Saturday, November 8, 2014

ELO - The Electric Light Orchestra

With news that Jeff Lynne is working on a new ELO album. I thought maybe it was time for me to rerun this post from May 2009. Hold on Tight!
The Electric Light Orchestra is my all time favorite rock group. I can't explain why, I just knew the first time I heard an ELO record that it was what I liked. A lot. The seamless blend of rock n roll and neo-classical music just spoke to me. With their epic, cascading string sections and over-the-top vocal pyrotechnics, every song was like an aria. 30 years later, just seeing the Jet Records logo gives me goosebumps.
A product of the 1970s, the timeless songs of ELO are now being rediscovered by a new generation of music fans through covers, remixes, sampling and the seemingly endless use in on the soundtracks of films, ads and TV shows.
ELO, under the guidance of Jeff Lynne, recorded 12 studio albums and released 28 hit singles. At their peak between 1974 and 1981, ELO had 9 gold, platinum and multi-platinum albums.
The band also holds the unusual distinction of having the most Billboard Hot 100 Top 40 hits of any band in U.S. chart history without ever having a #1 single.
During the 70s and 80s, ELO was one of the biggest arena attractions, with spectacular shows that included a massive flying saucer stage set, fog machines and state of the art light and laser shows. I luckily got to see them perform twice.
ELO begin humbly in the earlier 1970 as offshoot of 60s UK band The Move. Roy Wood was behind the initial concept of a rock band augmented by a string section that included cellos, violins, horns and woodwinds . The resulting debut album The Electric Light Orchestra was released in the UK in 1971 (in the US as No Answer) - if you listen to it today, you can hear that they were struggling to find their sound.
After Wood left the group - Lynne stepped up to lead the band, with Bev Bevan on drums, joined by Richard Tandy on the Moog synthesizer. ELO released their second album, ELO 2 in 1973, and had their first U.S. chart hit, a rousing cover version of the Chuck Berry classic Roll Over Beethoven.

On the Third Day was released in late 1973, with the string-infused Showdown becoming a hit single.
With Eldorado, the band's fourth album, Lynne hired an orchestra and choir - and their sound had now fully evolved into symphonic rock. The first single off the album, Can't Get It Out of My Head became a U.S. Top 10 hit and the album became ELO's first gold album. This was the first ELO album I bought, it might have had something to do with the Judy Garland/Margaret Hamilton cover photo. The awesome burlesque-inspired Nobody's Child is my favorite track.
Kelly Groucutt (who recently passed away) joined the band as a bassist and vocalist for Face The Music and the hit singles Evil Woman and Strange Magic soon followed. The instrumental Fire On High, with it's creepy Satanic-sounding backward masking is a masterpiece.
. Other great tracks include Nightrider and Down Home Town.
1976's A New World Record gave the band 4 top 10 hits Livin’ Thing, Rockaria!, Telephone Line and a cover of The Move's metal athem Do Ya - making them international stars. Tightrope and So Fine are also outstanding songs.
1977’s Out Of The Blue, a double-album was a worldwide smash and featured global hits Turn To Stone, Wild West Hero, Sweet Talkin' Woman (which was released on clear purple vinyl) plus Lynne's greatest musical achievement, Concerto for a Rainy Day which culminates with the epic Mr. Blue Sky.
By 1978 ELO was one of the most popular acts in the world, appearing on TV shows like NBC's MIDNIGHT SPECIAL. 

Around this time future Pixar songsmith Randy Newman recorded a parody/homage to ELO titled The Story of a Rock and Roll Band.
Discovery in 1979 consolidated that worldwide success with the singles Shine A Little Love, Don’t Bring Me Down, and Last Train to London -which was re-imagined as a catchy pop hit in the 2000s by Atomic Kitten as Be With You.

In 1980 came the film soundtrack Xanadu

 Despite the film's poor box-office showing, the soundtrack went double platinum.At the time some ELO fans were mortified that the band was part of a pop music collaboration with Olivia Newton-John - but time has shown that the songs Lynne contributed to the film (and eventually the Broadway show) are as timeless and beloved as any of the tunes that came before. Don't Walk Away is possibly the best song Jeff Lynne ever wrote - and as performed by super hunky Cheyenne Jackson on Broadway - a true classic.
ELO took a turn towards rockabilly with the hit Hold On Tight from the sci-fi concept album Time.

