Thursday, July 10, 2008

Rare 1960s Ephemera Showing Today on TCM

Turner Classic Movies is showing some rare and unusual films from the 60s today for those interested. A couple of the films aired on TCM about a month ago, but some, to my knowledge, have never shown on TV. None of these films are considered classics, but as museum pieces they are well worth screening. All times are Central Daylight Time (CDT).

Herman’s Hermits travel to England for a high-stakes greyhound race.
Cast: Peter Noone, Herman’s Hermits, Stanley Holloway. Dir: Saul Swimmer. Color, 95m [LTBX]

6:36am—From The Vaults: THE BACKGROUND BEAT (Short, 1965)
A short doc by director Ralph Nelson exploring how he uses music and scoring in his pictures. Includes examples from Once A Thief (1965). B&W, 7m

7:00am—HOLD ON! (1966)
Rocket scientists consider naming a space ship after Herman’s Hermits.
Cast: Peter Noone, Herman’s Hermits, Shelley Fabares. Dir: Arthur Lubin. Color, 86m [LTBX]

8:30am—WINTER A-GO-GO (1965)
A teenaged ski bum tries to turn the lodge he’s inherited into a hit music club.
Cast: James Stacy, William Wellman, Jr., Beverly Adams. Dir: Richard Benedict. Color, 88m [LTBX] Note: Includes the tune, "Hip Square Dance."

10:00am—UNDER THE YUM YUM TREE (1963)
A lecherous landlord tries to steal a woman from her fiancie.
Cast: Jack Lemmon, Carol Lynley, Dean Jones. Dir: David Swift. Color, 110m [LTBX] [CC]

A sophisticated crook mounts an intricate plan to rob an airport bank.
Cast: James Coburn, Camilla Sparv, Harrison Ford. Dir: Bernard Girard. Color, 107m [LTBX] Note: Includes a very early film appearance by Harrison Ford.

2:00pm—DUFFY (1968)
A playboy tries to rob his father with the help of a gentleman crook.
Cast: James Coburn, James Mason, James Fox. Dir: Robert Parrish. Color, 101m [LTBX] Note: all existing versions of this film on video are missing one minute of footage when Duffy tries to force himself on Segolene. Plus it is letterboxed!

3:45pm—THE HAPPENING (1967)
A kidnapped gangster joins forces with the hippies who abducted him.
Cast: Anthony Quinn, Faye Dunaway, George Maharis. Dir: Elliot Silverstein. Color, 101m [LTBX] Note: Too bad this rarely shown film wasn't paired with Donald Cammell and Nic Roeg's PERFORMANCE (1968).

5:30pm—HOMICIDAL (1961)
A nurse and her husband conspire to collect a rich inheritance.
Cast: Glenn Corbett, Patricia Breslin, Eugenie Leontovich. Dir: William Castle. B&W, 87m [LTBX] [CC] Note: not all that rare, but TCM is airing it letterboxed.

When a one-night stand results in pregnancy, a musician and a young girl try to resolve the issue together.
Cast: Steve McQueen, Natalie Wood, Tom Bosley. Dir: Robert Mulligan. B&W, 100m.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008


In music, melisma, commonly known as "vocal runs" or simply "runs," is the technique of changing the note (pitch) of a single syllable of text while it is being sung. Music sung in this style is referred to as melismatic, as opposed to syllabic, where each syllable of text is matched to a single note. A common example of melisma, or the singing of several notes sung to one syllable of text, is the Gregorian chant. For an example of syllabic singing, think of the Beatles’ “Penny Lane”:

In Penny Lane there is a barber showing photographs
Of every head he’s had the pleasure to have known
And all the people that come and go
Stop and say hello

While melismatic singing is quite common in popular music, few singers have used it, or are able to use it, tastefully. Nelson George, in The Death of Rhythm and Blues, refers to Sam Cooke (pictured) as a popular singer who effortlessly used melisma to marvelous effect:

No analysis . . . can capture the naturalness of Cooke’s sound. There was something ingratiating about his voice that entranced listeners and inspired a whole generation of male vocalists to try to approximate his supple sensuality and flowing melisma. (These would include David Ruffin, Johnnie Taylor, Otis Redding, Bobby Womack, Lou Rawls, and Jerry Butler.) (79)

Think of Cooke’s use of melisma with the monosyllabic word “You” in his hit “You Send Me.”

