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Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Movie That Rock - The Doors

Val Kilmer delivers what was considered one of 1991's best performances as Jim Morrison in Oliver Stone's hallucinatory bio-pic of the seminal 1960s rock group The Doors. Stone cuts a jagged swath through Morrison's life, starting with a childhood memory where Morrison sees an elderly Indian dying by the roadside. It picks up with Morrison's arrival in California and his assimilation into the Venice Beach culture, followed by his film school days at UCLA; his introduction to his girlfriend Pamela Courson (Meg Ryan); his first encounters with Ray Manzarek (Kyle MacLachlan); and the origin of The Doors -- made up of Manzarek, Robby Kreiger (Frank Whaley), and John Densmore (Kevin Dillon). As the fame of The Doors grows, Morrison's obsession with death increases. The band grows weary of Morrison's missed recording sessions and no-shows at concerts. Morrison, meanwhile, sinks deeper into a drug-induced haze, having mystical sexual encounters with Patricia Kennealy (Kathleen Quinlan), an older rock journalist involved with sadomasochism and witchcraft.

Paul Brenner, All Movie Guide
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Movie That Rock - Rock Star

Loosely inspired by the true story of the heavy metal band Judas Priest, this music industry fable from director Stephen Herek is based on a script by actor-turned-writer/director John Stockwell. Mark Wahlberg stars as Chris Cole, a wannabe rock star who works by day as a copy machine repairman and by night as the lead singer of Blood Pollution, a Pennsylvania tribute band that imitates the best-selling heavy metal rockers of Steel Dragon. Although he's supported by his girlfriend Emily (Jennifer Aniston), Chris is devastated when his friends kick him out of the band he founded. His humiliation doesn't last long, however, as Chris soon learns that he's been tapped to replace the lead singer of Steel Dragon, literally becoming a rock star overnight.

Chris soon has everything he's ever wanted but is disappointed to discover that being a superstar isn't everything it's cracked up to be. Rock Star was produced under two other titles, "Metal God" and "So You Want to Be a Rock Star."

Karl Williams, All Movie Guide
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Movie That Rock - American Graffiti

It's the last night of summer 1962, and the teenagers of Modesto, California, want to have some fun before adult responsibilities close in. Among them are Steve (Ron Howard) and Curt (Richard Dreyfuss), college-bound with mixed feelings about leaving home; nerdy Terry "The Toad" (Charles Martin Smith), who scores a dream date with blonde Debbie (Candy Clark); and John (Paul Le Mat ), a 22-year-old drag racer who wonders how much longer he can stay champion and how he got stuck with 13-year-old Carol (Mackenzie Phillips) in his deuce coupe. As D. J. Wolfman Jack spins 41 vintage tunes on the radio throughout the night, Steve ponders a future with girlfriend Laurie (Cindy Williams), Curt chases a mystery blonde, Terry tries to act cool, and Paul prepares for a race against Bob Falfa (Harrison Ford), but nothing can stop the next day from coming, and with it the vastly different future ushered in by the 1960s. Fresh off The Godfather (1972), producer Francis Ford Coppola had the clout to get his friend George Lucas's project made, but only for 750,000 on a 28-day shooting schedule. Despite technical obstacles, and having to shoot at night, cinematographer Haskell Wexler gave the film the neon-lit aura that Lucas wanted, evoking the authentic look of a suburban strip to go with the authentic sound of rock-n-roll. Universal, which wanted to call the film Another Slow Night in Modesto, thought it was unreleasable.

But Lucas' period detail, co-writers Willard Huyck's and Gloria Katz's realistic dialogue, and the film's nostalgia for the pre-Vietnam years apparently appealed to a 1973 audience embroiled in cultural chaos: American Graffiti became the third most popular movie of 1973 (after The Exorcist and The Sting), establishing the reputations of Lucas (whose next film would be Star Wars) and his young cast, and furthering the onset of soundtrack-driven, youth-oriented movies. Although the film helped spark 1970s nostalgia for the 1950s, nothing else would capture the flavor of the era with the same humorous candor and latent sense of foreboding.

Lucia Bozzola, All Movie Guide
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Movie That Rock - Chuck Berry: Hail! Hail! Rock 'n' Roll

Rock 'n' roll legend Chuck Berry's 60th birthday party (October 18, 1986) in his home town of St. Louis forms the nucleus of Taylor Hackford's lively musical documentary. In addition to Berry, we are treated to interviews with Bo Diddley, Little Richard, Roy Orbison, The Everly Brothers, and comparative youngsters Eric Clapton, Linda Ronstadt, Keith Richards, and Bruce Springsteen. Whenever he goes on the radio interview circuit, Berry insists upon answering pre-set questions.

A few moments into this film, it's easy to see why: Berry suffers neither fools nor unpleasant surprises very well at all. Once all the words are spent, however, we are left with blue-ribbon concert footage lensed at St. Louis' Fox theatre, showing off Berry at his indefatigable best. Highlights include such Berry standards as "Maybelline," "Johnny B. Goode," "Nadine," and "Roll Over Beethoven," as well as the contributions of the above-mentioned guest stars.

Hal Erickson, All Movie Guide
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Movie That Rock - Dazed and Confused

Like George Lucas' American Graffiti, Richard Linklater's Dazed and Confused is an affectionate look at the youth culture of a bygone era. While Lucas took aim at the conservative 1950's, Linklater jumps ahead a generation to the bicentennial year of 1976 to celebrate the joys of beer blasts, pot smoking and Frampton Comes Alive. Set on the last day of the academic year, the film follows the random activities of a sprawling group of Texas high schoolers as they celebrate the arrival of summer, their paths variously intersecting at a freshmen hazing, a local pool parlor and finally at a keg party.

Jason Ankeny, All Movie Guide
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Movie That Rock - Almost Famous

Writer and director Cameron Crowe's experiences as a teenage rock journalist -- he was a regular contributor to Rolling Stone while still in high school -- inspired this coming-of-age story about a 15-year-old boy hitting the road with an up-and-coming rock band in the early 1970s. Elaine Miller (Frances McDormand) is a bright, loving, but strict single parent whose distrust of rock music and fears about drug use have helped to drive a wedge between herself and her two children, Anita (Zooey Deschanel) and William (Patrick Fugit). Anita rebels by dropping out of school and becoming a stewardess, but William makes something of his love of rock & roll by writing album reviews for a local underground newspaper. William's work attracts the attention of Lester Bangs (Philip Seymour Hoffman), editor of renegade rock magazine Creem, who takes William under his wing and gives him his first professional writing assignment -- covering a Black Sabbath concert. While William is unable to score an interview with the headliners, the opening act, Stillwater, are more than happy to chat with a reporter, even if he's still too young to drive, and William's piece on the group in Creem gains him a new admirer in Ben Fong-Torres (Terry Chen), an editor at Rolling Stone. Torres offers William an assignment for a 3,000-word cover story on Stillwater, and over the objections of his mother (whose parting words are "Don't use drugs!"), and after some stern advice from Bangs (who says under no circumstances should he become friends with a band he's covering), Williams joins Stillwater on tour, where he becomes friendly with guitarist Russell Hammond (Billy Crudup) and singer Jeff Bebe (Jason Lee). William also becomes enamored of Penny Lane (Kate Hudson), a groupie traveling with the band who is no older than William, but is deeply involved with Russell. Lester Bangs and Ben Fong-Torres, incidentally, were real-life rock writers Crowe worked with closely during his days as a journalist. Almost Famous' original score was composed by Nancy Wilson of Heart (who is also Crowe's wife).

Mark Deming, All Movie Guide
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Movie That Rock - Plaster Caster

In the late '60s through mid-'70s, the world of pop music spawned the new phenomenon of "groupies," women who loved music and were inclined to physically express their appreciation for their favorite rock stars. While some groupies became fabled enough to attain a degree of public notoriety, few were more famous -- or infamous -- than Chicago's "the Plaster Casters," a handful of Windy City women who were bold enough to approach some of the best-known rock stars of their day and make plaster of Paris molds of their manhood in a state of excitement. Plaster Caster is a documentary that looks back at the long, strange trip of Cynthia, founder and leader of the Plaster Casters. Cynthia (who prefers not to reveal her last name, for fear her mother might still find out about her notoriety after all these years) discusses her hobby, shows off her collection of artifacts (including her fabled cast of Jimi Hendrix), discusses her legal battle to recover some of her statuettes from former associates, and reveals that she's still living up to her name, now following the punk and indie rock scenes and preserving for posterity anatomies of members of the Mekons, the Demolition Doll Rods, and 5ive Style -- the latter of whom even gets cast on camera. Veteran rockers Eric Burdon and Wayne Kramer also weigh in with their memories of the Plaster Casters and the late-'60s rock scene. Plaster Caster was screened at the 2001 San Francisco Docfest, a festival celebrating nonfiction films.

