The Beatles, The Animals, and Many More Rockin’ Acts of 1964/65 Shake the Scene in Performance Compilation Film!
DIRECTED BY FREDERIC GOODE/1965
BLU-RAY STREET DATE: JULY 7, 2020/KL STUDIO CLASSICS
SEE AND HEAR 16 GREAT ACTS! THE SHIMMIEST, SHAKINGEST SHIVAREE THAT EVER ROCKED THE INTERNATIONAL BEAT!
That’s the happenin’ tagline for Go Go Mania, AKA Pop Gear– the latest, greatest, and only feature-length compilation of these particular barely charting mid-grade pop tunes of 1964 and ‘65, with the occasional time-honored hit! And man oh man, does that blurb rock those all-caps!
Moving on to the poster for this most pasty hit parade, a fella can’t help but notice that they more or less buried the lead! That right, ladies and gentlemen and lads and lasses, The Beatles, those wild mop tops from Liverpool whose unlabeled likenesses kinda sorta adorns the movie’s logo like four Kilroys, are listed last that’s right last! in the veritable list of the sixteen acts trotted out in this forgotten film. Maybe that’s part of the reason why this plot-free tossed-off compilation of musical acts of the moment taking turns performing in a meager photo studio is indeed forgotten?
But don’t be altogether fooled- The Beatles were never directly involved with this project. Apparently their manager, Brian Epstein, arranged for pre-existing newsreel clips of them doing “She Loves You” and “Twist and Shout” to respectively open and close the brief film (sixty-eight minutes; barely feature-length) if a wide swath of the other acts he represents could perform for the film’s cameras proper. The result is an unprecedented line-up of well-dressed babyfaced Brits with bad teeth singing about the troubles of love (as though they’ve lived long enough to know anything about that sort of thing). Hailing from a time well before pop music got really image conscious, most of these adorably dorky teens look challenged to ever have had to shave. The extent to “look” seems to extend only so far as making sure everyone is in matching suits. If they’re hipper “Beatle” suits, all the better, man! There’s a chuckle-worthy charm about the unintentional geekiness of most everyone onscreen in this Austin Powers-esque facade.
The exception to that geekiness is Eric Burdon of The Animals, whom no amount of bubblegum veneer and blah studio lighting could extinguish whatever is fueling his permanent inner fire. Even here, as a bad-suited lip-syncing youth, I wouldn’t want to bump into him in a bad mood. (The Animals turn up twice, once with “House of the Rising Sun” and “Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood”).
Also rising higher from the stream of forgettable ditties is Herman’s Hermits (performing “I’m Into Something Good”), Peter and Gordon (doing the Paul McCartney-penned “A World Without Love”), The Spencer Davis Group (with “My Babe”, featuring a young Steve Winwood), and the singing monument that is Matt Monro (these days perhaps best remembered for the theme song for From Russia with Love, which he does not trot out here). In addition to his two songs spread apart in the film proper (“Walk Away” and “For Mamma”), Monro is also saddled with the obligatory burden of performing a title song for the close of the film, “Pop Gear”.
Several of these bands give off all the enthusiasm of having just been informed that “by the way, you fellas are doing this entirely for the exposure. No compensation!” (There’s no evidence of any such situation being the case. But, that’s how they look). One band, Tommy Quickly and The Remo Four, goes the other way with it, goofing while singing rockified nursery rhymes (“Humpty Dumpty”) and knowing exactly how uncool they sound doing it. If you didn’t know better, you might come away thinking that all you need to have a hit song is some instruments, a suit from Sears and a plywood set. Try as they might, (and they don’t,) there’s no hiding the fact that all of this is happening in the exact same studio, with minor redressing and maybe a quick scenery repaint for each song.
BBC’s Top of the Pops host Jimmy Savile, with his wild eyes and unkempt Buster Brown frock, is on hand for introductions, transitions and some hopelessly outdated hepcat commentary in between tunes. “It really doesn’t matter if you dig or if you don’t dig it”, he tells us. And he’s right- It’s really all about this moment in time when the British Merseybeat was invading the U.S.A. and the international scene was heating up with would-be Beatles galore. Savile’s skirt chasing schtick had to be hammy even then; today it comes off kinda icky as his facial contortions evoke Doc Emmett Brown first and foremost. (Turns out that after Savile died in 2011, he was revealed to be quite likely be one of Britain’s “most prolific” sex offenders. Ghah!) After the first forty minutes, he stops showing up entirely. Guess he had to hurry back to the station to flip an LP! (At least, that’s hopefully what he left to do).
As though a completely Caucasian showcase of musicians wasn’t enough, one of the songs is a cover of the Leadbelly traditional folk song “Black Girl” by the Four Pennies, a songwriting narrative starts off badly for the unnamed title character, and only gets worse as it goes along:
Black girl, black girl, tell me no lies,
where did you sleep last night
In the pines, in the pines,
where the sun never shines
To shiver, the whole night through
Now maybe this tune, lyrically speaking, is actually something of a socially-conscious selection on the whole. At least in comparison to, say, the “Humpty Dumpty” tune by Tommy Quickly, it’s downright progressive. But in the July 2020 moment when this Blu-ray edition of Go Go Mania happens to be dropping, as Black Lives Mattering has caught on big time, this particular inclusion only serves to spotlight the all-whiteness of the lineup that’s comin’ at us, one after the other.
But then, discussing the racial glare on the disc’s audio commentary track, entertainment journalist/author Bryan Reesman and songwriter/music journalist/author Jeff Slate wonder aloud just how many black pop acts there were in England at the time. This is left as a question for further research, although the likely correct assumption of “not very many” is reached. Reesman and Slate concentrate almost exclusively on the musicians on screen as they come and go throughout. They get around to admitting that research on the origins and intentions of this film itself proved futile, meaning the “why” or “how” of such a small-scale television-esque compilation of proto-MTV “music videos” came about is not to be had. The wealth of details about the artists themselves, however, more than makes up for the few details that they are unable to resolve. This is a very listenable and informative commentary.
The most eye-opening fact of it all is probably the screen credit revealing that this film was shot by Geoffrey Unsworth. Yes, the very same camera genius who made 2001 truly be a space odyssey with Stanley Kubrick only a few years later is the lenser behind this fairly cardboard affair! But, a gig’s a gig, and at this point, with numerous big-time feature films on his resume, maybe a quickie cakewalk like this simply sounded good for Unsworth.
Call it what you will- Go Go Mania, Pop Gear, what have you- there’s no mistaking this movie for “cinema”. This despite the involvement of Geoffrey Unsworth, The Animals, or the bookend-ing footage of The Beatles. Yet, this exceedingly of-the-moment timepiece stands- preserved for years to come on Blu-ray, thanks to Kino Lorber- as something for rock n’ roll fans to look back on and see how things were done back in the day. And that’s worthy of a “Yeah, yeah, yeah”!