The Old Grey Whistle Test

DVDisc

Phases and Stages

The Old Grey Whistle Test

(BBC Video) Already staggered by scandal, the BBC has been dealt a crippling blow in the revelation that The Old Grey Whistle Test DVD is devoid of indexed chapter stops. With 28 performances spread over 21/2 hours of live, in-the-studio riches from the empire's vaults, it'd be most civilized to know exactly what segment number corresponds to Ronnie Van Zandt pushing guitarists Rossington and Collins center stage during Lynyrd Skynyrd's 1975 soar through "Freebird." Curtis Mayfield's silken, sadly timeless "We Gotta Have Peace," the "highlight of the program's history" according to one VJ, is easy to repeat (again 'n' again), coming directly after Elton John's solo piano serenade "Tiny Dancer" and Alice Cooper's peak-era opener "Under My Wheels." Cueing up Captain Beefheart or Lowell George middisc is hit (Edgar Winter Group's lurching "Frankenstein") and miss (Roxy Music). Airing from 1971 to 1987, The Old Grey Whistle Test is no less a treasured musical archive as, say, the Ed Sullivan show, but like the 9-DVD Ed Sullivan's Rock 'n' Roll Classics, its crown jewels aren't always easily accessed. Tom Waits' somewhat self-conscious bullfrog blues bridge early-Seventies material like Bunny, Bob, and Peter's "Stir It Up" to the birth of punk and New Wave (Talking Heads, Police, Damned), XTC's spikey-haired head butt of Rita Coolidge's "Statue of Liberty" being a smashing highlight. Same goes for Deborah Harry's platinum glow and Iggy Pop's Jaggeresque preen on "I'm Bored." A one-two-three finale from the Ramones, U2, and R.E.M., whose "Pretty Persuasion" is as scary good as Michael Stipe's shoulder-length ringlets and Bill Berry's bow-tied surf beat, kills. Jagger, having an abfab hair day just prior to the release of Exile on Main Street, reappears on the disc's bonus interview pastiche, 45 minutes of undocumented (no year, no relative info) Brit courtliness. Counterpart Keith Richards, meanwhile, is having a bad heroin day on his go-round. John Lennon, circa 1975, is a marvel of candid, boyish charm for his countrymen inquisitors. Edited for domestic tastes from its 2-DVD UK counterpart (Hello? Who left Rory Gallagher on the U.S. edition?), The Old Grey Whistle Test's defects aren't life-threatening, but they are another black mark on Tony Blair's Britain.

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