Rockin’ in the Film World #12: The Monkees in HEAD (Columbia 1968)

The Monkees (Davy Jones, Mickey Dolenz, Peter Tork, and Mike Nesmith) brought rock’n’roll to TV with their mega-successful 1966-68 musical sitcom. Inspired by The Beatles’ onscreen antics in A HARD DAY’S NIGHT and HELP!, producers Bob Rafelson and Bert Schneider cast four fresh-faced youths (Jones was a Tony nominee for OLIVER!, Dolenz had starred in TV’s CIRCUS BOY, Tork and Nesmith were vets of the folk-rock scene), hired some of the era’s top songwriters (Gerry Goffin & Carole King, Tommy Boyce & Bobby Hart, Neil Diamond, Harry Nilsson) and session musicians (Hal Blaine, James Burton, Glen Campbell  , Carol Kaye), and Monkeemania became a full-fledged teenybop pop phenomenon.

Detractors (and there were many) in the music biz called them ‘The Pre-Fab Four’, looking down their noses at The Monkees while looking up as hits like “I’m a Believer”, “Daydream Believer”, and “Pleasant Valley Sunday” climbed to the top of the charts. But like all fads, Monkeemania quickly died out, and NBC cancelled the show in 1968. Rafelson, Schneider, and the group (who by this time were writing and playing their own music) decided an image makeover was needed, and together with co-screenwriter Jack Nicholson (yes, THAT Jack Nicholson) concocted the psychedelic, surrealistic feature film HEAD.

The movie is a completely plotless, colorful swirl of imagery, blackout skits, and satire focusing on The Monkees’ attempt to be taken seriously. To try and describe this mélange of trippy 60’s bizarreness would be pointless, which features everything from clips of film classics (Bela Lugosi in THE BLACK CAT, Rita Hayworth in GILDA ), footage of Monkee concerts and the Vietnam War, spoofs of movie genres (westerns, boxing epics, war films, musicals, science fiction, AIP/Poe horrors), guest stars ( Victor Mature , Annette Funicello , Sonny Liston, Frank Zappa, Tor Johnson , and a totally insane Timothy Carey !), and songs. Yet somehow, it all works as an entertaining piece of LSD-inspired lunacy that may be jarring to some but is never boring!

Despite this stab at something different, HEAD totally tanked at the box office. The Monkees’ teenybopper fan base didn’t know what to make of it, and the older hippies wouldn’t give them the time of day. As for the adults… fuggetaboutit!! The Monkees gradually disbanded, only to reunite decades later after the ironic crowd rediscovered them via reruns on Nickelodeon and MTV (which Nesmith had a hand in creating). Davy Jones died in 2012 and Nesmith’s now too rich to care, but Dolenz and Tork still carry the Monkee torch, touring as recently as 2016 for the group’s 50th anniversary.

As for the producers, each went on to success. Schneider won an Oscar for the 1974 documentary HEARTS AND MINDS, while Rafelson directed films like FIVE EASY PIECES (1970), STAY HUNGRY (1976), THE POSTMAN ALWAYS RINGS TWICE (1981), BLACK WIDOW (1987), and BLOOD AND WINE (1996). That guy Nicholson did okay for himself, too! HEAD is truly too unconventional for words, but I don’t think you’ll be disappointed by it, especially if you’re a classic film fan. Just turn off your mind, relax, and float downstream… oops, sorry, wrong band!

More “Rockin’ in the Film World”:

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Rockin’ in the Film World #11: HAVING A WILD WEEKEND (Warner Brothers 1965)

For those of you who weren’t around during the heyday of the 60’s British Invasion, The Dave Clark Five were second only to The Beatles in popularity. The group came hot on the heels of The Fab Four, appearing on Ed Sullivan for two straight weeks, and had a solid string of hits from 1964 to 1967: “Glad All Over”, “Bits & Pieces”, “Because”, “Any Way You Want It”, “Over & Over”. Yes, they were BIG, folks!  Propelled by Clark’s up-front drumming and lead singer Mike Smith’s growling vocals, The Dave Clark Five had the teenyboppers screaming in the aisles, and since A HARD DAY’S NIGHT was a smashing success, a movie starring the boys was the next logical step.

