Wednesday, February 19, 2020

the real ok boomer - Consume. Be Silent. Die. EP (direct link)

About six years ago, I posted a piece on Single Gun Theory, a prolific and innovative Australian electronic band which, during its fifteen-year active life (from 1986 to 2001), had some fairly popular releases, including two Top Fifty albums in Oz. But by the time I wrote about them, more than ten years after their dissolution, I noted that the group seemed to have been all but forgotten, both by its former recording label and by turn-of-the-century electronic/dance music fans... which was a pity.

So I was very happy and surprised to receive a message yesterday from Peter Rivett-Carnac, former sample master and multi-instrumentalist for Single Gun Theory. Seems that Mr. Rivett-Carnac hasn't been sitting still since his former band's demise (I'll correct myself here now, and note that the group - comprised of vocalist Jacqui Hunt, Kath Power on background vocals and synthesizer, and Rivett-Carnac - never officially broke up; it's more like the members just sort of drifted apart into other interests). Peter got married and moved to Singapore in the early 2000s, where he and his wife raised two daughters. But he remained active in music while there, writing songs and handling production duties for less-heralded electronic groups like The Gaza Strip and Joyless. And just recently, he began releasing his own music, under the nom de plume the real ok boomer.

Here's the email message I received from him:
"Hey, I noticed a nice post in your blog about Single Gun Theory from a few years ago.  I’m one of the co-founders of SGT, and I’ve just launched my first-ever solo project, so I thought you might be interested in it (yes, shameless self-promotion). :)

My attempt at a press release is below - I hope it’s helpful."
Along with his note came the attached 'presser':
Pete Carnac from Single Gun Theory has just released his first EP under the artist name "the real ok boomer”. 

It's cheerily titled Consume. Be Silent. Die., and is mostly downtempo / lo-fi / chill-hop, with female vocals, some anti-war politics and a dash of metaphysical mumbo-jumbo.

Electric Sound Of Joy calls it “an ambient, swirling, sample-laden delight”.

I hope you get a chance to listen! Please contact if you’d like more information.
I had a listen to the tracks Peter put up on his Soundcloud site (located here), including "Signal" and "Com Truise - Persuasion System", and was pleased with what I heard there.  Rivett-Carnac has moved far beyond what he was laying down with SGT two decades ago, into a more ambient, mellow groove that still harkens back in some ways to the sound of his former band.  What's interesting is that in some of these tunes, like "Engage" and "Mockingbird", he couples these beats with some highly politicized sample vocals.  The combination is both hypnotic and thought-provoking... at least to me.

Here's the video for "Signal", the leadoff track from this EP and probably my favorite song so far off of it:

I am always surprised and excited when I find that an artist I post about has taken the time to read my longwinded screeds and respond in kind; it's happened a couple of times in the past, with the late Chris Sheehan (The Starlings) and members of The Veldt.  I'm glad to see that Peter also saw that there are still music fans around who enjoyed and appreciated his old band.  And in that spirit, I hope that you SGT fans out there take the opportunity to listen to what Peter has been up to recently.  I guarantee you won't be disappointed.

Here's the Soundcloud link again for Consume. Be Silent. Die. EP and other non-EP tracks; go to it and feast your ears on these offerings... and as always, let Mr. Rivett-Carnac and I know what you think.

(As a bonus, here's a great interview that Peter and Jacqui gave to Chaos Control Digizine back in 2016, discussing their time in Single Gun Theory, their thoughts regarding the current state of electronic music, and then-recent projects they're both working on - good information within!)

Saturday, February 8, 2020

Saturday Morning Rock & Pop Albums From The Late '60s/Early '70s

I read online a couple of months ago that the first weekend in October, 2019 was the first in decades where not a single network aired a block of animation on its Saturday morning schedule. The CW, the very last holdout, transitioned that weekend to live-action educational programming.  It is truly the end of an era.

It's been a long time coming, I guess. NBC stopped airing Saturday morning cartoons in 1992, with CBS throwing in the towel a couple of years later. ABC, the last of the old-time Big Three networks, maintained their weekend animated slate for another decade, before also calling it quits in 2004.

I suppose in this day and age, having a morning full of animated shows is sort of unnecessary. With several cable channels specifically dedicated to children's programming, kids today don't have to wait until the weekends anymore to get their cartoon fix. In addition, streaming services like Netflix and the new Disney+ channel are also available to fill that void. And with these expanding broadcast options, advertisers no longer have to direct their kid-centric toy, game and snack ads at that old four- to six-hour network cartoon window every weekend - they can spread those commercials around. It's no coincidence that when the advertising money from these producers left the networks, so did the shows.

