Reviews

'The 4 Complete Ed Sullivan Shows Starring the Beatles': A Generational Divide

More than 'just' the Beatles, it’s worth sitting through every second of every show to pretend you were there when it really happened, to see what entertainment and advertising were like in a bygone era and why a band singing about holding hands hit the country like an A-bomb.


The Ed Sullivan Show

Distributor: Universal
Cast: The Beatles
Release Date: 2010-09-07
Amazon

The DVD begins rather worryingly with generic cod-Beatle music, like that episode of Gilligan’s Island with the Mosquitoes. It’s a world in black and white, one in which the kids are about to go way overboard festooning their brittle limbs with a kaleidoscope of color. This is a moment in history, in part because the Beatles were riding the crest of that particular wave.

The timing of this new two-disc DVD set, The 4 Complete Ed Sullivan Shows Starring The Beatles, is perfect, especially if you’re a fan of Mad Men. Never mind the commercials, which don’t just seem quaint when viewed through a contemporary lens, but might also have resulted in Peggy Olsen and the gang receive a withering dressing down by a drunken Don Draper at 11:15 in the morning during a presentation pitch. Mad Men is roughly at this point in history this season, and among the standard bad behavior by its ensemble, there's also rumblings of a generational shift that swept across the country in the storyline. Why not have a look at it in black & white, then?

This is history, though in truth only two of the four episodes really hold that weight.

The first is the obvious choice, a three-week run beginning in Sullivan’s midtown Manhattan theater on 9 February 1964. If the Beatles hit America like a freight train, this is the context in which they delivered the blow. Sullivan knew he’d have a massive audience, and he knew they were there for the Beatles.

However, while the show opens and (nearly) closes with the Fab Four, there’s a long stretch in-between where the variety staple hedges its bets, refusing to completely sell itself out to the youth market. So it’s fun to imagine legions of teenage girls all across the country writhing on the Oriental rugs on their family’s living room floors to a Paul McCartney-heavy trio of songs suddenly struck furious or bored by the Catskills-ready comedic slight-of-hand when magician Fred Caps takes to the stage.

Though they couldn’t have known it yet, teenyboppers were granted a window into the future during that first show when Davy Jones appeared with the Broadway cast of Oliver! a full two years before making his debut with the Monkees.

Another face destined for pop culture ignominy is also sandwiched between the Beatles numbers on 9 February: that of Frank Gorshin, a comedian and impressionist who would soon go on to play the Riddler in the campy Batman TV series.

The Beatles returned late with two songs – “I Saw Her Standing There” and “I Want to Hold Your Hand” – but the show was actually closed by Wells & the Four Fays, an acrobatic act that, while certainly flexible, were the kind of act the British Invasion came to destroy.

Of those three initial appearances on the Ed Sullivan Show, the second, on 16 February, is probably the least successful. Taking place in the ballroom of a sprawling Miami Beach hotel, the crowd is dressed to the nines in the kind of oppressive heat people from other parts of the country can’t even begin to imagine happening that time of year. This time around the Beatles really do open and close the show, though try as they do, it’s not a great performance. Microphones bob and weave like a prize fighter, and while John Lennon’s voice is much too high in the mix, McCartney’s is comparatively inaudible.

The other acts this time around are even squarer and out of step, with excruciating comedy routines by Allen & Rossi and Myron Cohen. If the septuagenarians in the crowd get the gags, their appreciation is lost in the corners of the vast hall. Mitzi Gaynor’s song and dance act is not without its charms, but it goes on far too long. Sullivan treats her booking as though he’d pulled off some major coup, and maybe he had. Even with dresses which defy gravity and a sweaty chest that defies the assumption that old time network censors were stodgy asexual drones, Gaynor’s welcome probably wore out before her voice did. At least that’s how it looks as a Beatles fan.

Therein lies the trouble; the set is clearly designed as a Beatles package. The episodes which aired live were clearly built around the Beatles, but Sullivan’s show had a far broader appeal than the teenage demographic. If we’re tuning in to see the Fabs in 2010, we’re perhaps more likely to find the other acts on the show difficult to sink our teeth into than young viewers might have way back when. Or are we? Because as history has repeatedly made a nagging point of telling us about the ‘60s, everything was changing.

Everything was changing, something which Mad Men has done an excellent job this season of pointing out. As much as Jon Hamm’s Don Draper is meant to come off as a bastion of Sinatra cool, his world is crashing down around him. He dismissively throws in a few Beatles records on a shopping list for his children’s Christmas presents, then later proves how square, old and white he is by pulling for Sonny Liston in the rematch against the brash Cassius Clay, who by then had joined the Nation of Islam and changed his name to Muhammad Ali, a distinction people appeared to go out of their way not to recognize. Ed Sullivan himself makes continued references to the initial Clay-Liston bout, which took place in Florida the day after the Beatles’ third and final February 1964 appearance on the show.

