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Hair-metal hot dogs: A Cinderella story
11.22.2016
08:38 am
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Never mind prog, hair metal is the most reviled rock genre, period. And it probably should be, because most of it fucking blows like nothing else on Earth. (Show up at my door with a copy of Open Up and Say… Ahh! and a gun, and that gun had better be loaded.) But it shouldn’t have sucked—at its most basic, the genre combined the grit of ‘70s hard rock (awesome), the decadent swagger of glam (awesome), and the gleeful sneer of punk (awesome), but by some unholy and counterintuitive rock math, “awesome plus awesome plus awesome” equalled stomach-churningly shitty.

Before grunge tanked the genre in the early ‘90s, hair metal was already in decline anyway, due to the samey cartoonishness of its sartorial norms, the tediousness of its de rigueur power-ballads, and the body-blow of Penelope Spheeris’ documentary The Decline of Western Civilization Part II: The Metal Years, which aimed an array of klieg lights on the jaw-droppingly pathetic delusions of also-ran hair metal musicians. (If you have a Roku or similar device, The Shout Factory streaming channel has that doc, FYI. It’s a must-see.) But before the curtain fell, a band from Philly called Cinderella scored a huge hit with a power ballad (of course) called “Nobody’s Fool” and a triple-platinum album called Night Songs. The band was less party-oriented than much hair metal, ultimately moving away from the style towards a more straightforward bluesy hard rock approach, and they were gifted with a singer, Tom Keifer, who at his best approached the expressiveness of Ronnie James Dio. In his lesser moments, well, see how much of this you can make it through.

While “Nobody’s Fool” is arguably the song most closely associated with the band, I feel like the video below captures a way more appealing vibe. It’s a 30-second commercial the pre-fame band shot for a hot dog stand called Pat’s. (Located on ROUTE 420! COME ON!) To be clear, I am in no way knocking them for writing a hot dog commercial. There have existed a couple of hot dog places I would gladly honor in song, myself, should the occasion arise. I genuinely like this ad—for one thing, the footage of the rough-around-the-edges early band contrasts edifyingly against the blow dried, pampered-poodle corporate glam of their official videos, and watching them stuff their faces with dirty water hot dogs is about the least pretentious thing ever in a genre where affectation was job one.

In a great video made a few years ago for Loudwire, Keifer related the tale of how Cinderella came to make the ad.

In recent years, the commercial “Pat’s Chili Dogs” I did with my band Cinderella years ago has been surfacing on the internet quite a bit lately. And the way that came about was, that was right when early ‘80s MTV was just starting to take off, and we were a young baby band kicking around in the clubs in the Philadelphia/Jersey area, and we wanted to be on MTV, and we sent our video, which was horrible, to like Basement Tapes or something like that. They wouldn’t play it, they wouldn’t touch us. So a local proprietor who owned a chili dog stand asked us to sing. He saw us in a club and he liked us. He said “would you do a rock ’n’ roll commercial for my place?” And he said “We’re gonna buy local TV advertising on MTV,” and the light went off, we were like “Well, we’ll be on MTV, then!” [laughs] Only locally, but that’s what it felt like to us, so we said “Sure, we’ll do it.” Plus we got free chili dogs any time we wanted.

 
More after the jump…

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Posted by Ron Kretsch
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11.22.2016
08:38 am
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Leon Russell’s groovy Terry Gilliam-esque animated promo for ‘Roll Away the Stone’
11.15.2016
12:01 pm
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It’s been widely noted that 2016 has been an especially rough year for legendary musicians. Sunday brought news of the passing of the great and prolific troubadour Leon Russell at the age of 74. Russell routinely put out gold albums in the 1970s and was a profound influence on singers as varied as Elvis Costello and Frank Black.

A bit surprisingly, Russell never had a top 10 album or song until The Union, his 2010 album wth Elton John. His early composition “A Song for You” was covered by countless musicians, most notably the Carpenters, but his highest-charting track was actually “Tight Rope,” which appeared on 1972’s Carney.

It’s amusing to notice the high-powered talent that he attracted for his first album, which came out in 1970. Credited are three Stones (Jagger, Wyman, Watts), two Beatles (Starr and Harrison), plus Eric Clapton, Steve Winwood, Joe Cocker, and Klaus Voormann.

The first single he ever released was “Roll Away the Stone,” and his label Shelter put together what can only be called a “music video” but everyone insists on calling a “promo.”

The animation was by Brian Zick, a graphic artist from southern California who is known for his striking pop art illustrations. You can see the influence of Yellow Submarine but it’s also a lot like the brilliant cut-out animations of Terry Gilliam for Monty Python’s Flying Circus, which are more or less contemporaneous—I’d reckon Zick had never seen them. Zick did a bunch of album covers in the 1970s and 1980s.

