In early 1970, Ringo Starr (billed as “Peter Sellers” appearing in the role of Ringo Starr) made a memorable guest appearance on NBC’s Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In to promote his then-new comedy, The Magic Christian.
Although he is never onscreen for more than 30 consecutive seconds, in the quick-cut style of the show, Ringo still got plenty of airtime (and plenty of opportunity to promote The Magic Christian, as you’ll see). Ringo interacts with Artie Johnson, sexy Teresa Graves, (flamboyant for the times) Alan Sues, Ruth Buzzi and Carol Channing (who, oddly, hasn’t aged a bit since this was shot).
‘Truly great men are those who combine contrary qualities within themselves.’
He could have been talking about the late, great Ken Russell, who mixed contrary qualities in his films, perhaps most brilliantly in his bio-pic on the composer, Lisztomania.
Russell had this incredible ability of presenting the truth of an artist and their work, while abandoning any pretense towards biographical realism. In 1975, he captured this perfectly with Lisztomania, presenting Liszt as the equivalent of a pop idol, with his screaming fans and over-indulged libido, in an intelligent, multi-layered imagining of the composer’s life, while using reference points from Charlie Chaplin to rock and roll, comic books to literature, philosophy to the horrors of Nazism.
At the time of its release, Russell described his process of making the film:
‘My film isn’t biography, it comes from things I feel when I listen to the music of Wagner and Liszt, and when I think about their lives.’
Lisztomania is a Pop Art movie with a Punk Rock sensibility - released the same year as Russell’s version of The Who’s rock opera, Tommy, and The Rocky Horror Show, on the cusp of the Sex Pistols formation.
I recall how the Observer Magazine ran a color spread on Lisztomania, in eager anticipation that then 48-year-old l’enfant terrible, Mr. Russell, had re-invented cinema with his marriage of pop stars and classical music - Roger Daltery as Liszt, Ringo Starr as the Pope, Paul Nicholas as Wagner - all surrounded by icons of Elvis and Pete Townshend. Of course, when the film was released, the critics recoiled in horror, and ran screaming for their mothers, or shared smelling salts in the back row of the cinema, to keep them from fainting.
Lisztomania is like no other movie, it is an art work that demands repeated viewing to pick through the cinematic and cultural references, and to appreciate the workings of the creative mind behind the camera. Ross Care in Film Quarterly said of the film:
‘Ken Russell is an intuitive symbolist and fantasist, a total film-maker who orchestrates his subjects in much the same manner that a composer might transcribe a musical composition from one interpretative medium to another (as, for example, Liszt himself did with certain works by Wagner and Berlioz and other composers of the period).”
Starring Roger Daltery as Liszt, Sara Kestelman as Princess Carolyn, Paul Nicholas as Wagner, and Ringo Starr as the Pope. Look out for (LIttle) Nell Campbell, Rick Wakeman, Georgina Hale, Murray Melvin and an uncredited, Oliver Reed.
Candy should, I repeat should be off the scale incredible. But it’s not.
Candy was a film that was always talked about, but no one ever saw it. The poster of Candy topless in the airplane cockpit would always be for sale in the back pages of magazines like “Famous Monsters of Filmland” next to ones of King Kong and Frankenstein and it became a familiar image of the era. But the movie you never saw. Not on any late night movie show, never on a Sunday morning “Million Dollar Movie” or anything like that, Candy was seemingly banned from TV for being too racy and for whatever reason was never released on VHS either. Nor was it ever on HBO or Showtime. It was the great lost movie in my eyes.
I became mildly obsessed with this film I could never see and went about collecting movie posters, lobby cards, publicity photos and I own several different versions of the novel by Terry Southern and Mason Hoffenberg with different groovy covers. The mythical Candy became a cult movie Holy Grail for me. I really built it up in my mind. For years I tried to get hold of a copy in the tape trading underground, but the best I was ever able to find was still unwatchable. Then finally it came out on DVD. It was like Christmas had arrived.