That third performance, which took place back in New York City on 23 February, saw the Beatles perform just three songs, two less than they’d done two weeks earlier and three less than just one week before. Sure, Sullivan goes on and on about how polite they are, but maybe it was just time to wrap things up and make it clear these well-mannered longhairs were not on the fast track to become the show’s house band.

Despite having done pretty much the same exact act for a thousand years, Cab Calloway’s appearance on this episode is terrific. Less so is a performance of “Safety in Numbers” by Gloria Bleezarde, a supposedly funny bit in which society’s over-reliance on everything having a number is put to agonizing song. Bleezarde has half a gallon of eye makeup on and looks about 50, but she plays the bit a little too much like a precocious child for comfort.

Lest anyone think the arrival of the Beatles yielded immediate cultural changes, there’s an excruciating puppet act called Pinky & Perky, hokey Broadway-style performances by Acker Bilk and Gordon & Sheila MacRae and a generationally divisive standup comedy shtick by Dave Barry. While the Beatles were new on our shores, they’d already leveled their own England well before turning up here. Even so, their fellow countrymen Morecambe & Wise perform a dreary comedy routine more likely to register with anyone over 30 (at the time) than the shaky ocean of pink-armed teenagers who’d tuned in for the Beatles.

The Beatles wouldn’t return to the Ed Sullivan Show for more than a year, and by the time they did on 12 September 1965, the shockwaves from their first run were still being felt. The Fabs themselves were shaggier, more comfortable in their own skin and were unapologetically moving forward. Their songs – including “Ticket to Ride", “I Feel Fine", “Yesterday” and “Help!” were already far more sophisticated than their earlier material.

As with the earlier episodes, the Beatles’ songs feature numerous crowd shots, invariably containing at least three teenage girls on the verge of emotional collapse and a pair of well-groomed older folks who just don’t get it, maaaaann.

Cilla Black performs a pair of songs on this 1965 episode, including a wonderful take on “Goin’ Out of My Head”. There’s another mostly unfunny Allen & Rossi comedy bit featuring a corny Beatles-style number, and an even more unbearable ball of yuks by Soupy Sales, who performs “The Mouse”, a colossally awful song which at the very least shows that the seating in the theater hasn’t changed all that much since David Letterman began taping his late night CBS show there over a decade ago.

These four shows were actually released on DVD for the first time in 2003, though according to the press materials the audio and video has been cleaned up considerably by Universal Music Group for this package. In a digital age with room-sized high definition television sets it’s might be hard to see how the picture was improved, though archival footage available on the internet ought to set it into perspective.

Also unique to this release are a series of extras, clips in which Sullivan either discusses the Beatles on other episodes of his show, or in one instance briefly and somewhat uncomfortably interviews them during the filming of A Hard Days Night in London.

For an event which not only shaped the course of television history but which also cemented his position as a champion of the youth movement, two of the clips show Sullivan to either not know or not care exactly when it all happened. In a clip from 29 May 1966 Sullivan mentions the Beatles having first performed on his show in 1963 from Miami Beach, a mistake repeated in a clip from 26 November 1967 while reading a telegram from the Beatles.

Fans might be tempted to buy the DVD and just watch the Beatles songs. Fair enough, but it’s worth sitting through every second of every show at least just once to pretend you were there when it really happened, to see what entertainment and advertising were like in a bygone era and to see why a band singing about holding hands hit the country like an A-bomb.

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To be a migrant worker in America is to relearn the basic skills of living. Imagine doing that in your 60s and 70s, when you thought you'd be retired.


Nomadland: Surviving America in the Twenty-First Century

Publisher: W. W. Norton
Author: Jessica Bruder
Publication date: 2017-09
Amazon

There's been much hand-wringing over the state of the American economy in recent years. After the 2008 financial crisis upended middle-class families, we now live with regular media reports of recovery and growth -- as well as rising inequality and decreased social mobility. We ponder what kind of future we're creating for our children, while generally failing to consider who has already fallen between the gaps.

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Very few of their peers surpass Eurythmics in terms of artistic vision, musicianship, songwriting, and creative audacity.

The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame nominating committee's yearly announcement of the latest batch of potential inductees always generates the same reaction: a combination of sputtering outrage by fans of those deserving artists who've been shunned, and jubilation by fans of those who made the cut. The annual debate over the list of nominees is as inevitable as the announcement itself.

