25 years of pop hits.
Arista records celebrated its 25th anniversary with a television show spotlighting many of the artists who made #1 hits on their label. From '70s pop artists such as Barry Manilow to '90s artists like Puff Daddy and Whitney Houston, many got on stage to perform one or more of their hit songs, each introduced by a star of television or film. Arista has now released the show, with added footage, on DVD with an unfortunately sub-par Dolby Digital soundtrack, though the original stereo track is fine. As for the rest, it really depends on how much you like pop music. In my case…not much.
After reading the list of artists performing I had reason for trepidation, but not with the beginning. The first artist to get on stage was Carlos Santana, who has managed to show there is still great music in a man who had his first number one hit in the '60s, yet swept the Grammys last year. Moving adroitly from acoustic to electric guitars, he was the high point of the show for me. From there I would alternately show some interest or cringe depending on the next act. I won't step on too many toes by saying which is which, as that is a matter of personal taste, except that the second artist was Barry Manilow doing a medley of hits that made me want to stop right there. Being the intrepid reviewer that I am, I tried to keep an open mind and pushed on through country artist Alan Jackson, to some down home soul by Aretha Franklin, right on through to the final acts with Whitney Houston and Kenny G.
In most of these cases you like the artist or you don't. Since everything you hear are hits that were number one on the charts at one time or another, most music fans will be familiar with most of the songs. What you really need to know from me is whether the music is presented well visually and audibly. The answer to that is yes and no.
Visually the look is fine, though nothing spectacular. Colors are fine, detail is reasonably sharp; very similar to watching a show off my satellite dish. It looks better than it would if you got it over broadcast television. The soundtracks were what really surprised me. A selling point for the disc, over simply having it on tape from when it was on TV is the remixed Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack. Here I was horribly disappointed by the low level the sound was set at, and several dropouts in volume from that. Santana's numbers were mangled by dropouts in the sound during the performance. Thinking that this was truly horrible, I switched to the 2.0 track, and was amazed at how much more presence and even spaciousness the sound had. Bass response was fine on both tracks when the volume dropouts weren't present, but you had to turn the volume up several decibels to get a decent volume from the 5.1 track. I'm talking loud enough to blast me out of my chair if I switched tracks without adjusting the volume first. Didn't exactly make a comparison easy, but I did my best.
As for the show itself, it was basically Arista congratulating itself, with plenty of Hollywood there to watch. Much like presenters at the Oscars or Grammys people like Jay Leno, Kelsey Grammar, and Billy Bob Thornton would rise and announce the next star. There are 4 extra performances advertised on the disc that did not make the hour long television show.
The disc does have extras as well; including the "red carpet" pre-show footage, some behind the scenes shots, and 4 bonus performances I alluded to; including another Carlos Santana number. I suppose these would be the biggest reason to own the disc instead of relying on a tape copy from the show.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
It is perhaps unfortunate that Arista drew me as the reviewer for this disc; as I am not a pop music fan. I don't listen to MTV or even VH-1 which is more in tune with my age group, nor do I spend much time listening to radio. Just because something is number one on the charts means nothing to me. I don't believe I am narrow minded; as I like a variety of music from rock to R & B to classical and jazz. It is unfortunate for Arista that I liked very few of the acts presented; though I'm sure each made them a lot of money. That is why in the interest of fairness I'll leave it to you and your personal tastes.
If you're a pop music fan, or happen to read the song and performer list on the back jacket at the video store and it doesn't make you want to hurl, then you might give this a shot. But if you're buying it for the 5.1 soundtrack you won't be getting anything extra; in fact you should listen to it in 2 channel as it was originally presented, as it is one of those times when 2 channels is better than 5.
Arista is fined for a poor job of mixing, especially over Carlos Santana, one of the only artists I truly wanted to hear properly. But ultimately I give an acquittal for the disc as a whole; the 2 channel track and picture are fine. Barry Manilow can remain in total obscurity; at least I can hope.
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