Florence Henderson Halloween

I assure you that there is absolutely nothing quite as wonderfully awful as the fetid, foppish, phoniness of The Paul Lynde Halloween Special, which ABC brewed in a low-budget cauldron and unleashed upon an unsuspecting world on October 29, 1976.  Though its production values were wanting, the network compensated by hauling out a “Who’s Who” of pop culture circa 1976: Betty White; Donny and Marie Osmond; KISS; Billie Hayes (Witchipoo from H.R. Pufnstuf); Tim Conway; Roz “Pinky Tuscadero” Kelly from Happy Days (for the sake of clarity, that is exactly how she is billed); Margaret Hamilton; and Florence Henderson.

Though virtually no Bicentennial-year fad is left out, what did get omitted is anything resembling a good script (no less than ten writers are credited here, including Bruce Vilanch, who is most certainly responsible for writing the two lonely jokes that are actually funny).  There is a whole plastic pumpkin full of convoluted plotting which I will spare you—none of it good.  It doesn’t really matter if the jokes work anyway because, in true 1970s variety show style, the good folks at ABC compensate by pressing the laugh track’s pedal to the metal so hard it feels like they’re wearing Gene Simmons‘ boots.  It’s all quite dreadful and, for Stargayzing readers, completely essential viewing.

The Paul Lynde Halloween Special, 1976

Billie Hayes, Paul Lynde, and Margaret Hamilton

For all of this I am, indeed, very grateful.  Though it hurt my heart to see Margaret Hamilton forced back into her Wicked Witch of the West drag (one can only imagine that by ’76 Miss Hamilton was pressed for cash), the cognitive dissonance of hearing her introduce KISS is very enjoyable.  Speaking of KISS, they perform several songs, one of which was “Beth,” their then-current Top-10 hit.  It obviously hurt Gene Simmonss and Paul Stanley’s hearts to watch drummer Peter Criss give a solo performance on network TV without them, but Paul and Gene had a solution: in the song’s final moments, the rest of the band walks on to the set and surrounds Peter Criss at the piano.  They do this for absolutely no reason except to share his laugh track-applause for something they had nothing to do with and remind viewers that even though Criss may have written and performed their biggest hit, KISS belonged to Paul and Gene.

Florence Henderson, "The Paul Lynde Halloween Special"

After enduring multiple celebrity cameos and oddities like Lynde and Tim Conway’s highly realistic skit as a pair of truckers talking on their CB radios, you will have earned what I feel is the show’s greatest moment: Florence Henderson’s spirited disco version of Harold Arlen and Johnny Mercer’s 1942 standard “That Old Black Magic.”  Attired in a reptilian black, sequined gown, Flo brings her customary I’m-up-for-anything-enthusiasm to the proceedings, as well as a fierce side-parted Dorothy Hamill wedge haircut.  By this late point, the fact that Henderson’s lovely legit soprano—so very ill-suited for disco music—feels like a B12 shot for the show, is indicative of just how turgid The Paul Lynde Halloween Special really is.   The hypnotic “That Old Black Magic” sequence may inspire you do the Bus Stop through gales of laughter, because Halloween will never look or sound like this again.



More KISS in Stargayzing:

Wonder Woman Lynda Carter’s “Rock ‘n Roll” Fantasy Tribute to Bette Midler, Tina Turner, and KISS!

“I Got a New Rock Group For You Totie!” Remembering How Comedienne Totie Fields Took Down KISS’ Gene Simmons On National TV With 5 Words

Eating With the Stars: Paul Stanley’s Brussels Sprouts


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A Stargayzing Tribute to Ann B. Davis’ Needlepoint

Two Spoken Word Versions of Bread’s “If” by Telly Savalas

Mary Tyler Moore Performing Paul McCartney’s With a Little Luck”

Get Reddy! A Tribute to Helen Reddy Illustrating the “Norma Desmond Theory” of Celebrity Developmental Paralysis at the Apex of Stardom


Angela Lansbury illustration

Angela Lansbury as Jessica Fletcher on “Murder She Wrote,” by Escherichia Coli

Complete disclosure: I’ve been a bad man. I found the recipe for Angela Lansbury’s Power Loaf years ago, but hid it away like a precious nugget of gold. You see, from the very first, I knew that this loaf must have magical properties because merely speaking the words “Angela Lansbury’s Power Loaf” gave me a dopamine spike and an almost narcotic-like sense of exhilaration. So why didn’t I share it? Good question. At first I could manage my conscience. The blog’s readership was relatively small, I reasoned, and I would just skim over the venerable Miss Lansbury’s loaf as I aggregated Eating With the Stars recipes: Carol Channing’s German Pot Roast; Mary Tyler Moore’s Non-Fail Hamburger Stroganoff; Mitzi Gaynor’s Tangy Rice Pilaf—meh—no big deal. “I’ll get to it soon,” said I.

