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Lights! Camera! REACTION! My Life At The Movies: Rock ‘N’ Roll


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 GreenDerek 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 ManThis 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 LineChadwick 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.

Leather Tuscadero in Jukebox Express

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Unfinished and Abandoned: The Notebook Notions, Part 1: The Bay City Rollers in Catch Us If You Can.

Some time in the early ’70s–probably circa 1973 or ’74, when I was 13 to 14 years old–I decided I wanted to be a writer.  I’ve never made much money in that endeavor, but there hasn’t been any extended period in the past four-decades-plus where I haven’t at least dabbled in writing… something.

So, while still a teen, I started filling notebooks with ideas for things I might want to write. “Ideas” inflates their worth and weight; these weren’t ideas, but little notions, germs of ideas, usually no more than a title or a vague concept at best.  Most of these notions were for comic-book stories (like The Undersea World Of Mr. Freeze, my recently-completed Batman pulp story), but I also imagined things I could write for movies, magazines, TV, radio, and paperback novels.

In this open-ended series of Notebook Notions, I’ll be looking back at some of these half-baked, quarter-baked, sixteenth-baked, and damn-this-thing’s-still raw! almost-ideas that I jotted down in my notebooks.  If any of the notebooks themselves still survive, I hope to unearth ’em someday.  For now, this is all from memory; long before I became a middle-aged wannabe, I was a teen-aged wannabe, and I had a few notions, I did….
The Bay City Rollers in Catch Us If You Can

I’ve written a lot over the years about The Bay City Rollers; Scotland’s phenomenal pop combo was the subject of my first article for Goldmine in 1987 (later updated here), and even my blog bio mentions my interest in writing the liner notes to a Bay City Rollers anthology.  But I wasn’t really all that big a fan of them initially.  I thought their claim to be the next Beatles was absurd, but I liked their first two U.S. singles–“Saturday Night” and “Money Honey”–well enough, I guess, and I loved their third hit, “Rock And Roll Love Letter.”  Go ahead and have another listen to that one; I’ll wait here.

Yeah, still good.

So maybe I was a fan after all.  As silly as the Beatles comparison was, I’m sure the idea of a Scottish Fab Five intrigued this British Invasion zealot, and it surely fed my interest in them.  If The Bay City Rollers couldn’t be the next Beatles, perhaps they could be the next Dave Clark Five, or the next Herman’s Hermits, and that would be fine by me.  And if that were the case, the Rollers would need to do what The Beatles, Dave Clark Five, and Herman’s Hermits had all done before them:  The Bay City Rollers would need to make a movie.

It’s further illustration of what an out-of-time square peg I’ve always been:  in 1976, when pop music was at the awkward melting point of disco, metal, mellow, hard rock, prog, skyrockets in flight, and the early rude, loud stirrings of punk, I thought there would be commercial prospects for the razzafrazzin’ Bay City Rollers to star in a latter-day update of A Hard Day’s Night.  See, this is why I didn’t have a girlfriend.

But a notebook notion is a notebook notion.  At 16, A Hard Day’s Night was already my all-time favorite film.  I’d seen all of The Beatles’ movies:  A Hard Day’s Night on its first run at The North Drive-In in Cicero in 1964 (and on many a TV rerun thereafter), Help! on Channel 3’s weekday afternoon matinee, Yellow Submarine on network TV, and both Magical Mystery Tour and Let It Be in a weekend matinee double-bill at The Hollywood Theater in Mattydale.  I had also seen Herman’s Hermits’ dreadful Hold On! at the Hollywood, and I think I’d seen The Monkees’ Head on the CBS late movie.  I had not yet seen The Dave Clark Five’s  Having A Wild Weekend, but I loved its companion album (not exactly a soundtrack LP), and I loved seeing that film’s stills on the LP’s cover.  And I figured, that’s the kind of movie The Bay City Rollers should make.  And that’s the kind of thing I should write, to further my sinister end game of becoming rich, famous, influential, irresistible to gurls, and ultimately married to hot actress Valerie Perrine.

