Saturday, November 26, 2011

The only 'Wheel' Western: The Men From Shilo

'Wheel' shows are shows with rotating series under the same 'umbrella title'. Like 'NBC Mystery Movie' that had 'Columbo' one week, 'McMillian and Wife' the next, and 'McCloud' the one after that. Then the rotation would start again. This is not to be confused with 'Anthology' shows like 'Twilight Zone' or 'Alfred Hitchcock' or 'Police Story' where each week had a unique story with the same tone and format, but no 'rotating' characters.

Other 'wheel' shows were 'The Bold Ones', 'Four in One', and the original, 'The Name of the Game'.

But there's one that gets forgotten in the discussion, that is a western called 'The Men From Shilo'. It was actually the final season of 'The Virginian'. They decided to change the title and have stories showcasing four characters. Two from the original, The Virginian and Trampas, and two new characters: A fish-out-of-water Englishman (with a butler in tow) played by Stewart Granger who buys Shilo Ranch in the first episode, and Lee Majors as Tate, a drifter of few words with a Fu Manchu mustache. This was Majors pre-Bionic Man and post-'Big Valley'.

Doug McClure also sports a mustache and Drury has grown out his sideburns. An attempt to reach a younger audience, I suppose.

For some reason, 'The Men From Shilo' is not part of 'The Virginian' rerun package seen on Encore. So when the DVD came out, I got it and, like a lot of things we remember liking 40 years ago, it's not that good. The best thing about it is the theme song by Ennio Morricone, who wrote a bunch of those  spaghetti western songs. I don't know what I was expecting. I never was much of a 'Virginian' fan anyway, but had some vague memory of kinda liking 'Men From Shilo'. The show actually is better than 'The Virginian', but for me, that's not saying much.

They kept the same time slot, the same 90-minute format, and the ratings were not bad. But it was canceled anyway. Maybe part of the famous 'rural purge' of 1969-1972 when shows with either a rural theme or that appealed to rural or older audiences were canceled even if the ratings were strong.

A not so interesting James Drury/'Men From Shilo' inside story: Years ago, when I lived in San Diego, I worked with a woman who had worked for an 'answering service' that had James Drury as a client. She said he was a super nice guy. When 'Men From Shilo' came out, she talked to him one day and told him flat out that she didn't like the new format. Drury was surprised and asked 'why not?'. To which she replied, 'I don't know. I just don't like it'.

As I said, a 'not so interesting' story, but it's the only one I got!

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

'Girl Happy' : The Greatest Elvis Movie (Yes, I Really Mean It!)

Girl Happy is not a guilty pleasure. I have plenty of those. Like watching 'The New Zoo Revue' because Emmy Jo wore short skirts, leather boots and was a turn-on.

Before I celebrate Girl Happy, we need to define the term 'Elvis Movie'.

If I say 'Elvis movie', certain things pop into your head: A 'beach party' flick where Elvis has some cool job like helicopter pilot, race car driver, or musician. He gets involved in some nutty comedic plot, sings mediocre songs, gets in a fist fight or two, and is surrounded by a bevvy of pretty girls.

His early films, when he still had notions of being in league with Brando, James Dean or Tony Curtis, were pretty darn good: Loving You, Jailhouse Rock, and King Creole (Elvis' personal favorite). 

But they are not 'Elvis Movies'.

The first 'Elvis Movie' was G.I. Blues.  He tried a few more 'serious' flicks after that, but then came Blue Hawaii. It was so successful, and sold so many soundtrack albums, the formula was born. For the next eight years, he would make two, sometimes three 'Elvis Movies' a year.

Some were awful (Harum Scarum) and some were decent (Follow That Dream). But in 1965 came a gem called Girl Happy. It has all the typical ingredients (a beach, music, girls, fist fights, etc), but this one got it right.

The plot's not important. Let's just say Elvis is in a band and the story takes place in Fort Lauderdale. It's the chemistry of the cast, the director and the great songs that makes Girl Happy shine. Shelley Fabares and Mary Ann Mobley, both vying for Elvis' attention are great personalities and gorgeous. And for good measure, we get the sexy and REALLY underrated actress Nita Talbot playing a stripper.

The guys who play in Elvis' group, Gary Crosby, Joby Baker and Jimmy Hawkins are perfect. They actually seem like a real band. Cosby is especially good and I love the way he handles the bass guitar and fakes singing the low notes on 'Wolf Call'.

There's not a bad song in the bunch and the performances seem natural. The male characters are in a 'band' after all. It's not Elvis as a helicopter pilot who suddenly breaks into a tune every ten minutes.

