The British are way ahead of us when it comes to release vintage performances on DVD. The Old Grey Whistle Test got its name from a Tin Pan Alley test; it was said that agents would have the doormen for the building come in, listen to a song and see if it was worthwhile. The test was whether the “old grey” folks could whistle the tune. The Old Grey Whistle Test had a variety of different types of performers over the years. While rock did dominate it wasn’t the only type of music presented.
This DVD presents the following performances and performers:
Alice Cooper-Under My Wheels
Elton John-Tiny Dancer (solo)
Curtis Mayfield- We Gotta Have Peace
Randy Newman – Political Science
Bill Whithers – Ain’t No Sunshine
Rory Gallagher – Hands Off
Bob Marley & the Wailers – Stir It Up
Roxy Music – Do The Strand (with Eno but lipsynched)
The Edgar Winter Group – Frankenstein
Captain Beefheart-Upon the My O My
Little Feat- Rock ‘n’ Roll Doctor
John Lennon – Stand By Me
Lynyrd Skynyrd – Freebird
Emmylou Harris – Amarillo
Bonnie Raitt – Too Long At The Fair
Tom Waits – Tom Traubert’s Blues
Talking Heads – Psycho Killer
XTC – Statue of Liberty
Blondie – I’m Always Touched By Your Presence, Dear
Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers – American Girl
The Police – Can’t Stand Losing You
Bruce Springsteen – Rosalita (filmed concert performance)
Iggy Pop – I’m Bored
The Specials – Message to Rudi
The Damned – Smash It Up/I Just Can’t Be Happy Today
The Ramones – Rock ‘n’ Roll High School
U2 – I Will Follow
REM – Moon River/Pretty Persuasion
The interviews are fairly good as well. The John Lennon interview was a treat for me as a long time Beatles fan. Also interviewed are Elton John & Bernie Taupin, Mick Jagger, Keith Richards and Bruce Springsteen. Producer Mike Appleton has included an audio commentary. There’s also an artist’s gallery where you can read about the performance and artist. In special features mode a guitar will appear in the upper right hand corner and take you directly there. After you’ve read it, it takes you directly back to the performance.
Each of the Whistle Tests 6 presenters give really interesting (and occasionally funny)stories about either the performance or artist they’re discussing. Why the BBC choose to release this as a single disc set when compared to the UK version is a bit strange.
There’s also a two page booklet that includes the performances, a little background on the show and a paragraph or two from the producer. That’s becoming more of a rarity now as many companies are discontinuing these. I personally like them as it allows you to see the chapter you want prior to the DVD starting. Disney is experimenting with discontinuing theirs for certain discs as is MGM.
I bit of caution about the British two disc set; On the amazon.com British website it states it is a region 0 so it can be played anywhere. I have heard complaints from various folks that this isn’t so. Since I don’t have the 2 disc set from the UK, I can’t comment directly but be wary.
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In regards to a previous review, you ARE able to play individual songs. You simple go to the special features section of the disc and you can scroll through the individual performances and choose at your own will. This set is awesome. It includes the following:Alice Cooper, Under My WheelsElton John, Tiny DancerCurtis Mayfield, We Gotta Have PeaceRandy Newman, Political ScienceBill Withers, Ain’t No SunshineRory Gallagher, Hands OffThe Wailers, Stir It UpRoxy Music, Do the StrandThe Edgar Winter Group, FrankensteinCaptain Beefheart, Upon the My O MyLittle Feat, Rock ‘n Roll DoctorJohn Lennon, Stand By MeLynyrd Skynyrd, FreebirdEmmylou Harris, AmarilloBonnie Raitt, Too Long at the FairTom Waits, Tom Traubert’s BluesTalking Heads, Psycho KillerXTC, Statue of LibertyBlondie, Presence DearTom Petty & the Heartbreakers, American GirlThe Police, Can’t Stand Losing YouBruce Springsteen, RosalitaIggy Pop, I’m BoredThe Specials, Message to You RudiThe Damned, Smash It Up/I Just Can’t Be Happy TodayThe Ramones, Rock ‘n Roll High SchoolU2, I Will FollowREM, Moon River/Pretty Persuasion
There are also interviews with Elton John, Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, Robert Plant, John Lennon, and Bruce Springsteen. There are commentaries and tidbits about each act. I wish we were given the two disc set, but hopefully if this sells well, perhaps in the future.
Pop is the music of the rebel. But it’s also the music of the non-rebel, and with the OGWT, from the heart of the BBC establishment, non-rebellious, thinking-person’s pop reached its zenith. Of course, punk knocked it all down in 1977, and with the help of Saturday Night Fever disco, pop suddenly became physical again. The OGWT never really recovered, and once Bob Harris had gone, competition from other TV programs such as Channel 4′s ‘The Tube’ etc meant its days were numbered.
Which was a great pity, as all three OGWT compilation DVDs illustrate. The OGWT was a superb, must-see programme scheduled late on Tuesday evenings. You had to watch every show, firstly because there was no other TV programme showcasing ‘album’ music, and secondly because the Radio Times (the UK’s TV listings magazine) never told you who would be appearing.
In the early 1970s I was at a boarding school, and our house was rationed to a TV maximum of three hours per week. Which programmes we watched were decided by the prefects (which brought them much undeserved popularity), and it says much about the quality of OGWT that this programme was always chosen.
These two DVDs have something of the feel of the TV programmes, except that they don’t contain any interview material nor any of the wonderful animations chosen to accompany some tracks. (I never cease to be surprised at the number of occasions when I discuss OGWT with friends and they mention the ‘Skiers’ video chosen for Mike Oldfield’s ‘Tubular Bells’.) The introductions are, by and large, marvellous, if only to see how the artists and DJs look 30 years on.
The musical highlights, for me, are most of the 70s stuff, particularly Bill Withers (a fantastic performance of his ‘Ain’t No Sunshine’, very much like the Carnegie Hall version on CD)and the Edgar Winter Group’s ‘Frankenstein’, but there is so much else.
These DVDs will probably bring few new converts to the programme, but it’s a treasure trove for those of us who were there at the time.