However, in popular singers less gifted than Sam Cooke, excessive (over) use of melisma results in melismania, defined by Michael Jarrett as

an obsessive compulsive disorder characterized by multiplying the notes sung to every syllable of text; melisma taken to excess.... melismania
. . . seeks to manufacture authenticity—to signify belief in the face of unbelief—through intense virtuosity . . . it creates rampant “affective inflation” that subverts its own efforts.... melismania is a particularly audible expression of what Lawrence Grossberg calls "sentimental inauthenticity."

Melismania is variously known as “Mariah Carey Syndrome” or “Whitney Houston Syndrome,” although among Caucasians it is known as “Boltonism.”

Monday, July 7, 2008

Peace & Love

Today, July 7, is Ringo Starr's 68th birthday (born 1940)--Happy Birthday, Ringo! According to his official website, the Beatles' former drummer was asked recently by Access Hollywood what he hoped to receive for his birthday this year. His answer? "Just more Peace & Love." He said, "it would be really cool if everyone, everywhere, wherever they are, at noon on July 7 make the peace sign and say 'Peace & Love'." Therefore, wherever you are in the world, join him in making the peace sign and saying, shouting, writing or quietly thinking his birthday wish: "Peace & Love."

Meanwhile, according to a report published yesterday in the TimesOnline, Ringo's birthplace at No. 9 Madryn Street, Liverpool, in an area of mid-Victorian Era buildings, where he was born Richard Starkey 68 years ago, is apparently to be demolished after a decision by English Heritage not to list it. According to the TimesOnline report:

Starr lived in Madryn Street for the first four years of his life before he and his mother moved around the corner to Admiral Grove. English Heritage’s main reason for rejecting the listing request, therefore, is that Madryn Street has no real links with the Beatles.

But according to additional information in the report, fellow Liverpudlians turned against Ringo when

he made dismissive comments about Liverpool on Jonathan Ross’s BBC1 show in January, saying there was “nothing” he missed about the place. A shrubbery sculpture of the drummer was later beheaded.

Apparently it doesn't pay to be honest. Perhaps as a Liverpudlian himself, Sir Paul ought to intercede and go about saving Ringo's birthplace, in deference to the the old adage, "honesty is the best policy."

Sunday, July 6, 2008

The Art of Noise

Introduced to the rock world at the Monterey Pop Festival, held June 16-18 1967, the Moog synthesizer was the most sophisticated and expensive noisemaking machine ever invented. Although seldom considered as a noisemaker, that is more or less how the synthesizer was initially perceived, given its first uses in popular music were weird and unusual sounds. There were various noisemaking machines introduced earlier, of course: Bebe and Louis Barron, for instance, were accomplished at using electronic noisemaking devices, creating the unearthly sounds—i.e., noises—used on the soundtrack to MGM’s SF classic Forbidden Planet (1956). But even before them, Spike Jones fired guns and banged pots and pans (among other things) when he set out to “murder the classics.” Other accomplished noisemakers include John Cage, Harry Partch, Frank Zappa’s beloved Edgar Varèse (pictured), Sun Ra, Yoko Ono, and of course Lou Reed, whose Metal Machine Music (1975) would have been inconceivable without these earlier composers preparing the way.

Hence the Moog synthesizer can be considered as simply another means of making noise, albeit a highly sophisticated one, and all noisemaking ritual has its anthropological roots in the charivari. According to, charivari is defined as, "A mock serenade (e.g. for newlyweds) of loud, discordant noises using pots and pans, cowbells, guns and other noisemakers; by extension, any cacophony of out-of-tune noises." The word is French, from the Old French for “hubbub,” perhaps from Late Latin carībaria, headache, from Greek karēbariā: karē, head + barus, heavy.

Here’s what Claude Lévi-Strauss, in his essay “Divertissement on a Folk Theme” (from The Raw and the Cooked, University of Chicago Press, 1969), says about the charivari:

The Encyclopédie compiled by Diderot and d’Alembert defines “charivari” as follows:

The word . . . means and conveys the derisive noise made at night with pans, cauldrons, basins, etc., in front of the houses of people who are marrying for the second or third time or are marrying someone of a very different age from themselves. (288)

One can see from Levi-Strauss’s definition the origin of the meaning of charivari (in American English, shivaree) as "mock serenade": if the serenade celebrates romantic love, the charivari satirizes it.

