Tag Archives: Chicago

Oscar? My, A Wiener!

When the best line of the night is delivered by a hologram, that’s not a good sign…

Old Hollywood crossed swords with New Hollywood last night, and it’s quite possible that they both took two steps backwards. Despite a blatant attempt to drag itself into the 21st century through young hosts and a plethora of social media references, most reports on the Oscar telecast agree that it was a major fail. Ironically, the two best presences on stage were Billy Crystal and Bob Hope – the former nailing two great jokes in a row before paying tribute to the legacy of the latter. And yes, the line of the night came from a hologram.

To paraphrase Neil Young, the show “started out real slow and then fizzled out altogether“. The opening montage placed co-hosts Anne Hathaway and James Franco in an amusing maze of Best Picture references; digitally inserted into scenes so they could interact with the stars, and surprising us with cameos from Alec Baldwin and Morgan Freeman.

But from that point forward, it went down like a lawn dart.

Ratings were off ten percent as viewers started to bail during the telecast, knowing they could get updates without siting through some of the most painful banter ever written for a major awards show. Maybe they should have taken Ricky Gervais up on his offer to script a few jokes. Sure he’d offend a few people, but at least they’d be awake.

I like James Franco. But the dude seemed to disappear for large stretches of time, and judging by his performance I suspect they were for (wink wink) smoke breaks. Either that or he decided to channel his Freaks And Geeks stoner character because he realized that the “guy in a dress” thing had short shelf life.

I like Anne Hathaway. I think she’s talented and fearless and funny, and she’s as good of a singer as she is an actress. But she was a disaster as a host. Fawning over presenters like a tipsy schoolgirl at an adult party, she showed neither respect nor a sense of belonging. If people had concerns that a relative newcomer is not who people feel comfortable with to steer them through the night, she made their case.

I like Kirk Douglas. I’ve been a fan all my life and several of his films are on my all time list of greats, and I’m thrilled that he has battled through a debilitating stroke at an advanced age and continues to be involved in the industry. But what first started out as uncomfortable soon nose-dived into painful, whether he was milking the joke or truly addled. Watching him twist five nominees in the wind was as sad as watching Dick Clark trying to keep up with the New Year’s Eve countdown, and both were in front of a global audience. I know some thought that was the highlight of the show, but haters gotta hate.

Two presenters who tried hard

I like Randy Newman. And hey, no complaints. He was actually funny, and self-deprecating, and irreverent and grateful. Truly an oasis in last night’s desert. I think he has a future in the business.

I like Melissa Leo. I’ve been a fan of hers since Homicide, and I’ve been thrilled to watch her finally get recognition in recent years for strong roles in independent films. But as much as I love the F-bomb, it’s her OMG! persona that is starting to wear thin. Not quite Sally Field territory, but after accepting a slew of nominations for Frozen River and now The Fighter, I think the “pinch me” days are behind her. Still, kudos to a great actress.

I like short witty speeches. If you were still awake when Tom Hooper and Colin Firth accepted their awards, both were great examples of  how to leverage the opportunity with wit and humility. Firth put it best, saying “I have a feeling my career just peaked“. Aaron Sorkin also nailed his speech – wordy but fluid, naturally – with the right balance of deference and pride plus the bonus point for a closing personal remark that makes people like me remember to compliment him.

I like Lena Horne. But why did I get the feeling that singling her out was pandering to the race card issue rather than a genuine bow to her greatness? Yes, she was a trailblazer, and yes, it is Black History Month, but the fact that we still have Black History Month and still have to have actors like Halle Berry acknowledge that a trail was blazed for them shows just how far we are from being a society that has put prejudice in its rear view mirror.

As for the awards themselves, I was stunned that Tom Hooper won Best Director. It was reminiscent of Putney Swope, where voters didn’t want to tip the scales to a serious candidate so they cast a vote for someone they were sure wouldn’t win…and of course, he did. Hooper did a fine job, of course, but the exclusion of Christopher Nolan was just that much more obvious. I thought The King’s Speech was a fine film; I enjoyed it very much. But it was a character study, a play transported to screen, that was dwarfed by at least half its competitors.

At the risk of sounding like Old Hollywood, maybe I just miss times like these instead of an era when Chicago is the best we can do. And no, I’m not bitter just because I got my clock cleaned on my ballot after an early run of success. I missed on a few key gambles but hey – I beat the people in Mom’s basement.

And of course the In Memorium list missed some names…as always. Why is this so difficult every year? Who does this? They can’t keep track of famous dead people when there are gambling sites devoted to tracking that very list of names? (Attention witless Keepers of the Oscar Obituaries: Jane Russell is now on board for your next montage.)

But I’ll be back next year. Hope they hire a comic who can work the room.

Even if he’s dead.

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T.G.I.F. – Ten Sixties Singles Acts

45 RPM record player

I lived my life at 45 RPM

I’m in the middle of a two-part feature concerning three of the best groups of the ’60s (Herman’s Hermits, The Young Rascals and The Turtles) and figured I’d make this week’s theme about ten bands whose 45’s were a staple of my collection. For those born later, AM radio was king, and WMCA and WABC in New York City were among the kingmakers. After an era of crooner pop and teen idol mania, the charts were invaded by surf rock, Motown soul, garage/psych sides and that multi-wave British Invasion. Radio would never be the same.

