Prior to the advent of cable television and direct-to-video movies, there were the TV Movies of the ‘70s and ‘80s produced by the “Big Three” television networks: ABC, CBS, and NBC. And we love those TV Movies.
In fact, B&S Movies loves those TV movies so much that we rolled out our “Week of Made for TV Movies,” “Lost TV Week,” “Son of Made for TV Movie Week” and “Grandson of Made for TV Movie Week” tributes to spotlight those films that, in many cases, are even better than the movies that played in theatres.
However, in spite of those gallant efforts, there’s that one lost TV Movie we missed, such as these two productions from rock ‘n’ roll television guru Don Kirshner. Lone before ersatz-rockers Black Roses, Sammy Curr, Billy Eye Harper and Headmistress, Holy Moses, Sacrifyx, and Tritonz possessed our VCRs with their rock ‘n’ horror tales, there was the forgotten, horrific chronicles of ex-Jeff Beck Group vocalist Kim Milford and his real-life band, Moon, on our TV sets.
After his success with TV’s The Monkees and The Archies, Don Kirshner began working as the creative consultant and executive producer of ABC-TV’s late-night answer to NBC’s better known The Midnight Special. In Concert began airing with two monthly shows in November and December of 1972. The shows not only doubled the ratings of The Dick Cavett Show that previously held the time slot, it also beat NBC’s The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson in some markets. At that point, In Concert became a bi-weekly series beginning in January of 1973.
Ever-evolving and innovating, Kirshner left In Concert to start his own syndicated program, Don Kirshner’s Rock Concert, which premiered on U.S. television on September 27, 1973. The final In Concert episode aired in 1981, as MTV, a nascent music video network—created by Michael Nesmith, one of Kirshner’s Monkees—was on the rise and Kirshner’s vision was rendered obsolete.
However, even though Kirshner surrendered In Concert to make his own way in the late-night rock television world with Rock Concert, he kept his production deal with ABC. Based on his past success for the network, ABC provided Kirshner with an opportunity to produce a pair of music-oriented movies.
Those two films—highly-coveted and impossible-to-find rock flicks starring Kim Milford (of the sci-fi romps Laserblast and Wired to Kill )—are 1975’s Song of the Succubus and, its sequel, Rock-a-Die Baby.
Both films aired as part of ABC’s The Wild World of Mystery, a 90-minute late night mystery and suspense anthology series that ran on the network from 1973 to 1978 and aired in the overnights at 12:30 AM—after the rock program Kirshner started: In Concert. Both films, as did all of ABC’s films, also replayed as part of their Mystery of the Week and Wild World of Entertainment movie series, which aired in the weekday overnights into the late seventies (as shown in the image from a Wednesday, July 6, 1977, television listing for Song of the Succubus airing at 12:30 AM). (NBC’s website currently streams the September 1971 Night Gallery episode, “The Flipside of Satan.” Wow. Watch it. It’s a hoot-and-a-half.)
Song of the Succubus, the first part of the slasher-horror saga of Moon, was concerned with the ghost of a Victorian-era musician stalking the band, which they accidentally conjured through the rearrangement and recording of an old, discovered song. Its sequel, Rock-a-Die Baby, concerns the psychic premonitions of one of Moon’s fans—as the members of the band begin to die at the hands of an unseen force.
Other than that, there’s not much known about the through-line between the two films or any additional plot details. Former teen fans of the films recall Moon was on the road running away from the evil they conjured or they’re chasing the evil released through a song’s incantation. Others recall it was an “evil version” of the late Seventies U.S. television series Highway to Heaven—with demons instead of angels and the Victorian-era musician was a heavy-metal Jack the Ripper. Others recall it was a rock ‘n’ roll, live action version of the animated Saturday morning series, Scooby-Doo, Where are You?, as a rock band investigates evil.
According to the IMDb, the last airing of Song of the Succubus occurred through a 1990 Australian broadcast—and the only known surviving print of the film is held at the U.S Library of Congress; the LOC has no copy of Rock-a-Die Baby. Meanwhile, Rock-a-Die Baby was reissued in the U.K and Europe as a TV movie (possibly theatrical) under the title Night of the Full Moon. Sadly, in the midst of the home video boom of ‘80s, with shelves hungry for product, neither of these rock films was reissued as VHS titles. (But someone taped a post-VCR airing of the films, as noted by the two performance film clips included with this review.)
Brooke Adams (of the horror films Dead Zone, Invasion of the Body Snatchers, and Shock Waves) makes her leading-lady debut as two characters in Song of the Succubus: musician Olive Deems, and Gloria Chambers, the “lost love” embodiment of the Victorian musician-antagonist slasher conjured by Moon. Succubus and Rock-a-Die Baby both star Richard Schaal (Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse Five) as the band’s manager, along with Kim Milford (Chief Druid and Warlock) and his band Moon, using their real names as character names: Gaille Heidemann (Bewitching Witch; vocals), Stash Wagner (Mystic Magician; bass), Mike Baird (Demon Drummer), and David Foster (Cadaver of the Keyboard). The unseen member of the group, was Don Kirshner’s go-to producer, Jeff Barry.
