Thursday, 11 August 2011

News, Views and Music Issue 109 (Top Ten): Unexpected AAA TV Appearances

Dear reader, I must have been writing this column too long because I keep seeing AAA musicians everywhere, even in the most unlikeliest of places! Why just this morning there I was, minding my own business and watching series six of ‘Bewitched’ (the classic show made at the same time and featuring many of the same cast as The Monkees) when who should pop up playing ‘teen idols’ than Monkees writers Boyce and Hart! (They were pretty good too – perhaps they should have been half of The Monkees?!) And then straight after who should pop up on an episode of Columbo than Johnny Cash playing – of all things – a country-rock guitarist?! Madness! What’s even more alarming is that it’s all true – both the two I’ve mentioned and the following100% genuine cameos by AAA bands in places you’d never expect!

1)    Musical cameos in films (The Hollies in ‘It’s All Over Town’ 1964 and The Small Faces in ‘Dateline Diamonds’ 1966): It’s obvious isn’t it? A film about motorbike gangs starring under-rated comedian Willie Rushton with no real plot that seems to have invented the ‘road’ movie four years before ‘Easy Rider’. Just what this film needs is a soundtrack by an impossibly young looking Hollies, who just happen to be singing at a club when the bikers roar past. And that’s that, there’s no real mention as to what The Hollies are doing and they’re never mentioned again until the end credits of the film. Still, get a load of how young Graham Nash is – and what teeth! The Small Faces film is similar, although at least this plot about smuggling diamonds inside an amplifier makes more thematic sense. Alas The Small faces are going through their ‘directionless’ phase in-between scoring big with ‘All Or Nothing’ and reviving their career with ‘Itchycoo Park’ so the late-Decca era music they play isn’t among their best. Still, this is the youngest footage we have of the band in full flight during the Jimmy Winstun years and as such is fascinating! Both films available on DVD, but they’re pricey and hideously short, so beware.

2)    Musical cameos in established science-fiction television series (The Beatles in ‘Dr Who’ 1965):The story is ‘The Chase’, the episode number one and the Tardis crew is possibly the best ever – with the original and best Doctor William Hartnell still joined by the schoolteachers you wish you’d had Ian and Barbara and with the under-rated resourceful Vicki replacing the squawking terrified screamer that was Susan, The event is a new television that the Doctor’s just ‘borrowed’ from the Zarbi – with a bit of tweaking it shows whatever the people want to see: Shakespeare, Queen Elizabeth and The Beatles (the television thingy seems to have tuned into the band’s 1965 appearance on TOTP miming to ‘Ticket To Ride’). This is a huge thing for TV in 1965 – far from being just ‘a craze’ The Beatles are placed on the same level as monarchs and Shakespeare (well, they’re more important then either if you ask me, but by 1965 standards this is amazingly progressive stuff) and Vicki, a character from the 22nd century, has not only heard of their ‘classical music’ (as she calls it), but they’re the people she most wants to see in the whole wide galaxy. It’s as if the production team wanted British viewers of 1965 to believe they were around in the greatest era of all – which, perhaps, they were. The Beatles approved, by the way, as they were big fans of the show, although that didn’t stop a row over rights delaying ‘The Chase’ on video till comparatively late (it’s now available on a sparkly new DVD along with my 2nd favourite ever Who story ‘The Space Museum’, so if you want to k now more buy it now!)  Legend has it that the Dr Who production team and Brian Epstein had agreed to shoot a special clip of The Beatles dressed up to look old, reforming for a concert special in Liverpool in the year 2000 but the band were simply too swamped with offers to accept it. One other question, unresolved by time and space, is how Ian not only knows about a band whose only had one top ten single by the time they left in the Tardis in November 1963 (‘Please Please Me’ in September) but how he knows the words to a song from 1965 (or is he just singing the chorus he’s just heard?...) We could also mention Justin Hayward popping up unexpectedly in Jeff Wayne’s musical version of ‘War Of The Worlds’...

