Tag Archives: vaudeville

The Beginning and the Enz of an Era — The Early Years


My next book Rockin’ Fog City, will be about the era from 1977-1987 when music changed for the better, we danced a lot more, and new heroes were born. The intro will expose the “glam” and “quirky rock” phase of the 1970’s, which ran from approximately 1972 – 1977, leading directly to the decade that followed. During that time as fair readers will know, we loved the Bowie, the New York Dolls, Roxy Music, T-Rex, and… wait for it…. Split Enz, the Beatles from “down under.”

Split Enz was formed by singer/songwriter Tim Finn, in 1973, along with Phil Judd (guitars). They released a couple of albums with Tim and Paul at the helm, The band in costume, makeup and with Tim in front, the voice of an tenor angel, and moves a-quirky, all of which accented the music. Sometimes called “art rock” sometimes alternative, with elements of vaudeville, Split Enz of that early era was a strange brew of “music hall”, “performance art”, and just-plain-fun music, making them maybe the earliest progenitors of what became “new wave” music. As smart music lovers know, in 1977, Tim’s younger brother Neil, joined the band, and history was made.

SplitEnz_MentalNotes_72dpiSplit Enz released their first album Mental Notes in 1975, and Second Thoughts in 1976, Recorded in London, their second effort is the first really listenable Enz album in this writer’s humble opinion. The record included several reworked songs from their debut, and some new bits. Contained in the result is a lot of what made this band great and what also makes anything the Finn brothers have done since, exceptional. Check out “Sweet Dreams” from that album for evidence of their supremacy. Check out the cast members – Ti

SplitEnz_SecodThoughts_172dpim & Phil, joined by Jonathan Chunn (bass), Noel Crombie (percussion), Emlyn Crowther (drums), Robert Fillies (Sax/Trumpet), maestro Edward Rayner (keys) and assorted luminaries. Get this all, who engineered this album… Rhett Davies (Supertramp anyone?), and who produced it… none other than Roxy Music guitarist Phil
Manzanera! The Enz had opened for Roxy Music on their first Australian tour, and had decamped from New Zealand to Australia to build their fan base. Phil was intrigued, and arranged their travel to London to record this gem. Second Thoughts were thunk, and the group’s fortunes grew from there.

SplitEnz_Dispythia_72dpiEnter younger brother Neil Finn in 1977 for follow up Dizrythmia (1977). Anyone ever have “jet lag” will get the title’s reference and applicability to the band’s experience at the time. At first, Neil plays into the vaudeville, circus atmosphere. Phil & Mike are there but abut to be gone from the band, as Neil takes over on guitar, and new permanent member Nigel Griggs on bass. They have the first “bigger” hit, “My Mistake.” While punk is raging in Britain (Sex Pistols) and pop-punk in the states (Ramones), Split Enz was making quiet preparations to draw us into their loving circle.

Check out Tim’s performance of Dizryhmia’s “Charlie” in London

Split Enz V_1 Tim Finn

Fast forward if you must to the 6 minute mark of this video, though who does not have 6 minutes to watch the whole thing? At 6 minutes, Eddie takes center stage musically, features his amazingly beautiful grand piano chops, as Tim sings, “Sunlight, halo, you look wonderful, darling Charlie…, pale and deathly still… for heaven’s sake wake up….Charlie”

Clearly the songwriting partnership of brothers Neil and Tim was kicking into gear, as you notice the touching lyrics, Tim’s delivery, and Neil’s blooming chops on guitar, soon to be co-writer-lead-vocalist as well.

SplitEnz_Frenzy_172dpiFinally, catch the follow up – forth album Frenzy, the first to really push Neil to the fore, with his growing skills on guitar, vocals, and songwriting. Tim wrote most songs, and there are some gems. “I See Red” indeed!



Split Enz V_1 Band Frenzy

But, it’s still a bit of a distance to what was to come next, a honed down version of the band, ready to record 4 absolutely exceptional albums, starting with 1980’s masterpiece True Colors and ending with 1983’s absolute masterwork, and unjustly ignored diamond Conflicting Emotions (1983).

If you are not aware of the pedigree and history of Split Enz, you should be, my friends. But… be warned, while the first four albums, covered here, ending with Frenzy, may excite your eyes (see the videos) it might not be candy for your ears. It’s a tad quirky to say the least, while Tim and the band were finding their way to stardom.

