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Pop Past

Tuesday, November 18 2014

Jumping the Shark and Surviving: A Reappraisal of the Fifth Season of ‘Happy Days’

"Jumping the shark" may be a fun and lingering trope in popular culture, but its truth in relation to the Happy Days episode from which it gets its name is questionable.


Thursday, August 14 2014

Bruce Cockburn’s 1968: Electrocution to Revolution

Being in the orbit of a group of eccentric artists helped to create a transformative year for Cockburn that would further his path toward becoming a world renowned solo artist.


Tuesday, August 12 2014

What Is and What Will Always Be: A Fresh Look at Led Zeppelin’s Familiar Masterpieces

With the exception of the Beatles, no other band has loomed quite so large as Led Zeppelin, to the extent that we’ll never run out of things to say: good, bad and great.


Friday, July 11 2014

Cast Off the Ego Scars: An Interview with Harvey Danger’s Sean Nelson

The song was "Flagpole Sitta", and it was everywhere in the late '90s. Nearly two decades later, it finally gets the vinyl treatment.


Thursday, June 26 2014

The Truth of Milli Vanilli a Generation Later

This musical duo that never really was a musical duo prepared a nation of adolescents for disappointment -- and the eventual acceptance of Auto-Tune.


Monday, February 17 2014

White Jumpsuits, Catsuited Babes, Pornstaches and Other Joys of ‘70s Sci-Fi Television

As the idealism of the ‘60s congealed into the malaise of the ‘70s, TV offered us small bands of forlorn humans in tight suits, roaming the stars. These are the “the starlost shows”.


Thursday, January 23 2014

Eastern Dragons Meet Western Tigers: Wu-Tang Clan’s Debut Helped Asian Films Find a New Audience

Quentin Tarantino himself arguably wouldn’t have been so emboldened to make the Kill Bill films without that fire set forth by the Wu’s debut.


Wednesday, November 27 2013

Black Vinyl: Confessions of a Music Collector

When I touched a copy of the Beatles’ Rarities from The Odd, Older Man’s box of records, the hair stood on the back of my neck.


Wednesday, September 4 2013

Rick Rubin’s Soundtrack for ‘Less Than Zero’ Perfectly Emulates the Excessive ‘80s

While the crowd dances to the beat of Jimi Hendrix’s soul/psychedelic classic, “Fire”, Robert Downey, Jr.’s character has a moment of reflection, but casts it aside and throws himself into the dance.


Wednesday, May 22 2013

Ray Manzarek: The Key to the Doors

Ray Manzarek left his handiwork all over several of the more resilient and extraordinary songs from one of the enduring American bands.


Sunday, February 3 2013

The Permanence of Pops: Louis Armstrong and American Music

The recently released early recordings of Louis Armstrong remind us that no one made a more complete contribution to art in the 20th century.


Tuesday, November 20 2012

Loop: Heaven’s End / Fade Out / A Gilded Eternity / The World in Your Eyes

Derided at the time as pale imitations of Spacemen 3, the US reissue of Loop's entire recorded output gives us a chance to consider them on their own merits and rescue an underheard band from total obscurity.


Wednesday, October 31 2012

TV Networks Have a Knack for Axing Real Gems

TV shows come and go, but sometimes looking back on the programs that networks have axed can reveal some real gems. The 2006-2007 TV season on NBC had three such programs: one an over-hyped Aaron Sorkin vehicle, another an underappreciated hostage drama, and another a misunderstood examination at the lives of young mobsters.


Sunday, October 21 2012

Jamming the Pistols

While the Sex Pistols were specifically designed to cause havoc, the Jam started as a community hall dance band, doing watered-down Beatles covers and Motown standards for disinterested pub-goers and overboozed wedding guests.


Sunday, August 26 2012

The Once and Future King: ‘SMiLE’ and Brian Wilson’s Very American Dream

Almost half a century later, The SMiLE Sessions fully vindicate Brian Wilson's obsessive efforts: the material is complex but accessible, intense but assured, the fully realized vision of a unique talent.


Wednesday, August 8 2012

High Art or Hood Film: John Singleton’s ‘Boyz n the Hood’

When Boyz n the Hood was released in 1991, I wanted to see it. All of my friends wanted to see it. We were all 11 or 12, and we all wanted to see it for the same reasons our parents didn’t want us to see it; it was about the hood.


