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Heavy metal yodeling: What’s more insane ‘Hocus Pocus’ or ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’?
08.13.2014
08:23 am

Topics:
Music

Tags:
prog rock
Focus


 
From the Dangerous Minds archives:

“Hocus Pocus” was an AM and FM radio hit for Dutch prog-rockers Focus, straddling the line between avant garde and just plain silly. Focus, you might say, were one of the few prog rock bands who didn’t take themselves so seriously. How could they with a signature tune like this one?

Although “Hocus Pocus” was originally released in 1971 on their Moving Waves record, it didn’t really become a hit until 1973 when they re-recorded a faster version for release as a single. Of course, it’s unlikely that any song which could be (accurately) described as “heavy metal yodeling” would ever get radio play in the first place, let alone become an absolute worldwide smash, but improbably, that’s what happened.

“Hocus Pocus” takes the form of a rondo, meaning a central motif (in this case the guitar riff) keeps returning as drum, flute, accordion and guitar solos each, in turn, take the spotlight. The lyrics are just gibberish. It might be the most elaborate hit single, either before or since Queen’s epically ridiculous “Bohemian Rhapsody.”

When Focus would perform “Hocus Pocus” live, the group would play the tune even faster, with each member of the band taking an extended solo. I admit to being the proud owner of not only Moving Waves, but also their live album, Focus at the Rainbow, which includes an eight minute-long version of the song. Many people will know the tune because it was used in a Nike commercial shown repeatedly during the World Cup in 2010.
 

 
Here Focus seen are performing their smash on The Midnight Special in 1973:
 

 
More Focus after the jump…

Posted by Richard Metzger | Discussion
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Wayne Coyne and Steven Drozd of The Flaming Lips have taken over this site!


 
If the cosmically colorfully… spermy background of the blog today hasn’t already clued you in, Wayne Coyne and Steven Drozd of The Flaming Lips, in the guise of their proggy psychedelic krautrocking alter egos, Electric Würms, will be taking over Dangerous Minds this week and next as the guest editors of the blog.

Today is “prog rock day” but you can also expect to find an eclectic lysergic multi-media bouillabaisse with lot of Beatles, Miles Davis, krautrock, and of course Electric Würms-related posts in the upcoming days

They’ll be programming a mixture of track premieres from their new Warner Bros. release Musik, die Schwer zu Twerk (“Music that’s Hard to Twerk to”); we’ll have some exclusive Spotify playlists; there’ll be a premiere of a new Electric Würms music video; a two-hour movie shot entirely on Wayne’s iPhone; some new material from the regular Dangerous Minds contributors and a selection of stuff from the DM archives.

Electric Würms’ first single, an intense cover of “Heart of the Sunrise” by Yes is already available on iTunes. Not exactly a premiere, but this being “prog rock day” and all, it seemed like a good fit. The full Musik, die Schwer zu Twerk EP will be released on August 18th.
 

Posted by Richard Metzger | Discussion
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Watch Miles Davis improvise the soundtrack to Louis Malle’s ‘Elevator To The Gallows’
08.13.2014
04:50 am

Topics:
Movies
Music

Tags:
Miles Davis
Jeanne Moreau


 
This is like watching Picasso paint: Behold as Miles Davis watches Louis Malle’s French film noir, Ascenseur pour l’échafaud (“Elevator to the Gallows”) and improvises his moody soundtrack score.

Ascenseur pour l’échafaud was the celebrated director Louis Malle’s feature film debut and starred Jeanne Moreau and Maurice Ronet as lovers planning a murder. The two day recording session was held at Le Poste Parisien Studio in Paris on December 4th and 5th, 1957 and featured French session musicians René Urtreger, Pierre Michelot and Barney Wilen along with American drummer Kenny Clarke. After getting some basic cues and the key from Davis, the soundtrack was totally improvised while the musicians watched the movie on a screen.  The soundtrack seems to be a well-kept secret in the Miles Davis discography which is odd considering that the modal experimentations laid down for Malle’s film clearly led to what came soon afterwards in a similar vein, Milestones and his all time classic Kind of Blue album.
 

