The Cars, Kiss, Dire Straits, The Clash, Tom Petty – The Best of ‘Fridays’ (2013)

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“Fridays,” for all of its comedic delights as a short-lived answer to SNL, did more than help launch the careers of Larry David and Michael Richards. It also brought some intriguing musical moments to the masses, as illustrated by a forthcoming five-disc anthology due August 6, 2013 from Shout Factory.

An October 1981 episode, for instance, featured the Stray Cats before their debut album had been released stateside. Their amped-up retro-rockabilly literally brought the crowd to their feet. “Fridays” also hosted the Clash in their first American TV appearance — and Joe Strummer and Co. absolutely tore through an April 1980 set, well before their U.S. breakthrough with Combat Rock.

Strummer, wearing a collar-flipped red shirt and orange suspenders, looks like he’s just emerged from an alley fight as he offers a yelping take on “London Calling.” One tooth is missing, and his mouth looks bloodied. Mick Jones, meanwhile, looks down-right rheumy in a bizarre purple suit as he tears through “Train in Vain” — making, in total, for one of the most dangerous images you could imagine emanating from a pre-cable program, even on a weekend night.

Just as cool, in its own way, is Tom Petty’s double-necked Rickenbacker, whipped out for an energetic take on “American Girl” from two months later during that same 1980 season.

Ric Ocasek’s weirdly disjointed vocal approach to “Touch and Go,” still as robotic as it is hypnotic, is offset brilliantly by Benjamin Orr’s gritty bass during the Cars’ visit to “Fridays” in September of 1980. When Elliott Easton finally comes crashing in with these serrated little riffs, it sounds like a lightning bolt cutting through the track. The Cars then returned in January of 1982 with brisk run through on the title track from their just-released album Shake It Up, then a dark and stunning take on “Since You’re Gone,” which is transformed by Easton’s growling signature.

Meanwhile, Dire Straits visited on a Halloween night in 1980, doing note-perfect takes on a couple of songs that were largely forgotten in the wake of their huge success with Brothers in Arms five years on. The highlight is “Skateaway,” a bouncy track featuring an of-the-moment protagonist from the roller derby that absolutely comes alive during its extended instrumental coda.

The scope of its musical tastes, despite such a brief lifespan, was in many ways as interesting as the skits were on “Fridays.” They might host Kim Carnes one week, but then they also had Kiss, in some of the final first-generation performances with original guitarist Ace Frehley — and some of the first with 1980s-era drummer Eric Carr. Gene Simmons offers a surprisingly heartfelt take on “World Without Heroes” during this 1982 visit, before Paul Stanley shepherds in Kiss’ then-current self-empowerment ditty “I,” also from Music from ‘The Elder.’ Elsewhere, there are appearances both expected (given its vintage) like Pat Benatar, and not so much — like this energetic, country-rocking moment from the Eagles’ Randy Meisner. There’s Kenny Loggins, but also Devo.

That all of this happened — along with a legendarily out-of-control moment with the late comedian Andy Kaufman — over the course of just 16 episodes between 1980-82 makes The Best of ‘Fridays’ a time capsule moment. Network TV can’t come close to this kind of free-form creativity anymore. And it wasn’t just the comedians.

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Nick DeRiso

Nick DeRiso

Nick DeRiso has written for USA Today, American Songwriter, All About Jazz, and a host of others. Honored as columnist of the year five times by the Associated Press, Louisiana Press Association and Louisiana Sports Writers Association, he oversaw a daily section named Top 10 in the U.S. by the AP before co-founding Something Else! Nick is now associate editor of Ultimate Classic Rock.
Nick DeRiso
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