I especially like 'Spring Fever', where the boys are driving to Florida singing about the fun that awaits. It cuts back and forth from them to Shelley and her girlfriends in another car, singing the same song. It's a unique and innovative scene and encapsulates the joy of youthful anticipation from both points of view. The editing is brilliant.

The movie also LOOKS great. The set of the motel is especially well done. It looks as good as anything in a Hitchcock or Kubrick film. And everything has that bright 1960's color you don't see anymore. It just JUMPS at you.

It's filled with great character actors: Harold Stone as Shelley's gangster dad, Jackie Coogan (Uncle Fester) as a cop, John Fielder as the Motel Manager. And lots of familiar faces in tiny parts. Like the fat college kid who yells for Elvis to sing 'Wolf Call'. I've seen him a million times. And according to IMDB, Kent McCord and Dan Haggarty (Grizzly Adams) are in it, too, though I've never noticed.

Other highlights: Elvis in drag and a Red West vs. Elvis fist fight.

The superiority of this movie over other Elvis flicks probably has a lot to do with the director Boris Sagal (Katey's dad). He gets the comic timing right and got the cast to do their best and look fantastic. Sagal directed a TON of TV and movies and it was his only Elvis flick. Most Elvis movies (the lousy ones) were directed by Norman Taurog, who did a lot of Martin and Lewis movies, too, and in most of them, somehow managed to make those two talents seem dull.

1965 was a nice year for rock 'n' roll movies. A few months after Girl Happy, the Beatles came out with Help!, which is my favorite Beatles' flick. Hmmm....Girl Happy over King Creole. Help! over A Hard Day's Night...maybe I'm just a contrarian.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Beatles in Las Vegas

I've stayed at the Sahara in Vegas a few times. I somehow knew that the Beatles' had stayed there, but didn't know much more than that. When I was at the pool, I'd think, I wonder if Ringo had a dip here. It is one of the older hotels on the Strip and probably hasn't changed all that much.

Well, finally some news about their visit to Vegas in the Summer of '64. Check out the 'Beatles News' link on the right and you'll see some pics. The Beatles are looking super cool in them, especially John in his RayBans.

Monday, November 14, 2011

'Walls and Bridges'

Last time I wrote about the Imagine album. Along with Walls and Bridges, they are my two 'go to' Lennon albums. They are the most accessible, and not surprisingly, the best sellers (as I mentioned before, Double Fantasy is 'officially' the best seller, but that's because the record sold like crazy after Lennon was murdered a few weeks after it's release. Initially, the sales were so-so.).

Walls and Bridges isn't as strong as Imagine, but it's a very cool album. Recorded during his separation from Yoko, it's got a few songs about his feelings about the loss and break-up but not too many. And unlike Plastic Ono Band, which, face it, is a one-note wallow of his fear and anger, Walls and Bridges has a wider range of styles and emotions.

His Yoko songs are 'What You Got' a pissed off rocker, 'Going Down on Love' the matter-of-fact opening bluesy number with nice percussion and 'Bless You', an interesting point-of-view choice where he's singing to 'whoever' is Yoko's new partner (not that there was one, but it's a neat idea for a song).

The best song on the LP is '#9 Dream', which I suppose you could say is about Yoko, but not in an obvious way. It's haunting, dreamlike and best of all, very Beatleish.

What I also dig about this album, is that while he mopes about Yoko in some songs, he also sings about dealing with it and his 'new' woman, May Pang. 'Whatever Gets You Thru The Night', a big hit at the time, is a nice change of pace for Lennon. Instead of 'feeling your own pain', he's telling us to relax and that 'it's all right'. Elton John plays piano and sings harmony. Some critics claim the reason the single went to #1 is because it 'sounds' like an Elton John song. But I disagree. In fact, I think they have it backwards. Elton John sounds (or sounded) like The Beatles, which is one of the reasons he was so popular. He came along when they broke up, and like The Beatles, he was a Brit doing American-style music. He filled the void they left.

"Surprise, Surprise' is another May Pang tribute with my one of my fav lines: 'I was blind, she blew my mind'.

'Beef Jerky' is interesting in it's own way as it is (as far as I can recall) the only time Lennon did an instrumental (not counting a chorus shouting 'Beef Jerky' at the breaks). And I love the title. Very much in keeping with his infatuation with food images like strawberries, cranberry sauce and mustard.

The only two 'weak' songs, 'Old Dirt Road' and 'Nobody Loves You When You're Down and Out' are still nice tunes and redeemed with clever lyrics.

