The Best of 1969-1970 (Volumes 1 & 2) (MPI Home Video-2000)
The train wreck that is Music Scene – an uncomfortable, pre-Saturday Night Live mix of youthful comedy and popular music – is worth watching if only for its noble attempt to do what it did before what it did was done right.
This ABC variety show was probably the first and last of its kind, working under the hopeless assumption that, in 1969, the whole family is still gathered around the living-room television set, tolerating each other’s tastes.
The show emits a dread of knowing that – despite the heapin’ helping of canned laughter and fake applause – it is going to be cancelled at any minute, and with that in mind, it is simply going to let its freak flag fly.
In fact, by the end of the series’ run (less than a year later), its format is thrown out the window and half-morphs into a talk show, featuring a reluctantly classic interview with Groucho Marx. The legendary comedian schmoozes it up with John Sebastian of The Lovin’ Spoonful (“Sounds doity to me,” Marx comments on the group name).
1969 was a powerful year for pop music (dig: “Sweet Caroline,” “Sugar, Sugar,” “Good Morning, Starshine,” “Eli’s Coming,” “In the Year 2525,” and “Aquarius/Let the Sunshine In” to name just a groovy few). It would seem that this program would be a godsend, yet the devil in the details does everything it can to thwart the promise.
Music Scene attempts to explain to a yet-to-be-media-savvy audience how the Billboard popular music charts work, with a heavy-laden explanation of record sales, radio play – and even jukebox selections! By the time the complicated entanglement is completed, viewers may be too weary to witness Tony Bennett sing a ring-a-ding-ding version of “What the World Needs Now” or be horrified at watching Sly Stone let it all hang out by not dressing normally.
Pat Williams treats us to the lame Music Scene theme, which is proudly announced as a Billboard “Spotlight Song of the Week” (apparently, this doesn’t help).
The seeds of SNL are here – even making use of the strange cadences of host David Steinberg, who seems just right for the times and yet slightly ahead of the times. In fact, he introduces Groucho as “a man too good for this show and here only for the money.”
The plan is to make use of a hip ensemble cast, yet they contribute precious little (trivia fun fact: one of its members, Larry Hankin, would eventually go on to play the “TV” version of Kramer in the “Jerry” pilot featured on a classic Seinfeld episode). Of this ensemble idea, only Lily Tomlin stands out naturally, doing her usual underrated and thoughtful repertoire. Eventually, the ensemble cast is extinguished, and Steinberg does just fine without them.
As well, the perplexing musical guests will amaze as well as dumbfound – everyone from Johnny Cash and Pete Seeger to Steve Lawrence and Eydie Gorme (trying to sound “today”).
In fact, if your head is in the right place, you will be amazed at the playful inventiveness that this Scene offers: “Sugar, Sugar” turned out by a black gospel choir (!), Neil Diamond interpreting Joni Mitchell’s “Both Sides Now,” Sergio Mendes’ latinizing Jimmy Webb’s “Wichita Lineman,” Della Reese chopping down “Wedding Bell Blues” and “MacArthur Park” (?) and a sad, morose, macabre version of “There’s No Business Like Show Business” sprung on us by Mary Hopkins. File all of this under You Have to See It to Believe It.
Additional oddities include promos for upcoming episodes with the seemingly very-stoned Stones (Mick and Brian); America’s favorite old geezer, Moms Mabley, sings “It’s Your Thing” to Lily Tomlin in a kitchen, and Michael Cole (from The Mod Squad) rambles incoherently about pollution while introducing us to his two blonde, hippie-chick sisters.
You’ll also question the logic of Three Dog Night dramatically acting out a séance during “Eli’s Coming,” and Tony Bennett singing “I Gotta Be Me” at a party attended by mannequins. And there is no explaining Buffy St. Marie.
The masochists in the viewing audience can hurt themselves with Bobby Sherman singing “Little Woman” not once but twice during the run of the series (in fact, watch him sing it before a crowd of extremely bored young people – the other time he sings it to a go-go girl who is technically shrunk down to appear “little”). And Davy Jones (introduced as “The English Monkee”) attempts to jump start his career before your very eyes.
As well, the inklings of fifties nostalgia make some impolite noises here, a few years before it becomes officially okay to dig it again. Chuck Berry, Paul Anka, Frankie Laine and Jerry Lee Lewis all come out to play.
Standing out from the crowd – way out – are the amazing Everly Brothers, ten years past their hitmaking days and yet still young enough to be hitmakers (which, unfortunately, they are not making). The groovily dressed and seemingly very-well-adjusted brothers are thrilled to be there, and they gladly do a medley of their old hits; they also winningly perform contemporary favorites such as “Aquarius,” “If I Were a Carpenter,” and “Games People Play.”
The show is announced as being “in color” (even in 1969, when this is no longer a novelty), and we’re asked to not forget to stay tuned for The New People, next on ABC. Apparently, though, we did in fact forget.
Copyright ©2006 PopEntertainment.com. All rights reserved. Posted: February 10, 2006.