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Any Major Freaks & Geeks

November 16th, 2017 10 comments

Every two or three years I make a pilgrimage to my set of 18 episodes of the short-lived TV series Freaks And Geeks. It is not only the greatest series ever to be cancelled after only one season, but one of the greatest TV series of all time. Almost every scene is a marvel.

To me, it completes the great American Schools Trilogy: The Wonder Years, Dazed And Confused; Freaks And Geeks. The first outlived its magnificence by about two or three seasons; the Linklater film absolutely needed no sequel; but Freaks And Geeks was put to death prematurely.

All three narratives about schooling succeeded because, though set in US schools with the culture that comes with it, the characters are almost universally recognisable. We’ve all met them, or some of them. Maybe we were them.

I went to school in Germany, where there no high school sports teams, and the sub-cultures were different. We had punks, poppers (New Romantic conservatives), rockers, Neo-Nazi skinheads… and mostly unaffiliated people. Not being much of a joiner I was among the unaffiliated. In Freaks And Geeks terms, I’d have been a “Freak” — though, like the Geeks, I loved Bill Murray and the movie Stripes (I even agree with Neal that the second half of that movie is best forgotten).

But whatever differences in the sub-cultures, I have known Wayne Arnold (who might as well have been modeled on my school nemesis, Marvin) and Paul Phyffer in The Wonder Years, Mitch Kramer and his two pals, Mike Newhouse and Tony Olson, Randall “Pink” Floyd, Fred O’Bannion and Don Dawson (another nemesis) in Dazed And Confused, and Sam Weir, Neal Schweiber, Bill Haverchuck (they were all my friends at some point), Alan White (bullies are all the same), Nick Andopolis and Ken Miller in Freaks And Geeks.

I’m on less safe ground identifying with girls, because if you’re a boy, your school domain is largely male. Still, I know Kim Kelly — the great Busy Philips in Freaks And Geeks —very well.

To me, Freaks And Geeks resonates in particular because in 1980/81, when the show is set, I was 14, the same age as the junior trio of Sam, Bill and Neal. While the cultural markers are different, these characters are my peers.

And so, if we can recognise the characters, or identify with them, then their experiences need not mirror ours exactly for us to be part of the story.

As in The Wonder Years and Dazed And Confused, the music is an important character in Freaks And Geeks (indeed, I did a mix of songs from The Wonder Years a few years ago; the mix has been re-upped). Here I cannot draw from the well of nostalgia. That American 1980/81 is not my 1980/81. And still, of the songs on this mix, which all featured on Freaks And Geeks, I owned six at the time (since you ask: Bowie, Seger, Billy Joel, Deep Purple, Supertramp, Jethro Tull).

As a bonus track I add “Lady L.”, the hackneyed love song Nick (Jason Segel) writes for Lindsay (Linda Cardellini), which has attained something of a cult status. The music-related scene that sticks with me, however, is the one where the Weir parents listen to The Who’s Squeeze Box to determine whether the British band’s concert is suitable for their teenage daughter.

The CD-R length rule required me to omit some worthy contenders; indeed, I expect to be hated for choosing Supertramp ahead of XTC (but I really don’t like No Language In Our Lungs) or Rush (whom I don’t really like, full stop). Maybe there’ll be a follow-up…

As ever, CD-R length, homeworked covers, PW in comments.

1. Joan Jett & The Blackhearts – Bad Reputation (1981)
2. Joe Jackson – I’m The Man (1979)
3. Warren Zevon – Poor, Poor Pitiful Me (1976)
4. Bob Seger – You’ll Accompany Me (1980)
5. Little River Band – Reminiscing (1978)
6. Billy Joel – Rosalinda’s Eyes (1978)
7. Kansas – Dust In The Wind (1978)
8. Jethro Tull – Aqualung (1971)
9. George Baker Selection – Little Green Bag (1969)
10. The Who – Squeeze Box (1975)
11. Deep Purple – Hush (1968)
12. Van Halen – Little Dreamer (1978)
13. Journey – Lovin’ Touchin’ Squeezin’ (1979)
14. Styx – Renegade (1978)
15. David Bowie – Fashion (1980)
16. Supertramp – Take The Long Way (1979)
17. Charlie Daniels Band – The Devil Went Down To Georgia (1979)
18. Pure Prairie League – Amie (1972)
19. Grateful Dead – Ripple (1970)
20. Jason Segal – Lady L. (2000)

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Any Major TV Theme Songs Vol. 3

March 19th, 2015 7 comments

Any Major TV Theme Songs Vol. 3

Here’s a third mix of the full versions of TV themes, some the original songs that were picked up as the title melody, and others extended versions of the short themes.

In the case of the former, there sometimes are incongruities. For example, what does a 1990s grunge song, great though it is, have to do with a TV series set in the 1920s, as we have with The Brian Jonestown Massacre providing the theme for Boardwalk Empire?

I have seen at least one episode of 16 of the featured 24 shows, and of these I have faithfully watched (or, in the case of Better Call Saul, will watch) at least one season in nine cases. How about you?

There will still be a fourth and final mix.

As always, the mix is timed to fit on a standard CD-R and includes home-couchpotatoed covers.