I wish Lennon had done more albums like Imagine and Walls and Bridges. That is, albums that weren't as self-indulgent as Plastic Ono Band  or Sometime in New York City. Don't get me wrong. I love those albums, and Plastic Ono Band is his masterpiece. But it lacks the energy and excitement of a Beatles album. Something that Imagine and Walls and Bridges gives me if I decide to take them for a spin.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

'Imagine', the album

John Lennon only released six 'real' albums: Plastic Ono Band, Imagine, Sometime in New York City, Mind Games, Walls and Bridges and Double Fantasy.

And while Plastic Ono Band is a masterpiece and one of the most important albums ever (not just Beatle related, but one of the greatest ever), you have to be in the mood for it. It's not something you throw in the CD player on the way to work like you would a Beatles' album.

For that kind of experience, I turn to my two 'favorites', Imagine and Walls and Bridges.

The funny thing about Imagine is that the title song is actually kind of a drag. I'm not a fan of Lennon's 'anthem' songs like 'Power to the People' or 'Give Peace a Chance'. They're too obvious and not all that interesting. And Imagine's closer, 'Oh Yoko' is, while catchy, also leaves me a bit cold.

But the stuff in the middle. Wow. What a great, very 'listenable' album. 'Jealous Guy' is perhaps the best song he ever wrote and has a fab performance not only vocally, but musically it's perfect. Especially the bass by Klaus Voorman.

'I Don't Wanna Be a Soldier' is a punked up hip update of 'I Want You (She's So Heavy)' and has a great rhythm and does what Plastic Ono Band failed to do: Make an unnerving song fun to listen to. Yoko's influence can be heard in his quivering vocals, which he does much better than she did. And singers like Johnny Rotten would do a few years later.

'It's So Hard' is a number where Lennon finally does what McCartney always could do so much better. That is, digging deep into the roots of authentic old school rock 'n' roll or R&B or whatever you want to call it. It's the real deal. Lennon must have loved this one, too, because, along with the title track, it's the only one on the album I recall him ever playing live.

The rest of the numbers I love, too. 'Crippled Inside', funky honkytonk with cynical (but fun) lyrics, 'Gimme Some Truth', another pre-punk punk song with lyrics that are even more poignant today than they were in 1971 ('just a pocketful of hope'), 'Oh My Love' is as good as any of the 'true' love songs he did with the Beatles. His jab at McCartney, 'How Do You Sleep?' could rate a whole blog entry on it's own. But take away the back story and it's still a great song (and I believe Lennon's statement that the song was as much about himself as it was about Paul). 'How?' is another example of him doing what Plastic Ono Band couldn't do; a song about fear and confusion but equally inspiring as it is depressing.

It's no accident that Imagine was his biggest seller while he was alive. Yes, Double Fantasy sold more but that's because Lennon was murdered three weeks after it came out. It barely cracked the Top Ten originally. Imagine, on the other hand went #1 all over the world and continued to be a solid seller over the years.

Sunday, November 06, 2011

I Never 'Got' Andy Rooney

I never understood the appeal of Andy Rooney. He would do the coda of '60 Minutes' and talk about the stuff in his desk (which was pretty much the same stuff in anybody's desk), the price of coffee (and how the size of the coffee cans has evolved. Thanks, Andy) , or some meaningless study of the different kinds of hats people wear with equally meaningless comments like: 'What's with all these hats?'.

Getting punk'd by Ali G. (Sasha Baron Cohen) really showed how cranky he was. If you haven't seen it, it's probably on YouTube. To briefly recap, Ali G. asks absurd questions like 'How come the media doesn't report an airplane crash before it happens', and Rooney just gets mad. The fact that he didn't 'get it', that it was a put-on, showed me how humorless and out of touch he was.

And to top everything off, in his final good-bye '60 Minutes' segment, Rooney proceeded to talk about how he hates being recognized and thinks that people that write to him are dumb.

If Rooney truly hated being recognized and had such contempt for his fans, he either should have quit the show or at the least kept his dislike for celebrity to himself. Besides, I don't even buy it that he didn't like being recognized. People who want to be on television, whether it's the star of TV's biggest hit or an extra in the background of a commercial, really do WANT to be on TV. 

Andy Rooney may have in fact been the luckiest man in show business. His observations were neither interesting, funny or insightful. They were the musings of a creepy misogynist. And while he claimed to have 'left wing' leanings, I don't recall him ever actually 'doing' anything besides complaining about stuff (that didn't ever matter) and going to football games.