Other standout tracks included Twilight, The Way Life's Meant to Be, Here Is the News and Ticket to the Moon.
The silly rockabilly ditty Rock ‘N’ Roll Is King was a hit from 1983's Secret Messages, though the title track is infinitely more satisfying. That same year Bev Bevan left ELO and joined Black Sabbath while Jeff Lynne and Richard Tandy contributed songs to the Electric Dreams soundtrack.
Lynne, Bevan and Tandy returned to the studio in 1985 for Balance Of Power–the final ELO album. The single Calling America was a minor hit. 
From 1987 onwards, Jeff Lynne became a highly sought-after songwriter and producer, collaborating with artists such as Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr, and Brian Wilson. With George Harrison, Roy Orbison, Tom Petty, Del Shannon and Bob Dylan, he formed the Grammy-award winning supergroup Traveling Wilburies.
Meanwhile, Bev Bevan in 1989 formed ELO Part II, with Louis Clark (Hooked on Classics). Former ELO members Mik Kaminski and Kelly Groucutt joined them for a second album, Moment Of Truth, in 1994. The remaining members continue to tour and record as The Orchestra.In 2000 Jeff Lynne released an 3-disc ELO box set, Flashback, containing–among other things–a new, unplugged version Xanadu. In 2001, Lynne released a new ELO album called Zoom. Richard Tandy was back, with George Harrison and Ringo Starr as guests.
In 2004 a tribute album wincingly titled Lynne Me Your Ears, this cover anthology featured ELO standards performed by artists such as Todd Rundgren, Sixpence None the Richer, and a host of others.
Another tribute to ELO, L.E.O., features songs are written in Lynne's style and mimic ELO's orchestration and production. The Pussycat Dolls even sampled Evil Woman in their hit Beep

Most recently, Surrender, a lost song from 1976 was released as a single, followed by Latitude 88 North, another lost song. So if you are looking for a lyrical escape from the sorry state of music in 2009 - turn back the clocks to a time when The Electric Light Orchestra changed what rock music sounded like and Roll Over Beethoven.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

HALLOWEEN III: SEASON OF THE WITCH

In the tradition of BEYOND THE VALLEY OF THE DOLLS and TROLL 2 (sequels that have absolutely nothing to do with the original), comes HALLOWEEN III: SEASON OF THE WITCH (1982, Directed by Tommy Lee Wallace) a sci-fi / horror film and the third installment in the popular HALLOWEEN series - but intended to be the first in an annual anthology series, releasing a new storyline every year around Halloween. So rather that continue the story of madman slasher Michael Myers, this oddball entry focuses on an evil scheme by the wacky owner of the Silver Shamrock Halloween mask company to pull a giant prank on Halloween night by controlling all of America's children through a trio of masks - a witch face, a pumpkin head, and a skull. The only mention of the previous HALLOWEEN films a scene where the trailer for the original film is seen on a TV set.
The story goes like this: a week before Halloween, a costume shop owner named Harry is being stalked by gang of dudes wearing business suits. Harry seeks shelter at a service station, but eventually collapses - in his hand is a Silver Shamrock pumpkin head mask. The gas station attendant transports Harry to hospital. Harry warns him "They're gonna kill us. All of us."

