Memo From Turner
I've been watching these video tapes from my local library of the 60's American pop/rock variety show Hullabaloo and a couple of things jump out at me. One I hate the Hullabaloo dancers. And their awful mouseketeer looking outfits and routines that never seem quite in synch unfortunately set the tone for the rest of the show, lets just say it was no Ready Steady Go. The other thing that I realize while watching Hullabaloo is that bands that had a compelling image to go along with their sound were fairly rare in the mid-60's, they still are, yet I have a tendency to think of everyone in that time period looking like a member of the Byrds or the Stones, when in reality most of these guys looked downright awkward, with bad teeth and hair that no matter how they try wouldn't straighten into a mop top. All of which is compelling in its own right as you find yourself rooting for them, in a bad news bears sort of way. I suppose that's part of the reason why the Byrds, the Stones, and Love and the like stick out of the pack as iconic, it has less to do with looking cool that it does with looking like a group, like they go together, meant to be.

Hullabaloo mostly featured bands miming (often the singing was live over prerecorded backing tracks) to their hits and inane show biz type medleys of the current top 10 by the host and whatever musical guests were on the show. The Byrds singing part of "Do You Believe In Magic" is one of the more bizarrely entertaining medley segments with McGuinn radiating sarcasm. Gee I thought Crosby was supposed to be the asshole. I guess Crosby was the creepy one. I know traipsing through the gardens of his mind and his salacious come-ons in "Triad" always gives me the heebie-jeebies. Ah, potshots at David Crosby are too easy. Anyway at least Gene Clark (aka the most talented of the Byrds) did not disappoint, looking completely sincere and sweet throughout.

The absolute worst episodes of Hullabaloo occur when Barry "Eve of Destruction" McGuire drops in, as he can't seem to help but mug it up in truly gruesome proportions; painful grimaces, smiling way to wide at nothing in particular, and peppering everything with inappropriate maniacal laughter (as opposed to appropriate maniacal laughter). Reminds me of this line that R. Meltzer has in the Aesthetics of Rock; "the delivery of Eve of Destruction is so overwhelmingly affirmative that the overall effect is that of rendering Weltschmerz cool." I don't mean to put the show down, as there are some good moments and good guests. It's a truly odd mish mash of stuff and the over all feel is one of disorienting kinetics, a desperate stab for a good time happy feel careening off the tracks like a housewife's descent into amphetamine psychosis from one too many diet pills.
Speaking of housewives' little yellow pills, I've been listening to the c.d. reissue of the Rolling Stones Metamorphosis the last couple of weeks. This was the cash in LP of demos and discarded tracks that Allen Klein released in the mid-70's against the bands wishes. The c.d. reissue is the British version that includes two extra tracks not on the original American LP. It's strange how much the Stones hate this collection, about half of which is early pop songs they were trying to shop to others. There's a lot of great stuff here, certainly much better than the material they were producing by the mid-1970's. But I guess it doesn't jibe much with the ROCK image they had gone with by then. Its a shame how so many of their casual fans and apparently the band themselves have little interest in the early albums or their middle period (say Between the Buttons through Satanic Majesties) or for that matter really anything pre- Beggars. In actuality much of the Stones finest stuff can be found on b-sides and early EP's and in their great pop songs of the mid 1960's.

One caveat for Metamorphosis is that the version of "Memo From Turner" included, surely Jagger's finest lyrical effort, is inferior to the soundtrack version cut with Ry Cooder for the hoodoo cult movie Performance (featuring the great James Fox). Still it's interesting to hear how the song developed from this awkwardly rushed rendition to its sinister groove in the movie. The soundtrack to Performance is also well worth your time; it's a remarkably cohesive album that features along with the aforementioned definitive version of "Memo From Turner" songs by the Last Poets and Randy Newman and creepy atmospherics from Ry Cooder, Jack Nitzsche, and Merry Clayton.

Speaking of creepy, August 8th was songwriter Jimmy Webb's birthday. Webb wrote a lot of great songs that dominated the AM dial in the late 60's and depicted the daily struggles of the working class male in majestic orchestral fashion. His best-known songs are probably "Wichita Lineman", "By The Time I Get to Phoenix" and "Galveston". All three of which were hits for Glenn Campbell in rapid succession in 1967, 68 and 69. The three respective albums from which they come have been getting a lot of playtime around these parts this summer. They are all available cheap on c.d., the best of which is probably the Wichita Lineman album.
Webb is also notorious for the truly odd "Macarthur Park", a hit for actor Richard Harris in 1968. Jimmy did two full albums with Harris, A Tramp Shining and The Yard Went on Forever, both of which are alternately oppressive, overly dramatic, fascinating and unsettling, and though not to everyone's taste, unquestionably unique. I find both endearingly strange and enjoyable. My cat seems to really like them as well, as he has curled up next to the album covers and also repositioned himself directly between the speakers so as to get the full splendor stereo effect, when said albums have spun. I also can't help but think of Dave Thomas from SCTV (a high watermark for sketch comedy) and his hilarious, affectionate and dead on impersonation of Richard Harris whenever I hear these records. There's a nice article on Webb here.

This summer I've also been watching American Masters, a PBS documentary program. In most cases it's a fine show but a recent episode on Sun Records was very disappointing, centering far too much around Ahmet Ertegun's risible idea of getting "great" modern performers to redo songs from the Sun catalogue.

I knew I was in trouble when they already had gotten to Elvis in the first 10 minutes, but things went from bad to worse when Sir Paul showed up to give a tepid performance of "That's All Right" after slapping himself on the back a little, while ungraciously accepting a compliment from D.J. Fontana. McCartney seems so shameless, and there isn't much worse than an old man try to act like a precocious and adorable youth.
I could see where it was going at that point and was consequently expecting Sting to show up any minute to warble a light jazz version of "Blue Moon", little did I know that less than an hour later I would find myself in such a state that an appearance from Sting and his hairs would have actually qualified as a distinct improvement (I exaggerate only a bit here) as I was subjected to a far more brutal downward trajectory with Ben Folds Five leading to a dreadful band called Live, leading to a clueless 3rd Eye Blind ("these sun guys aren't our idols, they're our idols' idols!") leading to some other crap rock band featuring Kid Rock rapping, at which point I was finally moved to say enough and turn off the TV. In between there was some genuinely interesting super 8 footage and insightful comments, particularly those from Rufus Thomas, Jack Clement and Billy Lee Riley. But you can't serve two masters, not well at least. The show was ultimately ruined by attempting to give a capsule history of Sun Records while at the same time promoting Ahmet's embarrassing compilation of contemporary updates of songs by Sun Records recording artists.

The other Achilles heel of the program was, sadly, Sam Phillips himself. He's had over 40 years now to develop quite the indelible line of bullshit, a line that has become so fearsomely thick that he can speak at incredible length, pontificating in a grandiose manner and still manage to say absolutely nothing of substance. This did lead to some enjoyable moments of incongruity like when Philips stated apropos of nothing that Elvis willed his hair into being; "he didn't use any stuff in his hair." Another nonsequitur I vaguely recall was something to the effect of "I would put a woman down, for a good sound." I believe he meant put down like you do a horse, not sure, but an uncomfortable silence all around followed this comment. Easily the best part of the show was when Rufus Thomas deflated all the hot air in the room by saying "Sam Philips didn't invent nothing". Amen.

© 2005 William Crain