Mark Deming, All Movie Guide


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Movie That Rock - Hair

Milos Forman's adaptation of the tribal rock musical +Hair stars John Savage as Claude, a quiet young man from the Midwest who becomes friendly with a group of New York hippies on his way to begin basic training in the military. The repressed Claude is quite taken with Berger (Treat Williams) and the group of freedom seekers who reside in Central Park. The group encourages Claude to go after a debutante named Sheila (Beverly D'Angelo). Legendary choreographer Twyla Tharp masterminded the dances, which attempt to flow from the natural settings of the film. The film includes most of the more famous songs from the original play, including "Donna," "Aquarius," "Easy to Be Hard," "Let the Sunshine In," "Good Morning Starshine," "Frank Mills," and the title number.

Perry Seibert, All Movie Guide


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Movie That Rock - Tommy

Tommy (Roger Daltrey) is a "deaf, dumb and blind kid" who retreats into himself after the death of his father. His mother, Nora (Ann-Margret), and stepfather Frank (Oliver Reed) take him to see a specialist (Jack Nicholson) but Tommy is apparently a hopeless case. That is, until Tommy discovers that "he sure plays a mean pinball." Tommy gains fame when he defeats the Pinball Wizard (Elton John) for the world championship. As a result, Tommy becomes such a celebrity that he even founds his own religious cult. But his fans begin to commercialize his fame, while Tommy wants to stick to the straight and narrow. When Tommy wants to end the commercialization of his message, his supporters accuse him of being hypocritical and turn on him. Ann-Margret, with a slinky red dress slit way up the side, was nominated for a Best Actress Oscar, losing out to Louise Fletcher in One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest.

Paul Brenner, All Movie Guide
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Movie That Rock - The Wall

It could be said that without the incredible success of the ABC miniseries Holocaust in 1978, CBS might have thought twice before greenlighting the ambitious, three-hour TV docudrama The Wall four years later. Adapted by Millard Lampell from his own 1960 Broadway play, which in turn was inspired by John Hersey's 1950 novel, The Wall is the heartbreaking but inspiring story of the heroic Warsaw Ghetto Uprising of 1943. When it becomes obvious that every Jew in Poland is doomed to be shipped off to the Nazi work and death camps, some 650 members of the newly formed Jewish Fighting Organization mount a last, brave stand against nearly 3000 German soldiers. The story is told through the eyes of Warsaw Jew Dolek Benson (Tom Conti, in his first American TV appearance), who is a passive observer of the atrocities all around him until he learns the truth about the Nazi's "resettlement" program. Rachel Roberts, cast as a former schoolteacher, made her final appearance in this film; she passed away shortly after production ended. Filmed on location in Sosnowiec, Poland and first telecast February 16, 1982, The Wall earned a Peabody Award the following year.

Hal Erickson, All Movie Guide
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Movie That Rock - The Great Rock 'n' Roll Swindle

Let Malcolm McLaren show you how to achieve fame and fortune by making your pop group the most despised band in the world! This film about the brief but eventful career of The Sex Pistols primarily focuses on McLaren, their manager, as he presents his ten-point program on how to achieve success through chaos, ineptitude, and abusing the music industry. Despite some remarkable footage of The Sex Pistols' infamous Jubilee Day performance and clips from their final concert in San Francisco, there's surprisingly little screen time devoted to the group actually performing. Instead, The Great Rock 'n' Roll Swindle offers McLaren's agit-prop philosophies on music, culture, politics, and the entertainment industry, as well as an amusing (if often inaccurate) account of the band's rise and fall. Along the way, we're also offered some curious animated sequences, "film noir" episodes starring guitarist Steve Jones, footage of the band recording with exiled British train robber Ronnie Biggs, and Sid Vicious singing "My Way" (he had been dead for over a year by the time the movie was released). The Great Rock 'n' Roll Swindle began life as "Who Killed Bambi?", a project written by Roger Ebert and directed by Russ Meyer, which closed down after two days of shooting when funding fell through. By the time McLaren and Julien Temple got it off the ground (with a radically different script), Johnny Rotten had left the group, which explains why the band's front man is hardly in the movie. The rest of the group broke up a few months later.

Mark Deming, All Movie Guide


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Movie That Rock - Rock 'n' Roll High School

Rock 'n' Roll High School is a prime example of a '70s movie phenomenon: a cult film that was deliberately designed to be a cult film. High-schooler Riff Randell's (P.J. Soles) efforts to meet the Ramones are continually thwarted by rock-&-roll-hating principal Miss Togar Mary Woronov. Miss Togar is the zealous sort who conducts experiments on laboratory rats to prove the adverse effect of rock music on innocent teenagers. Riff knows that she'll have to be twice as clever and devious as Togar to get her daily supply of Ramones -- and thereby hangs our tale. A secondary plot involves the efforts of the men's-bathroom-stationed matchmaker Eaglebauer Clint Howard to arrange a date for high-school jock Tom Roberts (Vincent Van Patten). An anarchistic climax caps this spoof of '50s R&R musicals.

Hal Erickson, All Movie Guide
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Movie That Rock - The Last Waltz

Martin Scorsese's documentary of the 1976 final performance of the legendary Sixties rock group The Band is at once a show featuring some of the greatest rock performers of their generation and a bittersweet look back at an era that was just beginning to fade. As Scorsese guides the group through interview segments discussing their 15 years together, these relatively young men sound like battle-weary survivors. But The Band were in splendid form for this show, and their multiple guest stars pulled out all the stops, especially Muddy Waters, whose "Mannish Boy" is so powerful it nearly burns a hole in the screen; Van Morrison, with a rousing performance of "Caravan;" and Bob Dylan, whose "Baby Let Me Follow You Down" displays the brilliant cockiness of his barnstorming days with this band. The all-star camera crew and superb stereo sound mix create what is considered to be of the best-looking and sounding rock films ever (as the opening credit says, play this movie loud!), and two studio-shot sequences with Emmylou Harris and The Staple Singers stand on their own.

Mark Deming, All Movie Guide
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Movie That Rock - Smithereens

Written, produced, directed, and edited by Susan Seidelman in true student film fashion, Smithereens is the story of Wren (Susan Berman), an independent spirit from New Jersey trying to self-promote herself into the New York punk scene. She meets Paul (Brad Rijn), who ran away from Montana and lives out of his van in a parking lot. Paul seems to offer genuine friendship, however, Wren is only interested in forming meaningless relationships in hopes of bolstering her nonexistent career. She has no musical talents or industry skills, yet she aggressively pursues a pathetic spot for herself in places like the Peppermint Lounge. She drops Paul for Eric (Richard Hell, who also performs on the musical score), who has a record deal, and they work out a plan to escape to California, which requires Wren to pose as a prostitute in order to scam money from a prospective john. Things don't work out, and Wren finds herself hitting one wall after another, eventually getting kicked out of her apartment. With no place to go, Wren seeks out everyone she knows in the city, only to find herself left alone.

Andrea LeVasseur, All Movie Guide
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Movie That Rock - Heavy Metal Parking Lot

A close-up view of the heavy metal scene in its heyday (maybe too close), Heavy Metal Parking Lot is an underground classic recorded on video in the parking lot of a Judas Priest concert at the Capitol Center in Largo, MD, in 1986. Director John Heyn wandered around the drunken parking lot scene and barely had to do anything other than hold up a microphone and aim the camera. Packs of plastered kids unfurled homemade Judas Priest banners, sang their favorite Judas Priest songs, played air guitar for the camera, and in general, made incredible asses of themselves. The interviews are pretty simplistic. They ask questions like, "Why are you here?" or "What do you guys think of Judas Priest?" So, the filmmakers were fortunate that the crowd that day exuded so much unbridled enthusiasm and were willing to completely lose it in front of the camera. Other than the interviews and images of fans, this short film features a couple of Judas Priest songs on its soundtrack and less than a minute of concert footage at the end to round out this nearly legendary, no-budget hit.

Adam Bregman, All Movie Guide
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Movies That Rock - Stop Making Sense

Stop Making Sense was the first feature-length documentary effort of filmmaker Jonathan Demme. The director's subject is The Talking Heads, a new-wave/pop-rock group comprised of David Byrne, Chris Franz, Tina Weymouth and Jerry Harrison. The film was made during a three-day concert gig at the Pantages Theater in Hollywood. What emerges on screen says as much about director Demme's taste and sensitivity as it does about the group and its visionary leader Byrne. Though some of the material in Stop Making Sense overlaps with the Talking Heads' earlier concert film The Name of This Band is Talking Heads, one never gets the feeling of by-the-numbers repetition; the group's energy is such that it virtually explodes from the screen.

