As long as there’s been music on television, there’ve been mimed TV performances, and as long as there’ve been mimed TV performances, there’ve been bands who hated miming. Asking bands to mime can be understandable; even though it’s tacky, setting up for live band performances, getting a mix that works for the live audience AND the TV audience, all of this can be logistical hell, and not every show is going to be equipped for that. Even Saturday Night Live has broadcast some mighty iffy mixes, and they’ve been doing it weekly for decades. But still, there are as many—if not more—good reasons to despise miming as there are to resort to it.
Sometimes bands will just rebel against the process, and that can be memorable art in its own right. I’m sure many DM readers are aware of Public Image Ltd’s appearance on American Bandstand in the late ‘70s, wherein John Lydon abandoned his requisite fake singalong and dragged the show’s studio audience onto the stage to dance with the band. In his memoir The Real Frank Zappa Book, Frank Zappa described what must have been a very early example of mime rebellion, from the Mothers of Invention’s 1966 tour:
In Detroit, we did a television show where we were asked to do something perverted: “lip-sync our hit.” We didn’t have a ‘hit,’ but the producer said, “Lip-sync your hit—or else.” So I asked, “Do you have a prop department here?” fortunately, there was one.
From it, I gathered an assortment of random objects and built a set. We had been asked to pretend to play either “How Could I Be Such A Fool?” or “Who Are the Brain Police?” so I suggested that each member of the group choose a repeatable physical action, not necessarily in sync with (or even related to) the lyrics, and do it over and over until our spot on the show was concluded—Detroit’s first whiff of homemade prime-time Dada.
If that footage exists anywhere, I’d sure like to know about it.
Thanks to Ultimate Classic Rock, I’ve been alerted that Iron Maiden—a band I love every bit as abidingly as Public Image Ltd. but for totally different reasons—flipped the bird at a lip-sync performance of “Wasted Years,” the first single from Somewhere In Time (the one with the cover art of a bio-mech Eddie brandishing a laser gun in a Blade Runner-ish setting), in Germany in 1986.
It was filmed in August 1986 for a German TV show called P.I.T. While it starts off looking like business as usual — except that Steve Harris and Dave Murray have switched instruments — at the 40-second mark Bruce Dickinson is grabbing the guitar from Harris and strapping it on. Harris takes over the microphone while Dickinson bounces around the stage and pretending to play a guitar solo in the middle of the verse. Nicko McBrain pops out from behind the drums to take center stage for the chorus, and he’s handed a bass, and Harris winds up behind the drums.
It kind of devolves from there. At one point, three members are playing drums simultaneously, McBrain puts his hands on Adrian Smith’s guitar neck in the middle of the solo. Smith, for the record, is the only one who isn’t clowning around.
Here they are the same year, doing the song live for real.