More after the jump…

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Posted by Martin Schneider
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11.15.2016
12:01 pm
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‘Tricky Dick’ Nixon trolls Humphrey with the most avant-garde political TV ad ever produced, 1968
11.08.2016
01:14 pm
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In the presidential election this year, Donald Trump has been happy to paint himself as the “law and order” candidate with much talk of American inner cities as war zones consisting of little other than misery, violence, and chaos. As many have noted, “law and order” is code to racist whites about the dangers of unbridled African-American actually using their constitutional freedoms and electoral clout.

It’s actually a very old trope. Richard Nixon was its originator, the first national candidate to realize that racial panic could be used to wrest the South from the control of the Democrats. It’s said that President Lyndon B. Johnson understood that his signing of the 1964 Civil Rights Act meant that the Democrats had “lost the South for a generation,” in a line often attributed to him. Nixon was the first national Republican politician to exploit these divisions, and exploit them he did, albeit not quite as overtly as Donald Trump has…

The bloody year of 1968 gave Nixon a lot to work with, what with the assassinations of RFK and MLK as well as the most violent political convention in American history. Nixon was able to use the tensions within the Democratic Party to color Vice President Hubert Humphrey, the party’s candidate, as ineffectual.

Eight days before the election, during an episode of Laugh-In, Nixon’s team ran a formally daring campaign commercial directed by documentary filmmaker Eugene Jones called “Convention.” The commercial used stills of Vietnam and the Democratic Convention in Chicago with jarring audio effects to send the unmistakable message that a Humphrey presidency would be a baaaaad trip, maaaan.

Interestingly, the familiar campaign music is called “Hot Time in the Old Town Tonight,” and the commercial definitely plays with both positive and negative connotations of the phrase. This plays like an underground film of the era much more than it does a TV commercial.

Watch after the jump…

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Posted by Martin Schneider
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11.08.2016
01:14 pm
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Corporate sales video for Prince’s Paisley Park Studio from the early 1990s
10.31.2016
03:04 pm
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As with any creative superstar, Prince’s career had several distinct phases—the video that makes up the subject of this post comes from an ill-defined stretch that is bracketed by his astounding successes of the early and mid-1980s (ending around Sign o’ the Times, perhaps) and his feud with Warners, which started in 1993. That period is marked by The Black Album, Lovesexy, the Batman soundtrack, his work on Madonna’s album Like a Prayer, and the Graffiti Bridge movie and album, among many other things. It is also the period in which Paisley Park Studios was constructed and launched as an ambitious hub for music production—which is not the identity it had for Prince’s fans in the years to follow.

This corporate sales video touting the virtues of Paisley Park as a location for a wide variety of audio and video production uses probably dates from 1991. It can’t be much earlier, as it incorporates footage from Prince’s 1990 appearance at the American Music Award and features plentiful shots of Paula Abdul and MC Hammer, both of whom were topping the pop charts around that time. And it can’t be much later, because it wouldn’t be long before Prince became obsessed with his grievances with Warners.

Paisley Park was completed in the town of Chanhassen, Minnesota, in 1988. Today we think of Paisley Park as somehting almost analogous to Charles Foster Kane’s Xanadu in Citizen Kane, a thoroughly private and whimsical domain overseen by a single eccentric genius, but for those of you who think of Paisley Park in those terms, this video is startling indeed—as it comes from a time when Prince wanted to fashion the music production complex as an authentic commercial rival to Nashville and Los Angeles.
 

Prince in 1991
 
The video, which lasts seven minutes, is as bland as any other corporate video you’ve ever seen. This is a document intended not to ruffle any feathers, unmistakably designed to appeal to the dollars-and-cents mentality of music production professionals across the nation. Barry Gibb is on hand to murmur a few words about Prince’s extraordinary music production standards, and the video ends with a cheesy shout-out to one of Prince’s most enduring hits: “Paisley Park Enterprises, the model for the next century—or at least ‘1999’! It can be in your hands today!”

The ambition implied by the video would founder just a couple years later on his feud with Warners, which had a distribution deal with Prince’s Paisley Park label. Prince would change his name to an unpronounceable glyph and take to scrawling the word “SLAVE” on his cheek. While Prince’s tactics may have won him some autonomy from his corporate overlords, they also exacted a cost on his ambitions to create a new hub for music production. As Stan Hawkins and ‎Sarah Niblock write in Prince: The Making of a Pop Music Phenomenon, “In 1994, Warner Bros. ended its distribution deal with Paisley Park, effectively closing it down.”

