Pancakes, KFC, And Gwangi

April 3, 2010

The first time staying over at a friend’s house as a kid is akin to being an emissary on a diplomatic mission to a foreign state. Strict instructions were given in a parental briefing to do nothing that would cause an incident.

Like any trip abroad, there were different sights and smells, strange customs and unusual foodstuffs. The first time I stayed over at my friend Beej’s house, I learned that pancakes made for a perfectly acceptable dinner fare – something that was highlighted in my report upon my return home.

The most memorable thing about that trip, though, was Gwangi.

It was late and I think we had just crashed out when Beej’s older brother woke us, leading us downstairs and to the living room. The lights were all out except for the television.

It must have been the second movie on the CBS Late Movie, so it had to be well after 1:00 in the morning and the film appeared to be a Western, but in color, so it couldn’t have been too old.

And suddenly there was Gwangi, a large, carnivorous dinosaur and we were in business. At eight or nine, prehistoric animals held sway over cowboys, but this serendipitous moment in cinema had brought the two together.

The movie was a 1969 flick called The Valley Of Gwangi. I don’t think I knew any of the actors at the time, though it was James Franciscus – who would pop up on television and movies in the ’70s – playing the hero (if you can have a hero named Tuck Kirby).

It didn’t really matter to us. It could have been an actor named Tuck Kirby starring as James Franciscus. This was cowboys, dinosaurs, gypsy curses, forbidden valleys and a small sidekick named Lope.

We stared boggle-eyed as Gwangi feasted on a circus elephant. We were feasting on the remains from a bucket of Kentucky Fried Chicken that Beej had foraged from the refrigerator.

It was a very successful mission.

There’s a wonderful article on Ray Harryhausen, the legendary animator who brought Gwangi and friends to life, over at Popdose with clips from ten of his movies including The Valley Of Gwangi.

It must have been sometime in the spring of 1975 that I first saw The Valley Of Gwangi (and I’ve rarely come across it since). Here are four songs that I might have heard on the radio during April of that year (had I been listening to the radio – which I wasn’t)…

Alice Cooper – Only Women Bleed
from Welcome To My Nightmare

My all-time greatest arch-enemy has to have been my third-grade teacher. More days than not, the two of us were at odds. She was an Alice Cooper fan. I’m not sure if that was why I never bothered with Alice Cooper’s music or rather because during the ’80s – my musically formative years – he wasn’t on top of his game.

But I’ve gained a greater appreciation for Cooper’s catalog in recent years and the somber Only Women Bleed was not only a big hit for him, but the poignant ballad must have thrown long-time fans when it arrived (though, should anyone been surprised at the time by anything Alice did?)

John Lennon – Stand By Me
from Lennon Legend

Stand By Me is one of those songs that, to me, is simply perfect. If I was creating an Ultimate Jukebox as is being built over at Echoes In The Wind, Stand By Me would definitely be on there (possibly in more than one incarnation).

(and, according to Wikipedia, in 1999, BMI named it as the fourth most-performed song of the 20th century)

Gordon Lightfoot – Rainy Day People
from Gord’s Gold

I’ve expressed my curiousity with Mr. Lightfoot before.

There’s just something about the Canadian singer’s voice that is soothing and Rainy Day People – which I do remember hearing at the time – sounds especially inviting on a rainy, Saturday morning such as it is today.

Ozark Mountain Daredevils – Jackie Blue
from Billboard Top Hits: 1975

The title character in Jackie Blue sounds like one confused girl, but I can’t help but think of pizza when I hear the song. It seems like every trip we made to Pizza Inn when I was eight resulted in one of the patrons putting down their money on Jackie Blue in the restaurant’s jukebox.

I dug the song as a kid. It was catchy and mysterious, though, at the time, I mistook drummer Larry Lee’s falsetto for a female vocalist.