Ed Sullivan's Rock 'N' Roll Classics

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Ed Sullivan's Rock 'N' Roll Classics

(Rhino DVD) It's amusing to think that in another 20 years David Letterman's Late Show, which is taped at the Ed Sullivan Theater, might be reduced to a 9-DVD box set of its live musical performances. After all, The Dick Cavett Show was recently telescoped down to a sole DVD featuring both of Jimi Hendrix's guest spots. Television history is nothing if not reductive. "Reductive" might not be the first word that comes to mind after couching it through nearly nine hours of Ed Sullivan's Rock 'N' Roll Classics, a parade of pop music history culled from the Sunday night variety program's 22-year run. (Old "Stone Face" was canceled in 1970, though his "reallybigshoe" continued in a series of CBS specials.) "Fascinating" is a better descriptor of Rhino's latest ambitious undertaking, "frustrating" coming in a close second. Watching Elvis Presley make funny faces with his matinee-idol visage in 1956 is to understand the cultural sea change he triggered. The same goes for Buddy Holly, the Beatles, and the Rolling Stones. The luminaries of the Motown stable, most supplying live vocal magic over pre-recorded backing tracks, give a precious glimpse at an American legacy currently being revisited. Unfortunately, for every Jackie Wilson marvel, there's a novelty landmine like Dino, Desi & Billy, who were apparently muscled onto the show by Mrs. Desi Arnaz, aka Lucille Ball, who bows from the studio audience. More problematic are the sometimes-arbitrary individual disc groupings (Volume 6, "Love Songs"), the trampolining of eras in those groupings, and a glitch for which there's no excuse: repeated segments. Neither does a listing of songs appear on the box itself. Producer Andrew Solt has done a credible job of contextualizing each clip, but the snappy music/visuals wrapping around the star turns will snap viewers too. Worse still, as the Sixties progress, live time capsules like James Brown, Jerry Lee Lewis, and the Beach Boys give way to more and more lip-synced eye-rollers with wondrous stage sets. (B.J. Thomas getting drenched by "Raindrops" falling on his head is hilariously fitting.) A supplemental doc beyond the five-minute archival Sullivan interview, and 30-minute reminisce with John Moffitt, one the show's directors, would have been nice. Even then, however, any Animals appearance and the entirety of the "San Francisco Scene" segment is "fabulous."

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