Wunnerful, wunnerful, wunnerful

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…

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  1. The Dead used to perform "One Toke Over the Line," so great minds think alike. The comments on the YouTube site about this song are priceless. I bet The Lennon Sisters did a bang-up version too.

    1. Lou Reed of course is the young guy banging the keys on the right. His hair was a lot shorter then, so that's probably why you couldn't pick him out.

  2. Every kid in our generation had to put up with this Lawrence Welk shit, but somehow I got to trump that on Sat. night with Have Gun, Will Travel. Loved that show. My dad somehow got ahold of the exact business card and I taped it onto my book carrier case in the 7th grade. And a few years later I was one toke over the line opening for the Velvets. Life is like a chocolate mobius strip and time is the ants devouring it.

    1. Opening for the Velvets must have been interesting. (Probably like my band opening for the Fugs.) The VU were well ahead of their time (they got it about BRAND) and—for that reason, I believe—were ranked #19 by Rolling Stone in 2004 in their list of “Greatest Artists of All Time.” But.....(warning: heresy alert!).....LWO had better chops.

      1. They were playing Acoustic solid-state 200-watt amps with horns on top. Ugliest sound of all time, brutal and utterly unmusical. Nico had been fired for showing up late and being smacked out in NY. She showed up at the Tea Party but they wouldn't let her in. Idiots. She was mainly what we were interested in. The music was pure dogshit. They were a joke, they knew like 2.5 chords. We had a jazz-rock band with Don Grolnick on keys and the MIT Symphony Concertmaster on bass, guys who could actually read music. They were posers riding off the Warhola fame.

  3. Yeah, Lou Reed in a yellow polyester suit.

    In other news, despite being a banjoist myself, I'm slightly disturbed at seeing a banjo strummed casually during a VU tune. Of course, these guys played all day every day, so they really were finely honed professionals. Give 'em the sheet music, raise the baton, and they could pull it off.

    I wonder who compiled the sheet music for this performance?

  4. I'm wondering if the Welk Orchestra earned overtime pay for the extra rehearsals they needed to master the complexity of the chord progression. That's probably why they didn't use the Lennon Sisters or Semonski Sisters for backup vocals.

  5. Welcome, Lacy! Always great to hear from the LW groupies. The dude certainly had devoted fans over the years. And, despite my smart-ass comments, he's always had first-rate musicians. RIP.

  6. While we might like to believe that because we're living today and today is more advanced and tolerant and broad-minded than yesterday, I suspect that eclecticism has always been with us to some degree or other. I also suspect that musicians have generally been more open-minded and more willing than most to work with people from other genres and see what happens.

    I recently purchased a DVD of clips from the Johnny Cash shows from the turn of the 70's and the variety of guests and breadth of music was eye-opening. LW is a new one on me but top marks to him for giving it a go. BTW, apropos the ability to read music, John Cale of the VU was originally a viola player who studied music at Goldsmiths in London.

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