Acclaimed music video director Jay Dubin* made his feature film debut with this chronicle of Black Sabbath’s and Blue Öyster Cult’s co-headlining “Black & Blue” tour, which became, not only a concert box office smash, but also a hit on the U.S. “Midnight Movie”** circuit — alongside AC/DC: Let There Be Rock, released in 1980 and playing out through 1981.
The footage was shot on October 17, 1980, at the Nassau Memorial Coliseum in Hempstead, Long Island, New York. Originally shot for and used on a December 6, 1980, episode of Don Kirsher’s Rock Concert*˟, that footage, along with additional footage, was edited into this feature film released in 1981 after the completion of the tour (remembering that MTV launched on August 1, 1981, and subsequently ended theatrical-released concert films and programs like Rock Concert). The tour and its accompanying film came together under the tutelage or Sandy Pearlman, who managed both bands at the time (as well as New York’s the mighty Dictators and Shakin’ Street at one point). (Blue Öyster Cult returned to the venue on December 30, 1981; their live version of “Dr. Music” appears on their 1982 album, Extraterrestrial Live.)
At the time, both bands were on the road as separate headliners (with the likes of Molly Hatchet, Journey, and Cheap Trick as their opening acts): Black Sabbath was promoting Heaven and Hell, their new release featuring Ozzy Osbourne’s replacement in ex-Rainbow frontman Ronnie James Dio; Blue Öyster Cult were promoting their seventh album, Cultösaurus Erectus, which, while a Gold-selling album (500,000 units), it produced no hit singles, although “The Marshall Plan” became an FM rock favorite. (BOC would have to wait until their next album, 1981’s Fire of Unknown Origin to — as did their 1976 album, Agents of Fortune, with “Don’t Fear the Reaper” — return them to the U.S. Top 40 album and singles charts.)
Speaking of “The Marshall Plan,” that’s how the film starts off: with BOC’s new, pre-MTV “promotional clip” featuring Don Kirshner (who also appears in the song’s speaking-intro). Then we segue into the concert, with Ronnie James Dio tearing it up on Sabbath’s new hits: the mighty “Neon Knights” and the title cut from the new Sabbath’s album, Heaven & Hell (they wanted to ditch the Sabbath name and call the Dio-fronted concern Heaven & Hell; the record company said otherwise), as well as the Ozzy-era classics “War Pigs” and “N.I.B.” BOC gives us “Cities on Flame (with Rock ‘n’ Roll),” while drummer Albert Bouchard dons a Godzilla mask for their FM radio stable, “Godzilla,” and Eric Bloom rides out on a chopper as a precursor to their cover of Steppenwolf’s “Born to Be Wild.” And there’s lot of purple “black and blue” lights as fog machines belch, stage throwers spew flames, and giant, illuminated crucifixes flash in the darkness under seizure-inducing strobe lights.
The film cuts back and forth between the band’s sets. There’s no backstage hokum, or interviews (as in the aforementioned AC/DC: Let There Be Rock), no fancy camera work (as in that said film; just transitional fades), or cinematic special effects (outside of what the bands bring to the stage) — just pure rock ‘n’ roll. The film is cut seamlessly, so you even though we go back and forth between the two bands for the 80-minute running time, it’s never choppy or jarring.
After their joint October 17, 1980, appearance at the Nassau Memorial Coliseum, the tour moved to Madison Square Garden: for that show, BOC went on first and Sabbath went on second. Then there was the riot in Milwaukee (which was not filmed and does not appear in the film).
As the theatrical one-sheet states: one and a half million people attended the co-headlining tour. However, what is not preserved in the frames of Black & Blue was a tale told in a October 25th, 1980, Billboard magazine issue regarding the tour’s infamous October 9, 1980, gig at the MECCA – the Milwaukee Exposition Convention Center Arena, which disintegrated into a 9,000-person riot. (I remember the musical melee making the national, network nightly news and my ol’ pop chastising “my generation,” for the umpteenth time.)
