A couple weeks back, I got a heads-up text from my older brother about a Beatles special on public television.
The title he mentioned didn’t register at first, and before I realized it was the Ron Howard Eight Days a Week movie (which I blogged about here after I bought it last year), I had started going through the channel guide to see if there was a rebroadcast. Didn’t find one, but did find something called “British Beat,” which I DVRed and watched a week or so later.
It’s an 11-year-old program, a made-for-PBS special, but if I said I was surprised that I hadn’t seen it before, I’d be lying. I don’t watch Gummint TV very much, especially during what I call Whine Week — the annual (or is it more often?) pledge period when they dun the viewers for donations and memberships.
With a few caveats (which I’ll get to later), it’s a fun show. Emceed by Petula Clark, British Beat: The Best of the ’60s features live performances by a dozen or so acts from the 1960s, mostly the early and mid parts of that musically-memorable decade. The concerts were recorded in the U.K. in 2007, so the musicians were for the most part in their sixties when they performed for it.
The show is consciously hit-oriented, with many of the songs being No. 1s: Clark’s “Downtown,” Peter and Gordon’s “A World Without Love,” “Wild Thing” by the Troggs, Lulu’s “To Sir With Love,” "Game Of Love" by Wayne Fontana and the Mindbenders, Manfred Mann’s “Do Wah Diddy,” “Mrs. Brown, You’ve Got a Lovely Daughter” by Herman’s Hermits and the Animals’ “The House Of The Rising Sun.”
But there are also some significant singles that didn’t top the charts, including the Zombies’ two best-known recordings, the first charting single by the Moody Blues and Procol Harum’s “A Whiter Shade of Pale.” (The last of those, in this performance, includes one of the two verses that were not included in any recording of the song, and have been performed only rarely in concert.)
The performances are generally pretty good. Wayne Fontana, who does the Mindbenders’ hits, is in fine voice. Colin Blunstone and Rod Argent, who perform the Zombies’ material, sound great. I was never a huge Herman’s Hermits fan, but Peter Noone still sings well and retains that infectious stage presence.
The Tremeloes (whose “Here Comes My Baby” — written by Cat Stevens, who passed up the chance to record it first — was a No. 13 ), Gerry Marsden (of the Pacemakers), Peter and Gordon and Lulu also impressed me with their chops. Chad and Jeremy do only one number — their 1963 No. 21, “Yesrterday’s Gone” — but do it well.
The one that really knocked me out, though, was Eric Burdon (who was billed as With the Animals). He starts out “Rising Sun” (and “We Gotta Get Out of This Place”) sitting on a stool, but winds up on his feet, rocking it and knocking it out of the park.
Fontana and Argent and Blunstone were typical of the many of the acts performing in British Beat: one or two members of the original group fronting a bunch of younger (and less-well-known) musicians. For instance, “Needles & Pins” was performed by Mike Pender’s Searchers. (That No. 13 hit, fun fact, was written by Sony Bono and Phil Spector sidekick Jack Nitzsche, and originally recorded by Jackie DeShannon, who also claimed to have co-written it.)
“Do Wah Diddy” was performed by Paul Jones, who was Manfred Mann’s original lead vocalist. Jones also exemplified a trend in a few of the performers: While most looked pretty good for sixty-ish, he, Noone and Lulu looked much younger, and perhaps had had some “work” done. Lulu was pretty young when she had her No. 1, but she looked closer to 40 than 60 in 2007. Still can belt out a song, plastic surgery or no.
The downsides to the program included Pet Clark, who was kind of annoying, as were the crowd shots of concert-goers waving their arms in time (sort of) to the music. The use of a grainy, period videotape of Dusty Springfield performing “You Don’t Have To Say You Love Me” (while doing robotic arm and hand gestures) seemed odd, squeezed in there among the live acts.
But the most annoying and off-putting thing was the pleading for donations. It’s a two-hour show, and I’d swear that, between trying to sell pub TV memberships and offering CDs and videos as rewards, only an hour or so is music. Plus, the two pitchpeople are way too artificially enthusiastic.
But if you DVR it and fast forward through the Whine Week parts, it’s a (mostly) enjoyable reminder of how good The (British) Music was, 50-plus years ago. And almost enough to get me to write a check. Almost.