Friday, 23 December 2011
News, Views and Music Issue 126 (Intro)
Ho! Ho! Ho! Yes, it’s that
time of year again when
the festive spirit over-
takes everyone (except
David Cameron that is)
...and we look back over a whole year’s newsing, viewsing and musical perusing. Yes its that time of year again when The Hollies are on the wall (as well as in the CD player), Father Christmas is packing his sleigh with CD-shaped presents for all you good boy readers and girl readers and all snowmen everywhere are attending snow-balls (sorry, early xmas cracker joke that one). Meanwhile we’re still waiting for our news to see whether we’ll be able to carry on this site next year or not and there’s a distinct lack of anything AAA related on television or radio over Christmas barring one solitary Beatles programme. Bah humbug! But if you’ve been super-organised this festive season, pat yourself on the back, heap some coal (or better still some Spice Girls memorabilia) on the fire and warm yourself in the cosy glow of one of our reviews. Remember, we’ll be looking for your feedback just as we’ve been all year – just drop me a line in the forum or the boxes on our ‘welcome’ and ‘songs’ pages or email at the normal address firstname.lastname@example.org And remember, great music is for life not just for Christmas – perhaps you’ll have one of our AAA classics waiting for you under your tree to give you joy into the new year and beyond? We hope you get something nice anyway and wish you all a very mery Halle Berry Tom and Jerry June and Terry hold the sherry Mariah Carey and Katy Perry airy fairy not too hairy contrary Mary coalition wary and not all scary Christmas and New Year. It’s been fun writing to you this past year, just like it always is, and I look forward to spending more reviews in your company. Peace on Earth, goodwill to all men, just please don’t let the Conservatives get back in again...
STOP PRESS: Amazingly enough, I’ve just heard since writing this paragraph that my application has been passed!!! Yes!!! I am free!!! Well, I’m not wandering the streets wondering where my next meal will come from anyway, which is more or less the same thing. Having said that though the old scrooges at Atos and the job centre have decided that a) it’s only for six months and I have to then apply all over again b) I still have to attend a load of ‘work orientated interviews’ even though its just been proved that I cannot work (except a few random hours in the middle of the night when most sensible people are in bed) and c) I have to be re-assessed again by another non-medical expert to see if there’s a way my condition can be ‘managed’ in the work place (yeah, right, not unless you have a healthy body I can transplant into; here’s an idea – why don’t you leave me alone so I can get well and don’t have to fill in any more bleeding forms which set my symptoms back about a year!) Bah humbug! At least that gives me another six months breathing space of working on this site though...
Oh and a p.s. Thankyou for all your responses to last week’s ‘musical tarot’ top five. My favourites so far include The Face Of Bo getting ‘I Am The Walrus’ for his ‘soulmate’ and a song called ‘Dance On’ to be played at his funeral, plus Lizzie getting Kinks Preservation classic ‘He’s Evil’ for The Queen and Joe getting The Beach Boys’ ‘Friends’ for his ‘friends’ category. Aah! Keep sending in your answers to email@example.com or drop us a line in our forum!
p.p.s. The media’s too afraid to touch it, but have you heard what the Coalition has done this xmas? They’ve only gone and passed a bill to cut all benefit money given to families with disabled children under 16 – cutting off all chance of childcare, holidays and services for many of them. And this from a prime minister who had a disabled child himself. Some people will do anything for power. The worst thing is the bill was passed by only two votes – surely a result that close deserves a re-count during a full Commons debate, especially when it means the difference between coping and struggling for hundreds of families? Our sympathies with every family crushed by the Coalition this Christmas...let’s hope for some mercy in 2012.
♫ Beach Boys News: Fans should get out their surfboards and practise their gear-shift dances this Christmas because the band will be back in 2012, their 50th anniversary!(Well, 50th anniversary of the band’s first record anyway – they actually formed in 1961 as ‘The Pendletones’!) All the surviving Beach Boys – that’s Brian Wilson, Mike Love, Al Jardine, Bruce Johnstone and even David Marks who got kicked out the band as far back as 1963 – will be touring and releasing an album, their first since 1992! (or 1986 with Brian in the band!) We’ve seen a softening of the bad blood between the band members for a while now, with Al appearing at Brian’s recent concerts and the band all working together on lots of archive projects over the past decade (this Summer’s ‘Smile’ set being the most recent). The album, untitled as of now, will be released on EMI/Capitol - the first ‘new’ recordings on the ‘label the Beach Boys made’ since 1969 – and apparently most of the songs have already been recorded in secret, with a handful more to be added in the new year. The first song attempted was a re-recording of ‘Do It Again’ and the band proved to be so successful that more recordings were hastily booked. Mike said: ‘Wouldn’t it be nice to ‘do it again’? Absolutely!’ while Brian added that he had missed ‘the boys’ during his 20 years away from the band. Let’s hope the brotherly-cousin vibes continue into next year! In other news, Rolling Stone magazine voted the band’s ‘Smile sessions’ set as their record of the year – will it make it that high in our Alan’s Album Archives charts next week? Find out soon...
