Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Review: 'Left of the Dial: Conversations with Punk Icons'

Left of the Dial: Conversations with Punk Icons compiles twenty-two interviews David Ensminger conducted for such landmark ’zines as Thirsty Ear, Maximumrocknroll, and yes, his own Left of the Dial. My interest in his book was sparked by the inclusion of a chat with The Damned’s Captain Sensible, so I was slightly disappointed when I saw how brief that conversation was and how many post-first wavers were featured in Ensminger’s anthology. My disappointment melted when I realized how fine an interviewer our host is and how insightful and articulate his selection of punk icons is.

Left of the Dial offers a fascinating range of experiences from such subjects as The Dils’ Tony Kinman, a first waver who lays out a near academic history of Rock & Roll, and Minuteman Mike Watt, who offers a harrowing account of the illness that nearly killed him. The diversity is impressive too as we get perspectives beyond the white, hetero dudes who constitute the prevailing punk stereotype to dig the experiences of what it’s like to be Latino (El Vez of The Zeros), female (Kira Roessler of Black Flag), gay (Gary Floyd of The Dicks), or black (Freak Smith of Beefeater) in the scene. Ensminger is a good interviewer too, respectful of his subjects but not afraid to call out the somewhat prickly Shawn Stern of Youth Brigade about the apparent weakness of the 1992 comeback record Come Again or query Lisa Fancher of Frontier Records on her sometimes-criticized business practices. Best of all is a riveting mini-oral history of San Francisco’s Deaf Club, an actual gathering place for hearing-impaired patrons to feel the beat from such performers as X, The Dils, Dead Kennedys, and a performance artist who’d receive an enema on stage.

My only gripe is that Ensminger could have oriented the reader better by indicating exactly when his interviews took place. It was a little jarring to be reading along only to discover that 9/11 had just taken place or Bush had just invaded Iraq. But that’s a pretty minor quibble about a selection of interviews so readable that I guess they now qualify as timeless.

Get Left of the Dial: Conversations with Punk Icons at here:

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Review: 'The Hidden World Revealed ' by The Three O'Clock

When MTV hit in the early eighties, and all you needed was a single digit to finger a Casio-keyboard and an industrial-sized can of Aquanet to become a superstar, a small sect of L.A. bands rejected the latest styles to worship at the pointy boots of The Beatles, The Byrds, and Syd Barrett. Michael Quercio gave this movement a name: the Paisely Underground. His band, The Three O’Clock, helped define the sound with other groups such as The Rain Parade, The Dream Syndicate, and the most successful one of the lot, The Bangles.

What set these bands apart from the pseudo-psychedelics of groups such as The Dukes of Stratosphear (aka: XTC in disguise) and Naz Nomad and the Nightmares (aka: The Damned in disguise) is that they didn’t strive for utter authenticity. Their embracing of synthesizers and up-to-the-minute production values resulted in a sound that can be instantly placed in the eighties even as it pays reverent tribute to the sixties. That totally groovy sound is represented among the tracks familiar and otherwise on The Hidden World Revealed, Omnivore Recordings’ new Three O’Clock anthology.

Newbies will get turned on by infectious bubblegum classics such as “With a Cantaloupe Girlfriend,” “Jet Fighter,” and “All in Good Time,” with its tinkling, early-Rick Wright-style piano fills. The faithful will dig into the oddities, such as a B-side version of the Latin hymn “Regina Cæli” that begins like a meditative Pet Sounds homage before exploding into a Hurdy Gurdy Man wall of sound. A demo of “Jennifer Only,” cut when The Three O’Clock were still called The Salvation Army, sounds like a bit of raging pre-punk noise piped in from Liverpool’s Cavern Club circa 1962. Despite some overtly eighties-synthesizer arches, “A Day in Erotica,” presented in an alternate version, is the purest psychedelia in the collection, with its warped mid-section sound collage. As a starting point into the strange world of The Three O’Clock—where everything always sounds slightly sped-up and romantic partnerships with fresh fruit are not out of the question— The Hidden World Revealed does a fine job. The demos, alternate versions, and rare single sides make it valuable to those who’ve already ventured down into the Paisley Underground.

