Song of the Week – Rock Music in Concert Films

Ignored           Obscured            Restored

The Rock Music in Films series continues this week.  Today I explore concert films, but I don’t think there will be any surprises.

The first great rock show that was released as a concert film was the T.A.M.I. Show (1964).  It was filmed at the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium over two nights in October 1964.  The integrated cast of performers included The Beach Boys, Chuck Berry, James Brown, Marvin Gaye, Jan and Dean, The Rolling Stones, and The Supremes.  The Wrecking Crew served as the house band!

The Rolling Stones had to follow that!  Keith Richards has been known to admit that choosing to follow Brown on the bill was the worst career decision of his life.

The June 1967 “summer of love” led the San Francisco flower-power set to descend on Monterey for the first Monterey Pop Festival.  The festival launched the careers of Janis Joplin, The Who, Jimi Hendrix, and Otis Redding.  And there is a concert film to document it!

While Redding was already popular with Black audiences, he had not yet crossed over to the pop (white) market.  But Monterey Pop changed that.  Just weeks after the festival, while still in the Bay area, he was staying in a houseboat in Sausalito and began to write his signature song, “(Sittin’ On) The Dock of the Bay.”  Just a few months later (December 1967) he died in a plane crash outside of Madison, Wisconsin.

But the granddaddy of all concert films at least in terms of box office success – is Woodstock.  The concert was in mid-August, 1969 and the film and soundtrack were released a year later.  The 3 disc album sold very well and super-charged the careers of several of the acts (Santana, Ten Years After).  Those that rejected offers to perform at Woodstock or refused to allow their performances to be in the film and on the soundtrack regretted that decision (Procol Harum, Sweetwater, Burt Sommer).

One of my favorite performances in the set was by Joe Cocker, covering The Beatles’ “With a Little Help From My Friends.”

By the mid ‘70s, The Band was hanging it up and filmed their farewell performance on Thanksgiving Day 1976 at San Francisco’s Winterland theater.  The star-studded event was directed by Martin Scorcese who also had an editing role in Woodstock.  The Band called their concert and film The Last Waltz and also released a 3-disc soundtrack.

Many of the guest performances with The Band as their “house band” were stellar, but I’m going to stick with a song by The Band themselves.  “The Shape I’m In” was originally on Stage Fright and has always been a favorite.

I just spent sixty days in the jailhouse
For the crime of having no dough, no, no
Now, here I am, back out on the street
For the crime of having nowhere to go

Almost a decade later, Talking Heads released Stop Making Sense, the concert film and soundtrack, shot over four nights at the Pantages Theater in Hollywood, from their Speaking In Tongues tour.

Let’s take a listen to “Slippery People.”

It is a wonderful blend of David Byrne’s art rock blended with Funkadelic style funk.  He even had Bernie Worrell on keys to amp up the P-Funk aspect.

Enjoy… until next week.

Song of the Week – Music in Blaxpliotation Films

Ignored           Obscured            Restored

In the early ‘70s, a film genre called Blaxploitation emerged.  Wikipedia explains:

The films produced in the 1970s were generally considered a form of exploitation because non-black producers, writers, and directors sought to tell Black stories, and to sell these potentially inauthentic stories to Black audiences. The films, while popular, suffered backlash for disproportionate numbers of stereotypical film characters showing bad or questionable motives, including most roles as criminals resisting arrest.

That’s not the whole story.  There was indeed some backlash from those that objected to the criminal stereotypes of many African Americans in the films.  In fact, BANG (Blacks Against Narcotic Genocide) picketed theaters that were screening the film Superfly, even though it was the first Blaxploitation film to be fully financed by black producers.

But many moviegoers from the African American community welcomed seeing black actors in roles that portrayed strong, assertive (male and female) characters like Shaft (Richard Roundtree) and Foxy Brown (Pam Grier).

But one thing that most of the Blaxploitation films had was excellent soundtracks!

The most popular was the Isaac Hayes “Theme from Shaft.”

“Theme from Shaft” reached #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 at the end of 1971.  The next year the song took home the Oscar for Best Original Score – making Hayes the first African American to win the award.

Listeners are immediately drawn in by the drum intro of sixteenth notes played on the hi-hat, followed by that funky wah-wah guitar.  And who could forget the line:

You see this cat Shaft is a bad mother (Shut your mouth)

Curtis Mayfield, no stranger to political message songs, put together a masterpiece for the soundtrack to Superfly in 1972.  The best song on the album is “Pusherman.”

“Pusherman” is interesting because the lyrics could be construed as glorifying the role of inner-city drug dealers.  But knowing Mayfield and his politics, he was more likely attempting to show how being a pusher may often be the only way out of poverty for blacks, who wanted to provide for their families, when living in the ghetto in the ‘70s.

I’m your mama, I’m your daddy

I’m that ni**er, in the alley

I’m your doctor when in need

Want some coke? Have some weed

The “Godfather of Soul” wouldn’t miss out on a chance to take part in this trend.  He contributed a great work – the soundtrack to Black Caesar (1973).  My choice from this soundtrack is the melodramatic ballad “Mama”s Dead.”

In the movie, this song plays as lead character Tommy Gibbs mourns the death of his mother.  Brown’s heartfelt vocal nails the emotional heft of the scene.

Mama’s dead, never again would she hold my hand

Never again to hear her call my name

But now she’s gone, her troubles are over, the pain is gone
I wish, I had made her proud to call me son

All of these soundtracks (and many others) deserve to be heard all the way through.  Give them a try!

Enjoy… until next week.