Whenever I tell someone that notably foul-mouthed druggy comedian Richard Pryor had a kids’ show in the mid-80s on CBS, the reaction is invariably something along the lines of “No way. Get the fuck out of here!”
But it’s true, he did, even if the Internet has fewer than 9000 references to it, it really happened. Richard motherfucking Pryor had a kids’ show. Pryor’s Place was a sort of an edgier version (rip off?) of Sesame Street. Pryor played himself, and a number of other roles—including a Rastafarian street musician (with a totally shit Jamaican accent) and a return of Mudbone, his ancient wino sage character—along with child actors and puppets. The deliriously weird program was produced by Sid and Marty Krofft—who else—written mostly by Paul Mooney and had theme music by Ray Parker Jr., who was also in the opening credits.
“(Whoa-oh-oh) Let’s get on over to Pryor’s Place (Whoa-oh-oh) We’re gonna party, so don’t be late. We’ve got friends who live in the street The craziest people you’ll ever meet on Pryor’s Place! (Whoa-oh-OOOH) Pryor’s Place!”
Gonna party at Pryor’s Place, eh Ray? I don’t think he thought that one all the way through…
Pryor being Pryor, the show did try to tackle issues somewhat heavier than Sesame Street would, such as racism, shoplifting, adoption, bullying and so forth. Thirteen episodes were produced in total, and despite leery opposition to Richard motherfucking Pryor hosting children’s entertainment by some CBS affiliates in the deep South, the show aired in repeats until mid-1985.
There were tons of celebrity cameos in Pryor’s Place, from the likes of Marla Gibbs. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Scatman Crothers, Sammy Davis Jr., Kim “Tootie” Fields, Shirley Hemphill, Pat Morita, William (Blacula, King of Cartoons) Marshall, Willie Nelson, John Ritter, Rip Taylor, Lily Tomlin, Robin Williams and Henry Winkler.
Below, a complete episode of Pryor’s Place from 1984:
1970’s television was rich with quirky detective shows where every week some maverick cop or P.I. solved a seemingly unsolvable crime. These characters were larger than life, entertaining and very much the antithesis to many of today’s downbeat, under-lit cop shows. There was the sparkle-eyed William Conrad as LAPD detective Cannon, Peter Falk as the jovial, bumbling Columbo, James Franciscus as handsome, blind insurance investigator Longstreet, Telly Savalas as the bald, cigarette-smoking, candy-eating Kojak, the odd couple of Karl Malden and Michael Douglas in The Streets of San Francisco, and let’s not forget that seldom seen cop show Quinn Martin’s Beckett starring playwright Samuel Beckett.
Beckett was the gangly, laconic cop who didn’t always get his man but knew if the bad guy got away that he would have to try again, fail again but fail better. His catchphrases were “Book ‘em Godot!” and “Birth was the death of him, Murphy.” And who can forget his sidekick and pal in real life, Andre the Giant as handy henchman Little Bim, or the starry supporting cast that included Jean-Paul Sartre as sleazy Walleye Molloy (“Hell is other peepholes”) and Jean Cocteau as Huggy Bear. Sadly this modernist cop show never took off with US audiences and was quickly dropped from the TV schedules. However, over the years Beckett has gained a cult following and today fans of the show are still waiting for the long promised DVD release, which is bound to turn up sooner or later, maybe. But until that day comes, here’s a taster of the classic opening title sequence to the series. Now, book ‘em Godot!
I wish ‘70s-style TV variety specials would make a comeback. They represented everything great about awful showbiz crap. Actors who couldn’t sing sang and singers who couldn’t act acted. They almost invariably contained terribly-scripted sketch comedy in which stilted dialogue abounded. And ALL aspects of the productions were pushed past their badness thresholds—the musical orchestrations were exactly too bombastic, the costumery was exactly too glittery, and the stars were exactly too far past their prime. That shit was choice.