While not remembered as such, the membership of Moon, aka Full Moon, is, in fact, a “supergroup,” one of the many that proliferated during the 1970s (either formed by Kim Milford or ad-hoc and piecemealed by Kirsher and Barry). At the time, Kim — fresh from his stage work on the rock musicals (see our review of Jonathan Livingstone Seagull that delves into the genre) Hair and The Rocky Horror Show — was briefly the lead singer of the Jeff Beck Group (those live recording come and go from You Tube). Gaille Heidemann was a studio musician working for film studios who dubbed Patty Duke’s vocals in Valley of the Dolls. Stash Wagner came from the Little Feat precursor, Fraternity of Man, a band noted for the pro-pot song, “Don’t Bogart That Joint,” which appeared on the soundtrack to Easy Rider. Mike Baird was not a member of any notable group at the time, but after the demise of Moon, he joined ’70s popsters Daryl Hall and John Oates for their fourth album, appearing on that band’s first Top 40 and Top Ten hit, “Sarah Smile”. David Foster — who appears with the band in performance but does not act in the film — came from the Canadian band Skylark, which had a Top Ten hit in 1973 with “Wildflower”. Jeff Barry’s extensive, previous resume includes work with the Monkees and the Archies (Milford wrote material for the latter) and dates back to his earliest hits “Do Wah Diddy Diddy” and “Da Doo Ron Ron” under the tutelage of Phil Spector.
Prior to Moon, Milford formed the bands Eclipse (whose music appeared in 1974’s UFO: Target Earth), with members of Polydor and Capitol recording artists Ten Wheel Drive, then 7th Heaven with Trace Harrill, formerly with Terry Reid (know you Cheap Trick history) and the solo band of ex-Byrds’ Gene Clark. Heidemann became a much-sought studio vocalist and voice artist for animated and video game projects; when Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen transitioned into music, she wrote the material. Stash Wagner sessioned, wrote music and toured with the likes of Blues Image, Chicago, Linda Ronstadt, Frank Zappa, and Warren Zevon. Baird’s session, membership and touring gigs led to work with Rick Springfield, Richard Marx, and Journey, just to name a few. David Foster’s later songwriting and production work led to a shelf filled with 16 Grammys by way of albums for The Tubes, Earth Wind and Fire, and Chicago. Foster and Baird also worked together in the band Airplay, which provided “After the Love is Gone” to Earth, Wind and Fire; fans of ’80s AOR (think Night Ranger) will remember the band for their song, “Stranded“.
So, will these two lost TV movies of the ‘70s ever see a release on DVD or Blu-ray through a specialty retro-imprint, like Arrow Video?
A company by the name of SOFA Entertainment & Historical Films recently acquired the rights to ABC-TV’s Rock Concert from the late-Kirshner’s estate for a box-set release on DVD. Hopefully, SOFA purchased not only Rock Concert, but Kirshner’s entire TV program catalog, which included the non-rock telefilms: The Savage Bees (1976; film), The Night They Took Miss Beautiful (1977; film), Terror Out of the Sky (1978; film), and The Triangle Factory Fire Scandal (1979; film). Each appeared as theatrical features in overseas markets, as well as the U.S VHS home-video market and low-powered UHF television station replays. Kirshner made his first theatrical feature film proper with the Olivia Newton-John-starring Toomorrow (1970).
Why Kirshner never rolled out Song of the Succubus and Rock-a-Die Baby beyond their initial TV showings, as with his other films, is anyone’s guess. A legal, educated guess is that it’s an ancillary rights issue regarding Kim Milford’s song catalog, or possibly a legal snafu with the estate of the late of Kiss, Billy Squire, and Billy Idol manager Bill Aucoin, who also managed Kim’s solo career and as a member of the Jeff Beck Group.
If you would like to know more about the music and acting career of Kim Milford—overflowing with pictures and music—visit his career retrospective on Medium: “Rocky Horror, Jeff Beck, Corvettes and Lasers: The Life and Career of Kim Milford.” More of Kim’s music can be found with this You Tube playlist.
Do you need more rock ‘n’ roll horror? Then check out B&S Movies’ tribute “No False Metal Movies.” All ye hail the Prince of Darkness, for he rocketh. Oh, and don’t forget our “Rock ‘n’ Roll Week I” and “Rock ‘n’ Roll Week II” tribute weeks, overflowing with rock flicks.
* Screenplay image courtesy of The Movie Wizard/eBay.