Miles Davis and Jeanne Moreau, Paris, 1957
 
It could be argued that Malle’s cinematic style and the unique pacing and character of this particular film—which Miles obviously had to conform to in order score it properly—had a noticeable influence on his music. Jazz critic Phil Johnson described the Ascenseur pour l’échafaud soundtrack as having “the loneliest trumpet sound you will ever hear.”
 

Posted by Richard Metzger | Discussion
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Say Yes to the astonishing guitar solo from ‘Starship Trooper’
08.13.2014
04:31 am

Topics:
Music

Tags:
guitar
Steve Howe
Yes
Bodast


 
If you’re “of a certain age”—say early-50s on up—then progrock was most likely part of the musical background of your existence. You might not have exactly requested it specifically—was there anyone who could have anticipated, say, Jethro Tull?—but inescapably songs like “Aqualung,” Emerson Lake and Palmer’s “Lucky Man” and “Roundabout” by Yes were part of the soundtrack to your young life, even if it was just through osmosis. These days you can avoid the mainstream, back then it’s all there was and prog was the big thing for a while…

However, if you’re around my age (I’m 48) progrock groups were seen as the enemy. Budding young rock snob that I was, I can recall picking up Uriah Heep, ELP, Robin Trower and Nektar albums at garage sales when I was in the 5th grade and being fairly perplexed that people actually liked this kind of stuff, or that I myself might be expected to like such crappy music to “fit in” or something. It was confusing when I first started buying records—an album by The Who, The Stones or The Kinks from the 60s would be great, whereas one from 1976 would be just… fucking terrible. In any case, Never Mind the Bollocks, Here’s The Sex Pistols came out two days after my 11th birthday and that confusion ended. Instantly. If you were all “punk rock,” then you had no time for progrock bands. You hated them. They were all totally unredeemably shit. (All of them, except for maybe King Crimson. Robert Fripp, now he was cool.)

Things being the way they are, eventually the record industry, or at least a few heroic indie labels, began to sell the again MOJO-reading public on the notion of opening their ears up to music they’d have shunned in the past. Admittedly, it’s only been in recent years that I’ve personally been willing to consider the prog rock genre seriously, and not be reflexively close-minded about it. I’ve simply exhausted most other sections at the record store, and I’ve got an insatiable appetite for finding new music, so why not prog? Much of what I’ve been picking up on are the surround sound editions that Porcupine Tree’s Steven Wilson has been working on, revamping classic prog albums for 5.1 audio. If Wilson is involved in it, I definitely want to hear it and as a result I’m discovering some great “new” music, like, you know… Jethro Tull.

Good times!
 

 
So yeah... um… Yes? “Roundabout” aside, I never liked Yes and never really had the time for them. I didn’t hate them, but they wore capes and seemed very “Middle Earth” to me which had pretty much no appeal to me whatsoever when I could listen to Kraftwerk, David Bowie, The Residents or Public Image Ltd. (Ironically PiL’s Keith Levene was a roadie for Yes in 1974). It was earlier this year when my wife admitted that she was a “closet” Yes fan that I decided to bring Wilson’s Close to the Edge 5.1 surround mix home from the record store for both of us to listen to (I’m always accused of monopolizing the stereo, so this was a sop to that criticism.) I quickly got pretty obsessed with that album—ultimately annoying her with it in the process, I’ sure—but the thing that that just knocked down any resistance to the glory that is Yes, for me, was hearing Steven Wilson’s surround treatment of “Würm,” the third movement of The Yes Album‘s “Starship Trooper.”

Sublime. Glorious. It’s a soaring electric guitar symphony. Playing it loud—I mean really loud—it gets to the point where you feel like you’re standing on the tarmac as a jet takes off. It’s a crazy good. Even if you hate progrock in general, or Yes in particular, you can make an exception for this amazing song. Once you do, you’ll get why Yes was such a huge act in the 70s and beyond. It—they—suddenly clicked for me. Now I love them, or at least I love some of their albums.
 

