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Go Go Mania!
"Pop Gear – hey, that's the name of this picture. Well, there's one thing. It doesn't really matter whether you dig it or whether you don't dig it. There's one sure thing, and that's that, in its time, pop music has given lots of pleasure to lots of people, and ever since the minuet was up to the minute did one big pop knot release big energy!"
Think Top of the Pops, only bigger! ColorColour! Widescreen! Pop Gear – or, as it was known on this side of the pond, Go Go Mania! – assembled a good many of the bands behind 1964's most colossal hits on the UK pop charts.
The British equivalent of The T.A.M.I. Show it's not; aside from the bookending live footage of The Beatles, these are basically early music videos – just a few years after that term had first been coined. It looks sensational, thanks to the artfully spare design of the sets – unique to each performer – as well as the inspired visual eye of cinematographer Geoffrey Unsworth, who soon afterwards would serve as director of photography on 2001: A Space Odyssey. There's some really striking framing, clever camera placement, handheld photography to add a sense of immediacy, and even a bit of storytelling at times, all of which surely had an impact on the music videos to come.
And this is a sensational selection of bands. Perhaps not all of their names will ring a bell on these shores, but chances are that you'll recognize more of these songs than you think. My millennial wife wasn't born until nearly a quarter-century after Go Go Mania! stormed into theaters, and she could sing along with every last word of the Lennon/McCartney composition "A World Without Love." And a number of the songs have had quite a life outside of these specific recordings. "Walk Away" had been entered into Eurovision in 1964 in its original Austrian before being covered by Matt Monro. Nirvana played a different interpretation of "Black Girl" as part of their legendary MTV Unplugged performance. And in just the past couple of years, "Have I the Right" served as the theme song for John Cleese's BBC sitcom Hold the Sunset.
The setlist strikes a wonderful balance between being cohesive yet reasonably eclectic, melding infectiously catchy guitar pop, somewhat more muscular rock, smoldering R&B, playful sax-'n-organ rock instrumentals, and even the whimsical nursery rhyme novelty track "Humpty Dumpty." Admittedly, female performers are underrepresented, and you won't see a whole lot of color – which, to be fair, rather reflects the UK pop charts at the time. The only of the acts that seems wildly out of place is balladeer Matt Monro, who comes across as being at least a decade older than he actually is, seemingly there to give the dads and mums who brought their kids to the theater something to appreciate. And the hopelessly square business suit shuffle in the second musical interlude is just...I don't even know.
And one elephant in the room is host Jimmy Savile, who introduces these songs – occasionally from just on the other side of the stage from the band. With all of the unspeakably horrible things that've emerged about Savile over the past decade, it's understandable if his presence may be a dealbreaker for some. That's certainly why reruns of the episodes of Top of the Pops he hosted are no longer in circulation. Fair warning, and do with it what you will.
Though the sight of Savile can't help but make me squirm uncomfortably, I otherwise had a blast with Go Go Mania! – a deliriously fun time capsule capturing a cross-section of guitar pop that still holds up these many decades later. I wish I could recommend this Blu-ray edition with a bit more enthusiasm, however. If you think the screenshots scattered throughout this review leave much to be desired as thumbnails, try to imagine them blown up to the size of the big screen in your living room.
Video / Audio
Back in 1965, Top of the Pops was being broadcast in black-and-white, and devotees were maybe watching it on a 25" set. That's in stark contrast to Pop Gear, as its title reads here, which was splashed across a colossally wide theatrical screen in living colour!
I can't say that the lossless audio here packs the sonic punch to match. Presented in 16-bit, two-channel mono, this DTS-HD Master Audio track is kinda mid-range-y, with a dull low-end and – even with all those falsettos! – nothing in the way of crystalline highs. Even the brief introductions by Jimmy Savile wind up sounding rather lackluster:
These couple dozen numbers are all still listenable enough, but they won't stack up well next to the vinyl you have laying around. Honestly, I suspect this disc wouldn't have sounded all that different if I'd pumped it through the built-in speakers on my TV rather than through my home theater rig. I would never expect Go Go Mania! to rival newly-remastered editions of these same records, but I can't help but thinking it ought to sound at least a bit better than this. Fine, but no great shakes:
The visual end of the presentation is even more disappointing. The scope image is extremely soft and lacking in anything resembling fine detail. Film grain is present but more coarse and less distinct than I'd liked to have seen. As colorful as Go Go Mania!'s set design is, there's no pop to its palette. Highlights have a tendency to clip badly. It's unclear what elements were used or how old this master is, but this presentation sure looks like a relic from another era.
Go Go Mania! arrives on a BD-25 disc at something close enough to its original aspect ratio of 2.35:1. A set of optional English subs is also along for the ride, as is a newly-recorded commentary track.
- Audio Commentary: 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.
Also included are trailers for the Elvis vehicle Clambake and That'll Be the Day.
The Final Word
Go Go Mania! is a spectacular time capsule, collecting proto-music video-style performances of infectiously catchy songs from a slew of British artists – several of whom successfully Invaded, while others quickly faded into obscurity. Although I'm sure this disc represents the best elements made available by Studiocanal, I'll admit to being let down by the presentation. It doesn't help that part of me suspects that this is the sort of curiosity I'm thankful to have seen once but am unlikely to revisit all that often. Hesistantly Recommended, and I'm more likely to have said Rent It / Stream It if Go Go Mania! were available on any VOD or streaming services.