The Hall of Fame has been harshly criticized for some of its more inexplicable exclusions and for neglecting certain subgenres of music. Cynicism and negativity over the Hall's selection process and membership is fairly widespread. That said, despite the controversies and legitimate gripes, induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame is still widely viewed as a career milestone. The Hall's stature feeds its surrounding controversies: after all, nobody would care to argue so vehemently about the merits of one artist over another if it wasn't important. Very rarely will a newly inducted artist miss the opportunity to appear at the star-studded ceremony to accept their honor.

The criteria for nomination is as follows: "Artists -- a group encompassing performers, composers and/or musicians -- become eligible for induction 25 years after the release of their first commercial recording. Besides demonstrating unquestionable musical excellence and talent, inductees will have had a significant impact on the development, evolution and preservation of rock and roll." Specifically for performers, "This category honors bands or solo artists which demonstrate musical excellence. Such a descriptor includes (but isn't limited to) influence on other performers or genres; length and depth of career and catalog; stylistic innovations; or superior technique and skills."

These standards allow the selection committee wide latitude with their choices, and generating a list that would create zero controversy is an obvious impossibility. As for those deserving artists yet to be included, their time will surely come. There has purportedly been an emphasis on increasing diversity among the nominating committee and voters in recent years, and the list of contenders for the class of 2018 reflects this.

Radiohead, as expected and deserved, are nominated in their first year of eligibility, and there is little doubt they will be inducted. Other nominees include Bon Jovi, Kate Bush, the Cars, Depeche Mode, Dire Straits, Eurythmics, J. Geils Band, Judas Priest, LL Cool J, MC5, the Meters, the Moody Blues, Rage Against the Machine, Nina Simone, Rufus featuring Chaka Khan, Sister Rosetta Tharpe, Link Wray and the Zombies. It's a strong and varied group.

Perhaps the most pleasant surprise on the list, however, is the British duo Eurythmics. Even though they've been eligible since 2006, this is their first nomination. Dave Stewart and Annie Lennox certainly deserve recognition for their important contributions to the musical fabric of the last 40 years. While Eurythmics have always been generally respected, they've never been darlings with the critics like some of their contemporaries. It's puzzling as to why. Very few of their peers surpass Eurythmics in terms of artistic vision, musicianship, songwriting and creative audacity. Lennox is second to noone as a vocalist, not just in her lead parts but also in the creative, often rhythmic way she uses her voice as an instrument. This nomination could boost the stature and perception of Eurythmics' body of work immeasurably.

Although Eurythmics are often consigned strictly to the synthpop genre, that designation fits only a portion of their repertoire. Each of their nine studio albums has its own unique vibe while retaining the duo's core identity. Eurythmics never repeat themselves, often taking bold risks and swerving in unexpected directions. Unlike many of their contemporaries, Eurythmics didn't "sell out" or compromise by chasing after obvious Top 40 hits. Even their most popular singles aren't commercial in the traditional sense, and they've always sounded like nobody else on the radio.

Despite the sudden emergence of their 1983 single "Sweet Dreams (are made of this)" as an MTV staple and international smash, Eurythmics are far from an overnight success story. Their story begins in London, 1975, when Stewart fortuitously encountered Lennox at the restaurant where she worked as a waitress. The Scottish singer had recently dropped out of the Royal Academy of Music, which she felt didn't suit her musical interests. Stewart and Lennox strongly connected over their love of music, and they quickly became a couple who were inseparable. Along with singer/ songwriter/ guitarist Peet Coombes, Stewart and Lennox formed a short-lived group the Catch. After one failed single, they added two members and renamed themselves the Tourists.

Coombes was the dominant creative force and primary songwriter behind the Tourists. Lennox and Coombes shared vocals on the band's dour and melancholy power-pop. The Tourists released three albums and managed a handful of chart appearances in the UK. Two of their singles, a peppy cover of Dusty Springfield's "I Only Want to Be With You" and the hard-rocking "So Good T\to Be Back Home Again", made the UK Top 10. The band toured extensively, but their success was fleeting. The Tourists' third album, Luminous Basement (1980), tanked badly despite containing their strongest material yet, and the group dissolved shortly thereafter.

Lennox and Stewart also endured a painful ending to their sometimes tumultuous romance, but they recognized the power of their musical chemistry and decided to continue working together as a duo. They were a pair "who couldn't be together, and who could not be apart", as Lennox reflects many years later in the song "17 Again". History has shown that they made the right decision: Stewart and Lennox compliment each other intuitively through a shared passion for music, the thrill of experimentation, and the need for emotional release that songwriting and performing allows.