3)    Personal appearances in comedy shows (John Lennon in ‘Not Only But Also...’ 1966, George Harrison in Rutland Weekend Television 1979 and Paul Simon on ‘Saturday Night Live’ on various 1970s broadcasts: Surprisingly, it’s not the natural comedians who dominate this list but musicians who can take a joke and act as straight men. I still haven’t seen Paul Simon’s Saturday Night skits yet but I’ve heard their good – after all, who else has a good enough sense of humour and yet the composure not to get the giggles as Paul Simon? One only has to look at the spin-off music video for ‘You Can Call Me Al’ starring Chevy Chase to see what they would be like – let’s hope they’re all out one day in the UK (at the time of writing each character has a ‘best-of’ DVD out but as far as I know none of them feature Paul). The John and George appearances are interesting ones too – Lennon plays a lavatory attendant resplendent in such finery most fab four fans of the day didn’t believe it was him, refusing to admit Peter Cook and Dudley Moore in for their sloppy dress (this clip isn’t officially available but its endlessly repeated in ‘comedy moments’ and Cook/Moore compilations so keep an eye out for it); George is hanging out with his buddy Neil Innes, later the creator of The Rutles on whose TV series George will also star, but it’s this first appearance with George dressed as a pirate on ‘Britain’s smallest television network’ (rutland being Britain’s smallest county) that’s the most fascinating. The show’s presenters are really pleased to have a Beatle on the show – but George isn’t interested in singing his old songs and insists on being a pirate! By the ends of the show his band strike up the opening chords to ‘My Sweet Lord’ and you think he’s acquiesced, but no – it’s just the start of a song that goes ‘I’ve got a jolly roger, its big and red and vast and I’ll run it up your mast!” Cue pandemonium. And credits. Alas this isn’t available either except on YouTube which is a great shame because the rest of this short-lived series was pretty good too.

4)    Personal appearances in stuffy television discussion shows (The Grateful Dead on ‘Playboy After Dark’ 1969): What exactly was Playboy celebrity Hugh Heffner trying to pull off with this chat show? A very 1950s show, full of posh people in tuxedos and pearls name-dropping, the show was a bad anachronism by the late 60s. And yet, to be fair to him, Heffner isn’t anything like as patronising as the other 1960s chat shows I’ve seen (barring the great Dick Cavett) and actually gives the Dead (his only AAA guests) the time to speak. Jerry Garcia was, along with David Crosby, the best spokesperson the hippie movement could have and he copes with the questions about Haight Ashbury and rebellion with aplomb as ever They also get the chance to play a really beautiful version of ‘Mountains Of the Moon’ (which may well be the definite cut of that track), although alas a sprightly ‘St Stephen’ is cut off by the end credits. By the end you sense that most of the people involved with the show want to leave their day jobs and run off with the Dead circus, but then that might also have something to do with the legend that the band spiked the drinks being served on the film set with acid, something that might also account for why the play-bunnies attempting to dance at the end look unusually un-rhythmic! Alas not available on DVD, but one of my favourite Youtube clips.

5)    Personal appearances on children’s television programmes (Paul Simon on ‘Sesame Street’ 1973 and 1986, Justin Hayward does the music for ‘The Shoe People’ 1986):Well, if the likes of Carol King and John Sebastian end up doing the best work of their twilight years for the first Care Bears movie, I don’t see why two members of the AAA clan can’t get in on the act. We’ve already mentioned the first Paul Simon appearance on Sesame Street (where he tries to play ‘Me and Julio’ only to be upstaged by a six-year old girl improvising her own set of words!; available on the ‘Old School Volume 2 1974-79). But there’s also a second, dating back to the ‘Graceland’ years, where Paul and Ladysmith Black Mamboza not only teach us our ABC’s, they teach us a bit of African too (no wonder I always got my languages so confused!) Alas this oft-seen clip (in my childhood anyway) is still unavailable (in fact we’ve waited two years now for a volume 3 – get a move on, Children’s Television Workshop, I’ve only learnt my numbers up to 8!) Moody Blue Justin Hayward, meanwhile, composed the theme music for the five minute long episodes of ‘The Shoe People’. In fact, according to the DVD commentary, he helped the show get on the air after meeting creator James Driscoll at a housewarming party, pledging his services for free and helping impress TV executives that the show could work.

