No News

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(Pictured: the Rutles, Dirk McQuickly, Stig O’Hara, Barry Wom, and Ron Nasty, also known as Eric Idle, Ricky Fataar, John Halsey, and Neil Innes.)

It has been six months since I did an edition of Links and Notes, in which I point you to things I’ve read that you would find interesting, but here’s one.

—For the last several weeks I have been reading Raise All Kinds of Candy to the Stars, which is about every song to peak at #2 on the Billboard Hot 100. It’s well thought and well written, and while its perspective is far different from my own, it’s worthwhile every day. The author, Marcello, announced last week that he’s taking a medical leave from the site for an indeterminate period. Fortunately, there’s an extensive archive for readers to revisit, along with Then Play Long, featuring articles on every UK #1 album to 1991, and a site run by Marcello’s partner, Lena, Music Sounds Better With Two, on UK #2 singles. We wish Marcello and Lena well from far across the pond.

When Marcello and I talk about a song being #1 in America, we generally mean #1 in Billboard. However, Cash Box was also influential back in the day, and its charts often differed significantly from Billboard—as shown on this list of singles that hit #1 in Cash Box but not in Billboard, and vice versa, in the 60s, 70s, and 80s.

—Readers of this blog should read Country Soul: Making Music and Making Race in the American South by Charles L. Hughes (who, it turns out, is a native of Wisconsin and got his doctorate at UW-Madison). He’s also writing a blog called The ’68 Comeback Special, which is revisting the most significant albums and singles of that year, and it’s some great stuff.

—One of the albums soon celebrating its 50th is Van Morrison’s Astral Weeks. The story of its creation is bonkers, and not at all like you’d expect it to be.

—We’ve just passed the 40th anniversary of the final episode of The Bob Newhart Show, and this oral history of the show is golden.

—In the spring of 1978, I was among the few people who watched Eric Idle’s Beatles-parody mockumentary All You Need Is Cash when it aired on NBC. It turned out to be the single lowest-rated prime-time program of the week despite including George Harrison, Mick Jagger, Paul Simon, and several members of the original cast of Saturday Night Live. The entire saga of the Rutles is pitch-perfect right down to the recreations of Beatles songs, although the single best joke might be that Rutles drummer Barry Wom’s real name is Barrington Womble. A 40th anniversary retrospective is here. Watch All You Need Is Cash here.

—I think I have linked to this before, but it’s worth repeating: a 1971 pop art picture book history of the Beatles that is sweet and glorious, and it will make you legitimately happy to look at it.

—We often think that news reporting was a foreordained part of the evolution of broadcasting, and that station and network owners just naturally decided that it would be part of their role to tell people what was going on in the world. But that’s not what happened at all. When Edward R. Murrow went to Europe in 1937, his job was something called Director of Talks for CBS. At first, he was not allowed to report breaking news, which seems mighty odd what with a war starting and all, and it took a good bit of persuasion before his bosses allowed him to actually talk about what was going on in Europe on any given day. But even those entities that had already hit upon the idea of news broadcasting had a particular conception of it, and that concept has little to do with how we think of news today. For example, on April 18, 1930, the BBC opened its evening news bulletin by announcing, “Today is Good Friday. There is no news.” We should be so lucky on some day in our own time.

—I’ll end on a plug for my other blog, One Day in Your Life, which is repeating old One Day in Your Life posts that have appeared at this site over the years, but which also contains brand-new ones from time to time. The last two posts have both appeared on Sundays, so if you missed them and you enjoy that kind of thing, please click over and read them.

3 thoughts on “No News

  1. So why *did* the Rutles go down so poorly on American TV?
    Was something really popular showing on another network?
    Was the show perceived as too British in tone or origin to appeal to mainstream America — all those people who wouldn’t have seen Eric Idle in Monty Python?
    Or were people just not interested in poking fun at the Beatles?

    1. Alvaro Leos

      Well it wasn’t the competition, which was a Perry Como Easter special and an airing of the flop disaster spoof “The Big Bus”. I think the problems were a lot of the humor in the Rutles requires knowledge of Beatles minutia, which got lost on the mass audience of “Big Three” era American TV. Plus, Python didn’t start airing in America until 1974 and still was very much a cult item. In an era where an average “Laverne and Shirley” episode drew 60 million viewers, two overlapping cults just weren’t cutting it ratings wise.

  2. kblumenau: What Alvaro said. It helps to remember that even four years later, “Police Squad” with Leslie Nielsen failed, managing only six episodes, because American TV viewers couldn’t figure out if it was kidding or what. Never mind that it came from the same sensibility—and creators—of the hit movie “Airplane!” and that the “Naked Gun” movies “Police Squad” spawned would be hits.

    American TV before….what?…the ’90s?…later?….was no place to be subtle or demand your audience know stuff and put things in context.

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