Saturday, May 24, 2014

Television: Crowded House, "My Telly's Gone Bung"

[Purchase "My Telly's Gone Bung"]

As far as I can tell, no one ever said that these had to be the "best" songs about TV, right? Okay, good. Because the song I've decided to feature is clearly not one of Crowded House's better songs by any stretch, having been written by their least-frequent songwriter, drummer Paul Hester, and released on a collection of previously unreleased odds and ends, Afterglow (released in 2000). Nonetheless, it isn't a bad song either, and it fits the current theme to a "T"(V).

Hester's lyrics about the death of his television ("bung" in this case being an Australian term for "useless") are cutely amusing, but not exactly a cutting indictment of TV culture -- just a mildly self-deprecating tease of those whose lives are probably too tele-centric. Had the song been sped up significantly and given more lyrical bite via a rewrite by Neil Finn, this could have been a song worthy of inclusion on one of their proper studio albums, but as it turned out it's a little ditty that's fun while it lasts, but eminently forgettable afterward. Much like 90% of the programming that gets shown on TV. (Pow! Now we're talkin'!)
My telly's gone bung
What am I to do about the ABC
My telly's gone bung
What am I to do about my predicament
My telly's gone bung
I plugged it it in and it turned me off again 
I've waited up for you
To come alive and bring some truth back to me yeah
'Cause I'm where I wanna be in front of my TV 
My telly's gone bung
What am I to do about Kylie & Jason now
My telly's gone bung
I don't really care for their predicament 
If it was up to me
I'd let these people see
What people do
I've been watching you too

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Television: The Ballad of Jed Clampett

The Ballad of Jed Clampett

I guess this skirts the edges of the theme, but I love the song and hope you do too.  The Ballad of Jed Clampett is an iconic TV theme song, performed by the best of the best.
Always a bluegrass aficianado, I have to confess that I think there are few better songs than The Ballad of Jed Clampett when it comes to TV air-time. Back when The Beverly Hillbillies first appeared on US TV in the early 60s  , Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs were in their prime. Granted, that prime continued for several more years as they picked their way to iconic stature, but this song placed them above the rest in statistical terms of total listens: the show was a hit and the theme song too.

In those days, TV was black and white. TV was THE entertainment for America: families gathered around the "set" and nationwide rating stats were serious commercial business.

Somewhere back behind the mores of the US in those days is part of what must have influenced Frank Zappa as he wrote and sang about the "slime" oozing out of your TV set.

Don't get me wrong: I loved the Beverly Hillbillies: the unscrupulous banker, Mr Drysdale; the ornery, old time Granny Moses; and the accommodating Jed Clampett. But to me, much more than the characters, it was the finger-picking goodness and hootenanny vocals of the theme song that captured my interest. This was the essence of America: raw country come to urbana.

All the same, when the ads came on every 15 minutes, FZ was lurking somehere in the background (or maybe in the future).

Anyway, Thanks, Frank. Thanks Earl. Thank you John Logie Baird, Philo Taylor Farnsworth and Vladimir Kosma Zworykin for inventing the TV.

Television: Turn Me On

The Tubes: Turn Me On

I will never forget the glee I felt when I started training at WPRB and was told that we had free rein to come to the studios and listen to records. Even better, we were encouraged to do so. I had a good collection, but it was nothing compared to the shelves of vinyl that I now had access to. The smell of a room filled with records still brings me back to those days. And while I felt like I had a pretty broad knowledge of rock music, there were hundreds of records—maybe thousands—in there that I had never heard of. To this day, I listen to many of the musicians who I discovered pawing through the stacks in the basement of Holder Hall.

I’m pretty confident that I was unaware of The Tubes before I picked up 1979’s Remote Control in the studio. I was immediately taken by its biting satire of television, a medium that I loved, the quality of the songs and performances, and by Todd Rundgren’s production. I know I played a number of songs from the album, and started to look back to the band’s earlier albums, which consistent with their name, touched on television, particularly, the hucksterism lampooned in “What Do You Want From Life?” However, the band skewered other targets, too, including sex and drugs, with varying success.

But Remote Control, from the opener, “Turn Me On” to the closing track, “Telecide,” is a concept album that is a focused, scathing attack on the influence that television has on individuals and society. The music jumps genres, but never disappoints, and its message is consistent—TV is dangerous. Here’s an excerpt from “Turn Me On”:

Let me know what I need to know 
Make me go where I want to go 
Let me stand and wonder 
Let me feel the thunder 
See the lightning and the picture show 

After Remote Control, The Tubes experienced a brief period of increasing popularity, ironically fueled by exposure on MTV (and the participation of members of, I hesitate even to write the name, Toto), and decreasing creativity (caused, in part, by the participation of members of Toto). But then the bottom dropped out, people started to leave and the band broke up.

As much as I like this song, and this album, I can’t completely agree with their thesis. Like anything that is powerful, television can be misused and abused. While I recognize that television provides tons of misinformation, hours of trashy entertainment and unreal “reality” programming, is probably overused as a babysitter and keeps people on the couch when they should be doing something else, it also provides enormous value. If it wasn’t for television, I would never have seen the Mets win the World Series, the Giants win the Super Bowl, the Knicks win the NBA Championship (I am that old) or get to watch the World Cup. I wouldn’t have seen Nixon resign or Obama get elected. I would never have experienced “Hill Street Blues,” “All in the Family,” “Seinfeld,” “The West Wing,” “Monty Python’s Flying Circus,” “Friday Night Lights,” “Sports Night,” “Deadwood” or David Letterman. Or any number of other great programs or events. And while I personally can attest to the fact that much of the time you can scroll through hundreds of channels and find nothing to watch, that doesn’t mean that there aren’t times when there are too many things to see (and thanks, therefore, to our DVR and to VOD). And it doesn’t mean that television is evil.

I guess, like pretty much everything, moderation is the key. But that doesn’t make for much of a concept album.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Television: 5 Great TV Themes

A boyhood friend of Buddy Holly, Sonny Curtis is best known for writing " I Fought The Law" for the Bobby Fuller Four. When you listen to the entire song, "Love Is All Around" is hardly the Woman's Lib anthem the opening credits of The Mary Tyler Moore Show made it seem:
     All the men around adore you/ 
That sexy look will do wonders for you.

Thanks to his duets success with Roberta Flack, Donny Hathaway was recruited to sing the title track to the Norman Lear comedy Maude in 1972. The songwriting team of Alan and Marilyn Bergman also gave us "Up Where We Belong" and "You Don't Bring Me Flowers".

"Everybody's Talkin" had everybody talkin about Harry Nilsson who in 1969 was commissioned to record the title sequence theme for The Courtship of Eddie's Father. He rewrote something he called "Girlfriend". Harry never bothered to record a full length version of the tune which might have been a nice single.

For the 1979 Martin Short Wall Street comedy The Associates, producer James L Brooks got B B King to record "The Wall Street Blues". The show lasted just 9 episodes.

Finally, not only did The Waitresses performed the title track for the Sarah Jessica Parker vehicle "Square Pegs", they appeared in the premiere episode, at the school dance, singing their hit "I Know What Boys Like".