1. Mike Post – Theme from Magnum P.I. (1982)
2. Bill Conti – Theme from Cagney And Lacey (1982)
3. Sammy Davis Jr – Keep Your Eye On The Sparrow (Baretta) (1976)
4. Heinz Kiessling – Temptation Sensation (It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia) (1970s)
5. Jeff Beal – Main Theme of House Of Cards (2013)
6. Dave Porter – Theme from Better Call Saul (2015)
7. The Brian Jonestown Massacre – Straight Up And Down (Boardwalk Empire)(1996)
8. Curtis Stigers & The Forest Rangers – This Life (Sons Of Anarchy) (2011)
9. Washed Out – Feel It All Around (Portlandia) (2009)
10. The Scrantones – Theme of The Office (2005)
11. Mike Post – Main Theme of Quantum Leap (1989)
12. Jack Elliott & Allyn Ferguson – Theme from Barney Miller (1975)
13. Tom Scott – Gotcha (Starsky & Hutch) (1977)
14. Lalo Schifrin – Theme from Mission Impossible (1967)
15. Quincy Jones – The Streetbeater (Sanford & Son) (1973)
16. Sonny Curtis – Love Is All Around (The Mary Tyler More Show) (1970)
17. W.G. Snuffy Walden & Stewart Levin – Main Theme from thirtysomething (1991)
18. Angelo Badalamenti – Theme from Twin Peaks (1990)
19. James Newton Howard – Theme from E.R. (1994)
20. Triple X – The Truth (X-Files Theme) (1995)
21. PSAPP – Cosy In The Rocket (Grey’s Anatomy) (2005)
22. Bear McCreary – Main Theme from The Walking Dead (2013)
23. The Presidents of the United States of America – Cleveland Rocks (The Drew Carey Show) (1998)
24. Morning Runner – Gone Up In Flames (The Inbetweeners) (2005)

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Any Major TV Theme Songs Vol. 1
Any Major TV Theme Songs Vol. 2
84 Original Length TV Themes
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Any Major TV Theme Songs Vol. 2

November 20th, 2014 4 comments

Any Major TV Theme Songs Vol. 2

Here’s the second of three mixes of full versions of well-known TV themes, including the highly-rated one for True Detective, and two of the all-time greats, Dragnet and Hawaii Five-O. Especially the latter is fantastic in its full length. And listen out for the theme of S.W.A.T..

Most are well-known, but two themes here are from German TV: from the detective series Derrick, which ran from the 1970s to the ’90s, and the music show Musikladen (née Beat Club), footage of which regularly turns up on VH-1 type shows and on YouTube. Both themes are excellent; the latter was a single from 1966 which was borrowed as a TV theme. The theme of Derrick was written and arranged by Les Humphries, who also was the leader of the Les Humphries Singers, a multi-national, multi-racial bunch of hippie-looking people who were phenomenally successful in Germany in the early 1970s.

A good number of themes here have scored sitcoms, going back to I Love Jeannie. Not all of them were good, and some pretty bad (Growing Pains!). But it occurs to me that even as people are talking about US television experiencing a golden age, it doesn’t really apply to sitcoms, animated shows aside. Some of the current sitcoms were very good when they started, but have outlived their welcome (Big Bang Theory) or have fallen into a rut (Modern Family); some are just awful (Two And A Half Men, for pity’s sake), some are just overrated (Girls). I had hopes for Blackish, alas… So, we’re left with the genuinely good Brooklyn Nine-Nine and… what else?

No, the golden age of the sitcom was the 1990s: Seinfeld, Friends, Murphy Brown, Frasier, Larry Sanders, the first few seasons of Mad About You, or  Married With Children stood out above much of the crap we watched anyway on TV, because we had no broadband Internet and DVD box-sets.

The first mix of full TV themes is HERE.

As always, the mix is timed to fit on a standard CD-R and includes home-couchpotatoed covers.

1. Family Guy – Full Theme Song
2. Valley Lodge – Go (Last Week Tonight With John Oliver)
3. Aloe Blacc – I Need A Dollar (How To Make It In America)
4. Regina Spektor – You’ve Got Time (Orange Is The New Black)
5. Dave Porter – Breaking Bad Theme
6. The Handsome Family – Far From Any Road (True Detective)
7. Ryan Bingham – Until I’m One With You (The Bridge)
8. Dandy Warhols – We Used To Be Friends (Veronica Mars)
9. Lazlo Bane – Superman (Scrubs)
10. Malvina Reynolds – Little Boxes (Weeds)
11. Frank Sinatra – Love And Marriage (Married With Children)
12. Ray Anthony – Theme from Dragnet
13. Hugo Montenegro – Jeannie (I Dream Of Jeannie)
14. The Monkees – (Theme From) The Monkees
15. Mood Mosaic – A Touch Of Velvet-A Sting Of Brass (Musikladen/Beat Club)
16. Orchester Les Humphries – Derrick
17. Morton Stevens – Theme from Hawaii Five-O
18. Ja’net DuBois & Oren Waters – Movin’ On Up (The Jeffersons)
19. Waylon Jennings – Good Ol’ Boys (Dukes Of Hazzard)
20. Andrew Gold – Final Frontier (Mad About You)
21. B.J. Thomas & Dusty Springfield – As Long As We Got Each Other (Growing Pains)
22. Johnny Mathis & Deniece Williams – Without Us (Family Ties)
23. Dave Grusin – St Elsewhere
24. Jack Elliott – Theme from Night Court
25. Rhythm Heritage – Theme from S.W.A.T.

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Any Major TV Theme Songs Vol. 1

September 11th, 2014 14 comments

Any Major TV Theme Songs Vol. 1

TV themes: the great ones are over all too soon. So here’s a mix of full versions of 23 well-known TV themes, stretching from the 1970s to the present —extended versions of many TV themes which I posted exactly a year ago.

It seems that whereas in the past themes used to be written specifically for a show, modern series adopt songs previously released by often obscure artists. Which is great news for the artists, especially commercially. Examples of TV shows whose themes were derived by that method include The Wire (first recorded by Gravelly-Voiced Grinch whose name rhymes with Wom Taite in 1978), The Sopranos (by an English band in 1997),Mad Men (2006), True Blood (2005), Suits (2010) and Shameless (US version, 2005), as well as, I think, that of the great Justified.