More after the jump…

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Posted by Martin Schneider
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10.31.2016
03:04 pm
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DEVO shills for Pioneer’s futuristic new LaserDisc format, 1984
10.10.2016
02:16 pm
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The early 1980s were such a heady time for personal entertainment technology. The Sony Walkman was introduced in the U.S. in 1980, the same time that VHS and Betamax found themselves embroiled in the canonical “format war” to determine control of the videotape market. Meanwhile, CDs were giving a geneation of Boomers a reason to buy Electric Ladyland a second time, and laserdiscs represented that slightly unwieldy and expensive format that was a “cut above” to signal the affluence and distinction of the serious cinephile.

Pioneer Electronics, having purchased a majority stake in the format, had ample reason to push the devices as well as the brand name LaserDisc. To that end, in 1984 Pioneer hired Ohio’s staunchest believers in “devolution,” known to all of course as DEVO, to appear in a 12-minute in-store demo disc touting the innumerable advantages of the laserdisc format.

The band appears wearing tuxedos in a variety of colors and matching fright wigs, each creatively adorned with a single large googly eye and painted eyebrows guaranteeing a quizzical expression. (Surely DEVO is in the Fright Wig Hall of Fame by now?) After introducing themselves, DEVO quickly cedes the floor to Ray Charles, who testifies that the format certainly sounds good and (so he is assured) looks good as well. Blind pianist George Shearing joins him to double down on the gag.
 

Ray Charles, video entertainment expert
 
It’s a little depressing to hear, after Ray Charles delivers his spiel, Mark Mothersbaugh (of all people) intone the following copy: “Was that just advertising hype? Listen a minute, and let your own ears decide.” Sigh. Let’s hope they were all paid well for this.

The rest of the video consists mainly of clips pimping Pioneer’s laserdisc catalogue of that moment, including WarGames, Tootsie, Flashdance, Sophie’s Choice, The Wiz, Carlin at Carnegie, and so forth. Pioneer was proud of laserdisc’s improved audio playback, so popular music artists were a big part of the pitch—it’s a little funny to hear DEVO touting the virtues of Duran Duran and Sheena Easton, but am I imagining it or does Mothersbaugh give the phrase “the heat of Fleetwood Mac” extra ironic oomph?

More after the jump…

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Posted by Martin Schneider
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10.10.2016
02:16 pm
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Cheesy Rider: Dennis Hopper sells Fords with a little help from his anti-establishment cred
10.06.2016
10:07 am
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“We blew it” said Peter Fonda’s Captain America to his sidekick Billy—Dennis Hopper—at the end of Easy Rider. He was right. The freedom the counterculture movement touted as some kind of utopian future in the 1960s was just an ad man’s gimmick by the 1990s. In this case quite literally when director/writer/co-star of Easy Rider Dennis Hopper popped up on British TV selling Ford cars. The concept of personal liberty and the open road was repackaged not as the living of a life but as the purchasing of a lifestyle.

Everyone’s gotta make a buck to survive—even Dennis Hopper—and this is a neat ad in which nineties Hopper meets his Easy Rider sixties doppelgänger. But while Hopper was clearly happy to be making a buck selling the latest, grooviest Ford Cougar—he was also in effect saying: “I’m happy to sell out any anti-establishment, free-living, counterculture message my much-loved cult movie may once have contained.”

I have always thought Easy Rider was an archly-conservative movie. It didn’t offer any credible alternative to the society Billy and Captain America wanted out of. Instead, they chased after fast money and cheap drugs and met an early death.

And Hopper’s nineties revisit? It’s well-made and cool, but on a superficial level—which kinda sums up that entire decade, right?
 

 
Bonus making of the ad video with Dennis Hopper, after the jump…
 

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Posted by Paul Gallagher
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10.06.2016
10:07 am
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Utterly bizarre commercial for an all-crying 900 phone line
10.04.2016
08:59 am
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There’s a certain unadorned beauty to the voiceover pitch in this commercial for a deeply puzzling 900 number consisting solely of shots of people crying uncontrollably on the phone. It probably dates from the late 1980s or the early 1990s:
 

What makes people all over America break down and cry like this?

Call 1-900-740-3500 and hear it for yourself.

Two dollars per minute.

If you’re under 18, ask your parents before you call.

1-900-740-3500

 
I think it was a “sob story” phone line, a number you could call if you wanted to hear sad stories. Are there people who are kind of addicted to sad stories, to the point that they would spend dozens of dollars for an hour-long session, say?

We have obtained the expert testimony of “Paul d” on a YouTube comment that “when I was younger I called this, it is just prerecorded calls where people describe sad stories, when I called a girl was talking about how her husband died in a motorcycle accident, me and my friends were like this is stupid lol.”

Anybody remember calling this number?

Also, where did they get the sad sob stories from?

Here’s the commercial. There’s an identical commercial with a different number, 1-900-9099-CRY, which you can see here.
 