Another stake in the heart of the Saturday morning cartoon were new Federal Communications Commission (FCC) rules in the 1990s that mandated the networks to provide at least three hours of educational programming each week. The networks weren't about to mess with their prime-time schedules to meet this requirement; they all found the best place to do so was in the weekend morning slots. Now, it's debatable just how "educational" the programs are that replaced the cartoons... but as far as the FCC is concerned, these meet the letter of the law. So be it.

But still, it's sad to see another old tradition being pushed by the wayside. Back when I was a kid, Saturday morning was the best time of the week! My brother and I would get up extra-early on Saturdays, get a bowl of cereal and milk (we learned from our parents to pour those into bowls without making a mess at an early age; after their long workweeks, they were happy to sleep in on Saturdays and let us tend to our breakfast ourselves...), and plop down in front of the TV for hours of
entertainment. It would start with the syndicated shows on our local stations - like Barbapapa, Kimba The White Lion, Deputy Dawg and Hashimoto-san - before settling in for the network programs that usually started at 8:00 am. Some of my favorites from that time included The Wacky
Races, Hong Kong Phooey, Hot Wheels, George Of The Jungle, The Hair Bear Bunch, The Pink Panther, Star Trek: The Animated Series, The Shazam!/Isis Hour, and of course, The Bugs Bunny/Road Runner Show. We would camp out in front of the tube for hours, until either our parents woke up and shooed us away, or until American Bandstand/The CBS Children's Film Festival/Soul Train came on in the early afternoon - that was the signal that the morning cartoon block was over.

And if you're old enough, I'm sure you recall the Saturday morning cartoon preview specials the networks would air the Friday night before the new season started. When I was a kid, those were some of the most anticipated programs of the year! Here's one that aired on NBC in 1974, featuring the debut of new shows including Land Of The Lost and Run, Joe, Run:

(I think the most memorable preview show for me was the 1973 ABC preview special, hosted by the comedy team of Burns and Schreiber - this was the one that
featured the debut of Super Friends, the first Justice League program. My friends and I were flabbergasted - a show featuring EVERY major superhero?!? I was so excited, I could barely sleep that night! And as far as I was concerned, the next morning, the show delivered, in every aspect. Looking back at it now - the poor animation, stilted dialogue, and the annoying, unnecessary and essentially useless sidekick characters Wendy, Marvin, and Wonder Dog - it's hard to see what all the fuss was about. But back in the early '70's, this show was IT.)
Children's TV programs have been broadcast in the Saturday morning time slots since practically the dawn of television. But in the early days (the 1950s through the mid-1960s), the majority of animated shows consisted either of reruns of Warner Brothers and MGM theatrical cartoons, or reairings of animated shows that had previously been shown in prime time a few years earlier, like The Flintstones, The Jetsons and Jonny Quest.  The remainder of the networks' Saturday-morning schedules were filled by reruns of black-and-white live-action series made in the 1950s, usually westerns like The Lone Ranger and Roy Rogers, or old comedy shorts by The Three Stooges, Our Gang/Little Rascals, or Laurel & Hardy.

It wasn't until the mid-60s that first-run original animated series 
began to dominate the time period, led by a boom in superhero cartoons, both authentic (Spider-Man, The Fantastic Four, Birdman And The Galaxy Trio, Space Ghost) and parody (Underdog, The Super 6, The Mighty Heroes). This era also heralded the rise of the music-based animated program, ushered in by the debut of The Beatles series on ABC in 1965.
This show was a massive and immediate success; the very first episode garnered a ratings share of 52 (meaning more than half the televisions on at that time were tuned into the show), then unheard-of for a weekend program broadcast at 10:30 am. All of the networks then recognized the power and potential profitability of having a popular musical group associated with their Saturday shows. But instead of using established groups like The Beatles (who would undoubtedly demand a share of the profits a successful show could bring), the networks instead attempted to create original fictitious bands, wholly owned and controlled by the corporation, that could be exploited 100%. Here are some early examples of these attempts to create pop acts from Saturday morning kids series, and my recollections of these programs.

The Banana Splits

By my estimation, the first of all the cartoon pop bands... but not by much.

In 1967, Hanna-Barbera Productions contracted with puppeteers Sid and Marty Krofft to design sets and costumes for a new show the studio was producing, with a format loosely based on the then-popular Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In, featuring a musical group of anthropomorphic characters. The Kroffts came up with four characters: Fleegle, a greenish brown dog who serves as the band's guitarist; Bingo, the drummer, a grinning orange gorilla; bassist Drooper, a bright yellow lion; and Snorky the pink and grey elephant on keyboards.