Sunday, August 5 2012

The Worst of George Harrison: How a Pop Icon Made Some of the Most Disappointing Albums Ever

George Harrison’s recorded work from 1974-82 tells the tale of a talented muse who lost his way.


Thursday, July 19 2012

It Could Happen Here: ‘Pharos the Egyptian’ and Invasion Literature

Does every nation that calls the tunes in international affairs experience guilt – and fear -- through literary ‘invasions’ for years to come?


Wednesday, June 27 2012

I, RoboCop: Paul Verhoeven’s Prescient Classic 25 Years Later

One of RoboCop’s greatest strengths is how the movie so comfortably and carefully straddles the space between smart satire and popcorn thrills, a special talent of Paul Verhoeven’s.


Tuesday, January 24 2012

Circling the Sun Machine: Re-thinking David Bowie’s ‘Space Oddity’

Bowie's odd magnetism has long been interpreted as a function of his ambiguous sexuality, but could it be that he was transgressing more than just gender norms and heralding the rise of the man/machine?


Tuesday, September 20 2011

Still Pulling Your Strings: ‘Master of Puppets’ 25 Years Later

Master of Puppets not only rocketed Metallica into stardom upon its 1986 release, but it also blew a hole in the industry’s unwritten rule that a band without commercial aspirations could not make it and, as a result, helped undermine music censorship.


Monday, August 29 2011

Run Red Run: Funny Song, Serious Message

The Coasters aren't thought of as particularly revolutionary, yet a single they released in 1959 was the first pop record to challenge the racism of post-World War II America.


Monday, August 22 2011

Last Stop But One: The Final Musical Act of Rhythm and Blues Singer Little Willie John

Little Willie John was one of the first and greatest R&B singers of all time. So why have so few people ever heard of him?


Sunday, July 17 2011

An Honorable Escape: Georgette Heyer Remakes Jane Austen

Repetition -- of plots, characters, editions -- is not a disadvantage in romance book publishing industry. It's the very reason for being, though it must be carefully managed to prevent satiety.


Tuesday, July 12 2011

Batman’s Cultural Impact: Promoting Great Society Values

The Batman TV series (1966-1968) is famous for its witty camp humor and colorful cast of villains. But, argues Chris Gould, it also enthusiastically espoused the social and political goals of LBJ and the Great Society.


Monday, June 6 2011

Harlem Nights: Eddie Murphy and the Original Gangsters of Black Comedy

After a decade of uninterrupted success, Eddie Murphy ushered out the 1980s with an ambitious but shaky vanity project. Here is how the director, producer, writer and star of Harlem Nights bit off more than he could reasonably chew.


Monday, October 4 2010

Less Than Zero’s Julian Problem

Cocaine-fueled despair, oversaturated sex in blues and purples, desolate teenagers dying in the dust -- this was the feel-bad movie of the '80s, an open sore on the era’s facade of flawlessness.


Thursday, September 16 2010

Can You Imagine Standing in Line Just for a Newspaper?

'Suddenly and with little warning: STRIKE!' So began a 17-day newspaper delivery strike that prevented newspapers from getting to newsstands and doorsteps, as immortalised in the 1945 short, 17 Days: The Story of Newspaper History in the Making.


Wednesday, September 15 2010

Time Capsule of Our Culture: 1968’s ‘Hawaii Five-O’

When Alex O’Loughlin becomes Steve McGarrett on September 20, 2010, he ushers in Hawaii Five-O for a new generation and a new millennium. The re-imagined series will be viewed and critically reviewed on its own merits, but it can’t escape the original’s place in pop culture.


Thursday, September 2 2010

The Shock Heard ‘Round the World: ‘Bitches Brew’ Turns 40

For a lot of the critics with whom this work never registered, Bitches Brew signified the first time a butterfly turned back into a caterpillar. In actuality, the moves Miles made as the ‘70s began seem, with the benefit of hindsight, like magnetic fields pulling him into the future -- and taking music with him.


Sunday, July 25 2010

The Stories In ‘Acts of Worship’ Feel Like Practice Runs for Better Things to Come

This is an erratic arrangement of tales that merely offers glimpses into Yukio Mishima’s later greatness as a novelist.


Thursday, July 22 2010

In ‘House of the Sleeping Beauties and Other Stories’, Dreams and Reality Seduce and Intertwine

These tales are a must read for anyone who enjoys the short fiction form, and if looking for an introduction to Japanese literature, The House of Sleeping Beauties is a good place to begin.