Split Enz V_II NeilFinn_Portrait_cAG_144dpi


Alice Cooper’s Nightmare

Cooper_Alice3_5x3_72dpiAlice Cooper was a band, and a man, that originated in Phoenix (via Detroit) featuring Vincent Furnier (vocals), Glen Buxton & Michael Bruce (guitars), Dennis Dunaway (bass) and Neal Smith (drums). The group’s performances are some of the first examples of overtly theatrical rock, meant to shock and excite young audiences of the 70’s. Because of their antics and stage sets that included guillotine, live snakes, baby dolls, fake blood, spiders and an electric chair, the group was banned more than once in multiple countries. In 1974 after 7 albums and countless concert dates, the group took a hiatus. Furnier legally adopted the name Alice Cooper, and embarked on a long and fruitful solo career.

Cooper_DVDCover_3x4_72dpiHis first solo record, Welcome To My Nightmare (1975), is a concept album that takes a journey through the childhood nightmares of Steven, the central character. The album, though less gritty than prior works with the full Alice Cooper band, is a classic in the rock genre, spawning a television special, international tour, and concert movie of the same name. These concerts, and the film that captures them represent a milestone in the presentation of a rock concert as a theatrical experience.

The Welcome To My Nightmare concert film, taken from a performance at Wembley Pool in September 1975 (with added footage from Shepperton Studios) was produced, directed, and choreographed by David Winters. The movie had a limited run in 1976, at which time I saw the film at a local Cooper_Chorus_72dpitheater outside Los Angeles and was struck by the brilliant performance, along with the rapturous audience that night. It captures the fantastic theatrical production, complete with dancers depicting skeletons, spiders, and other characters, and featuring narration by Vincent Price. In one segment Cooper decapitates and kills an 8-foot-tall Cyclops, in another he battles with giant spiders, and throughout he plays the lead showman, rocking the crowd, and even dancing in a chorus line, clad in a white tuxedo, recalling elements of Vaudeville. One of the most unique and striking set pieces of the show, designed for the song “Escape” features Cooper and four dancers appearing onto the stage by leaping out of a movie screen, and then dancing in and out of the ongoing film. The concert ends with a series of tracks that better feature his band, which includes Dick Wagner and Steve Hunter (Guitars) and Whitey Glan (Drums).


Of the many rock bands in the 70’s that strove to stage a theatrical performance, Alice Cooper stands among those that invested significant time and energy in the pursuit. “We were trying to create something that hadn’t been done. And what hadn’t been done is nobody took the lyrics and brought them to life…. you use the stage as a canvas. It’s all vaudeville and burlesque” according to Cooper. Sets and costume designs, some created by Disney studios combined to create a stunning evening of macabre entertainment.


Of their place in history, Cooper sums it up best in the documentary interview: “From the very inception of Alice Cooper [the idea] was, there are so many rock heroes, we need a rock villain. I want to be the rock villain. I want to be the personified Captain Hook of rock. I don’t want to be Peter Pan. But I wanted Alice to also … have a sense of humor. I enjoyed playing the heavy… a bizarre vaudevillian character.” Later, he adds, “We couldn’t go on stage and do a straight rock n roll show – we had to do it theatrically.” With many number one hits, awards, and a place in the Rock ‘N’ Roll Hall of Fame, Alice Cooper hit those marks and sustained a long and successful career in music.


Though the film is a bit dark, it is of high enough quality to be enjoyable, and does capture this show for posterity. The 1999 Rhino Entertainment DVD release, clocking in at 109 minutes, includes an interview and commentary track with Cooper, and a few other extras. Also of note, there is a television special called Alice Cooper: The Nightmare (1975) that preceded this film, and is itself heralded as an early example of long form video, featuring the entire album plus an additional track, and appearances by Vincent Price. The show won a Grammy award for Best Music Video, Long Form in 1984. While it was released on home video, it has not been issued on DVD. Instead, the best way to see what the commotion and controversy was all about back in 1975 is the Welcome To My Nightmare film.

For those interested in more on Alice Cooper, the band, and the man, consider picking up the brilliant documentary Super Duper Alice Cooper (2014) which is every bit as artfully presented as his unique stage shows. It provides deep insight into the madness that created the Alice Cooper character, a persona that almost killed the man.

Film Credits:

Welcome To My Nightmare (1975)
Executive Producer Willam Silberkleit
Producer, Director & Choreographer David Winters
Set Designer Jim Newton, Costume Designer Casey Spencer, Special Costumes Jack Shaften, Make-up Delores Wells.

© Copyright 1976 by Tommy-J Productions
Photos@Michael Ochs Archives/Venice, CA
Program @Rhino Entertainment Inc. (1999)

The players (cast) included:

Dick Wagner (guitar)
Steve Hunter (Guitar)
Whitey Glan (Drums)
Vincent Price (Spider Voice)
Sheryl G. Goddaard (Ethyl)
Robyn Blythe (Bat Woman)
Eugene Montoya (Voodoo Man)
Uchi Sugiyama (Frog Man)