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Sounds of the Sixties Vol 1 & 2 [joefish 2DVD PAL purelivegigs]

It’s one of the archivist’s favorite complaints, the manner in which the BBC systematically purged its archive of so many classic musical performances, simply to save itself from having to buy new video tapes. Any number of priceless recordings was lost, by almost every band you can think of. Yet, though the carnage was indeed horrific, the corporation also seems to have hung onto a lot more tapes than anyone ever acknowledges, and this 10-part BBC TV series digs through all of them, in search of some positively spellbinding footage.

Not all of it is unfamiliar; indeed, the underground video market has been swapping increasingly poor quality copies of some of this footage for years (Pink Floyd’s grilling by a grumpy professor is possibly the most frequently seen). Other clips have been staples of sundry official compilations for just as long.

But that is not the point. Sterling picture and sound quality, a genuinely thoughtful approach to sequencing, and an eye both for what’s "popular" and what’s "collectible" are the distinguishing factors here, as Sounds of the Sixties not only emerges among the most intelligent musical retrospectives ever screened, but one of the most comprehensive (and comprehensively enjoyable) documentaries that rock in general has ever been granted.

Each half hour program is devoted to one more-or-less self-explanatory stylistic grouping, be it the pre- and post-Beatles landscape, folk, pop, psych or prog. Performances are drawn from across the BBC spectrum - the expected Top Of The Pops, of course, but also a plethora of barely-remembered kids shows, variety programs, chat shows and so on.

Later into the decade, as "rock" became more serious, so did its television coverage; Tony Palmer’s All My Loving documentary is mined for a handful of choice clips, while the late night Colour Me Pop really lets the progressive tendencies out. Equally entertaining, studio links and introductions are generally kept intact, to allow the nostalgic Brit viewer glimpses of a host of half-forgotten spectacles - the young Eamonn Andrews, an even younger Jimmy Saville, Pinky and Perky, Simon Dee...

As for the music - from the Springfields to Amen Corner, the Shadows to Jimi Hendrix, Julie Driscoll, Alan Price, the Equals, the Dead, Julie Felix, Manfred Mann, Donovan, the Stones, the Kinks, the Small Faces, Herman’s Hermits... it would take days to list every performance, and there’s no point in doing so. If you have any care whatsoever for all that the Sixties sounded of, you already know how much you want this collection. So what are you waiting for?


Sounds of the Seventies Vols 1 & 2 [joefish 2DVD PAL purelivegigs 32395]

Buoyed, no doubt, by the both the critical and public success of the earlier Sounds Of The Sixties TV series, the BBC bounced back with Sounds Of The Seventies, a similarly sprawling 10-part/five hour digest of the music and performances that gave that decade so much of its color.

And it was colorful - how could any era that gave us Glam, Disco and Punk fail to glow with a day-glo vitality that made the years since then seem positively monochromatic, both visually and stylistically? Full marks, however, to the production team, who could probably have got away with a non-stop feast of Bowie, Bolan, Glitter and Slade, but who instead aimed for a far more wide-ranging (and, consequently, representative) overview.

Individual shows trace metal, soul, prog, art and the new wave, alongside the expected favorites and, in so doing, unearth some startling performances - the juvenile Michael Jackson romping through "Rocking Robin," the Moody Blues as soft focus pontificaters, Alex Harvey hacking up mannequins while lamenting his love for "Delilah," Dr Feelgood predicting punk with a sneering, seething "Roxette," and the Clash confirming it. Dire Straits when they were excellent. And so on.

In fact, if there’s any drawback to this approach, it’s the reminder that there was an awful lot of horrendous music made during the 1970s as well, and a lot of it proved popular enough to get on TV. The Old Grey Whistle Test, in particular, seemed to relish those mealy-mouthed singer-songwriter types who would mumble and emote their way through their latest god-forsaken ode to self-pity, and there’s buckets of the buggers here.

But still Sounds of the Seventies cannot help but entertain, as the Sixties series’ penchant for digging elsewhere into the vault for linking material continues apace, and even though there’s some truly nightmarish memories just waiting to resurface (James Taylor... the Eagles... oh please spare us Janis Ian), you know something better is just a click of the remote control away.


Sounds of the Eighties Vols 1 and 2 [joefish 2DVD PAL purelivegigs 32059]

It probably sounded like a great idea at the time, following up the almost solidly excellent (and never less than enlightening) Sounds Of The… Sixties and Seventies TV series’ with a third one recounting the best of the Eighties. But you knew the show was in trouble when you looked at the schedule, and realized there was just eight, not 10 shows, in the run, plus a ninth that was handed over in its entirety to a Cars concert broadcast. The Cars? Yeah, they really zapped the presiding zeitgeist, didn’t they?

The earlier series’ taste for thematic segments collapses around the sheer mundanity of what was on display back then and, whether one believes it was the music or simply the TV coverage of the music that’s at fault, the fact is, the zany eccentricity that characterized the '60s and '70s shows survives no more than a couple of shows, as the New Romantic and Synthipop generations look towards the future, while shamelessly aping the recent past.

Elsewhere, excellent though their music may (or may not... the choice is yours) have been, there is no more to be derived from watching the likes of the Fall, the Smiths, the Mary Chain and Orange Juice than can be gained from simply listening to them. When you find yourself grinning inanely at the sight of Haircut 100, you know you’re in trouble.

A sequence dedicated to reggae, ska and 2-Tone is non-stop skanking paradise; another highlighting Motorhead, ZZ Top, the Cult and the Mission has its moments. And, of course, it’s great to see Bananarama at the peak of their powers... Wham’s young guns going for it with a vengeance, Soft Cell simpering through an atonal "Say Hello," the teenaged Kylie Minogue, Teardrop Explodes... oh, and Depeche Mode, barely out of short trousers, with Dave Gahan dancing like a duck and all so squeaky-clean that Vince Clarke’s stubble actually looks threatening.

But the further in time we get from the Eighties, the more that decade takes on the characteristics of some vast emotional black hole, sucking first the joy, then the spirit and, ultimately, the last vestiges of creativity from all who dared try to make a record back then. Sounds of the Eighties brings it all back with ghastly clarity.

Note: Veteran music writer Dave Thompson is a regular contributor writing on hard-to-find rarities. Dave is the author of many well reviewed rock biographies, including the recent Virgin Books' Red Hot Chili Peppers biography, works on The Cure and Kurt Cobain. He wrote Cream: The World's First Supergroup which was published early last year. In the past, Dave has written for Live! Music Review and he is also a regular contributor to Rolling Stone, Mojo and Q magazines. Click here to buy Dave's books.

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