New Years Eve, Paris, 1968. Amidst a volatile political climate of civil unrest that nearly brought the entire country to a virtual halt, rock ‘n’ roll music was still prevailed as “teenage entertainment” before being overthrown by the hippie culture of Woodstock the following year. The 3 1/2 hour New Years Eve Surprise Partie broadcast from the ORTF Studios (the only French TV channel at the time) is a beautiful, ultra-mod, time capsule that features rare performances by Jacques Dutronc, The Troggs, Françoise Hardy, Aphrodite’s Child, Johnny Hallyday, Fleetwood Mac, The Who, The Small Faces, P.P. Arnold, Booker T & The MGs, The Pink Floyd, Marie Laforet, The Equals, and many others. The invitation-only guest list included hundreds of fashionably dressed Parisian partygoers wearing the latest styles, and casually lounging about every inch of a cool, modern, space-age set.
Many of the artists here are documented during a very specific transition period in their careers. The Who lip-sync to “I Can See for Miles,” “Magic Bus,” and the rare Jigsaw Puzzle version of “I’m a Boy” with high energy despite the fact they had just suffered a year long dry spell devoid of commercial hits. Just a few months later they would switch gears with the musical Tommy and go on to become one of greatest stadium rock bands of the ‘70s. Later, during the Small Faces performance Keith Moon and Pete Townshend can be seen sitting behind Kenney Jones’ drum riser grooving to the music and having a good time without drawing attention to themselves. The Small Faces didn’t even bother to plug their gear in—they were only weeks away from breaking up—and performed tracks from their final album Ogden’s Nut Gone Flake.
The Pink Floyd can be seen still finding their way after the loss of vocalist and songwriter Syd Barrett just one year prior. In 1969 they would get back on track becoming the premiere live space rock band, incorporating their success into their fourth album Ummagumma, recorded five months later. The Equals (notable for being one of England’s first racially integrated bands) perform their million-selling chart-topper, “Baby, Come Back,” with guitarist Eddy Grant looking as if he had just time traveled from the 1981 punk scene, sporting bleached blonde hair and an orange vinyl suit. Eddy Grant‘s futuristic vision would serve him years later with a very successful solo career that included the platinum single “Electric Avenue.” Fleetwood Mac is also in wonderful form here with Jeremy Spencer taking the lead on two of the three songs, he would abruptly leave the band just two years later to join a religious group called the Children of God.
In an impressive television debut, English singing, French-based rock band Les Variations belt out some classic ‘60s garage tunes in front of a wildly enthusiastic home crowd. In his memoirs, guitarist Marc Tobaly remembers everyone getting a little bit drunk at the canteen down the street from ORTF Studios, insisting that the viewers at home were indeed watching a “real” party on television. American soul singer P.P. Arnold sang her interpretation of the Bee Gees song, “To Love Somebody.” Sadly, her performance here suffers from a poor sound mix, and she is not joined by The Small Faces for “If You Think You’re Groovy” despite the fact that they played on the recording and were present at the TV studio during the taping. While YouTube videos of Surprise Partie are constantly being removed because of content-ID matching, the fine folks over at Modcinema are selling a fantastic looking transfer on DVD as a 2-disc set. Dig it!