Judge Jim Thomas wishes that Captain and Tennille would stay out of the private lives of muskrats; that's what the Discovery Channel is for.
It's Hats Off to 1979!
Both Daryl Dragon and Toni Tennille have strong musical backgrounds; Dragon's dad was Carmen Dragon, who not only conducted the Hollywood Bowl Symphony for years, but whose definitive arrangement of "America the Beautiful" is still played by the US Marine Corps Band (The elder Dragon also composed several movie scores, including the original Invasion of the Body Snatchers. Toni Tennille's father Frank sang (under the name Clark Randall) with a number of big bands, including Bob Crosby's Bobcats. Both Daryl and Toni had extensive musical training growing up (they show off that classical heritage in their second number). Both had extensive performing experience before they met—Dragon played keyboards and did arrangements for the Beach Boys in the early 70s (it was Mike Love who gave the Dragon the nickname "Captain"). Toni also played piano for the Beach Boys, but also did a lot of vocal work, including background vocals on Pink Floyd's The Wall and Elton John's "Don't Let the Sun Go Down on Me."
In 1975, Captain and Tennille (Note for purists: It's "Captain and Tennille," not "The Captain and Tennille) exploded on the music scene with their cover of Paul Anka's "Love Will Keep Us Together." Toni Tennille had a rich, sexy voice, and a remarkable stage presence, while her husband Daryl Dragon (the Captain) had keyboard chops somewhere between Billy Joel and Keith Emerson. It wasn't long before television came calling; the Sonny and Cher Comedy Hour finished its initial run in 1974, and the powers that be thought that Captain and Tennille could just step into that same basic format and hit the ground running. Unfortunately, the duo didn't really like the standard variety show format, mainly because it emphasized sketch comedy over music. At the end of the season they asked to be released from their contract. They followed up with a series of specials: Captain and Tennille in New Orleans (1977), Captain and Tennille in Hawaii (1978), and Captain and Tennille Songbook (1979). One of the interesting things about these specials is that they had less and less in the way of comedy bits. By the time we get to this, the last special, there was nothing but the music-which was what the couple had wanted all along.
All three of these specials are now available on DVD thanks to Retroactive Entertainment, but for now, we'll just look at the last special, Songbook.
Facts of the Case
Take your standard variety show, remove all the comedy bits, and that's what you have in the Captain and Tennille Songbook. There's a little talk setting up each song, but that's it.
What you get is:
"You Never Done It Like That"—Captain and Tennille: A
typical late 70s pop song, with over the top lighting and special effects.
The show moves through several musical styles-jazz, country, and blues-but for each style they had a musical guest who was more than just popular; they were all masters of the music. Each guest got a solo, and then a song with Captain and/or Tennille.
Ella Fitzgerald was in her early 60s when this was made-not that you'd notice it from her voice. Her duet with Toni is impressive; it's a medley of several classic torch songs. The arrangements gives both singers opportunities to shine, and Toni holds her own sitting to one of the greatest vocalists the world has ever seen. You can see-and to an extent, hear-Toni working on hitting the notes, telling herself, "Holy crap, I'm singing with Ella Fitzgerald please God don't let me screw up." Ella, on the other hand, doesn't have to think about it-singing comes so naturally to her, just like breathing. Part of it's a matter of talent (nothing against Toni, mind you, but this is Ella Fitzgerald we're talking about), but part of it is likely experience as well. It would be interesting to pick up one of Toni's recent jazz albums and see how her voice has matured.
You don't hear much about Glen Campbell these days, but in the 60s and 70s, he was a megastar, with a string of hits, a couple of movies, and a television show of his own to his credit. He got his start as one of the most coveted session guitar players in the industry, and you get a good sense of his musical chops in the two songs here. The only real distractions in this sequence are Campbell's sideburns, which resemble nothing so much as divots made by an exceptionally drunk golfer. The first song, "Feel Like a Man," was written by Toni, and the arrangement drops it somewhere between country and blues. I don't listen to that much country music, but this stuff sounds pretty good.
Daryl stayed mostly in the background, so it's only fitting that they finally give him a chance to shine—and what better way than to perform with THE blues legend, B.B. King. The commentary track notes that at the time, King didn't feel comfortable playing on a television soundstage (This was his first performance for a network show). So they built a mockup of a blues bar in the studio, brought in an audience, even gave the audience hard liquor (Daryl comment that you just can't have blues without alcohol) and went to town. For me, this section is easily the highlight of the disc, particularly w/ Daryl accompanying on piano and on a Hammond B3 (one of the great keyboards of all times). Daryl even attempts to sing the blues, with decidedly mixed results-he says going in that he's been happy all his life, so how can he possibly sing the blues?
