The Midnight Four

There is nothing on television more reliably entertaining than the 70s incarnation of Match Game. Find it on cable (or put in a DVD—a set exists, and I own it) and you’re guaranteed a good time for however long you watch. Watch it for the hilarious interactions among the panelists (there was an open bar backstage to keep everybody loose), the smutty questions and smuttier answers, the eye-burning orange set, the average people dropped into this goofy maelstrom as contestants, or the quick wit of host Gene Rayburn, who knew that no matter what happened, the producers intended to keep the cameras rolling, and it would be up to him to make something out of it.

Rayburn’s ability to make entertainment out of Match Game‘s chaos was no accident. He is considered a pioneer of the modern morning radio show format, having dominated the ratings in New York City during the late 1940s with two different partners, Jack Lescoulie and Dee Finch. He was appearing on TV by the early 50s, and hosted the original Match Game beginning in 1962, along with other game shows. In addition to his TV work, he remained on radio throughout the 60s and 70s, hosting segments on NBC’s weekend Monitor service.

But my intended focus in this post is not on the show or on Rayburn. It’s on what might be the single best part of Match Game: its theme music. The Match Game theme was developed by Score Productions, a company whose contributions to television history should be much more celebrated than they are. Score has been providing theme music since 1963, for soap operas, news and sports shows, and especially for game shows.

The best-known composer who worked for Score is probably Charles Fox, who wrote or co-wrote themes for Happy Days, Laverne & Shirley, The Love Boat, Love American Style, and other shows, as well as Roberta Flack’s “Killing Me Softly.” Before I started researching this post, I guessed that the Match Game theme was by synthesizer wizard Edd Kalehoff, who famously wrote and performed a number of TV themes that are still making him big money today, including The Price Is Right. But the Match Game theme is actually the creation of Score Productions founder Robert Israel. The theme even has a name—“The Midnight Four.”

(Edd Kalehoff is best seen in this fabulous 1970s commercial for Schaefer Beer. Until 2011, he was married to Andrea McArdle, the onetime child actress who became famous playing Little Orphan Annie on Broadway in the late 70s. You cannot imagine how thrilled I was, in the course of researching this post, to find a connection to someone as far removed from its original premise as Andrea McArdle. Welcome to my thought process, everybody.)

When ABC revived Match Game a couple of years ago with Alec Baldwin as host, its decision to keep “The Midnight Four” was a smart one. It’s one of the most recognizable and evocative themes in any program genre. The rest of the modern Match Game revival fails to live up to its 70s predecessor, but the music remains undeniably great.

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Make It Rain

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(Pictured: Tanya Tucker onstage in 1975.)

Radio and Records is a now-defunct industry trade paper. It was founded in 1973 (according to Wikipedia, one of its founders was Robert Kardashian—yeah, that guy) and ceased publication in 2009. In its heyday, its music charts were highly influential. Chances are, the radio station you listened to in the 80s and 90s either reported to R&R or took its airplay cues from the magazine. Radio Rewinder recently posted the Radio and Records Pop 40 chart from June 12, 1975. It’s an adult-contemporary chart, although it lists many of the big Top 40 hits of the moment. Melissa Manchester’s lovely “Midnight Blue” is at #1, one week before it would get to the same spot on Billboard‘s Easy Listening chart. The R&R chart gains bonus points for the oddball records appearing on the list. Including:

11.  “Lizzie and the Rainman”/Tanya Tucker. Tucker was a country superstar in 1975, and “Lizzie and the Rainman” was her fourth #1 in the last two years, although she’d first hit with “Delta Dawn” in the summer of 1972, when she was only 13 years old. All of her country #1s in this period crossed to the pop charts, but “Lizzie and the Rainman” was the only one to make the Billboard Top 40, hitting #37 in the same week R&R published this chart. It peaked at #7 on the Easy Listening chart, and it’s got some monster hooks: “I betcha I can make it rain” and “Step back non-believers, or the rain will never come.”

