train wreck that is Music Scene – an uncomfortable, pre-Saturday
Night Live mix of youthful comedy and popular music – is worth watching
if only for its noble attempt to do what it did before what it did was done
ABC variety show was probably the first and last of its kind, working under
the hopeless assumption that, in 1969, the whole family is still gathered
around the living-room television set, tolerating each other’s tastes.
show emits a dread of knowing that – despite the heapin’ helping of canned
laughter and fake applause – it is going to be cancelled at any minute, and
with that in mind, it is simply going to let its freak flag fly.
fact, by the end of the series’ run (less than a year later), its format is
thrown out the window and half-morphs into a talk show, featuring a
reluctantly classic interview with Groucho Marx. The legendary comedian
schmoozes it up with John Sebastian of The Lovin’ Spoonful (“Sounds doity
to me,” Marx comments on the group name).
was a powerful year for pop music (dig: “Sweet Caroline,” “Sugar, Sugar,”
“Good Morning, Starshine,” “Eli’s Coming,” “In the Year 2525,” and
“Aquarius/Let The Sunshine In” to name just a groovy few). It would seem
that this program would be a godsend, yet the devil in the details does
everything it can to thwart the promise.
attempts to explain to a yet-to-be-media-savvy audience how the Billboard
popular music charts work, with a heavy-laden explanation of record sales,
radio play – and even jukebox selections! By the time the complicated
entanglement is completed, viewers may be too weary to witness Tony Bennett
sing a ring-a-ding-ding version of “What the World Needs Now” or be
horrified at watching Sly Stone let it all hang out by not dressing
Williams treats us to the lame Music Scene theme, which is proudly
announced as a Billboard “Spotlight Song of the Week” (apparently, this
seeds of SNL are here – even making use of the strange cadences of
host David Steinberg, who seems just right for the times and yet slightly
ahead of the times. In fact, he introduces Groucho as “a man too good for
this show and here only for the money.”
plan is to make use of a hip ensemble cast, yet they contribute precious
little (trivia fun fact: one of its members, Larry Hankin, would eventually
go on to play the “TV” version of Kramer in the “Jerry” pilot featured on a
classic Seinfeld episode). Of this ensemble idea, only Lily Tomlin
stands out naturally, doing her usual underrated and thoughtful repertoire.
Eventually, the ensemble cast is extinguished and Steinberg does just fine
well, the perplexing musical guests will amaze as well as dumbfound –
everyone from Johnny Cash and Pete Seeger to Steve Lawrence and Eydie
Gorme (trying to sound “today”).
fact, if your head is in the right place, you will be amazed at the playful
inventiveness that this Scene offers: “Sugar, Sugar” turned out by a
black gospel choir (!), Neil Diamond interpreting Joni Mitchell’s “Both
Sides Now,” Sergio Mendes’ latinizing Jimmy Webb’s “Wichita Lineman,” Della
Reese chopping down “Wedding Bell Blues” and “MacArthur Park” (?) and a sad,
morose, macabre version of “There’s No Business Like Show Business” sprung
on us by Mary Hopkins. File all of this under You Have To See It To Believe
Additional oddities include promos for upcoming episodes with the seemingly
very-stoned Stones (Mick and Brian); America’s favorite old geezer, Moms
Mabley, sings “It’s Your Thing” to Lily Tomlin in a kitchen, and Michael
Cole (from The Mod Squad) rambles incoherently about pollution while
introducing us to his two blonde, hippie-chick sisters.
You’ll also question the logic of Three Dog Night dramatically acting out a
séance during “Eli’s Coming,” and Tony Bennett singing “I Gotta Be Me” at a
party attended by mannequins. And there is no explaining Buffy St. Marie.
masochists in the viewing audience can hurt themselves with Bobby Sherman
singing “Little Woman” not once but twice during the run of the series (in
fact, watch him sing it before a crowd of extremely bored young people – the
other time he sings it to a go-go girl who is technically shrunk down to
appear “little”). And Davy Jones (introduced as “The English Monkee”)
attempts to jump start his career before your very eyes.
well, the inklings of fifties nostalgia make some impolite noises here, a
few years before it becomes officially okay to dig it again. Chuck Berry,
Paul Anka, Frankie Laine and Jerry Lee Lewis all come out to play.
Standing out from the crowd – way out – are the amazing Everly Brothers, ten
years past their hitmaking days and yet still young enough to be hitmakers
(which, unfortunately, they are not making). The groovily dressed and
seemingly very-well-adjusted brothers are thrilled to be there, and they
gladly do a medley of their old hits; they also winningly perform
contemporary favorites such as “Aquarius,” “If I Were a Carpenter,” and
“Games People Play.”
show is announced as being “in color” (even in 1969, when this is no longer
a novelty), and we’re asked to not forget to stay tuned for The New
People, next on ABC. Apparently, though, we did in fact forget.
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Posted: February 10, 2006.