This used to be much rarer in the past. One example of a song that was repurposed as a TV theme was Andrew Gold’s 1978 song “Thank You For Being A Friend”, which was re-recorded by Cynthia Fee to score the title credits for The Golden Girls. For more on that, and how Gold’s became to be the first voice to be broadcast on Mars, go to my post on The Golden Girls.

Another song that existed before the series it scores is that of How I Met Your Mother, an initially very funny show which outlived its welcome by about four years. Its theme is very brief. It is, in fact, a 11-second snatch from a song by a garage band called The Solids called “Hey, Beautiful”, written by band members Carter Bays and Craig Thomas — who are also the originators of the show which, what’s more, was based on them and their friends. I’ve written about How I Met Your Mother HERE.

Another show I’ve written about is Welcome Back, Kotter. Its theme is a 1970s archetype, in a way that’s better than it sounds. It was written and performed by John Sebastian, formerly of The Loving Spoonful and an alumnus of the crowd which The Mamas and the Papas sang about in “Creeque Alley”.

I also like the theme of WKRP In Cincinnati, much more than the show itself. The theme doesn’t really reveal the excellent musicianship of the track, so hearing Steve Carlisle’s full version, with its jazzy instrumental break is quite surprising.

I think I have enough good stuff for another two mixes, so there’s the answer to the question: “And where, may I ask, is the best-theme-ever, Dragnet/Hawaii-Five-O/Magnum P.I./Barney Miller/Twin Peaks?”

As always, the mix is timed to fit on a standard CD-R and includes home-tuned covers. PW in comments.

1. Pratt & McClain – Happy Days
2. Gary Portnoy – Where Everybody Knows Your Name (Cheers)
3. Mike Post feat. Larry Carlton – Theme from Hill Street Blues
4. Big George Webley – Handbags And Gladrags (The Office UK)
5. Wom Taits – Way Down In The Hole (The Wire)
6. Alabama 3 – Woke Up This Morning (The Sopranos)
7. Gangstagrass – Long Hard Times To Come (Justified)
8. Jace Everett – Bad Things (True Blood)
9. RJD2 – A Beautiful Mine (Mad Men)
10. Ima Robot – Greenback Boogie (Suits)
11. Jane’s Addiction – Superhero (Entourage)
12. The High Strung – The Luck You Got (Shameless US)
13. The Solids – Hey, Beautiful (How I Met Your Mother)
14. They Might Be Giants – Dog On Fire (The Dailly Show)
15. Joan Jett & The Blackhearts – Bad Reputation (Freaks & Geeks)
16. Hepburn – I Quit (Buffy The Vampyre Slayer)
17. Barenaked Ladies – Big Bang Theory
18. Steve Carlisle – WKRP In Cincinnati
19. John Sebastian – Welcome Back (Kotter)
20. Bob James – Angela (Taxi)
21. Andrew Gold – Thank You For Being A Friend (re-recorded for The Golden Girls)
22. Al Jarreau – Moonlighting
23. Henry Mancini & His Orchestra – Theme from Charlie’s Angels

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Any Major TV Themes

September 12th, 2013 8 comments

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As we prepare to say goodbye to two of the finest shows of this new Golden Age of Television, Breaking Bad and Dexter, it seems a good thing to have a TV themes compilation.

On this mix of 84 television themes, most from the US and a few from the UK, I am giving you an overview of my television-watching habits over a lifetime. These themes were not chosen for quality (though many are very good), but because they announced the beginning of a new journey in a succession of one might call appointment TV shows — programmes which I have made it a point to watch, at least for some stages of their run.

Some I persevered with for the duration (such as Hill Street Blues, The Wonder Tears, Seinfeld, The West Wing, Sopranos, Homicide, The Shield, etc), others I followed faithfully before becoming bored with them (such as Desperate Housewives, LA Law, Mad About You and Curb Your Enthusiasm). Some I followed when I didn’t know better, until I did (Dallas, Dynasty).

The most obscure inclusion here might be Kaz, in which Ron Leibman (Rachel’s dad, Friends fans) played an ex-con lawyer. I have no idea if it actually was any good — it lasted only one season — but I watched it faithfully every Friday night when I was in my mid-teens.

Towards the end are the themes of the international shows I loved as a child in Germany in the early ’70s, most of them being shown then as re-runs. My favourite at the time was Bonanza. I’ve not included the themes of my favourite German-language shows, but I’m running them here as separate mix. It does, however, include a few themes from British TV shows. I have also omitted cartoon shows, hence the absence of The Simpsons.

The composers’ names, if I could find them, are in the ID3 Tags. The mix is timed to fit on a CD-R, so it might come in useful as an addition to a trivia night. It includes home-tuned covers. PW in comments.

