BOOTLEG FILES 356: “Solid Gold” (1980-88 syndicated television series.
LAST SEEN: Clips from various episodes are available on YouTube.
AMERICAN HOME VIDEO: None.
REASON FOR BOOTLEG STATUS: Music clearance rights prevent the reissue of the series.
CHANCES OF SEEING A COMMERCIAL DVD RELEASE: Unlikely.
If you were watching television in the 1980s, you probably remember something called “Solid Gold.” This syndicated weekly program offered a happy – and, sometimes, bewildering – mix of blatant kitsch and cutting-edge music. Despite its roots in old-fashioned variety revues, “Solid Gold” had a fairly substantial run in an era when MTV began to radically redefine the music industry. And while a peek back at the old episodes will confirm the worst of the 1980s (leg warmers, big hair, huge shoulder pads), it can also reheat nostalgia for a distant and daffy time.
“Solid Gold” began as a one-shot, two-hour television special broadcast in January 1980 on independent stations across the U.S. This special was designed to count down the Top 50 songs of 1979. While Dionne Warwick and Glen Campbell were the nominal hosts for the special, the show was stolen by the Solid Gold Dancers, who wore scanty clothing and moved in a vaguely risqué fashion while clips of the songs were played. The ratings for this special were unusually strong, and it was decided to create a series that would count down each week’s Top 10 songs (as determined by the airplay charts in the entertainment trade journal Radio & Records).
Actually, “Solid Gold” was an updated version of a 1950s television show called “Your Hit Parade,” which provided a weekly countdown of the popular tunes. But “Your Hit Parade” fell out of favor in the late 1950s for refusing to incorporate rock music into its line-up – its preference for sugary romantic ballads made it wildly out of step with its Elvis-fueled times.
“Solid Gold” had its own balancing act problems. The show repeatedly attempted to reach as wide of an audience as possible, and its efforts to bridge the different tastes between kids and adults – as well as different demographics of the viewing audience – created some very peculiar guest line-ups. For example, one episode offered performances by Billy Preston, Juice Newton, REO Speedwagon, A Taste of Honey and Don McLean, while another episode featured Jeffrey Osborne, Kim Carnes, the Little River Band and Waylon Jennings as guests.
For sheer “Huh?” factor, there was also an astonishing episode with Stevie Wonder, Kenny Rogers, Huey Lewis & the News, Johnny Mathis, the Pointer Sisters, Teddy Pendergrass, Phil Collins, soap star-turned-singer Jack Wagner and David Hasselhoff (before he became a chronic self-parody). Clearly, the producers wanted to offer acts that would appeal to Dad, Mom, Junior and Uncle Clem in the Ozarks.
Adding to the noise was the inclusion of stand-up comedy bits throughout the episodes. Most of these mirth injections were painful – third-rate acts like Marty Cohen and Jeff Altman were propped up with an overactive laugh track – though, occasionally, genuine fun could be found from ventriloquist Wayland Flowers and his bawdy old lady puppet Madame.
Throughout its run, “Solid Gold” had problems maintaining hosts. Dionne Warwick signed on for the 1980-81 season, but left the show when her recording career enjoyed a sudden upswing. Marilyn McCoo and Andy Gibb were brought in as co-hosts for the 1981-82 season, but Gibb’s personal problems created difficulty for the producers (one story claimed that each episode had two scripts – one designed for Gibb’s presence and one created in the event he didn’t show up for the taping). McCoo was teamed with Rex Smith for the 1982-83 season’s hosting gig, but Smith’s bland personality didn’t resonate with viewers. McCoo was given solo hosting duties for the 1983-84 season, and she handled her assignment with grace and charm.
For no clear reason, the 1984-85 season’s hosting assignment was handed over to Rick Dees, a radio deejay who enjoyed a novelty record hit with “Disco Duck.” But Dees was a dismally unfunny host, and he left the show before the season was over. Guest hosts filled in for the absent Dees, and Warwick came back for a solo hosting gig in the 1985-86 season. For the last two years of the show’s run, McCoo took the hosting helm, with assistance from ex-MTV VJ Nina Blackwood and comic Arsenio Hall.
To its credit, “Solid Gold” managed to snag many top acts. Although the performers mostly lip-synced their numbers, their presence was still quite a treat to behold: Madonna, Whitney Houston, Tina Turner, Culture Club, KISS, Ozzy Osbourne, The Go-Gos, Tears for Fears, Men at Work and Fleetwood Mac turned up for memorable appearances. (Some stars that did not wish to be on the “Solid Gold” stage, including David Bowie and Michael Jackson, were nonetheless represented with their latest music videos.)
Unfortunately, many of the performances were staged in a manner that (to be charitable) was unintentionally funny; a casual spin through YouTube can unearth these doozies. Sheena Easton performed her “Morning Train” hit while the Solid Gold Dancers wore derbies and hijacked the stylized movements associated with Bob Fosse’s Broadway choreography. Debbie Harry wobbled about lip-syncing “The Tide is Hide” while the Sold Gold Dancers did burlesque worthy bump-and-grind routines that appeared to have been staged to another tune. And you haven’t lived until you watch the clip of Adam Ant (dressed in a Lord Nelson uniform) bouncing around to “Goody Two Shoes” while the Solid Gold Dancers engaged in what may or may not be advanced aerobics.
Ultimately, the MTV generation prevailed and “Solid Gold” left the air in 1988. Although some episodes were rerun years later as part of a VH1 salute to the 1980s, there has never been any home entertainment release of the series. Nor is it likely to see one – clearing the music rights for all of the songs in the 314-episode series would be ridiculously expensive.
However, many “Solid Gold” fans videotaped episodes during its initial run, and slightly blurry VHS recordings can be found on YouTube. Snippets of “Solid Gold” are easier to consume than entire episodes – you can zoom in on your favorite singers and their hit songs and avoid the rest of the episode’s havoc.
There will never be another show like “Solid Gold” – which, I believe, is the very best thing for mankind. However, I am glad that it bounced and wiggled about when it did – it helped make the 1980s such a wonderfully weird experience.
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