Hal Erickson, All Movie Guide
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Movies That Rock - The Rocky Horror Picture Show

This low-budget freak show/cult classic/cultural institution concerns the misadventures of Brad Majors (Barry Bostwick) and Janet Weiss (Susan Sarandon) inside a strange mansion that they come across on a rainy night. After the wholesome pair profess their love through an opening song, their car breaks down in the woods, and they seek refuge in a towering castle nearby. Greeting them at the door is a ghoulish butler named Riff Raff (Richard O'Brien), who introduces them to a bacchanalian collection of partygoers dressed in outfits from some sort of interplanetary thrift shop. The host of this gathering is a transvestite clad in lingerie, Dr. Frank N. Furter (Tim Curry), a mad scientist who claims to be from another planet. With assistants Columbia (Nell Campbell) and Magenta (Patricia Quinn) looking on, Frank unveils his latest creation -- a figure wrapped in gauze and submerged in a tank full of liquid. With the addition of colored dyes and some assistance from the weather, Frank brings to life a blonde young beefcake wearing nothing but skimpy shorts, who launches into song in his first minute of life. Just when Brad and Janet think things couldn't get any stranger, a biker (Meat Loaf) bursts onto the scene to reclaim Columbia, his ex-girlfriend. When Frank kills the biker, it's clear that Brad and Janet will be guests for the night, and that they may be next on Frank's list -- whether for murder or carnal delights is uncertain. And just what is that mystery meat they're eating for dinner, anyway? In addition to playing Riff Raff, O'Brien wrote the catchy songs, with John Barry and Richard Hartley composing the score.

Derek Armstrong, All Movie Guide
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Movies That Rock - Tapeheads

In this high-energy satire of the music biz, Ivan Alexov (John Cusack) and Josh Tager (Tim Robbins) lose their jobs as security guards, and they decide to start their own video production company. Their first gigs are less than inspiring, including a rappin' commercial for a chicken-and-waffle place, a living will, and a right-wing Presidential-hopeful's (Clu Gulager) gala dinner. Eventually, they get to direct a heavy-metal music video which becomes a huge surprise success. But now the politician needs to get back a private videotape from the boys, and the Secret Service is put on their trail. This chaotic romp has cameos from more music celebs than you can shake a tape reel at, as well as a hopping little soundtrack by Fishbone. This is also the film that introduced a conservative folksinger/politician character who later got his own movie, Bob Roberts.

John Voorhees, All Movie Guide
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Movies That Rock - That Thing You Do


Tom Hanks made his directorial debut in this bright comedy set in the mid-1960's about a rock group and their brief fling with fame. Guy Patterson (Tom Everett Scott) works as a salesman at his father's appliance store and plays the drums in his spare time, fancying himself a jazz musician. One day, a buddy of Guy's tells him a local rock band, The One-Ders (it's pronounced "wonders"), are in need of a drummer -- they have Battle of the Bands coming up and their usual timekeeper has broken his arm. Guy agrees to sit in, but when it's time to play their best original, a love ballad called "That Thing You Do," Guy lays in a sharp, driving beat that turns the tune into an uptempo pop-rocker. Lead singer Jimmy (Johnathon Schaech) isn't happy at first, but guitarist Lenny (Steve Zahn) and the nameless Bass Player (Ethan Embry) think the song sounds better that way -- and they notice the girls like it just fine. Soon people are actually requesting the song at their shows, and the One-Ders scrape together some money to press a single of "That Thing You Do" to sell between sets. A DJ puts the song on the radio, and opportunity knocks in the form of Mr. White (Tom Hanks), who works for the very major Play-Tone Records label. Play-Tone buys the rights to "That Thing You Do" and puts the band on the road as their song makes it way to the top of the national charts. But what can The Wonders (as Play-Tone have re-named them) do for an encore? And what should Guy do about his infatuation with Jimmy's girlfriend, Faye (Liv Tyler)? Real-life 60's obsessed rocker Chris Isaak has a small part as a recording engineer, and fans of real 60's garage bands will appreciate the wealth of small, accurately observed details (for example, halfway through the film, when a few "That Thing You Do" royalty checks have presumably kicked in, the band's inexpensive Danelectro guitars disappear and the Wonders are suddenly playing on brand new Fender gear -- the height of rock style in 1965).

Mark Deming, All Movie Guide
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Movies That Rock - American Hot Wax

This lively musical comedy pays tribute to the birth of rock & roll in the late 1950s and the instrumental role played by disc jockey Alan Freed who helped bring the new sound into vogue. Much of the story centers on the daring deejay's attempts to put on the very first live rock & roll stage show at the Paramount Theatre in Brooklyn. To do this he must overcome the protests of concerned and angry parents, conservatives, and local police. Several performers of the era appear in the film including Chuck Berry, and Jerry Lee Lewis.

Sandra Brennan, All Movie Guide
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Movies That Rock - Jailhouse Rock

One of the best of Elvis Presley's pre-Army films, Jailhouse Rock offers us the sensual, "dangerous" Elvis that had won the hearts of the kids and earned the animosity of their elders. Presley plays a young buck who accidentally kills a man while protecting the honor of a woman. Thrown into prison, Elvis strikes up a friendship with visionary fellow-con Mickey Shaughnessy. Shaughnessy suggests that Elvis perform in the upcoming prison show. Ol' swivel-hips scores a hit, and decides to stay in showbiz after his release. Together with pretty Judy Tyler (the former Princess Summerfall Winterspring on Howdy Doody, who would die in a horrible traffic accident shortly after completing this film), Elvis sets up his own record company. Alas, success goes to his head, and soon Elvis plans to ditch Tyler in favor of signing with a big-time label. Shaughnessy shows up long enough to punch out Elvis for his disloyalty; as a result, Elvis' vocal chords are damaged and he is unable to sing. Deserted by his flunkeys and hangers-on, Elvis learns the value of friendship and fidelity when Tyler and Shaughnessy stay by his side in his darkest hours. His voice restored, Elvis climbs back up the charts--but this time, he's a much nicer fellow, and a lot more committed to Tyler. Usually the musical numbers in a Presley picture (this one has a doozy, complete with chorus boys dressed as convicts!) are more compelling than the plot. Jailhouse Rock is a perfect balance of song and story from beginning to end; seldom would Elvis be so well showcased in the future.

Hal Erickson, All Movie Guide
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Movies That Rock - Eddie and the Cruisers

In the early 1960's, Eddie Wilson (Michael Pare) and his band The Cruisers enjoyed a brief fling with success, but their career came to a halt when Eddie's badly damaged car was discovered in an accident on a bridge. However, Eddie's body was never found, and years later, a reissue of the group's only album sparks rumors that the mysterious Eddie might still be alive. Frank Ridgeway (Tom Berenger), Eddie's former piano player and lyricist, finds himself trailed by Maggie Foley (Ellen Barkin), a reporter trying to find out the truth about Eddie, as well as another former bandmate who wants Frank to join his revamped version of the Cruisers -- and is trying to track down the tapes for the Cruisers' unreleased second album. While not a box-office success on its original release, Eddie and the Cruisers developed a following after its showings on cable television and release on videotape; this led to the belated success of the film's soundtrack album, featuring a number of bombastic neo-Springsteen numbers by John Cafferty and the Beaver Brown Band. Beaver Brown saxophonist Michael "Tunes" Antunes plays Wendell, the Cruisers' sax player and Eddie's best friend (despite the fact that we never hear him speak).

Mark Deming, All Movie Guide
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Movies That Rock - Head

The Monkees -- Micky Dolenz, Mike Nesmith, Davy Jones and Peter Tork -- didn't really enjoy being labelled the Prefab Four back when their TV series was all the rage in 1966. With the help and support of Bob Rafaelson (co-producer, co-writer and director) and Jack Nicholson (co-producer, co-writer, and, if you look closely, bit player), the Monkees expressed their displeasure over being packaged for popular consumption in the non sequitur masterpiece Head. At least, it seems that the film is an indictment of the merchandising of pop stars. It's hard to tell at times, because Head literally has no plot; it is instead a patchwork of loopy sight gags, instant parodies, "camp" cutups, musical numbers and wry inside jokes. Clips of such old movies as the 1934 Karloff-Lugosi epic The Black Cat pop up every so often, as does an impressive lineup of pop-culture icons: Victor Mature, Annette Funicello, Sonny Liston, Frank Zappa (he's the one leading a cow) and Ray Nitschke, as well as such movie-trivia "answers" as Timothy Carey, Vito Scotti, Teri Garr, Percy Helton, Logan Ramsey, Carol Doda, and pre-Divine cross-dresser T.C. Jones. The best bits include a lengthy Golden Boy parody which does double duty as a lampoon of the network's efforts to create "personalities" for the individual Monkees, and a psychedelic buck-and-wing performed by Davy Jones. One gag, in which Micky Dolenz blows up a Coca Cola machine, is usually excised from TV showings. Head did zero business when it first came out thanks to poor distribution, but it has since become a fixture of midnight-movie showings and campus cinema classes.