Get The Hidden World Revealed at here:

Monday, June 24, 2013

Farewell, Richard Matheson

 His work helped launch Steven Spielberg's career, was a staple of "The Twilight Zone," and essentially birthed the modern notion of the zombie (the swarming variety versus the voodoo one). Richard Matheson was one of horror and sci-fi's greatest yarn spinners, as I covered a couple of years ago in this piece written in honor of his 85th birthday. This very brief tribute marks a sadder occasion as Richard Matheson died yesterday at the age of 87. So pop Duel or "Nightmare at 20,000 Feet" into the DVD player or give I Am Legend a long-overdue reread tonight in celebration of the many shudders the man gave us during his remarkable lifetime.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Cult Club: 'Dragonslayer' (1981)

In this feature, Psychobabble looks at classic cult items beyond Horror and Rock & Roll.

Sound cinema’s first half century had no shortage of magicians, from the Kong-conjuring Willis O’Brien to his greatest protégé Ray Harryhausen, from the filmmaking team that brought L. Frank Baum’s The Wizard of Oz to the screen to the one that realized Pierre Boulle’s Planet of the Apes. Of course, no name was so consistently responsible for dazzling fantasies as Walt Disney. Beginning with 1937’s Snow White and the Seven Dwarves, Disney seemed to effortlessly role out fairy tales tailored for children but with enough pure artistic craft and cinematic scope to enthrall parents too. The trend continued beyond Walt Disney’s 1966 death with such box office breakers as The Jungle Book, The Aristocats, and The Rescuers. The latter film was released in 1977, and we all know what happened that year. Suddenly, cartoons would not be good enough for young filmgoers. Adaptations of old fairy tales and talking mice wouldn’t be either. The new generation would require high-tech hardware and state-of-the art effects. The name Walt Disney would instantly seem as though it was echoing from a quainter past. The name George Lucas was roaring in from the future.

On the heels of Star Wars, Disney’s films started to falter. Neither Pete’s Dragon nor Return from Witch Mountain nor the company’s own space opera, The Black Hole, did the kind of business Disney was expected to do. An era seemed to be coming to an end, and one that would spawn such high-tech box-office behemoths as Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Alien, and The Empire Strikes Back (proving Lucas was no fluke) was unmistakably underway. A year after that massively successful Star Wars sequel, Disney, in conjunction with Paramount Pictures, quietly glided Dragonslayer into theaters. Unlike those recent Disney films mentioned above, this sword and sorcery epic didn’t even break even, reportedly only earning back $14 million of its $18 million budget. The remainder of the eighties would be a dark time for Disney, and the studio would only reclaim its former financial glory in the penultimate month of the decade with The Little Mermaid.

In light of its whimpering release, Dragonslayer has an appropriately elegiac tone. It is a film that both eulogizes an era while paying lip service to the new one. There is a wizard who allows himself to be killed just so he can return with greater power, much like Obi-Wan Kenobi. There’s a mystical weapon, the title Dragonslayer lance, that glows like a lightsaber during its forging. When the dragon is defeated at the film’s climax, it explodes like the Death Star. Our hero is a blonde callow youth in love with a plucky brunette, not unlike Luke and Leia (in the days before Lucas decided to make them brother and sister). That’s the lip service. The eulogy is far more intriguing.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Pre-Order The Beach Boys New Career-Spanning Box Set 'Made in California'

So much has happened since Capitol released the five-disc, career spanning Good Vibrations: Thirty Years of The Beach Boys box set back in 1993. The Beach Boys have released the outtakes compilation Endless Harmony, and after years of crazed fan anticipation, a remarkable facsimile of the scrapped SMiLE project. They’ve reformed for a successful tour and L.P. Most of their classic albums have been remastered and repackaged more than once. With another twenty years on the timeline, it’s about time for a new retrospective, and on August 27, 2013, we’ll be getting one called Made in California.

Way back in December of 2011, I announced Capitol’s plans to put out a “new career-spanning box set” and was disappointed when the lame double-disc box Greatest Hits: 50 Big Ones materialized last October. I assumed that this was what Capitol had been announcing the previous December. Uh-uh. Made in California is a six-disc, 174-track ride through fifty years of sun, fun, and psychedelic psychodrama. That’s 32 tracks more than the 1993 set. We do lose several key songs that were included on Good Vibrations, the best being “Spirit of America,” “She Knows Me Too Well,” previously unreleased versions of “Ruby Baby” and “Hang on to Your Ego,” “You Still Believe in Me,” “Do You Like Worms,” “Long Promised Road,” “Funky Pretty,” “You Need a Mess of Help to Stand Alone,” and a run of rarities that made disc three of the old box truly valuable (“San Miguel,” “Games Two Can Play,” “I Just Got My Pay,” “H.E.L.P. Is on the Way,” and “4th of July”). But in place of such tracks, we get a slew of great songs that didn’t make the cut of the first box, including “The Lonely Sea,” “The Girls on the Beach,” “Kiss Me, Baby,” “In the Back of My Mind,” “Let Him Run Wild” (which Brian Wilson allegedly vetoed from Good Vibrations because he thought he always thought his voice sounded too effeminate on it), “Mrs. O’Leary’s Cow,” “Country Air,” “Feel Flows,” and others. The source of a lot of these tracks in unclear, but it seems that the most recent remasters were used whenever possible.