 
But here’s the thing, “Würm” and its memorable, hypnotic riff and blistering guitar solo, was actually taken from a song called “Nether Street” that had been recorded by Howe’s post Tomorrow and pre Yes band, Bodast, in 1968 or 69. It came to naught for them although Howe was loyal enough to the group to stick with them in the face of recruitment attempts from both Jethro Tull and Keith Emerson’s band The Nice before packing it in. Howe revived “Nether Street” for “Starship Trooper” in 1971, but it wasn’t until 1981 that the original recording saw the light of day.

Steve Howe told Music Radar:

The song wasn’t rehearsed; it was constructed in the studio from various pieces. I had the Wurm part from another band I used to be in called Bodast. It was in a song called “The Ghost Of Nether Street.” We’d recorded an album, but the label closed down, and so the record never came out.

I always loved the section as a whole piece of music, so I decided to carry it over to Yes. I like the way it goes from G to E-flat to C, but different things happen on the roots. Although it repeats endlessly, it sometimes has the fifth below roots on the chords. It sounds like a lot going on, and of course, it’s flanged.

The build-up of it is very impressive. It splits into two guitar tracks, one side taking a solo. Somehow, we did a bunch of takes, and so we’d pick the best of each. They were all done as complete takes. I remember thinking that I was sort of jamming with myself.

The “Disillusion” section came from another old song: “For Everyone” was a Yes number written by bassist Chris Squire that was played in concert back in the Peter Banks days but never recorded.
 

 
Our guest editors Wayne Coyne and Steven Drozd pay tribute to the mighty “Würm” with the name of their new Electric Würms project. The Würm is also a river in Bavaria which gave its name to the Würm glaciation ice age when Scandinavia and much of Britain were under ice. Wurm (sans the umlaut) is an Olde English word for “dragon.”

Here’s “Starship Trooper” as heard on The Yes Album. If you’re one of those people—like I was—resistant to progrock, turn this sucker up good and loud and let it wash all the fuck over you. It’s over nine minutes long, but the build-up is crucial.
 

 
Here’s the original Bodast recording of “Nether Street.” Almost as amazing as “Würm” itself for—ahem—damned obvious reasons!
 

 
A fan-made video of “Starship Trooper” as it was heard on the live Yessongs album (In the concert film only the final part of the song is used, so the earlier shots are from other numbers. It works.)
 

Posted by Richard Metzger | Discussion
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Mike Watt is still on the move with Il Sogno del Marinaio: an exclusive video premiere
08.12.2014
09:03 am

Topics:
Heroes
Music

Tags:
Mike Watt
Il Sogno del Marinaio


 
30 years ago, Minutemen bassist Mike Watt famously wrote “Our band could be your life” as the first line in the song “History Lesson—Part II.” That line would years later become the title of Michael Azerrad’s essential book on the ‘80s rock underground, so perfectly and succinctly did it capture the essence of how that decade’s punks flew in the face of notions that artists were delicately constituted monastics who’d gift us with dewdrops of beauty if we’d but wait at their feet. Watt and his contemporaries’ conception of the artist was much more radically workmanlike—he refers to it as “Jamming Econo”—you do what you have to do to get your art made, period. Gigs are why you exist, so you don’t decline or cancel them lightly. Oops, the next one’s a 15 hour drive? Better get the van loaded and grab some bottles to pee in, then, ‘cuz we’re going all night.

To his enduring credit, Watt has spent the last three decades fully living up to the example he set as a young man. Though a van accident tragically took the life of Minutemen guitarist D. Boon in 1985, Watt soldiered on in the bands fIREHOSE and Dos. He did guest turns with Saccharine Trust, Sonic/Ciccone Youth, Porno For Pyros, and countless others, and he launched a heavy-friends solo career in 1995 with the LP Ball-Hog or Tugboat?. He survived an alarming health crisis to stay active in the 21st Century, and was the lucky bastard who got tapped to fill the Dave Alexander slot when the Stooges reunited in 2003. He’s had an enviable career, because he just never stops.
 

