Sunday, October 8, 2017

That Time Belinda And Grace Slick Hosted "Legendary Ladies Of Rock & Roll"

Having recently been united in cinematic glory, if only via soundtrack magic, perhaps Belinda Carlisle and Grace Slick felt it only natural to team up and ... host a cheesy oldies revival concert for Cinemax? And why not? It's only fitting. Why, the combined cost of the drug intake between these two could've arguably paid all the overdue royalties these guest artists were cheated out of over the years.

Imagine, if you will, a world without YouTube, where gems like these would lie undiscovered for eons, never to be treated to a barrage of snarky comments from '80s music bloggers. What a sad, sad world that would be. Sure, you might be laughing, but frankly, this line-up is nothing to snicker at: we've got ... Martha Reeves! Mary Wells! Lesley Gore! Brenda Lee! Freda Payne! Shirley Alston Reeves! And the recently resurrected Ronnie Spector!

Holy Jackie Kennedy. It's like I'm back in the high school gym in 1963 all over again, getting the shit beaten out of me for glancing too long at the quarterback's girlfriend. Seriously, who did they leave out? Shelly Fabares? Shirley Alston Reeves was the one name I didn't recognize, but when she started singing "Will You Love Me Tomorrow," I realized it was Shirley Owens, AKA the lead singer of the Shirelles. The Shirelles! In other words, Little Earl is basically an admirer of every one of these performers and has at least a greatest hits CD of theirs (or in the case of Brenda Lee, a four-disc boxed set) in his music collection.

Not to mention: special guest star ... Clarence Clemmons!

Of course, no one on stage besides the Big Man and the two hosts were in anything like the prime of their careers, but why be a party pooper? This apparently being February 1987, here we find Belinda in a curious not-quite-blonde, not-quite-brunette phase, as the Belinda period began to wind down and the Heaven On Earth period began to ramp up. She seems to be wearing a purple sweater with sparkles on it, over a black ... jumpsuit? Whatever, I'm into it. Despite being about fifteen years younger than everyone else, she somehow manages to avoid embarrassing herself. Hilariously, Grace Slick was actually older than every single one of the "legendary ladies" she was hosting here (look it up), but in the public imagination, few would probably lump Jefferson Airplane in with the Shirelles (unless you happened to be under the influence of some heavy psychedelics, in which case, perhaps you might).

I'm not sure if Lesley Gore's voice ended up aging too well, but to be fair, she was about 17 when she recorded the original versions of her hits, and she certainly seemed to be having a good time on this particular night ("Was she great? Was she fabulous? Martha Reeves, thank you baby."). Reeves does sound pretty great ... until she reaches for the high notes. Mary Wells doesn't sound too bad considering she was just a couple of years from being diagnosed with throat cancer. However, they may have all gotten smoked by Brenda Lee, who sounds like she's doing just another concert in the middle of an actual tour (which she probably was) and not an oldies show. Yeah, Brenda Lee's sorry all right. Sorry she can out-sing everyone else on this special (probably even Belinda and Grace). Clarence knows what I'm talkin' about.

I doubt many in the audience realized it, but Belinda was certainly no stranger to Freda Payne, and this time she wisely lets Freda take the spotlight on "Band of Gold" (which nevertheless still sounds more like Belinda's tacky, then-current re-make than the original) while Belinda dances awkwardly to Freda's right and sings some barely audible backing vocals. Works for me!

Ronnie Spector, fresh off "Take Me Home Tonight" and acting curiously horny, charmingly introduces Belinda and Grace as "my two Ronettes" before she trudges her way through "Be My Baby." At this point the entire ensemble hops onto the stage and launches into "Da Doo Ron Ron," with everyone presumably getting a line or two (as opposed to, say, doing a line or two). Grace belts out a somewhat inappropriately robust "Summm-bah-dee told me that his name was Bih-hih-hill," while Belinda lets her sweet vibrato fly on "Yeahhhh, my heart stood stillll/Yeahhhh, his name was Billll/And when he walked me hoh-oh-ome." Phew! Didn't fuck up. Whoever was next, however (I'm looking at you, Martha Reeves?), apparently fucked up, as no one sings the following lyric. But Brenda Lee doesn't even blink and papers over the mishap like a consummate pro. No one ruffles Little Miss Dynamite.

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