Sep 20, 2014

Monkees Give Head, Exclusive Candi, Plus More Robin, Bette's Curls And A Gag-Jazz Secret Song!

I've always liked "The Monkees," the late-60s TV series about a loopy rock band created by "Five Easy Pieces" director Bob Rafelson (of all people). Some mocked the show as a rotten-stinking money-grab designed to exploit The Beatles craze, and while that might have been the thinking of network executives when they bought it, the show itself clearly just wanted to make everyone giggle. When I was just a teensy little gumdrop, the combo of milk, cereal and the slapstick antics of "The Monkees" was purest ecstasy. 

Still, I wasn't old enough to know that they'd made a movie just after their show was cancelled. It's probably a good thing, because if I had, I would have wanted to go - and there's no way in hell my parents would have let me. Why? Because the movie is deliberately designed as a near-plotless LSD trip in which The Monkees, Frank Zappa, Teri Garr, Annette Funicello and Jack Nicholson (in one of his earliest roles) cavort, chuckle and generally hippie-out in Los Angeles, San Francisco and Palm Springs. 

Audiences were appalled; this wasn't the cute, family-friendly Monkees from the TV show. Critics were dismissive, one of whom scornfully noted that the movie's special effects were probably "best appreciated with marijuana." Ooo. Burn! Still, the years have been kind to "Head," and with good reason. It's now considered a cult classic (there's even a fancy-shmancy Criterion edition), while the soundtrack, even without any wowza visuals to accompany it, is a delight. You needn't be in an altered state to enjoy it, but then, as the critics said of the movie, it's probably "best appreciated with marijuana." Only now we don't have to say that with scorn.

Meanwhile, as I've said many times before. Bring. Back. The. Fro. And not ironically, either. For a fine example, look how Miss Candi Staton rocks her 'fro: 

Candi, as you may know, is a Southern-Soul dynamo whose been married five times (once to Clarence Carter), charted hits across five decades (in genres as varying as Soul, Disco, R&B, Gospel) and still jams at solo and musical festivals across the globe. Which is just another way of saying that she really is all that (as the kids say). Doubtful? Then give a listen to this buoyant Candied Cheerful Exclusive! in which all of her Fame Studio recordings (plus a serving of B-sides) are gathered for the first time ev-uh. She never quite hit the commercial heights of her contemporary Aretha Franklin - but she should have.

Robin Williams hit almost dizzying heights, as you know, especially in the 1980s. It seemed as if you couldn't turn on the TV, go to the movies or step into a record store without seeing him or hearing him (this was a good thing). Not bad for a guy who was voted "Most Likely Not To Succeed" in high school (can you imagine this being a category to vote for in today's high schools?) (yeah, I can't either). He stated several times that he was a lonely fat kid growing up, though his own mother made a point to tell the press in 1986, "Never was he fat. Why does he say that?" Maybe he felt that way, which is probably just as bad for a kid who, whatever his weight, reportedly grew up painfully shy, spending most of his free time with the family maid (his mother never denied that).

By 1983, Robin was at a career peak and and still spooked by the drug-related death of his friend and peer John Belushi only one year previous, which prompted him to drop drugs and alcohol entirely. It was also the year he released his second LP, "Throbbing Python Of Love," a masterpiece of verbal burlesque recorded at the Great American Music Hall in San Francisco. The fact that it's still out-of-print is astonishing.

Let's pause a moment to appreciate Bette Davis, who at the start of her career was being pushed as a feisty new pin-up gal:

It didn't work, largely because she loathed being dependent on her looks, and seemed to go out of her way, or so Warners brass thought, to pick roles that made her seem as gruesome and unsympathetic as possible. But that wasn't her intent; she just wanted decent roles. Still, even the public was shocked when she starred in one of her best movies, the 1944 drama "Mr. Skeffington."

To get an idea of how alarmed audiences were at the time, try to imagine today's most adored female actress starring in a movie about an aggressively vain, self-centered, even hateful, woman who contracts a disease which brutally ravages her looks. If it were made today, the heroine would surely learn a life lesson or two about how "beauty is only skin-deep" (blah-blah-blah-I'm bored-already). True, Bette learns her lesson, though tragically, it's a bit too late. She's wiser, yes, but in her own way, doomed. That sort of movie would never be made today, or at least not for mass audiences. Below, watch how Warner Bros. tried to tip-toe around the movie's subject matter in their theatrical preview:

Integral to the movie's Gothic-tinged success was Franz Waxman's moody score, which both accentuates the cold fate awaiting Bette and, interestingly, whirls about in a tizzy, as if a tune were being pulled straight from her character's deluded mind. Like the movie itself, it still delivers a sting.

Believe it not, some things actually scare The Secret Song File; things like this and this and this. Even a certain popular-for-two-seconds pop singer scares her. Why? Because she tries so damn hard - with her outfits (of course), and lately, with her actual singing. 

Still, even The Secret Song File will admit the truth. Some of the tracks on her spanking new collaboration with a cool jazz great are terrific. Others...not so much, like when she all but screams her way through "Lush Life." Not so loud, grrl! Take it down a fucking notch! Will she have much of a career after this? Time will tell, but if this is her last mass-market go 'round, it's not a bad way to exit.

And a fabulous exit is always essential. 

Leave your parting words in the comments, if you like!


Faze said...

Funny, I was listening to a full set of the Monkees singles just yesterday on a long drive, and totally revised my formerly "meh" opinion. These newly remastered (or whatever) cuts made it possible to hear how well these songs were recorded, the sheer professionalism of the production and the mastery of the studio musicians. And of course, the songs are by the metaphorical Brill Building's best. (My impression of "Head" after seeing it for the first time a few years ago, was that -- for all its trippiness -- it still had the good, solid, square production values of a mid-1960s sitcom.)
Thanks for the shot of Bette's back.

The Cheerful Earfull! said...

You're psychic! You KNEW more Monkees were coming into your life! :D

Anonymous said...

Did you spot the pre-nosejob (a nosejob she didn't need as far I'm concerned) Dolores Gray as the club singer upon which Bette Davis remarks admiringly?

- aNun

The Cheerful Earfull! said...

Ooo, I should have mentioned that. I haven't, however, ever noticed the nose job (!), so I'm going to have to watch eagle-eyed the next time I see it.

Michael Thompson said...

I downloaded some time ago and only just got around to listening to Ms. Candi. She really is da bomb, (if the kids still say that kind of thing?) I only knew her 'Young Hearts', 'Victim', 'You Got The Love' dancified tracks until this fine assortment. Thanks again for turning me on!

The Cheerful Earfull! said...

You're welcome, Michael. She really does need to be celebrated more doesn't she?