The recent re-issue on CD of Mort Garson and Jacques Wilson’s charivari, The Wozard of Iz (original release: 1968), subtitled “An Electronic Odyssey” and produced by electronic music pioneer Bernie Krause, is a good illustration of the early uses of the Moog synthesizer. A media satire using The Wizard of Oz to structure the heroine's journey to the "Upset Strip," The Wozard of Iz is badly dated by virtue of its (heavy) use of late 60s slang and for being too obviously created for juvenile audiences (nothing about it is in the least way subtle), but it is interesting nonetheless as an illustration of how the synthesizer was perceived as nothing more, early on in its history, as a novelty. Most certainly it was Wendy Carlos’ Switched-On Bach, released a couple of months after The Wozard of Iz in 1968, that first gave the synthesizer musical credibility, demonstrating to a skeptical audience that the synthesizer was something much other than an expensive toy.

I made the observation in an earlier post that early on in its history any unconventional or radically new knowledge is at first perceived to be a bad joke--Freud's theory of psychoanalysis, for instance, and Darwin's theory of human beings evolving from monkeys were, in fact, both considered bad jokes. I suggested that popular music's appropriation of the "psychedelic experience" was initially perceived as a bad joke: the first albums containing the word "psychedelic," such as the Blues Magoos' "Psychedelic Lollipop," used the word in a joking way. The idea of the joke permeates early albums claiming to be psychedelic, for instance, Friar Tuck and His Psychedelic Guitar (1967), The Animated Egg (1967), Hal Blaine's Psychedelic Percussion (1967), and so on. The Wozard of Iz illustrates the same idea: like these other, aforementioned records, it sold poorly, because it lacked both credibility and substance, and was just so much noisemaking. Conversely, Wendy Carlos' Switched-On Bach sold well because it was straight. Unlike Spike Jones, who set out to "murder the classics," Switched-On Bach approached the music with the utmost seriousness, as high art, and the role of the synthesizer as a noisemaking toy was minimized, if not absent altogether. In other words, Wendy Carlos set out to do anything but perform a charivari.

Saturday, July 5, 2008


Having listened intently the past few days to the Band’s first album, Music From Big Pink (1968), today I found myself compelled to begin listening to the Band’s eponymous second album (released September 1969), the album that contains one of the Band’s most famous songs, The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down. A wonderfully dynamic, dramatic, and utterly compelling song, it was famously covered by Joan Baez, who had a hit single with the song about a year and a half after The Band's release. It was subsequently covered by Johnny Cash on his album John R. Cash (1975). In the context of the late 1960s and the Vietnam War, "The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down," while set during the days after the end of the bloody American Civil War, was generally interpreted as a song having an anti-war sentiment, while also invoking the Biblical parable of Cain and Abel. Presumably, the song was an attempt to identify and overcome the tensions of an American population divided in its support for the Vietnam War, to speak to both groups in a way that also acknowledged their mutual sense of patriotism.

Like the Bible's Cain, the singer of "The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down," Virgil Caine (Cain?), is a farmer:

Virgil Caine [Cain?] is the name
And I served on the Danville train
Til Stoneman’s cavalry came
And tore up the tracks again
In the winter of ‘65
We were hungry, just barely alive
By May the 10th Richmond had fell
It’s a time I remember oh so well

The night they drove Old Dixie down
And the bells were ringing
The night they drove Old Dixie down
And the people were singin’
They went Na, La, La, La, Na, Na . . .

Back with my wife in Tennessee
When one day she called to me
“Virgil quick come see—there goes Robert E. Lee”
Now I don’t mind choppin’ wood
And I don't care if the money’s no good
You take what you need
And you leave the rest
But they should never
Have taken the very best


Like my father before me
I’m a workin’ man
Like my brother before me
Who took a rebel stand
He was just eighteen, proud and brave
But a Yankee laid him in his grave
I swear by the mud below my feet
You can't raise a [Cain?] Caine back up when he's in defeat


The key poetic figure in the song is, of course, Dixie. There are few popular songs in American history more controversial than "Dixie," a song both adored and despised. Improbably, "Dixie" is a song that, prior to the Civil War, received ovations from both abolitionist Republicans and proslavery Democrats. After the Southern succession, it was adopted by the Confederacy as its national anthem. The song was played at Jefferson Davis's inauguration, but Abraham Lincoln so loved the song that he had it played at his second inauguration.

