Nostalgia's future, lookin' bright;
image from the video for Bucky Covington's "A Different World"
I take a lot--and I mean a lot
--of ribbing from the folks back home about my fondness for American Idol
contestant-turned-rising country star Bucky Covington
. But while his excellent 2007 CD
might not seem to fit into my decidedly retro-slanted pop culture collection at first glance, a closer look reveals that Bucky (and many of his current country contemporaries) are very retro-friendly, indeed. The Trey Fanjoy-directed video for his first single, "A Different World"
, is a subtly-done trip into Anywhere RFD circa 1977, and it manages to avoid all the usual hit-you-over-the-head visual cliches that music videos tend to deploy when they attempt a vintage theme. (Hey! It's a smiley face! A peace sign! Farrah!)
None of that here; instead we've got a cute "Bucky as a kid" in a John Denver-ish shag-bowl haircut watching grown-up Bucky on one of those Mediterranean dark wood console TVs--with dials
. Adult Bucky spends a little while strolling down a country lane waving at Toughskins-clad kids riding banana-seated 70's bikes, and he sings a few lines of the song in a sunlit barn filled with classic cars, but that's about it for overt visual nostalgia. The lyrics, the music and Bucky's amiable, raspy-sweet voice (which would have sounded just as good on a Panapet transistor radio
back in '77) are well-served by Ms. Fanjoy's light touch, and the result clearly had a cross-generational appeal--the song hit #5 on the country charts last fall.
When telegenic country music talent, Top-40 sensibilities and the pop-culture heft of TV combine, the result is often something musically sparkling, flavorful, distinctive--and enduring. Here are five fantastic vintage country TV clips that are well worth enjoying again on your
dark wood Mediterranean TV--or your monitor. (Click the images to go to the video clips.)Glen Campbell, "Wichita Lineman" (1968, #1 Country, #3 Pop)
It's a theme that'll come up several times in this mini- retrospective-- sometimes an artist's fabulous looks will threaten to overshadow his or her genuine musical talent when they're blessed with both. Luckily, Glen Campbell's Ken-doll handsomeness didn't define him--even back in 1968 when this clip first aired, his reputation as a brilliant singer and guitarist (he was a member of the famed "Wrecking Crew"
in the early to mid-sixties) was rock-solid. But it was the turtlenecked, twangy variety-show side of Glen Campbell that most ex-children of a certain age remember fondly, and Jimmy Webb's haunting "Wichita Lineman"--no one's obvious pick as a kid-friendly song--was and is a starkly beautiful, deeply emotional meditation on love and loneliness that still makes listeners of all ages stop what they're doing and take it all in. Glen went on to become a popular TV host, of course--The Glen Campbell Goodtime Hour
ran from 1969 to 1972 on CBS, and two DVDs, Best of the Glen Campbell Music Show
and Good Times Again
, are still in print.
Glen's got an official website, complete with tour information and an especially cool online store--gotta love that Glen Campbell Show logo TV shirt!
Jeannie C. Riley, "Harper Valley PTA" (1968, #1 Country, #1 Pop)
Brunette, booted and beautiful Jeannie C. Riley is best remembered for this fun country take on the anti- establishment mood of the day--but there's not a hippie vibration to be had here, just a sassy, G-rated sexiness and a terrific
unforced, natural singing talent that you just might miss behind the big hair and the babydoll minidress. (Listen closely--Jeannie can keep up with that complicated lyric while expertly walking across the stage to accomodate the fans in the Grand Ole Opry
camera line and
staying in range of the roving videographer--in gold high-heeled boots. That, my friends, is country talent.)
Jeannie spent a lot
of time in front of the TV cameras singing her biggest hit, but her other TV/pop-culture connection is the 1978 movie (available on DVD
) and short-lived 1981 (!) TV series inspired by the song, starring Barbara Eden as the mini-skirted. PTA-sockin' Mrs. Johnson. There's also a pretty innovative music-video style montage from the film
at YouTube, as well as an interesting brief interview with Jeannie
herself about how she came to record the song.Jeannie's official website is a treasure trove of memories and current news--be sure to read the very sweet biography.