Hal Erickson, All Movie Guide
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Movies That Rock - Phantom of the Paradise

"He sold his soul for rock-n-roll," read the tagline for Brian De Palma's satirical Phantom of the Opera for the '70s rock scene. After hearing Winslow Leach (William Finley) perform a song from his Faust rock opera, Phil Spector-ish impresario Swan (Paul Williams) decides that Winslow's opera would be the perfect debut attraction for his new rock palace, the Paradise. Swan steals the music and has Winslow imprisoned -- but not before Winslow meets aspiring songbird Phoenix (Jessica Harper). Jumping prison, Winslow breaks into Swan's Death Records factory to ruin the recordings, but a record press accident grossly disfigures him. Winslow then sneaks into the Paradise to sabotage Swan's show, disguising himself as the Phantom. Swan, however, cuts a deal with the Phantom to finish his cantata; he promises that Phoenix will sing it but then reneges, hiring prissy glam rocker Beef (Gerritt Graham). Determined to have Phoenix sing, the Phantom soon discovers just how far Swan will go to give the people what they want.

Lucia Bozzola, All Movie Guide
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Movies That Rock - Bye Bye Birdie

George Sidney's adaptation of the satiric Broadway musical smash by Michael Stewart, Charles Strouse, and Lee Adams -- about an Elvis Presley-inspired rock star, who is drafted into the army and who creates a near-riot in a small Midwestern town when he stops there for one last publicity junket -- takes good-natured swipes at popular culture, rock n' roll, and American family life. Dick van Dyke re-creates his Broadway role of Albert Peterson, a down-on-his-luck songwriter for the rock-n'-roll idol Conrad Birdie (Jesse Pearson). When Birdie is drafted into the army, Peterson is worried about his future as a songwriter. His secretary, Rosie (Janet Leigh in a brunette wig), with whom Albert has long been romantically attached, convinces Albert to write a farewell song for Birdie that he will sing on The Ed Sullivan Show to a specially selected fan. The lucky fan turns out to be Kim McAfee (Ann-Margaret) of Sweet Apple, Ohio. When Birdie arrives in this hick town, the population goes crazy and in the ensuing madness, Albert must deal with the celebrity-fawning population, Kim's manic father (Paul Lynde, also re-creating his Broadway role), and his own domineering mother (Maureen Stapleton), while he loses Rosie to the Shriners.

Paul Brenner, All Movie Guide
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Movies That Rock - Easy Rider

Tossing wristwatches away, two bikers hit the road to find America in Dennis Hopper's anti-establishment classic. After a major cocaine sale to an L.A. connection (Phil Spector), free-wheeling potheads Billy (Hopper) and Wyatt, aka Captain America (Peter Fonda, who also produced), motor eastward to party at Mardi Gras before "retiring" to Florida with the riches concealed in Wyatt's stars-and-stripes gas tank. As they ride through the Southwest, they take a hitchhiker (Luke Askew) to a struggling hippie commune before they get thrown in a small-town jail for "parading without a permit." Their cellmate, drunken ACLU lawyer George Hanson (Jack Nicholson, replacing Rip Torn), does them a "groovy" favor by getting them out of jail and then decides to join them. Babbling about Venusians, George discovers the joys of smoking grass, but an encounter with Southern rednecks soon proves how right he is about the danger posed by Billy's and Wyatt's unfettered life in a country that has lost its ideals. With the straight world closing in, Wyatt and Billy try to revel in New Orleans with some LSD and hookers (Karen Black and Toni Basil), but the acid trip is shot through with morbidity. Once they reach Florida, Billy raves about attaining the American dream; Wyatt, however, knows the truth: "We blew it."

Produced and directed by two Hollywood iconoclasts with under a half-million non-studio dollars, Easy Rider shook up the languishing movie industry when it grossed over 19 million dollars in 1969; it captured the spirit of the times as it woke Hollywood up to the power of young audiences and socially relevant movies, along with such other landmarks of the late '60s as Bonnie and Clyde, The Graduate, and 2001. Shot on location by Laszlo Kovacs, Easy Rider eschewed old-fashioned Hollywood polish for documentary-style immediacy, and it enhanced its casual feel with improvised dialogue and realistically "stoned" acting. With a soundtrack of contemporary rock songs by Jimi Hendrix, the Band, and Steppenwolf to complete the atmosphere, Easy Rider was hailed for capturing the increasingly violent Vietnam-era split between the counterculture and the repressive Establishment. Experiencing the "shock of recognition," youth audiences embraced Easy Rider's vision of both the attractions and the limits of dropping out, proving that audience's box-office power and turning Nicholson into a movie star. The momentarily hip Academy nominated Nicholson for the Best Supporting Actor Oscar, and Fonda, Hopper, and Terry Southern for their screenplay. Though none of its imitators would match its impact, Easy Rider remains one of the seminal works of late '60s Hollywood both for its trailblazing legacy and its sharply perceptive portrait of its chaotic times.

Lucia Bozzola, All Movie Guide
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Monday, May 26, 2008

The Beatles Bio

So much has been said and written about the Beatles -- and their story is so mythic in its sweep -- that it's difficult to summarize their career without restating clich?s that have already been digested by tens of millions of rock fans. To start with the obvious, they were the greatest and most influential act of the rock era, and introduced more innovations into popular music than any other rock band of the 20th century. Moreover, they were among the few artists of any discipline that were simultaneously the best at what they did and the most popular at what they did. Relentlessly imaginative and experimental, the Beatles grabbed a hold of the international mass consciousness in 1964 and never let go for the next six years, always staying ahead of the pack in terms of creativity but never losing their ability to communicate their increasingly sophisticated ideas to a mass audience. Their supremacy as rock icons remains unchallenged to this day, decades after their breakup in 1970.

Even when couching praise in specific terms, it's hard to convey the scope of the Beatles' achievements in a mere paragraph or two. They synthesized all that was good about early rock & roll, and changed it into something original and even more exciting. They established the prototype for the self-contained rock group that wrote and performed its own material. As composers, their craft and melodic inventiveness were second to none, and key to the evolution of rock from its blues/R&B-based forms into a style that was far more eclectic, but equally visceral. As singers, both John Lennon and Paul McCartney were among the best and most expressive vocalists in rock; the group's harmonies were intricate and exhilarating. As performers, they were (at least until touring had ground them down) exciting and photogenic; when they retreated into the studio, they were instrumental in pioneering advanced techniques and multi-layered arrangements. They were also the first British rock group to achieve worldwide prominence, launching a British Invasion that made rock truly an international phenomenon.

More than any other top group, the Beatles' success was very much a case of the whole being greater than the sum of its parts. Their phenomenal cohesion was due in large degree to most of the group having known each other and played together in Liverpool for about five years before they began to have hit records. Guitarist and teenage rebel John Lennon got hooked on rock & roll in the mid-'50s, and formed a band, the Quarrymen, at his high school. Around mid-1957, the Quarrymen were joined by another guitarist, Paul McCartney, nearly two years Lennon's junior. A bit later they were joined by another guitarist, George Harrison, a friend of McCartney. The Quarrymen would change lineups constantly in the late '50s, eventually reducing to the core trio of guitarists, who'd proven themselves to be the best musicians and most personally compatible individuals within the band.

The Quarrymen changed their name to the Silver Beatles in 1960, quickly dropping the "Silver" to become just the Beatles. Lennon's art college friend Stuart Sutcliffe joined on bass, but finding a permanent drummer was a vexing problem until Pete Best joined in the summer of 1960. He successfully auditioned for the combo just before they left for a several-month stint in Hamburg, Germany.

Hamburg was the Beatles' baptism by fire. Playing grueling sessions for hours on end in one of the most notorious red-light districts in the world, the group was forced to expand its repertoire, tighten up its chops, and invest its show with enough manic energy to keep the rowdy crowds satisfied. When they returned to Liverpool at the end of 1960, the band -- formerly also-rans on the exploding Liverpudlian "beat" scene -- were suddenly the most exciting act on the local circuit. They consolidated their following in 1961 with constant gigging in the Merseyside area, most often at the legendary Cavern Club, the incubator of the Merseybeat sound.

They also returned for engagements in Hamburg during 1961, although Sutcliffe dropped out of the band that year to concentrate on his art school studies there. McCartney took over on bass, Harrison settled in as lead guitarist, and Lennon had rhythm guitar; everyone sang. In mid-1961, the Beatles (minus Sutcliffe) made their first recordings in Germany, as a backup group to a British rock guitarist/singer based in Hamburg, Tony Sheridan. The Beatles hadn't fully developed at this point, and these recordings -- many of which (including a couple of Sheridan-less tracks) were issued only after the band's rise to fame -- found their talents in a most embryonic state. The Hamburg stint was also notable for gaining the Beatles sophisticated, artistic fans such as Sutcliffe's girlfriend, Astrid Kirchherr, who influenced all of them (except Best) to restyle their quiffs in the moptops that gave the musicians their most distinctive visual trademark. (Sutcliffe, tragically, would die of a brain hemorrhage in April 1962).

Near the end of 1961, the Beatles' exploding local popularity caught the attention of local record store manager Brian Epstein, who was soon managing the band as well. He used his contacts to swiftly acquire a January 1, 1962, audition at Decca Records that has been heavily bootlegged (some tracks were officially released in 1995). After weeks of deliberation, Decca turned them down as did several other British labels. Epstein's perseverance was finally rewarded with an audition for producer George Martin at Parlophone, an EMI subsidiary; Martin signed the Beatles in mid-1962. By this time, Epstein was assiduously grooming his charges for national success by influencing them to smarten up their appearance, dispensing with their leather jackets and trousers in favor of tailored suits and ties.