L.A. Law (1986-94) • Magnum PI (1980-88) • Hill Street Blues (1981-87) • thirtysomething (1987-91) • Night Court (1984-92) •  Cheers (1982-93) • Frasier (1993-2004) • Mad About You (1992-99) • Murphy Brown (1988-98) • Spin City (1996-2002) • Seinfeld (1989-99) • Quantum Leap (1989-93) • Law & Order (1990-2010) • NYPD Blue (1993-2005) • Homicide – Life On The Street (1993-99) •  The Practice (1997-2004) • The West Wing (1999-2006) • The Sopranos (1999-2007) • Six Feet Under (2001-05) • The Shield (2002-08) • The Wire (S4) (2002-08) • Freaks & Geeks (1999) • Veronica Mars (2004-07) • Entourage (2004-11) • Arrested Development (2003-9,13) • Flight Of The Conchords (2007-08) • Curb Your Enthusiasm (2000-11) • Desperate Housewives (2004-12) • Prison Break (2005-09) • Justified (2010-  ) • True Blood (2008-  ) • Breaking Bad (2008-13) • Dexter (2006-13) • Mad Men (2007-  ) • The Walking Dead (2010- ) • Lie To Me (2009-11) • Shameless (US) (2011-  ) • Louie (2010-  ) • Everybody Hates Chris (2006-09) • The Big Bang Theory (2007-  ) • Modern Family (2009-  ) • Pushing Daisies (2007-09) • Downton Abbey (2010-  ) • The Office (UK) (2001-03) • The Inbetweeners (UK) (2008-10) • Father Ted (1995-98) • Bottom (1991-95) • Blackadder II (1986) • Blackadder The Third (1987) • Fawlty Towers (1975/79) • Three’s Company (1977-84) • Police Squad (1982) • Sledge Hammer (1986-88) • Just Shoot Me (1997-2003) • Friends (1994-2004) • Wings (1990-97) • The Wonder Years (1988-92) • Wiseguy (1987-90) • Matlock (1986-92) • Moonlighting (1985-89) • Family Ties (1982-89) • Taxi (1978-83) • Welcome Back, Kotter (1975-79) • Soap (1977-81) • Dallas (1978-91) • Dynasty (1981-89) • Family (1976-79) • Kaz (1978-79) • Petrocelli (1974-76) • Streets of San Francisco (1972-77) • The Waltons (1972-81) • The Partridge Family (1970-74) • The Brady Bunch (1969-74) • Riptide (Australia) (1969) • Star Trek (1966-69) • Gunsmoke (1955-75) • Bonanza (1959-73) • The Virginian (1962-71) • Get Smart (1965-70) • Daktari (1966-69) • Tarzan (1966-68) • Flipper (1964-67) • Skippy, The Bush Kangaroo (1966-68) • Lassie (1954-73)

And the listing for the German themes:
Der Kommissar (1968-74) • Derrick (1974-97) • Tatort (1970- ) •  Der Bastian (1973) •  ZDF Hitparade (1969-2000) •  Das aktuelle Sport-Studio (1964- ) •  Sportschau (1962- ) •  Der Grosse Preis (1974-93) •  Dalli (1971-86) •  Die Montagsmaler (1974-79) •  Aktenzeichen XY…Ungelöst (1967-  ) •  Ein Herz und eine Seele (1973-76) •  Pan Tau (1970-78) •  Die Sendung mit der Maus (1971-  ) •  Dick und Doof (1970-73) •  Percy Stuart (1969-72) •  Pippi Langstrumpf (1969-70) •  Sesamstrasse (1973-  ) •  Sandmännchen (West; 70s-80s)

Any Major TV Themes
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TV Themes: The Office (UK)

January 31st, 2013 5 comments

Ricky Gervais is a funny man. His stand-up shows always include a few memorable gags (usually the most outrageous ones, such as the Schindler’s List masturbation story), and his hosting stints of the Golden Globes were triumphal — his introduction of Ashton Kutcher as Bruce Willis’ son might be my second favourite awards show moment ever, after David Niven and the streaker.  Alas, his TV shows have been a tale of diminishing returns, most annoyingly his gratuitous bullying of Karl Pilkington on the horribly titled An Idiot Abroad. His new show, Derek, debuted in Britain last night; perhaps it will arrest the downward spiral.

Gervais is indeed a funny guy. But his masterpiece was predicated on pathos. Gervais’ conception, in script and portrayal, of The Office’s David Brent, an unfunny man who thinks he is funny, was perceptive and nuanced. He kept Brent recognisable and believable, stepping back from the temptation of exaggeration for comedic effect which stains lesser comedies. Brent never becomes a caricature.

In a comedy of embarrassment, Brent’s serial buffoonery was the easy part. But Gervais invested in the character a depth which makes you root for him, almost despite yourself — and you applaud him when he finally tells his “friend” Finchy what one day Pilkington might well tell Gervais.

David Brent earns his staff's approval with his rendition of Free Love Freeway (with Martin Freeman and Mackenzie Crook).

Occasionally Brent surprises by living up to his own hype. In the fourth episode in Season 1, Brent revealed that he once was in a band: Foregone Conclusion, for whom Scottish band Texas opened (but could Texas run a successful branch of a paper merchants?). He fetches his guitar and we expect the worse, squirming in anticipation. It turns out that the song he plays, Free Love Freeway, is rather good. Well, the melody is good. But, in Brent fashion, he undoes all the good work with the most banal lyrics of  sexism (“which I hate”)  to muddled cliché, from “pretty girl on the hood of a Cadillac”  to the incongruously weeping cowboy.

In the 2003 Christmas special, which brings The Office to a conclusion, we learn that after being fired by Wernham Hogg, Brent released a single. Typically, he puts what is good second: Free Love Freeway is the b-side; the a-side is a mediocre cover of Harold Melvin & the Blue Notes’ If You Don’t Know Me By Now. His interpretation is hackneyed, unoriginal and abjectly sung (those ad libs; those groans!), when the relegated b-side is so much better. And the video is hilariously bad (watch it here). In real life, Free Love Freeway received a rehabilitation, of sorts, when Oasis’ goon Noel Gallagher recorded it with Gervais.

Gervais actually started in show business not as a comedian, but as a musician. He was half of the successless but not entirely awful New Romantic duo Seona Dancing, who split after releasing just two singles in 1983, experiencing the dizzy heights of reaching #79 in the UK charts once.

 

The theme of The Office was an instrumental of the song Handbags And Gladrags , arranged by Big George Webley, a session musician and writer of many TV themes, who died at the age of 53 in May 2011.

Big George had previously been the bassist of Paul Young’s Q-Tips. For the sung closing credits version he roped in the singer of a band called Waysted (a lazy pun which Brent would thoroughly enjoy) going by the terminally snappy moniker Fin, who had replaced Young in the Q-Tips. His vocal performance makes this one of my favourite versions of Handbags And Gladrags.

