Louis Jordan and his Tympany Band: Films and Soundies

Idem, $19.95

THE ’40S SAXOPHONIST, bandleader, and songwriter Louis Jordan spent 106 weeks at the top of Billboard‘s R&B chart—more than Michael Jackson, James Brown, or Sam Cooke. He even regularly put singles on the pop charts, unheard of for a black artist. One listen to classics like 1949’s “Saturday Night Fish Fry” explains why: Jordan’s pithy, witty vocal style, bumping jump-blues rhythms, and taste for lyrics that both wag their tongue and bite are as plainly irresistible as pop music gets.

This DVD is spotty both visually and aurally; these “soundies” (pre-MTV clips of popular bands performing, sometimes on a low-budget set, to be seen on nickel-per-play video jukeboxes) are often missing frames, and nearly all are blotched out—if Jordan wears white, that white is virtually all you see, and his and his band’s skin tone is often rendered as black spots. But Jordan’s good-humored approach plus the humorous locales (a farm, a schoolroom) are recommended to students of pop, music video, and African-American history.

DOVES ARE SOBBING over the new 20th-anniversary edition of Prince’s Purple Rain, with three documentaries, eight epochal MTV videos, and commentaries aplenty. (But we’re still waiting for Prince’s yet-to-be-unveiled rock opera with the libretto by Neal Karlen, the co-author of Henny Youngman’s autobiography.) Also out this week: Matt Groening’s Futurama, Vol. 4, the outlandish Tomorrowland-ish fantasy that he was heartbroken to be unable to build a real-world theme park out of. Retro-TV aficionados, fire up the popcorn for the first two seasons of Dallas; the debut season of The Munsters, which was basically The Addams Family crossed with a standard ’60s sitcom, starring the elegantly clumsy Fred Gwynne; The Night Stalker/The Night Strangler, which inspired The X-Files; the BBC’s Jane Austen Collection, all six of Jane’s brainy, soapy hits, aired before the big Austen boom of the ’90s; HBO’s brainless, soapy junkie-model trashathon Gia; and (Feh! Ptui!) Benny Hill Complete and Unadulterated: The Naughty Early Years. Recover your dignity with Joni Mitchell’s 1983 home-movie-like concert film Refuge of the Roads, featuring “Woodstock,” the Elvis tune “You’re So Square,” and 11 others; the underrated Hannibal; and the more intellectual Lecter drama Manhunter.