Sawyer Brown, "Some Girls Do" (1992, #1 Country)
The youngest "oldie" on the list comes from an engaging and enduringly popular country-rock band who owe a lot
to television; before there was American Idol
, there was Star Search
, and Sawyer Brown's big win in 1983 gave the show some welcome credibility. They were (and are) a force to be reckoned with live and in the studio, combining powerful showmanship and sharp musical chops, and their continuing status as a very hot concert draw says it all.
Ironically, for a band who made their initial impact on TV, there isn't much official vintage video to be found online--although joining their fan club
gives access to quite a bit. "Some Girls Do", their exceedingly catchy ode to salt-of-the-earth self-confidence, seems to be the tune that even people who don't think they know any
Sawyer Brown tunes can somehow sing along with--and I'll bet you
know it, too, once you hear it. (Fun fact: lead singer/groovy dancer Mark Miller produced Bucky Covington's album.)Sawyer Brown's official site--complete with tour dates--is here, and their official MySpace offers some more current audio, too.
Bobbie Gentry, "Mornin' Glory" (1968, #74 Pop)
I'll freely admit that this was not a hit--though it really should have been. Bobbie Gentry's incredibly sexy solo take on "Mornin' Glory" (the actual single was a duet with Glen Campbell) is one of the most hypnotic, enchanting vintage TV performances you'll ever see. The ability to convey such tender, drowsy intimacy with just a guitar, a mirror on the floor (who thought that one up?), and the sultriest Southern voice of the 60s is just one of the many things we miss about Bobbie. Her voluntary exit from show business in the mid 70s was a major loss--but luckily for us, she did a lot of TV. A lot. You'll want to check out this low-tech, long-form jumpsuited performance of "Fancy" (delivered matter-of-factly and without the slightest hint of defensiveness, and introduced by none other than the great Johnny Cash), and of course, you'll find 7800 different clips of Bobbie singing her classic "Ode to Billie Joe" all over the internet.
Bobbie hosted a "Goodtime"-style variety show, The Bobbie Gentry Happiness Hour,
in 1974; as far as we know, it's never been available in any home format. However, you can catch her on the Good Times Again
DVD with Glen Campbell.No official site, of course--when Bobbie retired, she retired--but an excellent tribute site, Ode to Bobbie Gentry, does her far more justice than a short blurb on a blog ever could.
Rick Nelson, "I Catch Myself Crying" and "Truck Drivin' Man" (1965)
Again, they aren't quite hits--but no list about the intersection of classic TV and excellent country music would be complete without the one and only Rick Nelson. Ozzie and Harriet
was a lighthearted TV comedy, but the still-underrated Rick was very
serious about the music, and his choice of sidemen (like the legendary James Burton
, who describes his initial meeting with Rick on his official website) proved the point. "I Catch Myself Crying", an oddly evocative, almost deadpan heartbreak song, appears on the Love & Kisses
soundtrack, and the rockin' "Truck Drivin' Man" turns up on Bright Lights & Country Music/Country Fever
. Rick's earlier rockabilly leanings made his mid-to-late 60s journey into the Nashville sound graceful and credible; and these albums are still immensely listenable today. (All that, and he was terrific to look at, too!)Rick Nelson's official website features updates on new CD and DVD releases, along with a fantastic photo gallery and an authorized biograghy.
Now that programming is fragmented into micro-niches, does TV still have the power to help make up-and-coming country stars into household names--even among those who don't neccessarily think of themselves as country fans? In the case of Bucky Covington (and his talented fellow Idol
graduates Kellie Pickler
, Josh Gracin
winner Carrie Underwood
), only time will tell, but it's sure looking like the answer is a qualified yes
. For better or for worse, American Idol
is the only network programming that even remotely resembles the variety shows of yesteryear; and that resemblance seems to be working better for the country candidates than for those singing in any other style.
Maybe "three TV channels you got up to change " wasn't such a bad idea, after all.
Labels: American Idol, Bobbie Gentry, Bucky Covington, Carrie Underwood, country music, Glen Campbell, Jeannie C. Riley, Josh Gracin, Kellie Pickler, pop music, Rick Nelson, Sawyer Brown, vintage TV