On Thanksgiving of 1977, ABC-TV aired the one-hour Beatles Forever, a musical tribute to the Fab Four, starring Diahann Carroll, Ray Charles, Anthony Newley, Paul Williams, Mel Tillis, Bernadette Peters, Anthony Dowell, and Tony Randall. Yep, some crazy bastard thought Tony Randall singing Beatles songs was going to be good TV! About the only respectable performances came, unsurprisingly, from the great Ray Charles, who’d already been performing “Yesterday” as part of his own concert repertoire for years. A different kind of respectable performance came from Anthony Newley, by then deep into the Borscht Belt phase of his career, tackling George Harrison’s dense and trippy Sgt. Pepper’s number “Within You, Without You.” Dangerous Minds’ Marc Campbell wrote about that a few years ago, check it out here, its histrionics could permanently warp you. If only the video would turn up online—Canadian sound collagist and radio host Otis Fodder‘s description of the segment sounds about ten light years beyond bonkers:
This special starred a ton of folks, but this performance by Anthony Newley (with his over-dramatic vocal stylings) take the cake. The video clip of this is a laugh riot in itself with Anthony’s eyebrows doing most of the singing (as they move in a hypnotic motion that send you into a pure Zen state). It’s also very important to note that while Anthony sings this song he is in a Grecian bath room, in a toga, fog covering the ground and there are ladies in waiting!
For the most part, the show was heavy on tacky medleys, wherein every singer got a chance to quickly trainwreck a choice bit of a classic song. Audio of the entire show was made available in MP3 form by WFMU as the kickoff of their 2007 “365 Days” project. Video is maddeningly difficult to find, but the final medley survives on YouTube. It starts off quite nicely, with Ray Charles performing a respectful and tasteful take on Let It Be‘s “The Long and Winding Road.” Then, in under a minute, it all goes straight to hell.
Oh, the Internet, you and all your inspired goofy crap that I want… Today’s coveted objects are these marvelous timepieces, based on the classic Monty Python sketch “Ministry of Silly Walks,” using John Cleese’s legs and umbrella as the clocks’ hands.
If you’re of a crafty bent, you might make your way to sillywalkclock.blogspot.com, where a Blogger user named Suzanne has published detailed and generously illustrated instructions for making your own Ministry of Silly Walks clock out of materials cheaply and readily available at any craft store.
If you don’t know the sketch, oh dear GOD, let’s get you up to speed, shall we? It was originally aired in the first episode of Monty Python’s Flying Circus’ second season, and it features a lanky and limber Cleese executing some of the most uproarious physical comedy ever committed to film, all while maintaining a completely serious deadpan expression. At one point, the sheer volume of the studio audience’s laughter is sufficient to render Cleese’s lines completely inaudible. In his The First 20 Years of Monty Python (later revised as The First 28 Years of Monty Python), prolific Python chronicler Kim “Howard” Johnson relates Graham Chapman’s tale of the sketch’s origin:
John Cleese and I were writing together one day, and John had been thinking of doing something about anger. He’s very good at it, and he likes that emotion very much indeed. I’d been noticing that there were all sorts of ministries for strange things that were likely to distract people from the main issues of the day, and make it look like the government was doing something. A lot of attention would either go to a drought or a flood that probably didn’t exist anyway, and there seemed to be lots of useless ministries. I thought, why not a Ministry of Anger?
It’s difficult to remember whether it was John’s or my idea, but I do know that the next stage was Silly Walks, which was more ludicrous and petty than an emotion like anger. My house was on a very steep hill, and we saw a man walk past, uphill, stooped very sharply backward, defying the laws of gravity! Well, we thought Silly Walks was a good idea, but we couldn’t quite think how to develop it.
As usual, we were supposed to be writing something else when this idea occurred—anything to prevent us from getting to that work! But we thought we’d better get on to writing what we were supposed to be writing. So we rang up Mike (Palin) and Terry (Jones)—to interrupt them from whatever they were supposed to be doing—and made them write the sketch.
