on 24 June 2002
If you're British and in your late thirties/early forties you'll remember Rock Follies as one of the best programmes ever made. It's never been repeated in the UK, but after a quarter of a century it's finally out on video and dvd.
TV rarely does musicals well and the rock musical is particularly dodgy, but Rock Follies breaks all the rules. Great songs, great performers and, above all, a great script.
Howard Schuman managed to put on mainstream telly in the 70s a succession of dykes, poufs, and druggies yet make it acceptable by creating a story so compelling the nation was gripped. For once, these people are not seen as freaks but as part of the rich tapestry of life. Above all, he wrote roles for women that any actress these days would kill for.
Back in the 70s I was just caught by the story and the music. Looking back, the series is far more feminist than I remember, with the men mostly dreadful - but believably so. The politics comes out of the characters rather than being imposed on the plot.
If you've been playing the cast album for the last 25 years it comes as a pleasant surprise to find the songs in the programme are recorded live rather than mimed to the studio versions you know so well.
Though the series is a fantasy, with a budget so low even Dr Who would sneer, there is a truth here that anyone who remembers the era would recognise. This is how the 70s were and it's essential viewing for anyone wanting to know about the era.
on 22 August 2002
Was amazed just how much I remembered from the series, I have listened to the songs over and over for years but now I have seen the series they all make sense ! I was only 11 when the first series was shown (and in our house in glorious black and white)so to see the whole thing in excellent quality colour is a real treat
THE QUALITY IS AMAZING
crystal clear vision and sound .honest acting, singing and a fairly believable storyline .More so when you consider the low budget
It is presented exactly as it was first shown even down to the THAMES Ident (signature tune and expanding tower bridge) between each episode
a real gem !!!!
the interview at the end is really good giving some of the history and behind it
sit back remember and jump straight back to 1976..
on 8 January 2004
Six hours of musical theatre that paved the way for The Singing Detective, but otherwise had little influence on the way television uses music. Rock Follies' songs were story material and story commentary, delivered in the narrative reality or as fantasy asides. The theme -- the fortunes of a three-girl rock group -- was particularly suited to such an imaginative role for music in drama, but it's surprising that no other musical serials have taken the form further. Rock Follies blazed a dead-end trail ... but what a trail!
At the heart: the lyrics and script of Howard Shuman, a witty American playwright. The story arcs of the two Rock Follies series have predictable doses of cynicism about the music business, but Shuman sweetened these with humour and sympathetic characters. Shuman was later sued, along with Thames Television and the series producer Andrew Brown for developing Rock Follies without the participation of the girl group "Rock Bottom" and their manager, who'd originated the idea intending that they would star in the show. Of course, if they had, we'd have missed out on Charlotte Cornwell, Rula Lenska and Julie Covington as the Little Ladies. Since the two series of Rock Follies are really the only permanent reminders that Covington's uniquely nuanced vocal talent was coupled with fine acting and a rare stage charisma, it's a blessing the series was made as it was (and Rock Bottom, eventually, compensated). Covington's Dee dominates her scenes and the show. Lenska and Cornwell are required by the plot to be poorer singers - and they are. Lenska's character, Q, is facile and uninteresting in this series (but much better in the second), whereas Cornwell's Anna could (should) be the dramatic focus, but somehow doesn't gain our sympathies as a complex, developing, character, in the way that the relatively uncomplicated Dee does. The supporting characters -- noteably a Michael Palin lookalike journalist and a few funny commune-ists -- are stereotypes. Most speak awfully posh.
Andy MacKay of Roxy Music wrote the tunes, having fun with pastiches of Broadway Musicals, The Andrews Sisters and other genres. The best songs are those that combine Shuman's wry observations on the business with slow rock settings -- Rock Follies, On The Road.
Controversies: Sex, drugs and rock and roll. The second series had more unusual controversies, but always handled with a light touch.
Dated bits: the clothes, the haircuts, the slang, the RP speech of so many characters, the choreography. Some of the acting too: the theatrical background of the main actors betrayed by over-gesture - a lack of subtlety that you wouldn't see in more recent TV drama. The tail-end of sixties counter-culture features heavily but the drama is based on personalities so still plays well.
A very good buy. And the second series was even better.
on 14 August 2002
Whilst I wouldn't suggest anyone who wasn't around in 1976 should watch this, for spirit and achieving what it set out to do I give it full marks. The production values are typical of the period - whenever the band plays it's clear that the audience is non-existent and even when they do manage a few "extras" to look like a crowd they look more like a few individuals scattered sparingly on a small set! But the performance rise above these shortcomings that's what makes this series great. The songs are good (why else would the album have got to #1 back then?) and very much of the era. Julie Covington captures the "just-pre-punk" zeitgeist brilliantly and whilst Rula Lenska and Charlotte Cornwall's singing is not spectacular - this probably makes them more faithful to the characters they portray - and hey! they are doing a lot of this stuff "live" with no lip-synching - which, given what we were used to in terms of bad lip-synching on TOTP in those days, it is quite remarkable they didn't take what would have looked like the easier route.
