Beat Beat Beat

I caught an episode of Beat Beat Beat last night, the magnificent German music series from the latter half of the Sixties, on Sky Arts, which is becoming one of my favourite television channels (if only for the Onion News Network, which is a thing of brilliance). Seriously, just this week, they’ve shown Cream’s Disraeli Gears on Classic Albums; Kelly Jones from Stereophonics is next on The Ronnie Wood Show; and Michael Morpurgo is talking War Horse with Steven Spielberg on The Book Show.

Anyway, it was a performance from the Jimi Hendrix Experience recorded on 29th May 1967, the trio in all their frilly, floral finery; bassist Noel Redding in dark sunglasses, drummer Mitch Mitchell with very large hair and Jimi, playing the guitar with his teeth. The teenage audience of beatniks trying to look like Art Garfunkel, some dancing, the majority awkwardly shuffling from one foot to the other in their select zone of a dance floor surrounded by bleachers. It’s priceless.

Here’s more than just a taste of it: a certain ‘Hey Joe’ followed by ‘Purple Haze’, I’m sure you know them well.

Beat Beat Beat ran from January 1966 until February 1969, 26 gloriously crisp black-and-white episodes in all, shot in Hamburg and produced by the Frankfurt Hessischer Rundfunk network. The show was also broadcast on the US Armed Forces Radio network. Apart from a few early episodes, the memorable host was the late Mal Sondock, a cheery Texan DJ who’d slip between German and English without releasing his near-permanent grin, later replaced by Charlie Hickman.

To think of all the music programmes from the time (Ready Steady Go!, Shindig, Hullabaloo), I still think the two from Germany – Beat Beat Beat and Beat-Club– were the best. Needless to say, you can find loads of evidence to support or counter this claim on YouTube. May I recommend memorable performances by The Kinks, The Spencer Davis Group and The Move (featuring a clean-shaven and sore-throated Roy Wood).

Was Top of the Pops ever this good, and I’m thinking specifically of the Sixties? Sure, in its Seventies heyday, when the Collective Consciousness Society version of Led Zeppelin’s ‘Whole Lotta Love’ was its theme tune, it pulled in an impressive 15 million viewers a week. And I know they weren’t the only ones doing it, but the miming and backing tracks were much mocked and too many musicians, frankly, took the you-know-what (drummers drumming the air with their backs to their kit, guitarists wearing boxing gloves, power cables draped atop keyboards to reveal, as if they were surprising anyone, that they weren’t plugged in). Famously, the much-loved DJ and presenter John Peel even pretended to play mandolin on a performance of ‘Maggie May’ by Rod Stewart and The Faces.

More importantly, most shamefully, the insane BBC policy of deleting old programmes, something they did until 1978, means that almost all of the first decade of Top of the Pops’ recorded output has been lost for ever. In fact, of the first 500 episodes, recorded and broadcast between 1964 and 1973, apparently only 20 complete recordings remain, and – brace yourselves for the shock of disappointment – only four of those are from the 1960s. Remove the names of the Beatles and Rolling Stones from the show’s list of big-name attractions to even things out a bit, for many of the very brightest stars never cast their golden glow across those Beat Beat Beat bleachers, and for having the good sense to cherish the recordings and not only archive them for the sake of posterity (damn it, BBC), thus brightening someone’s dull evening 45 years later and thereby providing the inspiration to prompt other music lovers to reminisce and research, to bring forth their favourite clips and to demand with a stamped foot no less that all these glorious programmes – such as Musikladen and Old Grey Whistle Test – be repeated all across the world, all the time, on VH1, like they used to be, Germany wins hands down. Give me Beat Beat Beat over Top of the Pops any day of the week.

Although I’m not convinced that many young and vibrant acts will be delighting new listeners 45 years from now in the way that Hendrix still can, let us urge well-meaning musicians to stop faffing around with ostentatious, over-produced music promos and haul their capable backsides into a television studio, usher in some kids to shuffle about gormlessly but with good intentions (turtle neck sweaters can be provided at modest cost if they want them) to offer if only the pretence of live music to future generations. You know it makes sense.

