My unabashed love for the vocal harmony quartet Manhattan Transfer began in 1975 with two distinct events – the first was hearing their song “Operator” on Top 40 radio stations, and the second was watching their summer TV variety series.
Let me explain.
There were several musical talents that would have regular television variety shows – Sonny & Cher, Tony Orlando and Dawn, Donny and Marie Osmond, just to name a few. Well, on occasion, those stars would take the summer off, and a new crop of stars would take over for a few summer episodes. There was a show featuring the Starland Vocal Band (if you can name more than one hit that didn’t start with “Afternoon” and end with “Delight,” God bless you), there was another summer show with mimes Shields and Yarnell, lather, rinse, repeat.
Such was the good fortune for Manhattan Transfer, who received the plum Sunday night summer replacement timeslot while Cher rested her variety show. For four weeks, Manhattan Transfer blistered through their catalog of four-part harmonies, and welcomed some musical guests. There was also some duck involved, but the less I speak of him, the happier I am.
Recently, the entire four-week run of Manhattan Transfer episodes was ported to YouTube, and here they are in all their Art Deco glory – complete with commercials and whatnot. There’s even a CBS “Bicentennial Minute” in the show. How cool is that?
Episode 2 of the series featured the American television debut of Bob Marley and the Wailers. That’s significant in and of itself, trust me on this.
And their final episode of the summer.
Putting together an hour-long variety series isn’t easy. Especially when you’re going through your entire catalog at the time, crafting out the four-part harmonies, making room for the comedy routines, all of that. Still, it’s nice to see the group in its earliest incarnation, performing in the grand tradition of the classic variety TV series.
Definitely a fun way to binge four hours, amirite?