Director John Boorman

HAVING A WILD WEEKEND begins like it’s going to be a clone of that film, then turns into something completely different thanks to first-time director John Boorman, who would later give us POINT BLANK , DELIVERANCE, EXCALIBUR, and HOPE AND GLORY. Boorman sets the conventional 60’s rock film on its ear with his skewering of social conventions, sexual mores, the advertising world and the price of celebrity. Boorman’s debut is a lot bolder than something like HOLD ON (Herman’s Hermits), or even A HARD DAY’S NIGHT, and though The DC5 have long left the scene, this is a movie that can be enjoyed on its own merit.

The band play a group of “stuntboys” doing commercial work with the face of the day, model Dinah (Barbara Ferris of CHILDREN OF THE DAMNED). She’s the spokesmodel for the meat industry, with her face plastered all over England in a “Meat for Go!” ad campaign. Stuntboy Steve (Clark, a former stuntboy himself) is bored with the whole thing, and he and Dinah take off in a spiffy Jag, heading for the coast of Devon where she’s planning to buy her own personal island to get away from it all, pursued by ad exec Leon’s minions.

Their adventure takes the couple to a deserted village where they meet up with a scraggly bunch of proto-hippies who ask if they’ve got any “spliffs” or “horse”. The village is being used for maneuvers by the British Army, who start bombing the hell out of the place, forcing Steve and Dinah to split the scene on foot. They thumb a ride from a pair of upper-class dilettantes (Yootha Joyce, Robin Bailey), who try separately to seduce the youngsters, than take them to a costume party with a classic film theme, with the attendees dressed as Groucho Marx, Jean Harlow, Frankenstein’s Monster, Charlie Chaplin, and Laurel & Hardy, among others!

Steve and Dinah finally make it to her island paradise, only to discover it no longer remains an island when the tide goes out. Leon is there waiting for them, along with the press, having planted a story of Dinah being kidnapped. Soon she’s swept up in all the publicity and hoopla, and Steve, realizing the journey always far outweighs the destination, takes off with his stuntboy brethren for sunny Spain.

The DC5’s hit “Catch Us If You Can” serves as the theme song, and was the movie’s UK title. Other songs interspersed into the movie are “Having a Wild Weekend”, “Sweet Memories”, “Time”, “On the Move”, “When”, “Ol’ Sol”, “I Can’t Stand It”, and “Move On”. The Dave Clark Five didn’t have the personalities of The Beatles or The Stones, nor did they move forward musically as the decade progressed, but for a three-year span they were on top of the pop world, and HAVING A WILD WEEKEND is a true 60’s time capsule of Swingin’ London. Even if you’re not familiar with them, the film’s worth watching for Boorman’s neo-realistic take on pop culture. They were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2008, and rightly so. I’ll leave you with one of my favorite DC5 songs, “Because”, from a 1964 Ed Sullivan appearance:

In Memory of Gregg Allman

The music world lost another giant yesterday when Southern rocker Gregg Allman died at age 69. This wasn’t exactly unexpected, as the hard-living Allman suffered from health problems brought on by years of hard partying.

