Wednesday, January 16, 2008

A couple of retro stops, and a stroll in the misty mountains...

Off to that great movie snack bar in the misty mountains: a surprisingly mellow Carpenters-inspired Dr. Pepper movie theater ad from the early 1970s.

Ahh, the joys of grocery shopping. There was a time when consumer product packaging was much, much more exuberant than it is now, and this very impressive Flickr slideshow of containers, labels and ads from the 50s through the early 80s brings that point home beautifully. Is it just me, or do those Dr. Pepper bottles just look like they'd contain something insanely enjoyable? (Caveat--I love Dr. Pepper so much that I ration it out, lest I need to switch to Diet Dr. Pepper eventually..)

Of course, if you've oversdosed on that sweetly carbonated ambrosia, there's no more fun way to work of those calories than a bit of roller disco--or perhaps a long jog in suede "bizarro Nikes" is more your speed? Whatever your suburban "leisure activity" of choice might be, chances are good that the 1980 JCPenney Fall-Winter Catalog had something to help you look your foxiest.

We'll boogie on back with more retro stops soon...

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Saturday, January 12, 2008

Song of the Day: "Touch of Magic" by James Leroy (1974)

The arrangement of "Touch of Magic" on this video from Keith Hampshire's Music Machine is decidedly more Bread-style pop than the somewhat country-flavored single version. (You can hear the radio edit at, an excellent tribute site.) But all the elements that made "Touch of Magic" so quietly splendid--a sweeping melody, Leroy's straighforward, honest voice and some of the most matter-of-factly romantic lyrics ever--are evident in this grainy but precious clip of Leroy singing his Canadian classic live. Enjoy!

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Sunday, January 06, 2008

You've Got a Friend: Classic Heartthrobs on MySpace, Vol. 1

No milk today: Herman's Hermits perform the Graham Gouldman classic in glorious black and white. (Click image to view video.)

Ladies, let's be honest--if you were once a 12 year old girl with a raging crush on a pop star and a wild imagination, you had that "celebrity pen pal" fantasy. You know the one--you'd write this amazing fan letter, a letter that would somehow reach him as he lounged by the pool, resting between photo sessions for 16 Magazine and those breezy recording sessions they showed on sitcoms, where the singer waltzed into the booth, sang the whole thing in one take, and waltzed on out again.

After a few heartfelt letters back and forth, you'd send your photo (of course, by then he'd be so hypnotized by your devoted prose that the Olan Mills image of 12-year-old you, braces gleaming, by a cheesy wooden fence backdrop would detract not at all from your inner beauty) and your phone number (praying that your bratty brother wouldn't answer the phone) and when he next did a concert in your town, he'd call, you'd meet! On to that other 12-year-old girl fantasy, the Vegas wedding and the honeymoon in Hawaii...

Ahem. Not that I'd know anything about all that, of course, as I was busy reading my own fan mail. I was my neighborhood's homegrown Brooke Shields at 12!*

Fast forward to today--did we have any way of knowing that, through modern technology, we could become the "friend" of our favorite Hermit/Brady/New Kid with one touch of a button? These guys may not be topping the charts these days, but plenty of your favorite TV and transistor boyfriends have found a home on MySpace, where the music's still rockin', the concert halls are gratifyingly full, and for some of the fans, the "celebrity pen pal" dream lives on in glittery, animated 21st century style. First up--the legendary Peter Noone.

Hermans Hermits starring Peter Noone

What few of Peter Noone's screaming fans knew back in the mid-60s was that there was an incredible British wit (and lots of show business smarts) behind the twinkling blue eyes and shaggy blond hair. Add "internet savvy" to the mix and you've got a recipe for an ongoing party. Peter's website,, is an absolute joy to browse, and his blog is a must not to avoid, unless you're swearing off giggles for the new year. His MySpace is characteristically busy, lighthearted and businesslike, with handy links to his online store, where some pretty cool stuff awaits. (Unfortunately, the link to one of their very best albums, 1967's must-hear Blaze, doesn't work at all, but it's still listed at Amazon--I have this one on vinyl and if you like their later sound, you'll love it on the bonus-track-filled CD.)