The Banana Splits Adventure Hour (also simply known as The Banana Splits) premiered on NBC on September 7th, 1968, with its memorable theme song:

(Man, when I was a kid, I used to see them frolicking in that amusement park, and thinking that had to be the greatest amusement park on the planet!)

The show featured quick-cut comedy bits interspersed with band member interacting with one another and their friends/adversaries (including the Sour Grapes Bunch, a group of tough little girl characters who intimidated the Banana Splits in every encounter), and animated cartoon and live-action segments, such as the serial "Danger Island" (directed by a then-unknown Richard Donner) and the animated Three Musketeers shorts. The show also featured a new song every week, performed by the group.

All of the Banana Splits' music was done in the studio by session musicians; none of the TV characters were involved in any way in its production. But the breadth of talent involved in the writing and recording of the band's music was impressive; songwriters included greats like Barry White, Gene Pitney, Jimmy Radcliffe and Al Kooper. The sole band album, We're The Banana Splits, was released on Decca in 1968, and features tunes by all of these musicians (fondly-remembered classics from the programs, incuding "We're The Banana Splits", and White's funky "Doin' The Banana Split"), along with the show's theme song.

The Banana Splits had a successful Saturday morning TV run, airing on NBC for two years, then entered syndication in 1971. The show was a staple of weekday after-school television for the next decade, throughout my elementary and junior-high years, so I (and many others, I'm sure) absorbed multiple viewings of each episode. The program was also the springboard for the Krofft brothers' entry into TV production. NBC picked up their series H. R. Pufnstuf in 1969, which was launched via a special hour-long Banana Splits episode that fall.

So every time I see these goofy, funny, brightly colored characters and hear that "Tra-La-La" song, it always takes me back and makes me smile.

The Archie Show

Archie Comics Publications, Inc. (or Archie Comics for short) began life as MLJ Magazines in 1939 (its name was based on the initials of its three founding partners), and initially focused on superhero titles. Their leading character was The Shield, one of the first superheroes decked in in patriotic red-white-and-blue garb, predating Marvel (then Timely) Comic's Captain America by more than a year. Other heroes appearing in MLJ titles during this early period included The Hangman, The Black Hood and The Wizard.

In late 1941, drawing inspiration from Mickey Rooney's popular series of Andy Hardy movies, publisher John Goldwater (the "J" in MLJ) created the character of Archibald "Archie" Andrews with staff artist Bob Montana. Archie and his friends, including best friend Jughead Jones, rival Reggie Mantle, and love interests Betty Cooper and Veronica Lodge, debuted in Pep Comics #22 in December 1941. Archie
quickly became the company's standout character, appearing in his own self-titled magazine, Archie, a month later - a title that is still in print today. And within a couple of years, the publisher had changed its name from MLJ to Archie Comics. The popularity of Archie led to the publication of a series of related titles from the 1940s through the 1960s featuring the character and his pals - Life With Archie, Archie's Pal Jughead, Archie's Girls Betty And Veronica, Little Archie, Archie's Jokebook Magazine, Archie's Madhouse, Archie And Me, Betty And Me, Reggie And Me, etc. - all of which were popular as well and long-running hits (some are also still being published to this day).

Filmation Studios was founded in 1962, and in its early years focused on creating animated TV commercials. The studio tried to branch out into network animated series, but their early attempts (including a Marx Brothers cartoon and a series featuring a boy and his dog - reminiscent of the famous "Tom Terrific" shorts featured on Captain Kangaroo in the late '50s) failed to sell. The company almost went under, before they were approached in early 1966 by DC Comics, who wanted to produce a Superman cartoon series for TV. The New Adventures Of Superman debuted in the fall of 1966 and was a smash hit, running on CBS for four years; this and other subsequent late-60s cartoon programs DC commissioned Filmation to produce (including The Adventures Of Batman, The Adventures Of Superboy, and Aquaman) saved the studio.

Looking for other potential animated projects beyond superheroes, Filmation approached Archie Comics in the winter of 1968 to gauge their interest in an animated Archie series. The publisher was immediately receptive, and by the fall of that year the program, The Archie Show, began appearing on CBS at 10:00, just after The Wacky Races and before The Batman/Superman Hour. The Archie Show was the very first Saturday morning cartoon to incorporate a laugh track (The Flintstones and The Jetsons had also used laugh tracks earlier in the '60s, but it should be remembered that these shows first broadcast at night in prime time, and weren't initially necessarily targeted towards an adolescent audience), a production technique that, due to the subsequent popularity of the program, was used extensively in weekend animation series for the next decade.