Digression: 1975 was a big year for crossover country. Ten of the year’s #1 country singles were major pop hits, and six of those made #1 on the Hot 100: “Another Somebody Done Somebody Wrong Song” by B. J. Thomas, “Before the Next Teardrop Falls” by Freddy Fender, John Denver’s “Thank God I’m a Country Boy” and “I’m Sorry,” Glen Campbell’s “Rhinestone Cowboy,” and “Convoy” by C. W. McCall, which hit #1 country in December and topped the Hot 100 in January 1976.

16.  “I Dreamed Last Night”/Justin Hayward and John Lodge. As the Moody Blues got ready to make the followup to Seventh Sojourn, Michael Pinder, Ray Thomas, and Graeme Edge opted out. Because the group owed its record label something, Hayward, Lodge, and producer Tony Clarke made Blue Jays—an album I remember seeing in many, many cutout bins in the late 70s. “I Dreamed Last Night” made #47 on the Hot 100 and #29 Easy Listening.

20.  “Ding-a-Dong”/Teach-In. I’d never heard of this record until the moment I saw this chart, but it turns out that “Ding-a-Dong” was the Netherlands entry and eventual winner of the 1975 Eurovision Song Contest. It’s catchy, but it disappears like cotton candy, and its resemblance to an ABBA record is almost certainly intentional. It didn’t make the Hot 100 but went to #22 Easy Listening.

21.  “Please Tell Him I Said Hello”/Debbie Campbell. In June 1975, Billboard described Debbie Campbell as “a young and cute rock refugee.” She had played in an all-girl band called the Kandy Kanes in the 60s, and in the early 70s with a country-rock band called Buckwheat. “Please Tell Him I Said Hello” didn’t make either the Hot 100 or Billboard‘s country Top 40, although it did have a 13-week run up to #12 on the Easy Listening chart. BTW, Glen Campbell had a daughter named Debbie who was a singer, but this isn’t her; this Debbie Campbell was a favorite around Tulsa, Oklahoma, and died young.

34.  “Susanna’s Song”/Jerry Cole and Trinity. Jerry Cole was in the Champs for a while, and he played on lots of records in the 60s as a session guitarist, including work with Them, the Byrds, the Beach Boys, and Phil Spector. He also made several albums of space-age/bachelor-pad pop in the middle of the 60s. He has a spectcularly detailed Wikipedia entry with an exhaustive list of credits, but that list doesn’t include anything with a group called Trinity. Still, he seems to have recorded three singles under that name. “Susanna’s Song,” which is not available at YouTube, went to #20 on Billboard‘s Easy Listening chart but didn’t make the Hot 100.

Writing about a song so obscure that it isn’t even on YouTube: geek achievement unlocked.

The Last Session

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(Pictured: David Cassidy at his final concert performance on March 4, 2017.)

The Mrs. and I recently watched the A&E special David Cassidy: The Last Session, which was broadcast earlier this month. It’s partly a biography of Cassidy, but it also includes a great deal of footage recorded last summer while he was working on an album of standards intended as a tribute to his father, actor Jack Cassidy.

When the producers were shooting the sessions, they didn’t know what was going to happen, but two big things did: A) Cassidy was hospitalized, bringing an end to the sessions a couple of months before his death, and B) he admitted to the producers that his widely publicized diagnosis of dementia was false, and that he was actually suffering complications of alcoholism. Cassidy kept up the dementia facade nearly to the end; the special contains footage of him getting advice from a dementia specialist, and of Cassidy talking about the effects of the condition on him.

I have written before that David Cassidy was, to 11-year-old me, the boy I wanted to be—attractive, well-dressed, talented, and able to mesmerize girls. I eventually moved on from him (although I remain an unreconstructed Partridge Family fanboy), but I would occasionally wonder whatever became of him. And when I saw what he was up to—playing an undercover cop on TV, making new music, starring on Broadway, writing a book (now out of print and staggeringly expensive)—I thought about what it must have been like to be him, trying to grow beyond one’s teenage image into a normal, productive adulthood, and how hard it must have been.

