Blu-ray Commentary: “Go Go Mania (aka Pop Gear)”

Go Go Mania represents a first for me in the commentary department as I brought fellow music journalist and classic rock expert Jeff Slate into the fold. After I agreed to do the commentary for Kino Lorber, I realized that despite my general knowledge of rock music I needed someone with more insight into the 1960s to come onboard with me. You have likely read Jeff’s byline in Esquire, Rock Cellar, The Daily Beast, and other publications; he has interviewed everyone from Ringo Starr to Jimmy Page to Tom Petty. I’ve known him for a few years and thought he would make a great collaborator on this project.

This early music video collection (pre-MTV!) was shot at the end of 1964 and released at the beginning of 1965, and beyond the two live Beatles clips from 1963 that bookend the film, it features staged studio performances by a variety of rock and pop artists that represented the early days of the British Invasion. This was an unusual project for Jeff as well because a lot of the artists he really loves from England broke big in 1965, although his extensive knowledge of British popular culture still enabled him to add in a lot of great details as we analyzed clips from The Honeycombs, The Animals, the Nashville Teens, the Spencer Davis Group, and numerous other artists. I did a lot of research into this era, and the two of us were able to riff off of each other fluidly and easily. We recorded this commentary in one nonstop take.

Hosted by the late Jimmy Savile, Go Go Mania (known as Pop Gear in the UK) represents an interesting time in British rock. This was just before The Who, The Rolling Stones, and The Kinks broke big and the British Invasion became a lot less polite and a lot more raucous. There are some memorable songs in this collection, and others that are not so timeless, but I think the film is worth checking out for enthusiasts of music from that place and era. The film was directed by Frederic Goode and shot by Oscar-winning cinematographer Geoffrey Unsworth who worked on my favorite film 2001: A Space Odyssey and whose final project was Superman in 1978. Go Go Mania is a quick watch at 70 minutes, and then you can check out our commentary to learn a lot more about the artists and the time.

The following is review coverage for our commentary work on Go Go Mania. We got a lot of props for this one. I will add more as other reviews surface. Click on the logo to go to each review site directly.

“I know I’m among my people when Bryan Reesman and Jeff Slate tear off on a tangent about how The Eagles represent the death of rock ‘n roll. Their commentary together is terrific, both in the rapport they have with one another as well as their encyclopedic knowledge of all things rock. Seemingly off the tops of their heads, they can cite other films and TV programming incorporating this same footage of The Beatles’ 1963 Royal Command Performance. Reesman and Slate chart the etymology of the phrase “pop gear”, point out the connections that Beatles manager Brian Epstein had to so many of the acts on the bill here, delve into the stripped-down rock drumming styles on that side of the pond, and note how these well-dressed musicians want to be Cliff Richards and the Shadows rather than resemble a certain fab foursome.

And the two of them unleash such a wealth of trivia: Fleetwood Mac’s Christine McVie performing in a different incarnation of The Rockin’ Berries, Honey Lantree from The Honeycombs perhaps being the first female rock drummer, the rarity of American-made guitars being in the hands of British bands at the time, and that the guitarist with the deep voice with The Spencer Davis Group is none other than a fifteen-year-old Steve Winwood. If you pick up this Blu-ray disc and don’t give its commentary a spin, you’re doing it wrong.”

“Besides the remastered visuals, Kino Lorber has also invited entertainment journalist Bryan Reesman and songwriter/journalist Jeff Slate to provide audio commentary, to which I highly recommend listening after your first pass at the flick. While I wasn’t always sure which one of them was speaking, it’s a great conversation – they both know their stuff and point out a wealth of fascinating details.

Reesman and Slate fill out their chat with some fun riffing on The Eagles representing the death of rock and roll and a shout out to director Frederic Goode, who pulled this whole thing together on likely a shoestring budget. One of them also has a fine last word by stating, ‘This is what MTV was going to become, which is remarkable when you think of it.’ Indeed – and a fun watch, but you’ll probably skip through to the good stuff if you watch it again without the commentary.”

“Discussing the racial glare on the disc’s audio commentary track, entertainment journalist/author Bryan Reesman and songwriter/music journalist/author Jeff Slate wonder aloud just how many black pop acts there were in England at the time. This is left as a question for further research, although the likely correct assumption of ‘not very many’ is reached. Reesman and Slate concentrate almost exclusively on the musicians on screen as they come and go throughout. They get around to admitting that research on the origins and intentions of this film itself proved futile, meaning the ‘why’ or ‘how’ of such a small-scale television-esque compilation of proto-MTV ‘music videos’ came about is not to be had. The wealth of details about the artists themselves, however, more than makes up for the few details that they are unable to resolve. This is a very listenable and informative commentary.”

“Kino Lorber has two new music-themed releases out this month. The first is a true music release, Go Go Mania, a music film from the 1960s that features no less than The Beatles (performing just a couple of songs) as well as other acts like Herman’s Hermits, The Animals, The Spencer Davis Group, and more. In just over an hour, we get to hear pop-rock ditties from 16 different acts, all in color. These are sort of like early music videos, with each act on a staged set-up, singing with no microphones and unplugged guitars and such. The Beatles’ two live numbers that bookend the film are clearly add-ons. There are a number of unknown acts and songs, making this something of a mixed bag, but it’s a pretty interesting experience nonetheless. Following that, we have That’ll Be The Day… Both of these films are making their Blu-ray debuts, and both come with commentary tracks by music journalist Bryan Reesman (along with Jeff Slate on Go Go Mania), who does numerous commentaries for Kino Lorber and has become one of my favorite commentarians. Fans of the music and culture of the late ‘50s and early ‘60s would do well to check these releases out.”

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