The real selling point of Made in California will be the 60 previously unreleased tracks, and yes, the legendary “(Wouldn’t It Be Nice To) Live Again” is among them. Others include a selection of 17 live cuts from throughout The Beach Boys’ career and a “Stack-O-Tracks”-style disc totally distinct from the one included with Good Vibrations. The set will be packaged in a fancy, schmancy high school yearbook-style box that will include Brian’s 1959 high school essay “My Philosophy.”

Made in California is available to pre-order from here:

And now the tracks (thanks to The Second Disc for this line up):

Disc One

  1. Home Recordings / Surfin’ Rehearsal Highlights
  2. Surfin’

Monday, June 10, 2013

Review: 'The Rolling Stones: Sociological Perspectives'

Is there something inherently wrong about taking anything as visceral as Rock & Roll and holding it up to an academic analytical lens in the same way one might examine the literature of Goethe? I’m not sure, but that’s exactly what editor Helmut Staubmann does in his introduction to The Rolling Stones: Sociological Perspectives, using Goethe as a touchstone to lead us into the discussions that follow. With a career as rich and a cultural impact as powerful as that of The Rolling Stones, maybe it isn’t out of line to dig deeper than “Good beat; you can dance to it.” Keith Richards may believe it’s only Rock & Roll, but Mick Jagger has certainly plotted his work, career, and public persona as deviously and carefully as, say, Federico Fellini, and no one would take an academian to task for subjecting 8 ½ to sociological analysis.

So assuming we’re all cool with the idea of putting The Rolling Stones under the academic microscope, the question is: does The Rolling Stones: Sociological Perspectives get the job done? Is it sufficiently enlightening and insightful to justify its existence?

Well, my main problem with Sociological Perspectives is its complete lack of critical distance. These essays were apparently all written by fans, and their love for the band seems to have stunted their perspective. There’s a lot of discussion of the Stones’s “authenticity” in this book, mostly relating to their appropriation of and “dedication” to that most authentic forms of American popular music: the blues. Several of these essays would have us believe that in comparison to The Beatles, who committed such “inauthentic” crimes as wearing uniforms and acting in comedic films (as opposed to the documentaries their biggest competitors favored), The Rolling Stones were paragons of authenticity. There is little mention of how Jagger’s self-mythologizing by both inclusion—such as playing roles such as Satan and the Boston Strangler in song— and omission— such as his refusal to pen his autobiography and his insistence that the recent Crossfire Hurricane career documentary be kept well under two hours— undermines such claims of authenticity. Let’s not even get into the band’s recent pathetic attempts to appeal to a younger audience by performing with such pop-pap acts as Christina Aguilera and Taylor Swift. Where’s the authenticity in that?

Now, I’m not necessarily arguing that authenticity would be a valuable asset of The Rolling Stones. By doing such inauthentic things as manicuring an evil persona that extends far beyond the band’s actual dirty deeds, jumping on the psychedelic and disco bandwagons, and striking larger-than-life poses for an enraptured audience, The Rolling Stones have enriched their career beyond their bluesy beginnings and made themselves into the fascinating superstars they remain today. I’m just saying that biased arguments in favor of the band’s alleged inherent authenticity defuses such pieces as Cossu and Bortolini’s “The Spider and the Fly: Authenticity, Dualism, and the Rolling Stones” and Andre Millard’s “The Beatles Versus Stones Debate During the British Invasion.”

The most massive blunder of The Rolling Stones: Sociological Perspectives is its failure to address the band’s two most obvious sociological points of inquiry: race and gender. Though these matters have received passing mention in basically every book about the Stones I’ve ever read, race and gender above any other topics are begging for the kind of deep analysis this book should deliver. This is the band that wholly appropriated black music and went on to commit the overt offenses of “Brown Sugar” and back the Black Power movement in “Sweet Black Angel.” More than any other band they drew the misogynistic undercurrents of Rock & Roll frothing to the surface. Why did the Stones delve into these topics, and how has doing so affected our perceptions of these topics and the band ? These are the kinds of things I often wonder while grooving to “Under My Thumb” despite purporting to be a feminist. Perhaps such a discussion would have violated the completely non-critical stance of these essayists. That an essay about how sexy the Stones fans find Mick and Keith and an error-riddled one that mechanically runs down instances of masculinity in their lyrics constitute the entire unit titled “Sexuality/Gender” is a veritable insult.

