(Note: Yes, it has not escaped our attention that lately, due to circumstances beyond our control, our "weeks" for this feature are looking more like months. I'm not changing the name, though.)
A time capsule of what mainstream TV considered to be cutting edge at the end of the 60s, The Music Scene was one of two short-lived 45 minute shows that occupied a 90 minute slot from 1969 to 1970. The show that followed it, The New People, was a painfully earnest drama about a group of hippies who crash-land on a faraway island and their attempts to create a society together. This was the season where the networks, possibly reacting to films like Easy Rider, decided it was time to reach out to the maturing baby boomer market with "relevant" TV shows. The mainstreaming, formatting, and watering down of 60s counterculture started here. But it hadn't quite set in yet, which is what makes a lot of this collection interesting.
My most vivid memory of the show is the Pete Seeger segment that shows up here. I was 12, the whole family was gathered around the TV, my dad was drinking as usual. Seeger comes on, strumming a 12-string guitar on a catwalk with an audience full of kids on either side of him, and launches into a singalong: "If you love your Uncle Sam/Bring 'em home, bring 'em home/Support our boys in Viet Nam/Bring 'em home, bring 'em home". The kids immediately pick up the chorus, and the room is full of voices chanting "Bring 'em home". It was one of those Zeitgeist-shifting moments. My dad was livid that something this unpatriotic was being broadcast into our living room. He wouldn't shut up for the rest of the evening. I was quietly enjoying the provocation. It's a shame that these days Seeger may be best remembered as the square who tried to take an axe to the power cable at Dylan's electric set at Newport, because the old guy has an honorable record of sticking his neck out for good causes. Seeing this affable, avuncular figure casually pull off something so subversive was a nice reminder of that brief moment when we sort of almost actually had a "liberal media".
1) Whatever happened to David Steinberg? As I watched him do his shtick, it seemed clearer that Dennis Miller totally copped his style, except a) Steinberg's obscure references tended to actually be from classical music or literature (How big a target market is out there for Lawrence Durrell jokes?) rather than being the end result of sitting in front of a TV for 20+ years, and b) Steinberg is actually charming.
2) Great to see James Brown in his prime, but why is his entire band sitting in chairs? It's to their credit that they can do so and remain so funky. Maybe James insisted on being the tallest one in the shot.
3) How weird was Neil Diamond in his heyday? What the hell are the lyrics to "Holly Holy" about? Catchy pop songs portentiously delivered in a husky baritone, with totally surreal word-salad lyrics...it's like he was the Jim Morrison your mom could like.
4) The Everly Brothers just rule, period. Bo Diddley is awesome. Chuck Berry is brilliant even when he's phoning it in.
5) Mama Cass Elliot seems like a real sweetheart.
6) The Johnny Cash footage looks and sounds like it had been soaking in a bucket of water for a month. Cash is his pilled-up, dangerous, charismatic self here all the same.
7) I'm still looking for an explanation for Bobby Sherman's career.
8) Creedence blow everyone off the stage doing "The Night Time Is The Right Time". Too bad they didn't do "Fortunate Son" as well, instead of a lame lip-sync of "Down On The Corner".
9) Buffy Ste. Marie looks scared out of her wits as she warbles "The Universal Soldier", a song I've never liked. (Dumping on draftees is not my idea of helping the cause.)
10) There's a running joke where a trenchcoated guy with a camera walks into the frame and snaps a picture whenever anyone says something halfway liberal. People were starting to become aware of gummint spying even then. There's nothing new under the sun.
11) John Sebastian, you were cool in the Lovin' Spoonful, but jeez, stop trying so hard to be cute, will you?
12) By the end of the show's run, Steinberg becomes noticeably more cynical about the show's lack of popularity. He was probably getting angry memos from network executives before each shooting. The final episode, where he gleefully lets Groucho Marx upstage him the entire time, is one giant "aw, fuck it" shrug.
13) I almost forgot Tony Bennett, who gets a lot of screen time and seems to represent the "older generation" at its most open-minded. Unlike his main rival, Frank Sinatra, who was revered almost as much for being a larger-than-life, nasty, power-abusing piece of work as for being the titanic singer that he was, Bennett comes off as a genuinely sweet guy. He's certainly a good sport when he has to sing "I Gotta Be Me" to a roomful of showroom dummies.
UPDATE: Edited slightly for general coherence.