Thursday, May 26, 2011

The Best of All in the Family with Henry Fonda

Tonight I watched TVLand's showing of the 'All in the Family' episode, 'The Best of All in the Family'. It originally aired as a one hour 'special' hosted by Henry Fonda. It was shown around Christmas 1974 during the shows fifth season. It was also the 100th episode.

I remember watching it back in 1974, but tonight was the first time I'd seen it in 36 years. It was weird to see Fonda hosting, introducing clips and making meaningless commentary about the characters and social impact of the show. Fonda seems like a hired-hand and disinterested in the whole thing. He even makes a hackneyed closing, 'I hope you enjoyed watching these clips. I know I did.' Talk about insincere. Sheesh.

I suppose CBS thought that hiring an actor with Fonda's pedigree would reinforce the notion that 'All in the Family' was an important show. But we already knew that. It would've been better to get someone who really dug the show and was enthusiastic about it.

This fifth season was 'Family's last gasp. At the beginning of the sixth season, Mike and Gloria moved next door and had a baby, which is always a bad move. Shows seem to die when there's a birth.

The show limped on for years, but I lost interest. I still watched it I suppose, but I knew they were beating a dead horse.

After the show ended, they had the horrible spin-off, 'Archie Bunker's Place', where Edith is mostly absent but still referred to. Eventually, we're told she died of a stoke. Real laugh it up stuff.

Even worse was the spin-off 'Gloria' which only lasted one season. Mike had moved to a commune and abandoned Gloria and their son, which was totally out of character for Meathead. It also had the depressing affect of destroying the whole back-story of the original show and what I think was their message: You don't pick your family (or in-laws), and even though you clash with each other, you stick it out. It was, after all, called 'All in the Family'.

I like to forget those spin-offs and episodes after Mike and Gloria moved into the Jefferson's old house. I'll stick with those earlier seasons and am still impressed by the quality of the writing and acting and I love the funky sets and general ambiance of the show.

But it was interesting to see this Henry Fonda retrospective. I was drawn to it first out of the nostalgia of seeing it again after all these years, and then fascinated by the awkwardness of the way it was presented.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Ringo: 'The Beatles Were Lucky To Have Me'

Ringo's making some headlines with this recent statement.

And I think he has a point. But the truth is they were all lucky to have each other.

They had the perfect package. John, the punk/genius. Paul, the musical savant. George, the perfect third voice for their harmonies. Ringo, the solid back beat and 'everyman' character.

There's a lot of other ingredients to the Beatles franchise, but when they got Ringo, it all came together. Paul says so in the 'Anthology' documentary.

And you have to remember, too, as Ringo points out in his recent statement, that he was in a band that was pretty big, Rory Storm and the Hurricanes. He left a successful, polished act for a rough around the edges smaller band. But he recognized that the Beatles were on the way up and Rory had probably peaked. And he dug their music.

But I do think he's right. Ringo brought a lot to the image. Think about the movies. Can you picture Pete Best in A Hard Day's Night? Hard to imagine.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Red Rose Speedway 1973

In April 1973 I was 15 years old and Nixon was President. The Beatles had only been busted up for a couple of years, but it seemed like centuries since they had been together. But a new Paul McCartney album was coming out in April. So there was hope.

The Beatles solo work had been a bit sketchy in those 1971/1972 days. The Concert for Bangla Desh seemed more like a great opportunity missed than the great event it was supposed to be. Sometime in New York City was a challenge. As if John and Yoko were daring us to buy their records no matter what was on them. Ringo's 'Back off Boogaloo' 45 was a weak follow-up to 'It Don't come Easy' and his movies 200 Motels and Blindman were unwatchable.

Paul's previous album, the somewhat confusing Wild Life, was a bomb with the critics. But in the meantime, he had released a kick-ass single called "Hi Hi Hi', so maybe this new album was going to be good?

I still remember buying Red Rose Speedway from a local chain called 'Everybody's Records' in Southwest Portland. And it was really cheap, being new and all. I think it was something like $3.19.

