From 1971 to 1987, Tuesday nights in the UK meant The Old Grey Whistle Test, the live music program that ended the broadcast day for the BBC. The list of performances from The Old Grey Whistle Test is a treasure trove from across the musical spectrum, rock, blues, R&B, punk. You name the genre, it was represented on The Old Grey Whistle Test. Volume three raids the BBC archives for more vintage performances from the top acts of the day, including Jackson Browne, Roger Daltrey, Joe Jackson, King Crimson, Supertramp, B.B. King, Simple Minds, Humble Pie and many more. Roger Daltrey himself introduces his performance of "Giving It All Away," and presenters Mark Ellen and David Hepworth provide hilarious and insightful commentary on all the performances, looking back on the history of one of the most remarkable franchises in the history of music.
Like its two predecessors, this third volume of performances from English television's Old Grey Whistle Test is a primer on eclecticism, an overused term that is nonetheless appropriate here. Packed into a little more than two hours, these 28 clips represent virtually every style of popular music, profound and trivial alike, that was in vogue when the show made its early-'70s to mid-'80s run, including traditional and contemporary folk, singer-songwriters, rock (hard, classic, and progressive), blues, punk, and new wave, along with other, less easy to categorize sounds. Better yet, most of the performances are live (others have live vocals over a pre-recorded track), and some are exceptionally good. Fairport Convention, soldiering on well after the departures of singer Sandy Denny and guitarist Richard Thompson, display their considerable chops on the instrumental "Brilliancy Medley" (Thompson appears elsewhere on the DVD in a duet with then-wife Linda); blues guitarist Freddie King and his band are deep in the pocket on the aptly-named "Boogie Funk"; Janis Ian reminds us what a poignant, well-crafted song her hit "At Seventeen" was; and Public Image Limited, Johnny Rotten's post-Sex Pistols outfit, are surprisingly powerful and compelling, as is King Crimson, with founder Robert Fripp joined by guitarist Adrian Belew, drummer Bill Bruford, and bassist Tony Levin. Of course, the show's Brit-centric booking policy will leave some viewers wondering what bands like Japan, Orange Juice, and Half Man Half Biscuit did to deserve this kind of exposure, while others may applaud the producers' showcasing the borderline unlistenable Jesus and Mary Chain even as they reach for the fast forward button. But with the rest of the acts ranging from Johnny Winter and Jackson Browne to Joe Jackson, John Martyn, and the Jam (and that's just the J's), surely there's something here for everyone. The cheeky, often amusing voice-over commentary available for most songs is the best of the bonus features. --Sam Graham