Various Artists: Casey Kasem’s Rock & Roll Goldmine [DVD]

Casey Kasem's Rock & Roll Goldmine [dvd]
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Standing Room Only Entertainment

Casey Kasem may make Dick Clark look like Alan Freed, but simply by virtue of being in the industry for so long, Kasem deserves at least a little bit of respect from rock aficionados. Still, counting down the top 40 every week doesn’t leave much of a legacy, so what is an icon with no real body of work to do? Why, put together some television specials, of course. Casey Kasem’s Rock & Roll Goldmine, first shown on TV in 1987 and now collected on video, might prove to be the lasting monument of Kasem’s involvement with the music with which he seemed to have such little connection, and if this does wind up as the thing that Kasem’s remembered for, well, he’s got nobody to blame but himself.

A five-part series, Goldmine covers “The Soul Years”, “The Sixties”, “The British Invasion”, “The San Francisco Sound”, and Elvis in a documentary called “The Echo Will Never Die”. It appears to be a reasonable enough way to split up the ground it has to cover, but “The Sixties” seems superfluous since everything but the mediocre Elvis documentary already fits in that decade, and plenty else gets left out. It was too much to expect of Kasem that Frank Zappa or the Velvet Underground get a mention here, but why cover San Francisco and not L.A.? The Byrds, whose jangling guitars are the requisite soundtrack to every ’60s montage ever made, are written out of this history, and country-rock as a whole is ignored altogether, with the Band and Creedence Clearwater Revival also missing in action. Bob Dylan’s only appearance comes as a screen print on a woman’s dress in one of the many shots of stereotypical ’60s folk in action, and the Stones, despite what would be a natural fit on the “British Invasion” installment, are overlooked in favor of timeless legends like Gerry and the Pacemakers. The Beatles make a brief cameo in a Dutch TV interview, but they are only asked who darns their socks on the road and if any of them play other instruments. If Kasem was looking to make an encapsulating statement about the 1960s rock ‘n’ roll (and he was), his selection of material undercut his effort at every turn.

Still, there are a few bright spots among the blights, like the Small Faces with “Itchycoo Park”, Stevie Wonder doing “Fingertips”, and Van Morrison singing “Domino” (on “The San Francisco Sound”, of all things). And no matter how obvious the choices are, it’s hard to argue with Otis Redding, Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, the Doors, the Who, Cream, the Kinks, and the Yardbirds. What’s easy to argue with is the decision to have most of these clips taken from lip-synched TV appearances. While the sanitizing nature of the tube jibes nicely with Kasem’s clean-cut image, it does an inexcusable disservice to the performers captured here, among them some of the best rock musicians of their generation. The rare live nugget slips through, with “The Soul Years” having the best live-to-canned ratio, but the Who, Small Faces, Jefferson Airplane, James Brown, and the Yardbirds are all forced to act like they’re having fun miming. The last of these is especially painful, with Jimmy Page not only pretending to play a part that was done by Jeff Beck but also mock-playing an acoustic guitar part on his Stratocaster. Such monkey business is strictly for fans of camp and/or kitsch with the high point being the Troggs’ run-through of “Wild Thing”. These primitive lads start out playing in a nondescript room, sans percussionist, before a sexy young bird leads them through the door to a tube station platform where they meet up with the drummer and a group of fans circled around them going mild. The gap between the TV audience of today and yesteryear is sketched out nicely by the total lack of amps or PAs; singer Reg Presley even appears to have the plug for the microphone he’s carrying around tucked into the pocket of his striped Trogg suit.

The subpar material on Goldmine, combined with Kasem’s habit of reducing a wildly complicated decade down to the most clichéd of sentiments about the period (footage of Vietnam, protests, hippies and astronauts is omnipresent), all adds up to a rather limp reinforcement of status quo historical thought, taking things like Jim Morrison’s pretensions to poetry at face value. But if something positive could be said for Goldmine, it’s that the handful of great performances by artists such as Jimi Hendrix, Cream, and Sam and Dave, mean that it at least could support the title, Casey Kasem’s Needles in the Haystack.