Here's the opening:

Every episode followed pretty much the same format, a seven- to eight-minute story featuring one or more of the Archie characters, followed by Archie demonstrating the "Dance Of The Week" (such as "The Betty", "The Weatherbee" and "The Hamburger Hop"), then a song performed by the gang's band,
The Archies, followed by the second seven/eight minute story and the ending credits. The songs on the program were performed by session musicians assembled by record label owner and former Monkees manager Don Kirschner, with male vocals by Ron Dante, the lead singer for the '60s pop band The Cuff Links, and female vocals initially by Toni Wine (who co-wrote The Mindbenders' hit "A Groovy Kind Of Love" in 1966, and who went on to be one of the voices in the Meow Mix cat food commercial jingle ("Meow meow meow meow, meow meow meow meow...") which ran for over thirty years), then later by Donna Marie and Merle Miller.

The first Archies album, The Archies, was released on Calendar Records in late 1968. Most of the songs on the disc were penned by acclaimed songwriter Jeff Barry, who wrote (either solo or with his then-wife Ellie Greenwich) such classic pop hits as "Da Doo Ron Ron", "Do-Wah-Diddy", "By My Baby", "Tell Laura I Love Her" and "Leader Of The Pack". The first single off of this debut disc was "Bang-Shang-A-Lang", and it did reasonably well, reaching #22 on the Billboard charts that year
(the album itself made it to #88). But it was a single by the group off of their second album Everything's Archie, released in mid-1969, that made a bigger impact.

"Sugar, Sugar" was also written by Jeff Barry, in collaboration with Andy Kim. After a slow start that spring, the song shot up the charts, holding down the #1 spot on the Billboard Hot 100 for four weeks in September, 1969 and reaching the top position in ten other countries, including Norway, Mexico and South Africa. "Sugar, Sugar" also topped the Billboard year-end charts as the Number One song in America for 1969. To date, it is the only time a fictional band has held an annual top spot. Altogether, between 1968 and 1970, The Archies placed six songs in the Hot 100, with another Top 40 hit ("Who's Your Baby") joining
"Bang-Shang-A-Lang" and "Sugar, Sugar", and charted five albums. The disc I'm providing here, also titled The Archies, is a compilation of the band's biggest songs, put out by 51 West Records in 1979 and re-released by Sony Music Special Products on CD in 1992.

The original Archie Show format ended after one season, but CBS commissioned various iterations of Archie - The Archie Comedy Hour, Archie's TV Funnies, Everything's Archie, The U.S. of Archie, etc. - every year over the next decade. The programs weren't exactly groundbreaking or innovative, but as a kid I found them a reliable constant... like the long-running The Bugs Bunny/Road Runner Show, an anchor for the rest of the network's Saturday morning slate.

Lancelot Link, Secret Chimp

Lancelot Link, Secret Chimp was a live-action series created by Mike Marmer and Stan Burns (two former writers for the late '60s comedy spy series Get Smart) that began airing on ABC on Saturday mornings in September 1970. The premise of Lancelot Link was similar to that of Get Smart - a clandestine group of spies (the "Agency To Prevent Evil", or "A.P.E.") combating a evil international organization (the "Criminal Headquarters for the Underworld's Master Plan", a.k.a. "C.H.U.M.P.") intent upon taking over the world. However, the conceit here was that all of the roles were played by chimpanzees overdubbed with human speaking voices to match their mouth movements.

While that concept sounds straightforward, in practice it was reportedly difficult to pull off. From a magazine article on the show regarding the process: " make the dialogue fit the chimps’ lip action, Burns and Marmer went to ridiculous lengths. Voiceovers were ad-libbed on the set, giving birth to beautifully absurd moments of the chimps breaking into songs at the end of sentences or spontaneously reciting Mother Goose rhymes just so it would look right."

They reportedly pulled out all the stops for this show, with an enormous budget (by Saturday morning TV standards; some source refer to "over seven figures") spent on location filming, intensive animal training, wardrobe and props - including multiple minibikes for the chimps to ride during chase scenes, and even a frickin' vintage Rolls Royce Silver Cloud for the villain to ride around in! The results were both surreal and hilarious, with the shows full of wacky monkey hijinks.

In addition to the main spy story, each weekly episode would also feature a musical segment (hosted by "Ed Simian") performed by Lancelot Link's all-ape band, The Evolution Revolution. The band of chimps, all dressed in period psychedelic garb and positioned with musical instruments, would belt out their latest tune (it was revealed in a later episode that these songs were actually coded messages to other A.P.E. agents). Most of the music was written and performed by Steve Hoffman, a longtime L.A. session player and member of various minor late '60s psychedelic bands such as The Proposition and The Mystic Astrologic Crystal Band.