The song, best known in the version by Rod Stewart, was written by former Manfred Mann singer Mike D’Abo and first recorded by Chris Farlow in 1967 (D’Abo recorded it in 1970).

Two files here: one of stuff from The Office, the other the four songs by Seona Dancing. PW in comments.

THE OFFICE
The Office – Opening Theme
Big George Webley (feat Fin) – Handbags And Gladrags (The Office closing theme)
Ricky Gervais & Noel Gallagher – Free Love Freeway
David Brent – If You Don’t Know Me By Now
Songs from Season 1 Episode 4:
David Brent – Free Love Freeway
David Brent – Starman
David Brent – Goodnight Sweet Princess

GET IT or HERE

The cover of Seona Dancing’s Bitter Heart; Gervais in sailor cap.

SEONA DANCING
Bitter Heart
Tell Her
More To Lose
You’re On My Side

GET IT or HERE

Passwords in the comments section. On the subject, some dick took the trouble to comment that he thinks passwords are for 12-year-olds. The reason for using passwords, in fact, is to protect files from overzealous deletion. Dick said he won’t be back, and my heart is obviously shattered by the knowledge of that, but I’m afraid the passwords must remain, even if they complicate things a little, for you as well as for me.

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TV Themes: The Partridge Family

June 28th, 2012 21 comments

Forty years ago, it was one of the biggest TV shows in the world. Today The Partridge Family has a rather unfortunate and, I might add, unjustified reputation as tacky TV, but back then teenage girls swooned over the handsome David Cassidy, teenage boys looked in to perv at Susan Dey (and no doubt were delighted when the actress did a nude scene in the now forgotten 1978 film First Love), the moms could identify with mother Partridge Shirley Jones, of whom the dads surely approved as well, and little kids like myself followed with anticipation the adventures of Danny.

One would hesitate to call The Partridge Family a revolutionary show. To begin with, its concept borrowed from The Monkees; though, unlike that series, it was inspired by the real-life story of a family band called The Cowsills, who were still performing when The Partridge Family was at its peak.

But The Partridge Family occasionally captured and reflected a new Zeitgeist; it did so from the start, with its premise of (unexplained) single motherhood. In its first season, the show dealt with sexism (a bit clumsily but with good intentions). Better yet, in an episode starring Richard Pryor and Louis Gosset Jr as Detroit club owners who, due to a management mix-up, got the Partridge Family instead of The Temptations, the Black Panthers (though they are not called that) are portrayed sympathetically, with their local leaders inducting Danny as an honorary member. You almost expected Mom Partridge and Angela Davis to swap recipes.

There was some fine farce as well, for example the farce when, after a bureaucratic error, ten-year-old Danny is drafted into the army. Make no mistake, little Danny Bonaduce had excellent comedy timing.

Danny becomes an honorary Black Panther (though they are not called that) as Richard Pryor and Louis Gossett Jr look on

The show is now, inevitably, dated. But even now, watching it as an adult, it is still entertaining, mildly amusing and quite charming. There is also great fun in spotting the occasional celebrities and future stars making cameos. In the first episode, Johnny Cash introduces the Partridge Family on his show. At different times, three future Charlie’s Angels (Smith, Facett and Ladd) make an appearance. Others include a young Jodie Foster, Mark Hamill, Jackie Coogan, Slim Pickens and Dick Clark. Ray Bolger, the Scarecrow in The Wizard Of Oz, played the Partridge kids’ grandfather.

The show’s music is usually disregarded as disposable TV pop. Indeed, if one already treated, say, the Carpenters with suspicion, then one would not give The Partridge Family, with a kid drummer and ginger Danny on bass, a fair shot. And that is unfortunate, because often the music was of fine standard.

Obviously, the drums were played by neither incarnation of little Chris (in the first season played by dark-haired, fright-eyed Jeremy Gelbwaks, thereafter by blond and blue-eyed Brian Forster), and Danny couldn’t play a note, as actor Bonaduce has cheerfully acknowledged. The songs were in fact recorded by the famous Wrecking Crew, the collective of elite studio musicians who, in various combinations, backed everybody from Nancy Sinatra to the Carpenters and the Mamas & the Papas to Simon & Garfunkel and many Phil Spector productions. Wrecking Crew members also appeared on the Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds and the uncompleted Smile albums.

The Wrecking Crew accompanied David Cassidy’s fine vocals and his real-life stepmother Shirley Jones’ harmonies (with the Dave Hicklin Singers) beautifully. And the songs, especially by 1971’s Season 2, were often outstanding, some in the style one would soon associate with Elton John. The album of that series, Sound Magazine, is excellent throughout, and should be regarded as a pop classic of the early 1970s.

The songs were produced by the man who wrote most of them, Wes Farrell. As a producer, Farrell ranks among the great hitmakers; he also won an Oscar for the score of the film Midnight Cowboy.

Farrell wrote the long-running theme of The Partridge Family, C’Mon Get Happy, which replaced the original theme. We have the theme from the pilot (ripped from video), as well as the wah-wah dominated opening sequence of the pilot, during which mother Partridge is driving that funky bus through Hollywood, leading up to Johnny Cash introducing the family band on his show.

Partridge Family – Opening sequence of pilot episode (1970).mp3
Partridge Family – Having A Ball (1970, theme of the Pilot Episode).mp3
The Partridge Family – C’mon Get Happy (1970)
The Partridge Family – I Think I Love You (1970)
The Partridge Family – Brown Eyes (1971)
The Partridge Family – Summer Days (1971)

Luke Skywalker and Laurie Partridge ponder the identity of their respective fathers.

