This is the sixth of six reviews of DVD releases selected from the Quantum Leap series of "Rock 'n Roll Legends" featuring stars of the late-Fifties and early-Sixties. This DVD series is quirky and uneven, yet manages to be both interesting and entertaining.
These nostalgic releases feature live performances by popular stars, often years after they were in their prime, mostly at Little Darlin's, a nostalgia club in Florida, but also at other locations. Some performances are taken from television or movies, including a documentary from Canada's National Film Board. A horde of other popular stars, and some not so well known, make guest appearances. The visuals, on clips often apparently dubbed from old film stock, range from disconcertingly blurry to quite good but never flawless. Usually, the music makes up for the lack of visual clarity.
There's a "Fanzone" that includes biography, discography and other background information. As well, the "Quantum Leap Propaganda" section features a variety of interesting, sometimes documentary plugs for events and products as well as web links.
While this "Rock 'n Roll Legends" series includes other DVD releases, in these six alone, you can see performances by some 25 vintage artists, singing not only their own hits but other popular songs of the era. Any one of these releases provides an interesting, if eccentric, window on this past time. Together they present a fascinating pastiche of popular music as it was a half-century ago.
The "Fanzone" includes fairly extensive biographies of all of the artists on this release, including: Tommy Sands, Joey Dee, Frankie Ford, Bobby Vee, Tommy Roe, Lenny Welch, Troy Shondell, Ray Peterson, Buddy Knox, Jack Scott, Jimmy Calvallo, Frankie Lymon and the Teenagers, Cirno & the Bowties, and Paul Anka. While these sections do make interesting reading, the visual quality is far less than ideal.
The "Quantum Leap Propaganda" section is an eccentric mix of archival footage, rough edits and promotional material, including a quirky, clip-packed documentary video that seems more like a sampler pieced together from diverse sources plus a brief commercial for the Quantum Leap website. The purpose of "Quantum Leap Propaganda" appears to be to sell other Quantum Leap releases. At the left side of each title bar in these segments is what appears to be a release number indicating the release on which that clip may be found. The visual quality is again often less than desirable and the editing is rough and amateurish, but the viewing experience is interesting and sometimes even educational.
Having little to do with what is commonly called soul music, "Cool Soul" is a bit of a misnomer. Running to more than 12 minutes, this musical section is more an eclectic sampler featuring a variety of musical genres, including clips of live performances and bits of documentary footage. The clips include everything from solid funk through peaceful acoustic Spanish guitar, rousing big band swing, parts of three songs by Willie Nelson, and a segment from a documentary on the life of reggae master Jimmy Cliff. Whether or not it may be misnamed, this segment is interesting and entertaining to watch.
Even though this release features thirteen different artists and at least thirty songs, a brief commentary on each performance is well worth while. Especially interesting are the vintage film clips at the end as well as the full-length NFB documentary on Paul Anka filmed in 1960.
In the late-Fifties, the recording industry began to take over the once-rebellious rock and roll music, creating clean-cut, made-to-order artists performing rock and roll music with lyrics touting mainstream "white picket fence" values. Handsome movie star and recording idol Tommy Sands was one of the first to introduce this new pop-rock style, singing mostly about young love, teen jealousy, and marriage. Ranging from hard rockers to sweet love ballads, Sands' performance of "Going Steady." "Worrying Kind," and "Graduation Day" typify this genre of rock and roll. Among the manufactured idols, Sands is one of the best and is well worth revisiting.
Joey Dee and The Starlighters brought an exciting new sound to rock and roll. Unlike Chubby Checker's mellowed out versions of Hank Ballard's "The Twist" and "Let's Twist Again" The Starlighter's recordings brought back some of the spirit of the original Fifties rockers. "The Peppermint Twist" and "Hey Let's Twist" bring fond memories of The Twist in its heyday. While I remember the Johnny Nash version as the big hit where I lived, "What Kind of Love is This" works well for Joey Dee.