The following taken from an interview with Lancelot Link producer Bob Emenegger, which I found on the Badcat Records website:
"One day I met with Allan Sandler who owned a large TV production studio. I had done the score to a feature film he produced called Frazier, the Sensuous Lion. Not a big hit.

He was producing Lancelot Link, Secret Chimp for television with Carol Burnett Show writers [Stan] Burns and [Mike] Marmer. Allan asked me to score Lance Link - which was a blast!

For the songs, I brought in Steve Hoffman who I had used on several Honda TV spots. He was a gem of a find. His talent was perfect for Lance Link, both singing and writing. Steve was an unknown vocalist, from a group that TV producer Clancy Grass used. He was/is an untrained musician who played guitar left handed.

Steve composed most of the songs on the album, I did several as well ("Rollin' In the Clover" was one I co-wrote with Steve). I produced the LP exactly as if I was doing a TV commercial or background music for a film.

It was not written to be bubble gum music - I penned the songs to fit the show. As I recall, Steve did all the vocals and overdubbing and we recorded in a studio that ABC/Dunhill set up. The band was made up of studio players - about 7 musicians, 2 brass with a percussionist on chimes also. It's possible the score may have called for more instruments at times.

The videos were shot later to match the completed songs. They even played the tunes for the chimps - who were all over the place until they heard the music and began to play in sync to the beat.
As part of the marketing for the program, in late 1970 an album of songs from the show, titled Lancelot Link & The Evolution Revolution, was released on ABC/Dunhill Records. The tunes on the album, all sung by Hoffman, are mostly bubblegum pop, but as Emenegger mentioned above, not 100% bubblegum - many of the songs featured hints of hard guitar rock (like in "Teaser", "Live" and "Magic Feeling") and trappings of psychedelia (such as in "Daydreams"). Overall, in my opinion, this is actually a fantastic album and a prime example of pop from that period, good enough to stand on its own without reference to the TV show the music was derived from.

Altogether, just seventeen episodes of Lancelot Link, Secret Chimp were produced. Though according to sources, it had a network run of only four months (to January 1971), I recall watching it as a child for a couple of years after; I believe that ABC aired reruns of it into 1973, usually on Sunday mornings. In any event, I have fond memories of this zany, crazy, funny program and the songs from it.

The Bugaloos

The Bugaloos was a live-action Sid and Marty Krofft production that aired on NBC beginning in the fall of 1970. The main characters were a music band made up of - yes - bugs (actually, humans in insect outfits: Joy, the butterfly and lead singer; Harmony, a bumblebee, on keyboards; ladybug drummer Courage; and I.Q., a grasshopper on lead guitar) who were enormously popular in the land were they lived, the day-glo Tranquility Forest. They were all very hippie-dippy and peace-loving (as befitted the times, I suppose), but they were constantly under attack by a witch with a musical bent, Benita Bizarre (played by Martha Raye), who was jealous of their success and who wanted to destroy them so that her awful music would be dominant in the land.

The group consisted of four British teenagers, cast from more than 5,000 hopefuls earlier in the year (one of the finalists for the role of I.Q. was none other than Phil Collins; after being passed over for the role, he joined Genesis later in 1970). The show's theme song was composed by Norman Gimbel and Charles Fox, who later went on to pen the wildly popular themes for '70 shows such as Happy Days, Wonder Woman and Laverne & Shirley. This one, however, was NOT their most deathless composition:

In terms of look and premise, this was a very weird and surreal show, especially looking back on it from this time and place - then again, what Krofft shows of the period weren't?  But back when it first aired, it was probably my favorite Saturday morning program. In fact, during the 1970 Christmas season that year, my dad took me to the Navy base where he was stationed in Norfolk one weekend to meet Santa Claus and receive one of the gifts they were handing out to Navy kids that year; I recall being very upset at having to go see Santa, since it was at the same time The Bugaloos were on!

At around the same time at the Lancelot Link album was released, The Bugaloos also released a self-titled album of their own on Capitol Records, featuring studio versions of songs presented on the show, sung by the cast members. This album is straight-up early '70s pop, reminiscent of music that groups like The 5th Dimension were putting out at the time. As such, there's nothing on this disc that's immediately compelling (at least to me). However, one cut off of this album, "For A Friend", actually charted, reaching #118 on the Billboard 200 that December.

