19 December, 2013

Through A Glass, Darkly I

I was stuck at home for the whole of November. It was down to a mild heart attack suffered while playing cricket, and yes, I held the catch I was diving backwards for when it happened. A trip to the Royal Melbourne Hospital in an ambulance, a stent inserted into a non-major artery, a few days in bed there and I'm fine now, thanks for asking. Just a couple of minor tweaks to the lifestyle as it stood (smokes, diet) and I'll probably be better off.

Anyway, that isn't the point of this series of three or maybe four posts. Heaven knows I toyed with the idea of making it all about the epiphany I'd experienced and how I was going to live each day as if it were my last with new, exciting goals I was going to set for myself now that I'd had a serious wake-up call. How important family was, etc etc. And then I thought, naaahhh, I'd much rather tell you about some TV shows I watched.

Because that was how the vast majority of my recovery time was to be spent. And I decided to use this enforced viewing time to answer one of life's big questions: how might some of the TV shows I either loved or was intrigued by as a child stand up when viewed today? I'd rather not spend the hours required to answer that question on YouTube in front of a computer. So because we have a Playstation 3 hooked up to our flat screen TV, I was able to do it all in relative comfort, albeit after a little technical tuition from one of our young lads.

So I researched. Makes a nice change for this pissy blog. And I'm confident the next three posts will answer some intriguing questions.

The Adventures of Superman was a ubiquitous part of many childhoods. So much so that it was still being repeated on Australian television right up into the mid-1970s. I thought I remembered pretty much everything about the series but was surprised to find that there was little that looked familiar when the many full episodes available on YouTube appeared at the end of my search.

Scripts for the series did not borrow terribly heavily from the comic book stories, despite featuring the main ensemble characters Lois Lane, Perry White and Jimmy Olsen. There was no Lex Luthor nor any of the DC Comic's Superman's more flamboyant villains. Instead, narratives tended to revolved around gangsters and conmen, with some quite interesting plotlines for the Man of Steel to resolve once he'd ducked into the Daily Planet's storeroom and jumped onto his take-off trampoline just below camera range.

However, Superman's origin was shown pretty much as we've come to understand it.
I recalled seeing this Series 1 Episode 1 origin episode Superman On Earth only once before in c.1968 and was as keen as mustard to catch up with it again. The sequences on Krypton follow the comic depiction of Kal-El's early life fairly closely. I also have to admit to some chuckling during the Kryptonian sequence where Superman's scientist father Jor-El is dismissed as a quack by the self-interested ruling elite for predicting Krypton's imminent destruction. Global warming anyone?

Series 6 Episode 9 Superman's Wife starred 50s pin-up Joi Lansing as an undercover detective who poses as Superman's wife in order to draw some crooks out into the open. Needless to say, Noel Neill's flame-haired Lois Lane is upset about the Man of Steel's new status.

It is all a bit jeepers-Mr-Kent but stood up a lot better than I thought it would, with some quite dark storylines and great cinematography. Some of the episodes were even quite a bit, well, spooky. To explore that further, you might want to have a look at The Haunted Lighthouse and Lady in Black. 

Just as an aside, the life story of star George Reeves was featured in the excellent biopic Hollywoodland (2006), with Ben Affleck in the title role.

Bat Masterson 
I had only the vaguest recollection of this western series as a childhood favourite of mine, screened on US network TV between 1958 and 1961, in which Gene Barry played the derby-clad, dandyish title role.

In an era where each TV western hero had to have his own iconic, highly individualized weaponry, Bat's signature gimmick involved some very deft moves with his ever-present cane. As appealing as it may have been, Bat Masterson wasn't repeated on Australian television after the very early 60s.

I watched S1 Ep5 The Fighter and I'd have to say that it wasn't a bad show at all. Bat put a stop to a rigged brutal bare-knuckle fight contest in the town where he was sheriff. And how else could he do that except by stepping into the ring himself? Marie Windsor played the feisty saloon-keeper who had her eye on Bat but he moved on at the end of the episode, as he would have done even if she could have been trusted, which she couldn't.

Beany and Cecil 
This is another US TV show from the early 60s that was  being screened on Australian TV right up until the late 70s. And there's a lot to like about it. Beany is the totally adorable cute kid sporting the propeller-topped cap and Cecil is his wonderful big, dumb good-natured sea-serpent friend and protector. Providing the villainy is Dishonest John, with his "Nyah-ah ahhh!" catch-cry making him one of the most memorable of cartoon evil-doers.

Each episode is filled with witty sight gags: my favourite is in the episode where they sail up a canal in Venice and Cecil bumps his head on the Low-Low-Bridgida. Geddit? Another cack-fest revolved around a Pacific voyage that ended at the radioactive No Bikini Atoll.

In So What and the Seven Whatnots the crew visit a gambling city, Lost Wages - where Bob New-heartburn is headlining at the Quick-Sands. Dishonest John is trying to entice punters away from So What's hot jazz combo So What and the Seven What Nots.

Wildman of Wildsville is about a beatnik living on a desert island, and he's like, crazy, man. I love beatniks, at least I love the way they are always depicted in the TV shows of the 60s: "I'm so hip, I wouldn't even eat a square meal, daddy-o."

This is a great cartoon series and I can't for the life of me figure out why Beany and Cecil wasn't repeated beyond the early 70s on Australian TV. I'd watch it now, and I think a whole lot of kids would like it too.

Burke's Law
The main character in this 1963-64 series is an extension of the character that star Gene Barry played in Bat Masterson and even earlier in a small part in Our Miss Brooks - a suave ladies man with expensive tastes.