Many artists have gotten their due critically and financially, from The Beatles and The Rolling Stones to The Beach Boys and Simon and Garfunkel. Many have been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, although several are either awaiting nomination or seemingly have no shot despite making a huge impact in a short and magical time.

I’m going to use today’s list to tout ten worthy artists who I feel are very under-appreciated. They’re enshrined in my Hall of Fame and I still enjoy hearing their music today. Not all have decent video clips, so I’m linking to a site where you can at least hear some audio samples and hopefully pick up a greatest hits collection, if not a few of their catalogue albums or a larger anthology.

If you’re a powerpop or garage fan, there are probably no surprises here. But if you only know these bands from a hit or two on oldies radio, I promise you there is more worth digging for.

jukebox

Tommy James and the Shondells: A pretty fascinating story of how a guy accidentally becomes a bubblegum idol, hates it, and then becomes one of the more interesting purveyors of commercial psychedelic pop. How can a guy who strung together that many hits not be more highly respected? One of the era’s better producers as well.  Wiki.

Gary Lewis and the Playboys: Even the involvement of Snuff Garrett and Leon Russell couldn’t overcome the fact that Gary was the son of Jerry Lewis, so how could you take this stuff seriously. But Gary was no Dino, Desi and Billy; the band kicked out seven Top Ten hits in two years (!) and this new collection reveals how much great stuff you never got to hear. Wiki.

The McCoys: The band that spawned Rick Derringer had an immediate hit with the iconic “Hang On Sloopy” and never hit #1 again, but their singles included covers of “Fever”, “Come On Let’s Go” and the underrated “Don’t Worry Mother”. Great stuff on the albums, too; “Mr. Summer” is an unknown wonder. The core of the band would up backing Johnny Winter during his transition from Texas bluesman to arena rocker.  Wiki.

The Buckinghams: Another band whose hits came fast and furious and then they were gone. Catchy songs that added horns and time changes resulting in songs more progressive than most. Sometimes it didn’t work out (the middle section in the expanded version of  “Susan” doesn’t age well) but Chicago and Blood Sweat and Tears leveraged some of these tricks in their arrangements. Still  kicking today. Wiki.

The Grass Roots: Not certain why they never get included in the discussion of great groups of the era. Like The Turtles, they recorded the work of great songwriters (P.F. Sloan was even an original member) and had a string of radio hits that extended into the 70s. The songs were not only ear candy but many were socially observant, and they featured a great lead singer in Rob Grill. And yes, that’s Creed Bratton from The Office on guitar.  Wiki.

Paul Revere and the Raiders: Started as a raucous garage band in the Pacific Northwest, launched into America’s living room on an iconic television program and parlayed the opportunity into a string of hit singles, yet those costumes they became famous for led many to dismiss them as cartoonish wannabees. Wrong! Mark Lindsay’s looks got them onto teen magazines but singles like “Kicks”, “Hungry”, “Just Like Me” and the dynamic “Him or Me” cemented their legend. Wiki.

The Box Tops: I’m still amazed how powerful “The Letter” is forty years later, especially for a song that didn’t even hit the two minute mark. And while “Cry Like a Baby” was their only other Top Ten, that only scratched the surface of this great band. “Neon Rainbow”, “Soul Deep”, “Sweet Cream Ladies”…Alex Chilton would reinvent himself with Big Star and time has proven just how valuable Dan Penn, Wayne Thompson, Spooner Oldham and Chips Moman were to have around. Soul Deep was not only a great song, but a perfect description of the band.  Wiki.

The Troggs: Another band often mistakenly dismissed as a one or two hit wonder, they had several great sides. And as anthemic as “Wild Thing” might be, “With a Girl Like You”, “Love is All Around”, “All of the Time” and “I Can’t Control Myself” are superior songs. A great blend of garage band and druggy music with Reg Presley’s nasal sneer the icing on the cake. (Also famous, of course, for  the legendary taped argument where one member suggests that a track needs a little more fairy dust on it). Wiki 

Mitch Ryder: Mitch and The Detroit Wheels burned like a comet and recorded arguably the hottest rock’n’roll single of all time in “Devil With a Blue Dress / Good Golly Miss Molly”. Bad management and naive decisions broke the band up within a couple of years, but they had a few great singles and recorded a treasure trove of killer rave-ups. Most don’t know that Ryder continued to make great albums over the next forty years because he gets no airplay. (Hell, even his Wikipedia page isn’t up to date). Wiki.

The 1910 Fruitgum Company: Yeah, I know it’s a bubblegum group, but I will unashamedly put “Indian Giver” out there as one of the best singles of the late ’60s. “Simon Says”, “1-2-3 Red Light” and “Special Delivery” all got serious spin time at my house and remain irresistable hooks. Listen – if Joan Jett covers your song, you’ve passed the cool test. Wiki.

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