Renowned bandleader Lawrence Welk began his own variety series in 1955... and it has never stopped running. Each program was straightforward musical numbers from Welk's band (many of which had featured solos at one point or another), as well as vocal selections and dance numbers from the show's cast. Most of the introductions to the performances, read stiffy by Welk, were kept short. Many of the shows revolved around a certain theme (e.g., "The Music Man" or the Fourth of July), with appropriate songs and dance numbers. The most famous of the featured singers were the Lennon Sisters (Dianne, Janet, Kathy and Peggy), who were featured most every week for 13 years. At the end of each show, Welk would invite women from the audience on stage to dance with him as the theme, "Bubbles in the Wine" (and later, "Champagne Fanfare") played. The show enjoyed a 16-year network run on ABC, and later a succesful 11-year syndicated run. Just months after the original series ended, older shows (from ... Written by
Brian Rathjen <email@example.com>
It Didn't Mean a Thing Because Welk Took Away That Swing: The Musical Equivalent of High Fructose Corn Syrup
Lawrence Welk's "music" was as bad as it sounded. Welk could take the most vanilla-sounding of music and shred every ounce of originality out of it and turn it into muzak performed live. Welk, who often recapped music from the swing era, eradicated all of the swing out of swing leaving a sound lacking emotional substance that are only really notes and not really music. Even music that had very little edge to it already, like the songs by Lerner and Lowe or Rogers and Hammerstein, fell victim to Welk's baton in which everything was watered down until there was nothing left but pure sap. Most Welk arrangements took away any feeling that the music might have had before it was butchered. Listen to some of the original recordings from the swing era (1930's and 1940's), where saxophonists like Johnny Hodges roared, drummers like Chick Webb battled their drums, and singers like Ivie Anderson and Bessie Smith didn't just sing but wailed their songs. All that was cut out of the music when Welk got hold of it.
I don't think Welk himself was a musician. Take a look at a 1967 show in which he "conducts" a medley from "My Fair Lady". (You can find it on Youtube.) When the orchestra "plays" the tune of "I Could Have Danced All Night", a relatively slow legato melody, Welk looks like he's conducting Stars and Stripes Forever by John Philip Sousa, only about 3 times faster. His baton has nothing to do with the beat, the rhythm, or the character of the music whatsoever. Not only do I not think he was actually conducting but he didn't seem to know the first thing about conducting. But like I said, they really weren't engaged in music anyway so maybe it's as it should be.
One of the worst attributes of the entire show that became a Welk trademark were the arrangements of popular songs for accordion. Granted some of the songs were already rather dated and silly. But some were substantive in their own right. If you really want to destroy a perfectly good piece of music, just play it on the accordion at the Welk Show. Every song played on the accordion sounded like every other song. And they lost whatever magic spell they might have had. If this guy played "Twinkle Little Star" and then played "Highway to Hell" (ACDC), I swear you probably couldn't tell the difference. It would be very hard to resurrect a song's magic after that. The whole idea should have been put out of its misery after the first song it maimed back in the 1950's. Whoever believed that this was good music was out of his or her mind. I wanted to shoot the screen every time the accordion appeared.
Another of my pet peeves were the ridiculous little contrived "scenes" where singers would dress like caricatures and sing songs like they were doing it for kindergärtners in front of a set that seemed out of a bad "Waiting For Guffman" type musical. These included clowns, hobos, the railroad, swiss gals, country gals, Italians, or Latinas. Whatever ethnic or minority group you can imagine, the Welk singers probably did it and always with stereotyping and clichés. For example, if they were doing a Spanish number, they would have the girls dress like they stepped out of the opera Carmen and add castanets to the arrangement as if that's what makes Spanish music. The Spanish would probably be out for blood if the studio wasn't 6000 miles away. The over-the-top stereotypes of these scenes trumped the substance of the music. These little scenic numbers were at best superficial bordering on dishonest and at worst down-right insulting.
Maybe the only redeeming aspect of Welk's Show were the women. He could find the most gorgeous women to play the most hopelessly uninspired arrangements that ever came across the small screen. But most of these beautiful women couldn't sing or play their way out of a paper-bag most of the time. The only number that seemed to have substance was the debut appearance of the Lennon Sisters in 1954, which I have never seen in its entirety because it is always cut as part of a "remininence". The girls sing this song with enough emotion and honesty to rival almost every subsequent number of the entire run of the show. Unfortunately, most of the Lennon Sisters' subsequent numbers fall into the Welk un-emotional contrivances. Their rendition of "Do a Deer" later is absolutely horrible.
Truly, the Lawrence Welk Show was a god-awful contribution to music. I know my initial statement about Welk seems harsh, but they truly set back many young people's perception of this music, including myself when I was forced to watch it at my grandparents' house. Lawrence Welk's music was truly as bad as it sounded. But the sad part is that some of the music was better before Welk got hold of it. Welk broke the golden rule. His music didn't mean a thing because it didn't have that swing.
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