One more major change was in the offing before the Beatles made their Parlophone debut. In August 1962, drummer Pete Best was kicked out of the group, a controversial decision that has been the cause of much speculation since. There is still no solid consensus as to whether it was because of his solitary, moody nature; the other Beatles' jealousy of his popularity with the fans; his musical shortcomings (George Martin had already told Epstein that Best wasn't good enough to drum on recordings); or his refusal to wear his hair in bangs. What seems most likely was that the Beatles simply found his personality incompatible, preferring to enlist Ringo Starr (born Richard Starkey), a drummer with another popular Merseyside outfit, Rory Storm & the Hurricanes. Starr had been in the Beatles for a few weeks when they recorded their first single, "Love Me Do"/"P.S. I Love You," in September 1962. Both sides of the 45 were Lennon-McCartney originals, and the songwriting team would be credited with most of the group's material throughout the Beatles' career.

The single, a promising but fairly rudimentary effort, hovered around the lower reaches of the British Top 20. The Beatles phenomenon didn't truly kick in until "Please Please Me," which topped the British charts in early 1963. This was the prototype British Invasion single: an infectious melody, charging guitars, and positively exuberant harmonies. The same traits were evident on their third 45, "From Me to You" (a British number one), and their debut LP, Please Please Me. Although it was mostly recorded in a single day, Please Please Me topped the British charts for an astonishing 30 weeks, establishing the group as the most popular rock & roll act ever seen in the U.K.

What the Beatles had done was take the best elements of the rock and pop they loved and make them their own. Since the Quarrymen days, they had been steeped in the classic early rock of Elvis, Buddy Holly, Chuck Berry, Little Richard, Carl Perkins, and the Everly Brothers; they'd also kept an ear open to the early '60s sounds of Motown, Phil Spector, and the girl groups. What they added was an unmatched songwriting savvy (inspired by Brill Building teams such as Gerry Goffin and Carole King), a brash guitar-oriented attack, wildly enthusiastic vocals, and the embodiment of the youthful flair of their generation, ready to dispense with postwar austerity and claim a culture of their own. They were also unsurpassed in their eclecticism, willing to borrow from blues, popular standards, gospel, folk, or whatever seemed suitable for their musical vision. Producer George Martin was the perfect foil for the group, refining their ideas without tinkering with their cores; during the last half of their career, he was indispensable for his ability to translate their concepts into arrangements that required complex orchestration, innovative applications of recording technology, and an ever-widening array of instruments.

Just as crucially, the Beatles were never ones to stand still and milk formulas. All of their subsequent albums and singles would show remarkable artistic progression (though never at the expense of a damn catchy tune). Even on their second LP, With the Beatles (1963), it was evident that their talents as composers and instrumentalists were expanding furiously, as they devised ever more inventive melodies and harmonies, and boosted the fullness of their arrangements. "She Loves You" and "I Want to Hold Your Hand" established the group not just as a popular music act, but as a phenomenon never before seen in the British entertainment business, as each single sold over a million copies in the U.K. After some celebrated national TV appearances, Beatlemania broke out across the British Isles in late 1963, and the group generating screams and hysteria at all of their public appearances, musical or otherwise.

Capitol, which had first refusal of the Beatles' recordings in the United States, had declined to issue the group's first few singles, which ended up appearing on relatively small American independents. Capitol took up its option on "I Want to Hold Your Hand," which stormed to the top of the U.S. charts within weeks of its release on December 26, 1963. The Beatles' television appearances on The Ed Sullivan Show in February of 1964 launched Beatlemania (and the entire British Invasion) on an even bigger scale than it had reached in Britain. In the first week of April 1964, the Beatles had the Top Five best-selling singles in the U.S.; they also had the first two slots on the album charts, as well as other entries throughout the Billboard Top 100. No one had ever dominated the market for popular music so heavily; it's doubtful that anyone ever will again. The Beatles themselves would continue to reach number one with most of their singles and albums until their 1970 breakup.

Hard as it may be to believe today, the Beatles were often dismissed by cultural commentators of the time as nothing more than a fad that would vanish within months as the novelty wore off. The group ensured this wouldn't happen by making A Hard Day's Night in early 1964, a cin?ma v?rit?-style motion picture comedy/musical that cemented their image as "the Fab Four": happy-go-lucky, individualistic, cheeky, funny lads with nonstop energy. The soundtrack was also a triumph, consisting entirely of Lennon-McCartney tunes, including such standards as the title tune, "And I Love Her," "If I Fell," "Can't Buy Me Love," and "Things We Said Today." George Harrison's resonant 12-string electric guitar leads were hugely influential; the movie helped persuade the Byrds, then folksingers, to plunge all out into rock & roll, and the Beatles (along with Bob Dylan) would be hugely influential on the folk-rock explosion of 1965. The Beatles' success, too, had begun to open the U.S. market for fellow Brits like the Rolling Stones, the Animals, and the Kinks, and inspired young American groups like the Beau Brummels, Lovin' Spoonful, and others to mount a challenge of their own with self-penned material that owed a great debt to Lennon-McCartney.

Between riotous international tours in 1964 and 1965, the Beatles continued to squeeze out more chart-topping albums and singles. (Until 1967, the group's British albums were often truncated for release in the States; when their catalog was transferred to CD, the albums were released worldwide in their British configurations.) In retrospect, critics have judged Beatles for Sale (late 1964) and Help! (mid-1965) as the band's least impressive efforts. To some degree, that's true. Touring and an insatiable market placed heavy demands upon their songwriting, and some of the originals and covers on these records, while brilliant by many group's standards, were filler in the context of the Beatles' best work.

But when at the top of their game, the group was continuing to push forward. "I Feel Fine" had feedback and brilliant guitar leads; "Ticket to Ride" showed the band beginning to incorporate the ringing, metallic, circular guitar lines that would be appropriated by bands like the Byrds; "Help!" was their first burst of confessional lyricism; "Yesterday" employed a string quartet. John Lennon in particular was beginning to exhibit a Dylanesque influence in his songwriting on such folky, downbeat numbers as "I'm a Loser" and "You've Got to Hide Your Love Away." And tracks like "I Don't Want to Spoil the Party" and "I've Just Seen a Face" had a strong country flavor.

Although the Beatles' second film, Help!, was a much sillier and less sophisticated affair than their first feature, it too was a huge commercial success. By this time, though, the Beatles had nothing to prove in commercial terms; the remaining frontiers were artistic challenges that could only be met in the studio. They rose to the occasion at the end of 1965 with Rubber Soul, one of the classic folk-rock records. Lyrically, Lennon, McCartney, and even Harrison (who was now writing some tunes on his own) were evolving beyond boy-girl scenarios into complex, personal feelings. They were also pushing the limits of studio rock by devising new guitar and bass textures, experimenting with distortion and multi-tracking, and using unconventional (for rock) instruments like the sitar.

As much of a progression as Rubber Soul was relative to their previous records, it was but a taster for the boundary-shattering outings of the next few years. The "Paperback Writer"/"Rain" single found the group abandoning romantic themes entirely, boosting the bass to previously unknown levels, and fooling around with psychedelic imagery and backward tapes on the B-side. Drugs (psychedelic and otherwise) were fueling their already fertile imaginations, but they felt creatively hindered by their touring obligations. Revolver, released in the summer of 1966, proved what the group could be capable of when allotted months of time in the studio. Hazy hard guitars and thicker vocal arrangements formed the bed of these increasingly imagistic, ambitious lyrics; the group's eclecticism now encompassed everything from singalong novelties ("Yellow Submarine") and string quartet-backed character sketches ("Eleanor Rigby") to Indian-influenced swirls of echo and backward tapes ("Tomorrow Never Knows"). Some would complain that the Beatles had abandoned the earthy rock of their roots for clever mannerism. But Revolver, like virtually all of the group's singles and albums from "She Loves You" on, would be a worldwide chart-topper.

For the past couple of years, live performance had become a rote exercise for the group, tired of competing with thousands of screaming fans that drowned out most of their voices and instruments. A 1966 summer worldwide tour was particularly grueling: the group's entourage was physically attacked in the Philippines after a perceived snub of the country's first lady, and a casual remark by John Lennon about the Beatles being bigger than Jesus Christ was picked up in the States, resulting in the burning of Beatle records in the Bible belt and demands for a repentant apology. Their final concert of that American tour (in San Francisco on August 29, 1966) would be their last in front of a paying audience, as the group decided to stop playing live in order to concentrate on their studio recordings.