6)    Non-musical cameos in films (Paul Simon in ‘Annie Hall’ 1977, David Crosby in ‘Hook’ 1991 and ‘Thunderheart’ 1993, Neil Young ‘Love At Large’ and ‘68’,  Keith Richards in ‘Pirates Of The Carribean III’ 2006): It’s a good job I’d learnt about Crosby’s cameo in ‘Hook’ along with friend Phil Collins or I’d have spent the rest of the film going ‘you know that scurvy-ridden pirate over there, doesn’t he look like?...’ Actually Cros’ links with the film industry go way back – he tried to be an actor before making it as a musician and his father was a cameraman  - not to mention becoming Drew Barrymore’s surrogate dad when she felt out with her parents. ‘Hook’ makes sense – both he and Collins were friends with star Robin Williams – but ‘Thunderheart’, a rather drab film about the FBI, is a stranger choice: I’ve sat through the film twice and haven’t spotted Crosby yet although he’s even there on the credits (and in my film book). Both are out on DVD by the way. Neil’s films are far more obscure and I haven’t seen them, but judging by the stills I’ve seen our favourite chameleon songwriter looks different in every one – with slicked back hair for ‘Love At Large’ where he looks like an aging 50s rocker! Paul Simon’s is good though – he actually has quite a few lines as the obnoxious boyfriend in Woody Allen’s ‘Annie Hall’(out on DVD) – a role he took so he could work in a movie studio before working on his own film ‘One Trick Pony’. He’s meant to be in the film ‘Shampoo’ too though I couldn’t see him, just hear him (with a few alternate mixes of his solo songs on the soundtrack).  Oh and finally, who can forget Rolling Stone Keith Richards appearing as Jack Sparrow’s granddad in Pirates Of Caribbean? Well, me actually, I don’t think I’ve stayed awake through any of them yet they’re so dull but Keith makes for perfect casting and its a shame he’s not in the fourth one, at a cinema near you right now! Perhaps Monkee Davy Jones would make a good choice for the next film?! (as in ‘Davy Jones’ locker? Ha ha! Get it? No, please yourself...) Each of these Johnny Depp films is out on DVD by the way – and another weird Johnny Depp statistic for you is that he started his career as a session guitarist, appearing on Oasis’ ‘Be Here Now’...  

7)    TV adverts (The Monkees and Ringo Starr 1986): Well, to be honest, there’s barely a product The Monkees didn’t flog at one time or another, but most were in the context of the band’s series and their sponsors so they don’t really count as unexpected. But this American advert from 1986 does: Ringo’s been asked to get ‘back together with the boys’ to celebrate Pizza Hut’s new thin crust pizza – only to find it’s the wrong ‘boys’! Micky, Peter and Davy (Mike, as ever, is missing) don’t seem to mind though, playing a stylised and even more Beatleised version of their theme tune to match. Almost as weird as the Ronnie Corbett-Iggy Pop advert pairing a few years ago and, as an advert, it’s unofficially available I’m afraid, though it’s one of my favourites on YouTube. 

8)    Giving a musical accompaniment to a poetry reading (Paul McCartney and Allen Ginsberg 1994): Allen Ginsberg’s fans know to expect the unexpected. But even they must have been shocked when they walked in and recognised the hunched guitarist accompanying Ginsberg’s poems. Yes, this was one of Paul McCartney’s weirder career moves over the years – and there’ve been a lot of those as us Firemen and McCartney II lovers can testify – but in some ways it ,makes sense: the two artists were great friends during the 60s and always said they’d work together in private – what really was odd was the timing, with Paul on a break from touring and caring for wife Linda during her treatment for breast cancer. The show was well received, by the way, but alas was a one off never to be repeated and never filmed – so we can’t show you any of it I’m afraid.


