HBO's '70s Rock Series 'Vinyl' Sings A Familiar Tune The new series from Martin Scorsese and Mick Jagger expertly re-creates the music industry of decades ago, but the story plays like a well-worn record.
NPR logo

HBO's '70s Rock Series 'Vinyl' Sings A Familiar Tune

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/466553531/466648957" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript
HBO's '70s Rock Series 'Vinyl' Sings A Familiar Tune

HBO's '70s Rock Series 'Vinyl' Sings A Familiar Tune

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/466553531/466648957" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

LINDA WERTHEIMER, HOST:

Tomorrow, HBO begins a new series. It's a drama about the outrageous lives of record producers during the industry's craziest time, which apparently was the '70s. Mick Jagger and Martin Scorsese are the producers behind the show. It's called "Vinyl." NPR TV critic Eric Deggans says it's like a well-produced pop tune with a well-worn melody.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "PERSONALITY CRISIS")

NEW YORK DOLLS: (Singing) Well, we can't take her this week.

ERIC DEGGANS, BYLINE: "Vinyl" comes at you like a classic rock song you can't get out of your head - powerful, emotional but also kind of predictable.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "PERSONALITY CRISIS")

NEW YORK DOLLS: (Singing) About that personality crisis...

DEGGANS: The time is 1973. Bobby Cannavale stars as Richie Finestra, the coke-snorting, hard-charging founder and president of American Century Records. This is a guy who slings old-school ethnic slurs while remembering his early days in the record business.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "VINYL")

BOBBY CANNAVALE: (As Richie Finestra) When I started in this business, rock 'n' roll was defined like this - two Jews and a guinea recording four schvartzes on a single track. Now, it's changed so much it's not even recognizable as the thing people used to be so afraid of.

DEGGANS: Yeah, he's not the most sentimental guy around. But he does have the perfect ear for bands who can sell records. And "Vinyl" tells his story, going behind the scenes of the record industry in the 1970s, when glam rock, punk and rap were all just starting to emerge. It was also when record men were brazenly breaking the law to make money, bribing record store managers and radio disc jockeys. Here, Finestra recalls how his partner, Zak Yankovich, played by Ray Romano, perfected the payoff.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "VINYL")

CANNAVALE: (As Richie Finestra) Hyman Weiss invented the $100 handshake back in the '50s. But by 1971...

RAY ROMANO: (As Zak Yankovich) I don't know why this is in there either. Sorry.

CANNAVALE: (As Richie Finestra) ...Zak had raised it to 5,000 and a gram of Bolivian dancing dust.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: (As character) Hello, Richie, so thoughtful.

CANNAVALE: (As Richie Finestra) What? You thought songs only got played because they're good?

DEGGANS: This all comes from quite a source, Rolling Stones frontman Mick Jagger, who described, during a press conference, how he developed the idea for "Vinyl" with his longtime friend Oscar-winning director Martin Scorsese.

(SOUNDBITE OF PRESS CONFERENCE)

MICK JAGGER: And we tried to develop it as a movie. And when the TV series came online and started to become interesting, respectable and moneymaking, we decided to make a TV series of it.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "VINYL")

DANIEL J. WATTS: (As Hannibal, singing) Come along, cutie, want to kill some time?

DEGGANS: What works here are the details. "Vinyl" cast compelling young actors as '70s rock stars like the New York Dolls, placing them next to authentic-sounding fictional performers, including a Sly Stone-style funk singer named Hannibal.

WATTS: (As Hannibal, singing) Lady, let's make a baby.

DEGGANS: "Vinyl" sometimes seems like a Frankstein monster, cobbled together from the influences of its producers. There's the detailed rendering of gritty, '70s New York from Scorsese's "Mean Streets," the rock 'n' roll, rags-to-riches story from Jagger and the damaged loner searching for fulfillment who seems a bit like the lead character from executive producer Terence Winter's previous series "Boardwalk Empire."

Still, for those who admire the days when most music was bought in a record store, this series satisfies a certain nostalgia. But its well-crafted, unvarnished look at the record business's craziest period can't overcome a story that feels like a cover of a song heard too many times before.

I'm Eric Deggans.

Copyright © 2016 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.