The Krofft brothers had big plans for The Bugaloos, and as the first season wound down, they began preparing for the production of shows for Season 2, along with a feature film. However, the producers failed to notify the actors of their plans. As a result of this miscommunication, all of the British cast, believing the show was cancelled after 1971, returned to England - which ticked the Kroffts off royally. So both the second season and the movie deal fell through, and NBC just aired Bugaloos reruns for the 1971-72 season. Krofft Productions was hardly affected by this turn of events; their original network program, H. R. Pufnstuf, was still being aired on the network as well, and in 1971 they produced a new show, Lidsville, for ABC that had a two-year run. As a result, The Bugaloos are scarcely remembered today... except by folks like me, who look back on that strange but sweet and gentle show and smile.

Josie & The Pussycats

Josie McCoy was created by cartoonist Don DeCarlo (the person most responsible for developing the current look and design of Archie, Jughead, and their friends in Archie Comics magazines after their creation by Bob Montana) in the late 1950s. The character was named for DeCarlo's wife, and after he failed to interest anyone in featuring Josie in a newspaper strip, she began appearing in her own title, Here's Josie, in Archie Comics in early 1963. For the first few years of its existence, the comic book, featuring redheaded Josie and her friends (including ditzy blonde Melody and nerdy, bespectacled brunette Pepper), had storylines similar to that of the other Archie Comics titles (teenage romances, jealousies and rivalries; high school events; and other wholesome trials and tribulations).

A major change to the magazine's plotline came in the 45th issue, published in December 1969, when Josie and Melody decide to form a musical band, The Pussycats, with a new girl in school, Valerie. The comic book's name was also changed at that time from Josie to Josie & The Pussycats. From that point on, most of the stories centered around the band's adventures as they traveled to and performed at gigs across the country and around the world. Josie & The Pussycats quickly became one of Archie Comics' most popular titles (eventually being published well into the Eighties).

As mentioned above, Filmation's The Archie Show, the first cartoon series based on one of the Archie Comics characters, began airing on CBS in 1968 and became a huge success, not only on television but also in music, with "Sugar, Sugar" topping the charts worldwide in 1969. Filmation's rival animation studio, Hanna-Barbera Productions (run by longtime film and TV cartoon veterans William Hanna and Joseph Barbera), saw how successful (and lucrative) the Archie program had become, and was eager to emulate that success for their own company. After trying on their own - and failing (initially) - to create a show called Mysteries Five, about a teen rock band who solved mysteries between gigs (a concept that eventually evolved into Scooby-Doo, Where Are You?), Hanna-Barbera went to Archie Comics to see if the publisher had another property/character the studio could exploit for a show similar to The Archie Show. They were provided with Josie & The Pussycats.

In prepping for the series, scheduled to begin airing in 1970, Hanna-Barbera began assembling a real-live Josie & The Pussycats singing group, with the recordings to be produced by an entity called La La Productions there in Los Angeles. Early plans for the show included a live-action Pussycats performance at the end of every episode, so La La Productions began a search for three women who could match the comic book versions of the characters in resemblance and singing ability. This led to a now little-known conflict and controversy early in the production process:

La La's head, Danny Janssen, found who he thought were the perfect visual/singing doubles for the group: Kathleen
Dougherty (referred to as Cathy Dougher) as Josie, Cherie Moor (later known as Cheryl Ladd, of Charlie's Angels fame) as Melody, and Patrice Holloway (sister of Motown star Brenda Holloway) as Valerie. When Janssen presented the trio to Hanna and Barbera to finalize the music production deal, the studio heads asked Janssen to replace Holloway with another singer/actor; they had decided to present The Pussycats on TV as an all-white group and had already altered the appearance of the character - this despite the fact that Valerie had initially been conceived as black by Archie Comics, and had been appearing as such in the comic book for the past year. La La Productions refused to recast Valerie, threatening to walk away from the project, and the two companies engaged in a month-long standoff before Hanna-Barbera finally relented, changing the cartoon Valerie back to being black and retaining Holloway. Thus, Valerie became the first regular black female character on a Saturday morning series. But that whole attempt to "whitewash" the group reflects poorly on Hanna and Barbera, and in my mind taints their otherwise storied contributions to film and animation.

On the 'plus' side, however, word quickly spread around Los Angeles about the stand Janssen had taken. To show their gratitude, a number of the most notable soul session players in the city offered their services to La La Productions and the upcoming Josie & The Pussycats album at a fraction of their regular fees (and, by the way, the live-action segment of the show never panned out).

