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"There will be other unforgettable decades in the future, but a decade like the '60s is something that comes along only once in a lifetime. The tunnel is dark and mysterious, but at the end is a gold mine. A rock and roll gold mine. And the treasure is ours to share."
Casey Kasem, the eternally young king of pop radio and pastel v-neck sweaters, takes us on a whirlwind tour of '60s rock and roll. But this bland series of documentaries produced in the '80s is far from groovy.
Facts of the Case
The Sixties features performances of:
• White Rabbit (Jefferson Airplane)
The Soul Years features performances of:
• I Feel Good (James Brown)
The San Francisco Sound features performances of:
• Domino (Van Morrison)
The British Invasion features performances of:
• Delta Lady (Joe Cocker)
Elvis: The Echo Will Never Die
Full disclosure: I was born in 1972 and, therefore, I am no authority on 1960s culture. Oh sure, I understand the era in very general terms. I'm aware that it was during the '60s that young people suddenly woke up and realized all was not right in the United States. I also understand they expressed their anger and disillusionment through music. Such a tumultuous period should make for a fascinating documentary, yes? Unfortunately for fans of '60s music and culture, Casey Kasem's Rock 'n' Roll Goldmine offers only a weak examination of the era and inexplicably spreads it out over five discs.
Goldmine flits and floats from one pop icon to the next, presenting excerpts of the icons performing their signature songs. It's a passable Who's Who of '60s music legends, but has nothing revelatory to say about the artists or their music. Typical observation from Kasem: "There was a rebellious sound in '60s rock that every band carried." You don't say. Thank you, Casey, but I already knew that. Now explain to the uninitiated where this rebelliousness sprang from and how it fueled and was fueled by the nation's anger toward "the establishment." And while you're at it, explain who the establishment was.
What's most frustrating about the set is that it occasionally tricks us into thinking it's going to dig deep into its material. Performance clips are interspersed with news clips of Vietnam, the Kennedys, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and civil rights protests. The series obviously wants to call attention to some of the social and political factors that had a hand in shaping the music, but then it resorts to pelting us with silly and unenlightening sound bites (Kasem on soul music: "What is soul? Don't ask. Just listen.")
Another major misstep that boggled my mind is the lack of attention given to The Beatles, without a doubt the most influential music sensation to come out of the '60s. The group is given a token nod on the disc The '60s, but only in a fluffy interview that lasts less than two minutes. Quentin Tarantino taught us that there are two types of people in the world: Elvis people and Beatles people. Evidently the makers of Rock 'n' Roll Goldmine weren't aware of this, because The Beatles are given short shrift while Elvis Presley is treated to an entire disc.
I can hear the legions of Elvis fans out there squealing in delight already. Well, hold your horses, because this disc is hardly worth a King's ransom. At less than 50 minutes, it doesn't allow for much time to dig very deep, and there's nothing here that hasn't been reported a thousand times before. It cruises through Presley's childhood and early career before spending an unnecessary chunk of time on his films. Finally, it rolls into his late-career performances in Las Vegas and Hawaii. Along the way, we hear from such luminaries as Sammy Davis, Jr., Tom Jones, and Ursula Andress (looking absolutely frightening). This tribute has all the complexity and insight of an E! True Hollywood Story expose.
If the other four discs succeed at all, it's strictly because of the power, charisma, and magnetism of the artists themselves. Lady Soul Aretha Franklin barreling through "Respect." Janis Joplin cranking out "Try (Just a Little Bit Harder)." Jim Morrison leading The Doors through the eerie and controlled "People are Strange." James Brown slipping and sliding all over the dance floor during "I Feel Good." Watching some of these masters perform is like taking a crash course in how to mesmerize an audience. Not all of the performances are up to the same standard, though. In fact, many of the clips feature the artists lip-synching to their music on teen dance programs.
All five episodes of Casey Kasem's Rock 'n' Roll Goldmine are presented in their original full screen formats, and they look as good as they did when they aired on television back in the mid '80s, but that's not saying much. Many of the old black and white performance clips show a lot of grain, but, because of their age, I suppose that's to be expected. Audio options are Dolby Digital 5.1 and Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo. Clearly, neither option is going to give your system much of a workout, but for this type of program, they work fine. The set does not include subtitles or any extras.
While a few gold nuggets can be found here and there, this Goldmine is mostly a bust. At a list price of around $60, this set is not worth the purchase even for those wanting to simply dip their toes into the '60s music culture. Instead, I would recommend using the money to beef up your collection of '60s music.
For trying to pass off this chunk of pyrite as a gold mine, Casey Kasem is found guilty of fraud.
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