The Rolling Stones: Sociological Perspectives is strongest in its unit on film (Downes and Madeley’s “Sympathy for the Circus: The Rolling Stones, Documentary Film, and the Construction of Authenticity,” which is the one essay that really does question the band’s authenticity, is particularly strong). Maybe this is because film analysis is a known quantity. Analyzing the sociological impact of rock stars in purely academic terms is less common. The Rolling Stones: Sociological Perspectives hasn’t convinced me that doing so is a waste of time or a total violation of the Rock & Roll spirit. I’m just convinced that this book too rarely enlightened me.

Get The Rolling Stones: Sociological Perspectives on here:

Saturday, June 8, 2013

Sly and the Family Stone Box Set Coming This Summer

Though they were the greatest funk/pop/rock/freak show of their generation, Sly and the Family Stone managed to make it through the whole box-set heyday of the 1990s without getting one of their own. That wrong is gonna get righted on August 27 when Epic/Legacy releases Higher! The box pulls together 77 tracks beginning with Sly's early efforts as a solo performer through the Family years and back to his return to a solo act circa 1977. The standard set includes seventeen unreleased tracks while an additional six appear on a bonus disc exclusive to sets being sold on, which you can pre-order on CD or vinyl here:

And now, the tracks:

Disc: 1
1. I Just Learned How To Swim (by Sly Stewart)
2. Scat Swim (by Sly Stewart)
3. Buttermilk (Part 1) (by Sly)
4. Dance All Night(by Sly and Freddie
5. Temptation Walk (by Sly)
6. I Ain't Got Nobody (For Real)
7. I Can't Turn You Loose
8. Higher (single master)
9. Underdog (single master)
10. Bad Risk (single master)
11. Let Me Hear It From You (single master)
12. Advice
13. If This Room Could Talk
14. I Cannot Make It
15. Trip To Your Heart
16. I Hate To Love Her
17. Silent Communications (previously unissued)
18. I Get High On You (version one) previously unissued
19. I Remember (previously unissued)
20. My Woman's Head (instrumental) (previously unissued)
Disc: 2

Review: 'My Name Is Love' by Darlene Love

If the cliché that great suffering makes great blues singers holds true, and the same could be said of great rhythm and blues singers, then there’s no wonder why Darlene Love possessed the greatest R&B voice of her generation. The daughter of an abusive mother uprooted from a liberal South Californian community to a racist Texas burg, a magnet for unfaithful men, and one of the many victims of Phil Spector’s huge ego and insidious business practices, Darlene Love’s mightily expressive voice can be heard on some of the biggest records of the sixties, both as a soloist and as in-the-shadows support to artists as diverse as Sam Cooke and Bobby “Boris” Pickett. Yet because her name so rarely appeared on the labels of these discs, she never received the acclaim she deserved. The bitterness such misfortunes brewed is evident in Darlene’s autobiography My Name Is Love, which often swells into outright nastiness.

Though her tone is semi-humorous much of the time, it’s kind of a drag to read the constant stream of nose-thumbing directed at the “non-classic” Rolling Stones and Kinks, Spector’s “crap” production of “River Deep—Mountain High,” Ronnie Spector’s “mewly” voice, feminists, and Diana Ross, whom she and her buddies gang up on and send running in a sequence that seems to invite us to join in on having a laugh at the Supreme’s wardrobe. She mocks Dionne Warwick for the thrush’s “crazy” belief in the paranormal, and then explains how she hoped her own child was not born on Halloween because she “had enough devils in (her) life already.” Nope, nothing crazy about that. Nothing hypocritical either. Darlene’s injection of her own religious beliefs into every tale she tells becomes wearisome very quickly, and when she says that the concept of a female God in the song “Lord, If You’re a Woman” “makes me sick,” they droop toward offensive.

Yet My Name Is Love is pretty readable in a tabloidy way. There are plenty of juicy tidbits about her affair with Righteous Brother Bill Medley, Phil Spector’s bizarre behavior, as when he bought Ronnie a bunch of toddler’s toys to placate her during the Christmas Gift for You sessions, Tom Jones’s insatiable libido, and her own broken-bottle-armed attack on a bully she found beating up her brother. Such stories kept me turning the pages of My Name Is Love even if they made it read like a weird mixture of nasty, trashy, and preachy. I should have just stuck to listening to her wonderful, wonderful records.