9)    Presenting chat shows (Lulu 1997, Graham Nash 1999): OK, I get turning musicians into music programme presenters – after all, if Jools Holland’s allowed to get away with what he does, I can easily put with the occasionally stilted performances by Tom Jones and Cilla Black. But what seems less obvious is turning musicians – ie people who sing, rather than talk, for a living – into chat show hosts. After all, it’s a big skill, needing a presenter who has enough ego to carry a programme but enough humility to listen to guests – so why give so many shows over to those who can’t do it? To be fair, neither of our AAA members were that bad – Lulu’s show, a kind of extended National Lottery coverage come chat show come game show, bombed because the format was poor and the guests atrocious, not through her mistakes (though going out live was a bad idea, as Lulu often had to improvise her way out of trouble). Even worse was last year’s ‘The 1960s Revealed’ – again Lulu is likeable if a bit shallow across five episodes but the format and guests were just wrong. If the UK television networks really want a chat show host of their own they can do worse than look out for Graham Nash’s short-lived chat series about song-writing, one sadly unavailable over here, where Graham proved himself to be a good mix of enthusiastic champion of others and a comfortable, charismatic presenter in his own right. Guests included David Crosby, Grace Slick and Carole King.      

10) Cameos in The Simpsons (George Harrison and David Crosby 1992, Paul McCartney 1994, Ringo Starr 1995, Moody Blues 1997, The Who 1998): Everyone else has been in The Simpsons so I suppose it’s not much of a surprise these days, but more AAA stars than most have cameod in the series. In fact there’ve been four individual AAA stars and two bands turned into ‘yellow fellows’ over the years, although the best loved episode amongst fans has to be Beatles spoof ‘The B Sharps’, one full of spot-on parodies from rooftop appearances to re-creating lots of famous photographs (the one from the Let It Be sessions, with four very despondent Beatles plus Yoko, is spot-on!) Best of all, there are cameos from two AAA stars: David Crosby offers an award to Homer Simpson’s band setting up some classic dialogue (‘You’re my favourite star!’ ‘Oh, you like my music?’ ‘You’re a musician?!?’) and George Harrison tells the band they’re story has ‘been done’ before. Crosby pops up again in the ‘Marge In Chains’ episode, though to be honest I’m not sure why – his cameo seems randomly stuffed in without relation to the plot, which has Marge in trouble for accidentally stealing from Apu’s Kwik-E-Mart. Macca, meanwhile, appeared with Linda Macca in ‘Lisa The Vegetarian’, one of the better Simpsons episodes which has Lisa finding how others cope with the ridicule of going veggie. There’s even a groovy new version of ‘Mary Had A Little Lamb’ which, alas, is cut short. The whole Moody Blues line-up (circa the mid—90s) appear on ‘Viva Ned Flanders’, where the Moodies appear on the same Las Vegas bill as Homer’s act – spouting torrents of nonsense spoofing their ‘Days Of Future Passed’ monologue for good effect. The second-best effort, though, is to date the last AAA-related Simpsons episode ‘A Tale Of Two Springfields’, where a strange storyline about Springfield being split between two postcodes and causing rival towns ends up with Homer’s side getting The Who to take part (the recording for this episode was one of the last things bassist John Entwistle did as part of the band before his death). I’m still trying to track down the Ringo episode by the way – so expect an update when I find out which episode his is! I’m afraid I’m not sure which series of The Simpsons each of these episodes is from – I own them as individual videos/DVDs, including ‘Backstage Pass’ (The Who one), Viva Los Simpsons (The Moody Blues one), ‘Crime and Punishment’ (The Crosby one) and ‘Raiders Of The Lost Fridge’ (The Macca one).

Well, that’s it for another week readers. Except keep your eyes peeled – who knows when one of the AAA crew may pop up doing something unexpected to add to this list! Oh and send us in your thoughts on our forum if I’ve missed out anything obvious. Till then, goodbye! 8>)

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