But over the years, as Stargayzing’s readership grew and Eating With the Stars disseminated dozens of recipes, I found myself continuing to kick Angela’s loaf down the road. Eventually, like slow rising yeast, it began to haunt me. But still, I did not share my secret. Was I afraid someone would pinch Angela’s loaf? By the blog’s third year, my covetousness had given way to a sort of Power Loaf paralysis and began to instigate the very thing I feared most: the recipe began to lose its magic. I began to avoid thinking about it at all, but when I did pause to reflect, I experienced decidedly un-powerful thoughts about myself—namely, that I am withholding and egotistical. I was killing the very thing I loved.

Angela Lansbury excercising

Angela Lansbury stretching it out.

By 2014, the situation had worsened still. Each time I printed a different (lesser) recipe, I felt more guilty, an emotion that could not be further removed from Angela’s original intention of wellness that she had so generously shared. That’s when I had what I refer to as the Angela Lansbury Power Loaf Epiphany: who was I to withhold the recipe for the loaf for it was never mine in the first place? I felt sad, small, and sick of feeling sick, and I decided then and there, in a fit of feverish good cheer, to let it go. It was in that very instant, my friends, that a positively Grinch-like metamorphosis occurred: I suddenly felt good and glad and giving; I felt light and loving; I swear I even felt my heart grow a size or two.  What’s more, in the moment that I sat down to type this post, the stunning power of Miss Lansbury’s loaf returned to me!  Once again my imagination danced with the glory of all the loaves that ever were and all those yet to be. Life is full of lessons that must be learned repeatedly. Here is what I learned from my Angela Lansbury Power Loaf Epiphany: only through giving can we protect the gift of someone else’s good intentions. So slice up Angie’s loaf and pass it on!

Power Loaf

(Not) Angela Lansbury’s Power Loaf

Angela Lansbury’s Power Loaf

Ingredients: 2 cups boiling water 1 1/2 cup cracked wheat 3 tablespoons shortening 2 tablespoons honey 1 tablespoon salt 2 packets active dry yeast 2/3 cup warm water 4 cups stone-ground wheat flour 1 cup bran flakes 3/4 cup quick-cooking oats 1/2 cup wheat germ

Directions: In large bowl, pour boiling water over cracked wheat and stir. Stir in shortening, honey and salt; let cool to lukewarm. Sprinkle yeast into warm water; let stand until frothy; add to wheat mixture. Gradually stir in 3 cups (750 mL) flour. Stir in bran flakes, oats and wheat germ. Mix very well and cover bowl with damp cloth. Let rise, about 1 hour, until doubled in bulk. Punch dough down. On floured surface, knead dough until smooth and elastic, blending in as much of remaining flour as needed if dough is sticky. Divide dough in half and place in 2 greased loaf pans. Cover and let rise in warm place until doubled. Bake in 350 degrees F oven for 45 minutes or until loaves are well browned and sound hollow when tapped.


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Tuesday, October 21st, 2014

20 Essential Aretha Franklin Cover Songs

Aretha Franklin young

Soul music is about feeling, not perfection.  Though I do listen to younger R&B singers, they generally don’t excite me like Aretha Franklin has during her long, lauded career.  Though I love Mary J. Blige, her songs frequently sound like they were spat out by a computer.  I wonder where are the young woman who can take me to church and make me believe the way Aretha could.  While Beyoncé, Janelle Monáe, and Jennifer Hudson all have their strengths, they sure as hell ain’t back-in-the-day Aretha. One problem is that contemporary R&B tracks are frequently written from the beat up and largely programmed, with vocals auto-tuned and digitally manipulated even when the singer has no pitch issues.  The result is that by and large, contemporary R&B has no soul.  If a song lacks a strong melody, compelling lyrics, and the feeling that it was made by human beings, it simply doesn’t matter how good the singer is, because I won’t feel anything.

