Thursday, August 13, 2009


My friend RJ sent this along. Elvis Costello tipped him to it.

Bing Crosby, Diana Ross & The Supremes, and Jose Feliciano zipping through a medley of '60s pop hits. What more could one ask for in old school stardom cheese? You really do have to see this to believe it. I'll wait . . .

How many times did you have to lift your chin off your desk?

This clip is like a massive car wreck. At the same time you're horrified by the carnage, you keep staring because it's a fascinating human event. This clip is from 1968. Revolution in the air, summer of love, Vietnam, the women's rights movement, civil rights -- America society in 1968 was going through elemental changes (for good or bad) that would have decades-long effects. Ross & The Supremes and Feliciano represented a new world of civil rights and race relations in the U.S., though they were by no means radicals. They were the culture-approved "faces" of minority pride, meaning they didn't scare white people and they seemed, "gosh, kinda just like us white people."

So what is Bing Crosby in this? Crosby's time and culture had passed -- and was moving farther and farther into the rear view. Sure, he still had drawing power on television, which in 1968 was but a mere teenager, but his era and style of music had all but disappeared. The days of the crooner were dimming. This was a time for singer-songwriters expressing truths political and personal. There were still crooners/singers putting out great music, but many of them were relegated to occasional Top 40 slots -- good money, minimum cred, yet frequent access to the old school TV avenues.

Let's be clear: even at 65, Crosby really did have great pipes. In this clip, however, I think we're watching an old guard entertainer trying to gain a little hip cache with young folks, baby boomers who were not only brought up on guys like Crosby but were now the largest chunk of the population, and at the same time the young hit makers try to get a little mainstream STARDOM cache from one of the old guard. Look at the setting: TV studio with an orchestra in the background (old guard), the singers "casually" sitting on stools singing contemporary hits by The Beatles, Motown, Bakersfield country (new guard).

It's such a weird amalgam of the state of the music industry and the state of American culture in 1968 that the quality of the performance seems almost immaterial. They all have superlative voices, but really, how cheesy can you get? And maybe that's what sticks out most about this clip: it's like a 1950s TV performance by five artists who don't believe for a minute that what they're doing is heartfelt. They know it's forced, they know that we the audience knows its forced, but it's what STARS do, right? (At least it's what they did in the past.) The performance is a recreation of a star system era long gone in the era that helped demolish it.

Nice hat on Bing, though, eh?


  1. Anonymous10:45 PM

    When exactly did they lose THEIR America? When a black man became president? Some say Obama ain't done nothing yet. But when a bus is going downhill speeding toward a cliff, it is okay to take the time to stop it before turning it around & get it going the right direction!

  2. Thanks for taking the time leave a note.
    Not sure of the connection between this video and your comment. Or was this meant to be a comment on another post?