25 comments

  1. Simon J

    Sky Arts has always been a channel of choice for me too. They show excellent festivals like the Isle of Wight, Hard Rock Calling and the sort.

    And the brilliant showings of P.U.L.S.E and Classic Albums: DSOTM, are always worthy watching…!

    Happy Days
    Simon J

  2. Taki

    … I didn’t know that about BBC’s policy and I almost can’t believe that bureaucrats went so far. 🙁

    Anyway, I’ve enjoyed some of those shows (Beat Beat Beat and Beat Club) as they are repeated constantly (BTW, some of the rare occasions when repetitions make sense). I especially recall one show with Eric Clapton wearing a strange jacket but playing very cool…

    I do think that Jools Holland’s show will achieve a similar status, if it hasn’t yet. We don’t have anything similar nowadays here in Germany, so this round goes to Britain. 😉

    Best regards

    Taki

    • FEd

      A great shame, isn’t it? To think of the number of significant Top of the Pops performances and their tremendous cultural value, recordings erased to save space and money. I’m sure there were more sensible ways for the BBC to save money. I’m not sure which odious presenters claimed bumper salaries back then for peddling the same old tired views year after year. I would try to find out if I could only get the giant, flashing words ‘Top’ and ‘Gear’ from my mind.

      Amusingly, lost tapes turn up from time to time, at car boot sales and village fêtes, and the BBC opportunists fall over themselves in their haste to release them on DVD (as was the case with some missing episodes of Doctor Who recently).

    • Taki

      In my opinion, magnetic tapes came directly from Pandoras’ box (along with commercials). A very easy to handle medium, but so easy to destroy! It loses its content as time passes without any external influence. I had to throw away all cassette tapes of my youth, and was lucky still being able to digitalise some videos of my family before those tapes get lost, too. And now here I am: lots of gigabytes of precious memories stored … on a magnetic disc. 🙁

      At least backing up files preserves the originals, since a digital copy is actually a clone of the original file. I wish everyone realises how important it is backing up personal data, since one hard disc crash can mean the loss of a life’s information.

      Taki

  3. Thomas O'Connell

    I loved watching Hullabalo, Shindig and even the Smother Brothers show, they had the greatest artists at that time like the Rolling Stones, Dave Clark Five, The Animals, The Who and so many other great groups. The 60s were great.

    Oh by the way, Pink Floyd’s Wish You Were Here special will air on Classic VH1 this Saturday 3 of March at 6pm for the first time. So if you don’t have anything to do please check it out.

    Take Care,
    Thomas

  4. Pete - Coventry

    Sad to say that I dont have Sky TV but I do remember Beat Club.

    They re ran an awful lot of the shows on one of the BBC channels (I think it was) during the 80s and very late at night/early morning.

    I was an avid watcher of it and able to because, unlike the UK, the Germans did not re use the tapes of their classic recordings.

  5. Michèle

    It’s of course nothing compared to the brilliant German Beat Beat Beat or the legendary British Top of the Pops but I discovered while visiting the Pink Floyd exhibition a few years ago at la Cité de la Musique in Paris (‘Pink Floyd Interstellar’) that a Rock/Pop TV series, called Bouton Rouge had been broadcast weekly here too in the 60’s.

    Pink Floyd were the guests on 24 February 1968, they played ‘Astronomy Domine’ and a very rare ‘Flaming’ (at 3:25), ‘Set The Controls For The Heart Of The Sun’ and ‘Let There Be More Light’.

    • tim_c

      Yes – as Taki has also said we can be thankful for the Jools Holland show which is considerably better than Top of the Pops ever was.

      Its nearer cousin, Old Grey Whistle Test, deserves a mention although it eventually lost its way when “New Wave” came along and ruffled poor old “Whispering Bob’s” feathers … by the way isn’t Bob Harris the model for one of Viz’s Modern Parents?

