Thursday, August 15, 2013

Musical Mayhem and Murder

Today I started thinking about another sub-category of episodes: Those involving music as an important plot point. There’s enough of them that a post is possible.

The first foray into any kind of music is season 2’s The Jaded Joker, certainly one of the most disliked episodes, at least as far as I can tell. It’s definitely a strange one, as it explores some level of the beatnik culture and one particular beatnik’s philosophies on life. But it has its good points, including the wonderful friendship between two of the main guest-stars, Tragg using beatnik talk, and the titular song, which is played off and on throughout the episode by the resident beatnik.

It’s interesting that the episode boasts a big name in music, yet the man doesn’t sing one note! Frankie Laine plays the main guest-star, a discouraged comedian.

It’s also interesting that the episode has a little tie with the next major music-themed episode, The Missing Melody. Bobby Troupe, who is one of the main guest-stars in The Missing Melody, wrote the instrumental piano piece played throughout The Jaded Joker.

While Paul Drake's Dilemma doesn't revolve around music, it does make an important subplot, with the singer who refuses to testify and help Paul once she realizes her career would be helped along if she did not. And there is also the record she sings that plays in the murder apartment.

Music definitely comes to the forefront a lot more in season 5’s The Missing Melody. A jazz band has center stage, Bobby Troupe is part of it, and then there’s the titular item, which is not on the audiotape that Perry had thought it was on.

The episode boasts several very interesting guest-stars. James Drury, about a year before becoming the titular character in NBC’s long-running Western The Virginian, plays the leader of the jazz band and the bridegroom, who is jilted at the altar by the horrified bride due to a cruel blackmailer’s threats. Bobby Troupe plays one of his friends and a member of the band. Although he sang as well as played instruments, he doesn’t sing here.

Constance Towers does, however. This famous singer performs two big numbers in the episode and is also a major player throughout. She also ends up being the murderer.

Coming to think of it, Walter Burke, who plays Frankie Laine’s friend in The Jaded Joker, also turns up in this episode, with a smaller part.

The next major music episode is season 6's The Dodging Domino, the Halloween episode that really uses Halloween as a backdrop until the climax. The main plot revolves around a plagiarized song being used in a musical, a song that really sounds like it belongs in a musical made in the 1930s or 1940s, not the 1960s. But I could be biased because I don't care for the types of musicals that have a very thin plot held together by some musical numbers. The episode is filled with cheesy dialogue and seems to be very tongue-in-cheek throughout. It also features several different versions of the plagiarized song, including one played during a jam session courtesy of a beatnik's stolen tape.

Our next music venture is all the way in season 8, The Frustrated Folk-Singer. And singer Gary Crosby, who is of course one of Bing’s sons, appears with his guitar. He hires the main guest-star to sing at his place, although he says he can’t pay her. She just wants to sing, so she agrees. Her voice is passable, but not the greatest, a notation made in the episode by assorted characters. The poor girl ends up tricked by a lowdown creep into thinking she has a movie deal and eventually is accused of the guy’s murder. Gary’s character stands by her through it all, and in the end, if I remember right, he’s going to go back with her to her hometown in the South.

Of course, there’s The Avenging Angel in season 9, which spends most of its time making commentary on the music business and exploring the ins and outs of how it works. It’s amusing and interesting that even back then, some people were noting that talent wasn’t the most important factor in making a singing idol. The episode definitely isn’t dated today, and actually is quite enjoyable as a tongue-in-cheek commentary on the industry, as it was likely meant to be. But for mystery fans, it does get exasperating that the murder doesn’t even happen until about 35 minutes into the episode! The writer got so caught up in laughing at the music industry that the mystery really got shuttled off to the side.

I can think of two other episodes where singers played some level of importance, but weren’t actually clues in any way to the mystery itself. In both The Bogus Books and The Tandem Target, a character plays a guitar and sings. Oddly enough, they both like the same song, This Train. The singer in The Tandem Target also sings another song, which is a rather odd one and I was disappointed he didn’t finish it or sing it again later in its complete form. Looking it up tells me it’s very old and fairly well-known, and that it has several versions.

Our singer in The Bogus Books is the 1960’s Batman, Adam West. I’m not aware that he ever released an actual album, but he has sung during other roles too, and his singing on Perry is really quite good. He has a very nice, strong voice.

Our singer in The Tandem Target is Paul Carr. I’m not sure of the extent of his musical career, either, but he also has a pleasant singing voice. His official website describes him as a musician and mentions his abilities with both the guitar and the saxophone. He, sadly, has passed on. He sounds like he was an interesting and warm person.

The Bogus Books is also significant, music-wise, in the fact of the radio turning on at seven P.M. being a vital clue in solving the murder.

Of course, there are other episodes in which music plays a part in similar fashions, including season 4’s The Envious Editor, with its record being a key point in fixing the time of death and placing the defendant at the murder scene. I seem to remember a record being used in other episodes too, or at least one other, but this is the occasion that stands out the most for me at the moment. I remember an earlier episode that features a scene in a record store, and I believe it might be from season 3, but I can’t recall which one it is.

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