When I first started getting in to music
back in the mid-1970s, there was no MTV, MTV2, VH1, or Fuse. About all the
music you could get on television was confined to several local shows from,
in my case, Nashville. Some tended to be pretty low budget, but they
showcased wannabes and local talent. Of these, the daily Ralph Emery show
was probably the most interesting, and it launched the careers of many
country music stars, of which The Judds immediately comes to mind.
rocking fare, there were really only two shows with loud guitars and amps.
These shows were the Midnight Special and Don Kirshner’s Rock Concert. The
Midnight Special came on Friday nights after the Tonight Show with Johnny
Carson. The talent could be an odd mix. For example, you might a funk artist
then some disco cats, but it was usually pretty balanced. Rock Concert,
which also came on Friday night, was more rock, hence the name. What was
cool about Rock Concert is that the bands actually played the music, not the
standard lip-syncing we were used to on those lame variety shows of the
era….not that there isn’t almost non-stop lip-syncing today!
These two shows lasted until 1981, about the time a
fledgling MTV was emerging. For you young people out there, you have to
understand that the MTV you see today is much different than the MTV of the
early 1980s. There was no Road Rules or Real World; rather, it was about
non-stop music videos. But, it wasn’t real people playing their instruments.
It was something new. In the words of Tom Petty, music was becoming like pro
wrestling -- people know it is fake but they buy it anyway.
Two recent shows kind of look back to the 1970s: American Idol and VH1 Rock Honors. The one thing these two shows
have in common is musicians playing live music.
Thankfully, another season of American Idol is
complete. My wife and I watched the show each week, trying to figure out how
Sanjaya was going to get his walking papers. It is an interesting show on
several levels – part karaoke, part Greek tragedy, part “Ted Mack’s Amateur
Hour”, and, thanks to the judges, part WWE Smackdown. Was Jordin the best?
Was Blake’s “beat box” trip really that good? Well, you were the judges, and
thankfully we have until January 2008 to reflect on this season.
Honestly, one of the few Idols I thought was really
great was Chris Daughtry. I remember the night he sang “What If” by Creed,
and I thought it was killer. Predictably, Simon just destroyed him,
accusing him of "screaming" and "shrieking". Chris worked the stage and sang like a true
pro, and I knew that guy had the goods to really be a superstar. I have to
admit that I didn’t get that feeling from anyone this year. Particularly
with the men, I didn’t see anyone who could rock the mic at an Ozzfest or
any other concert for that matter. The females seemed more suited for
specific, niche genres, and I didn’t really see any of them being a real
idol to a large segment of the population.
Sanjaya was quite a phenomenon. One of my coworkers
and I were talking the show and he came up in conversation, and the coworker wondered how someone like
that could make it as far as he did. I said, “Hmmmm….let’s see. A young man
with soft, girlish looks and long hair coupled with limited singing talent.
Boy, there’s never been anyone like that make it in the entertainment
industry!” It is clear – Sanjaya did have a fan base, did have support, and
deserved to be there just like the rest of the people. If it were based on
talent, Josh Grobin would win Idol, but someone like him would never make it
very far in this competition. Overall, it was pretty good entertainment, and
at least we could watch some real people sing weekly on live TV.
Last night I watched a show entitled “VH1 Honors”. The
concept is simple: showcase four legendary music acts playing a few of their
hits, and then allow a contemporary band to cover one of their songs. Throw
in a few B-list celebrities to “announce”, and you’ve got a show. The roster
of bands this year was pretty impressive. We had ZZ Top, Genesis, Ozzy
Osbourne, and Heart. Has the term “legendary” become a pejorative term?
When it comes to covers, Nickleback did a pretty
killer version of “Sharp Dressed Man”. They are just a pretty cool band, and
they were all wearing black suits. I prefer that look to the “Nouveau
Lumberjack” look they normally sport. A band known as Keane (?) did the
Genesis cover, Queens of the Stone Age tried “Paranoid”, and Gretchen Wilson
and Alice in Chains destroyed “Barracuda”.
Generally the show started kind of slow and clawed its
way back. My overall impressions from the show:
- I love ZZ Top, and they have been one of my
favorites since I started playing guitar back in the 70s, but this was a
pretty weak performance. They just looked tired up on the stage, and the
vocals were very, very strained. In addition, the guitar tone was just not
that great…might have been those Crate amps. My 16 year old, who is very
conversant in classic rock, watched part of it and had to leave. It’s just
tough to watch when you realize that was the same band who recorded the
live side of “Fandango”, which is still one of the great moments in rock
history. Realistically, it may be time for a career change.
- Gretchen Wilson is just great. She has a great
voice and attitude, and she is not just another one of those BS country
posers. Read her story sometime – she was rejected by everyone in
Nashville. Based on her rejections, it is clear that Nashville business
folks just get it wrong sometimes. Jerry Cantrell’s guitar sounded killer,
and AIC sounded great backing Ms. Wilson. Is it a coincidence that all of
the female’s last names happened to be Wilson?
- Who is Keane?
- Heart is still great. They have been one of my
favorites since the 70s. Keep up the good work, ladies.
- OK… this is not a personal attack….I like Zakk
Wylde’s playing, but I think he needs to clean up his guitar tone and give
the pinch harmonics a rest. His tone on the show reminded me of CC
DeVille’s Crate tone on the ’91 VMAs when Poison had their meltdown. Just
my opinion. However, he was playing a new guitar I had not seen. It had a
Les Paul Custom neck, a Flying V-like body with a twin cutaway with horns
like a Les Paul, and a black and white bullseye paint job. A new
With the proliferation of laptop recording studios,
Antares Auto-Tune, killer guitar sounds from PODs, and high-speed internet
everywhere, the entire process of recording and distributing music has
changed in the last few years. Does this mean there are more good songs and
artists? In my opinion, no. While there are fewer “filters” on getting more
music out, those filters aren’t filtering out the bad stuff, either. There
are plenty of anecdotes about a really killer album not being promoted by
the evil record company, but I bet there are probably more examples of crap
music being rejected before it was foisted upon an unsuspecting public.
It is good to see some talented up and comers willing
to get on TV and really expose their talents (or lack thereof), and it is
also good to see some musicians from back in the day who can still play and
entertain a crowd. I would love to see more bands really play on TV without
pre-recorded backing tracks and samples. What will the next 20 years look
like? I don’t know, but as for me, I’m going to order the Don Kirshner box
Enough said...Have a great summer, and keep checking