Born in Richmond Hill, GA in 1947, Gregg and his older sibling Duane were more interested in music and girls than school. They formed bands (Hour Glass, Allman Joys), toured the south and Midwest, and did some recordings, without much success. Returning to their Georgia roots, the band signed with Phil Walden’s Macon-based Capricorn Records, a label specializing in the burgeoning Southern Rock movement (Marshall Tucker Band, The Outlaws, Wet Willie, Delbert McClinton, etc). Their third release, the double LP LIVE AT FILLMORE EAST, put them on the map as a major band:

Tragedy struck the band when Duane died in a 1971 motorcycle accident, followed the next year by another crash taking bassist Berry Oakley. Another double release, 1972’s EAT A PEACH, was a hit, featuring the FM radio staples “One Way Out”, “Blue Sky”, and “Melissa”:

 1973 brought triumph with the album BROTHERS & SISTERS, scoring their first #1 single, “Ramblin’ Man”:

The Allman Brothers broke up in 1975, and Gregg pursued a solo career. The wild Southern rocker also got married to Hollywood glamour girl Cher, one of rock’s truly Odd Couples. Gregg again topped the charts with the title track from 1987’s “I’m No Angel”:

The Allman Brothers Band reunited in 1989, touring non-stop and a new generation embraced them as one of the pioneers of the “jam band” scene. I had the privilege of seeing them in the 90’s (I don’t remember the exact year; I was doing some Hard Partying myself back then!), and Gregg’s voice and the band’s musicianship were as strong as ever. They got off the road in 2014 due to Gregg’s health issues (he’d had a liver transplant in 2010, and recurring Hep C), but Allman continued to perform until he was no longer able late last year.

Gregg’s music can speak for itself far better than me, so I’ll leave you with one of my favorite ABB tunes, “Whipping Post”:

Rest in peace, Gregg Allman (1947-2017)

One Hit Wonders #1: “The Night Chicago Died” by Paper Lace (1974)

(Hello again, Dear Readers! I’m using Fridays to test out some possible new recurring series here on Cracked Rear Viewer, beginning today with a look back at some “One Hit Wonders”. Enjoy!)

British pop group Paper Lace had their only hit in America with 1974’s “The Night Chicago Died”, an ode to those halcyon days of the Roaring Twenties, when Al Capone and his mob ruled that toddlin’ town of Chicago:

The song was written by the hitmaking team of Peter Callander & Mitch Murray, a couple of lads who penned songs for Georgie Fame (“The Ballad of Bonnie & Clyde”), The Tremeloes (“Even the Bad Times Are Good”), and Vanity Fare (“Hitchin’ A Ride”). The duo wrote another tune for Paper Lace titled “Billy, Don’t Be A Hero” that didn’t score on this side of the pond; the immortal Bo Donaldson & The Heywoods had the hit version here in the U.S.

Seems Messers Callander and Murray didn’t quite do their geography homework, though. The events in “The Night Chicago Died” take place “on the East Side of Chicago”, which would make things pretty wet, since that’s where Lake Michigan is located! Still, the song serves as an homage to all those 30’s Cagney/Bogie/Robinson Warner Brothers films we all know and love. As for Paper Lace, they kind of petered out in England around the late 70’s, but they’ll be forever remembered for this One Hit Wonder about the battle between Al Capone and the cops in the middle of Lake Michigan from the glory days of story-songs, the 1970’s!

“The Night Chicago Died”, music & lyrics by Peter Callander & Mitch Murray  

(What do you Dear Readers think of “One Hit Wonders”? Any suggestions? As always, your comments and feedback are more than welcome!! ) 

Book Review: STICK IT! MY LIFE OF SEX, DRUMS, AND ROCK’N’ROLL by Carmine Appice with Ian Gitting (Chicago Review Press 2016)

About three weeks ago, I attended the Vanilla Fudge 50th Anniversary show at the Narrows Center for the Arts in Fall River, MA. It’s a great venue to see a concert, with an intimate 280 seat capacity. Three of the four original members performed (bassist Tim Bogert is retired from active touring), and their psychedelic, proto-metal stylings had the joint rocking hard. Keyboard wizard Mark Stein, guitarist Vinnie Martell, new bass player Pete Bremy, and legendary drummer Carmine Appice tore the house down with their renditions of hits like “You Keep Me Hangin’ On”, “Take Me for a Little While”, and “People Get Ready”.