This was a radical (indeed, unprecedented) step in 1966, and the media was rife with speculation that the act was breaking up, especially after all four spent late 1966 engaged in separate personal and artistic pursuits. The appearance of the "Penny Lane"/"Strawberry Fields Forever" single in February 1967 squelched these concerns. Frequently cited as the strongest double A-side ever, the Beatles were now pushing forward into unabashedly psychedelic territory in their use of orchestral arrangements and Mellotron, without abandoning their grasp of memorable melody and immediately accessible lyrical messages.

Sgt. Pepper, released in June 1967 as the Summer of Love dawned, was the definitive psychedelic soundtrack. Or, at least, so it was perceived at the time: subsequent critics have painted the album as an uneven affair, given a conceptual unity via its brilliant multi-tracked overdubs, singalong melodies, and fairy tale-ish lyrics. Others remain convinced, as millions did at the time, that it represented pop's greatest triumph, or indeed an evolution of pop into art with a capital A. In addition to mining all manner of roots influences, the musicians were also picking up vibes from Indian music, avant-garde electronics, classical, music hall, and more. When the Beatles premiered their hippie anthem "All You Need Is Love" as part of a worldwide TV broadcast, they had been truly anointed as spokespersons for their generation (a role they had not actively sought), and it seemed they could do no wrong.

Musically, that would usually continue to be the case, but the group's strength began to unravel at a surprisingly quick pace. In August 1967, Brian Epstein -- prone to suicidal depression over the past year -- died of a drug overdose, leaving them without a manager. They pressed on with their next film project, Magical Mystery Tour, directed by themselves; lacking focus or even basic professionalism, the picture bombed when it was premiered on BBC television in December 1967, giving the media the first real chance they'd ever had to roast the Beatles over a flame. (Another film, the animated feature Yellow Submarine, would appear in 1968, although the Beatles had little involvement with the project, either in terms of the movie or the soundtrack.) In early 1968, the Beatles decamped to India for a course in transcendental meditation with the Maharishi; this too became something of a media embarrassment as each of the four would eventually depart the course before its completion.

The Beatles did use their unaccustomed peace in India to compose a wealth of new material. Judged solely on musical merit, The White Album, a double LP released in late 1968, was a triumph. While largely abandoning their psychedelic instruments to return to guitar-based rock, they maintained their whimsical eclecticism, proving themselves masters of everything from blues-rock to vaudeville. As individual songwriters, too, it contains some of their finest work (as does the brilliant non-LP single from this era, "Hey Jude"/"Revolution").

The problem, at least in terms of the group's long-term health, was that these were very much individual songs, as opposed to collective ones. Lennon and McCartney had long composed most of their tunes separately (you can almost always tell the composer by the lead vocalist). But they had always fed off of each other not only to supply missing bits and pieces that would bring a song to completion, but to provide a competitive edge that would bring out the best in the other. McCartney's romantic melodicism and Lennon's more acidic, gritty wit were perfect complements for one another. By The White Album, it was clear (if only in retrospect) that each member was more concerned with his own expression than that of the collective group: a natural impulse, but one that was bound to lead to difficulties.

In addition, George Harrison was becoming a more prolific and skilled composer as well, imbuing his own melodies (which were nearly the equal of those of his more celebrated colleagues) with a cosmic lightness. Harrison was beginning to resent his junior status, and the group began to bicker more openly in the studio. Ringo Starr, whose solid drumming and good nature could usually be counted upon (as was evident in his infrequent lead vocals), actually quit for a couple of weeks in the midst of the White Album sessions (though the media was unaware of this at the time). Personal interests were coming into play as well: Lennon's devotion to romantic and artistic pursuits with his new girlfriend (and soon-to-be wife) Yoko Ono was diverting his attentions from the Beatles. Apple Records, started by the group earlier in 1968 as a sort of utopian commercial enterprise, was becoming a financial and organizational nightmare.

These weren't the ideal conditions under which to record a new album in January 1969, especially when McCartney was pushing the group to return to live performing, although none of the others seemed especially keen on the idea. They did agree to try and record a "back-to-basics," live-in-the-studio-type LP, the sessions being filmed for a television special. That plan almost blew up when Harrison, in the midst of tense arguments, left the group for a few days. Although he returned, the idea of playing live concerts was put on the back burner; Harrison enlisted American soul keyboardist Billy Preston as kind of a fifth member on the sessions, both to beef up the arrangements and to alleviate the uncomfortable atmosphere. Exacerbating the problem was that the Beatles didn't have a great deal of first-class new songs to work with, although some were excellent. In order to provide a suitable concert-like experience for the film, the group did climb the roof of their Apple headquarters in London to deliver an impromptu performance on January 30, 1969, before the police stopped it; this was their last live concert of any sort.

Generally dissatisfied with these early-1969 sessions, the album and film -- at first titled Get Back, and later to emerge as Let It Be -- remained in the can as the group tried to figure out how the projects should be mixed, packaged, and distributed. A couple of the best tracks, "Get Back"/"Don't Let Me Down," were issued as a single in the spring of 1969. By this time, the Beatles' quarrels were intensifying in a dispute over management: McCartney wanted their affairs to be handled by his new father-in-law, Lee Eastman, while the other members of the group favored a tough American businessman, Allen Klein.

It was something of a miracle, then, that the final album recorded by the group, Abbey Road, was one of their most unified efforts (even if, by this time, the musicians were recording many of their parts separately). It certainly boasted some of their most intricate melodies, harmonies, and instrumental arrangements; it also heralded the arrival of Harrison as a composer of equal talent to Lennon and McCartney, as George wrote the album's two most popular tunes, "Something" and "Here Comes the Sun." The Beatles were still progressing, but it turned out to be the end of the road, as their business disputes continued to magnify. Lennon, who had begun releasing solo singles and performing with friends as the Plastic Ono Band, threatened to resign in late 1969, although he was dissuaded from making a public announcement.

Most of the early-1969 tapes remained unreleased, partially because the footage for the planned television broadcast of these sessions was now going to be produced as a documentary movie. The accompanying soundtrack album, Let It Be, was delayed so that its release could coincide with that of the film. Lennon, Harrison, and Allen Klein decided to have celebrated American producer Phil Spector record some additional instrumentation and do some mixing. Thus the confusion that persists among most rock listeners to this day: Let It Be, although the last Beatles album to be released, was not the last one to be recorded. Abbey Road should actually be considered as the Beatles' last album; most of the material on Let It Be, including the title track (which would be the last single released while the group was still together), was recorded several months before the Abbey Road sessions began in earnest, and a good 15 months or so before its May 1970 release.

By that time, the Beatles were no more. In fact, there had been no recording done by the group as a unit since August 1969, and each member of the band had begun to pursue serious outside professional interests independently via the Plastic Ono Band, Harrison's tour with Delaney & Bonnie, Starr's starring role in the Magic Christian film, or McCartney's first solo album. The outside world for the most part remained almost wholly unaware of the seriousness of the group's friction, making it a devastating shock for much of the world's youth when McCartney announced that he was leaving the Beatles on April 10, 1970. (The "announcement" was actually contained in a press release for his new album, in which his declaration of his intention to work on his own effectively served as a notice of his departure.)

The final blow, apparently, was the conflict between the release dates of Let It Be and McCartney's debut solo album. The rest of the group asked McCartney to delay his release until after Let It Be; McCartney refused and, for good measure, was distressed by Spector's post-production work on Let It Be, particularly the string overdubs on "The Long and Winding Road," which became a posthumous Beatles single that spring. Although McCartney received much of the blame for the split, it should be remembered that he had done more than any other member to keep the group going since Epstein's death, and that each of the other Beatles had threatened to leave well before McCartney's departure. With hindsight, the breakup seemed inevitable in view of their serious business disagreements and the growth of their individual interests.

As bitter as the initial headlines were to swallow, the feuding would grow much worse over the next few years. At the end of 1970, McCartney sued the rest of the Beatles in order to dissolve their partnership; the battle dragged through the courts for years, scotching any prospects of a group reunion. In any case, each member of the band quickly established a viable solo career. In fact, at the outset it could have been argued that the artistic effects of the split were in some ways beneficial, freeing Lennon and Harrison to make their most uncompromising artistic statements (Plastic Ono Band and All Things Must Pass). George's individual talents in particular received acclaim that had always eluded him when he was overshadowed by Lennon-McCartney. Paul had a much rougher time with the critics, but continued to issue a stream of hit singles, hitting a commercial and critical jackpot at the end of 1973 with the massively successful Band on the Run. Ringo did not have the songwriting acumen to compete on the same level as the others, yet he too had quite a few big hit singles in the early '70s, often benefiting from the assistance of his former bandmates.

Yet within a short time, it became apparent both that the Beatles were not going to settle their differences and reunite, and that their solo work could not compare with what they were capable of creating together. The stereotype has it that the split allowed each of them to indulge in their worst tendencies to their extremes: Lennon in agitprop, Harrison in holier-than-thou mysticism, McCartney in cutesy pop, Starr in easy listening rock. There's a good deal of truth in this, but it's also important to bear in mind that what was most missing was a sense of group interaction. The critical party line often champions Lennon as the angry, realist rocker, and McCartney as the melodic balladeer, but this is a fallacy: each of them was capable, in roughly equal measures, of ballsy all-out rock and sweet romanticism. What is not in dispute is that they sparked each other to reach heights that they could not attain on their own.

