Thursday, February 17, 2011

Rama Lama Ding Dong: The DVD

Just a few days a go a real treat landed here at my day job (authoring DVDs and BluRays): a 3-disc Doo-wop concert series.

I can't go into too much detail, because of the whole professional confidentiality deal, but the disc set is one of those public television promotional titles, the kind you'll get if you pledge some determined amount. The first two discs are all relatively recent oldies-tour performances by original 1950s artists, which is a treat in itself when you watch some of these solidly senior senior citizens belting out songs like they were still teenagers-- like septuagenarian Jay Black holding, holding, holding the high notes on "Cara Mia."

The Shields.
But the fun part was the third disc, a wad of old kinescopes of original 1950s doo-wop acts, mostly culled from the old Philadelphia "American Bandstand." It completely embodied the complete bafflement, mentioned earlier, that the powers of media had with new music.

The Flamingos.
In song after song in the compilation, the Doo-wop groups deliver the goods in increasingly weird stage settings. The Shields sang "You Cheated, You Lied" dressed as naval officers at the wheel of a tall-masted ship. The Flamingos delivered a performance of their hit "I Only Have Eyes For You" in winter gear, next to a faux frozen pond. The lead singer looked quite bewildered throughout.

(note: I'd LOVE to uploads clips of this stuff, rather than just describe them. But I'd get in in sooooo much trouble. If I ever find them already posted, I'll update with links. But stills are OK-- That's more like free publicity.)

The Skyliners.
I'll assume you've all heard "Since I Don't Have You," the 1958 hit by The Skyliners, right? It's a slow, soaring Doo-wop ballad (covered by Guns n' Roses and Buckaroo Banzai). It's not hard to have a mental image of this song as a cool, sophisticated urban tune, infused with a Steel City street-corner vibe. So seeing them dressed like extras from "Bonanza," shuffling in hesitation step through a hyper-detailed Old West Saloon set (complete with balcony) is strange on an almost extraterrestrial level.
The studio audience.
The buttons they're wearing are for
a Beech Nut Gum ad campaign--
which explains why they were all
chewing like a bunch of ex-smokers.

And the studio audience of Philly teens had a hard time getting it too. In several of the performances they could be heard clapping along in "white" up-beat and "black" down-beat at the same time, combining for a dissonant double-time clap-CLAP-clap-CLAP syncopation.

These days, nobody of any ethnic affiliation would be caught dead clapping on the upbeat. Except in Disneyland. When I went there as a kid with my friend K. David (the talented guitarist who turned me onto this super-odd Rolling Stones promo), he would bedevil the tourists by insisting we all hit the 2 and 4 during the robotic entertainments. It never turned the crowd, but maybe it got them thinking.

I've always liked this old music. But I like music in general, and some new stuff (like "Fuck You" by Cee-Lo Green) is amazing. Was it better music? Can't say, but I saw a rather poignant YouTube comment on the Skyliners song that gave me pause: "I wish I was a teenager in the 50's and 60's, I cant tell you enough how much it sucks to be 17 right now when all the music around you is crap and the cars look ugly as hell and are all plastic and the styles are all junk." I said the same thing back in 1978, so I can relate.

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