Much as I enjoyed all their musicianship, the main reason I went was to catch Carmine Appice,  one of rock’s all-time greatest drummers. The band did a meet-and-greet after the show, and I snatched by a copy of Appice’s recent book, STICK IT! MY LIFE OF SEX, DRUMS, AND ROCK’N’ROLL. Mr. Appice (whose drum solo was blindingly fantastic!) was gracious enough to autograph my copy, and the band members were all very cordial (guitarist Martell and I had a fun conversation about the Patriots’ Super Bowl victory). Between all the other things I’m currently juggling, I managed to finish reading this tome on the life and times of one of rock’s truly talented wildmen.

If you’re easily offended reading about the misogynistic sexual escapades of a decadent rock star, this book is not for you. Among the highlights (or lowlights) is the infamous incident involving members of the Fudge, Led Zeppelin, a nymphomaniacal groupie, and a live mudshark immortalized in song by Frank Zappa and the Mothers. Appice takes us on a deranged trip from his youthful days running wild with a Brooklyn street gang, to Vanilla Fudge’s psychedelic heyday, to his later gigs as drummer for Cactus, Jeff Beck, Rod Stewart, Ted Nugent, Ozzy Osbourne, and King Kobra. Along the way, he befriends young Jimi Hendrix, smokes pot with Buddy Rich, rooms with Prince, and encounters such movie legends as Telly Savalas, Gregory Peck, and even Fred Astaire!

Appice and co-author Ian Gittins (who co-wrote Nikki Sixx’s THE HEROIN DIARIES and penned books on Talking Heads and U2) use a light, breezy style recounting the hotel trashings, sexual exploits, and crazy tales of life on the road. I have the feeling Gittins acted more in an editorial capacity, as Appice has had experience writing for Circus Magazine, and wrote his own best-seller THE REALISTIC ROCK DRUM METHOD. Carmine Appice is now 70 and has mellowed out quite a bit, but back in the day he was one of rock’s true characters, and anyone interested in rock history will enjoy this book. And if you don’t know who Vanilla Fudge were, here they are on Jimmy Fallon doing “You Keep Me Hangin’ On”. Enjoy!

     And buy the book!

RIP in Blues Heaven, J. Geils

Appropriately, I was just leaving Fenway Park in Boston with my friends when we heard the news that guitarist J. Geils had died. The J. Geils Band were legendary here in Massachusetts, a gritty, down-to-earth blues rock band who had a string of hits in the 70’s, then reemerged again in the 80’s at the height of MTV’s heyday. The band, fronted by charismatic lead singer Peter Wolf and propelled by the bluesy harmonic licks of Magic Dick, released their first album in 1970, and hit the road to tour the country incessantly. They became known as one of the hardest working (and hardest rocking) bands in America, and hit it big on FM radio with their 1972 LP “LIVE! FULL HOUSE”, featuring the single “Lookin’ for a Love”:

The first time I caught them was in ’73, touring in support of their album “BLOODSHOT”, with the hit “Give It to Me”. More hits followed, but at the dawn of MTV, the boys changed from guitar-based blues rockers to video pop stars with hits like “Centerfold” and “Freeze Frame”:

Musical differences caused the band to split up in 1985. John Geils turned to his second love, auto racing, driving and restoring Italian sports cars. In the 90’s he returned to music, forming Bluestime with former band mate Magic Dick, and once again hit the road, touring the New England club circuit. There were sporadic Geils band reunion shows, most recently a 2015 outdoor performance for WHJY-Providence’s 34th anniversary. J. Geils was found dead in his home in Groton, MA earlier today at age 71, purportedly of natural causes. Their working class, blue collar ethic made them Boston’s greatest rock band, and I’ll end this tribute with their hard rocking 1980 hit “Love Stinks”. Rock on, J. Geils.