So I was naturally disposed to be sympathetic toward David Cassidy, and as we watched The Last Session, I started thinking, “We shouldn’t be seeing this.” Perhaps it’s because we knew how the story was going to end, but the pathos of it was hard to watch. This man, who had already lost so much, was, at the last, losing his dignity on TV. Had he lived, the false dementia diagnosis would have given the special a significant news hook. But had he lived, A&E would not have attracted as many eyeballs for a biography centered around the making of an album very few people would buy. The way it turned out, it felt a little ghoulish.

Cassidy’s costar and friend, Danny Bonaduce, expressed a similar sentiment in a radio interview this week. It’s here. If you’re interested in watching David Cassidy: The Last Session, it’s here. You’ll have to sign in with your cable or satellite provider to see it.

Links and Notes: Since I haven’t hit the word count yet, there’s room to send you to good stuff I’ve read recently:

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Catching Hell

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The following is largely off-topic but plausibly a part of the ongoing Tales of ’73 series. Read it or don’t, your choice.

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So Rare

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(Pictured: some guys who could play: L to R, Charlie Barnet, Tommy Dorsey, Benny Goodman, Louis Armstrong, and Lionel Hampton.)

This post has been in my drafts folder for quite literally years, but today is its day. I started it after a reader asked me how come I never write about the 30s and 40s. 

I have written about the Pioneer Era of Recording, which spans the late 1800s to the middle of the 1920s. I think I’ve probably mentioned the pre-rock 50s a few times. But the era between has been neglected, so here we go.

The 30s are often said to be the decade in which jazz was America’s most popular music, but that’s not completely accurate. Based on the list of the decade’s #1 singles (as found in Joel Whitburn’s remarkable Pop Memories: 1890-1954), jazz arrives in 1932, when Louis Armstrong’s version of “All of Me” reaches the top. But a version of the song by Paul Whiteman, erstwhile King of Jazz whose music is not considered especially jazzy today, was on the charts at the same time. A bandleader who’s never been considered a jazzman, Guy Lombardo, was far more popular than Armstrong. During the first half of the 30s, Lombardo would hit #1 or #2 something like 15 times.

Jazz doesn’t start to dominate until what we call the Swing Era. Between 1936 and 1939, Tommy Dorsey and Benny Goodman were frequent visitors to #1, even as Lombardo and Bing Crosby continued to get their share of time at the top. Glenn Miller scored his first #1 hit in 1939, although you’ll get some debate about whether to consider Miller a jazzman or a pop star. (Even recordings by ostensible jazz bands often had plenty of pop flavor, such as Artie Shaw’s “Frenesi,” which spent 13 weeks at #1 as 1940 turned to 1941.) The year 1941 belonged to Tommy Dorsey’s brother Jimmy with seven #1 hits that year alone. The World War II era was soundtracked by bandleaders Freddy Martin, Harry James, and Kay Kyser in addition to the Dorseys, Miller, and Goodman—and Lombardo, and Crosby, who was the most popular recording artist of the 20th century until Elvis came along.

The bands of the 1940s all had singers, some who would remain eternally famous, like Frank Sinatra with Tommy Dorsey or Doris Day with Les Brown, and some who were famous in their time but no longer, such as the stable of singers who fronted Miller, including Ray Eberle, Tex Beneke, and Marion Hutton. And as World War II ended, you can begin to see the big bands fade out and solo singers take prominence. Perry Como hits #1 for the first time in 1945 and repeatedly in 1946; so do Dinah Shore, Nat King Cole, and Sinatra as a solo artist. By 1948, the Kay Kyser band is the last of the World War II big bands to hit #1; in 1949, nearly all of the #1 songs are by solo singers not fronting big bands, including Evelyn Knight, Mel Torme, Como, Vaughn Monroe, Vic Damone, and Frankie Laine. Guy Lombardo managed a #1 version of “Third Man Theme” in 1950, 23 years after his first #1, but he was the last of the famous bandleaders to reach the top.

