The Late Movies: The Old Grey Whistle Test

The Old Grey Whistle Test was a BBC TV show featuring live music. It ran from 1971 through 1988 on BBC2, and many performances are now collected on YouTube -- I'll show you some favorites below. But what the heck does "Old Grey Whistle Test" mean? According to host Bob Harris, the name comes from:

... a 'tin pan alley' phrase from years ago. When they got the first pressing of a record they would play it to people they called the old greys [doormen in grey suits]. The ones they could remember and could whistle having heard it just once or twice had passed the old grey whistle test.

So it's catchy, you see.

REM, "Moon River"/"Pretty Persuasion" Medley

1984. Remember when Michael Stipe had hair? Like lots of hair?

Bruce Johnston (Beach Boys), "Disney Girls"


Watch this Beach Boys classic stripped down to a piano-and-vocals rendition by its author, Bruce Johnston. Sample lyrics: "Patti Page and those summer days out on old Cape Cod / Oh those happy times, making home-made wine, down in my garage / I remember country shade and sipping lemonade, I guess I'm slowing down / You know it'd be a turn-back world with a local girl in a little smaller town."

John Lennon, "Stand By Me"

1975. I had no idea Lennon recorded this song. Beautiful and somehow heartbreaking around the edges. Check out the shout-out to his son Julian (who would have been about 12 at the time) around 2:18.

David Bowie, "Queen Bitch"

1972, with a sweet blue twelve-string guitar.

The Replacements, "Kiss Me on the Bus"

1986, if you couldn't tell by the hair.

Billy Joel, "Piano Man"

Man, I'd forgotten that this is genuinely an awesome song. 1975. Check out the mustache.

Tom Waits, "Burma Shave"

1979. The poor video quality somehow seems to add to the experience of this thing.

Siouxsie and the Banshees, "Painted Bird"

Note a young Robert Smith from The Cure on guitar. Date unknown, but I'm guessing late 1983.

The Runaways, "Wasted"

Probably 1977? They're really tearing it up here.

Roxy Music, "The Strand"

"The program was about integrity, I suppose, and sort of honest music: basic, straightforward music, often acoustic, to do with musicianship (or ideas of musicianship at the time), and a kind of directness, I guess. And along came Roxy Music, who were none of those things. ... They were a synthesis of lots and lots of things. ... You know, they had an oboe player."

The Police, "Can't Stand Losing You" and "Next To You"

1978. Sweet shades, Sting. Check out the guitar technique in the "Can't Stand Losing You" solo.

Got Any Other Favorites?

Post links in the comments! Search YouTube for "Old Grey Whistle Test" or OGWT to find TONS of stuff.

Everything You Need to Know About Record Store Day

The unlikely resurgence of vinyl as an alternative to digital music formats is made up of more than just a small subculture of purists. Today, more than 1400 independent record stores deal in both vintage and current releases. Those store owners and community supporters created Record Store Day in 2007 as a way of celebrating the grassroots movement that’s allowed a once-dying medium to thrive.

To commemorate this year’s Record Store Day on Saturday, April 21, a number of stores (a searchable list can be found here) will be offering promotional items, live music, signings, and more. While events vary widely by store, a number of artists will be issuing exclusive LPs that will be distributed around the country.

For Grateful Dead fans, a live recording of a February 27, 1969 show at Fillmore West in San Francisco will be released and limited to 6700 copies; Arcade Fire’s 2003 EP album will see a vinyl release for the first time, limited to 3000 copies; "Roxanne," the Police single celebrating its 40th anniversary this year, will see a 7-inch single release with the original jacket art.

The day also promises to be a big one for David Bowie fans. A special white vinyl version of 1977’s Bowie Now will be on shelves, along with Welcome to the Blackout (Live London ’78), a previously-unreleased, three-record set. Jimmy Page, Frank Zappa, Neil Young, and dozens of other artists will also be contributing releases.

No store is likely to carry everything you might want, so before making the stop, it might be best to call ahead and then plan on getting there early. If you’re one of the unlucky vinyl supporters without a brick and mortar store nearby, you can check out, which will be selling the special releases online.

Henson Company
Pop Culture
Jim Henson's Labyrinth Is Being Adapted Into a Stage Musical
Henson Company
Henson Company

More than 30 years after its cinematic debut, Labyrinth could be hitting the stage. In an interview with Forbes, Jim Henson's son and Henson Company CEO Brian Henson shared plans to transform the cult classic into a live musical.

While the new musical would be missing David Bowie in his starring role as Jareth the Goblin King, it would hopefully feature the soundtrack Bowie helped write. Brian Henson says there isn't a set timeline for the project yet, but the stage adaptation of the original film is already in the works.

As for a location, Henson told Forbes he envisions it running, "Not necessarily [on] Broadway, it could be for London's West End, but it will be a stage show, a big theatrical version. It’s very exciting."

Labyrinth premiered in 1986 to measly box office earnings and tepid reviews, but Jim Henson's fairytale has since grown into a phenomenon beloved by nostalgic '80s kids and younger generations alike. In the same Forbes interview, Brian Henson also confirmed the 2017 news that a long-anticipated Labyrinth sequel is apparently in development. Though he couldn't give any specifics, Henson confirmed that, "we are still excited about it but the process moves very slowly and very carefully. We're still excited about the idea of a sequel, we are working on something, but nothing that's close enough to say it's about to be in pre-production or anything like that."

While fans eagerly await those projects to come out, they can get their fix when the film returns to theaters across the U.S. on April 29, May 1, and May 2. Don't forget to wear your best Labyrinth swag to the event.

[h/t Forbes]


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