Sunday, July 18, 2010

The End of the Sixties

I recently watched three movies that really encapsulated the long and noisy turn from the 1960s into the 1970s, although that wasn't why I was watching them; I wanted to see a certain performer who appeared in all three films. The movies were Head (1968), Easy Rider (1969) and Five Easy Pieces (1970) - yes, Jack Nicholson was in all three, but that's not who I was watching for.

Head is basically the death knell for the frivolous side of the Sixties, while Easy Rider takes the counterculture to its logical end, with the New Mexico commune that can't even feed itself. Easy Rider's cross-country jaunt to the insane fun of Mardi Gras is echoed by Five Easy Pieces' cross-country trip - where there's a suffocating family waiting on the other end. At least nobody gets hacked to death in a sleeping bag.

They were all three produced by Raybert Productions and executive-produced by Bert Schneider - and apparently produced by Bob Rafelson (who is listed as an uncredited producer of Easy Rider by IMDB), who of course directed Head and Five Easy Pieces. So of course a lot of the same people show up, like Dennis Hopper (who has a wordless cameo in Head) and Karen Black, who is in both Easys.

One nice thing to see was the presence of Carole King and Gerry Goffin, who wrote the precious theme to Head, "The Porpoise Song," and also wrote "I Wasn't Born to Follow," which the Byrds sing in Easy Rider. (I used to think this song was called "The Ballad of Easy Rider," but that's actually the dirge-y thing heard over the end credits.) I tend to think of Goffin and King dominating early-1960s pop, then disappearing until Carole emerged in her caftan for Tapestry, but there they are, guiding 1960s rebellion to a soft landing.

Anyway, the performer I was watching for who was in all three movies was Toni Basil. She danced a lovely duet with Davy Jones in Head, was the prostitute who stripped in the New Orleans cemetery with Peter Fonda in Easy Rider, and got taken for a ride with her girlfriend by Jack Nicholson and was in the famous "Hold it between your knees!" scene in Five Easy Pieces. Miss Basil is now trying to write a book on the history of street dancing, but her memoirs would be lots more interesting.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010


Back in the 1960s, trumpeter Herb Alpert had a string of Top 40 hits - a whopping thirteen of them, all instrumentals - culminating in the Number One smash "This Guy's in Love With You," from the spring of 1968, which featured Herb's own less-than-dulcet tones. He then left the Top Forty for a while, although he continued to have adult contemporary hits, such as his theme from Last Tango in Paris, which was a Number 22 AC hit in 1973 but topped out at Number 77 on the Hot 100. By 1975, even Herb's AC hits had petered out.

But when Alpert did return to the Top Forty, it was with a bang - "Rise" went all the way to Number One in the summer of 1979. Eleven years elapsed between Top Forty hits for Herb Alpert, yet they both went to Number One, which as far as I can tell is the longest time for an artist to be absent from the Top Forty despite having consecutive Number Ones. Alpert also became the only artist to hit Number One with both an instrumental and a vocal performance.

And now, on with the countdown.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010


Happy birthday to Rich Starkey, born 70 (!) years ago today in Liverpool, England. Despite the tired jokes about Ringo being the luckiest man in showbiz, his post-Beatles career stands up pretty well, with seven Top Ten hits including two Number Ones, "Photograph" and "You're Sixteen." (Oddly enough, he never had a Number One in the U.K., peaking at Number Two with "Back Off Boogaloo.")

Ringo's 1974 hit "Oh My My" is also the only record I know of that was canny enough to use Merry Clayton on backup vocals after her powerhouse performance on the Rolling Stones' "Gimme Shelter." Martha Reeves also sings on that one, but then again, everyone always liked working with Ringo. In 1975, his greatest-hits package Blast From Your Past was the last record released on the Apple label, which is surely deserving of note.

Also, just because it never gets old, here are David Letterman's Top Ten Revelations in Albert Goldman's Upcoming Biography of Ringo:

10. Only Beatle to portray himself in Beatlemania
9. Used to give John and Paul token songs to sing so they wouldn't feel left out
8. Had a secretary named Lincoln, while Lincoln had a secretary named Ringo
7. For a while, actually believed Paul was dead
6. Served in Indiana National Guard during Vietnam War
5. Suggested "Hey, Hey, We're the Monkees" as Beatles theme song
4. On their honeymoon, he and Barbara Bach held a "bed-in" to promote Seagram's wine coolers
3. Made a fortune selling cheesy Ginsu Knife sets on TV (I'm sorry-that's revelations about Ronco)
2. Advised Paul that "Hey Dude" just didn't sound right
1. Vocal on "Octopus's Garden" played backwards sounds like "Thank God these other guys are so talented"

Thursday, July 1, 2010

O Canada

Happy Canada Day! Like most Americans, I have spent this day thinking about who the greatest Canadian rock star is. It's not a simple question, because there's more to it than just "Who was the greatest rock star who was born in Canada?" Many of the biggest stars from the Great White North, from Joni Mitchell and the Band to Bryan Adams and Shania Twain, have long since emigrated to Les Etats-Unis and surrendered whatever remnants of Canadian identity they once had. We could take the easy way out and call Neil Young the greatest Canadian rock star, but there isn't very much that's Canadian about him anymore, is there?

On the other hand, you have acts like the Tragically Hip, who are quintessentially Canadian, which is probably why no one cares about them down here in the Lower 48. Or Barenaked Ladies, who are the perfect Canadian band: funny, polite, inoffensive, eager to please, bland. They manage to be endearing and boring at the same time, which isn't an easy feat to pull off.

I guess my question is: Which Canadian act has had the most success here in America without surrendering its fundamental Canadianness? I would posit that it's Rush, whom everybody knows but no one would ever mistake for Americans. Plus, Geddy Lee sang on Bob and Doug McKenzie's indelible and excruciatingly Canadian hit "Take Off."

Anyone else?