The name Eurythmics was derived from a technique used to teach music to children based on sensory and physical methods of learning rhythm. The newly-christened duo signed with RCA Records and in early 1981 headed to Germany to record their debut album with highly-respected krautrock producer Conny Plank.

Plank already had a long string of acclaimed albums to his credit, including collaborations with Neu!, Can, Ultravox, Kraftwerk and Brian Eno among others. The sessions for what would become Eurythmics' debut album, In the Garden, were held at Plank's studio in Cologne. He brought several of his regular collaborators into the proceedings, including bassist Holger Czukay and drummer Jaki Liebezeit of avant-garde rockers Can, Blondie drummer Clem Burke and D.A.F. electronics whiz Robert Görl. Stewart has described the sessions as a learning experience that helped expand his perception of what pop music could be and how it could be created without following any rules, a perspective that served Eurythmics well.

Eurythmics' austere and hypnotic debut single "Never Gonna Cry Again" was released in May 1981. They filmed a low-budget video and landed a couple TV slots to promote the track, but the song's haunted nature did not translate to mainstream success: it barely scraped the lower reaches of the UK singles chart. A second single, the dreamy guitar-rocker "Belinda", followed in August but failed to chart.

In the Garden was finally released in October 1981, but without a hit to generate momentum it was barely noticed. Despite scant sales figures, the album's gloomy psychedelic guitar-pop makes for a rather strong debut. In the Garden exists in late summer shadows, densely atmospheric and shrouded in a veil of dread. Lennox's vocals are understated, subtle and lower in the mix than on subsequent albums. Sound effects, odd vocalizations and bits of sonic experimentation fade in and out like flashes of hazily repressed memory.

RCA wasn't eager to invest in a follow-up to In the Garden after its disappointing reception, so Stewart financed Eurythmics' second album largely through a personal bank loan. Faced with a minuscule budget, they worked in a London warehouse to avoid spending money on studio time. They were able to purchase cheap second-hand equipment for the sessions, including the basic TEAC 8-track on which most of the album was recorded. Adam Williams, former bassist for the ska band the Selectors, helped the duo learn the equipment while co-producing some of their earliest tracks.

The primitive set-up was the ultimate blessing in disguise. Since they were financing the sessions and self-producing, Eurythmics had the freedom to experiment with no oversight. As both Lennox and Stewart were enduring periods of deep personal strife at the time, the sessions evolved into an emotional and creative catharsis that helped shape the mercurial nature of the music. It was out of this environment that a classic was born.

Despite appearing only a few months after their debut album, the first single to emerge from the new sessions proved radically different than any of Eurythmics' prior work. Released in April 1982, "This Is the House" is a flamboyant, horn-driven spectacle on which Lennox belts out a vocal more confident and brash than any of her prior work. The song's odd mix of synthpop, R&B; and latin influences renders it completely unique, but despite its infectious ingenuity and beguiling loopiness (or perhaps because of it), "This Is the House" failed to chart.

The follow-up single that landed two months later is even better. Entrancing and soulful, "The Walk" exudes the anxiety, drama and innovation that became Eurythmics' hallmark. The vocal arrangement is ingenious, and Dick Cuthell (known for his work with Madness, the Specials, Fun Boy Three and others) lets rip a blistering trumpet solo. As in many of their songs, "The Walk" slowly ratchets up the tension through hypnotic repetition and the gradual addition of more layers of sound until it reaches a haywire frenzy. Although a brilliant recording, "The Walk" fared no better than its predecessor.

With the duo's second album Sweet Dreams (are made of this) completed, RCA began a strong promotional push, issuing the opening track "Love Is a Stranger" as a single in November 1982. Lennox's dazzling vocal ranges from icy cool to fiery passion over a relentless electric groove bracketed by sinuous lines of synth. "Love Is a Stranger" rose to #54 in the UK, their highest placement yet, and momentum was finally building for the duo thanks in part to the single's provocative video.

The first significant chapter in a series of visually arresting promotional clips that Eurythmics generated over the span of their career, "Love Is a Stranger" showcases Lennox's dramatic presence and her innate ability to command the viewer's attention. She plays multiple roles, ending the clip with her red hair slicked back and dressed androgynously in a man's suit. Image was quickly becoming an important part of the Eurythmics' equation, with Lennox always compelling no matter which character she inhabits, and Stewart often appearing as her sort of mad-scientist counterpart.

Sweet Dreams (are made of this) hit the shelves on 4 January 1983, along with its title-track, a single that continues to reverberate through pop music nearly 35 years after its release. Suddenly everything changed for Eurythmics. An obscure British duo, barely managing to survive in the music business, soared to the top with one of the more unconventional songs ever to scale those lofty heights.