My Name Is Love was originally published in 1998 (hopefully, Darlene is less bitter these days), and is now being reprinted by William Morrow, an imprint of Harper Collins, as a tie-in with the upcoming documentary, Twenty Feet from Stardom. You can get this new edition at here:

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Psychobabble’s 20 Greatest Singles of 1963!

Few artists were thinking in long-playing terms in 1963. Yes, The Beatles, Beach Boys, Dylan, and Spector all put out A-level albums that year. Everyone else was focused exclusively on the hit parade, and the competition was deadly. Along with the aforementioned artists, there were Smokey and Marvin and Roy continuing their lush, soulful onslaught. The Trashmen and Kingsmen made known the rumblings in many an American garage. The Stones, The Supremes, and The Ronettes made their first major statements, and the mighty Darlene Love belted out from more stunning discs than those that actually bore her name. Even Elvis managed to hang on while the new guard raged around him to release one of his last great discs. In a lesser year, any one of the following 45s could have been record of the year. But this is 1963, one of the greatest notches on the Rock & Soul timeline.

20. “Bossa Nova Baby” by Elvis Presley

In the year ruled by Motown, Phil Spector, and the Fab Four, the writing was well on the wall for the man who helped launch the Rock & Roll era so all those upstarts could have their shots. As recently as 1962, Elvis’s recorded output was still pretty consistent, if far poppier than the raw records of his electrifying early days. In 1963, he only managed two truly memorable sides. First up was the radical mood shifter “(You’re the) Devil in Disguise,” which John Lennon supposedly likened to a Bing Crosby record. More interesting was Leiber and Stoller’s frantic “Bossa Nova Baby.” With its freaky percussion, sudden Mariachi horn solo, and lead guitar work out, “Bossa Nova Baby” shined even as an unusually restrained Elvis sounded like a guest on his own record. The following year, he’d release the similar sounding “Viva Las Vegas,” which would be his last decent single until “Suspicious Minds” five years later.

19. “My Boyfriend’s Back” by The Angels

While the King of Rock & Roll no longer seemed capable of exuding Rock & Roll attitude, a trio of Jersey bad girls were putting out enough snarl for a dozen Elvises. The Angels sound anything but angelic as they purr sexy threats to a letch who hung around to bother the girls every night and say “things that weren’t very nice.” Sorry, sucker, but their beau is back now and you’re gonna get your ass kicked. Peggy Santaglia’s audible smirk as she tells her nasty admirer what’s coming to him lends the song a near sadistic tone, and when she loses control at the end of the record, she sounds like she’s going to dish out the punishment herself. “My Boyfriend’s Back” was apparently originally cut as a demo fro The Shirelles, but it’s hard to imagine those sweethearts working up as much switchblade edge as The Angels do on their slashing hit version.

18. “Pride and Joy” by Marvin Gaye

Speaking of sweet, was anyone sweeter than Marvin Gaye in 1963? Gorgeous to look at and hear, Marvin was a heart melter, and on “Pride and Joy,” he lets you know that you ain’t so bad yourself. Backing up Marvin on this cool cube of finger-snapping soul was a group who’d break out on their own a couple of months later with a hot hit you’ll find occupying the sixth spot of this list.

17. “Pain in My Heart” by Otis Redding

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Review: 'Paul McCartney and Wings: Rockshow'

When The Beatles retired from the stage in mid-1966, venues were getting bigger but bands had yet to adapt to the changing nature of rock shows. They were all still twanging through inadequate amps and chirping over inadequate sound systems. What a difference a decade made. No more Beatles. No more weak equipment. No more fumbling with how to meet the challenge of entertaining a stadium of 60,000 people. 

There was nothing inadequate, unprofessional, or unpolished about Paul McCartney and Wings’ 1976 tour over America. This was a big band putting on a big show complete with smoke bombs, lasers, a projection screen, and fancy lighting while rolling out song after song flawlessly for well over two hours. That’s about five times as long as the average Beatles performance. 