Some of Peter's MySpace friends: Alice Cooper, the GooGoo Dolls, Blake Lewis (American Idol runner-up last year)

Best Hermits songs you don't hear on the radio any more: the splendid pop tune "Busy Line", "My Sentimental Friend" from 1969 (great deeper vocals, and check out that haircut.)

Grooviest clip by far: "Something Is Happening" from the Tom Jones Show, complete with very mod dollybirds in major hairpieces, flirting with the Hermits as they sing. (All that Dynel, and Karl Green still had the best hair on the stage.) Stick around for the little closer with Tom and Peter--Peter's marketing savvy is nothing new!

See him now: Your next chance to get that long-desired autograph (or just enjoy a great show), is January 12th, when Herman's Hermits starring Peter Noone play the Weill Center for the Performing Arts in Sheboygan, WI (tickets available at Ticketmaster).

More heartthrobs soon--don't touch that dial...

*So not true.

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Friday, January 04, 2008

Three TV Channels You Got Up To Change: Vintage Country Music Television Hits

Click the image to see the music video for A Different World at'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 Showand 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 and Idol 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.

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Tuesday, January 01, 2008

Song of the Day: "Nothing But a Heartache" by the Flirtations (1969)

There's really not much I can write about this classic slice of Northern soul that hasn't been said already, but this classic video was new to me--I only saw it for the first time last month, and have watched it about 7826 times since. Three lovely American ladies in killer pink flare knit pantsuits, the stark beauty of Tintern Abbey, and a drop-dead stunning song--what's not to like?

Judging by the other clips available on YouTube (check out this cute black and white Beat Club segment), the color video was filmed a while after the song peaked on the charts--and the fact that such a hard-to-get-to locale was chosen says a lot about how well it must have done in the UK. Why wasn't it a big hit here in the States? Beats me. That "lovin' a bad guy is such a sin" line is priceless, and the mysterious refrain--is it "he's got me, oh why can't I get him" or "he's got me all won, can I get him?" gives two totally different spins on the story, depending on which one you go with. (I'm going with the latter, and assuming she got him, too. I like happy endings...)

If you're curious about how the Flirtations sounded (and looked) post-70s, enjoy Ian Levine's irresistible 2007 "Resist the Temptation" clip, and hit Wikipedia for lots of where-are-they-now stuff. Viola Billups (a.k.a. "Pearly Gates") has an individual entry, and if that lovely picture doesn't illustrate the benefits of taking good care of yourself when you're young (hey, Britney!), I'll wear those pink flares to work tomorrow...oh, who am I kidding. I'd wear those pink flares anyway!

These were the ladies I wanted to be when I grew up--I just didn't know it at the time. Enjoy!

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Saturday, December 29, 2007

We're back!

I missed this place! Look for more retro-goodness coming your way in 2008--and speaking of retro, those Canoe links in the Canadian Pop post are in for repairs as well. Come on back soon...

Monday, March 21, 2005

And then, exhaustion set in...(revised in 2008 with brand new groovy links)

The bad news first--I'm a bit under the weather. (Just a little. The few sunny days we had last week have been replaced by the usual cold grey snowy "spring" yuck. Coincidence?)

The good news is that I've scored some fun stuff to list on eBay, starting tomorrow. (When I'll feel better, I hope. Please. And how about some sun?)

Meanwhile, I'll take the lazy babe's way out and point you to some recent cool retro stops:

The Sears catalog, 1971. Now here's some vintage middle-Americana I wish I could list tomorrow... Gone, alas--but this funny look back at the 1977 Penneys Catalog still stands. (Via Metafilter, naturally.)

I was wrong about CHUM online--their stream has, alas, apparently gone dry. But Hamilton, Ontario's CKOC-AM is still streaming some great Canadian (and British, and US) oldies, including most of the songs on the list in the last post. Guess what? CKOC is no longer streaming, but CHUM-FM is back in a big way, with a stream and lots of wonderul vintage Canadian pop memorabilia. Satisfy that curiosity--you know you want to hear "Say It Again"...

Finally, if you're using the Firefox browser to read this, you really need to install the gleefully tacky/sweet Pimpzilla theme--a perfect antidote to grey days and too-serious computer sessions. (And if you aren't using Firefox to read this, just consider this--even a stodgy, Win98SE l/user like me is buggin' ya to try it--tabbed browsing, pop-up control, yaddayadda. Go get it, eh?)

Back soon...