Austerity, repression, police brutality and skyrocketing unemployment—young people the world over have so much to fight for, but it’s the protesters of Bolivia who have stolen my heart. A few days ago an estimated 2000 Bolivians—most of them appearing to be under 30—took to the streets in a multi city defense of The Simpsons. No, the show was not canceled, nor was it censored—but the timeslot was changed, and the people were not having it. Perhaps even weirder than the mobilization itself is its success—a few hours of marching in the rain and not only did the network reverse the scheduling change, they bumped up the airtime from 45 minutes to two full daily hours of Springfield’s favorite family!
If it seems like a shallow crusade, it’s worth noting there may be more to this action than meets the eye. Latin Times ran this story under the decidedly bitter old man headline of “Don’t They Have Jobs?”—but likely, they do, as the Bolivian youth unemployment rate is less than half the youth employment rate of the US. The network that made the scheduling change however, Unitel Bolivia, is recognized as right-wing, so it’s possible “The Simpsons” are a sort of semiotic stand-in for other values. Either way, always nice to see civically engaged young people winning their battles, right? Viva Bolivia! And viva Bart!
On October 5th, 1979, King Crimson leader and sometime Brian Eno collaborator Robert Fripp made a demonstration performance of his “Frippertonics” system of live instrument looping on NBC’s late-night music series The Midnight Special. The song he performed was “The New World,” which would eventually appear on the 1986 LP Robert Fripp and the League of Crafty Guitarists: Live. Amusingly and somewhat puzzlingly, the tv.com entry for the broadcast misidentifies the song as “musical experiment (possibly titled ‘God Save the Queen’),” citing a slightly later song which sounds absolutely nothing like “The New World.”
Frippertronics was a form of tape delay, not terribly complicated to set up but which could lead to richly layered and complex results, wherein two reel-to-reel machines recorded and played back loops of live guitar back and forth between one another. The length of the delay was dependent on the distance between the two tape machines, and the system created much longer echoes and decays than were possible with electronic delay units at the time, though Electro Harmonix made a valiant effort. (If you click on that link, you’ll notice that the ad’s small print actually calls the unit a “Fripp-in-the-Box!” I hope they at least gave him a free one.) Fripp explained the system in this truly fantastic interview—seriously, read the whole thing if you have some time—with the Canadian journalist Ron Gaskin, published just a couple of months before the Midnight Special appearance:
RG: Could you simply explain the process of Frippertronics?
RF: Yes. I record on the left machine, the guitar is recorded on the left machine, the signal passes along the tape to the right machine where it’s played back to the left machine and recorded a second time.
RF: The signal recorded the second time passes along the tape to the right machine where it’s played back a second time and recorded a third.
RG: And at what point is it released into the room?
RF: Oh, straightaway. Unless, what I could do if I wanted to be crafty, would be to build up a chord which no one could hear and then turn the chord on, but, in fact, that doesn’t happen. I’ve only done that, I think, on a couple of occasions. You hear it happening.
Lovely, was that not? I love Fripp’s commendation of the show’s bravery for having him on to experiment for broadcast. While the four-minute duration was generous by television standards, that was less than half of the piece as it was eventually released. Here’s the version from on the League of Crafty Guitarists’ album, with a nice slideshow that even purloins some of the Midnight Special footage.
There’s not really much to say here because no one’s saying anything. An evil genius who goes by the name of “Bill Smith” took a segment of the Dr. Phil show and removed the dialogue so all that’s left are awkward reactions. It’s very Andy Kaufman-esque, and gets funnier the longer it goes on.
I can’t stand Dr. Phil, so I see this as a thing of beauty.
Like a modern day Lazarus, disgraced evangelist and ex-con Jim Bakker has risen from the dead. The Howdy Doody from hell has a new base of operations in the Ozarks. It’s called Morningside and is a smaller version of his gaudy, ill-fated, Christian theme park Heritage USA. Morningside’s not far from Branson, where the rotten egg smell of meth labs mingles with the Old Spice and lavender scent of sexagenarians lining up for “Dolly Parton’s Dixie Stampede Dinner & Show.” The oleaginous huckster’s proximity to hillbilly Vegas is perfect - kind of like finding crab lice in a commune.
