Good beat, you can dance to it, I'd give it an 85
NBC’s freshman drama has smartly captured the turbulence of the early 60s and its impact on America. But unlike the suburban flight that was celebrated on "The Wonder Years," "American Dreams" is mired in the tensions of inner-city, inter-racial Philadelphia, a metropolis that still claimed ownership of American Bandstand. And it’s that ownership (and Dick Clark’s production of the TV series) that provides one of the show’s innovative dramatic conceits. ¶ By casting two of the main characters as Bandstand regulars, the music of the era, and especially its transitions (Girlgroups, British Invasion, Motown, et. al), have become the show’s guiding continuity (or discontinuity, if you want to nit-pick the historical accuracy of the song selections). Further, as a lure to the latest MTV generation, the producers have restaged classic Bandstand performances with modern artists, several of which are included here. This CD is a good overview of the show’s musical offerings, including s an extended (or more likely original, un-edited) version of the show’s theme song (the sensational Searchers meet the Byrds "Generation" by Tonic’s Emerson Hart), eight original hits, and six re-creations. ¶ At first, Hart’s full-length theme song seems overlong compared to the familiar, edited TV rendition, but a few spins reveals the charms of the additional lyrics and 12-string guitar interlude. The original artist hits, widely anthologized elsewhere, provide good continuity for the recreations, with highlights that include an expansive stereo mix of The Impressions’ "People Get Ready" and Otis Redding’s incendiary, soulful "That’s How Strong My Love Is." The closing electric folk-rock mix of Simon and Garfunkel’s "The Sounds of Silence" having been released in 1965, and a hit in early 1966, is misplaced here -- the straight 1964 acoustic version would have been a better fit. ¶ The re-staged hits offer a few stand-outs, chief among them India.Arie’s mesmerizing crawl through Nina Simone’s "Come Ye." The sparse accompaniment of congas and organ stabs adds terrific drama to Arie’s vocal. B2K featuring Marques Houston perform a letter-perfect take of "My Girl," which, though remarkably similar to the original, generates its own spark. Ditto for Vivian Green’s run through Brenda Holloway’s "Every Little Bit Hurts" - confident and soulful. ¶ Duncan Shiek gives a performance of "Beyond the Sea" that’s more of an actor’s play on Bobby Darin’s ring-a-ding-ding style than a singer’s cover. Stacie Orrico’s reworking of The Angels’ "My Boyfriend’s Back" is more notable for her background singers (series stars Brittany Snow and Vanessa Lengies) than for Orrico’s own performance, and weakest of the lot is Vanessa Carlton’s cover of "Wishin’ and Hopin’," which shows none of the sophistication that Dusty Springfield brought to the original. ¶ Licensing restrictions no doubt scotched several other TV performances from making the CD compilation (e.g., LeAnn Rimes, Usher, and Nick Carter). Still, this is a nice souvenir of the show’s first season, and well timed to help fans through summer withdrawal.
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