 
In between all the bigger projects, Watt seems to be constantly forming and/or joining bands of various lifespans, a notable example of which is Il Sogno Del Marinaio (“The Sailor’s Dream”—nautical themes abound in Watt’s oeuvre) with Italian musicians Andrea Belfi and Stefano Pilia. The band formed in 2009 and recorded its debut album La Busta Gialla a mere three days later, but the album didn’t see release until 2013. In that long downtime, Belfi and Pilia invited guest musicians to fill out the LP, resulting in a collection of songs that are more constructed than performed. The forthcoming Canto Secondo remedies that—it’s clearly a band’s album, and it may surprise older Watt fans who haven’t kept up with him, as it often pushes into post-rock territory. There are strong notes of Gastr Del Sol, and some passages even recall The Sea and Cake or Red-era King Crimson. It’s really good stuff. Unfortunately, questions we emailed to Belfi and Pilia remain unanswered as of publication time, but Watt was kind enough to spare the time to speak with us about the band:

Watt: Stefano was in the boat with me in 2005 [Stefano Pilia was Watt’s road manager for part of a 2005 European tour. In keeping with Watt’s marine obsession, he refers to his tour van as “the boat.”—DM] and I didn’t even know he played. Then in 2009 I got an invite to come and play a festival with him and his drummer buddy Andrea. I said “OK, I’ll come over there, but why don’t we do five or six gigs, if we’re gonna get the stuff up?” I remember him, riding around with me for the Italian gigs, and he was really a neat cat, and I didn’t know he played, but he had the cojones to just call me up to start a band!

I try, getting into middle age, to record now as much as possible. I’m way into gigs, I’m still way about being in the moment, but I’m starting to think about leaving stuff behind a little more. So I say to him, “Look, we’re going to learn this stuff, we’re going to play a few gigs? In the middle of it, let’s record an album!” And they were into it, so we did it. It cooks, too, man—it cooks for me, everybody over there cooks for me. So that’s how that was made. We didn’t have it come out until we could tour. Different continents, three different schedules, so there was a three, four year lag between its being made and its coming out. So in the meantime, those cats had a bunch of guests play on it, and I sent some files from San Pedro. It was more like that, whereas the second one Canto Secondo, it was just the three of us in a farmhouse—actually the studio’s in a barn, we stayed in the farmhouse next to it—for eight days. Also, we had a tour under our belt, so the band’s got more of a voice of its own, more of an identity than on the first one that we made after three days! But you can only do your first album once, you know? We didn’t want a rerun of the first one, so this is more of an organic step.

You know, this band, I gotta tell ya, it feels a lot like going back to the Minutemen or Dos, there’s more collaboration. With these other bands, I’m asking my bandmates in the Secondmen, Missingmen, to take direction. In the Stooges, obviously they’re giving me direction. So this is like a revival of collaboration for me. These guys aren’t just players, they’re also composers. They’re 21 years younger, they went to music school, in a way I’m the student, which is all right, my middle aged philosophy is everybody’s got something to teach you! And Stefano and Andrea are pretty deep about music, they can do weird meters…

DM: Yeah, I’d be interested to know what they’re into. On Canto Secondo I hear a lot of post-rock influences in the guitar playing, like Pell Mell and Gastr Del Sol…

Watt: Do you know, those two guys play with [Gastr Del Sol honcho] David Grubbs! Weirdest coincidence—I was playing with Jim O’Rourke [also of GDS, among many, many other wonderful projects], and I end up in a band with the people playing with the other guy in Gastr Del Sol! They’re in a trio called Belfi/Grubbs/Pilia. So yeah, both guys are in Grubbs’ trio as well as playing with me. And I know Andrea’s way into Soft Machine and Robert Wyatt, too, and that’s from way before he was born. The young people these days are deep, they know a lot. Maybe because of the internet, but there’s also less prejudice. People are more open-minded. They don’t care what time it was from. When I was a teenager there was a lot of prejudice about when something came from. Like if it was older people wouldn’t want to hear it.

DM: Yeah, punk and hardcore had that whole “year zero” thing. I remember from the ‘80s—I’m younger than you, but I still remember that, like, tribalism. I think the internet helped some of that go away. Now that everything can be had all at once, things don’t have to be so tribal because those distinctions disappear. If you like something, cool, it doesn’t have to be the entire basis of your identity.

