June 2007...Music on TV

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.

For more 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 model? 


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 set.

Enough said...Have a great summer, and keep checking back!


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