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The New Old Thing: Amazing Music Shows of the 1970s

Rob Walker

Every Friday on Yahoo Tech, The New Old Thing brings you recommendations of distinctly untimely — but still amazing! — cultural expression. Lots of sources (including us) will tell you what’s new and worthwhile. But only the New Old Thing tells you what’s not-new, but great, and available to you right now thanks to the magic of technology. (Your tips are welcome; send to rwalkeryn@yahoo.com.)

This week: Writer and artist Austin Kleon, author of the books Steal Like an Artist and the forthcoming Show Your Work! told me, “YouTube is full of incredible musical performances from TV shows of yore, but like with everything else on the Internet, you just need to know what to type into the box.”

Fair enough. So whattaya got? “I recommend the following: ‘Soul Train,’ ‘Old Grey Whistle Test,’ and ‘Beat Club,’ ” Kleon advised. “Those three phrases alone will give you weeks of viewing with, by today’s standards, an incredibly eclectic mix of guests.”

Certainly you can’t go wrong with “Soul Train,” which I assume needs no explanation. Here, via Kleon, is Bobby Womack doing “That’s The Way I Feel About Cha” in 1971. Worth it for Womack’s incredible outfit alone. Seriously.

I was less familiar with “Beat Club” — another music-performance show that ran from the mid-1960s to early 1970s — but I’m won over by Kleon’s example: a dynamite half an hour of Stevie Wonder from 1973 that includes a particularly hot version of “Higher Ground.” As a wise man once said: tight tight tight.

And I’d never heard of “The Old Grey Whistle Test,” which turns out to be a long-running BBC music show that ended in the late 1980s. Kleon offered up for my consideration this 1½ hours of “Old Grey Whistle Test”. I admit that that the opening number put me off (I don’t need to hear “Tiny Dancer” again, ever) but this sampler turns into a tour de force: David Bowie, Curtis Mayfield, Bob Marley, Patti Smith, Gil Scott-Heron, Talking Heads, The Jam, and on and on.

If nothing else, I wish to draw your attention to the unbelievable black leather outfit with an image of Saturn on the chest, worn by the Steppenwolf guy in his performance of “Born to Be Wild.” One of many sartorial highlights.

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