Watt: Yeah, and in the ‘70s it was narcissistic. No one wanted to hear anything five years old. I saw that Woodstock movie [unintelligible] and people were booing! “This is my DAD’S music!” People don’t do that anymore. That was a hung up generation. They weren’t really the movers and shakers of the ‘60s, but they were still pretty full of themselves ‘cuz they were still young and beautiful. Tribes, they can be kind of inbred. When I think about the old days of punk in the U.S., it was small, you could really circle the wagons! We were kind of tight that way, but on the other hand, all that branding, that idea that punk was a sound, a style of music instead of a state of mind—I thought yeah, that could improve. And it DID.

 

 
Il Sogno Del Marinaio’s Canto Secondo is due out in late August, 2014. The record will be supported by a tour of 53 shows in as many days. The new video from the album is called “Il Songo Del Fienile” (“Dream of the Barn,” I think), and we at DM are proud to debut it here.
 

 
Previously on Dangerous Minds
Sonic Youth and Mike Watt vs Madonna
Mike Watt stars in new Sweet Apple video

Posted by Ron Kretsch | Discussion
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Close to You: The Carpenters’s intimate ‘In Concert’ 1971
08.12.2014
09:02 am

Topics:
Music

Tags:
The Carpenters


 
On September 25, 1971, with just two albums under their belts and on their very first tour outside of America, The Carpenters taped an episode of the BBC’s prestigious In Concert series. The program featured what are today considered to be some of the most iconic performances from Neil Young, Joni Mitchell, Cat Stevens, The Kinks, James Taylor, Carole King and others in their prime. This Carpenters performance is no exception with the young Karen’s clear as a bell vocals, brother Richard’s beautiful piano playing and stunning arrangements plus an absolutely crack band backing them up.

Most episodes of In Concert were shot in front of intimate crowds at the old BBC Television Centre in London and were known for being sensitively recorded and mixed. As far as I can tell, this is one of the few times the series deviated from purely live performances as the Burt Bacharach medley and “Help!” were lip-synced (and where are the string section hiding that we hear from time to time?). Those pre-recorded moments aside, it’s a pleasure to be able to concentrate on the fine musicianship here without the goofy middle of the road showbiz trappings of later TV specials like The Carpenters…Space Encounters in 1978 that featured Suzanne Somers and John Denver as aliens.
 

 
Bonus: The Carpenters do a live Bacharach medley in Australia the following year:

 

Posted by Richard Metzger | Discussion
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The video Jim Jarmusch made for Big Audio Dynamite


 
1986’s No. 10, Upping St. was kind of an amazing album for Big Audio Dynamite. That was the band Clash Guitarist Mick Jones formed upon his ouster from that seminal punk band, and he used the freedom that came with being HMFIC to explore a mix of club and hip-hop influences with the rock and reggae influences he’d already been known for. And yet, Upping was co-written and produced by his evidently no-longer-estranged former bandmate Joe Strummer! Jones would never re-join the Clash (who, as a result, would suck mightily until they packed it in), and so that B.A.D. LP would be the only Strummer/Jones reunion that ever took place. Jones revealed last year that he and Strummer were working together again in the 21st Century, but that renewed collaboration was cut short by Strummer’s 2002 death.

Three videos were made from that album, “C’mon Every Beatbox,” “V. Thirteen,” and “Sightsee M.C!” That last was noteworthy for having been directed by the pioneering independent filmmaker Jim Jarmusch. The director had already become a celebrated figure for Stranger Than Paradise and Down by Law, but the only music video he’d made before was for Talking Heads’ “The Lady Don’t Mind.” In spite of Jarmusch’s high status among indie musicians as well as film afficionados, and his frequent casting of musicians (including Joe Strummer) as actors in his features, ”Sightsee M.C!” remains one of only seven music videos he’s directed in his long career. In a 1992 issue of Film Comment, he had this to say on the matter:

I don’t generally like music videos because they provide you images to go with the songs rather than you providing your own. You lose the beauty of music by not bringing your own mental images or recollections or associations. Music videos obliterate that. That said, one of the better videos I’ve seen is not a music video at all: it’s “Subterranean Homesick Blues” where Dylan just stands there with the cards - it’s one single shot. They lifted that out of Don’t Look Back and showed it on MTV. I saw a good video the Butthole Surfers did, directed by the actor from Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure, Alex Winter; very weird, not your MTV fare. Julia Haywood’s Talking Heads video “Burning Down the House” was interesting - projecting fire onto the house itself, and images onto the road and re-photographing them. Zbigniew Rybczinski has done amazing things. But mostly I like videos that don’t get too complicated.

