The Persuaders - lovely crap TV

Published October 07, 2010

People have different ways of coping with stressful periods in their lives. Some turn to drink or other stimulants, others console themselves with food. Although I'm certainly no stranger to trying those methods of alleviating heavy burdens in my life, in recent years I've discovered an unexpected way to distract myself in times of stress: not-very-great television shows from the Seventies.

A few years ago, when my father had just died, I found that when I wanted to relax in front of the television I didn't feel inclined to watch anything too demanding, but nor did I crave a reality show or whatever else passes for mindless entertainment these days. No, the perfect escape was the first couple of seasons of - Columbo. Very popular in its day, today I have to say I was often shocked at how slow and boring it often was. But even the worst episodes were exactly what I needed to divert my thoughts: the lame plots, the wooden or over-hysterical acting, the early-to-mid-Seventies fashion and hair styles - not too demanding, but still oddly entertaining enough to distract me.

I'm currently experiencing something similar with The Persuaders, a show that was originally broadcast 1971-1972, starring Roger Moore and Tony Curtis as a couple of playboys solving various mysteries. It was a show I truly loved as a child, and indeed it was very popular among Swedes in general. Today, of course, it's mainly a time-piece with little to recommend it in terms of plot, acting, or logic. Only John Barry's excellent theme music has stood the test of time.

However, when the news of Tony Curtis' death reached me last week, I didn't want to honour his memory by watching a truly great film like Some Like It Hot. No, it was The Persuaders I craved. I happened to own a DVD with the first four episodes, and found to my great surprise that after I had watched those, I wanted more. Well, being fully aware that I'd had a stressful few weeks I shouldn't have been surprised. Luckily, the complete series is available to rent at my local video store - I'm now up to episode 10...

I have to agree with British comedy writer Frank Muir, who, in a truly informative Wikipedia article about The Persuaders, is quoted as saying that it "must have been the best bad series ever made". Because it does have plenty to offer: a heightened version of the playboy lifestyle of the times, amazing late Sixties/early Seventies fashion (Roger Moore's outfits were all designed by himself) and interior decorating, and a lack of plausibility that is so consistent throughout the series that it somehow ends up working in its favour. Watching several episodes in one go, you find yourself pondering such mysteries as: why does an American like Danny Wilde (Tony Curtis' character) spend so much time in Great Britain, why does he wear gloves all the time, and if you are hit very hard on the back of your head with alarming regularity, wouldn't that result in some kind of brain damage after a while?

I don't know if The Persuaders is the right antidote for you in times of stress, dear reader, all I can tell you is that it works for me.


Honaloochie confusion

Published September 13, 2010

The random links between different strands of popular music never cease to fascinate me. A while ago I was listening to Honaloochie Boogie by Mott The Hoople. The intro reminded me of something else, I just couldn't think of what. Then it hit me. The intro is not identical but very similar to the intro on the song Miss Decibel by Swedish dance band Wizex, originally a runner-up in the 1978 selection for the Eurovision Song Contest. I'm sure the similarity is coincidental, but still: a close connection between a British glam rock band and Swedish Eurovision contenders - who would have thunk it? I guess sometimes a great riff is just a great riff - or, rather more accurately, a great chord change is a great chord change - and its cultural connotations are almost irrelevant.

If you have Spotify you can click this link and listen for yourselves.

Hooray for Bowie downloads!

Published September 08, 2010

As most people reading this will be aware, for the past decade we have seen an eternally ongoing debate about illegal file-sharing versus legal downloading, the future of the CD, the potential of services such as Spotify, and so on ad nauseam. I'm not going to open that particular can of worms right now, except to put the following question: How are music fans expected to legally download tracks when so many artists - from superstars to super-obscure - or their labels simply won't make the music available in download shops such as iTunes? For example, in 2010 The Beatles and iTunes/Apple are still haggling over percentage points, and nothing by The Eagles is available for legal download except their latest album, Long Road Out Of Eden, just to name two major acts.

Therefore, I want to take this opportunity to salute David Bowie. Without claiming to have encyclopedic knowledge of his recorded output, it seems to me that pretty much everything he's ever recorded from 1969 onwards is available on iTunes.

