Yes, we’re talking Lawrence Welk today—the bandleader, accordion maestro, and variety show host—whose “champagne music” was a feature of Saturday night television in America in the 50s, 60s, and 70s.
Though many critics would dismiss his music as antediluvian, real musical insiders knew: his polkas rocked.
Despite appealing primarily to an older and more conservative demographic, The Lawrence Welk Show learned to keep up with the times—an important lesson in the entertainment business. Here’s a hard-to-find clip of the Lawrence Welk Orchestra accompanying the Velvet Underground. The clip is a bit grainy, but the power of the performance is unmistakable. That’s Lou Reed on lead vocals, singing “Sister Ray.”
Growing up in my household—where we had one b&w television—I would have preferred to watch Have Gun—Will Travel on Saturday night, but there was never really a choice. The three kids were always outvoted by our two parents, who made sure Lawrence ruled. (Therein lies my life-long crusade against organizational tyranny.)
But LWO was one of the most popular musical groups in the country. The show didn’t take a lot of chances—Welk fired one of his “Champagne Ladies” for showing a little too much leg in one performance—but the program had staying power. Here’s another show-stopper featuring a smokin’ hot country duet singing, “One Toke Over the Line.” A-one and a-two…