Eras never break cleanly. Think of the start of the rock ‘n’ roll era in 1955 or the British Invasion in 1964, and then consider how older styles continued to thrive even after times had supposedly changed. So there’s a finer gradation to this story than I am relating here. Solo singers were popular throughout the 30s and 40s, as Crosby’s success indicates. Jimmy Dorsey scored a big pop hit with “So Rare” in 1957. Even without hit singles, editions of the dominant big bands sold albums, and they remained on the road in the 50s and 60s, albeit scaled down in size and itineraries. Stars such as Duke Ellington and Count Basie would remain popular live attractions until their deaths, Ellington in 1974 and Basie in 1984, as would Frank Sinatra until his death 20 years ago last month. Guy Lombardo was on national network TV every New Year’s Eve until the end of the 70s.

An edition of the Glenn Miller Orchestra is still on the road in 2018, over 70 years after Miller’s death. How long it will remain viable is a good question. We live in a society where “old school” means 10 years ago; before long, the music of the 30s, 40s, and early 50s will be entirely the realm of antiquarians. But while it lasted, it was pretty remarkable.

Music Within Limits

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I read a Twitter thread recently about the preferred format for mix “tapes” nowadays. CDs are still popular, although Spotify links are catching up. A few people compile them as zip files or use USB drives. I would like to think there are some old geezers out there who still use tape; perhaps they aren’t connected to the Internet to say so.

I have written here before about the 8-track recorder I bought in high school, so the first mix tapes I ever made were in that format. When I got to college, I made a few party mixes on reel tapes in the production rooms of radio stations. I graduated to cassettes shortly after I graduated from college, and they were my medium of choice for car tapes until the early 00s, when I got a CD burner. But I kept playing tapes until 2012, when the car with the tape deck went to the big salvage yard in the sky.

I burned a CD just this morning, some tunes for a trip we’re getting ready to take. I burn as MP3s, which means a single CD can hold several hours of music. (Burning standard CD files limits a disc to 80 minutes.) As I was selecting tunes for the CD, I kept thinking, “What else could I put on here? There’s certainly room for more.” If I were putting them into a zip file or USB drive, there would be even more room. A Spotify playlist is theoretically limitless.

That feels like it could be a problem.

A mix begins with a goal. What do I want this mix to do? If you’re sending one to a girl (and I am guessing that many of the male geeks reading this post have done it, or considered it), you want to express yourself, tell her who you are, and create a mood. For a road trip, you want to create a different mood, one that enhances the experience of travel in whatever way you choose. Or maybe you’re making a mix for your own amusement (“the greatest hits by artists whose names begin with A”), or on a particular theme (“best party hits from college”). What belongs, or best fits the theme?

More importantly, what doesn’t? A C-90 cassette or an 80-minute blank CD requires you to make choices. Does this song contribute to the mood, or the theme? Is it better for that purpose than some other song I am considering? I’d argue that a cassette or CD mix you make for somebody will say more about you as a person than a mix you send as a Spotify list because of the paring and tweaking you have to do to make it right within a physical limit. It also says something about how you regard the person you’re giving it to. You care enough to spend real time, effort, and thought on them. You don’t just browse a list and hit “add” a few times.

Years ago, I heard a party DJ say something similar. He wondered whether there’s really an advantage in being able to take thousands of songs to a party digitally instead being confined to what fits in a crate of vinyl or CDs. As in making a mix, choices are necessary. Is this a record I need, one I can’t imagine the party without? If so, it goes in the crate. If not, it can stay home. True, the DJ with 10,000 songs is likely to have more latitude on those occasions when it’s helpful, or be better able to play some guest’s request, but does that automatically mean he’ll provide a better party in the long run than the DJ who’s crated up a couple of hundred tried-and-true dance floor monsters?

Our culture frowns upon limits. We equate freedom with having whatever we want, as much as we want, whenever we want, for as long as we want. But “unlimited” is not automatically better. For an artist of the mix, acceptance of limits can enhance the work.

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