 

Rockin’ in the Film World #10: THE GIRL CAN’T HELP IT (20th Century Fox 1956)

Frank Tashlin  combines two of 50’s America’s favorite obsessions, sex & rock’n’roll, in THE GIRL CAN’T HELP IT, Jayne Mansfield’s first headlight headlining role. When Jayne sashays across the screen, turning heads, melting ice, boiling milk, and cracking eyeglasses a star is born, in CinemaScope and gorgeous DeLuxe color. But the film is stacked with more than just Jayne’s Twin Peaks; it features performances from rock royalty like Little Richard, Fats Domino, Eddie Cochran, Gene Vincent, The Platters, and a host of others.

The plot is very simple (and very familiar): a goony gangster (broadly played by a hilarious Edmond O’Brien ) hires a down-on-his-luck agent (Tom Ewell of THE SEVEN YEAR ITCH) to make a singing star out of his honey (our girl Jayne). Only problem is, Jayne can’t carry a tune in a bucket, shattering lightbulbs whenever she starts to warble. Seems she doesn’t want to be a star anyway, just to settle down and be domestic. Tom and Jayne quietly fall in love, the gangster gets jealous, and you just know that by film’s end everything will turn out for the best.

Interspersed in all this are the cream of classic 50’s rockers belting out their big ti.. er, hits! Little Richard does the title tune, “Ready Teddy”, and “She’s Got It”. The Three Chuckles (whose lead singer Teddy Randazzo costarred with Tuesday Weld in ROCK ROCK ROCK  ) perform “Cinnamon Sinner”. Fats Domino lends his New Orleans-flavored R&B to “Blue Monday”. Gene Vincent blasts his mega-hit “Be-Bop-A-Lula”. Eddie Cochran belts out “Twenty Flight Rock”. Abby Lincoln does a Gospel-tinged “Spread the Word”. The Platters doo-wop to “You’ll Never, Never Know”, and Nino Tempo, Johnny Olenn, Eddie Fontaine, The Treniers, and Freddy Bell & The Bell-Boys also appear.

Tashlin’s trademark cartoony gags bounce playfully throughout the film, beginning right off the bat with the pre-credits introduction by Ewell. It’s packed with double entendres by the truckload, most of them involving Jayne’s ample endowments. There’s a funny fantasy scene where Ewell, still carrying the torch for ex-client Julie London, sees her everywhere singing her own big hit, “Cry Me A River” (and by the way, the future Nurse Dixie McCall of TV’s EMERGENCY was pretty darn hot herself!). Surpassing that is the sight of O’Brien gyrating wildly and croaking out the song “Rock Around the Rock Pile”, a precursor of sorts to Elvis Presley’s showstopping number in JAILHOUSE ROCK .

Despite the classic rockers, Tashlin’s Looney Tunes humor, and a beautiful pastel color scheme, all eyes will be on Jayne Mansfield. She’s really good in this, giving a sweet-natured performance as the girl who just can’t help it. Jayne was red-hot at the time due to her Broadway smash WILL SUCCESS SPOIL ROCK HUNTER? (later filmed by Tashlin), and 20th Century Fox signed her as a rival to Marilyn Monroe. She was a good actress, though now best remembered for her sexpot image, and it’s a shame her career took such a downward trajectory so fast. With the right material, we’d probably be looking at Jayne Mansfield today for more than her obvious assets.

Legend has it when THE GIRL CAN’T HELP IT was released in England, a 16-year-old kid in Liverpool saw his rock idols perform for the first time. The lad’s name was John Lennon, and soon he met 15-year-old Paul McCartney, who auditioned for Lennon’s teenage band by doing an imitation of Eddie Cochran’s “Twenty Flight Rock” from the film. McCartney got the gig, and within a few years The Beatles  were the biggest rock’n’roll band in the world. That’s how influential THE GIRL CAN’T HELP IT was in the history of rock’n’roll, and any fan of rock music, Jayne Mansfield, or Frank Tashlin needs to put it on their must-see list.