 

Posted by Ron Kretsch | Discussion
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SAHB Stories: Everything you need to know about The Sensational Alex Harvey Band
08.11.2014
09:11 am

Topics:
Music

Tags:
Alex Harvey
Sensational Alex Harvey Band

sahbpicalex.jpg
 
In the 1950s, singer Alex Harvey won a “rock-a-like” competition as Scotland’s answer to British pop star Tommy Steele. It should have catapulted the youngster into a career as a teenage idol, but little followed the promise of this early success. Harvey moved on and formed his own soul band that toured with The Beatles and were known for Harvey’s distinctive singing style and their signature song called “Shout!” Yet, nothing much happened for Alex Harvey’s soul band, and their best known song only became a hit once a wee Glaswegian lass called Lulu decided to sing it for herself.

It seemed the Fates were against Alex Harvey—even with all his great talent, skill and his voice that was second to none. Harvey gave up bands and joined the London cast of the musical Hair. It brought him good reviews, a regular income, and a taste for the theater that would later come in handy.

This wasn’t what Harvey wanted to do though. Harvey was a star, but at that point only he appeared to be aware of this fact.
 

 
Then things changed in 1970, when Harvey hooked up with a talented band called Teargas. They saw Harvey’s experience and ideas as useful to their own ambitions and together they formed The Sensational Alex Harvey Band.

If you lived in Glasgow in the 1970s, The Sensational Alex Harvey Band were bigger than Jesus. Well, Alex was at least, for he was one of the city’s three religions—the other two being soccer and binge-drinking. While soccer could disappoint, and alcohol left you hungover, SAHB never let you down.

Live there was no one to match SAHB’s performances. Their shows were mesmerizing, as can be vouched by a story of band’s residency at The Roxy in LA, when the bar made a loss as the audience were so captivated by Alex and co, that they wouldn’t get up and order booze.
 

 
Alex described himself as the director who created films to which Zal Cleminson (guitar), Chris Glen (bass), Hugh McKenna (keyboards) and Ted McKenna (drums) provided the soundtrack. This excellent short documentary on Alex Harvey will tell you everything you need to know about the great man and SAHB—for everything else, well, just watch them in action.

Harvey died in 1982, of a heart attack at the age of 48, but still all these years later Vambo Rools, OK?
 

 
More after the jump…

Posted by Paul Gallagher | Discussion
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Earliest live footage of My Bloody Valentine?
08.11.2014
08:18 am

Topics:
Music

Tags:
My Bloody Valentine


 
There’s not a lot of relevant information attached to this live YouTube video of My Bloody Valentine, except for the year, 1987, and a commenter offering that it might have been taped at the Bull and Gate in Kentish Town, London. The group was originally formed in Dublin, Ireland in 1983, but the members changed. If the date is to be believed—it seems right to me—then this probably would have been one of the the band’s initial gigs once the classic lineup, consisting of founders Kevin Shields and Colm Ó Cíosóig with Bilinda Butcher and Debbie Googe had been solidified. Bilinda didn’t even join until March of 1987 and until he was fired for being unsuitable after one gig in April, there was a co-lead singer with her named Joe Byfield.

In 1987, My Bloody Valentine weren’t even signed to Creation Records, that happened the following year, in 1988. This would also be the year before the You Made Me Realise EP, so around the time they would have been recording the largely forgotten Strawberry Wine and Ecstasy EPs for Lazy Records.

