Monday, January 23, 2023

We Thought They'd Never End

Okay, it's time to kickstart this old popstand again.  Or something.

Lately I've been watching too many old "What's My Line?" shows on YouTube . It was a favorite of mine when I was young, and it's fascinating to see how it looks 60 and even 70 years later. Bennett Cerf just asked mystery guest Jack Jones if he sang "any of this rock 'n' roll, 'Downtown' sort of music" and then, to make clear what he meant, sort of hummed a bit of the tune. This was in 1965. 

Now, to me, "Downtown" doesn't qualify as rock 'n' roll: it's an old-fashioned pop song, recorded with a swing orchestra, and Petula Clark was no more a rock'n'roll singer than Rosemary Clooney. I know it's hard to adjust to "new" entertainment styles, but Cerf's reactionary take was pretty funny even so.

In the same vein, sometime last year I came across some establishment writer saying in the late 1960s said that Cher represented something new in music and entertainment.  This was in the days when she was still performing with Sonny Bono, doing a Bob-Hope style hippie impersonation.  I like Cher well enough, but she was always show-biz all the way, as shown by the TV variety show she later did -- first with Sonny, then by herself.  It's as old-school as Carol Burnett's (also available on YouTube).  Check out, for example, Cher shaking her booty with the Jackson Five; offering up a tribute to the Beatles with Tina Turner and the ahead-of-her-time punk rocker Kate Smith; and TRIGGER WARNING: dancing with the equally show-biz David Bowie. (That final clip still gives me nightmares sometimes.)

Watching these old clips gives me a historical perspective on the entertainment industry I grew up on.  Also on changes in social attitudes.  It still gives me a turn to see performers smoking cigarettes and cigars on the shows. The blatant sexism is interesting too: not only Bennett Cerf but another male panelist from the earliest days of "What's My Line?" (his name escapes me) who aggressively baited female contestants.  And then there are stars whom we now know were gay, like the very queeny (but toning it down for the public) Dr. Tom Dooley.  This segment is from 1959, and gives a glimpse of US propaganda about Vietnam at a time when our involvement was still low-key.