We'd already heard the big hit, 'My Love'. Another one of Paul's love ballads. Good for the mainstream fans, and I was happy to see him selling records. But it wasn't what I was after.

But I really dug the first cut 'Big Barn Bed', which began with a little leftover refrain from the Ram album...'Who's that comin' 'round that corner? Who's that comin' round that bend?'. Linda's back-up vocals were growing on me and were definitely part of the Paul/Wings sound. And that photo of her on the booklet inside, all lit in red, straddling a motorcycle with a little knee showing was sexy. I think I decided I liked Linda at that point.

And while the critics were tough on Red Rose Speedway, I remember that my friends and I played the hell out of it. 'Get on the Right Thing', 'When The Night', 'Loop (1ST Indian on the Moon', 'Hands of Love' and 'Power Cut' are all great songs and along with 'Big Barn Bed' capture that early Wings sound that at it's best, was sincere and charming and gave us a glimpse of a band as a 'work in progress'. They were far from perfect. Even the guitars seemed a little out of tune sometimes. But it was real. And that's what rock and roll is all about, right?

In 1973, John and Yoko were playing political court jesters. Ringo was stumbling around not sure if he was a film star or a 45s hit maker. And George was out of his league, being grandiose by releasing triple disc LPs and not being shy about his religious beliefs. But they would all eventually find a comfortable niche and produce some damn good albums during the rest of the 1970's.

But Paul was getting back to his roots. Starting a band from scratch and touring and trying to find his way. Red Rose Speedway was the last time one of his records would sound a bit amateurish. And maybe that's one of the reasons I love it so much.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Paul and Jane the 'White Album'

Speaking of Geoff Emerick's book, he had an interesting insight into Paul's work on the 'White Album'.

As all Beatle fanatics know, the early albums, Please Please Me through Rubber Soul were dominated by John Lennon. This is also true of their singles. Revolver was pretty even in the John/Paul contest. But starting with Sgt. Pepper through Abbey Road, Paul became the dominate one. EXCEPT for the 'White Album'. So why did Paul lose a step midway through his creative peak?

Some theories are that he was busy running Apple. Being the only true Beatle workaholic, he was distracted with company business and helping out Apple artists, like Badfinger and Mary Hopkin. And you read stories about Paul overseeing mundane details around the Apple office like checking on the quality of the toilet paper in the bathrooms.

Another theory is that John Lennon, feeling energized by a new life with Yoko, felt that it was time to take back the band.

But Emerick has another idea. He says that Paul was down in the dumps over his break-up with Jane Asher. The timeline fits. The relationship was strained for months, but they didn't officially split until the summer of 1968, which is when the 'White Album' was being recorded.

I suppose Paul's weak output on the 'White Album' was due to a lot of things, but the whole Jane Asher deal makes sense.

Not only does John have more songs on the album, but Paul doesn't have any of his usual show-stoppers. Sure, 'I Will' and 'Blackbird' are lovely and all that, but not there's nothing on the album that matches 'Fool on the Hill', 'Eleanor Rigby', 'She's Leaving Home' or later tunes like 'Let It Be' or 'Long and Winding Road'. No home runs. Yeah yeah, I know, 'Hey Jude' came out a few months before the 'White Album' and it's their biggest hit ever, but I'm just saying...his most famous song on the bloody 'White Album' is 'Ob-la-di Ob-la-da', and that, like Lennon said, 'Is Granny music'.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Geoff Emerick's Book

I've read a ton of Beatle books. Hell, I remember back when the Hunter Davies 'The Beatles' and Epstein's 'A Cellerful of Noise' were the only ones out there!

Out of the hundreds published since, I've only read about a dozen I would revisit, and this one by Abbey Road Studios engineer Geoff Emerick, titled 'Here There and Everywhere' qualifies.

The book re-enforces some of the things we've always suspected of the individual Beatles:

John had the most talent as a singer and composer.

