Twenty great music TV shows and yes, I included The Monkees

Last week’s blog featured music films. Now I want to focus on the small screen. These are the shows that showed me how to dance the jerk, that women could play the banjo, and gave me faith that mainstream music can be about people who could really sing and not just look good in tight pants.

American Bandstand

Saturday mornings were reserved for perfecting my dance moves with that eternal teen Dick Clark. Because of this show, I would never embarrass myself at school dances. Or maybe I did and everyone was just polite about it.

American Idol

I know I’m going to get crap for this but it’s a show that’s brought us some truly great singers like Kelly Clarkson and Adam Lambert. I wish desperate contestants would stop sobbing about music being their life but that’s why God invented DVRs.

Andy Griffith Show

It’s Andy’s fault that I’m a bluegrass fan. The Darlin’s – real life band The Dillards – were featured in many episodes. Andy played a pretty good guitar too.

Austin City Limits

One of the greatest live music shows. They skipped Elvis and featured awesome lesser-known artists like blues artist Susan Tedeschi:

Dolly Parton Show

Who doesn’t love Dolly? She sings the heck out of every song, writes killer songs and can play the banjo with glamour-length nails. Here she is with Emmylou Harris and Linda Ronstadt

Don Kirshner’s Rock Concert

It was worth waiting up past my bedtime on Saturdays. He featured all the greats – Kansas, Johnny Winter, The Police – and then some.

Ed Sullivan

The Beatles! My dad was disgusted by their boots and hair but I thought they were dreamy. Ed had lots of other great performers too – the Jackson Five, Doors, Stones and yes, Nancy Sinatra.


I’ll get rapped on the knuckles for this one too but I just can’t help myself. I fast forward through the syrupy ballads but I love the mash-ups and the dance numbers. I have to pinch myself when I see the gay plot lines. Who thought we’d see two swishy teenagers dancing around “their” living room singing a Christmas song? Dorothy, I don’t think we’re in 1980 anymore.

Glen Campbell Goodtime Hour

What can I say? I’m a sucker for shellacked hair and musical guests like Cher, Linda Ronstadt, Anne Murray and Johnny Cash.

Gong Show

I loved Gene Gene the Dancing Machine, the Unknown Comic and judges like Jaye P Morgan and Artie Johnson. Not all the acts were cringe worthy. Steve Martin played some mighty fine banjo on one show. One year the winner was a four woman band called The LA Lacers. They wore gym clothes (Get it?) and played some pretty good funk/pop:

Mandrell Sisters

I love me some Barbara, Louise and Irlene. Their harmonies were seamless and they certainly knew their way around a lot of instruments. Irlene was no Buddy Rich but she had great comedic timing. I loved the performances where they’d jump around, switching to several instruments in one performance. Barbara is a killer pedal steel player and she’s not too shabby on the banjo either. Here they are on “Dueling Banjos.” Who knew a xylophone was a bluegrass instrument?

The Monkees

Swoon. Say what you will about their cornball TV show, it was popular and included some great songs like “Daydream Believer” and “Last Train to Clarksville.” Here they are with Bobby Sherman:

The Muppets

“It’s time to play the music …” This show still makes me laugh my ass off. They had great musical guests like Elton John, Kris Kristofferson and Julie Andrews. Here’s Animal in a drum contest with Buddy Rich. Animal killed it.

Partridge Family

It’s my dream to master the tambourine this well:

Rainbow Quest with Pete Seeger

This was a little known show from the late 60’s that featured folk, blues and country musicians like Brownie McGhee, the Stanley Brothers, Tom Paxton, Judy Collins, and Johnny Cash. Here’s Pete with  Elizabeth Cotton, doing her well-known “Freight Train”

The Sing Off

Beautiful voices and nothing but. It’s so refreshing to hear live singing that’s this amazing.

Smothers Brothers

Comedy AND folk music? Where do I sign up? Here they are with Donovan and Peter Paul and Mary:

Sonny and Cher

Cher always had the upper hand and looked fabulous. Here’s rock band Fanny on a 1971 show. I had the pleasure of interviewing the members not long ago and they told me this segment was taped ahead of time, without an audience. They put rubber mats on the drums so they wouldn’t make too much noise so the rest of the band could hear the tracks well enough to lip sync.

Ted Mack’s Amateur Hour

Back when TV was all black and white, they offered a glimpse of some amazing talent including a seven year old Gladys Knight and Ann Margaret at sixteen.  Here’s an eight year old Irene Cara:

The Voice

Better than American Idol, it lost some steam toward the end but I love that there’s no age limit. While they had their share of beautiful young pop singers, they didn’t shy away from performers like older rocker  Beverly McClellan. It’ll be interesting to see where this show goes.

So what did I miss? What was your favorite TV show? If I can admit to loving the Monkees, surely you can fess up too.


Thanks to my Facebook friends for their great suggestions.

About jamiebobamie

Musician - teacher - writer - gets bored easily. I write an almost-weekly blog that includes true stories gathered from 20-plus years of touring, how-to articles for musicians and profiles of performers. Also, I love dark chocolate, I can play "Brown Eyed Girl" behind my head, and I twirl the baton badly.
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8 Responses to Twenty great music TV shows and yes, I included The Monkees

  1. JD Doyle says:

    What, no Shindig, Hullabaloo, Midnight Special, Soul Train?
    Still….a pretty good list…:)

    • jamiebobamie says:

      I don’t think we got Shindig, Hullabaloo and Soul Train. At least, I don’t remember them. I’ve seen a few clips but not enough to say I loved them. However, loved Midnight Special. Don’t know how they got left off the list.

  2. Jim McKee says:

    Agree with JD… Shindig & Hullabaloo were when I was little, so only remember them by name, but Midnight Special & Soul Train definitely. In fact, Soul Train came to mind even before I got down to the Comments. Great article!

  3. Diner Dave says:

    I’ve been trying to think of a music-related show i watched in the 70s or 80s. It was an instructional program, not performance based. For some reason, I’m thinking Herbie Hancock as host, but all the Googling in the world won’t prove me right. Maybe that will provide a clue, however. It took place mostly in a recording studio, if memory serves.


  4. Diner Dave says:

    I’m sure, but I watched it in Canada.

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