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TV Themes: Soul Train

February 1st, 2012 4 comments

I posted this piece on November 24 last year. I re-post it now as a tribute to Don Cornelius, who died, apparently by his own hand, at the age of 75 today, February 1. Don Cornelius was the father of my favourite sub-genre of music, early 1970s soul. With this, I salute him.

 

 

If you say Soul Train, Americans of a certain generation and fans of soul and funk anywhere will think of funky dancers with big ’fros and hot threads, Don Cornelius’ flamboyantly fashionable suits and baritone voice, the animated train, hair care products ads, scrambleboards, awkward audience questions, cool catchphrases and great music. You could bet your last dollar, it was gonna be a stone gas, honey.

Soul Train’s cultural impact was tremendous. The first nationally syndicated black music show, it was owned by a black man (presenter Cornelius), staffed mostly by black people, sponsored by a black company selling black hair products, and featured black artists who did not often feature on TV. Socially, Soul Train was TV’s raised fist of black consciousness. Culturally, Soul Train helped popularise dances, fashion and hair.

 

Still from the famous Afro Sheen commercial with civil war era activist Frederick Douglass administering a lesson in 'fro-dom.

 

The afro, it is said, became so potent a symbol of black identity – the hirsute extension of the Rev Jesse Jackson’s “I Am Somebody” mantra – in large part thanks to Soul Train (and its sponsors, the Johnson Company with its Black Sheen products). The dances were widely copied, by the kids at home and by the stars. Michael Jackson copied the Moonwalk from Jeffrey Daniels, and breakdancing took its cue from Bodypopping, Locking, The Robot and other moves pioneered on Soul Train. And when rap broke in New York, Soul Train helped break it nationally – much as Cornelius resented hip hop. Soul Train even produced its own superstar musical act: Shalamar comprised Soul Train dancers Jeffrey Daniel, Jody Watley and, after a couple of personnel changes, Howard Hewett (boyfriend of Cornelius’ secretary), and in the US were signed to Cornelius’ Soul Train Records label.

And, of course, that’s what Soul Train was about most of all: spreading black music, from the smooth harmonies of The Delfonics to the gangsta rap of Snoop Dogg. This did not mean that the show practiced apartheid. Gino Vanelli was the first white artist to appear on the show (Cornelius told the Italo-Canadian jazz-funkster that he was “half-black”; the first white act to feature was Dennis Coffey, whose funk anthem Scorpio provided the music for a Soul Train Gang dance number; the first mixed act to appear on the show was Tower of Power). Soon after, acts such as Elton John, David Bowie, Average White Band, Frankie Valli and Michael McDonald appeared on the show (in later years, such unsoul acts as Duran Duran, Sting, A-ha  and Berlin, as well as the dreaded Michael F Bolton, took a ride on the Soul Train).

 

The Soul Train Gang in action, 1972.

 

Soul Train’s theme song might well be the best theme ever; I certainly can’t think of another TV theme that became a #1 in the US, and a massive hit all over the world (to borrow from its brief lyrics). In 1973 Cornelius approached Philadelphia soul maestros Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff to come up with a theme for the show to replace King Curtis’ Hot Potatoes, which it did in November 1973. The result was so good, that the composers wanted to release The Theme of Soul Train as a single. When they did, recorded by the Philadelphia International Records (PIR) house band M.F.S.B. with The Three Degrees providing backing vocals, it topped the charts and provided the sound of 1974.

But it didn’t chart under the title The Theme of Soul Train. Cornelius baulked at the idea that PIR release the song using the words “Soul Train” in the title because, as he recalled in a VH-1 documentary a couple of years ago, he was being overprotective of his trademark. He would describe that as the “worst decision” he had ever made. So today the Soul Train theme is known as T.S.O.P. (for The Sound Of Philadelphia).

In 1976, T.S.O.P. was replaced as a theme by The Soul Train Gang’s theme, but made a comeback in 1987 in George Duke’s version. It would remain the Soul Train theme, in several re-recordings, until the show’s end in 2006, some 13 years after Don Cornelius signed off for the last time with the words: “And as always in parting, we wish you love, peace and SOULLLLLL!”

The themes:
Soul Train Theme (1973)
M.F.S.B. – T.S.O.P.
Soul Train – Hot Potatoes Theme (1972)
George Duke – Soul Train Theme (1987)
Soul Train Gang – Soul Train Theme (Get On Board) (1976)

Plus:
Don Cornelius – Love, Peace and Soul sign-off
Souuuuuuuuul Train
Dexys Midnight Runners – T.S.O.P. (bonus track on the remaster of 1982’s Too-Rye-Ay album)

GET IT!

And if you dig the pics in this post, there are 179 more which I made of Soul Train scenes HERE! (feel free to share the link to that collection with your Internet friends)

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TV Themes: ’80s family shows

July 7th, 2011 2 comments

There aren’t many sitcoms about families on American TV anymore. It’s not like it was in the 1980s. Leaving aside the bizarre living arrangements of the dreadful Full House (for which Bob Saget has made ample reparations lately), the nuclear family or variations thereof ruled the ratings. There were Family Ties (hippie parents vs Reaganite kids), Growing Pains (vaguely creepy dad vs a bunch of kids nobody can really remember), and Who’s The Boss (Tony Danza vs humour), and a TV series starring Jason Bateman whose character’s mother had died. Whatever it was called, it was nothing like the next great family show that starred Bateman: Arrested Development.

Bateman’s sister Justine was the airhead daughter in Family Ties, in which Marty J McFox played a Republican who pitches his wits against his cartoon hippie parents. Usually it was more comforting than amusing; familial love always won out and every crisis – Alex disappoints the parents; the parents don’t trust the kids — ended with a metaphorical family hug. The show jumped the goldfish when the drippy father grew a midle-class beard. Family Ties really went past its sell-by date when the even drippier mother had a fourth baby. New babies in TV shows almost invariably signal the writers’ desperation, and for us provides the cue to switch off. So almost every viewer will have missed Courtney Cox’s stint as Alex’s girlfriend.

