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The Score of Beach Blanket Bingo

House band in this film: The Hondells.  Or some variant thereof.  Ah, let me clarify.

During it's five and a half year long life, the lineup of this "band" continually changed.  In fact, it wasn't really a group at all, but rather a continually revolving cast of various West Coast studio musicians managed by Producer Gary Usher.  Usher -- a buddy of the Beach Boys -- actually made a career in the mid 60s out of this schtick, ergo, brewing hits from anonymous session men in a studio, and then slapping various "group" names onto the finished products.  As a result, it's rather difficult to determine exactly who it is "playing" the Hondells in this film.  I'm almost positive the "touring crew" you see here include Ritchie Burns (one of Usher's preferred background singers), but am not at all clear on who the other three dudes are (photo of the group in this film can be found at the top of the The Performers page of this site). 


Annette Funicello (now back to being “Dee Dee”) and Frankie Avalon open the show with Beach Blanket Bingo, one of the biggest and most effective production numbers of the entire series.  The quick, tight editing and playful choreography suggest Director Asher was clearly thinking in visionary “music video” terms here.  Unless one has actually seen a sequence like this being filmed, don’t underestimate how much work it is (some of the similar dance sequences in the 1962 movie The Music Man took 3 weeks to film.)  To put together all those cute, coordinated shots, Funicello and Avalon were literally running around the beach and up and down bluffs all day.  I’m sure they were completely exhausted after that effort, which on screen runs a total of less than three minutes. 

The effectiveness of the sequence also stems from the composition, a nice, tight uptempo piece that includes a bouncy "slap-back" refrain framed by a honking alto sax.   One can't really appreciate the true sound and feel of this number through small PC or TV speakers - if you have a chance, crank this one up nice and loud through a good home theatre setup to get a feeling of the kind of impact it had on the big screen.  


After introducing the secondary characters (a record promoter, his latest pop idol creation and a squabbling sky-diving couple), we suddenly cut to the interior of some unidentified beach house, in a cozy big room with logs burning in the fireplace.  A conservatively dressed Donna Loren (now back to being “Donna”) again appears out of nowhere, proceeding to roast a hot dog while breaking everyones’ heart, as she bemoans a lost love in the ballad It Only Hurts When I Cry  (left).  The number – which is very similar in sound, look and feel to the version of Donna contemporary viewers were simultaneously seeing on ABC’s Shindig -- is a wonderful showcase for her gorgeous alto.  Also, as a slower, orchestrated piece, it’s a nice contrast to her prior Beach Party musical appearances, where she’d been pretty much pigeonholed as an upbeat, bouncing Barbie Doll.  As her last piece in her last Beach Party movie, Donna is fortunate to have this great number as her swan song.  Now, if only this version had ended up on a record.....(for more discussion on that issue, read the review of the Donna Loren Sings Songs From Beach Blanket Bingo LP in the Discography section of this site).         


Later, the gang takes up an invitation to go to another “beach house,” this one supposedly belonging to the record promoter.  Of course, the interior looks conveniently like a nightclub (I don’t know of many beach houses with stages, dance floors and big tabled seating areas, but I guess the producers did).  Whatever, here we find Linda Evans, -- yes, the one of later “Dynasty” fame, cast as a blond in her film debut, in the role of the pop singer “Sugar Kane,” who gets to "perform" her new "hit” New Love.  


I'm qualifying the term "perform" because the voice you hear singing here isn't Linda Evans.  She was simply mouthing an overdub, the actual vocalist on the soundtrack is Jackie Ward (left), one of the most accomplished Hollywood "studio call" vocalists of the 1960s and early 70s.  During that period, Ward made a career out of overdubbing female vocals for scores of films and TV shows, in many cases for major stars.  As example, that's her you hear (not Susan Dey) singing in the musical numbers of the Partridge Family TV show; it's her (not Natalie Wood) singing those intriguing vocals in the film Inside Daisy Clover

At any rate, New Love is quite the enjoyable piece, for several reasons: first, it's another beautfiully composed Styner-Hemric mid-tempo love ballad, in fact one of the best they wrote for any of the films.  Second, Jackie delivers an excellent performance with a smooth, floating soprano.  Third, the female backing vocals you hear are by none other than by Darlene Love and the Blossoms (for the uninitiated, Love was a legendary vocalist of the early 60s "Brill Building" era, responsible for the voice you hear on such icons as the Crystal's Leader of the Pack ).  Notably, Ward, Love and the Blossoms are all uncredited in this film; in interviews, Ward has generalized that being unrecognized was the norm and "simply came with the territory."  