Despite periodic rumors of reunions throughout the 1970s, no group projects came close to materializing. It should be added that the Beatles themselves continued to feud to some degree, and from all evidence weren't seriously interested in working together as a unit. Any hopes of a reunion vanished when Lennon was assassinated in New York City in December 1980. The Beatles continued their solo careers throughout the 1980s, but their releases became less frequent, and their commercial success gradually diminished as listeners without first-hand memories of the combo created their own idols.

The popularity of the Beatles-as-unit, however, proved eternal. In part, this is because the group's 1970 split effectively short-circuited the prospects of artistic decline; the body of work that was preserved was uniformly strong. However, it's also because, like any great works of art, the Beatles' records carried an ageless magnificence that continues to captivate new generations of listeners. So it is that Beatles records continue to be heard on radio in heavy rotation, continue to sell in massive quantities, and continue to be covered and quoted by rock and pop artists through the present day.

Legal wrangles at Apple prevented the official issue of previously unreleased Beatle material for over two decades (although much of it was frequently bootlegged). The situation finally changed in the 1990s, after McCartney, Harrison, Starr, and Lennon's widow, Yoko Ono, settled their principal business disagreements. In 1994, this resulted in a double CD of BBC sessions from the early and mid-'60s. The following year, a much more ambitious project was undertaken: a multi-part film documentary, broadcast on network television in 1995, and then released (with double the length) for the home video market in 1996, with the active participation of the surviving Beatles.

To coincide with the Anthology documentary, three double CDs of previously unreleased/rare material were issued in 1995 and 1996. Additionally, McCartney, Harrison, and Starr (with some assistance from Jeff Lynne) embellished a couple of John Lennon demos from the 1970s with overdubs to create two new tracks ("Free as a Bird" and "Real Love") that were billed as actual Beatles recordings. Whether this constitutes the actual long-awaited "reunion" is the subject of much debate. Certainly these cuts were hardly classics on par with the music the group made in the 1960s. Some fans, even diehards, were inclined to view the whole Anthology project as a distinctly 1990s marketing exercise that maximized the mileage of whatever could be squeezed from the Beatles' vaults. If nothing else, though, the massive commercial success of outtakes that had, after all, been recorded 25 to 30 years ago, spoke volumes about the unabated appeal and fascination the Beatles continue to exert worldwide.

Richie Unterberger, All Music Guide
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The Moody Blues Bio

Although they're best known today for their lush, lyrically and musically profound (some would say bombastic) psychedelic-era albums, the Moody Blues started out as one of the better R&B-based combos of the British Invasion. The Moody Blues' history began in Birmingham, England, where one of the more successful bands during that time was El Riot & the Rebels, co-founded by Ray Thomas (harmonica, vocals) and Mike Pinder (keyboards, vocals). Pinder left the band, first for a gig with Jackie Lynton and then a stint in the Army. In May of 1963, he and Thomas reunited under the auspices of the Krew Cats. Following some success in Germany, Thomas and Pinder decided to try turning professional, recruiting members from some of the best groups working in Birmingham, including Denny Laine (vocals, guitar), Graeme Edge (drums), and Clint Warwick (bass, vocals). The Moody Blues, as they came to be known, made their debut in Birmingham in May of 1964, and quickly earned the notice and later the services of manager Tony Secunda. A major tour was quickly booked, and the band landed an engagement at the Marquee Club, which resulted in a contract with England's Decca Records less than six months after their formation. The group's first single, "Steal Your Heart Away," released in September of 1964, didn't touch the British charts.

Their second single, "Go Now," released in November of 1964 -- a cover of an American single by R&B singer Bessie Banks -- fulfilled every expectation and more, reaching number one in England and earning them a berth in some of the top venues in England (including the New Musical Express Poll Winners Concert, appearing with some of the top acts of the period); its number ten chart placement in America also earned them a place as a support act for the Beatles on one tour and the release of the follow-up LP (Magnificent Moodies in England, Go Now in America) on both sides of the Atlantic. It was coming up with a follow-up hit to "Go Now," however, that proved their undoing. Despite their fledgling songwriting efforts and the access they had to American demos -- including one choice number by Ellie Greenwich -- this version of the Moody Blues never came up with another single success. By the end of the spring of 1965, the frustration was palpable within the band. The group decided to make their fourth single, "From the Bottom of My Heart," an experiment with a different, much more subtly soulful sound, and it was one of the most extraordinary records of the entire British Invasion, with haunting performances all around. Unfortunately, the single only reached number 22 on the British charts following its release in May of 1965. Ultimately, the grind of touring, coupled with the strains facing the group, became too much for Warwick, who exited in the spring of 1966, and by August of 1966 Laine had left as well. Warwick was replaced by John Lodge, an ex-bandmate of Ray Thomas, and in late 1966 singer/guitarist Justin Hayward joined.

For a time, they kept doing the same brand of music, but Hayward and Pinder were also writing different kinds of songs that did get out as singles, to little avail. At one point in 1966, the band decided to pull up stakes from England -- where their bookings had devolved to workingman's clubs and cabaret -- and start playing in Europe, where even a "has-been" British act could earn halfway decent fees. And they began building a new act based on new material that was more in keeping with the slightly trippy, more pop-oriented folk-rock sounds and light psychedelia that were popular at the time. The Beatles were doing acoustic-textured folk-rock and incorporating Indian influences into their music, and even the Rolling Stones were releasing records such as "Lady Jane," so the Moody Blues moved past their R&B roots into new, more richly textured music. They were still critically short of money and prospects when fate played a hand, in the form of a project initiated by Decca Records.

In contrast to America, where home stereo systems swept the country after 1958, in England stereo was still not dominant, or even common, in most people's homes -- apart from classical listeners -- in 1966. Decca had come up with "Deramic Stereo," which offered a wide spread of sound, coupled with superbly clean and rich recording, and was trying to market it with an LP that would serve as a showcase, utilizing pop/rock done in a classical style. The Moody Blues, who owed the label unrecouped advances and recording session fees from their various failed releases, were picked for the proposed project, which was to be a rock version of Dvorák's New World Symphony. They did try to fulfill that specific commitment, but were never able to deliver the songs. Luckily, they were able to convince the staff producer and engineer that the proposed adaptation was wrongheaded, and to deliver something else; the producer, Tony Clarke, was impressed with some of the band's own compositions, and they arrived at the idea of an archetypal day's cycle of living represented in rock songs set within an orchestral framework. With Clarke leading the subterfuge in cooperation with engineer Derek Varnals, and conductor/arranger Peter Knight writing the orchestrations that were used to accompany the group's work and bridge the songs, the result was the album Days of Future Passed.

The record's mix of rock and classical sounds was new, and at first puzzled the record company, which didn't know how to market it, but eventually the record was issued, first in England and later in America. It became a hit in England, propelled up the charts by the single "Nights in White Satin" (authored and sung by Hayward), which made the Top 20 in the U.K.; in America, the chosen single was another Hayward song, "Tuesday Afternoon." All of it hooked directly into the aftermath of the Summer of Love, and the LP was -- totally accidentally -- timed perfectly to fall into the hands of listeners who were looking for an orchestral/psychedelic recording to follow works such as the Beatles' Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band. Better still, the band still had a significant backlog of excellent psychedelic-themed songs to draw on. Their debt wiped out and their music now in demand, they went to work with a follow-up record in short order and delivered In Search of the Lost Chord (1968), which was configured somewhat differently from its predecessor. Though Decca was ecstatic with the sales results of Days of Future Passed and the singles, and assigned Clarke and Varnals to work with them in the future, the label wasn't willing to schedule full-blown orchestral sessions again. And having just come out of a financial hole, the group wasn't about to go into debt again financing such a recording.

The solution to the problem of accompaniment came from within the group, with keyboard player Mike Pinder, and an organ-like device called a Mellotron. Using tape heads activated by the touch of keys, and tape loops comprised of the sounds of horns, strings, etc., the instrument generated an eerie, orchestra-like sound. Introduced at the start of the 1960s as a potential rival to the Hammond organ, the Mellotron had worked its way into rock music slowly, in acts such as the Graham Bond Organisation, and had emerged to some public prominence on Beatles records such as "Strawberry Fields Forever" and, more recently, "I Am the Walrus"; during that same year, in a similar supporting capacity, it would also turn up on the Rolling Stones' Their Satanic Majesties Request. As it happened, Pinder not only knew how to play it but had also worked in the factory that built them, which enabled him over the years to reengineer, modify, and customize the instruments to his specifications. (The resulting instruments were nicknamed "Pindertrons.")