Posted by Martin Schneider
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10.04.2016
08:59 am
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Bizarre Japanese TV commercial for dog-shaped speakers starring Quentin Tarantino
09.27.2016
01:03 pm
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Americans have long found Japanese advertisements peculiar—the “Mr. Sparkle” commercial parody from The Simpsons (“I am disrespectful to dirt!”) is certainly an excellent representation of why we regard them as so strange.

In this 2009 commercial for a Japanese telecom named SoftBank, renowned director and would-be actor Quentin Tarantino makes his best pitch at being the Mickey Rooney of his generation (watch Breakfast at Tiffany’s if you don’t get that reference) when he dons a kimono, waves his hands around martial arts-style, and says a few words in Japanese.

The product in the commercial is a cell phone speaker shaped like a dog, which is SoftBank’s mascot. The dog is actually the patriarch of the family featured in SoftBank’s commercials. They are known as “the White Family,” and as David Griner observes, the family consists of “the most popular recurring commercial characters in Japan” in which “the father is a human in a dog’s body ... the son is a black American, and their maid is an alien incarnation of Tommy Lee Jones.” Hooo-kay! But then again, try summarizing any Geico commercial and you end up in Weird Town pretty fast.

See it for yourself, after the jump…

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Posted by Martin Schneider
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09.27.2016
01:03 pm
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Mini-documentary on Ry Cooder made by Van Dyke Parks, 1970
09.26.2016
04:39 pm
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Here’s an interesting find. It’s a 14-minute promotional documentary that Warner Bros. put together for the 1970 debut album by a young performer named Ry Cooder, who was 23 at the time. What sets the movie apart is that the wonderfully eclectic singer and songwriter Van Dyke Parks, who had already released his first solo album Song Cycle, played on Tim Buckley’s first album, and contributed his considerable labors on Brian Wilson’s legendary Smile project (which eventually reached the public to great acclaim in 2004), was (quite strangely) at this time an employee of Warner Bros. tasked with overseeing the creation of promotional videos for Warner Bros. artists.

If anything, Cooder’s resume was even more impressive than Parks’ at this point, having already played on albums by the Rolling Stones and Captain Beefheart and Randy Newman. On this album Cooder actually covered Newman’s “My Old Kentucky Home (Turpentine & Dandelion Wine).”

A universally revered master of the slide guitar, Cooder would later become renowned for his work on movies starting in the 1980s, among them his collaborations with Wim Wenders, most notably the Oscar-nominated documentary Buena Vista Social Club.
 

Van Dyke Parks, enjoying a beverage
 
In 2013 Keith Connolly interviewed Van Dyke Parks in the pages of BOMB, during which the two men had following exchange about his stint at Warner Bros.:
 

Connolly: Let’s talk about Warner Bros in the ‘70s. Around ’71 there was an AV department you were put in charge of?

Parks: Yeah, but I wasn’t put anywhere at Warner Bros. I insinuated myself into that, I made up that audio/visual services. As a matter of fact it was a decision, a career decision, you might say, to put the audio before the visual.

Connolly: Right.

Parks: I had a department with five employees. We made 13 promotional films (and they were films), which were by nature documentary, so that they could be rented or bought by any accredited music school. They were instructive, they were entertaining, they were promotional—but they could create an income stream for musicians who were hard-pushed into tours that required drugs to sustain them.

We would spend $18,500 in the production of one film. Generally, they would be 10 minutes in length or song length. The one exception was for a Steel Band documentary, which was a 40-minute documentary about a trip through the South, a bunch of black men going through the American South. That was a fascinating, gripping adventure which I felt deserved to be presented. But having recovered the production expenses—that is, having broken even—I provided that each artist would get 25% of the net profits of the rentals or sales. It was going to be a very promising market for the artist. Warners soon tired of what I thought was a fair equation of participation in creative profits, and basically isolated me to the extent that I left.

 
More after the jump…

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Posted by Martin Schneider
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09.26.2016
04:39 pm
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Gary Numan’s 1978 blue jeans commercial featuring vampire robot punks
09.20.2016
02:32 pm
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In 1978 Gary Numan, then still with Tubeway Army, did the vocals for a commercial for the English jeans manufacturer Lee Cooper. The commercial featured some hyper-fashionable Londoners with pasty skin and glowing green and blue eyes. In the commercial, Numan sings a song called “Don’t Be a Dummy” with the following lyrics:
 

Don’t be a dummy!
Move like honey
Don’t be a dummy!
Use your money
Come out proud, don’t hide in the crowd
Find the gear of love to grind
Find the gear to suit you
Mine’ll suit ya!
Lee Cooper!
Lee Cooper!

 
Interestingly, according to an article by Nick Robertshaw that appeared in Billboard in October 1978, music executives pushed hard for Numan to release the song as a single, but he wouldn’t do it:
 
More after the jump…

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Posted by Martin Schneider
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09.20.2016
02:32 pm
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