SNL Season 1 Episode 18 [1976)

When you set the time machine to 1976, it’s a pleasant buzz to come face to…face with Raquel Welch.

What…rather, who could sum up that time quite like her?

Her feathered hair.  Her overly-tanned (golden?) skin.  Her bellbottom jeans.

There’s something fizzy about the experience.

A starlet now faded.  A human sequin.

I previously wrote about Welch’s 1967 film Fathom.

Aside from base titillation, it’s a pretty lame affair.

But here on Saturday Night Live she gets to show a bit more of her talent.

Not much more.  A bit more.

For instance, Raquel sings on this episode.

The monologue-substitute with John Belushi as Joe Cocker is pretty fantastic.

It’s a comedy piece.

Later, Welch actually does share the rarefied air which Marilyn Monroe breathed when she sang “Happy Birthday” for JFK.

I’m speaking of Raquel’s rendition of the Gershwin tune “It Ain’t Necessarily So”.  Few microphone techniques can be said to carry such sexual import as Welch’s on this number.

And the subject matter…for God’s sake!

It ain’t Sportin’ Life from Porgy and Bess.

No.

It’s Raquel singing, “The things that you’re liable/to hear in the Bible”…[what a rhyme!]…”It ain’t necessarily so.”

So.  You get the picture.

Welch is steamy as a Manhattan manhole cover in winter.

One particularly great sequence involves Welch as Jane Russell on the set of The Outlaw (1943).  Dan Aykroyd plays Howard Hughes.  It is pretty priceless!

Aykroyd is also great in the sequence about applying the metric system to the English alphabet (the Decabet).

What’s bad about this great blast from the past?

Phoebe Snow.

I really don’t want to hate on this lady, but it’s a combination of snoozerville and overly-precious musicianship masquerading as talent.

Snow has that horribly indiscreet application of wide vibrato which always irks the bejesus out of me.

And the songs…for christsake!  “Two-Fisted Love”?!?  Are you fuckin’ kidding me?  How does an MOR artist do a song like “Two-Fisted Love” with a straight face.

And so Phoebe Snow is godawful here.  It bears mentioning because (for some [un]mysterious reason) she was back on the show for a second time [here] in season one.

But let’s dish some more.  John Sebastian also sucks on this episode.  Trying to cash in on his Welcome Back, Kotter theme song.

Likewise, somebody in charge of sound for this episode adds to the lameness of Sebastian’s performance.  Or, from another perspective, the only good thing about John Sebastian’s performance here is his microphone feeding back during his aborted intro.

Ok, there.  I’ve let them both have it.  Snow and Sebastian.

What else is good about this episode?

Let’s end on a high note.

Lorne Michaels’ solicitation of The Beatles (for a whopping $3000) is goddamned brilliant.

Ok.  So there you have it.  Oh…and Belushi as the high-strung meteorologist during Weekend Update is damned good as well.

Cheerio!

 

-PD

SNL Season 1 Episode 10 [1976)

“…I know, I know, I know, I know,
I know, I know, I know, I know, I know,
I know, I know, I know, I know, I know,
I know, I know, I know, I know, I know,
I know, I know, I know, I know, I know,
I know, I know…”

Ah, Bill Withers.  A lyrical genius.  And though I kid, I mean it.  This section of “Ain’t No Sunshine” is one of the most tense portions of pop music ever laid down on tape.  In case you’re wondering, there’s 26 “I know”s.

And indeed, the powerful Mr. Withers performed this very song on SNL backed up by Howard Shore’s band to amazing dramatic effect.

Now, if you have been following along with my clinically-insane review of the entire Saturday Night Live oeuvre (or canon, if you will) you will know that the musical guests thus far had been:

Billy Preston, Janis Ian, Simon & Garfunkel, Randy Newman, Phoebe Snow, Esther Philips , ABBA, Loudon Wainwright III, Gil Scott-Heron, and Anne Murray.  [Hopefully I didn’t leave anyone out.]

I mention them again because almost all of them (with the notable exception of Simon & Garfunkel) were pushing product.  To use the terminology which Kurt Cobain so presciently keyed in on, they were attempting to be “radio friendly unit shifters”.  Shift those units.  Move that product.

This is significant when viewing Bill Withers’ performance.  “Ain’t No Sunshine” was from his 1971 album Just As I Am (that’s five years before this broadcast).  He’d had at least four albums come out since 1971.  He would have a fifth released in 1976.  And though he only got to perform one song, he went back to his big hit.

It makes me wonder whose idea that was.  Lorne Michaels?  Perhaps even a wily A&R man trying a counterintuitive tactic.  Kinda like, “Hey…I’m Bill Withers.  Remember me?”

All…that…having…been…said:

this is a fantastic episode!!!