      It seems to me a bit harsh to be so down on the BBC for not retaining archives … at the time nobody may have felt that future generations would want to see mimed versions of Top 40 songs in an artificial studio environment … after all it is the British Broadcasting Corporation and not the National Archive. Do we bemoan the National Theatre for not filming and archiving its stage productions which are also lost to anyone who didn’t actually watch the event at the time?

      I’m hopeful that we will continue to get a reasonable amount of music performed on TV – including quite a lot of festival coverage during the summer – as with the demise of the CD etc. it is more and more necessary for bands to earn their crust by playing concerts, which is not actually an entirely bad thing … unfortunately for us David does not look like he’s running out of cash any time soon though.

  6. Jo

    I used to enjoy Beat Beat Beat and will search YouTube this weekend for clips. I seem to remember it was broadcast on VH1 in the UK in the nineties, maybe around 1996 or so. I didn’t know it can now be found on Sky Arts, but from searching the listings it seems it’s only late at night.

    I remember VH1 showed the Ed Sullivan Show around the same time too, another that I enjoyed. I actually liked VH1 back then but would never watch it now.

  7. NewYorkDan

    I read the newspaper this morning and there was an article that happened to use the word “AZIMUTH” to mean the direction that a sound comes from. Makes sense, right?

    My new daughter loves music! I’ve played her everything from Miles Davis to The Rolling Stones to Mozart, she loves it all! Was all set to play David Gilmour for her tonight, but she fell asleep instead. Speaking of David, I read today that he’s in France working on his next record. Does anyone know if this is true?

  8. Rudders - Toronto

    Did you know…

    That the Fed’s favourite band, Status Quo hold a record with 106 appearances on Top of the Pops.

    🙂

  9. xvince1

    There’s two things I very like in Jimi, beyond his trousers: Marshalls and haircut… (Yes, I know, the real question is: what can we dislike in Jimi… except his name in the 27 Club?)

  10. frank par

    Good one Fed. Jimi, original licks and rhythm to boot. Those people in the audience had no clue to what they had witnessed. Wow.

    Reminds me of the Jeff Healey days when he amazed us simpletons, LOL.

  11. Warmolt Lameris

    Dear David,

    coming weekend we’ll travel from Lima, Peru, to Buenos Aires. We are coming over to meet The (and our) Wall… 9 concerts, 9 times “Comfortably Numb”. Can that be without your voice, your guitar, without you? And with us, all together, nearly half a million waiting for you?

    Together with my wife Veronica, my neighbours we will be there in the River Plate Stadium, Saturday evening, March 10. We hope you are there!

    South America is not London, we know, but here also we love you.

    Un abrazo fuerte (Big hug) from Lima, Peru,

    Warmolt Lameris
    Lima, Peru

  12. Lola

    I’m probably way behind the rest of the world but I’ve just heard the jazz band Bad Plus’s (minimal blend of piano, bass, drums and vocals) version of ‘Comfortably Numb’ (For All I Care) – vocals by Wendy Lewis. I tend to prefer Bad Plus’s original work but this cover is incredible, with its savage combination of competing time signatures, orderly chaotic piano (reminiscent of Mike Garson, Les Dawson and Keith Tippet) and judicious use of silence. I think Jim would have approved.

  13. Darnall42

    I’ve just bought the full series of Beat Club and Musikladen on DVD (from an Ioffer seller). 2 awesome series, and these Beat Beat Beat snippets on Sky Arts I’m gonna have to hunt them down too. These German series have 1000 times more energy than the few clips and surviving episodes from the sixties TOTP shows.

  14. Beppo the Mime

    My favorite episodes of Beat Beat Beat has to be the Small Faces and a very “amped up” Steve Marriot feeling “nice” … nuff said! Also, I believe the Yardbirds were on that show, too, with Jimmy Page.