 40 bars without changing chords at all, then decide to start changing things up for reasons only known to him, and he leaves his sidemen in the dust. I remember seeing Honeyboy Edwards at this little blues festival in St. Louis around twelve years ago, and for whatever reason, somebody had paired him up with a twentysomething white guy with a ponytail on electric bass. Given that Honeyboy was one of those old-school country bluesmen who would abruptly speed up, slow down, or without warning decide to make each verse anywhere from like ten and a half to thirteen bars to suit his needs at the moment, the addition of that bass player turned out...badly. It's still always a trip to see these guys play; it's just a shame that sometimes their sidemen weren't up to the challenge.
Thanks for reading!I'MCOMINGI'MCOMINGI'MCOMINGI'MCOMING
Posted April 27th, 2012 09:57 PM IPTerrific episode but the most annoying fade-out yet - I'd much rather have heard the whole of Comin' Home than Where There's A Will.
Thanks for another insightful review and for me the most educational yet. That's Michael Kamen?! And there was I thinking obscurity was surely beckoning those guys.
That's Carol Grimes? I've heard Delivery but never knew what else she did. And Lewis Rich must be fhe only person I've ever seen who aspired to move like Joe Cocker.
I was caught unawares by Champion Jack - School Days was just so raw and moving. Definitely the highlight.
It's a thrill (again) for me to see some early Caravan, but even more the Yes clip. Until YouTube this was all I had ever seen of the original lineup, at a time when they had bundles of enthusiasm and talent but were yet to find their thing and were still reliant on the Vanilla Fudge trick of very long cover versions.
Posted April 29th, 2012 12:57 PM IPCool; I hadn't found that one. It's sick how much unaired stuff is still lying around in the Beat Club vaults. For every one or two songs by a group that ended up on the show, there are several from the same sessions that ended up on the cutting room floor. And there are a lot of acts who did entire sessions that never appeared on the show at all. Some of these ended up getting aired in a Radio Bremen show called Vinyl a few years ago, but most are still locked away. So some of them pop up on YouTube every now and then. When I find them, I'll post those extra clips in conjunction with the episodes they originally were taped for. I read a rumor that some of those unreleased Beat Club performances might be coming out on a DVD set at some point, but as far as I know nothing's come of it yet.
Check out these still photos from Beat Club tapings, including several of Tim Buckley's live session from '68, none of which ever made it on air (they also have some color pictures from The Who's Pictures of Lily session, where you get the full effect of Townshend's bright lavender shirt, as well as lots from Zappa and the Mothers and the Hendrix/Who Marquee show). The fact that they had that Buckley footage, but never ended up featuring him anywhere on the show, is criminal. I really hope some of that stuff sees the light of day at some point.
Quote: IanWagner wrote:
Interesting episode, I only really enjoyed Dupree musically, but the Stigwood and Graham clips were very entertaining.
I imagine you'll probably dig the next episode a little more; we've got Chicago, Janis, and Terry Reid coming up. Of course, most of the rest of the episode, not so much, but those three are good'ns at least. Thanks as always for reading.I'MCOMINGI'MCOMINGI'MCOMINGI'MCOMING
Quote: IanWagner wrote:
That's the great I'm A Man clip! Last B&W, right?
Yep. The first few color shows have some classic stuff coming up too. Spirit, Bobbie Gentry, Mott, Broughton, Free, Badfinger, Taste, etc. Some lame shit too, but we'll soon be hitting the stride of the second really classic Beat Club period. I'MCOMINGI'MCOMINGI'MCOMINGI'MCOMING