For me, it began with The Beatles. My first rock ‘n’ roll movie was A Hard Day’s Night in 1964, which I saw at The North Drive-In in Cicero, New York when I was four years old. Don’t worry, I’m not telling that story again here. That was a tough act to follow, but I managed to see–and even enjoy!–a few more jukebox flicks after that.
My second rock ‘n’ roll movie was Hold On!, an awful film vehicle for Herman’s Hermits in 1966. I’m sure I liked it at the time, but I’ve made a few attempts to sit through it again as an adult, and each time it was torture. Decent soundtrack LP, with “A Must To Avoid” and a version of “Where Were You When I Needed You” that predates The Grass Roots‘ hit version. The album meant a lot to me in the summer of ’78, when I routinely played it alongside my cache of punk and power pop. I own two copies of that LP, both more than slightly beat-up, one of them autographed by 4/5 of the original Hermits; I got autographs from Karl Green, Derek Leckenby, and Barry Whitwam (plus guitarist Frank Renshaw, who’d replaced Keith Hopwood) at a Hermits show in ’78, and added Peter Noone‘s signature many years later. I still like Herman’s Hermits. I still find Hold On! unwatchable.
I’m not exactly sure of my chronology of seeing rock movies after Hold On!, though I’m pretty sure I didn’t see any more of them until the ’70s. In whatever sequence, the Me Decade brought me opportunities to see the rest of The Beatles’ filmography: Help! on a local TV station’s afternoon matinee, Magical Mystery Tour and Let It Be on a double bill at The Hollywood Theater in Mattydale (same spot where I’d seen Hold On! years before), and Yellow Submarine…somewhere. I caught The Monkees‘ dark ‘n’ brilliant feature film Head on CBS‘ late movie; it had been shown in that slot previously, but preempted locally, and young teen me did indeed call Channel 5 to complain about that! When I finally did see Head, I didn’t really get it. Appreciation of the film (and its sublime soundtrack) would come in due time.
By the end of the ’70s, I’d also seen The Rolling Stones‘ disturbing Gimme Shelter and Elvis Presley‘s engaging Loving You on TV. I don’t know whether or not Loving You was my first Elvis film, but it was one of the few I liked, and I liked it and (eventually) Jailhouse Rock just fine. 1969’s A Change Of Habit? Not so much. I saw The Buddy Holly Story at the cineplex in 1978, and The Ramones‘ awesome Rock ‘n’ Roll High School screened at a nightclub called Uncle Sam‘s prior to live sets by The Flashcubes and The Ramones themselves. I saw 1978’s American Hot Wax (a far-from-factual dramatization of the life of DJ Alan Freed) well after the fact, but found it thoroughly entertaining, even as it ventured into the realm of science-fiction by showing the notoriously miserly Chuck Berry agreeing to perform for free–hokum, but engaging hokum!
I also saw Grease and Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band during their theatrical run; I liked the former at the time, and now say a full-on yechhh to both. I saw The Rocky Horror Picture Show at a matinee showing in the ballroom at college in 1978, with no knowledge of its attendant props and hoopla, and thought it was a hoot on its own merits. I didn’t experience the film’s legendary audience par-ti-ci-pation elements until subsequent viewings.
What else? Oh yeah: the tepid When The Boys Meet The Girls (with Herman’s Hermits and Sam the Sham & the Pharaohs) and Sonny & Cher in the fairly interesting Good Times on TV, both some time in the mid ’70s, and Cliff Richard in Expresso Bongo, as well. I dug The Girls On The Beach, whenever it was that I saw it. I must have seen some concert films at some point, but they were never really my thing, and the only one I remember right now is Chuck Berry’s Hail! Hail! Rock ‘n’ Roll. I always wanted to see more jukebox musicals in the tradition of A Hard Day’s Night and Help!, but opportunities were few and far between. I saw The Girl Can’t Help It–the first great rock ‘n’ roll movie!–on VH-S in the ’80s. I longed to see The Dave Clark Five in Having A Wild Weekend and Gerry & the Pacemakers in Ferry Cross The Mersey–hell, even Freddie & the Dreamers in Seaside Swingers–but there was just no chance to do that. I still haven’t seen the Pacemakers or Dreamers flicks, but I did see the DC5’s cinematic opus on TV in the late ’80s or thereabouts; Having A Wild Weekend was a much more downbeat movie than the fluffy trifle I had expected, but I loved it. I also saw Herman’s Hermits’ other film, Mrs.Brown, You’ve Got A Lovely Daughter, but it wasn’t much more palatable than Hold On!
I admit that I liked Eddie And The Cruisers, though the original novel by P. F. Kluge is better. Director Allan Arkush‘s Get Crazy was nowhere near as great as his Rock ‘n’ Roll High School, and producer Roger Corman‘s Ramones-less Rock ‘n’ Roll High School Forever made Hold On! look like La Strada. I have never seen Repo Man. This Is Spinal Tap is still hilarious. Paul McCartney‘s Give My Regards To Broad Street had a great soundtrack staggering under a pedestrian film. I’ve seen most of the biopics over the years, from La Bamba to Ray to Walk The Line. Chadwick Boseman‘s portrayal of James Brown in Get On Up was the king of ’em all, y’all.
I’m sure I’ve forgotten something I should mention, but I’ve saved my favorite for last: 1996’s That Thing You Do! is a cavalcade of one-der, chronicling the short career of a fictional one-hit wonder band from Erie, PA in 1964. It has superb rockin’ pop music, winning performances, style, grace, humor, charm, and…everything. The scene where the members of The Wonders (and Fay, played by the lovely Liv Tyler) hear their song on the radio for the first time is the single greatest, most evocative expression of the pure joy of rock ‘n’ roll that has ever been captured on the screen. It’s even better than the We’re OUT! “Can’t Buy Me Love” scene in A Hard Day’s Night, which I’d say is the second most definitive such moment in filmdom. For decades, A Hard Day’s Night was not only my favorite rock ‘n’ roll movie, but my favorite movie of any description. That Thing You Do! has since claimed that top spot. The O-needers WIN!
I wish there were more jukebox movies, more rock ‘n’ roll flicks with a storyline (however flimsy) and wall-to-wall music. I wish there were more The Girl Can’t Help Its, more Help!s and Hard Day’s Nights, more Monkees, more Ramones, more That Thing You Do! In the ’70s, I imagined writing my own film vehicle for The Bay City Rollers, and in the ’80s thought of concocting a new wave successor to The Girl Can’t Help It, starring Bo Derek in Let’s Go Out Tonight! More recently for this blog, I slapped together a fanciful approximation of a 1958 movie called Jukebox Express, a movie which only exists in my mind. But I’d love to see it. I’d love to see all of these, real and fake alike. Screw documentaries. To hell with concert films. Gimme a jukebox flick any day.
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