Paul was the most professional and hard working.

George was a weak guitarist and often flubbed his parts. Although, he made a huge leap on the Abbey Road LP both as a writer and guitarist.

Ringo's presence in the studio was pretty much that of a sideman. But even as the weakest member, he was perceived as A BEATLE not only by the EMI staff, but by his band mates as well.

But the most interesting aspect of the book is getting a real insight into the day-to-day activities of recording and being around the Beatles. One minute he's waxing poetic on their immense talent and the next he's complaining about how difficult they are to work with.

He also paints a pretty bleak picture of the Abbey Road facility itself and the 'suits' who ran it. It's amazing that the biggest act in show biz continued to work in such a old-fashioned place.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Goldhat Rocks!!

I love this guy. He teaches and plays guitar online and the dude is such a great player. His singing is a bit sketchy, but hey, it makes him even more lovable.

And his love of Beatles' music is contagious. Check him out on YouTube or his own site at:

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Why Hulk Make Lousy Movie and TV Show

I have a theory. Movie franchises or TV shows where the heroes are either 'lost' or 'on the run' are usually lousy.

There are exceptions, of course. There always are. For example, 'Kung Fu' and the new version of 'Battlestar Galactica' were good shows. And comedies like 'Gilligan's Island' don't suffer from the premise of the heroes being behind the eight ball. Same with semi-comedic shows, like 'Alias Smith and Jones'.

Shows where the hero has a 'secret' is another category (like 'Smallville') but those don't have the same issues as protagonists who are 'in trouble'.

But look at all those Irwin Allen shows, where the premise has the heroes in a jam. Or shows like 'Lost' or 'Star Trek: Voyager'. They start out kinda good, but get tired. The jury is still out on the AMC show 'Walking Dead', which I really dig, and hopefully it will be one of those exceptions.

The 'Planet of The Apes' movies are sucky and depressing. The first one was good, but I never cared for the sequels. I watched them. I wanted to like them. But I didn't.

The Universal movie monsters, like Frankenstein and Wolf Man, had huge success but petered out after a couple of sequels.

We like our heroes to be heroic. We want to be like them. The Jason Bourne movies are interesting, but how long can you keep up the whole amnesia thing? James Bond, on the other hand, can go on forever.

Which brings me to The Hulk. The reason the Bill Bixby show and the movies are bad is because the hero is tragic. He's like Frankenstein with super-powers. The Thing in the Fantastic Four, a similar character, has a tragic element. But he's likable. The Hulk is just a dumb, angry guy who has the entire US Army after him. Who wants to watch that?

The old comic book (the Herb Trimpe, 1960's stuff) was good, but comics are a different ballgame. Marvel comics from that era were all about the art, the snappy dialogue and the supporting/guest characters and of course, the villains. And besides, it was a 12-cent/15-minutes a month investment. We weren't expecting much in the first place.

Sunday, May 08, 2011

Macca Takes The Plunge

It's official. Paul is engaged to American gal pal Nancy Shevell.

The Beatles have good luck with American women. The marriages to Linda, Olivia and Barbara all seemed to work out. And even Yoko, who was Japanese but adopted New York as her home years before she met John and continues to live there, sort of qualifies. The marriages to the Brit women all seemed to fizzle: Cynthia, Patti, Maureen and (ugh) Heather. Paul also split with another English lass, his longtime love Jane Asher back in 1968.

And while I'm happy for Macca, I have to wonder why, at his age, they didn't just slip into a Justice of the Peace office and get it over with?

I understand why they are getting hitched. They're in love and he's old fashioned. And considering his immense wealth and age (he'll be 69 in June), it's probably better for Nancy to make it all neat and legal.

But it just seems odd to me for two people, who have both been married before, have been together for years now, who are 51 and 68 years old, and who are worth about a billion dollars, to be 'engaged'. It's not like they have to figure stuff out. Just do it, Paulie.

Now if Paul and Nancy get hitched in the next few weeks, I take it all back!