Morningside has a TV studio that airs a handful of programs, most of which feature Bakker and his new wife Lori. Now Lori ain’t no Tammy Faye by a long shot but they both share the same startled expression in their eyes - a wide-eyed, caught in the headlights look, that comes from years of staring at a husband who looks like a demented sock puppet.
The Jim Bakker Show has its own hard hitting investigative journalist named Zach Drew. As you can see in the video below, Zach is a pretty excitable guy. When he lands a major scoop, like cows with mystical hairdos, he practically wets himself. You got to admire his enthusiasm even as you wonder what’s crawled up the reporter’s bunghole to make him so damned giddy.
Anyway, here’s some “Breaking News!” from The Jim Bakker Show that somehow managed to fly under the radar of all of the major news outlets. It’s the mystery of the red-haired heifer - what Jim Bakker calls “a supernatural event.” I’m a bit bewildered as to why the heifer’s markings (it looks like the number 7) qualify as supernatural. Maybe it’s because I’m a non-believer when it comes to follicle-related miracles involving cattle. A red-haired cow with a massive rockabilly quiff or Afro might grab my attention. But the markings on this little lady doesn’t really do much for me. And I’m currently tripping on 400 mics of pure LSD.
If after viewing the video, you’re at all curious about the Biblical significance of the number seven click here. Otherwise, do what I did - drop another tab of acid.
In the book of Revelation there are seven churches, seven angels to the seven churches, seven seals, seven trumpet plagues, seven thunders and the seven last plagues. The first resurrection of the dead takes place at the 7th trumpet, completing salvation for the Church.
The heifer harbinger of the end times doesn’t appear until around the ten-minute point in the video but the lead-up is worth viewing just to witness Zach Drew’s delusional notion that this is the scoop of the century.
Even the most passionate of Kinks fans will be forced to admit that the 1970s saw a few too many failed experiments in the rock opera direction. Taking all of the grandiose Kinks Koncept albums (see what I did there) after, what, Lola Versus Powerman And The Moneygoround, Part 1 perhaps (Muswell Hillbillies doesn’t count), one of the ones that probably stands up best today is The Kinks Present a Soap Opera from 1975. I’m none too fond of the central idea of the all-powerful musical demigod Starmaker masquerading as regular-bloke Norman for a day so that he can go off and imbue the lives of ordinary folks with his magical anthems, no sir I am not. But the songs are pretty decent and there’s at least some humor in it, which some of Ray’s other big concept albums sorely lack.
What I didn’t know until recently was that Ray Davies starred in a live staged version of Soap Opera taped for Granada Television about eight months before it was released as an album, with Ray playing the double role of Starmaker/Norman. In a rather demanding role, June Ritchie played Norman’s wife. It’s a full-on production with the Kinks acting as the backup band, and a whole host of singers and dancers. It was taped in front of a live audience on July 25, 1974, and broadcast on September 4 of the same year. The Soap Opera album wouldn’t come out until the following May.
One of the problems with Soap Opera is that the central conceit of the Starmaker is just waaaay too close to Davies himself for my taste. The staged version of the play suggests an uneasy mashup between kitchen-sink drama and a big, heavy-handed, idea-driven satire à la Network. And in fact Soap Opera probably would have worked better if Starmaker was a TV executive rather than a big rock star—it fits naturally, a soap opera is after all a genre designed for TV/radio to begin with. What you’re left with is Davies trying to say something about the entertainment industry and ordinary life but in fact seems to really be all about Ray’s ego, and that’s a palpable flaw.
In any case, the Starmaker Granada show wasn’t a big success, but it’s surprisingly watchable and entertaining. For one thing, they’re almost always singing, and the songs are pretty good, as I said earlier. The staging is almost “theater in the round,” which was fashionable in the 1970s but for darn good reasons has stopped being a common method of presenting drama. Davies is remarkably fluent as an actor, and he’s required to do a whole hell of a lot here.
