All Hail Playboy’s ‘After Dark’ Music Series
For a hot minute Hugh Hefner hosted a music show where popular artists would play to a bunch of lude-lovin' bunnies and "gentleman"!
Marvin Gaye performing on Playboy After Dark.
What the hell happened? Seriously. What happened? Popular music is, what? Taylor Swift, Lil B, and Skrillex? I know I sound like someone’s grandmother whose IBS is so bad she hasn’t left the toilet in 50 years, but shit today just sucks. I turn on Top 40 radio and I want to gun down my stereo. Gun the motherfucker down. (But instead I change the channel because I do not own a gun and I can’t afford another Volvo. Yes, even my car is living in the past.)
Back in 1968 (before Hugh Hefner’s balls needed a soft cotton swaddle to hang above his knees), there was a late night series called Playboy After Dark. The series was filmed in Los Angeles in a studio decked out to replicate the Playboy mansion. Hugh, dressed in his finest suit, accessorized at all times by two bunnies, would chat with the bands before they played a few songs to an intimate audience of party goers, all of whom were stoned, high, and ready to get wild. The women were beautiful, stylish, and angelic. They were sexy and silicone-less and largely clothed. The men were total freaks who danced like the world was about to explode. Playboy's finest era may just have been 1969 to 1970.
During the shows short-lived run Hugh and his party people were entertained by Canned Heat, Ike and Tina, Linda Ronstadt, Deep Purple, Tony Joe White, Fleetwood Mac (pre-Buckingham-Nicks), The Grateful Dead, Taj Mahal, and so many more. (Roman Polanski and Sharon Tate make a quick appearance, which you can watch here and here.)
The musical performances are so great, but even better are the little questions Hef asks the bands (one highlight includes the Playboy impresario talking to Canned Heat about their record collection). Other highlights include Hef’s male friends passing out on pool tables and spinning around in their coke bottle glasses, drunk and living the dream. The music. The fashion. The women. The drugs. The dancing. I would cheat on my husband with a science geek in the hopes he could send me off in a super high-tech time machine and plop me back into a taping of this series so I could take all the Quaaludes in the house and fall asleep in Tony Joe White’s arms.
You can watch many of the performances here, but I’ve cherry-picked a few of my favorites below:
Tony Joe White - “Groupie Girl”
Most famous for his hit "Polk Salad Annie," this song was a B-side on a 7-inch Tony Joe White released to little effect. While the girls who surround him titter and fawn and hang on his every lyric, White sings one of the most accurate songs ever written about groupies, depicting the “long hair” that came into this girl’s life and ruined her. It’s a simple love song for a groupie who loses her self-worth. I die. I cry. I play it again.
Sammy Davis Jr. - “The Gal That Got Away” and other hits
The most talented of The Rat Pack, Sammy Davis Jr. walks around the smoky lounge with his glass of bourbon singing to the small group of onlookers, sipping their drinks, their hair perfectly pinned. He steals the show, cracking jokes, hitting the most beautiful notes—while smoking a cigarette, no less—he brings the house down song after song. He’s charmingly tipsy, his top button undone, and his voice is silk; we all understand that poignant pang when we think about the one that got away. The things I would do to have been in that room…
Fleetwood Mac “Rattlesnake Shake”
Arty is too wasted to see Fleetwood play. They should have done “Somebody’s Gonna Get Their Head Kicked In Tonight” and dragged old Arty up on stage out of his Lude-ittude. Most people are not as down with pre-Buckingham Nicks Fleetwood Mac, but it’s just as great to me. This version is so ancient, it’s pre Christine McVie. But check out Mick on the drums: that skinny body in a skin tight red shirt, sleek hair as he pounds away? And the crowd dancing? Come on. It’s glamorous, drug-infused Playboy TV, man. The 60’s was a great masquerade. (Side note: Arty does make it over to see the band, he’s just knocked out and laying next to an amp. Been there, Arty. I feel you.)
Taj Mahal - “Everybody’s Got To Change Sometime”
The interview between Hef and Taj makes his performance all the more bad ass. Hef says the word "groovy" sincerely and Taj is dressed like he's about to go on a safari. No one can sit there and say this man was not a fucking star.
Buddy Miles - “Them Changes” & “Dreams”
Why the fuck would you not want to be at this party? Look at this. People are really losing their shit, in a dislocate your hip kinda way. That dude in the white pants is practically voguing. Heaven is a Playboy After Dark party in 1971 and I will show up in my best pearls hoping to get way, way more.
Ike & Tina - “I Wanna Take You Higher,” “Come Together” and “Proud Mary”
It's 1969 and Tina's wearing a gold fringed flapper dress which makes her every shimmy and shake utterly hypnotic. Her cover of “Come Together” turns a dorky little boy classic into the sexiest bedtime story a boy could want. Her back-up singers are just as badass as she is in that Goddamn dress. There was no bullshit with pop back then. You played in a four piece band and made rock ‘n’ roll with a spine and it was perfect.
Now, don’t you want you want to join me in the time machine back to 1968 After Dark taping? Thought so.
Mish Way is the singer from White Lung. Contact her about the time machine on Twitter.