Apart from the girls, the characters are two-dimensional caricatures but, in the main, stereotypes of the times - (although the environmentalist character was somewhat ahead of his time!)
Pure nostalgia, pure enjoyment, wonderful entertainment!
on 27 June 2009
I was 17 when the first series of Rock Follies aired and recall going into school full of it each week - it almost completely occupied our discussions in the months leading up to A levels, my best friend and I fought over who 'was' Dee (I always had to settle for 'being' Q) and we bought the album and played it endlessly. Series 2 came out and we felt exactly the same, writing to each other about it from our respective universities. So, I sat down with a couple of friends - who had never seen it originally - in eager anticipation of this groundbreaking 70s gem. We managed one and a half programmes before the mediocre script, silly stereotypes, pedestrian pace and embarrassing acting drove me to shout 'Enough of this drivel!' Some things stand the test of time; Rock Follies just doesn't.
on 8 August 2002
Anything which stays this strongly in the mind after more than a quarter of a century must have something going for it. In fact, one of the surprises in seeing it all again is how much of it I had remembered, both in detail and in general, both good and not so good.
Sure, it was innovative, but innovativeness in itself is rarely much of a reason for watching anything (often it's a reason for not watching, especially when innovativeness is pretty much all that's on offer), and Rock Follies has stayed in the mind for other reasons, mostly the quality of Howard Schuman's writing (not matched in every case by the performances, but, hey, this is an ensemble piece, right?).
What's clearer now than it was at the time is how theatrical it all is, and as such it probably represents one of the last examples of a stylised kind of TV drama rather than an indication of a possible way forward. I remember thinking back then that the songs were, give or take the odd memorable phrase, well, unsatisfactory, and while they haven't magically improved with time, they have settled into the context of the series as a whole.
What's also clearer now than it was then is that it's not really about the music business at all, of course, but the way it anticipated the later devlopment of the girl band phenomenon is just one aspect of the many enjoyments available.
The interviews with Howard Schuman and Andy Mackay provide lots of good background and context - though the device of having to keep clicking on the individual questions gets irritating.
But first of all it's great that the tapes have survived, and second of all that they have been made available. All of the good things here make its long overdue reissue well worth while and the less good aspects at least forgivable. As I remember it, the second series moved on quite a bit in several ways, so it's great to know that it too is on the way.
on 6 October 2011
I saw this show once in the late 70's on PBS in America. Fortunately I was able to find the soundtrack in the imports section of Peaches because I couldn't afford to get it free with (I can't remember whether it was) a $75. or $100. donation to PBS. Though I had a quality Sony turntable, repeated plays wore surface noise into the record.
At any rate, it was nice to see this again. The songs are excellent and well done, though studio versions of what appeared in the show, often with very different arrangements (such as a slow intro to "Talking Pictures", different words to "Good Behavior", harmony spots where it was unison in the show). The vocals in the show versions were also more prominent than on record.
However, when I saw this in the 70's, it was hearing the song "Get Off Of My Cloud" being played in the club scene, episode 3, which inspired me to buy the 45. That song, and also "Jack Flash", which was also originally played in the club scene have been replaced by generic rock instrumentals, after being introduced by the club DJ as "Get Off Of My Cloud" and "Jumping Jack Flash".
I half expected Devonia to turn to Spike and say, "Doesn't sound like any Stones I know!" in the DVD version.
I'd like to think Fremantlemedia Enterprises was not just being cheap, but rather that the marketing morons at Decca tried to make them pay an insane sum for the rights to the songs. If this is the case - and someone from Decca marketing is reading this - please re-read sentence 1, paragraph 3 of this review. Exposure in the series could have been a good promotional tool for selling Stones' recordings. However, upfront greed, ala children's fable with the dog with the bone seeing his reflection in the water losing the one, trying to get both - you've done a disservice to Decca, Freemantle, and the consumer.
There are only 7 reviews so far, but no one else noticed this?
on 16 November 2009
Was concerned that it might seem dated now, but shouldn't have been - it was so 'before its' time' 33 years ago that it could have been made this year! I had forgotten how good it was! Music still great - Julie Covington has one heck of a voice. Will be buying the second series as soon as!
on 15 January 2013
I was a teenager at home when I watched this original series, and I remembered it as glamourous, slightly risque and quite hard hitting. Seeing it now as a 50 something year old, I am astonished at how innocent it all was. Visually it is fairly cardboard and basic, but the girls are delightful stereotypes of the time and it has a naive charm that is missing from most equivalent series today. I am thoroughly enjoying it.
on 13 December 2013
It was a folly of me to buy this - I enjoyed it when I was 14, but TV has moved on A LOT now and it just seems gloomy and not as glitzy as I remember...to be fair I think someone who loves retro stuff will love this, but I wish I'd just left well alone and left this in my past!