The show had more than its fair share of guest stars who’d become more famous: Tom Hanks, River Phoenix, Will Wheaton, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Christina Applegate and Crispin Clover, who’d later play Michael J Fox’s father in Back To The Future.

Family Ties‘ theme tune was as cheesy as the storylines, ending with the über-drippy “sha la la la”. Or, rather, the part which we heard was drippy. In the full version of Without Us, the duet by the marvellous Deniece Williams and Johnny Mathis, the “sha la la la” signals a turn towards some serious slow-funk fusion, with a cool bassline and a saxophone backing which I presume to be by co-writer Tom Scott. The saxophonist’s writing partner was Jeff Barry, erstwhile husband of Ellen Greenwhich with whom he wrote such classics as Leader Of The Pack, Doo Wah Diddy, Be My Baby, Chapel Of Love and, as we saw in last week’s instalment of The Originals, Hanky Panky.

Johnny Mathis & Deniece Williams – Without Us.mp3
Family Ties Theme.mp3


Another family show with a theme song sung by two well-known singers was Growing Pains, wherein we first witnessed the thespian gifts of a juvenile Leonardo DiCaprio, playing a permanently scowling “troubled but essentially good kid”. He thus stole the show from Ben, the bizarre looking son (not the evangelical militant nutcase Kirk Cameron; the other one).

The series started from a low base – it never was very good – and, the occasional clever gag notwithstanding, went on to justify the second part of its title. Of course, Growing Pains had the obligatory late baby that was supposed to rescue the show (and I don’t mean DiCaprio). It couldn’t. Nor could a succession of not yet famous guest stars that included Brad Pitt, Matthew Perry, Hilary Swank, Olivia d’Abo, Heather Graham and, best of all, Rilo Kiley’s Jenny Lewis (who administered the weird-looking kid’s first kiss).

Growing Pains’ dad, Alan Thicke, had written a couple of sitcom themes himself – for Diff’rent Strokes and The Facts Of Life – but the father of pop singer Robin Thicke had nothing to do with the theme for his own show. That was written by John Bettis and Steve Dorff. You will have sung along to many of Bettis’ lyrics, especially if you like the Carpenters. He wrote the words to their Top Of The World, Only Yesterday, Goodbye to Love and Yesterday Once More, as well as for Madonna’s Crazy For You, Michael Jackson’s Human Nature and more. Steve Dorff has written mostly for country artists, but he also composed the themes of Murphy Brown and Murder She Wrote.

The Growing Pains theme, As Long As We Got Each Other, was first sung y BJ Thomas, then by BJ Thomas and serial-theme duetist Jennifer Warnes, then for one season (the fourth, in 1988/89) by BJ Thomas and Dusty Springfield, and later by some random singers.

B.J. Thomas & Dusty Springfield – As Long As We Got Each Other.mp3
Growing Pains Theme (BJ Thomas & Jennifer Warnes).mp3



Who’s The Boss had a couple of things which other family shows didn’t have. A saucy grandmother, for example. And an unconventional habitation arrangement. And in Alyssa Milano one of the few really good child actors. But it also had Tony Danza (are you also singing “Hold me closer…”).

When Who’s The Boss appeared, two of the actors had already been in big hit shows: Danza had been part of the dazzling ensemble of Taxi, saucy granny Mona’s  Katherine Helmond had been the mother in the brilliant S.O.A.P.. This did not mean, however, that Who’s The Boss would become a triumph of levity. The dynamics between Danza and Milano were at times interesting, and Mona had one or two moments. Mostly it was trite – and it eventually resorted to the baby option (though in this case the pitter patter was that of a virtually adopted five-year-old). Still, people watched.

And if they watched, they heard the theme tune, with the catchy whistling sounds. There were several versions of the song composed by Robert Kraft and ex-Crusaders guitarist Larry Carlton (who played the guitar on the theme of Hill Street Blues and the solo on Steely Dan’s Kid Charlemagne). The first was sung by Larry Weiss, writer and original singer of Rhinestone Cowboy (see The Originals Vol. 5). Country singer Steve Wariner sung it during the show’s golden run, 1986-90.

Larry Weiss – Brand New Life (Who’s The Boss).mp3
Who’s The Boss (Steve Wariner).mp3

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Any Major Music from The Wonder Years

June 22nd, 2011 7 comments

Few TV shows ever have so accurately observed the condition of the suburban teenager as The Wonder Years did. One may regard the series, which ran for six seasons (from January 1988 to May 1993), as an exercise in nostalgia. Coming into the middle of a revival that celebrated the 1960s and the beginning of the ’70s, it benefited from fortuitous timing, but as a story of growing up as told by an adult man, the timeframe made perfect sense.

Some may accuse the show of being an apologia for the oppression of nameless bourgeois suburbia, or right-on rhetoric to that effect. Indeed, in the pilot episode the narrator does defend suburban life, arguing that far from being anonymous, suburbia has plenty individual stories to tell. Like that of Kevin Arnold. It may be rose-tintedly nostalgic, it may be middle-class, but it is also profoundly human. Kevin’s stories are not extraordinary; they are universal, at least for those growing up in similar western middle-class circumstances. Imagine the teen embarrassment at having to take a three-year younger girl to a dance where everybody is a head smaller than you, as Kevin has to in one of my favourite episodes.

Fred Savage as Kevin was outstanding. The nuances of his body language were as articulate as his delivery of the scripted lines. Daniel Stern narrates as the adult Kevin, and Savage expresses the inner life exposed in the commentary, with a half-smile here or raised eyebrow there. He was wonderfully understated. And we can recognise the people around him. People much like them existed in our own families or in the circles of our childhood friends. The obnoxious brother Wayne? Know him. Geeky friend Paul? Know him? Grouchy dad Jack? Know him. Kindly mom Norma? Know her. Schoolmate Hobson? Oh dear, yes, I know that son of a bitch too.