So I go back to Aretha’s expansive fifty-year-plus catalogue and dig deeper into what is still an awe-inspiring body of work.  Many don’t know that Aretha is a very accomplished songwriter.  A few months ago Stargayzing compiled a list of some of those songs Aretha wrote or co-wrote.  Aretha is also a great interpreter of other songwriter’s material so, as a counterpoint, here are my twenty favorite Aretha cover songs.  This list is particularly timely as Miss Franklin just released  Aretha Franklin Sings the Great Diva Classics, an album of cover songs whose title sums up its concept with typical Clive Davis directness (though by including “Nothing Compares 2 U,” I wonder if she is referencing its singer Sinead O’Connor or its songwriter, Prince—inarguably a bigger diva—or would it be divo?)

For the purposes of organizing this list, I have only included songs Aretha covered that are generally associated with other artists.  Of course, it is fair to say that any song that she did not write is technically a cover songs (i.e., the entire Curtis Mayfield soundtrack to Sparkle, or Narada Michael Walden’s “Freeway of Love,” for example).  But I wanted to focus specifically on the unique ability Aretha has to make other artist’s songs her own.  This is particularly true if (notwithstanding the not-so-bad cover of Adele’s “Rollin’ in the Deep”), you avoid her most recent collection, the aforementioned divas tribute, and her last album, 2003′s So Damn Happy, which made me so damn sad.

If these recordings are new for you, you’re in for a treat. If you’re a bonafide fan of Franklin, it’s always fun to listen again.


Aretha Franklin drawing1. “Moody’s Mood” from Hey Now Hey (The Other Side of the Sky) (1973)

This song has a fascinating, complex history: written by James Moody in 1949 as an instrumental solo based on Jimmy McHugh’s “I’m in the Mood For Love” (1935).  In 1952, lyricist Eddie Jefferson added lyrics to the Moody instrumental in a style that is known in vocal jazz as “Vocalese”— a style in which new words are laid over existing instrumental improvisations (check out Lambert, Hendricks & Ross, for example).  The 1952 version is most closely associated with King Pleasure, who had a major hit with it in 1954.

Hey Now Hey is one of my favorite Aretha Atlantic albums.  I almost chose her atmospheric, stunning version of “Somewhere,” from West Side Story, but decided to share “Moody’s Mood,” which really shows Franklin’s versatility and playfulness.  From the opening salvo, “Here I go!” to the very last moment, Aretha is in complete control and it is something joyful to behold.


"Aretha" 19802. “What A Fool Believes,” from Aretha (1980)

Written by Michael McDonald and Kenny Loggins and popularized by the Doobie Brothers (1979)

This is a great cover song.  The Doobies original version had won the Grammy for both Song and Record of the Year, but in typical Franklin style, Aretha took the song in a completely different direction: to church.  The result stands up well against the Doobies’ original and has stood the test of time.  It’s amazing what a little call and response vocal can do.

Aretha’s “What a Fool Believes” was included on Aretha, her first Clive Davis Arista Records album and her first non-Atlantic Records release.  Though the album did respectably, Davis’ first single off the album was the schmaltzy “United Together.”  “What a Fool Believes” was the second single and failed to make the pop charts, though it did peak at #17 on the R&B chart.  It should have been the first single.


Aretha with microphone3. “You Keep Me Hangin’ On” (outtake) from Spirit in the Dark (1970), released on Rare and Unreleased Recordings from the Golden Reign of the Queen of Soul (2007)

Written by Holland-Dozier-Holland in 1966 and a #1 hit for the Supremes.  

Beyond the original Supremes version, “You Keep Me Hangin’ On” has been covered by many artists and actually been a major chart success two additional times: rock group Vanilla Fudge took the song to #6 in 1967 and English singer Kim Wilde (“Kids in America”) took a wonderful Hi-NRG dance version of the song to #2 in the UK and #1 in the states in 1987.

Listening to Aretha’s version of the song, it’s hard to imagine why Jerry Wexler and Ahmet Ertegun left the song off 1970′s Spirit in the Dark.  Hearing it now, especially with the studio ad-libs before the take begins, gives the song an immediacy and sense of urgency it has never had before or since.  Truth is, between 1967 and 1974, Aretha didn’t make a false move—there were truly no bad albums, no bad vocals, no filler songs.  It’s just a question of what you personally like best.  With outtakes like this, you realize how high the bar was set during her Atlantic Records period.


[The rest of Stargayzing's choices of Aretha's amazing covers, after the jump.]