PBS // 2010 // 80 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Clark Douglas // July 14th, 2011
Beloved stars perform the iconic songs of the decade.
Remember the 1970s? Remember all that music from the 1970s? If not, that's okay: Marvin Hamlisch remembers, and he's put together a musical extravaganza for your viewing/listening pleasure. This 2010 special gathers together a motley crew of musical figures who can best be described as, "musical artists who wrote songs you remember but who aren't doing well enough to blow off Marvin Hamlisch's PBS musical party." So basically, you get Ray Stevens, B.J. Thomas, and Freda Payne, but you don't get Elton John or The Eagles.
Part of the fun of the special is getting a chance to examine how well some of these acts are holding up after all these years. Fortunately, most fare reasonably well (even though few can be described as being in peak form). Bobby Goldsboro kicks things off with his simple, easy-going "Watching Scotty Grow" (aka the "That's m'boy," song). The members of Three Dog Night are a little strained doing their famed cover of Randy Newman's "Momma Told Me Not to Come," but the general awesomeness of the song and the undeniable energy level of the guys sell the piece.
Peaches and Herb are next on tap, and they run through an agreeable if slightly timid take on "Shake Your Groove Thing." Debby Boone's voice is in rather excellent shape on "You Light Up My Life" (which Hamlisch begrudgingly notes defeated his own "Nobody Does it Better" at the Oscars the year it was released), Jonathan Edwards does a brisk, enthusiastic take on "Sunshine" (and actively engages the crowd a bit more than many of the performers), and B.J. Thomas delivers a lackluster "Somebody Done Somebody Wrong Song."
Things get back on track with Guy & Ralna's sparkling "Just an Old-Fashioned Love Song" (somehow made more amusing by the contrast between Ralna's infectious enthusiasm and the vaguely bored look on Guy's face), though things take a more disappointing turn as Billy Joe Shaver warbles his way through "Under the Boardwalk" (he has to rely on the backup singers for quite a few of the high notes). Shaver is followed by Freda Payne, who does a splendid job on her beloved "Band of Gold."
Thomas fares better when he returns with "Raindrops Keep Fallin' on My Head" (a tune that has aged considerably better than "Somebody Done Somebody Wrong Song"), but Billy Joe Royal still seems to be straining his vocal cords on "Cherry Hill Park." Next up is a full-frame archival version of "You Don't Have to Be a Star" from Marilyn McCoo and Billy Davis, Jr., followed by Hamlisch himself performing an instrumental version of "Nobody Does it Better." Oddly, the composer suggests is both a tribute to the sexiness of James Bond and a hymn to the greatness of America. Huh. Okay, then.
Three Dog Night makes a return with a rough-sounding (yet again, giddily energetic) take on "Joy to the World" (which I still think ought to be a staple of holiday radio), followed by Debby Boone paying homage to The Carpenters with her exceptional performance of "Close to You." Ray Stevens turns in his sped-up, countrified cover of "Misty," followed by Peaches and Herb doing the gentle "Reunited." The whole affair wraps up with Hamlisch offering an instrumental of "The Way We Were" and the entire group joining Ray Stevens in a grand rendition of "Everything is Beautiful."
Hamlisch makes a solid host for the proceedings, though he tends to talk about himself a bit much and tosses out a few groan-worthy bits of pandering to the aging crowd ("You can actually understand the lyrics to all of these songs!"). Still, his commentary is mostly brief and to-the-point, keeping the focus on the musical performances at all times.
The video is strong throughout, though some of the archival clips are very rough-looking. Detail is solid, blacks are deep and the colors are well-defined. Audio is more significant on a release like this, though that's also the problem area of this disc: either the acoustics in the performing center of choice aren't that great or the folks who recorded the special aren't among the best in the business. Many of the tunes sound a little muddy, and there's often not enough balance between the assorted elements. The spare, gentle arrangements (such as "You Light Up My Life") tend to fare better than the large-scale numbers (such as "Shake Your Groove Thing"). The only extras on the disc are a handful of bonus musical performances from some of the same players.
While Marvin Hamlisch Presents the 70's: The Way We Were is of more value as cultural sentiment than as an actual musical performance, it's nonetheless a very pleasant way to pass 80 minutes.
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Scales of Justice
* 1.78:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
* English (CC)
Running Time: 80 Minutes
Release Year: 2010
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Bonus Performances