While recently searching for digital files of Bowie recordings that, to the best of my knowledge, were never released on CD, such as the 1982 Baal EP (songs from a television production of Brecht's play) and the single mix of Loving The Alien (far superior to the mix on the 1984 album Tonight), I found that these were actually available as downloads-only on iTunes. What an excellent compromise between the fans' desire for rare tracks, and the somewhat limited commercial potential for these less than celebrated releases.

I suspect that this easy availability may have something to do with the fact that Bowie pretty much controls all his recordings from 1969 onwards, and being an Internet-friendly sort of person he and his representatives probably saw the logic in making everything available for the completists. I only wish more artists and labels would follow in his footsteps and make life easier for those of us who actually are willing to pay for our music. We want to give you our money in return for music that you've already recorded and released - what's the problem?


Pictures of interest #1

Published September 04, 2010

Although I don't care very much for his music these days, I really love this picture of Morrissey with a cat (my favourite animal) from a recent interview in The Guardian.

Morrissey with cat

The albums we really listen to

Published September 01, 2010

If you're really into hows, whens and wherefores of pop music, like I am, you will probably have perused a number of lists of Best Albums of All Time and similar rundowns. If so, you will also have a fair grasp of which albums are considered the best ever made. Some of the usual suspects are a number of albums by The Beatles, Bob Dylan and The Rolling Stones, The Beach Boys' Pet Sounds, Van Morrison's Astral Weeks, and so on.

While such lists can be both interesting and useful, I can't help wondering if there is one single person out there who would embrace every album on, say, Rolling Stone's 500 Greatest Albums of All Time list. Which in turn makes me wonder about some albums on such lists, which you may admire or at least acknowledge to be an important part of music history but never really feel the urge to listen to.

I remember a few years ago when I had bought a number of CDs off an internet shop. Among them were several classic albums, special editions and so on - staples of the serious rock/pop fan's record collection. Almost as an afterthought I threw in a budget-priced collection by Gerry Rafferty as well. After I had received the CDs and played them all, it wasn't those worthy, classic albums I wanted to return to. Instead I found myself thinking, "Hmm, I'd really like to play that Gerry Rafferty collection again". I don't think it left my CD player for several days.

I also started thinking about this phenomenon while I was listening to The Monkees a while ago. Although today most people love all the groovy hits and will acknowledge their first four albums as brilliant pop music, it's rare to find any champions for the commercially unsuccessful 1969 Instant Replay album. It's got great songs by Brill Building maestros such as Gerry Goffin & Carole King and Carole Bayer & Neil Sedaka, several tunes by 'Last Train To Clarksville' and '(I'm Not Your) Steppin' Stone' maestros Tommy Boyce & Bobby Hart, and Neil Young plays guitar on the track 'You And I'. And for my money, The Monkees' version of 'A Man Without A Dream' far outshines the original too-soul-brother-y version by The Righteous Brothers. All in all, it's just a very good pop album, perhaps disregarding Mickey Dolenz' experimental album closer 'Shorty Blackwell', which even he himself is embarrassed about.

I was given the Instant Replay album when I was five years old, giving it a two-decade head-start on, for example, Astral Weeks, which I didn't hear until about 1989. But as classic as Astral Weeks may be, I know I enjoy Instant Replay infinitely more and will go on listening to it more than I will several bona-fide classic albums.

There are lots of "hidden gems" out there, meaning albums that were never popular when they were first released and have never beem elevated to classic status since. But for me, personally, I can never think of Instant Replay as "hidden". It's been there all along for me, in plain sight, even though others may not have discovered it. I'm sure all music fans have albums that mean a lot to them, although most people may not even know they were ever recorded and they will never be voted onto a classic albums list. It may be that the fact that it's not a "pop music milestone" only increases the enjoyment of it, since the listening experience won't be tainted by any perceived weightiness - it's just enough that the album is there for you when you want to hear it. For some reason, the vision of millions of people all over the planet listening to non-classic albums in the privacy of their own homes fills me with a deep sense of satisfaction.