Opinions vary as to the cause: BOC’s set ran too long and fans wanted the more popular Sabbath. Or it was the hour-long delay between the band’s sets. Then, with Sabbath finally on stage, while the lights were down (for a theatrical effect), Sabbath bassist Geezer Butler was beaned on the head by a beer bottle by the third song. The lights came up: Sabbath is gone. The stage is empty.
Between BOC going long, the hour wait time, and Sabbath abruptly leaving the stage to rush Butler to the hospital: a riot ensued. Riot geared-officers 150-strong arrived. Fist-fights broke out inside and outside the venue. Over 160 goers were arrested (a mix of riot and drug-related charges) and the venue sustained $40,000 worth of damage. In the aftermath, “hard rock” concerts were banned at the MECCA and beer sales for all shows, suspended. (The exact page with the Billboard story is HERE; the embedded You Tube video below has the audio of the riot.)
The MECCA’s next big concert starred (the non-hard rock) Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band on Oct. 14; the show went on without incident, but without beer sales. Of course, when you’re dealing with the economic realities of operating a multi-purpose indoor arena, you cave when the accountants break out the spreadsheets. So the bans were lifted, with hard-rockers AC/DC and Van Halen appearing, respectively — and beer taps, flowing.
The DVD Reissue
Black & Blue was released to the ’80s home video market by Warner Bros. in the U.S. (Black Sabbath’s label, which also released AC/DC: Let There Be Rock to video) and Polygram’s video division in the U.K. In the U.K. and Japan, in addition to VHS, the film was also released on both Betamax and Laserdisc formats; the first VHS-only copies appeared in Europe (outside of the U.K.) and the U.S.; first Laserdisc was issued in 1984 by Polygram, while Warner Brothers released it in Japan on a (quickly pulled from the market) 1993 Laserdisc.
According to Dio.net, in 2002, Castle Pictures promoted the first, official DVD reissue — with licensing snafus leading to the project’s cancellation in January 2003. By 2004, Universal Studios’ video division acquired the rights and released their DVD into the marketplace. The same licensing issued resulted in the film being quickly pulled from the European market — but not until a limited amount were distributed into some European countries.
While the earlier-released (most likely the Laserdisc over the VHS or Beta versions) home video versions certainly fueled the bootleg markets in the pre-Interent epoch, those 2004 Universal DVDs have certainly been grey-marketed, since. In fact, a Brazilian company flooded the market with copies ripped from the Laserdisc — rips considered to be of “higher quality” than the countless overseas DVD-r greys in the online marketplace ripped from the more accessible (and worn out) VHS tapes. Those ersatz impresses carry release dates of 1998 and 2008. In 2006, the quickly-pulled Universal-European DVD returned to the grey market, the copies believed to originate from companies based in Russia, Sweden, and Finland.
As you can see, Black & Blue is a legalese quagmire, with the members of Blue Öyster Cult wanting the release, while and the members of Black Sabbath — including Sharon Osbourne (?) and Wendy Dio — not wanting it on the market. Ironically, all of their respective legal bickering ended up feeding the grey markets and now fans are stuck with inferior impresses. Wouldn’t you want to do a full restoration proper and put an official version in the marketplace to quash the bootleggers?
You know me: I always go for the original VHS, anyway, which is a direct copy of the film I enjoyed all those midnight-weekends ago in that little ol’ six-plex theater. For before there was “my MTV,” and I was able to go to concerts, and I wanted more than watching bands on TV by way of the pre-MTV Don Kirshner’s In Concert and Rock Concert, and NBC-TV’s The Midnight Special, going to a movie theater to “see a concert” was all we had in the ’70s and early ’80s.
The “Midnight Movie” Days
Yeah, it’s fun to be able to go back to revisit these concert films and other, non-rock “Midnight Movies.” And it’s great for B&S About Movies’ younger rock flick fans to experience the Black and Blue metal time capsule for the first time. But experiencing this Sab/Cult document is all about the theater: with the ticket holders treating the movie theater like a concert hall, screamin’ and-a tootin, while sneaking-in brews and lighting joints to the chagrin of the ushers. As a “Midnight Movie” goer, you remembered to pack an extra t-shirt, hang your head out of the car window to air out your hair, then hit yourself with a slap/squirt of cologne (guys used Memmen Skin Bracer; chicks used Revlon’s Jean Nate) to rid your teen-self of the second-hand pot smoke (and Listerine flowed to cover the brew breath, since we passed a bottle).