But it sucked! Really sucked. It was such a let down!
I mean just LOOK at the cast: Ringo Starr (Emmanuel, the Mexican gardener), Charles Aznavour (the horny hunchback), Marlon Brando (Grindl, the horny (fake) Indian guru), Richard Burton (MacPhisto, the drunk, horny Welsh poet), James Coburn (egotistical surgeon), John Huston (dirty old man doctor) and Walter Matthau (horny military general). Sugar Ray Robinson and Anita Pallenberg make cameo appearances. How could you go wrong with a cast like that?
Let’s not forget the amazing opening space travel sequence by Douglas Trumbull who went on to make 2001 with Stanley Kubrick. And the soundtrack by The Byrds, Steppenwolf and soundtrack great Dave Grusin (it’s INCREDIBLE and easy to find on audio blogs). The script was adapted by Buck Henry. HOW could this fail?
It even featured the decade defining pulchritude of Miss Teen Sweden, Ewa Aulin, in the title role of “Candy Christian,” the ultimate All-American girl.
But despite all this Candy is a terrible film and even worse, it’s boring.
One of the things that must have mucked up things badly for the production is—and I am just theorizing here—the contracts for the lead actors. These were THE leading actors of the day, all of them top drawer A-list 60s talent. After watching Candy the thought occurred to me that Marlon Brando’s agent probably asked how much screen time Richard Burton was getting and demanded the same for his client. Then James Coburn’s manager asked the same question and demanded equal time for his client and so on and so until each actor was guaranteed “Most Favored Nations” equal screen time. How else to explain the film’s structure? It’s maddening to watch and Candy feels like it’s never going to end.
STILL, I’m not saying it’s so bad you shouldn’t watch it. Actually I think that if this sounds even remotely intriguing to you then it’s definitely worth seeing. It’s not good, no, we’ve already established that fact, but it is a super insane, trippy, campy relic of the 1960s with some of the most iconic actors of the decade behaving like total hambones, each trying to outdo the other in chewing up the scenery.
Man I love Sparks! They are simultaneously the geekiest AND coolest band in the history of rock. We need to be showing more love to the brothers Mael and their highly literate, fun, sexy and intelligent music here on DM - they are California boys after all. This bizarrely brilliant short concert film is the perfect excuse to post about them.
Sparks always move with the times, and frequently they were well ahead of it. In 1974 they took baroque opera-pop to the top of the UK charts, a whole year before Queen did the same thing to more acclaim. In 74/75 they pretty much invented New Wave (the proof lies in this film) and 4-5 years later when it had caught on Sparks had already moved on to inventing that staple of 80s pop, the synth-duo (through their incredible work with Giorgio Moroder). That’s not even taking into account the theory that 1976’s Big Beat album paved the way for power-pop. By the early 80s the brothers had settled down and repositioned themselves as perhaps THE quintessential New Wave band, hooking up with uber-fan Jane Weidlin of the Go-Gos along the way, and delivering the MTV staple “Cool Places”. Sparks were on the ball with their music videos too, recognising that the moving image was going to be key to music in the coming decades, and hiring a certain director called David Lynch to helm the promo for their classic 1983 stomper “I Predict”.
And that brings us back to this concert film. It is of course a brilliant look at the Sparks live set-up of the mid-Seventies post-glam era, but it also gives us some unintentionally funny moments too. It must have been a bit of a nightmare for the record company to position this brainy, sarky, odd-looking band as being another teeny-bop pop product, but boy did they try. See the over-enthusiastic reaction from the crowd to every single move the band make! Hear the roars that sound like they were from a different concert! Feel the prodding from assistant directors for bored audience members to get up and dance! Still, none of this hides the true, what-the-hell weirdness that shines out of Sparks, and particularly Ron Mael. Just check the moment at 1:40 when Ron gives a wry smile to an audience member and we see her shocked reaction.
