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Boppin'

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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Birthdays

Double Take!

We think that actors Sean Whalen (The Wonders’ biggest fan) and Steve Buscemi could pass for brothers, what do you think?

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Video of The Day

The WONDERful Billie Joe Armstrong!

To combat the boring isolation of sheltering at home, Green Day‘s Billie Joe Armstrong is covering some of his favorite songs. In today’s video, he’s doing one ogf our favorites, the theme song from the Tom Hanks‘ movie, That Thing You Do!, which was written by Adam Schlesinger.

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Quick Spins

The Monkees / Good Times!

This week, I’m taking another look at reviews I wrote of various Adam Schlesinger projects, when my Quick Spins column ran in The Kenosha News. Adam’s recent passing due to the pandemic has really impacted me, so I’d really like to be a part of people discovering what made him such a special guy.

D.P.

The Monkees

Good Times! (Rhino)

http://www.themonkees.com

A new Monkees‘ album couldn’t have come along at a better time. Knee-deep in political bile, social media aggression and civil rights unrest, planet Earth seems to be devolving into negativity at an alarming rate. What better antidote than Peter, Davy, Micky and Mike? Here they come, walkin’ down the street…

Good Times! is lovingly produced by Adam Schlesinger of Fountains of Wayne. Schlesinger, who wrote the theme song for Tom Hanks’s That Thing You Do!, unabashedly takes The Monkees back to their 1960’s heyday. While their previous reunion albums, Pool It! and Justus, were uneven attempts at being contemporary, Good Times! is all about taking it back to the beginning.

“You Bring The Summer,” written XTC’s Andy Partridge, and “She Makes Me Laugh,” by Weezer’s Rivers Cuomo, are perfect vehicles for Micky Dolenz’s apparently ageless voice. Mike Nesmith, he of the wool hat, shines on the pretty Western ballad, “Me & Magdelena.”

Though Davy Jones has passed on, his original 1967 vocals for the Neil Diamond-penned “Love To Love” fly in to keep things groovy. I’m so glad they found a way to make him a part of this, as he spent so many decades keeping the band’s legacy alive in concert. Peter Tork, though never recognized as a great vocalist, leaves not a dry eye in the house with his beautiful version of Goffin/King’s “Wasn’t Born To Follow.”

Good Times! is pure joy from start to finish, I can’t recommend it highly enough. It will make you want to roll down your car windows and put off running errands, in favor of a drive to the beach and an ice cream cone. It will lift your spirits, as it fills your mind with wonderful memories of good times and summers passed. If you’re lucky enough, CD-DVD-Games Warehouse might even have a Monkees’ coloring book for you when stop in to get your copy. What more could you ask for? Enjoy!

Categories
Boppin'

THE GREATEST RECORD EVER MADE: THAT THING YOU DO!

An infinite number of songs can each be the greatest record ever made, as long as they take turns. Today, THIS is THE GREATEST RECORD EVER MADE!

HE WONDERS: That Thing You Do!
Written by Adam Schlesinger (possibly with Mike Viola)
Produced by Adam Schlesinger and Mike Viola
From the soundtrack album That Thing You Do!, Play-Tone/Epic Records, 1996

Singer, songwriter, musician, and producer Adam Schlesinger was born on October 31st of 1967. He was too young to really remember the 1960s, on the scene too late to experience Beatlemania, the British Invasion, the debut of The Monkees, the effervescent zeitgeist of a pop music revolution that encompassed MotownThe Dave Clark FivePaul Revere and the RaidersLesley GoreThe Knickerbockers, girl groups, surf groups, and James Brown on The TAMI Show. He did not grow up watching Shindig! and Hullabaloo on TV, he would have only seen Batman and Star Trek in syndicated reruns. He wasn’t yet two years old when Neil Armstrong declared one small step for a man was one giant leap for mankind. He lived the first years of his life in the ’60s, but he could not possibly have retained any substantive memories of that defining decade.

And yet….

Somehow, Adam Schlesinger served the best pop legacies of the ’60s with greater grace and verve than anyone else you could name. He did it the only way a creative soul knows how to do it: instinctively, intuitively. Artfully. He didn’t experience the wonders of the ’60s first-hand. But when one of his projects called for it, he could conjure an effective flash of period verisimilitude untainted by mere nostalgia or bloodless hucksterism. It was just that thing he did.

All of the above kinda side-steps what most would consider Schlesinger’s greater body of work, with his groups Ivy and Fountains Of Wayne, and also the bulk of his voluminous film and television songwriting and production credits, from There’s Something About Mary through Crazy Ex-Girlfriend. I can’t even apologize for my tunnel-vision in that regard. Because Schlesinger was essential to two ’60s-related gems that have meant the world to me. In 2016, he produced The Monkees’ triumphant Good Times! album, a highlight in an otherwise-miserable year. a year that robbed us of Prince and David Bowie (among others) and exchanged them all for the awful reality of a President-Elect Trump. And in 1996, he channeled everything I loved about the ’60s into a magic, frothy concoction that served as the title theme for my favorite movie, That Thing You Do!

Well I have heard your record, Guy, and I like it. I like it a lot. “That Thing You Do!” You know, it’s…snappy!
Actor Tom Hanks made his directorial debut with this light-hearted little romantic comedy about The Wonders (formerly The One-ders), an unknown Erie, PA rock ‘n’ roll group that manages to score a big hit single in 1964. These fictional one-hit Wonders are a quartet of archetypes–the talent, the fool, the smart one, and the bass player–but the film executes the difficult task of making them seem plausible, real. There’s a scene when the members of The Wonders all hear their song “That Thing You Do!” on the radio for the first time, and that scene precisely nails the giddy rush of rockin’ pop music better than any other slip of celluloid I’ve ever seen. Yeah yeah yeah, even better than the entirety of A Hard Day’s Night, which had been my all-time favorite film right up until that night at a movie theater in Cicero, NY in 1996, when my eyes and ears opened wide with glee at Hollywood’s best-ever love letter to rock ‘n’ roll music.

And none of it would have or could have worked without the perfect song.

Mike Viola & Adam Schlesinger

Adam Schlesinger provided that perfect song. Mike Viola of The Candy Butchers co-produced and sang lead; some say Viola also co-wrote the song, but declined to take a songwriting credit. The combined talents of Schlesinger and Viola crafted a stunning confection that steers clear of the quagmire of pastiche or parody, and captures the essence of fab and gear radio-ready 1964. 

Schlesinger’s legacy is greater than one perfect song he built for a movie, and more than a fantastic album he made with the surviving members of The Monkees. I’ll let my many eloquent friends in the pop music community speak on behalf of Fountains Of Wayne, of Ivy, of Tinted Windows, and I’ve already heard testimonials to Schlesinger from many who met him, many who worked with him, many who feel this sudden loss as we all hear and try to process the awful news that Schlesinger has passed from complications related to goddamned COVID-19. Adam Schlesinger was 52 years old, too young to have remembered the ’60s. Too young to be eulogized. Too young, for God’s sake. Too young. 

Our sense of loss as fans pales beside the losses of his family and friends, his children. We can only reflect upon what his music meant to us, and mourn from afar.

I mourn with something snappy, something I heard in a movie more than two decades ago, a movie which took place within a cherished era three decades before that. Adam Schlesinger couldn’t have remembered that era. But he captured it. And I’ll always remember him for that thing he did. Rest in peace, Spartacus.

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Video of The Day

That Thing You Do!

The irresistible title song from the irresistible film, it’s two and a half minutes of happiness!