Continuing the “club” show, Frankie does a ballad, These Are The Good Times, in for whatever reason circa 1956 fashion.   While it readily showcases Avalon’s substantive strengths as a traditional vocalist (as did “A boy Needs A Girl” In Muscle Beach Party), the outdated genre of the piece makes it a    "H   "Hired Gun" Ward        somewhat peculiar element in a film featuring “contemporary” pop music.  I suspect this was a section of                                         of the movie where many teens took a break to the refreshment stand for more popcorn.  About the same time this film was released, Avalon also did this number while appearing as a guest star on the Patty Duke Show.  That may explain why the song showed up in the movie; it suggests his agents/managers were working his contracts to promote this presumed “single” as much asipossible (albeit given the hugely outdated format, one wonders why).    


After some skydving storyline and the introduction of a mermaid character, Annette and Frankie – during a brief  “truce” period -- perform I Think, You Think, another one of their walk-along-the-beach-under-the-moonlight-duet things.  For whatever reason, this number seems to be a particular favorite of many Beach Party movie fans (who continually bewail the fact that this duet version never ended up on any record or CD).  While it’s pleasant, reasonably well composed and nicely executed, I don’t rate it as one of the more memorable pieces that came out of these films; the “love” duets in both Bikini Beach and Pajama Party were cleary superior performances.

After more intermediate storyline, we're back at Sugar Kane’s beach house/nightclub/whatever.  The scene starts as the camera does a wonderful tracking shot through a fish tank, while the soundtrack blasts out the pounding pulse of an urgent rhythm guitar.  That’s the beginning of the Hondells great performance of The Cycle Set, not only the best composition Christian-Usher did for these films, but flat out the best dance number of the entire series.  Thankfully the song (which appears initially positioned as background music) is only briefly interrupted by a few spoken lines and some short slapstick by Buster Keaton and Bobbi Shaw (who again is playing her "ya, ya" Swedish bombshell part).  Other than Dick Dale's solo numbers in the first film, this was as close as the series ever got to featuring the real surf sound.

Linda Evans then confidently "mouths" her Sugar Kane thing again, pretending to sing the upbeat number Fly Boy, which gives the gang an excuse to get up and start dancing (again, in these films the laws of physics do not allow fast music to be performed in public without wild dancing).    The actual singing is another overdub by Jackie Ward, displaying a bright, bouncy vocal that -- in an impressive demonstration of her range  -- occasionally borders on the seductive.   

Later, a scheming Eric Von Zipper (Harvey Lembeck) leads the "Ratz" and "Mice" in I Am My Ideal, a song about his perfection.  This is the first of only three numbers he does in the series, and is different than anything else you hear in this film.  The song is far removed from the pop/rock material we've been hearing to this point, being in essence an orchestral march (of a nature one could have found in any Broadway show of the period).  It works, however, primarily due to Lembeck, who does a fantastic job at singing the entire piece in character.   

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We then proceed to the climax, which involves more skydiving (right), resolution of the romatic quadrangle involving Dee Dee/Frankie and the couple played by John Ashley and Deborah Walley (left), a kidnapping and another silly car chase.  Prior to getting there, however -- if, per my discussion in the introduction, you are fortunate enough to be watching the rare, original cut of the film --, we have another Annette piece, this time a solo ballad.  Back at the now empty beach house, Dee Dee -- wondering why Frankie is the way he is – sings the mid-tempo ballad I’ll Never Change Him.  Heavily echoed and doubletracked, the vocal style here hearkens back to Annnette's early, pre-Beach Party Buena Vista recordings.  She sings the piece while pacing the house, her morose expression reinforcing the lyrics of perpetual Venus-Mars frustration.  I’m sure this all hit home with any girls who got to see the original cut. 

The closing credits here are noteworthy on two levels.  First, the music is a reprise of the title number, using the exact same recording we heard at the beginning (the only time this happened in any of these films).  Second, this is the last time we get “wild dancing chicks” as part of the credits (the last two films will dispense with this).  Here, the dancers include Bobbi Shaw (the only time she ever appeared in this plum spot) and two other bikinied women, as well as Buster Keaton.  The screen gets split again in various places during the credits, but horizontally rather than vertically, so we're treated to some cute shots of mismatched dancing legs and midriffs.

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