This film is pretty short and only features four songs (“Something For The Girl With Everything”. Talent Is An Asset”, “B.C.” and “Amateur Hour”) and pop spotters will also be interested to see that Sparks are given an introduction by none other than Keith Moon and Ringo Starr:
Although I have always appreciated his music (“Ride a White Swan” was one of the first 45s I ever bought), I have never been what you would call a Marc Bolan/T-Rex fanatic. Don’t get me wrong, I am indeed a fan, but I’ve always put Marc Bolan in the same category as I do Chuck Berry, Little Richard or Eddie Cochran. Translation: a decent greatest hits is probably all I probably really need to own (Bolan also stole shamelessly from each of these artists, of course).
In actual fact, I own quite a few T-Rex albums, even some releases from the deeper catalog. Probably my favorite song by Bolan is the little known “Jasper C. Debussy.” It’s not like I’m ignorant of his work, it’s just that a lot of it sounds pretty formulaic and “samey” to me. Bolan had “a thing” that he did quite well, but he just kept doing it and that’s the problem I have with his music.
Having offered the above disclaimer, last week I picked up a Japanese import copy of the “deluxe” Born To Boogie DVD reissue from a few years back in the bargain bin for a mere $7 bucks. A friend of mine had the film on VHS and I saw it twenty years ago and quite enjoyed it, but the DVD version, with a monstrously powerful 5.1 surround mix done by the great producer Tony Visconti, truly blew me away. It must be the apex of Bolan’s artistry. Nothing short of stunning.
You know there’s always one guy on every block who has one of those huge fuck-off audio systems that the neighbors for a quarter mile radius can hear? I’m that guy. After watching Born To Boogie on an HDTV with the sound cranked up so loud it would have drowned out a airplane landing on my rooftop, I finally, after nearly 40 years, really got Marc Bolan, and can see clearly why the flame of eternal fan love for him will never die.
Born To Boogie was directed by Ringo Starr and produced by Apple Films. The concert segments were filmed at the Wembley Empire Pool in 1972 at the absolute height of T-Rextasy and Bolan, Mickey Finn and the band are in fine, fine form. Bolan’s guitar is just FAT sounding here and the 5.1 mix is outstanding. Listening to it cranked up is like having, well… a Tyrannosaurus Rex stomp all over your head… in a good way!
There’s also a stellar jam session with Elton John and Ringo that was captured at the Apple Studio on Saville Row and some “surreal hijinks”—like the Mad Hatter’s party bit which was filmed on John Lennon’s estate—that bring to mind Magical Mystery Tour. Still, it’s the concert segments that dazzle the most with Bolan’s 500 megawatt charisma in full effect.
If, like me, you missed out on Born To Boogie when I came out in 2005, and this sounds like something you might enjoy, chances are you probably will. There are TONS of extras and both the earlier, late afternoon concert and the full show that was used in the film are included.
10/10 for content, audio/visual quality and overall “Wow factor.”
Below, “Children of the Revolution” with Sir Elton and Ringo.
George Harrison’s exotic soundtrack to swinging 60s cinematic head trip Wonderwall was the first solo Beatle project (that is if you don’t count Paul McCartney’s soundtrack to The Family Way, which was credited to The George Martin Orchestra). Wonderwall Music is all over the musical map—delightfully so—with songs ranging from classical Indian ragas to jaunty nostalgic-sounding numbers to proto-metal guitar freakouts. It’s a minor classic, I wish more people knew about it. I’ve long been an enthusiastic evangelist for this album, sticking tracks on mixed CDs and tapes for quite some time.
With Ringo Starr (under the pseudonym “Richie Snare”) and Eric Clapton (here credited as “Eddie Clayton) and some session musicians, Harrison recorded the “English” portion of Wonderwall Music in December 1967. The Indian musicians were recorded the following month in Bombay. Peter Tork from The Monkees plays an uncredited banjo part on the record. It was released on November 1, 1968, just a few weeks before the White Album, and was the first release on Apple Records.