Josie & The Pussycats was broadcast on CBS starting in September, 1970. The shows were an amalgamation of plot devices from shows such as The Archie Show and Hanna-Barbera productions such as Scooby-Doo and Johnny Quest. Wikipedia provides the following succinct generic description:
Each episode would find the Pussycats and crew en route to perform a gig or record a song in some exotic location. Somehow, often due to something Alexandra [the twin sister of the group's manager, she traveled with the band for no apparent reason, as she had no discernible managerial or musical role; she was jealous of both Josie's success and her romance with her boyfriend Alan and constantly attempted to sabotage both] did, they would accidentally find themselves mixed up in an adventure/mystery. The antagonist was always a diabolical mad scientist, spy, or criminal who wanted to take over the world using some hi-tech device. The Pussycats would usually find themselves in possession of the plans for an invention, an item of interest to the villains, a secret spy message, etc., and the villains would give chase. Eventually, the Pussycats would formulate a plan to destroy the villain's plans and bring them to justice, which result in a final chase sequence set to a Pussycats song.
The Pussycats would succeed in capturing the villain and get back to their gig/recording session/etc. The final gag always centered around one of Alexandra's attempts to interfere with/put an end to the Pussycats' performance and/or steal Alan away from Josie, which would always backfire on her.
However, the show's opening featured a kickin' and now classic theme song:

Capitol Records released a self-titled Josie & The Pussycats album on December 15th, 1970, featuring performances by Dougher, Moor and Holloway of a few cuts from the show (mostly written by Danny Janssen), along with covers of recent popular tunes originally done by bands such as The Carpenters ("Close To You") and The Jackson Five ("I'll Be There"). Ironically, most of the lead vocals were provided by Holloway, including those for the show's iconic theme. In addition to the LP, Capitol released two singles from the album, "Every Beat Of My Heart" b/w "It's All Right With Me" and "You've Come A Long Way, Baby" b/w "Stop, Look and Listen", and licensed four more non-album singles to Creative Products as a promotional tool, making these discs available only through mail order with box tops from Kellogg's cereals.

Hanna-Barbera and Capitol were hoping that lightning would strike twice with the release of this album. But the Josie & The Pussycats album and related singles never came close to emulating the success of The Archies. Sales came in far below expectations, and plans for a national tour by the band were scrapped. It's hard to nail down exactly why this music failed; perhaps the market was flooded in 1970 with bubblegum/pop albums from bands both real and fictional (The Pussycats not only had to compete with all of the other releases detailed in the post, but 1970 also heralded the rise of The Partridge Family, whose early success sucked most of the air out of the pop market that year). It's a shame, really - the songs the band put out at that time were gorgeously produced and beautifully sung, and like the Lancelot Link disc, could have easily stood on their own merits without the TV association.

In 2001, Rhino Records gathered up every known Josie & The Pussycats song, including all of the album and singles releases along with alternate versions and seven previously unreleased Capitol recordings, fully remastered the music from the original tapes, and released Stop, Look and Listen - The Capitol Recordings in an extremely limited-edition set. Only 5,000 of these discs were ever produced, and afterwards the album was completely deleted from Rhino's catalog.

It goes without saying that this release is now rare as hell, with copies (if you can find one) selling for in excess of $300. I searched for well over a decade for this recording, and was finally just recently provided with a digitized copy by a new music friend I met via this blog - thank you once again, Christian! And now I am happy to share my good fortune with you all...

As for the Josie & The Pussycats show, sixteen episodes were produced for its first season, and were rerun during Josie's second season (1971-72) on CBS. In 1972, the format was changed to feature the band in interstellar adventures, and the show was retitled Josie & The Pussycats In Outer Space. Another sixteen episodes of this series were produced, and rerun through 1974. Afterwards, reruns of the original series were aired on both CBS, NBC and ABC over the next two years, making Josie & The Pussycats one of the few Saturday morning cartoons to air on all three networks during its existence (the only other one I can think of is The Bugs Bunny Show).

* * * * * * *

Thanks for coming along on this brief walk down Memory Lane with me, and looking back on some of the great (and not so great) cartoons and shows from half a century ago (geez - it really HAS been that long!) and the music associated with them. And when you can, raise a cold glass of Nestle Quik in tribute to and in mourning for the classic Saturday morning children's program, now gone the way of the dinosaur. Oh well... at least we still have albums like these left to listen to, to give us "old timers" a taste of what we enjoyed so much back then, and younger folks a sense of the time period, and what they might have missed.

In any event, enjoy, and as always, let me know what you think.