I must admit I had no idea who Buck Henry was upon viewing this.

Pierre Henry?  Of course.  But Buck Henry?  No way.

Sure, I’d seen The Graduate, but paying attention to who the screenwriter was had to be the last thing on my mind as the credits rolled.

I like films without scripts.  Godard.

The only script I can honestly say I’ve ever read out of admiration for the film (and writing) is Ernest Lehman’s fantastic North by Northwest (brought to the screen, of course, by Alfred Hitchcock).

To make a short story long, Buck Henry is an amazing actor.

I don’t know to what extent he was involved in the writing of skits for this episode, but I can confidently say that this show surpasses all the others before it.

What is more, Buck Henry is ten times the actor that is Elliott Gould (the previous week’s host).

So, there.  Buck Henry is great.  From his role in John Belushi’s Samurai Delicatessen to his part as Gerald Ford’s aide in the Oval Office.

Speaking of these two skits, they are certainly among the highlights (if not the outright best two).

Belushi was improving with every episode.  From Samurai Hotel came Samurai Delicatessen.  It is an artful role on par with the talent of Peter Sellers.

The extra portion Belushi brought to the table was his singing (yes, singing).  We heard him earlier in the debut season doing a send-up of Joe Cocker.  In the episode under consideration, Belushi and Dan Aykroyd debut a proto version of The Blues Brothers…in bee costumes!

I must say that their performance of “I’m a King Bee” is infused with the punk spirit which was then coursing through the veins of New York City.  Belushi takes his breaks from singing as opportunities to do ridiculous, stumbling cartwheels around the stage.

This is one thing for which you have to give the Not Ready for Prime Time Players credit:  they would do anything for a laugh.

The precedent had been set early on by Chevy Chase.  No one could fall quite like Chevy, and thus it was natural for him to portray the unlucky Gerald Ford.

One of Chevy’s real miracles was a failed attempt (as Ford) to put the star on a 15-foot Christmas tree.  I don’t know if Chase had stunt training, but his falls are impressively wild.

But again, in this episode we see Chase developing his comic timing and humorous subtleties which he would later parlay into a successful movie career.  Chase’s portrayal of Ford is particularly smooth (peppered, of course, with appropriately clunky dementia).

Two more bits bear mentioning.  Michael O’Donoghue’s anti-impression illustrates all that was good about the early days of SNL.  It’s flailing about, but it is such a refreshing flailing.

And finally, I must mention that Toni Basil returned to the show (after making an appearance earlier in the season with the dance troupe The Lockers).  This time Basil does some great scat singing (and, of course, dancing) on the old tune “Wham”…(re bop boom bam).

It’s an impressive performance with a touch of Cyd Charisse in the choreography.

Bravo SNL!

 

-PD

 

 

 

SNL Season 1 Episode 3 [1975)

From the musical smörgåsbord of episode 2 to the absolute lack of musical guests in episode 3…SNL was a work in progress.  Even the name, Saturday Night, had yet to add the “Live”.

We do, however, get some music thanks to a few unlikely candidates.  The first is host Rob Reiner.  It’s almost as if Rob were goofing on Tony Clifton (in retrospect).  Yes, a pretty decent lounge act by Reiner gives us a swing version of “Blowin’ in the Wind” with Howard Shore and his band backing up.  [Not exactly Arturo Toscanini, Studio 8H’s famous former inhabitant, but pretty competent stuff from Shore.]

John Belushi tops Reiner with an impersonation of Joe Cocker.  It’s really pretty outstanding!

Also in the musical, or dance, category are The Lockers (as in poppin’ and lockin’).  Formed in part by Toni Basil (who would go on to have a hit with “Mickey” in 1982), The Lockers bring that inimitable breakdancing which one might witness (even to this day) on subway cars in New York City.  It really is an astounding art!

And finally, the musical stand-ins are rounded out by one of my heroes Andy Kaufman doing a lip-sync of a very difficult, dialogue-peppered “Pop Goes the Weasel” recording (Roud Folk Song Index number 5249).

Though she appears only a small amount, Penny Marshall adds to the night’s fun festivities (she was Reiner’s wife).

“The Bees,” a running gag through the first three shows, finally score some points as Belushi gives a soliloquy while his slinky antennae list to and fro.  Quite a genius juxtaposition!

We must remember that Al Franken was one of the original writers.

“The Land of Gorch” Muppet sketches continue (a bit I quite like).

But the real highlight of this episode is Albert Brooks’ film on heart surgery (as much as I hate to admit it).  Brooks’ first two contributions to this series were painfully lackluster, but then he pulls the rabbit out of the hat with quite a jaw-dropping bit of humor.

All in all, these episodes are a joy to watch.  What an American treasure!

 

-PD