Yeah, before the advent of video stores and cable television in the ‘80s, the “Midnight Movie” was a ‘70s marketing gimmick for non-commercial films, mainly exploitation films and just about everything that made the dreaded “video nasties” list. Sam Raimi’s The Evil Dead, the animated rock flick Heavy Metal, and Pink Floyd: The Wall broke to a mass audience, first, as midnight programmers. British graphic design company Hipgnosis — known for their Pink Floyd and Def Leppard album covers — founded by Storm Thorgerson and Aubrey Powell, had a “Midnight Movie” hit on their hands with their long-form video-infused drama, Incident at Channel Q.
For those of us too young to go to concerts, we got to see Led Zeppelin for the first time in The Song Remains the Same. We became “Dead Heads” courtesy of The Grateful Dead Movie. Our first AC/DC concert (distributed by Ferd and Beverly Sebastian of Rocktober Blood fame; also a midnight flick, natch) was, again, AC/DC: Let There Be Rock (linked above). And how can we forget The Rocky Horror Picture Show? The ’70s radio comedy, FM, also, because of its rock slant, ran as midnighter.
Yeah, the good times of convincing the ol’ ‘rents to let me go to the theater to see AC/DC: Let There Be Rock and Black & Blue with friends because, at the time, no way the ‘rents were allowing me to go a concert, alone, and they sure as hell weren’t taking me to a show. (The last concert my dad went to was the tragic Buddy Holly tour in 1959 at the Syria Mosque in Squirrel Hill, east of Pittsburgh. Square.) Black & Blue was pure awesomeness for me in the theater in 1981. Re-watching it for the first time in forty years to preserve it for the pages of B&S About Movies has been a real treat. And it’s been forty years because, between all of my video store memberships and cut-out bin excursions, I never once came across a VHS copy of Black & Blue.
While you can readily purchase greys of Black & Blue at Amazon.com (some may be original presses, but emptor the caveats), we discovered a ripped copy on You Tube.
* After his work with Sandy Pearlman to promote Black Sabbath and Blue Öyster Cult, Jay Dubin directed multiple video hits for REO Speedwagon, Hall & Oates, John Mellencamp, Billy Joel, and Chicago, as well as concert film documents for Andrew Dice Clay. Durbin’s only other film, according to the barren page at the IMDb, is the 1982 TV Movie Dangerous Dan. All we know about the film is that it’s co-produced by Dean Hardgrove Productions and Fred Silverman Productions, who produced a lot of product for NBC-TV, but it’s distributed by Viacom, which is tied into CBS-TV. So, who knows which network it aired on? If you know anything about the movie, let us know.
** There’s more “Midnight Movies” to be had with our “10 Movies That Were Never Released to DVD” and check out our three part “Exploring: Video Nasties” featurettes. There’s more bands on film, well faux-bands, with our “No False Metal Movies” and “Ten Bands Made Up For Movies” examinations. And be sure to check out our two-part “Rock ‘n’ Roll Week” round-ups I and II for links to more, great rock flicks.
*˟ We discussed Don Kirshner’s work in rock ‘n’ roll television with our reviews of his film productions with Jeff Beck’s Kim Milford in Song of the Succubus and our “Exploring: Don Kirshner” featurette.
We Bow: To uber-Dio fan Tapio Keihänen at Dio.net, as well as the Milwaukee Sentinel Journal, for the research in sorting out this hard-to-find, beleaguered, classic “Midnight Movie” for preservation on B&S About Movies. Somebody’s gotta do it, right? No sleep ’til Squirrel Hill, daddy-o.
About the Author: You can read the music and film reviews of R.D Francis on Medium and B&S Movies, and learn more about his work on Facebook.