Please use the email link below to contact me, and I will reply with the download link(s) ASAP:

The Banana Splits - We're The Banana Splits (1968): Send Email
The Archies - s/t (1979): Send Email
Lancelot Link & The Evolution Revolution - s/t (1970): Send Email
The Bugaloos - Bugaloos (1970): Send Email
Josie & The Pussycats - Stop, Look & Listen - The Capitol Recordings (2001): Send Email

Monday, February 3, 2020

Andy Gill (Gang Of Four), 1956-2020

Sad news:  Andy Gill (shown pictured at left with bandmate Jon King), the founding, stalwart and only constant member of the various formations (and reformations) of post-punk giants Gang Of Four, died over the weekend at the age of 64.  Here's his obituary from The Guardian:
Andy Gill obituary
And from the same source, here's a excellent overview/tribute to his art and influence; I can add nothing of substance to this superb writeup:
Andy Gill: Gang Of Four's genius guitarist who burned a route out of punk
I got into Gang Of Four way back in the early '80s, when a friend of mine loaned me his vinyl copy of their debut album Entertainment! To say I was blown away by it is an understatement... I LOVED every single song on that album, and after I got my own copies (successively on vinyl, cassette and CD over the years), I played them to death! At one time, "Anthrax" was my favorite song; I once told a story in an earlier post about how I coerced a short-lived alternative radio station in Norfolk, Virginia to play it during weekday rush-hour drive time... quite possibly the one and only time Gang Of Four was ever broadcast in that area.

And years later, when I was in my own band, made up of middle-aged finance executives (the full story of which I have yet to tell), playing rock and pop standards, I somehow convinced those guys to include a cover of "I Found That Essence Rare" on our playlist - the drummer Bill used to refer to it as our "punk set"!

After an equally great follow-up album, 1981's Solid Gold, the original group lineup began to splinter, with bassist Dave Allen leaving the band to form Shriekback, replaced by Sara Lee. The first release with this new bassist, 1982's Songs Of The Free, signaled a subtle shift away from the jagged, scabrous, Situationism-influenced bent of their earlier music and into a more commercial sound, a move signified by the centerpiece song on the album, "I Love A Man In A Uniform".

Still, there were enough good tunes on this release (I especially loved "Life! It's A Shame" and "I Will Be A Good Boy") to satisfy fans of their signature sound and attitude - including me. And I remained a Gang Of Four
devotee even through the following year's widely-panned album Hard, recorded by a trio of Gill, King and Lee in the aftermath of original member drummer Hugo Burnham's departure.  Hard was a blatant bid by the band for wider radio airplay, and it failed miserably, with Gang Of Four devolving into little more than a disco-influenced funk band. The remaining members called it quits the next year, undertaking a "farewell tour" through the spring and summer of 1984 (I'm still disappointed in myself for skipping the opportunity to see them on that tour).

However, that wasn't the complete end of Gang Of Four; various members got back together in the following years in various iterations to make new band recordings. Gill and King collaborated on 1991's Mall and 1995's Shrinkwrapped (the latter being more well-received than the former, although in my opinion, neither were up to the standards of the group's first three releases). Finally, in late 2004, the original lineup of Gill, King, Allen and Burnham reformed, and spent most of the next year touring the world. I saw them that summer when they played The 9:30 Club in Washington, DC, finally seeing one of my
old favorites live; they were, of course, excellent. Later that year, the reconstituted band released Return The Gift, rerecordings of songs from their earlier albums - an interesting, but somewhat unnecessary product. Afterwards most of the band members immediately scattered, although Gill and King continued working together until 2011.

In the following years, Gill kept the Gang Of Four flag flying, with different and various members, and issuing new releases (2011's Content, 2015's What Happens Next, and most recently last year's Happy Now) from time to time. I saw the group for the last time just about a year ago (the same week I saw Martin Phillips and The Chills at a nearby venue), when they played at a small club in Cambridge, Massachusetts. It was good to see Gill up on stage again, but the show made me long for the original sound and the original band, as I heard them all those years ago.

So here, in memory of and tribute to Andy Gill and his seminal group, Gang Of Four, I offer up the following:
  • Their first release, the Damaged Goods EP, put out by Scottish indie label Fast Product on vinyl on October 13th, 1978 (this disc features the original version, with different lyrics, of "(Love Like) Anthrax");
  • The 100 Flowers Bloom two-disc compilation, a mixture of demos, album cuts, live versions and remixes, released on Rhino Records on November 3rd, 1998.  This one has been a long-time go-to source for Go4 music for me!; and
  • The Peel Sessions Album, a collection of all three of the group's appearances (in 1979 and 1981) on BBC1's John Peel Show, put out on Strange Fruit Records in 1990.
Enjoy, remember, and as always... well, you know; I always enjoying hearing from you all.

Please use the email link below to contact me, and I will reply with the download link(s) ASAP:

Damaged Goods EP: Send Email
100 Flowers Bloom: Send Email
The Peel Sessions Album: Send Email