There are a lot of great tracks on Wonderwall Music, but the one I want to highlight first is “Ski-ing” a two-minute long sonic SCREAMER wherein Eric Clapton comes up with the blueprint for the Buttlhole Surfer’s guitar sound back when Paul Leary was just a little kid.
“Party Seacombe” (amazing!):
Another minor masterpiece with “Red Alady, Too”:
The trailer for Wonderwall, directed by Joe Massot and starring Jane Birkin, Jack Magowran and Iain Quarrier.
John, Paul, George and…Jimmie? It doesn’t quite roll off the tongue, does it? But for ten days in 1964, Jimmie Nicol was one of The Fab Four, drafted in to replace Ringo Starr on The Beatles first world tour.
Starr had collapsed with tonsillitis, and rather than cancel the tour, producer George Martin decided to call in a temporary replacement - Jimmie Nicol, an experienced session musician, who had played with Georgie Fame and jazz musician, Johnny Dankworth, amongst others. Lennon and McCartney were fine with the idea, but Harrison was a bit shirty, and at one point threatened to walk off, telling Martin and Brian Epstein: “If Ringo’s not going, then neither am I - you can find two replacements.” It was soon resolved and within 24-hours of the initial ‘phonecall, Nicol was playing drums with the Fab Three in Copenhagen. He later recalled:
“That night I couldn’t sleep a wink. I was a fucking Beatle!”
The next leg of the tour was Australia and Hong Kong, and Nicol soon found himself at the heart of Beatlemania. Fans screamed his name, his photograph was sent around the globe, and he was interviewed as one of the band by the world’s press. Nicol later reflected:
“The day before I was a Beatle, girls weren’t interested in me at all. The day after, with the suit and the Beatle cut, riding in the back of the limo with John and Paul, they were dying to get a touch of me. It was very strange and quite scary.”
He also gave an inkling into The Beatles’ life on the road was like:
“I thought I could drink and lay women with the best of them until I caught up with these guys.”
Ten days into the tour, Ringo had recovered and quickly reclaimed his place. Nicol was paid off by Epstein at Melbourne airport, given a cheque for $1,000 and a gold Eterna-matic wrist watch inscribed: “From The Beatles and Brian Epstein to Jimmy - with appreciation and gratitude.” It was like a retirement present. Within a year Nicol was bankrupt, owing debts of over $70,000, and all but forgotten. So much for his 15 minutes of fame.
“Standing in for Ringo was the worst thing that ever happened to me. Until then I was quite happy earning thirty or forty pounds a week. After the headlines died, I began dying too.”
Nicol went on to play with Swedish guitar band, The Spotnicks, but by the late sixties he quit pop music and relocated to Mexico. It was later claimed he had died, but as the Daily Mail explained in 2005, this was false:
At 66, his square-jawed looks have given way to grey jowls, the smile oblieterated by missing teeth. Anything that might remain of his Beatle haircut is tied back in a scruffy ponytail. But he still has his principles. Despite the lucrative rewards of today’s Beatlemania industry, he staunchly refuses to cash in….
It has even been reported that he died in 1988. This week, however, after a difficult search, I confirmed reports of his death are greatly exaggerated. One morning he could be foind visiting a building society, eating breakfast in a modest cafe, then returning silently to his London home. At this flat you could see sheet music through one window but no sign of any drums. He didn’t answer the door when I rang. If he got my messages about the new book, he didn’t reply.
When I eventually made contact, the conversation was predictably brief: “I’m not interested in all that now,” he said. “I don’t want to know, man.”
Here is footage of The Beatles’ tour of Australia and Jimmie Nicol’s time as the fifth Beatle - the Beatle who never was..
