Private Eye TV Shows… with Real! Live! Rockers!
Yeah, we all know it’s only rock and roll. But we like it.
Still, in the decades before Midnight Special and MTV, the fusion of rock and TV drama had always been iffy, if not downright embarrassing. Think of rock and roll and television as fraternal twins, born in the same era, not conjoined, but still intrinsically linked, forced to play together if only because they came of age more or less at the same time, and shared a market—the emerging, post-war baby boomer audience.
But they did not play together well. Rock was co-opted and ridiculed by television’s powers that be (Elvis singing to an actual hound dog? Oh, the hilarity!), shown from the waist up only, and television drama featuring alleged rock and rollers, was worse. Despite its best efforts, the music (and usually the musicians) was almost always hopelessly out of touch, with middle-aged actors in ill-fitting wigs and clothing from J.C. Penneys’ Out-of-It Shop lip-synching room temperature Muzak about as far removed from real rock’n’roll as Pat Boone.
And yet they kept trying (and trying and trying), and sometimes real-life rockers actually slipped through the cracks, a few of them even making it onto private eye shows, albeit with decidedly mixed results.
“Warning: Live Blueberries!” (October 28, 1967)
Pay attention! You can see Neil Young and Stephen Stills ripping through the Springfield song “Bluebird” in a “hippie night spot” on the Sunset Strip.
In fact, when Stephen Stills was asked by Rolling Stone if he ever regretted not taping some of the Buffalo Springfield’s early concerts, he replied “Yeah. The best sound we ever got was when we did this stupid TV show where we played just a little bit of a song and we were like, ‘Oh, my God, that’s the sound we’ve been looking for.’ It was the only place we could get that sound right.”
- SHANNON’S DEAL
Seasons 1-2 (1990-91)
Just in case you thought that Iggy Pop, Tanya Tucker and David Crosby (see below) were the only musicians to appear on Shannon’s Deal, Shannon’s young daughter, Neala, was played by then thirteen-year-old Jenny Lewis, who went on to sing and play rhythm guitar for the indie rock band Rilo Kiley, before launching a successful solo career.
- BARNABY JONES
“Gold Record for Murder” (February 10, 1974)
Barnaby sings! Jethro Tull! A hot-shot glam rocker (played by Marjoe Gortner) kills his secret songwriting partner over writing credits. The song in question (performed live by Gortner on the Sunset Strip in the opening sequence, with much scenery chewing) is “Wind Up” from the 1972 Jethro Tull album Bad But Not Evil. Barnaby eventually cracks the case after finding the sheet music, and singing a few lines, accompany himself on his old guitar.
Personally, I’m not sure anyone would want credit for a Jethro Tull song, but who knows?
Marjoe also performs a Stones-esque glam rocker called “Where Are You Hiding?” that, according to the internet, “has a very Alice Cooper flavor to the vocal.”
As if this isn’t enough, this is also the show where Barnaby offers the perfect “Just Say ‘No'” drug quote, years before Nancy Reagan: “I’m not a narc, but I can tell you that heroin is not a health food.”
“The Many Deaths of Saint Christopher” (October 7, 1967)
Neil Diamond makes a cameo, playing himself performing in an LA night club, in this early, first season episode. Always the showman, Diamond also asks the band “Hey man, do you mind if I finish the set by myself?”
- SHANNON’S DEAL
“Strangers in the Night” (April 16, 1990)
Iggy Pop did a tongue-in-cheek lounge version of “Search and Destroy” on a special two-hour episode. In an earlier episode, “Words to Music” (April 16, 1990), Pop had appeared as a rocker moonlighting as a studio singer, while Tanya Tucker played a country singer trying to stage a comeback and David Crosby played a gun-toting songwriter. Neil Young was not invited to make a cameo.
“Lifeline” (February 16, 1972)
Lou Rawls played (and performed) as “Vance Logan,” a night club singer (and a friend of Peggy’s), who gets in a jam in this 1972 episode.