As we’ve noted here before, the turn of the 1970s was a golden age for rock on TV, as stars like the Smothers Brothers, Glen Campbell, Johnny Cash, and Tom Jones welcomed big names to their eponymous variety shows. They accepted rock performers on their own terms as artists, unlike the variety shows of just a few years before (Ed Sullivan, Hollywood Palace, and the like), which brought on rock bands for the eyeballs they would attract, without much of a feel for the artistry on display. Many of the performances on the Smothers, Cash, and Jones shows (and Sullivan too) have been preserved on DVD. Others have either been lost or exist in contractual limbo, with rights in dispute or permissions difficult to obtain. Some were briefly available but not anymore.
In September 1969, ABC launched a series called The Music Scene, squeezed into an oddball 45-minute time period on Monday nights, partly opposite Rowan and Martin’s Laugh-In on NBC and Gunsmoke on CBS. It featured performances taped especially for the show as well as antediluvian music videos—and its genesis was a bit strange. In the summer of 1969, ABC produced promos for the show with members of the comedy troupe the Committee (who were slated to host) clowning around with the Rolling Stones, although by the time the show premiered in the fall, the Committee members were nowhere in sight, and the Stones would never actually appear. They might have, had the show been on the air longer—advertisers embraced neither the show’s young audience nor its weird timeslot, and it was dumped in January 1970. Two volumes of highlights were released on DVD around 2000, but both are out of print. Several years ago, the indispensable Dangerous Minds compiled the Stones promos and a number of clips from the show, and there are other clips at YouTube.
Even more obscure is Something Else, which ran during the 1970-1971 TV season. It was syndicated to local stations, sponsored by the American Dairy Association, and hosted by comedian and impressionist John Byner, whose face you will recognize. Something Else was taped at various locations around the country (including one show shot somewhere in Wisconsin), and it featured a wide variety of rock, pop, and country acts, from Creedence Clearwater Revival and Taj Mahal to the Grass Roots and the Classics IV to Roy Clark and Conway Twitty. The acts usually lip-synced their songs, although performances were often staged and shot inventively. (Several of the clips, including Norman Greenbaum’s “Spirit in the Sky,” were memorable enough to have been featured at an animation festival in Los Angeles last month.) The show also included comedy bits and dance numbers. A handful of clips from Something Else are at YouTube: one featuring the show’s opening and Crabby Appleton’s “Go Back” is here; the Ides of March doing “Vehicle” is here; Richie Havens’ terrific version of “Strawberry Fields Forever” is here.
Something Else comes off in these clips as trippy and frenetic, in the style of The Monkees, or Laugh-In after a handful of amphetamines. It has the feel of something that would have worked nicely on a Saturday, either in the afternoon following the morning cartoons, leading into primetime, or after the late local news. There were 34 episodes produced, although it appears Byner turned over hosting duties to frequent guest John Hartford for the last few shows. (Hartford appears in the Havens clip above.) A company called Research Video apparently holds the rights to the surviving video, but they’re willing to license it only to documentary producers and not to collectors or fans. So for nearly all of us, Something Else is going to stay buried, and probably for the duration.