Rare clips of The Beatles on tour, plus Jimmie Nicol interview, after the jump…
Ringo Starr is saying “who cares” to the Vatican’s late embrace of The Beatles. Starr rolled his eyes at the Catholic Church, which praised the group and expressed forgiveness to John Lennon for his comments that the Beatles were “more popular than Jesus.”
“Didn’t the Vatican say we were satanic?” Starr said during an interview with CNN. “And they still forgive us?”
“I think [the Vatican] has more to talk about than The Beatles,” he added, alluding to the child sex abuse scandal that continues to plague the church.
The Vatican offered its latest peace offering to The Beatles in its recent issue of L’Osservatore Romano, its official newspaper, on Monday.
“It’s true they took drugs, lived life to excess because of their success, even said they were bigger than Jesus and put out mysterious messages that were possibly even satanic,” the newspaper said.
But, “what would pop music have been like without The Beatles?” it reasoned, describing the band’s music as “beautiful.”
The Vatican doesn’t appear to be extending the same kind of olive branch to other popular bands, such as Pink Floyd, Queen, Black Sabbath and The Eagles.
In 1996, those groups were among several - including The Beatles - that Pope Benedict XVI warned youth against listening to when he was still a cardinal, claiming their music contained “subliminal” satanic influences.
Lennon’s full quote was “Christianity will go. It will vanish and shrink. I needn’t argue with that; I’m right and I will be proved right. We’re more popular than Jesus now; I don’t know which will go first—rock ‘n’ roll or Christianity. Jesus was all right but his disciples were thick and ordinary. It’s them twisting it that ruins it for me.” We suspect the late Beatle would feel the same about the Vatican’s volte-face as Starr does.
Ringo Starr tells Vatican to ‘Get Back’; dismisses effort to ‘forgive’ The Beatles (NY Daily News)
I had the soundtrack album to Son of Dracula when I was a kid—you could buy it for 99 cents in any cut out bin in America in the late 70s—and although I didn’t really like the music that much, it featured impressive album cover art that opened out from under Harry Nilsson’s cape (see below). It just stayed in my record collection, unlistened to, but still pretty cool. It’s not like the film ever achieved “legendary lost film” status in my eyes, but when I saw a VHS bootleg for sale one day at the Pasadena Flea Market (there was a huge section of the market devoted solely to rock memorabilia and bootlegs of every stripe back in 90s) I scooped it up.
Hmmmm… It’s not like I can stand here before you and tell you it’s great—because it’s definitely not—but do take Ringo Starr’s comments on Son of Dracula as the gospel truth: “It is not the best film ever made, but I’ve seen worse.” He ought to know, he co-produced this turkey. )He’s also being a bit cagey with that statement because he’s mum on exactly how many worse films he’s seen? One other? Dozens? I’d guess it’s a number Ringo counts on just one hand…).
Featuring hard-partying musician Harry Nilsson as “Count Downe” a vampire rock musician who is about to be crowned Overlord of the Netherworld when he falls in love with a mortal and has a change of heart, and Ringo as—who else—Merlin the Magician. Son of Dracula contains celebrity cameos from Nilsson’s hard-partying rocker mates Led Zeppelin’s John Bonham and Keith Moon (see a pattern forming here already?) and a band that included Peter Frampton, Klaus Voorman and Leon Russell.
It used to be that this film was impossible to see, but now, thanks to the wonderful innovation that is YouTube, you can have it in your very home—the entire film—from right where you are sitting now…
Dangerous Minds pal Michael Simmons writes: “This is one of the rarest records in the world, though with the advent of the internet, rare ain’t what it used to be. For Maureen Starkey’s 22nd birthday, someone at Apple arranged to have Frank Sinatra record a private version of “The Lady Is A Tramp” for Mrs. Ringo Starr with new lyrics by Sammy Cahn called “Maureen Is A Champ.” Allegedly only one copy existed—the one Ringo gave to Maureen.”