Picks and Pans Review: Women in Rock

updated 02/16/1987 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 02/16/1987 AT 01:00 AM EST

An unusually entertaining 57-minute documentary, this tape was directed and produced by Stephanie Bennett for MCA Home Video. Bennett, who has also turned out such productions as The Everly Brothers Reunion Concert, mixes videos and performance clips with interviews of women singers and composers candidly discussing the problems peculiar to their gender in their already peculiar business. Kim Carnes recalls being told by record company executives that their labels already had enough girl singers and were simply not interested in hiring any others. Rosanne Cash complains mildly about constantly being asked about her father, Johnny, then sings a touching song she wrote about him, My Old Man. Despite the lines, "He's frightened by the future/ Embarrassed by the past," it is more loving tribute than lament. Cher recalls her days with Sonny Bono, 12 years her senior, and says that as a teenager, she viewed him as "the pillar of strength, maturity and intelligence." Brenda Lee gets a little carried away when she compares herself to Bessie Smith as a pioneer among women singers. Like a number of the women, Maria McKee of Lone Justice, who was just barely out of the toddling stage when Janis Joplin died, cites Joplin as an influence, suggesting that hearing her sing was like "barging in on some personal experience she was having." The most affecting, almost scary musical sequence is, indeed, Joplin singing Summertime on a Swedish TV show, seeming to grapple with the song—maybe to make love with it in her fashion. Among the other singers who appear, some all too briefly, are Linda Ronstadt, Whitney Houston, Gladys Knight, Pat Benatar and Bette Midler. There is material enough here for a miniseries, and it's too bad Bennett didn't do just that. (MCA, $29.95)

DAVID LEE ROTH

VAN HALEN: LIVE WITHOUT A NET

Comparison hard rock shoppers may want to take note of these two videos by the solo Roth and his former bandmates. Roth (Warner/Reprise, $19.98) wins the battle of the buttocks easily enough, flashing a little and wiggling his hindquarters at the camera. Though you could find more warmth in a block of dry ice topped with a blond wig, Roth is also a more charismatic singer than Sammy Hagar, his successor with Van Halen. Musically, however, Van Halen (Warner/Reprise, $24.95) is a far more interesting group of performers than Roth's new band, thanks to the often astonishing guitar playing of Eddie Van Halen. When he mugs for the camera or struts with Hagar, Eddie looks uncomfortable and strained; when he plays, he and his guitar seem to fuse into one seamless creature. In some ways it's not fair to compare the two tapes. Roth's is a half-hour compilation of four video singles, stitched together by some insipid rapping by the star, who is flanked by two incessantly jiggling, preening young women. As performances, some of the segments are lively, especially Just a Gigolo/ I Ain't Got Nobody, in which Roth encounters a series of impersonators mimicking Michael Jackson, Boy George, Cyndi Lauper, Willie Nelson and other stars of the medium. Roth's band, notably guitarist Steve Vai, is overshadowed by all the splashy details. The Van Halen tape is a straightforward concert, shot at the New Haven Coliseum. Compared to Roth, Hagar is a low-key performer (of course by comparison with Roth even Attila the Hun would seem low key). Without Roth the band appears friendlier as they cavort through such recent hits as Love Walks In and 5750 and vintage Van Halen tunes like Panama and Ain't Talkln' 'Bout Love. Could this be genteel heavy metal? While Alex Van Halen, Eddie's drummer brother, may not be, as Hagar calls him, "the greatest rock 'n' roll drummer in the world—drunk or sober," he propels the band with considerable force, and Eddie remains musical even at full blast, full speed. He also coaxes some unexpected tones from his instrument, making it sound, for instance, like an organ in the course of a long, untitled (and often arresting) solo. The upshot is that whatever its long term impact on Western civilization, the Roth-Van Halen schism has produced two eminently viable entities.

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