Although this video suffers from the same fate as most vintage, amateur shot live videos of MBV—even barely past their twee, Byrdsy/indie jangle pop era they were apparently still just too damned LOUD for the audio inputs on 80s video cameras to know what to do with the signal—it’s an interesting curio. There was no “MBV concert” setting on Sony handycams back then, like there is with iPhones today. You’re on your own as far as the set list goes.
 

 
Bonus: Approximately eighteen months later, as seen at this gig taped at the University of London Union on February 16, 1989, they were a completely different band. Note extremely short encore of “You Made Me Realise.”
 

 
Thank you kindly Nick Abrahams!

Posted by Richard Metzger | Discussion
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Remembering Barbara McNair: Forgotten Motown artist and groundbreaking black entertainer
08.08.2014
07:16 pm

Topics:
Music
Race
Television

Tags:
Barbara McNair


 
When career opportunities for black women began to increase on television and in the movies during the 1960s, beautiful singer/actress Barbara McNair, all but forgotten today, was one of the fastest rising young African-American talents. After getting a break appearing on Arthur Godfrey’s Talent Scouts in the 1950s and working her way up through the show biz ranks, in 1962 McNair took over from Diahann Carroll, the original lead, in Richard Rodgers’ Broadway musical No Strings—an interracial love story set in Paris where a black fashion model falls in love with a white novelist. (During the show’s run, she endured obscene phone calls and hate mail.)

In 1965, a New York Times writer declared that the “strikingly beautiful” McNair “does not have to depend on looks alone. She is a highly knowledgeable performer who projects an aura of beauty, a warm personality and an appealing sense of fun.” She also possessed a phenomenal voice.
 

 
McNair—a serious babe as you can tell from the photos—recorded for Motown (who never seemed to know what to do with her) and other labels. She continued appearing on Broadway and in a number of television variety shows of the era like Hollywood Palace, The Dean Martin Show and Hullabaloo, plus acted in guest-starring roles in popular shows like I Spy, Mission: Impossible, Hogan’s Heroes and Dr. Kildaire. Additionally she performed for the troops stationed in Vietnam with Bob Hope and had a role as a nun in the Elvis film Change of Habit which co-starred Mary Tyler Moore.
 

Mahalia Jackson. Elvis and McNair
 
In the cinema, the Elvis flick aside, McNair’s work was more varied. She was cast as Sidney Poitier’s wife in They Call Me MISTER Tibbs, its sequel The Organization and If He Hollers Let Him Go, a 1968 film about race very, very loosely based on the Chester Himes novel of the same title. In 1969 she became one of the first black women in the history of the medium to have their own television show. The Barbara McNair Show was produced in Toronto for first run syndication in America and lasted until 1972.
 

 
The thing that seems somewhat unclear to me researching McNair today is how she sort of had one foot in the world of very staid and family friendly show business, while on the other hand she was stripping down for Playboy (one of the first black women to do so), friends with Lenny Bruce, known to have attended at least one ceremony of Anton LaVey’s Church of Satan in San Francisco and co-starred in Jess Franco’s avant garde exploitation film Venus in Furs. Additionally she was involved in a 1972 drug bust (holding half an ounce of heroin) with her husband/manager Rick Manzie, who had reputed mob connections and was murdered in their Las Vegas mansion in late 1976. Although the drugs charges were dropped, neither of these events would have had a positive effect on her career.

From the available evidence Barbara McNair wasn’t one thing or another but a force of nature with her own center of bohemian gravity. It’s interesting to remember this woman who could straddle the squeaky clean world of a Bob Hope USO show, while doing full frontal nudity in European art films that co-starred Klaus Kinski! She seems like she was a hip lady. McNair continued performing for some time and died of throat cancer in 2007 at the age of 72.

Somebody should really write her biography. She’s obviously a worthy—and fascinating—topic.

Below, McNair’s minor hit for Motown, “You’re Gonna Love My Baby.” Although long considered a Northern Soul classic that can instantly fill a UK dance floor, WHY isn’t this song as famous as anything anyone ever sang on Motown? This song is fucking incredible!
 

 

McNair in the NSFW trailer for Jess Franco’s Venus in Furs
 
More after the jump…
 

Posted by Richard Metzger | Discussion
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