Lately, I’ve been fascinated by the 1965 rock ‘n’ roll concert anthology Pop Gear, which keeps showing up at odd hours on various Showtime channels, where it seems to have replaced the Monkees’ Head (1968) as the Undeservedly Forgotten ’60s Pop Relic in regular off-peak rotation. Essentially, it’s one long episode of Top of the Pops, featuring about 16 British-Invasion acts that were big in the UK in 1964. (The emcee is TOTP’s Jimmy Savile, a bug-eyed Marty Feldman lookalike with a hideous blond mop, who was England’s answer to Dick Clark.) The Beatles are present, of course (though in previously taped concert footage), but the movie’s chief appeal is its time-capsule preservation of the sounds, fashions, and visual styles of the lesser-known acts of the era.
There are a lot of bands here that never crossed over on this side of the Atlantic, though quite a few of them did , including the Animals, Herman’s Hermits, Peter & Gordon, the Spencer Davis Group, and the Honeycombs — who had a top five hit here with “Have I the Right,” which they perform in the film, and which shows off the skin-pounding skills of Honey Lantree, who may have been rock’s first female drummer. (She’s just as geeky as Meg White, too.) Nobody here is in the same league as the Beatles (many of the era’s acts who made a lasting impact, like the early Kinks, Who, Rolling Stones, and Yardbirds, are conspicuously absent), but what’s remarkable is how strong a feel many of them had for American R&B. (Gotta love the dirty guitar sound and stomping, thumping bass of the Nashville Teens’ “Tobacco Road.”) It’s jarring and exciting to watch a group of English schoolboys in matching suits and suddenly hear a deep, bluesy bellow burst forth from an impossibly boyish face like that of the Animals’ Eric Burdon (on the still-chilling “House of the Rising Sun” and “Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood”) or of Steve Winwood (who must have been all of 16 here, well before he and the Davis Group hit big with “Gimme Some Lovin’ ” and “I’m a Man”).
You can see many of the performances from Pop Gear on YouTube, including the Winwood shouter “My Babe,” below. (Little Stevie doesn’t open his mouth until nearly a minute into the clip, but when he does, watch out!) And you can catch the whole movie at least three times over the next week on Showtime’s Family Zone channel, including tomorrow at 11:15 a.m.