Saturday, November 27, 2010
MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: BEATLES ON SULLIVAN DVD
A bit of an wordy title, but it certainly describes what you're getting here. This 2-DVD set includes the four episodes of the famous 60's variety show that The Beatles guested on. It's the original broadcasts of the hour-long programs, from start to finish, including the vintage commercials. Now, that alone is an interesting sociological set of artifacts, with everything from Pillsbury dough to laundry soap being hawked (addressed to the ladies, of course). As TV shows go, Sullivan's hasn't aged well at all. The old-fashioned variety show format is cool enough, with its parade of acts, including jugglers, acrobats, singing actresses (Mitzi Gaynor?), magicians, and comedians. The trouble is, they largely suck, especially the stand-ups. The bizarre Soupy Sales does a a dance parody he calls The Mouse, which apparently was big news for 20 minutes back in '65. Borscht Belt regular Myron Cohen is literally incomprehensible. And impressionist (and future Riddler) Frank Gorshin does the same old crap, from Sinatra to The Duke, a lesser Rich LIttle. Only the music holds up, including numbers by Cab Calloway, Cilla Black and of course, our main attraction.
Unless you lived through it, it's impossible to relive the excitement the Beatles appearances generated. The first show, from February 9, 1964, smashed viewership records in the U.S., and changed music and pop culture for everyone in North America. Elvis's climb had been slower; The Beatles went from a rumour to the most talked-about act overnight. Anyone interested who missed the first broadcast could tune in two more weeks in a row, as the group returned with their hits She Loves You, I Want To Hold Your Hand, All My Loving and Please Please Me. Now, most of us have seen these clips and the shots of the screaming crowds many times, but it's cool to have them all in one place, and just plain bizarre to watch the wooden Sullivan trying over and over to convince the worried parents out there what "fine young people The Beatles are, which is surely the key to their success." Yes Ed, politeness is the number one asset for a rock band.
The fourth show is a later one, with the band returning on September 12, 1965. Instead of the slightly nervous, highly-rehearsed group that appeared 17 months before, now The Beatles are confidant, relaxed, and total pros. They had grown quickly, and the material showed it, as the set list includes I Feel Fine, Ticket To Ride and Help. Paul does a solo turn on Yesterday, a huge hit single in North America only, and Ringo gets to sign his party piece, Buck Owens' Act Naturally. It's also the single best episode of the four here, with comedian Marti Allen actually funny, and Cilla Black a fine addition.
If you don't have any memories of the 60's and the importance The Beatles held, it might be hard to understand what all the fuss was about. Today, there's absolutely nothing shocking, and hardly even exciting about the group's performers. However, this is exactly how it happened, and in the combined worlds of TV and music, it's hard to come up with anything more important.