It's interesting that Frankie Ford's big hit "Sea Cruise" isn't included on this compilation, but he rocks out on several other songs. "Roberta" is jumping rock and roll and great blues. Just try not dancing to this one. Ford also sings his 1959 million seller "You Talk Too Much" and the comedic "Alimony."
Another pop rocker with a string of hits, Bobby Vee gives animated performances of "Devil or Angel" and "Rubber Ball" that will bring back fond memories to many listeners of my generation.
Tommy Roe fell somewhere between the manufactured pop rockers and the old-style rock and roll, but he brought us some solid rocking sounds. On this compilation, he presents versions of three of his biggest hits: The Buddy Holly sound-alike "Sheila," the coy, jumpy "Sweet Pea," and the big rocker "Everybody."
R & B artist Lenny Welch sings his slowed-down hit version of Neil Sedaka's up-tempo rocker "Breaking Up is Hard to Do" as well as his own classic hit, "Since I Fell For You." Beautiful!
Troy Shondell rocks the audience with live renditions of his own romantic hit "This Time" and, sounding very much like the original hard-hitting recording, Tommy James' "Mony Mony."
Ray Peterson delivers excellent live versions of his hits, "Corrina, Corrina" and "Tell Laura I Love Her" along with his own interpretation of the Little Willie John hit "Fever" with Peggy Lee's added lyrics.
Although his name is listed on the front of the package, Buddy Knox is not listed on the back, making his performance of "Hula Love" and "Party Doll" the hidden-tracks of this set. With Buddy Knox and Jimmy Bowen switching off as lead singer, the Rhythm Orchids were solid hit-makers with a smooth rocking sound. That sound is still evident in these performances.
"The Way I Walk" and "Goodbye Baby" are two great rockers from Canadian Rockabilly star Jack Scott. In these live performances, Scott is right on form, delivering solid hard-driving rock and roll to an appreciative audience.
Once the "revival" concerts are done, this collection includes a series of vintage film clips dating back to the early days of Rock & Roll. The first set of clips features Jimmy Calvallo and The House Rockets rocking out with "The Big Beat" and "Rock Rock Rock," Even though clipped from a teensploitation movie, these are exciting performances and the young nightclub dancers are a delight to watch.
While the set is missing "Why do Fools Fall in Love" and other big hits, the film clip of Frankie Lymon & The Teenagers performing "Pretty Baby" and "I'm Not a Juvenile Delinquent" is a wonderful flashback to this long ago era. The music is fast and lively with a solid doowop edge. And just check out that choreography. Fantastic!
The patio party clip of an uncredited young lady with a big voice is classic Fifties pop-rock reminiscent of Brenda Lee or Teresa Brewer. Here's a young girl only about eight years old who can rock it out with the best of them. This little girl with an awesome voice is backed by Cirno and the Bowties, an awesome foursome of harmonizing young men and a big band along the lines of Don Costa. Behind the singers, the patio party gang swings and sways to the music.
Cirno & The Bowties continue to rock and swing in a harmonic style reminiscent of The Lettermen or The Crewcuts, singing "Ever Since I can Remember" as they flirt with four pretty girls in a cosy nightclub scene. It's actually pretty schmaltzy. I prefer them with the young girl singing a rocking lead vocal.
What a surprise! The final track on this release is a complete half-hour documentary on Paul Anka, Lonely Boy, produced by Canada's award-winning National Film Board in about 1960. Here's a short film packed with music, interviews, and Rock & Roll history. What a great bit to top off a sensational collection of old favourites and lost classics.
Not everything is perfect in this release, but it's definitely worth owning and watching over and over again. Each time you watch, you'll discover something new that may surprise you or may just bring back memories of those long ago days.
You can find much more information on most of the artists on this DVD just by searching the internet. Also check out the Quantum Leap Online Catalogue for a wide selection of live music on DVD.
Rock 'n Roll's Greatest Teen Idols
Quantum Leap Group Ltd.
Running Time: 120 minutes