♫ Kinks News: Of all the news stories we’ve featured this year, this last minute entry may well be the sweetest and funniest. Ray Davies has been trying to get his Kinks-related musical ‘Child’s Play’ onto a major stage from sometime now and, perhaps surprisingly, there haven’t been any takers, despite the success of such lifeless cash-ins as ‘We Will Rock You’ ‘Mama Mia’ and Jennifer Saunders’ forthcoming Spice Girls musical (shudder). Meanwhile The John Ruskin School for secondary pupils in Coniston has been looking for a big-name celebrity play to put on in their school hall to make some money so they could keep it open. Somehow the two sides got to learn about each other’s plight, with the school adapting Ray’s play and they even had Ray himself at opening night at the 110-seater hall. The ‘Grizedale Arts Project’ financing the project got a much-needed boost and Ray got to ‘test’ his play for a future production. The play, which was performed – albeit briefly – in London in September – features a soundtrack full of klassy Kinks moments including ‘All Day And All Of The Night’ and ‘Waterloo Sunset’ (although, mindful of the audience, the cross-dressing ‘Lola’ appears to have been dropped!) Ray said the actors were ‘very accomplished’ and praised the ‘great community spirit’ of the area (which, if I remember rightly from my last trip to Coniston, is one of the few areas in Britain to still have a ‘village green’!) Grizedale Arts Deputy Alistair Hudson said that Ray had been the perfect teacher, praising the pupils and offering them valuable feedback without trying to spoil their moment or take the limelight away from them. See, Dave, it can be done! Last Friday (December 16th) is said to be the one and only performance of the play featuring this cast but there are plans afoot to put film of the day on the internet so more Kinks fans can see it. More news if and when we hear it!
♫ Monkees News: Alas, the next bit of news we have to give you doesn’t seem very festive at all. Bert Schneider, the legendary Monkees co-creator and TV series producer, died at the age of 78 on Monday, December 12th. Bert – actually born Berton rather than Albert, as usually assumed - was the son of Columbia Pictures president Abraham Schneider and his family and peers expected him to follow in his father’s footsteps – which he did, but after his own fashion. Expelled from Cornell University, he sought work in Columbia’s TV franchise, ‘Screen Gems’, where he met fellow rebel and Monkees co-creator Bob Rafelson, forming ‘Raybert Productions’, a screen credit guaranteed a to put a glow on the face of any Monkees fan. The pair submitted all sorts of unlikely ideas to the TV executives before hitting gold with their concept for The Monkees in 1966, even writing the wording for the famous ‘Madness!!! Auditions!!!’ advert that saw thousands of wannabe film and music stars pass through their lengthy auditions (though in actual fact only Peter Tork was hired in this way).
Young, confident and brimming with talent, Ray and Bert between them successfully managed to capitalise on the 1960s breeze of goodwill, light anarchy and optimism of the 1960s youth, seeing a benchmark in the Beatles’ first two films that older, more jaded WW2 experienced TV executives couldn’t hope to find. The Monkees was a hit most of the way round the world, for 1966 and most of 1967 at any rate, scoring high in the TV ratings, scoring hit single after hit single and being an enterprising multi-media experience quite unlike anything else the world had ever seen. What most people forget is how artistically successful the show was too at first, winning Bert and Bob a coveted Emmy award for best television show of 1966.
Of course, as all good Monkees fans know, it all went wrong, thanks in part to that huge success. Had the TV series stayed as Bert and Bob’s baby – and the record stayed in producer/writer Boyce and Hart’s hands – The Monkees could have run forever. Alas the plan to include new songs every week, with more and more input from the Monkees themselves, collapsed in an exhausting schedule that saw the band spending all their time filming or recording, with record producer Don Kirshner and various songwriters getting involved in the music side and The Monkees themselves wanting to write and direct their own episodes. The whole matter came to a head when a surly Mike Nesmith admitted to the press that the band didn’t always play their own instruments on the records (a standard practice of the day – see most Beach Boys, some Byrds and all Mamas and Papas records) and Kirshner released his own single without the band’s consultation or knowledge (they had to buy ‘More of the Monkees’ from a record store to see what tracks had been used!) The band weren’t happy and – after the outcry – most of the fans weren’t happy. The Monkees seemed dead.