According to Michael Jarrett, "Dixie" was introduced on the Broadway stage on 4 April 1859 by Daniel Emmett, the founder of the first professional blackface minstrel troupe, and was an instant hit. But, as Jarrett observes,

...the popularity of "Dixie" resulted from the song's basic slipperiness. It seemed eager to serve all sorts of agendas and capable of insinuating itself into a variety of contexts. . . . "Dixie" is far more redolent of meaning than it is explicity meaningful. It functions as a poetic image. Generations of Americans, nostalgically drawn to the idyllic scene it calls them to conjure, have revered it. And generations, enraged and offended by the antebellum stereotypes it asks them to celebrate, have reviled it. (27)

Hence, the power of Dixie is in its multivalency: inherently ambiguous, it is a sentimental anthem associated with the American South, but also, consequently, a symbol of racism. But rather than be stymied by the figure's inherent cultural ambiguity, Mike Jarrett thinks we ought to listen to the song "anew." He writes:

How about straight, as a song of exile? Heard this way, it echoes psalms of captivity found in the Old Testament and anticipates the lamentations that abound in blues and, especially, reggae. Or how about ironically, as a signifying song? "Oh, I wish I was in the land of cotton. Yeah, like hell I do!" (28)

The slippery multivalency of "Dixie" allowed Mickey Newbury to incorporate the song into his well-known medley, "An American Trilogy," a song that, beginning in 1972, Elvis began performing during his live concerts. A portmanteau song celebrating the diversity of America, Newbury's "An American Trilogy" is composed of three songs: "Dixie" (South), "The Battle Hymn of the Republic" (North), and "All My Trials" (the individual citizen).

I raise these issues because today while listening to "The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down," I wondered why Elvis had never covered the song. Certainly he was capable of singing it. Certainly he was capable of singing it well. Did he reject it because he perceived it as a song of amelioration, a song about mending fences, and hence too much associated with the moderate Left (i.e., Joan Baez)? I turned to Elvis's rendition of "An American Trilogy," thinking that this song might well have been his "answer" song to the Band's earlier song. Having watched the Band's rendition of "The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down" as performed in The Last Waltz (1978; filmed late 1976,)--available on struck me that there was a remarkable similarity between the orchestration and staging of The Last Waltz and the orchestration and staging of Elvis's Las Vegas shows, especially his arrangement of "An American Trilogy." In other words, the Band's performance of "The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down" in The Last Waltz was influenced by Elvis's earlier response to that very song, with his version of "An American Trilogy," also available on youtube.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

My Albums Were Fair and Had Pink Sun in Their Hair

Previously, in my blog entries of May 16 and May 31, I have discussed my experiment of trying to listen to all the rock and R&B albums released in the calendar year 1968 in the order, as best as I can determine, in which they were released. I'll refer readers to the earlier blogs for an explanation of the motivation for such an unusual (and self-indulgent) project. At any rate, it occurred to me this morning that I hadn’t posted July’s listening schedule, which can be found below. As I’ve stated before, I cannot claim that my list is infallible, but I continue to work on it and to try and improve it. What I've discovered is that there were dozens of albums released during the months of July and August--more so in terms of numbers of releases in a single month than in any previous month--so as you can see, July’s list is rather long (assuming the information I've come across is accurate). First up is The Band’s classic Music From Big Pink, released forty years ago today, on July 1, 1968. Here's what I have put together for July:

The Band, Music From Big Pink 7/1
Creedence Clearwater Revival, Creedence Clearwater Revival 7/5
Tyrannosaurus Rex, My People Were Fair and Had Sky in Their Hair... 7/5
The Nice, The Thoughts of Emerlist Davjack
The Doors, Waiting for the Sun 7/11
Buffalo Springfield, Last Time Around
Family, Music in a Doll’s House
Nilsson, Aerial Ballet
Phil Ochs, Tape From California
The International Submarine Band, Safe At Home
The Grateful Dead, Anthem of the Sun
Bloomfield-Kooper-Stills, Super Session 7/22
The Moody Blues, In Search of the Lost Chord 7/26
The Byrds, Sweetheart of the Rodeo 7/29
Cream, Wheels of Fire 7/29

As you can see, a number of historically significant records were issued in July 1968. As usual, corrections and additions are welcome.

List emended 7/22/08