One of my favorite songs at the time was The Dave Clark Five’s “Catch Us If You Can,” a song I’d heard on the radio and declared The Greatest Record Ever Made.  I didn’t realize that Catch Us If You Can had been the actual title of The Dave Clark Five’s 1965 feature film, re-titled Having A Wild Weekend for us dim Yanks here in the Colonies.  So my thought was that the Rollers should cover it as the title theme for their own breakout, career-defining feature film debut.

The notion never got all that much more specific than that.  My idea was heavily influenced (possibly to the point of outright thievery) by the film Good Times, a Sonny and Cher vehicle I had recently seen on TV.  In that movie, pop stars Sonny and Cher struggle with corporate entertainment-biz weasels for control of their own name-above-the-title flick.  I thought a similar plot would work for a Bay City Rollers movie:  The Man tries to treat Les, Derek, Eric, Alan, and Woody like puppets in the music business’ plastic cookie-cutter pop assembly line, and our heroes struggle with the gaudy temptations of success:  women, fame, women, wealth, women, adoration, women, and, y’know…groupies ‘n’ stuff.  The allure of such enticing prizes seems too much for five simple Scottish lads to resist, and individually they could well succumb to these sinful pleasures of greed, lust, and hedonism, but at the cost of their souls.  But standing together, The Bay City Rollers are too strong, too true to their own working-class roots, to be fooled by empty promises.  The group rebels, refusing to play the game, even if it costs them their fame, their fortune, and their future; for even without all of that, The Bay City Rollers would still have their music, and their tartan-clad friendship.  In a climactic showdown with the suits and the moneymen, The Bay City Rollers walk away from it all, gleefully, triumphantly, to the tune of “Catch Us If You Can.”  Their boldness resonates with youth across the globe, and The Bay City Rollers become bigger than ever, with no Big Company ever again telling them what they could or couldn’t do.  Catch this if you can, suckers!

Plus, they get to hang on to the women.  Finders keepers, man.

The bare-bones nonsense detailed above was farther than I ever got with Catch Us If You Can, and it still leaves such banal trivialities as plot, motivation, dialogue, pacing, and common sense to be tossed in some time down the road, I guess.  Even in my most starry-eyed flights of fancy, even as a more-naive-than-most 16-year-old, I knew this picture wasn’t gonna happen, ever.  If one could pretend for a second that I had the talent and drive to work up a complete project proposal for this–a bona fide synopsis, some sample script pages, something more concrete than a scrawled notebook entry that read The Bay City Rollers:  CATCH US IF YOU CAN [movie]–that leap of faith would still plummet into the murky depths of a Scottish loch, me laddies and lassies.  This was a fantasy.  And it was fun to imagine.

While I had the minimal intelligence necessary to discard the notion of The Bay City Rollers in Catch Us If You Can, I ultimately became a bigger fan of the group.  They were never my favorite, but I was never ashamed to proclaim my approval of the Rollers’ best power pop tracks, particularly “Rock And Roll Love Letter,””Wouldn’t You Like It” (which I somehow convinced The Flashcubes to cover for a Bay City Rollers tribute CD), and “Yesterday’s Hero,” among others.  In college, I had a BCR poster in my dorm room as an act of defiance, right alongside my KISS, Sex Pistols, and Suzi Quatro posters–a heady stance to take in the Southern Rock/Deadhead hotbed that was my college campus.  I pestered my friend Jane Gach to play “Wouldn’t You Like It” on her radio show; she protested, she refused, she told me to go to Hell…but she finally played it just to shut me up.  Surprise!  She loved the song, and said so on the air.  Just like at the climax of Catch Us If You Can:  the music of The Bay City Rollers transcended differences, and provided its own happy ending.  Roll credits!

(And, although Valerie Perrine never did deign to notice my existence, I met a girl named Brenda in college. On an early pizza date, listening to oldies on the restaurant’s radio, we discovered a mutual affection for a song I didn’t think anyone else my age knew about:  “Catch Us If You Can” by The Dave Clark Five.  Bonding!  Brenda and I have been together ever since.  Maybe my notebook notion of a song to further my sinister end game wasn’t as far off course as I’d thought.)