Between the guest acts are various songs performed by C&T. The songs themselves are good, but the staging undercuts things a bit (see Rebuttal Witnesses).
Note: The "Acting" score has been changed to a "Music" score, and reflects the quality of the performances.
Video has been cleaned and/or enhanced a fair amount. There are no obvious blemishes or defects; however, there are a number of long shots in which details just blur. After a few viewings, though, I'm starting think that many of the problems are the results of the lighting used in those shots. Based on some of Toni's comments on her wardrobe (by the great Bob Mackie), some of the finer details just don't show up; in one case, a dress I thought was a simple, elegant, white linen dress was apparently covered with beadwork (a Mackie trademark). Again, it's probably more a limitation of the source material than a bad job of restoration.
The special was originally recorded (28 years ago) in mono, making any kind of multi-channel remastering a difficult task at best (read that, "exercise in futility"). But they do make a noble effort. On the plus side, the sound is magnificently crisp and clear. That said, even with headphones you really don't get true stereo imaging. The surround mix manages to expand the sound field, confining the lyrics mainly to the center channel, but again, it's more of a simulated surround rather than true surround. One nice thing about the surround mix is that the surround imaging is different for each set. It's not a big thing, but it reflects the love and care that was put into the remastering.
The commentary track sounds as though the couple were just plopped in front of a TV with little or no preparation; it's very spontaneous and fun to hear. There's not a whole lot of depth, but they have very fond memories of the special and that comes through clearly. Toni gushes about being able to sing with Ella Fitzgerald-and who wouldn't? Daryl was always a bit more laid back that Toni, but he was clearly psyched about playing with B.B. King-again, who wouldn't?
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Glen Campbell's sideburns. Dear God in heaven.
The staging of the songs of the guests are pretty simple and keep the focus on the music. But several of the C&T songs get a little out of control, and the music suffers as a result. The opening number, "You Never Done It Like That," is a classic example of late 70s overproduced musical numbers. Some clever lighting and a highly mirrored floor make it appear that she's standing on a small island of gold in the middle of space. An excess of backlighting washes out Toni's face somewhat, and right about the time you've adjusted to the view, Daryl-playing a keyboard-comes floating in, circles Toni, and flies off stage again. Swear to God.
The second problem song, "Good Enough," has a nice, near-funk beat going for it, clever lyrics, and a sexy, sexy delivery by Toni. There's a certain amount of "choreography"—Toni comments that she simply cannot dance, so the choreography mainly consisted of her moving from one pose to another on a chair (Most of said poses are thoughtfully designed to show off her very long, very nice legs). So far, so good. But then the guy in the video processor booth gets out of control, and we're treated to multiple images of Toni receding into the distance, and then multiple images in a honeycomb pattern for that bug-eyed effect. It was cutting edge for the time, but it get's old. Toni's commentary for this song is a hoot.
A slightly different problem plagues "The Good Songs." The song is basically about having to perform when you're having a bad day. They try to stage it as a little vignette, but the pacing just doesn't make any sense-after some back stage stuff establishing Toni's sad mood (while the opening verse plays), she goes on stage, sings the chorus, comes right back off stage, has her hair touched up for a moment, then goes back on for the finish. I can see what they were trying to do, but the execution gets a little confusing. The music is pop blended with spiritual, and Toni just sells the hell out of it. (The more I work on this review, the more I convince myself to get one of her recent albums. That's a pretty good recommendation for the DVD right there.)
All three songs reflect typical 70s-style production values, which can basically be summed up by saying "Look at my new toys!" It makes the songs appear more dated than they really are, distracting the viewer from the song. I didn't really appreciate "Good Enough" until I listened to it without the video.
As a loyal graduate of The University of Alabama, I really shouldn't be saying all these nice things about Toni Tennille-she graduated from Auburn (and dated my uncle-go figure). Tragic school ties notwithstanding, this is a solid disc. It's a must for fans of C&T or just of Toni, but anyone with fond memories of that bygone musical era should give it a spin as well.
Good enough for a Not Guilty verdict.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Retroactive Entertainment
• Commentary with Daryl Dragon and Toni Tennille
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