"Sweet Dreams (are made of this)" has an unusual structure, with no real verses or chorus. Lennox has described it as a mantra, and indeed it is. The lyrics, which Lennox rattled off spontaneously in a matter of minutes, are a simple but profound statement about the human condition: "Everybody's looking for something," the search for meaning and fulfillment, the ephemeral "this" of which sweet dreams are made.

Lennox begins the song with a single line of vocal, then starting with "some of them want to use you" at the 0:24 point it doubles. From there the song gradually builds intensity, with the vocals increasingly layered. A masterful finalé combines all the sonic elements before fading to black, the mantra repeating endlessly, the "this" still stubbornly undefined. The booming minor-key bass riff and the epic string-motif solo starting at 1:31 are played by Lennox on a Roland Juno-6 synthesizer. The main riff (improvised by Lennox while listening to Stewart working on a drum-machine pattern), is a simple two-bar arpeggio that loops throughout most of the song. Two parts were recorded separately and panned on opposite sides of the sound spectrum, creating a richly resonant effect. "Sweet Dreams (are made of this)" is no dated relic from the early days of MTV burdened by the limitations the time. Its massive waves of synth flood out of the speakers with enormous power, as inexorably as the tide.

The music video, which became wildly popular on MTV during its heyday, is forever entwined with the song in listeners' collective consciousness. The iconic image of Lennox in her masculine suit and flaming orange flat-top helps to define the new wave era. Her forceful demeanor, nervy confidence and the subtle nuances of her facial expressions amplify the song's inherent tension. She confronts the viewer directly by pointing right in our faces at the 0:24 mark. At 1:56, she offers a sly half-smile with, "some of them want to abuse you", and at 2:15 she pounds her fist just as the song reaches its dramatic apex. Stewart appears throughout the video stoically pecking away on the drum machine he used in the recording of the song, the Movement MCS Drum Computer MK1 (except for that part where he and the cow have, well, a moment… It's all in the eye contact).

After a slow climb up the US pop chart, "Sweet Dreams (are made of this)" was finally able to derail the Police's "Every Breath You Take" from its seven-week reign at the top during the week of 3 September 1983. It would be Eurythmics' only chart-topping pop hit in America, and it reached #2 in the UK. In the wake of Eurythmics' new-found fame, "Love Is a Stranger" was re-released, this time becoming a major hit on both sides of the Atlantic.

The album's deep cuts are every bit as strange and fascinating as its better-known singles. The ghostly "Jennifer" is a narcotic reverie of keyboard swells and spectral atmospherics. "I've Got an Angel" and "Somebody Told Me" are serrated neurotic fits, swerving dangerously off-the-rails from anything that would normally be considered pop music. A long and mesmerizing exploration of urban isolation, "This City Never Sleeps" is a powerful finalé. Sweet Dreams (are made of this) is an examination of the human psyche fraught with turmoil, a series of jagged recurring nightmares and anxiety attacks set to music that is soulful and experimental, melodic but eccentric, a stark electronic soundscape that bristles with horns and unexpected sonic jolts.

Next Page: Potent and Ferocious

This film suggests that all violence—wars, duels, boxing, and the like—is nothing more than subterfuge for masculine insecurities and romantic adolescent notions, which in many ways come down to one and the same thing.

2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) crystalizes a rather nocturnal view of heterosexual, white masculinity that pervades much of Stanley Kubrick's films: after slithering from the primordial slime, we jockey for position in ceaseless turf wars over land, money, and women. Those wielding the largest bone/weapon claim the spoils. Despite our self-delusions about transcending our simian stirrings through our advanced technology and knowledge, we remain mired in our ancestral origins of brute force and domination—brilliantly condensed by Kubrick in one of the most famous cuts in cinematic history: a twirling bone ascends into the air only to cut to a graphic match of a space station. Ancient and modern technology collapse into a common denominator of possession, violence, and war.

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Here comes another Kompakt Pop Ambient collection to make life just a little more bearable.

Another (extremely rough) year has come and gone, which means that the German electronic music label Kompakt gets to roll out their annual Total and Pop Ambient compilations for us all.

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Winner of the 2017 Ameripolitan Music Award for Best Rockabilly Female stakes her claim with her band on accomplished new set.

Lara Hope & The Ark-Tones

Love You To Life

Label: Self-released
Release Date: 2017-08-11
Amazon
iTunes

Lara Hope and her band of roots rockin' country and rockabilly rabble rousers in the Ark-Tones have been the not so best kept secret of the Hudson Valley, New York music scene for awhile now.

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