Wednesday, July 21 2010

Bing Crosby, Elvis Presley, and the Narratives of American Popular Song

It is now possible to see Bing Crosby’s success not as a prior model against which Elvis Presley would assert himself, but rather, as a template that Elvis would adapt and exploit.


Sunday, July 18 2010

Change Can’t Come Fast Enough Within ‘The Waiting Years’

It's difficult for any culture to accept change, and after reading The Waiting Years, readers will see just what this culture, and its women, especially, were waiting for.


Tuesday, June 29 2010

Junichiro Tanizaki’s ‘Naomi’ Than Vladimir Nabokov’s ‘Lolita’

Naomi is often called Tanizaki’s “first important novel”, because not only is the psychology behind sexual obsession uncovered, but it also exposes the contradictions of the culture during that time.


Tuesday, June 22 2010

Beauty and Sadness Proves That With Beauty Comes Power

At a lean 206 pages, much psychological intensity and artistic craft are set within, and universal themes like love, jealousy, revenge and manipulation are all handled with subtlety and beauty.


Thursday, June 17 2010

Pete Seeger… Un Hombre Sincero

These two documents transport listeners and viewers back to the heart of the civil rights era and reaffirm Seeger's creation of a truly global music of conscience that can transcend the limitations of its local translations.


Sunday, October 4 2009

The Ska Will Go On

Ska never died... it merely sank back underground to the grimy clubs from whence it sprang, while the genre’s biggest stars took time to rest, regroup, and strategize their comebacks.


Tuesday, April 21 2009

Dirty Harry: Nothing Wrong with Shooting the Right People

The year Dirty Harry was released (1971) saw several demonstrations of angry cops questioning why criminals had very solid constitutional protections that often interfered with law enforcement work.


Thursday, April 16 2009

Monotrematous Funk: An Interview with Platypus

How did a progressive rock-funk band from Dayton, Ohio become label mates with KISS and Donna Summer? 30 years later, the members of Platypus tell the story.


Wednesday, April 15 2009

M Squad: Clench-jawed and World-weary

Lee Marvin almost floats through his space, bending his graying hatchet-head forward on his tall lanky body, his loose limbs on the point of uncoiling into savagery when some mug pulls a rod or throws a punch. He's a dangerous gentleman.


Thursday, April 2 2009

The Aesthetics of Absorption: Truffaut’s ‘The 400 Blows’

In Truffaut, the camera works not to keep the viewer out of the constructed reality of the film but rather to draw the viewer into the artifice, to make the viewer complicit in its feigned reality


Thursday, March 19 2009

Stay All Night (Stay a Little Longer): One More Time with the King of Western Swing

Today, many performers play a revivalist form of Western Swing, but even more may be tipping a hat to Bob Wills without even knowing it. Chomping down on his cigar, Wills and his legacy strut around the stage of musical history, rarely taking the lead but now and then giving a holler of approval.


An Auteur’s Touch of Evil

The auteur is dead, long live the auteur: Orson Welles and Touch of Evil, 50 years on.


Monday, December 15 2008

Bettie Page, Dead Since 1957

What might be remembered of the life of a woman who was long ago replaced by her own representation?


Thursday, October 16 2008

Honoré de Balzac: A Man of Enormous Appetites

One has to wonder, having conquered two duchesses before reaching his 25th birthday, if Honoré de Balzac didn't believe he deserved the aristocratic title in his name more than some who'd come by it more honestly.


Sunday, September 14 2008

Jokerman Meets Mad Man

Bob Dylan helped change the way the 1960s sounded; advertising icon George Lois changed the way it looked. It's only fitting that their paths have crossed several times since


Thursday, August 28 2008

The Invaders: Cold War Central with the Vietnam Blues

The aliens carry silver dollars with lights which function both as cell phones and as gadgets that can make anyone drop dead from an instantly diagnosable "brain hemorrhage".


Thursday, June 5 2008

Adah Isaacs Menken: The First Broadway Star

A predecessor to virtually all stage and screen sirens, Menken thumbed her nose at the Victorian fetish for decorum that deformed the female figure, and celebrated her body electric, firm and active before being wasted from typhus or riddled by bullets.


Sunday, December 2 2007

Berlin Alexanderplatz

Berlin Alexanderplatz, both serial film and novel, are essential to knowing Rainer Werner Fassbinder.


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