A little later, Ray reveals that he was too self-conscious to watch Starmaker on TV. “I just didn’t want to know. I knew it was going to be bad. It wasn’t the producer’s fault. That guy [Dennis Wolfe] is suffering, trying to use rock bands, trying to break new ground, and his Light Entertainment department don’t wanna know. So we got squeezed into some late-night slot, and we got the guy who does the drama sound. … We always get resentment from those kind of people because we’re a rock band trying to do something on a theatrical level. Theatrical people don’t like us infringing on their territory.
According to Hinman, Dave Davies wasn’t too thrilled about the Granada appearance, especially “how poorly the band were treated by the crew” as well as “his feeling of being reduced to a sideman in what he sees as a vehicle for Ray alone rather than a Kinks project.” It really does seem like a 100% Ray project, so it makes sense that Dave saw it much the same way.
A dedicated alt-rock fan on YouTube recently uploaded some choice clips from 120 Minutes, and the best find in the bunch is most likely this extended clip with Philadelphia indie rock mainstays the Dead Milkmen, in which they played one quite rare cut and one track they almost certainly only played during this appearance.
In early 1989 the Dead Milkmen were riding high indeed, thanks to the biggest commercial success they’d ever have, the well-nigh irresistible “Punk Rock Girl,” which had become a major crossover hit off of 1988’s Beelzebubba. This clip lasts nearly 22 minutes, skillfully editing out all of the videos and commercials and leaving just several solid minutes of vintage Dead Milkmen banter as well as two striking live performances. The second song they played was called “The Puking Song,” which eventually ended up as one of the miscellaneous tracks on the Smokin’ Banana Peels EP, which was released a year later. Host Kevin Seal makes a big deal about that “The Puking Song” is “unavailable in any store” so it’s my supposition that they may have written it for this appearance. In any case, it’s gross and funny in a way that only the Dead Milkmen did so entertainingly and so often.
The other song is billed as “Save the Rainforest,” but that title is pretty clearly a bit of sneaky subterfuge because—the song is actually about not wanting to appear on 120 Minutes! I’ve seen this song listed on Dead Milkmen forums and stuff as “Save the Rainforest,” but that’s sheer silliness, that is not the title of the song. The true title of the song is (if anything) “We Don’t Want to Be Here.” Actually, judge for yourself, here are the lyrics, which I believe you won’t find anywhere else on the Internet.
We don’t know what we’re doing here!
Trapped inside of your TV
Forced to host 120 Minutes
For some free publicity
There’s no Debbie Gibson or Tiffany
But you might have to sit through some Morrissey
We don’t want to be here
We don’t want to be here
We’d rather be at home!
Stick your head into the toil of tomorrow
Become one with the cosmic head
Stay up late, call in sick
Tune in, turn on, drop dead!
You won’t have to look at much Kevin Seal tonight
But you’ll have to look at us instead!
We don’t want to be here
We don’t want to be here
We’d rather be in bed!
There’s no Debbie Gibson or Tiffany
But you might have to see the Cowboy Junkies
We don’t want to be here
We don’t want to be here
But it’s better than drinking alone! (several times)
Of course, the title could be “Save the Rainforest” if you accept that the subterfuge is part of the song or something like that. As far as I can tell, this track, which obviously makes sense only if you’re actually performing it at MTV for a taping of 120 Minutes, doesn’t appear on any Dead Milkmen albums or EPs. As you can see (or hear) for yourself, they went out of their way to make fun of Morrissey in the song, but they weren’t done with His Holy Pompadour just yet.
During one of the interview segments, after Joe Genaro had finished demonstrating a drum-playing panda toy to everyone, Rodney Linderman tells a story about walking into a bar and seeing a guy eating a steak, drinking beer, and punching a guy in the face and then stealing his best gal, with the punchline being that it was Morrissey, who clearly “eats steaks, drinks beer, and chases women,” har har.