We are then treated to the first of many Silver Shamrock Halloween mask TV commercials. Sung to the tune of "London Bridge is Falling Down," the ad counts down the days until Halloween, encouraging child viewers to buy a new Silver Shamrock mask: "Eight more days 'til Halloween, Halloween, Halloween. Eight more days 'til Halloween, Silver Shamrock!" Their advertising budget must have been astronomical!
Next we meet Dan Challis, a hard drinking deadbeat dad who is also a brilliant doctor. Harry is hospitalized, but that doesn't last long, because his first visitor rips his head apart, killing him instantly. And it wasn't even visiting hours! The mystery head-ripper then goes to his car, where he drenches himself with gasoline and explodes. Ka-boom! Enter Harry's young daughter Ellie, who looks like a cross between singers Pat Benatar, Toni Basil and HAPPY DAYS' Joanie Cunningham. Ellie and the dirty doc soon team up to figure out what happened to Harry. Dr. Dan needs a drink.All clues seem to point to Santa Mira, CA, where Harry was last seen. The sleepy town is also the headquarters of the Silver Shamrock Novelty company. Surely Dan is disappointed that there is no happy hour in this town.The duo check into the local hotel, where Harry stayed right before he died. When Ellie insists on one room, Dan starts to get ideas about her.They soon learn Conal Cochran (who I swore they called "Colonel Cockring" ) and his mask factory are the sole source of income for Santa Mira. Meanwhile, booze hound Dan keeps calling his flirty Shelly Long lookalike friend who works in the hospital morgue to check if she's found anything the the ashes of the exploded car. This happens about three times.
Suddenly the movie becomes NATIONAL LAMPOON'S HALLOWEEN when we meet the other guests of the hotel: loudmouth Marge Guttman and the Buddy and Betty Kupfer and their son Little Buddy. They are all there to order new masks for Halloween - which is now only days away!!!Later, Dan and Ellie have sex. Ewwwww. The next day, the group gets a tour the Silver Shamrock factory and meet Mr. Burns, er Col. Cockring, er Cochran. All of Mr. C's workers seem to be young white men dressed in suits. Turns out Harry's car is being stored in the basement of the factory.
After Ellie is kidnapped by the men in suits, Dan sneaks into the factory, where he learns that Mr. C.'s henchmen are actually robots! What? Soon Dan is captured too and Mr. C. reveals that the Silver Shamrock logo on the inside of the rubber masks contain a device that is powered by a crumb of Stonehenge! Seriously.
When final Silver Shamrock TV commercial airs simultaneously on all three networks on Halloween, the device will activate, causing the childrens' heads to dissolve and emitting both crickets and snakes. Happy Halloween!
I don't want to spoil it, but in the end Dan manages to escape, rescue Ellie, and sabotage Mr. C's plans. Lots of things go boom and Halloween is saved from the Grinch. A surprise twist ending causes one to yell "what the fuck?" to the TV screen elevates this flick to an 7 outta 10. My biggest disappointment is that there's no witch anywhere in the film, except for the rubber mask...shouldn't it have been subtitled SEASON OF THE MASK?

Friday, August 29, 2014

What's My Line? (Again)