Amos Burke is a wealthy LAPD detective lieutenant who travels to crime scenes in his chauffer-driven Rolls-Royce. There is at least one absolute babe (sometimes a bevy of them!) in each episode, including Elizabeth Montgomery, Barbara Eden, Francine York, Tina Louise and Juliet Prowse, among others.

In the episode I watched, Who Killed Cassandra Cass?, there was even a sequence involving bored housewives taking hallucinogens! However, I found Barry's particular brand of smart-aleckery trying to pass itself off as urbane wit pretty lame and somewhat annoying. And then the end credits explained why. Burke's Law was produced by Aaron Spelling, FFS! Everything with Spelling's name on it is always, inevitably, inexorably, complete shite. The guy has a perfect strike rate, so much so he even leaves Irwin Allen for dead. Burke's Law rises above this, but only slightly.

When the series returned for 1965, it was a whole 'nother TV show, a ham-fisted attempt to belatedly cash in on the spy-craze: Amos Burke: Secret Agent!

Dennis The Menace
I was expecting Dennis the Menace to wear very thin very quickly. Especially Jay North's fingernails-down-a-blackboard portrayal of Hank Ketchum's likeable comic book mischief-maker. But somehow, it all hung together very nicely and I found myself chuckling at the many ways Dennis' good intentions spelt trouble for the hapless Mr Wilson.

In S1 Ep 18 Dennis and the Duck Dennis' pet duck is playing havoc in Mr Wilson's garden. There's a very funny sequence where Mr Wilson goes for a sixer on Dennis' roller skate twice and a later scene where Dennis turns Mr Wilson's darkroom light on while he's developing some photos - to help him see better, of course. Even after all that, Denis gets to keep the duck.

That was all a bit of a hodge podge, wasn't it? Never mind, in upcoming posts in this series, we can discuss some of the brilliant, timeless TV shows that I discovered and rediscovered, and others that might make you feel a bit less nostalgic.

01 December, 2013

Rolling Stones Live at the BBC 1963-1964-1965

Oh dear. I seem to have become something of a bootlegger. I didn't mean for things to turn out this way.

You might recall a recent post of mine about using YouTube to track down clips of little-known Rolling Stones songs and unreleased live performances. These were then converted into MP3 audio files to enable the compilation of what I called The Rolling Stones Anthology.

The last song I added to the collection was a great live version of Satisfaction, filmed during a 1965 appearance on the US TV show Shindig! This clip really showcased the Stones at their very best and even featured Brian Jones blowing some harp during the last verse.

However, a couple of then-contentious lines from the song were edited out: "I can't get no-oh, girl re-AC-tion", and "tryin' to make some girl". Considering the quality of this particular Stones live performance, it's quite a tragedy.

Undaunted, I wondered if there might be an uncensored version of that clip floating around somewhere else out on YouTube so I typed Rolling Stones Satisfaction 1965 into the search box and hoped for the best. Alas, there was no other version of that Shindig! clip. But I did stumble across another live rendition of Satisfaction of similar performance quality that would enable a very nice spin-off of the anthology project.

This particular sound clip was from a BBC Saturday Club radio program. You could have knocked me over with a feather. I had spent years believing that The Rolling Stones never appeared live on the BBC like so many of their contemporaries (The Beatles; The Kinks; The Who; The Small Faces; Cream; The Jimi Hendrix Experience; and Led Zeppelin) because they'd failed their audition! And that's why there wasn't an album release of the Stones live at the BBC.

I do love it when urban myths are blown away. Encouraged to press on, a further search produced another 16 songs, broadcast during several BBC Saturday Club and Top Gear appearances.

Overall, the sound quality is on a par with other BBC Sessions recordings that I've heard. Meaning it varies a bit, but is a lot better than the bootlegs I used to purchase unwarily back in the 1970s. And really, this variability is more than compensated for by the performance quality put out by the Stones. They really did turn it on for the Beeb.

The other major revelation concerns the set-list: 6 songs that I had no idea the Rolling Stones had ever performed or recorded (Memphis Tennessee; Roll Over Beethoven; Crackin' Up; Cops and Robbers; Beautiful Delilah; and Fannie Mae), and three that I didn't know had ever formed part of their live act (Come On; 2120 South Michigan Avenue; and Walking The Dog).

So why isn't this stuff available? Well, it's difficult to even speculate but one reason could be that the Stones have somehow acquired the rights and are sitting on the material for a future blockbuster release. As they did with Rock and Roll Circus and Ladies and Gentlemen the Rolling Stones and as they're currently doing with 25 x 5 and the film version of Stripped, neither of which have ever been released on DVD. Or if the BBC still has sole rights, they might be waiting for a significant anniversary, although most of the Rolling Stones' significant beginnings have recently celebrated 50 years. Staying with the rights issue for the moment, the BBC might have joint custody, as it were, and are unable to successfully negotiate release arrangements. It all ends with a Spanish-style shrug - quien sabe?

I could amaze you with the stuff I don't know, truly. But here is the track listing for the latest personal-use-only CD to join my collection, Rolling Stones Live at the BBC.

         1. Come On  (Berry) 
         2. Memphis Tennessee (Berry)
         3. Roll Over Beethoven (Berry) 
         4. Crackin' Up (McDaniel)
5. Cops and Robbers (McDaniel)

6. Route 66 (Troup)
7. You Better Move On (Alexander)
8. 2120 South Michigan Avenue (Nanker-Phelge)
9. Walking the Dog (Thomas)
10. Beautiful Delilah (Berry)
11. Mona (McDaniel)

12. Mercy Mercy (Covay-Miller)
13. Everybody Needs Somebody To Love (Berns-Burke-Wexler)
14. Cry To Me (Russell)
15. Fanny Mae (Brown)
16. The Last Time (Jagger-Richard)
17. Satisfaction (Jagger-Richard)