In Search of the Lost Chord (1968) put the Mellotron in the spotlight, and it quickly became a part of their signature sound. The album, sublimely beautiful and steeped in a strange mix of British whimsy ("Dr. Livingston I Presume") and ornate, languid Eastern-oriented songs ("Visions of Paradise," "Om"), also introduced one psychedelic-era anthem, "Legend of a Mind"; authored by Ray Thomas and utilizing the name of LSD guru Timothy Leary in its lyric and choruses, along with swooping cellos and lilting flute, it helped make the band an instant favorite among the late-'60s counterculture. (The group members have since admitted at various times that they were, as was the norm at the time, indulging in various hallucinogenic substances.) That album and its follow-up, 1969's To Our Children's Children's Children, were magnificent achievements, utilizing their multi-instrumental skills and the full capability of the studio in overdubbing voices, instruments, etc. But in the process of making those two LPs, the group found that they'd painted themselves into a corner as performing musicians -- thanks to overdubbing, those albums were essentially the work of 15 or 20 Moody Blues, not a quintet, and they were unable to re-create their sound properly in concert.

Indeed, from their album To Our Children's Children's Children -- which was also the first release of the group's own newly founded label, Threshold Records -- only one song, the guitar-driven "Gypsy," ever worked on-stage. Beginning with A Question of Balance (1970), however, the group specifically recorded songs in arrangements that they could play in concert, stripping down their sound a bit by reducing their reliance on overdubbing and, in the process, toughening up their sound. They were able to do most of that album and their next record, Every Good Boy Deserves Favour, on-stage, with impressive results. By that time, all five members of the band were composing songs, and each had his own identity, Pinder the impassioned mystic, Lodge the rocker, Edge the poet, Thomas the playful mystic, and Hayward the romantic -- all had contributed significantly to their repertoire, though Hayward tended to have the biggest share of the group's singles, and his songs often occupied the leadoff spot on their LPs.

They weren't really a "singles" act by then, their audience principally consisting of college students who primarily purchased LPs, and their music was more prominent on FM radio than on AM radio. "Question" and "The Story in Your Eyes," for example, were known as singles, but were also totally overshadowed by their respective LPs. Their music had evolved from pop psychedelia to a very accessible, almost pop variety of progressive rock. Meanwhile, a significant part of their audience didn't think of the Moody Blues merely as musicians but, rather, as spiritual guides. John Lodge's song "I'm Just a Singer (In a Rock & Roll Band)" was his answer to this phenomenon, renouncing the role that had been thrust upon the band -- it was also an unusually hard-rocking number for the group, and was also a modest hit single. Ironically, in 1972, the group was suddenly competing with itself when "Nights in White Satin" charted again in America and England, selling far more than it had in 1967; that new round of single sales also resulted in Days of Future Passed selling anew by the tens of thousands.

In the midst of all of this activity, the members, finally slowing down and enjoying the fruits of their success, had reached an impasse. As they prepared to record their new album, Seventh Sojourn (1972), the strain of touring and recording steadily for five years had taken its toll. Good songs were becoming more difficult to deliver and record, and cutting that album had proved nearly impossible. The public never saw the problems, and its release earned them their best reviews to date and was accompanied by a major international tour, and the sales and attendance were huge. Once the tour was over, however, it was announced that the group was going on hiatus -- they wouldn't work together again for five years. During this era, Hayward and Lodge recorded a very successful duet album, Blue Jays (1975), and all five members did solo albums. All were released through Threshold, which was still distributed by English Decca (then called London Records in the United States), and Threshold even maintained a small catalog of other artists, including Trapeze and Providence, though they evidently missed their chance to sign a group that might well have eclipsed the Moody Blues musically, King Crimson. (Ironically, the latter also used the Mellotron as a central part of their sound, but in a totally different way, and were the only group ever to make more distinctive use of the instrument.)

Other bands, including Barclay James Harvest and the Strawbs, the latter coming into progressive rock from a folk orientation, picked off some of the Moody Blues' audience during the 1970s. Still, the Moodies' old records were strong enough, elicited enough positive memories, and picked up enough new listeners (even amid the punk and disco booms) that a double-LP retrospective (This Is the Moody Blues) sold extremely well, years after they'd stopped working together, as did a live/studio archival double LP (Caught Live + 5). By 1977, the members had decided to reunite, a process complicated by the fact that Pinder had moved to California during that period. Although all five participated in the resulting album, Octave (1978), there were numerous stresses during its recording, and Pinder was ultimately unhappy enough with the LP to decline to go on tour with the band. The reunion tour came off anyway, with ex-Yes keyboardist Patrick Moraz brought in to replace Pinder, and the album topped the charts.

The group's next record, Long Distance Voyager (1981), was even more popular, though by this time a schism was beginning to develop between the band and the critical community. The reviews from critics (who'd seldom been that enamored of the band even in its heyday) became ever more harsh, and although their hiatus had allowed the band to skip the punk era, they seemed just as out of step amid the MTV era and the ascendancy of acts such as Madonna, the Pretenders, the Police, et al. By 1981, they'd been tagged by most of the rock press with the label "dinosaurs," seemingly awaiting extinction. There were still decent-sized hits, such as "Gemini Dream," but the albums seemed rather mechanical and soulless, the result of going through the motions of being a group. Without Pinder with his broadly arcing mysticism, and with his would-be successor, Moraz, seemingly unable to contribute to the songwriting, they seemed a shadow of what they'd been to longtime fans. There were OK records, and the concerts drew well, mostly for the older songs, but there was little urgency or very much memorable about the new material.

That all changed a bit when one of them finally delivered a song so good that in its mere existence it begged to be recorded -- the Hayward-authored single "In Your Wildest Dreams" (1986), an almost perfect successor to "Nights in White Satin." Mixing romance, passion, and feelings of nostalgia with a melody that was gorgeous and instantly memorable (and with a great beat), the single -- along with its accompanying album -- approached the top of the charts. They were boosted up there by a superb promotional video (featuring the Mood Six as the younger Moody Blues) that suddenly gave the group at least a little contemporary pop/rock credibility. The follow-up, "I Know You're Out There Somewhere," was a lesser but still impressive commercial success, with an even better secondary melodic theme, and the two combined gave them an essential and memorable pair of mid-decade hits, boosting their concert attendance back up and shoring up their contemporary songbag.

Still, the Moody Blues were no longer anywhere near the cutting edge of music, and by the end of the 1980s, they were again perceived as a nostalgia act, albeit one with a huge audience -- a bit like the Grateful Dead without the critical respect or veneration. By that time, Moraz was gone and the core group was reduced to a quartet, with salaried keyboard players augmenting their work (along with a second drummer to back up Edge). They had also begun attracting fans by the tens of thousands to a new series of concerts, in which -- for the first time -- they performed with orchestras and, thus, could do their most elaborately produced songs on-stage. In 1994, a four-CD set devoted to their work, entitled Time Traveller, was released. By that time, their new albums were barely charting, and seldom attracting any reviews, but their catalog was among the best-selling parts of the Polygram library. A new studio effort, Strange Times, followed in 1999 and the live (at the Royal Albert Hall) Hall of Fame followed a year later, but it was the 1997 upgrades of their original seven albums, from Days of Future Passed to Seventh Sojourn, that attracted far more attention from the public. In 2003, Ray Thomas retired, and the Moody Blues carried on as a core trio of Hayward, Lodge, and Edge.

Bruce Eder, All Music Guide
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Supertramp Bio

Once upon a time in 1969, a young Dutch millionaire by the name of Stanley August Miesegaes gave his acquaintance, vocalist and keyboardist Rick Davies, a "genuine opportunity" to form his own band; he could form the band of his dreams and Miesegaes would pay for it. After placing an ad in Melody Maker, Davies assembled Supertramp alongside co-founders Roger Hodgson (vocals, piano, guitar, cello), Richard Palmer (vocals, guitar, balalaika), and former stage actor Robert Millar (percussion, harmonica). Supertramp released two long-winded progressive rock albums before Miesegaes withdrew his support, and by early 1972, Davies and Hodgson were the only founding members remaining. The pair began an extensive search for replacements and soon pieced together the lineup that would be responsible for Supertramp's definitive sound, comprising new members Doug Thomson (bass), Bob Siebenberg (percussion), and John Helliwell (woodwinds, saxophone, keyboards).

With no money or fan base to speak of, the expanded Supertramp was forced to redesign their sound. Coming up with a more pop-oriented form of progressive rock, the band had a hit with their third album, Crime of the Century. Throughout the decade, Supertramp had a number of best-selling albums, culminating in their 1979 masterpiece Breakfast in America. Breakfast in America marked their first album that tipped the scale completely in the favor of pop songs; on the strength of the hit singles "Goodbye Stranger," "Logical Song," and "Take the Long Way Home," it sold over 18 million copies worldwide. After that album, Supertramp continued to develop a more R&B-flavored style; the change in direction was successful on 1982's Famous Last Words, but the band soon ran out of hits. Hodgson left in 1983 to mount a solo career, and Supertramp continued to sporadically record and tour into the 21st century.

Stephen Thomas Erlewine & Andrew Leahey, All Music Guide
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