But Bob and Bert were too talented to simply wave goodbye to the project or repeat the formula. Though The Monkees themselves all claim significant input the now-celebrated script for 1968 Monkees feature film ‘Head’ was written by Bert with Bob and up-and-coming actor Jack Nicholson. It’s sheer oddness, ability to mix locations and actors seemingly at random and plot-without-a-plot technique and bizarre advertising campaign (consisting of the Screen Gems advertising manager’s head saying the word ‘Head’) were way ahead of their time, to the point where ‘Head’, once dismissed as an unwatchable vanity project, has now gained such a reputation that modern film studies experts rate it as high as any script ever made, with its mixture of fakery and realism making us question the very world around us in a much less playful way than The Monkees series. I even wrote my university dissertation on The Monkees and postmodernism, inspired by the boldness and pioneering work of this remarkable project, one that had many of Bert’s fingerprints on it. Alas ‘Head’ was the writer/producer’s way of waving ‘goodbye’ to their project (The Monkees are all symbolically drowned at the end) and they soon moved onto other things with the money they made from the Monkees days.
Two very well respected films followed, ‘Five Easy Pieces’ (one of the strangest films I have ever seen, even including ‘Head’!) and ‘Easy Rider’ (rotten film, great soundtrack!) Both films were highly successful and brought Bert a whole new load of fans who’d never even heard of The Monkees. The pair then formed BBS Productions with Steve Blauner (Bert Bob and Steve), making four more well regarded films engaging on such subjects as Vietnam protestors and the ‘Gentlemanly Tramp’ biography of Charlie Chaplin, among the first feature length documentaries of it’s kind. However Schneider was getting bored of the film industry and quietly retired in 1981, never to trouble the film, TV or music worlds again. At the time of writing all we know is that he died of the vague ‘natural causes’. He is survived by his second wife and two sons. As the pioneer of so much today’s television takes for granted and for his unerring ability to spot the next big thing, in the 1960s and 70s at least, Schneider will be sadly missed, not just by all the millions of Monkees fans out there but by anyone who was a regular television watcher of the 1960s and cinema-goer in the 1970s.
ANNIVERSARIES: Happy birthday and merry Christmas to the following AAA musicians born between December 20th and 26th: Carl Wilson (guitarist with The Beach Boys 1961-1992) who would have been 65 on December 21st and Ian Burden (synthesiser with the Human League 1981-1986) who turns 54 on December 24th. Anniversaries of events include: Paul Simon enjoys his only week at #1 in the US charts of his whole solo career, with the catchy ’50 Ways To Leave Your Lover’ (December 20th 1975); The Beatles along with other Brian Epstein-financed acts play at their first ‘Christmas Show’, in Bradford (December 21st 1963); Charlie Watts beats Keith Richards by 46 years to become the first Rolling Stone to publish a book – the Charlie Parker tribute ‘Ode To A High Flying Bird’ (December 21st 1964), Janis Joplin takes centre stage at a Stax and Volt ‘Yuletide Celebration’, belting out Christmas Carols during a party in Memphis (December 21st 1968), The Who announce Small Face Kenny Jones as Keith Moon’s much-debated replacement, three months after Moon the Loon’s death (December 22nd 1978); The Who also headline the sadly forgotten series of benefit shows Rock for Kampuchea, along with the last show by Paul McCartney and Wings (December 22nd 1979); Decca records chief Mike Smith drops by at Liverpool’s Cavern Club to see The Beatles play after Brian Epstein gets in touch with him. Smith is impressed enough to request an audition, but the Beatles end up being rejected by Decca after an ice-delayed performance by a nervy band on January 1st the following year (December 23rd 1961); Brian Wilson suffers his life-changing nervous breakdown en route to a Beach Boys concert, an event that sees him give up touring with the band until the late 70s (December 23rd 1964); The last ever ‘Ready Steady Go!’ – the programme that launched the career of The Who and saw appearances by half a dozen AAA bands – goes out on December 23rd 1966; Pink Floyd headline at the opening night of the Night Tripper club, soon to be renamed the UFO club, their most prestigious gig to date (December 23rd 1966); The Beatles have reached Hammersmith Odeon in their ‘Christmas’ tour of 1964 (December 24th 1964); At the second show – on Christmas Day 1964 – George Harrison’s wife Patti Boyd is attacked by jealous fans, clearly not showing any of the Christmas spirit!; Christmas Day is also, strangely the day The Who’s first LP ‘My Generation’ entered the UK charts (1965); meanwhile Christmas Day 1967 was the day Paul McCartney announced his engagement to girlfriend Jane Asher after the pair had been together three years; Capitol Records releases Beatles single ‘I Want To Hold Your Hand’ in America, after passing up the chance to release the four earlier Beatles singles – it will be #1 for most of January the following year (December 26th 1963); The Beatles’ Magical Mystery Tour is screened for the first time in black-and-white (!) on BBC2 (December 26th 1967) and finally, Roger Waters scores his first post-Floyd hit with ‘The Tide Is Turning (After Live Aid)’ (December 26th 1987).