Battle of the Fake Bands: The Carrie Nations vs. Max Frost and the Troopers

The Carrie Nations

Here at REBEAT, we aren’t afraid to tackle tough issues. That’s why today we’re going to take a look at two bands from 1960s cult films and decide once and for all which imaginary people made the best imaginary music in their imaginary universes. That’s right — it’s time for the Battle of the Fake Bands.

Our first contestants are three lovely and talented ladies who relocated to Los Angeles, California, and signed with infamous musical impresario Ronnie Barzell. They started out as the Kelly Affair, but we now know — and love  —  them as the Carrie Nations in Beyond the Valley of the Dolls.

Their challengers are a band of Los Angeles natives who made quite a name for themselves with their musical talent, lavish lifestyle, and incendiary politics: Max Frost and the Troopers, featured in Wild in the Streets.

Star Power

The Carrie Nations boast two Playboy models and an actress whose scant other credits include The Bingo Long Traveling All-Stars & Motor Kings. Max Frost and the Troopers feature Christopher Jones (Ryan’s Daughter), Diane Varsi (Peyton Place), Larry Bishop (son of Rat-Packer Joey Bishop), and, oh yeah, another star of The Bingo Long Traveling All-Stars & Motor Kings  some guy named Richard Pryor.

Winner: Max Frost and the Troopers

The Music

The music in Beyond the Valley of the Dolls is credited to composer Stu Phillips, with Kelly’s powerhouse vocals provided by singer-songwriter Lynn Carey. The Carrie Nations are equal parts Janis Joplin bombast and Shangri-Las melancholy, with the slinky “Look On Up At The Bottom” and the wistful “In The Long Run” as standout tracks. “Come With The Gentle People” is hippie-dippie California dreamin’ at its best, and “Find It,” with its driving instrumental track and apocalyptic lyrics wouldn’t sound out too out of place on Love’s Forever Changes.

Max Frost and the Troopers’ songs were written by Brill Building-mainstays Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil, and are credited on the original soundtrack to the 13th Power and the Second Time. As socially conscious as the lyrics try to be, and as hard as the lead singer works on his Jim Morrison impression, the music rarely rises above bubblegum protest pop. Not that there’s anything wrong with that — “Sally Leroy” may be the catchiest campaign song since “Tippecanoe and Tyler Too.” “Shape of Things to Come” has become a garage-rock classic thanks to a cover by Davie Allan and the Arrows. The lyrics of “Fourteen or Fight” may be laughable (“Black power, white power, that’s old hat now / Youth power, that’s where the whole thing’s at now”), but it’s also the only protest song I’ve ever heard in 7/4 time.

Winner: The Carrie Nations

Influence: In-World

The Carrie Nations released a few records, snagged fake Phil Spector Z-Man Barzell as their manager, and made at least one television appearance. Meanwhile, the Troopers got the voting age lowered to 15, got Sally Leroy elected to Congress and Max Frost elected as president, set 30 as the new mandatory retirement age, and helped round up everyone over 35 into internment camps. Hard to argue with those results.

Winner: Max Frost and the Troopers

Influence: Real World

Beyond the Valley of the Dolls is infamous. Even if you haven’t watched it, you’ve seen images of Russ Meyer’s buxom cast members, or heard how the screenwriter of this camp catastrophe was none other than film critic Roger Ebert. It’s been lauded both as one of the worst movies ever made and one of the best, and it continues to inspire critical writing as well as helpless audience laughter.

Wild in the Streets is much more obscure, probably because it was unavailable for home video for years; it was released on one disc with the movie Gas-s-s-s in 2005, but it still hasn’t seen a proper DVD release of its own. It’s a shame it isn’t better-known — besides the groovy music and the gloriously exploitative plot, it’s got two beautiful and charismatic leads in Jones and Varsi, as well as one of Shelley Winters’ most over-the-top performances in a lifetime of scenery-chewing.

Though the film is largely forgotten, its music continues to circulate: the song “Shape of Things to Come” still gets occasional airplay on radio stations like SiriusXM’s Underground Garage (credited to Max Frost & the Troopers themselves) and, strangely enough, was featured in a Target commercial a few years back.

Winner: The Carrie Nations

The Films

How seriously can we take either of these bands? That depends on how seriously we can take either of these movies, and how seriously the movies took themselves — and that’s a question that’s still up for debate. Wild in the Streets is an exploitation film, sure, but was it exploiting those no-good hippie teenagers, or the fears of their parents? My friend Gordon, who was just the right age to take the movie seriously when it was released, has told me stories of seeing it in the theater and singing “Fourteen or Fight” with his friends.

“We thought it was great and we knew that we should be able to vote, but not the other kids we knew,” he says — but he’s quick to add, “We didn’t want to throw everyone over 30 into concentration camps, or get everyone in Hawaii stoned on STP. But we wanted to want it.” Maybe Max Frost didn’t start a real revolution, but the character tapped into the feelings of real kids as they took their first steps toward political consciousness.

Beyond the Valley of the Dolls confused its stars, critics, and audiences alike: Was it a satire? Or was it just so bad that its creators chose to call it a satire to save face?  In 1980, Roger Ebert said, “Remembered after 10 years, Beyond the Valley of the Dolls seems more and more like a movie that got made by accident when the lunatics took over the asylum.”

He described Russ Meyer’s vision of creating a movie that would “simultaneously be a satire, a serious melodrama, a rock musical, a comedy, a violent exploitation picture, a skin flick and a moralistic expose.” With all those elements and more, Beyond the Valley of the Dolls is a beautiful mess — thoroughly entertaining, but nothing that anyone would be able to keep a straight face through.

Winner: Max Frost and the Troopers

Overall winner: Max Frost and the Troopers

Though it’s a close contest, ultimately the Troopers come out on top. At least for me, and at least for today. Have a different opinion, or want to nominate some other fictional bands? Tell us in the comments. And remember to vote Max Frost for President!

Max Frost for President!

About Carey Farrell 40 Articles
Carey Farrell is a writer, musician, and teacher from Chicago. She enjoys collecting vintage books and records, watching terrible movies, and telling people about the time her band opened for Peter Tork. Find her on YouTube or Bandcamp.