ROCK IS DEAD
Bad Jokes, Worse Fashion
by Sean Nelson for The Stranger.com
Rollin' on the
River: Remember the '70s Greatest Hits Live
The release of this collection of performances from the now-forgotten TV series Rollin' on the River is a testament to just how much times have changed in the last 30 years. To wit: Imagine a prime-time network program whose entire reason for being was to highlight performances by rock bands and solo artists--not superstars, even, just performers with medium-sized hits currently on the charts. Now imagine that show being hosted by a decidedly unglamorous, largely charmless rock band called the First Edition (with a couple of medium-sized hits of their own) led by none other than a young, scruffy, chubbed-out Kenny Rogers. The guests include the likes of Jim Croce and his creepy sideman ("You Don't Mess Around With Jim"), Bill Withers ("Lean on Me"), and the Grass Roots ("Two Divided by Love") alongside more legit stars like B. B. King, Ike and Tina Turner, and the great Al Green. The performances are preceded by corny intros by First Edition members. Somewhere in there, Kenny sings his fake hippie song ("Just Dropped in to See What Condition My Condition Was In") and his weirdo reactionary crippled stalker love song ("Ruby Don't Take Your Love to Town"), and there you have it: a recipe for a show that no one remembers, fondly or otherwise.
In the early '70s, rock 'n' roll records alone were a bigger industry than film, sports, and books combined. Nowadays, they represent a tiny boutique in the Entertainment Industrial Complex. Documents like this are an invaluable tool in figuring out how rock became irrelevant; if you leave aside the greatness of Al Green, and the super-intense sexual subtext of Ike and Tina, this show is a collection of barely inspired performances (several of which appear to be lip-synched), bad jokes, and some of the worst fashion ideas you could ever imagine. What in God's name are you waiting for?