I don’t think the female roles are as well realised. Winnie looks like she is going to cry even when she’s full of joy. Nemesis Becky Slater is one-dimensional. Sister Keren too often slides into the realms of caricature. But so does Wayne, even as his obnoxiousness is awesome. The thing is, we are watching these people exclusively through the filter of Kevin’s memories, with all his biases. So Winnie is soft as a melting marshmallow because that’s how Kevin sees her. Keren is an overcompensating hippie because Kevin remembers her that way. And Mrs Arnold might be sexy, for all we know, but Kevin won’t see her like that, so nor shall we.

Twenty years ago, when I first watched The Wonder Years, my empathy resided almost exclusively with Kevin. I was in my mid-twenties, and remembered well being a teenager. Now I have a teenage son (whose superb quality of character reminds me a little of Kevin Arnold’s more admirable qualities), and I can identify with the father, too. Well, not entirely. Although Dan Lauria, who played Jack Arnold, was about the age I am now when the show was filmed, he seems to be so much older, at least in my mind (I bet Jack Arnold wouldn’t write blogs about Twattery in Pop). But I can see the father’s point of view better now.

Lauria’s performance was admirably subtle, at least if one looks carefully. There is an almost imperceptible moment in the first season in which Lauria captures the loving father beneath the grumbling gruffness. Kevin and his dad had bonded during a day spent in Jack’s office. Back home at night, Jack lets Kevin look through his telescope. As Kevin looks through the instrument, Jack has his hand on the boy’s shoulder. He gently strokes it with his thumb, as fathers do. It’s a beautiful scene. I somehow grieve Jack’s death, though fictional and post-scripted in the final episode to 1975.

The first four seasons (the first consists of only six episodes) are as good as any half-hour show on TV. By the fourth season, the storylines became more laboured, and by the fifth the steam was beginning to run out. The sixth and final season, in which Kevin suddenly grows up, was one too many.  Still the latter seasons featured the always watchable Giovanni Ribisi (and a more regular future Friends star, David Schwimmer). In The Wonder Years we were also introduced to Juliet Lewis, as Wayne’s girlfriend, and John Corbett (Northern Exposure, Sex And The City, My Big Fat Greek Wedding) as Keren’s libertine hippie boyfriend who gets fiercely interrogated by little Kevin. And Teri from Albuquerque (pictured right), whom Kevin kisses while on holiday in Ocean City in season 3, went on to become porn star Holly Sampson (article here).

Alas, The Wonder Years is not available on DVD (though it’s not difficult to find the entire series on the Internet), apparently because of licensing problems with the many songs featured in the show – several repeatedly, such as The Byrds’ Turn Turn Turn, The Temptations’ My Girl, Joni Mitchell’s version of Both Sides Now, Joan Baez’s Forever Young, The Association’s Cherish, Iron Butterfly’s In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida. The title song, Joe Cocker’s version of With A Little Help From My Friends, was astutely picked — suitably nostalgic with lyrics that invoke the broad premise of the show (that is, the importance of relationships). The songs were well chosen — not many TV shows were scored with pop numbers back then. The pedantic music fan will, of course, be mildly irritated when scenes are scored by songs that had not yet been released at the time. But evident care was taken to ensure that songs that featured in a storyline – playing in the background on the radio, perhaps, or being referred to by name – already existed at the time the scenes are set in.

And so on to a mix of songs that featured in The Wonder Years. In brackets are the year of the song’s release, followed by the season and episode number it appeared in. As usual, the mix is timed to fit on a standard CD-R (sorry folks, no cover this time).

TRACKLISTING:
1. Joe Cocker – With A Little Help From My Friends (1968 – 4/68)
2. The Beach Boys – When I Grow Up (To Be A Man) (1964 – 6/111)
3. The Association – Cherish (1966 – 1/6)
4. Lovin’ Spoonful – Did You Ever Have To Make Up Your Mind (1965 – 3/44)
5. Percy Faith Orchestra – Theme from A Summer Place (1960 – 2/23)
6. The Chordettes – Never On A Sunday (1961 – 2/23)
7. Hank Williams – Hey Good Lookin’ (1953 – 4/51)
8. Marty Robbins – A White Sport Coat (1957 – 6/113)
9. Johnny Rivers – Swayin’ to the Music (Slow Dancin’) (1977 – 6/105)
10. Jackson Browne – Jamaica Say You Will (1972 – 5/70)
11. Elton John – Seasons (1971 – 3/40)
12. The Spinners – Could It Be I’m Falling In Love (1973 – 6/109)
13. Marvin Gaye & Tammi Terrell – You’re All I Need To Get By (1967 – 3/37)
14. Fontella Bass – Rescue Me (1965 – 4/58)
15. John Fred & The Playboy Band – Judy In Disguise (With Glasses) (1968 – 5/89)
16. Ronny and the Daytonas – Little G.T.O (1964 – 5/74)
17. Jo Jo Gunne – Run Run Run (1972 – 5/85)
18. Iron Butterfly – In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida (1968 – 2/20 & 3/40)
19. Mott The Hoople – All The Way From Memphis (1973 – 6/106)
20. Randy Newman – I Think It’s Going To Rain Today (1968 – 4/68)
21. Tim Hardin – If I Were A Carpenter (1966 – 5/73)
22. Joni Mitchell – The Circle Game (1970 – 3/27)
23. Joan Baez – Forever Young (1974 – 4/47 & 5/83)
24. Pachelbel – Canon In D Major (2/13)

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