Thursday, April 19, 2012

The 13 Most Incongruous American Bandstand Appearances

Posted By on Thu, Apr 19, 2012 at 12:16 PM

Dick Clark, "the world's oldest teenager," who died yesterday, built an enduring business and media persona through his perpetual immersion in youth culture. American Bandstand, his flagship, was on the air from sockhops up through 1989—through, that is, the rise of a dominant youth culture, the splintering of genres, and the formation of a viable independent underground in the 1980s. Which means that, as much as a sinkhole of Boomer solipsism (which, by filming regular kids dancing, Clark helped invent), American Bandstand was an enduring study in the limits of the American music industry's adaptability. And it's that outer limit where all the really retrospectively fascinating and amusing stuff happens, as we hope to demonstrate with this clip show. (Thanks to Josh Kurp, who found about half of these.)

Captain Beefheart, 1965

Though American Bandstand moved from Philadelphia from LA, from regional to national TV, and from weekday afternoons to Saturdays, the its guest list from the late 50s to the early-to-mid 60s smoothly traced an arc familiar to any listener of oldies radio: from crooners to teen idols, with the occasional Sam Cooke or Jerry Lee Lewis mixed in, up through tame British Invasion knock-offs watering down r&b even further. Still, like many a cult icon, Don Van Vliet made an early appearance in the Top 40. Here, Cathy, aged 17, asks him a few questions about the name of the band, and then Dick plays Captain Beefheart and the Magic Band's debut single, "Diddy Wah Diddy," and everyone dances. Cathy stays on the line with Don during the song, presumably so the police can trace the call (he sounds like the Zodiac Killer).

Pink Floyd, 1967

"The Pink Floyd," still fronted by Syd Barrett, play "Apples and Oranges" on their first American appearance, when they could still be slotted in with the conditionally safe paisley hippie groups who were splitting time with the ever-bluesier garage rock and deeper soul.

Blue Cheer, 1968

America's first metal band, maybe, covers Eddie Cochran's "Summertime Blues," the original version of which Dick had introduced many times a decade before. Bands this loud wouldn't be back on Bandstand for a while.

Steely Dan, 1973

This isn't actually that incongruous for Bandstand circa the Watergate era, except that it's good, which, aside from appearances from peak funk groups and the occasional foray into country, American Bandstand really wasn't, at that point (Bo Donaldson and the Heywoods, guys).

Talking Heads, 1979

An attempt to tap into city-kid energy amid a late-70s run dominated by smooth vocal acts shading into early disco (as well as doo-wop nostalgia acts and dreadful latter-day Tiger Beat cover boys). But hoo boy, did Dick Clark's decades of gladhandling label-groomed performers not prepare him for the colossal introversion of young, nerdy David Byrne. "Are you a shy person?" "I guess so."

(Incidentally, the songs they played were "Take Me To The River" and "Thank You for Sending Me an Angel.")

Prince, 1980

[ssh, try here]

At age 19, Prince hadn't yet mastered the art of lip-syncing convincingly while also wiggling his gold-lame-encased crotch about in search of something, anything to hump. His very teenaged, sullen, head-shaking avoidance of eye contact and polysyllables during the interview portion also makes one wonder, really, whether Dick Clark ever allowed himself to regret spending so much of his life interacting with children.

Public Image, Ltd., 1980

These songs do not have good beats, nor are they easy to dance to. Just have this clip handy for the next time someone claims that their generation invented irony. (This performance was broadcast the same week that The Great Rock and Roll Swindle was released, incidentally.)

Def Leppard, 1983

Other acts who appeared on American Bandstand in May of 1983: Bow Wow Wow, the Thompson Twins, Jose Feliciano, Nick Lowe, Patrick Simmons (of the Doobie Brothers), Naked Eyes, the Simple Minds.

X, 1983

Though the 80s produced a steady stream of New Wave acts and balladeers, American Bandstand, like the American record industry, tried to keep up with the free-for-all going on at the margins. Elektra recording artists X were on American Bandstand twice.

New Edition, 1984

Incongruous only when you look at the date. Dick is in his element here, introducing clean-cut teenagers who started a singing group to make "movie money—popcorn, candy and tickets," and coordinate their dance moves and shiny suits.

Scritti Politti, 1985

Dick Clark Productions is pretty good at controlling licensing and clips and all that, so as you see, a lot of the stuff on YouTube is interviews (and bootlegs). Alas, I can't seem to find the even rarer clip of Heaven 17 on American Bandstand, so this particular insular cult act will have to do. Do you want to know who the other guest on this episode was? It was Weird Al Yankovic.

Kurtis Blow, 1986

(Did you know that that Nas/Lauren Hill song was based on Kurtis Blow's last big single? I did not.)

Dick Clark, to his eternal credit, always took as a given the centrality of black artists and audiences to 20th-century American popular music, and Bandstand featured a fair bit of hip-hop in its last decade. (From 1985, you can see Run DMC do "Jam Master Jammin'," no embedding sorry.)

The Beastie Boys, 1987

And here we have pretty much reached the end of the format.

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