While I enjoy my holiday weekend, here's a post from 2008.WHAT'S MY LINE is the greatest panel game show on TV ever. Sure the two other Goodson-Todman classics were TO TELL THE TRUTH - which had an awesome theme song (and the great Kitty Carlisle) and I'VE GOT A SECRET, which had the future Mrs. Pamela Vorhees (Betsy Palmer) on its panel- but WML?, which ran on CBS in primetime from 1950 through 1967 and in syndication from 1968 to 1975 is the granddaddy of all guessing games. THE MATCH GAME, which I love, is in a different category altogether.
Oddly I only discovered WML? only about 7 years ago when it was airing as part of the Game Show Network's vintage Sunday night line-up. I do kinda recall seeing the syndicated version when I was a kid, but it didn't really leave a great impression on me. Reruns of the B&W classics still air weeknights at 3AM on GSN and have been a fixture on my dvr for the most of the Bush years. I have now seen each episode at least three or times each - and I still cannot stop watching. It's "comfort TV" in a sea of loud, abrasive game shows that populate today's TV landscape.
The original version, for most of its run, aired LIVE weekly on Sunday nights from New York City with filmed playbacks airing a week later on the west coast. Hosted by honored ABC newsman John Charles Daly, the show was low on glitz, but big on smarts.
The game itself was simple - contestants came on and the four panel members tried to determine what they did for a living through a series of "yes" and "no" questions. The big prize of $50 was awarded to players who could stump the panel. A special feature, usually the third round of the evening, was a "mystery guest" who the panel would try to identify while blindfolded. These individuals were usually showbiz folks who had a movie or show to promote, but sometimes were politicians, athletes or newsmakers of the day. Fun!
The panelists changed little over the years. The main players were:
Broadway gossip columnist Dorothy Kilgallen - an uptight old-school conservative with a vicious determination to win the game. Miss Kilgallen was dubbed "the chinless wonder" by her nemesis Frank Sinatra and also co-hosted a radio chat show with her husband Dick Kollmar while carrying on a torrid affair with bisexual crooner Johnny Ray. Dorothy died suddenly of a drug overdose in 1965 while investigating the JFK assassination. Hmmm... An account of her life and death was published in 1979. A fictional account of her affair with Johnny Ray followed in 2002 and A film based on her story has recently been optioned. The lovely Arlene Francis was a Broadway and film actress and a daytime talk-show hostess. Her honest sweetness and delightful humor were a direct contrast to Dorothy's seemingly constant discomfort and stern, guarded personality. Arlene was also quite a fashionista, often dressed to the nines, while at sixes and sevens was Dorothy. Miss Francis was sheer class - but not a prude. Some of the show's sassiest double entendres came from her lips. Arlene appeared on the syndicated version into the 1970s. Miss Francis' memoirs were published in 1978, she passed away in 2001 at the age of 93."Is it bigger than a bread box?" came from the tirelessly witty and then uber-liberal Steve Allen, who was an early panelist, though he left to pursue other endeavors (like creating THE TONIGHT SHOW). His replacement was sourpuss comedian Fred Allen (no relation) who sat on the panel from 1953 until his death in 1956.
Steve returned on occasion after Fred's death, and rotating celebs filling this spot included the ever-spiffy Tony Randall, smart-guy Robert Q. Lewis and the likable Martin Gabel (Mr. Arlene Francis). Other memorable guest panelists include the brilliantly insane Groucho Marx, the entertaining Ernie Kovas and the exasperating Victor Borge. The final regular panelist was Bennett Cerf, who's day job was running the Random House publishing empire. Bennett was always making corny jokes, awkward remarks and odd non-sequitors. He was like having a charming, but embarrassing "grandpa" on the panel. He died in 1971. His collection of reminiscences, AT RANDOM, was collected in 1977.Part of the fun of WHAT'S MY LINE? is watching these people interact. It's as if there was a weekly cocktail party where five friends played a parlor game and the viewer was invited to watch. While the occupations of contestants are sometimes un-PC ("lady lawyer" ,"lady chiropractor", etc.) or downright offensive ("bullfighter") it's very interesting from a historical perspective to see what REAL men and women were like during the 1950s and 60s. Producer Gil Fates wrote a wonderful account of his 25 years with WML? in 1978.
Some recurring popular "mystery guests" include Jack Lemmon (8 appearances),
Jerry Lewis (7), Lucille Ball (6), Joan Crawford (5) and Bette Davis (5). Other memorable guests include Carol Channing, Judy Garland, Jacqueline Susann, Ethel Merman, Sal Mineo, Doris Day, Phyllis Diller, Barbara Streisand and The Supremes.
The syndicated version was hosted by Wally Bruner and then by Larry Blyden. Just as this edition was coming to a close, a 25th Anniversary Special aired on ABC in 1975. Unfortunately most individuals involved with the show have now passed on, with panelist Martin Gabel passing in 1986. Host John Charles Daly and panelist Robert Q. Lewis both died in 1991. Steve Allen died in 2000, after sadly having become quite conservative in his old age and the ever-classy Tony Randall died in 2004. (Before he died, Tony forbid Bush and Cheney to attend his funeral - gotta love that!)

A live stage version of WML? hosted by J. Keith Van Straaten ran in LA for a few years, and later in NYC. It was tons of fun, and I was in the audience almost every week. Some cool panelists and mystery guests were featured. I suspect that it will be back one day.
Rumors of a new primetime revival on NBC surfaced earlier this year, with David Hasselhoff attached to host. I think I'd prefer to play a home game like this one:or even this one:That's all for now, but there's so much more to the WHAT'S MY LINE story to tell...maybe some day.