Monday, May 31, 2010

Pop Went the Sixties

Bank holidays are wonderful things. Especially when, like me, you end up spending a large proportion of the day on the sofa watching television. On days like this the TV companies struggle to fill the day's schedule in some way that defines it as 'special', without actually spending any money. Consequently, repeats abound. Most are run of the mill, but occasionally a truly fascinating cultural artifact turns up. Today, for instance, I caught Pop Go the Sixties, a BBC-ZDF (Germany) co-production originally broadcast on New Year's Eve 1969. An attempt to sum up the decade's most popular music through a series of studio performances by top acts, the whole thing was presented by the ever creepy Jimmy Saville and some German bird, (at least she knew she was safe with him), who appeared to be in an entirely different studio to the acts and audience. The whole thing looked suspiciously like an over-extended edition of Top of the Pops. The most fascinating thing about it was just how staid it all seemed, bearing in mind that this was meant to be the swinging sixties. I mean, I'm sure that even in my far flung corner of the provinces it was a bit more exciting than this programme would have you believe. Even the dancing seemed a bit restrained. Actually, I couldn't help but notice that the gyrations being performed by Helen Shapiro's backing dancers looked suspiciously like the contortions I put my limbs through when my bladder is full and I'm desperately trying not to piss myself. My suspicion that all sixties dance moves were inspired by incontinence seemed to be confirmed by Cliff Richard's dance 'moves' as he performed 'Congratulations'. He kept shuffling around as if he'd shat himself. Perhaps he had. Maybe those rumours are true and his colostomy bag had burst.

The programme also included one of those Top of the Pops bits where a bunch of dancers perform a routine to an orchestral arrangement of a popular hit single. In this case it was the Ascot Dancers, (I actually mis-heard Jimmy Saville's introduction and thought they were called the 'Ass Hot Dancers' until I checked the end credits), dancing to the Johnny Harris Orchestra's arrangement of the Rolling Stones' 'Satisfaction'. The arrangement succeeded in making this iconic Stones hit sound like the score for some low rent sixties James Bond rip-off movie. So low rent that it probably wouldn't even be able to get Dean Martin or Rod Taylor as the lead. The sort that would instead have to settle for Tom Adams. Or Vince Edwards. Quite dispiriting. But quite the most bizarre part of the broadcast came when the German bird announced that she wanted to take a walk in the Black Forest. With Horst Jankowski. Now, she was obviously referring to the German band leader and pianist's 1965 instrumental easy listening hit 'A Walk in the Black Forest'. Trust me, you may think that you've never heard this number, but, believe me, you have, without knowing it. To this day it is frequently used as background music in lifestyle TV programmes and as mood music in massage parlours. Anyway, getting to the point, Horst Jankowski wasn't in the studio. Instead, we were treated to what amounted to a pop video of the tune. I'd forgotten just how literal these apparently were in 1969. Basically, what we got was three minutes of Horst himself, sporting a beard, furry hat and puffing on a pipe, wandering through a snowy woodland scene, (presumably the Black Forest, although I suspect it could actually have been some woods in Surrey), to the accompaniment of 'A walk in the Black Forest'. And that's all he did - stroll through the woods. He didn't take a piss behind a tree, stumble across a stash of porn magazines and used condoms, or even spy on gay couples having furtive sex in the bushes. Damn it, he wasn't even chased by a bear! The video climaxed, if that's the right word, with Horst lying down in the snow. Presumably to die of exposure in attempt to atone for coming up with the blandness of 'A Walk in the Black Forest'. Although I have to concede that the tune was sufficiently catchy that I couldn't get it out of my head for hours afterwards. So there you have it - that, apparently, was the 1960s. It makes you wonder what all the fuss was about.

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