Saturday, March 2, 2013

The Most Horrible Experience Of My Life

It happened to me again just recently, and I know that it happened to some of you, too. It's horrible, but I think it's important that what talk about it: I was watching The French Connection, and I heard The Three Degrees singing "Everybody's Going to the Moon."

So bad! At the time The French Connection was released it was the movie's score by Don Ellis which raised somewhat of an uproar. The Three Degrees were one of the few musical interruptions, over the course of the entire movie, of Don Ellis' work, which was controversial among film folk at the time. People found it very harsh. The normally quite sensible Pauline Kael got a little carried away and called Ellis' soundtrack an integral part of the movie's effort to effect a fascist overthrow of the world's democracies. Kael used the term fascist to describe two movies which were released around the same time in 1971, The French Connection and also Dirty Harry. In the case of Dirty Harry I can see her point: the title character is a deliberately-glamourized version of a basically lawless vigilante employed temporarily by the police who is held back from ridding society of a cartoon version of a hideous villain by cartoon versions of impossibly misguided liberals. In The French Connection both the criminals and the police are much more lifelike, and if there's one thing fascist fiction isn't, it's realistic. The star of Dirty Harry went on to be a horribly-overrated movie director, a jazz musician who through decades of very hard work went from very poor to mediocre with occasional flashes of not bad (Yes, that's him singing half of the title track at the end of Gran Torino), a Republican mayor of Carmel, California and a nationwide punchline babbling at an empty chair at the 2012 Republican National Convention (Like I said, fascist fiction is never realistic), while the star of The French Connection managed to maintain a mostly-liberal reputation despite one collaboration with America's most horribly-overrated director and a long-term voiceover deal with a nationwide hardware-store chain. Anyway, Kael spent some time describing each movie's score, seeming to like Lalo Schifrin's work on Dirty Harry -- "he works on you," she remarked, employing the metaphor of police brutality, as does the band name The Three Degrees (like "the third degree") -- somewhat more than Ellis' soundtrack for The French Connection.

Well, I dare to disagree with the great Kael on that point, except that it's really not daring at all anymore. Schifrin's score sounds much more dated and corny 42 years on than Ellis'. Ellis' score no longer sounds like deliberate acoustical torture. Ellis was way ahead of his time, our ears have done a lot of catching up in the meantime. Far from sounding harsh, resuming right after The Three Degrees are done singing "Everybody's Going to The Moon," Ellis' brass and strings are downright soothing.

Not that most any sound wouldn't have been soothing coming right after that song. It's so bad! It's stuck in my head and it's making me sick! Each one of the Degrees, portraying the entertainment in the bar where Popeye and Smoky first spot some of the hoods involved in smuggling all that smack, wears a sequined dress in a different primary or secondary color. This and some superficial aspects of their music lead me to believe that they were attempting to ride the coattails of Diana Ross and the Supremes, one of the most popular bands in the world at the time. But the Degrees were no Supremes. They were just -- hold on. I just found out that The Three Degrees are the band that recorded "When Will I See You Again," the huge R&B hit which was released in 1974. I love that record. (Maybe you kids haven't heard it, but it's the one David Carradine calls his favorite soul record from the 70's in Kill Bill vol 2). I wouldn't go that far, because there are just a huge number of great soul records made in the 70's -- if you're not familiar with any of them, maybe the best introduction would be Boogie Nights, the movie about the adult-entertainment industry in the Valley in the 70's -- but it's wonderful, smooth and full of heart and style. This just breaks this post in half. What am I gonna do now?

Well, I stand by assessment of The Three Degrees' performance in The French Connection. Terrible, terrible, terrible, terrible! I was going to say that they were one of the bazillion fake rock and R&B bands you can see in Hollywood movies until well into the 70's, whose music is grotesque and strange because it was the conception of Hollywood music pros who didn't understand or like rock or R&B. I was going to place them in the same genre as Frank Sinatra and Tony Bennett and Count Basie, who didn't understand the new music taking over their market shares beginning in the mid-50's, and whose main impression of the new stuff was that it was very loud and shrill, and so they fought back by amplifying their own music more and partially electrifying it in some cases, and the results weren't necessarily terrible, misguided as these efforts to adapt may have been, because Sinatra and Bennett and Basie and a lot of others in their genre, whatever one might want to call it, had lots and lots of talent, and i was going to say that in the case of The Three Degrees, the talent wasn't there, which left you with loud and shrill, and give you a terrifying glimpse into the lives of people who just didn't get the new loud music at all. I was going to say things such as that those sequined dressed didn't make The Three Degrees the Supremes any more than than calling The Guess Who The Guess Who made them The Who. And I was also going to say things about genre, like how Blue Öyster Cult and Grand Funk Railroad were both in the same genre but only one of them was good.

But finding out that one and the same group sang both "Everybody's Going To The Moon" and "When Will I See You Again" throws a huge wrench into all of that. Maybe The Three Degrees were simply very badly mis-recorded in The French Connection, because the person making the recording for the movie was one of those crusty old Hollywood pros who equated R&B with ear torture, and so when he was assigned to record this, surprise surprise, the recording came out sounding like torture, like Please, God, kill me now.

Be all of that as it may: we don't have to listen to it any more. When that bar scene comes we can fast-forward or hit the mute button, or change channels, or step out of the theatre into the lobby and stretch our legs, or do whatever we have to do. We'll get through this. Together.

1 comment:

  1. I NEVER EVER HEARD SUCH CRAP CONCERNING THE BEAUTIFUL LEGENDARY THE THREE DEGREES!!! THIS PERFORMANCE IS JUST AWESOME AND YOU ARE PROBABLY THE ONLY PERSON IN THE WORLD WHO SEE IT LIKE THIS. REALLY, EVERYBODY HAS AN OPINION BUT I CAN'T GO FURTHER WITHOUT A COMMENT. DURING THEIR CAREER, AND THEY STILL PERFORM (UHHH RIGHT!!), THIS TRACK WERE A HIGH POINT FOR MANY YEARS. I WILL QUOTE OTHERS TO BALANCE YOUR REVIEW...

    " These bright horns were blasting, a happy rhodes keyboard was playing, the bass line was thumping, the hi-hats were in full force, and there were these three beautiful voices singing some of the best lyrics. The girls' dresses, their hair, the music, their eyelashes, it was almost too much late 60’s goodness to be believed. The energy is infectious. The movie is amazing. But that scene ! One of the best songs Jimmy Webb has ever written, and one of the best the Three Degrees ever recorded."

    THAT IS MY OPINION AND... OF MANY THOUSANDS OF PEOPLE. THANK YOU.

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