So Wings’ stage act was big and showy and choreographed and incredibly well rehearsed. It was also genuinely exciting. 37 years ago, a good part of that excitement must have resulted from McCartney’s realization that Wings was well established enough in its own right that he no longer had to feel like he was cashing in on past triumphs by tossing in a few songs by his old band. The inclusion of “Lady Madonna,” “The Long and Winding Road” (in a rendition that bests the one on Let It Be), “I’ve Just Seen a Face,” “Blackbird,” and “Yesterday” makes the resulting concert film so much more than the ultimate document of Paul McCartney’s post-Beatles career. Strange then that Rockshow has gotten so little attention since its brief theatrical run and home video release in the early eighties. I remember seeing that 75-minute film on MTV or VH-1 several years later, and it has always enjoyed a fairly healthy life on bootleg, but it’s anyone’s guess why this terrific film hasn’t gotten more attention in McCartney’s very well-covered career. 

That’s all changed with Eagle Vision Entertainment’s DVD and Blu-ray release of Rockshow. Restored from the original 35mm film in fabulous widescreen with all 130 minutes intact, and packaged in a lovely hardback case, Rockshow is getting some much belated respect. Wings, once a mega-selling punch line for cynical critics, may find themselves enjoying the same treatment as the critics of today review this performance. Yes, some of McCartney’s Little-Richard-lite stage act plays a bit corny, and a couple of songs (Denny Laine’s “Spirits of Ancient Egypt,” Paul’s ghastly “My Love”) remain piffle, but there’s a lot of great Rock and pop to rediscover in this 28-song set, and not just among Wings’ hits and the old fab favorites (which include a cover of Paul Simon’s “Richard Cory” and Denny’s gorgeous Moody Blues-era nugget “Go Now”). Album tracks such as “Letting Go,” “Let Me Roll It,” “Time to Hide,” and the show-stopping soul surge “Call Me Back Again” are great numbers that sound even better on stage performed by a cracking band— by far Wings’ best line up (joined by a horn section that never blasts notes where they don’t belong). It’s also nice to see how well democratized Wings were despite being led by the biggest rock star on the planet. Denny Laine and Jimmy McCulloch feel like particularly integral, full-fledged members of the band. The musicians’ constant instrument swapping also varies the mood of a really long concert film nicely, as does the mid-set acoustic hoedown. 

There’s only one bonus feature, but it’s a pretty cool one: ten minutes of well-edited backstage and home movie footage with cameos by John Bonham, Harry Nilsson, Elton John, Cher, and a very chummy Ringo Starr (I remember seeing some of this stuff appended to the 75-minute film). Not sure where the strange additional footage of Dan Aykroyd, John Belushi, Chuck Norris, and what appears to be a local company of The Wiz fits in, but it completes the Super-Seventies Time-Capsule vibe nicely.

Get Paul McCartney and Wings: Rockshow on DVD and Blu-ray at here:

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Review: 'Horror Comics in Black and White: A History and Catalog, 1964 – 2004'

Like black & white photography or cinema, B&W horror comics have their highly partial fanatics. Comics historian Richard J. Arndt ranks among them, and his new book Horror Comics in Black and White: A History and Catalog, 1964 – 2004 gives his obsession with titles such as Creepy, Vampirella, Eerie, and Nightmare a neat outlet.

After a general history of the genre (not surprisingly, the writer emphasizes how the anti-comics congressional hearings of 1954 were still hovering over the horror comics industry a decade later), Arndt breaks down each chapter by publisher, providing specs, historical data, and a brief review of each individual issue. Horror Comics in Black and White is coolest when spitting out historical tidbits, such as the updates on which future artists (Iron Giant/Ratatouille filmmaker Brad Bird being one example) sent in fan mail. Arndt’s reviews tend to be fairly cursory, as when he deems the cover of Creepy issue #21 “probably the worse (sic) single cover Warren ever published on their comic magazines. Absolutely awful” without explaining why or what the cover depicted. Such teasing comments about the art and contents of these comics also made me wish Arndt’s book was a bit more generous with its illustrations. Still, even with its flaws, Horror Comics in Black and White is a worthwhile overview of a strain of horror comics that generally doesn’t get as much attention as its splashier color cousins. 

Saturday, June 1, 2013

Review: 'The British Pop Music Film: The Beatles and Beyond'

In his introduction to The British Pop Music Film: The Beatles and Beyond, author Stephen Glynn describes his study as a two-faced, Janus-like creature hoping to both impart the cultural, social, and political implications of the movies he discusses and convey the “foot-tapping fun” that really is the pop film’s reason for being. In between his overly academic introduction and conclusion, Glynn does a bang-up job of fulfilling his wish. The British Pop Film may make you see new subtextual layers in old favorites such as A Hard Day’s Night and Yellow Submarine, which he subjects to a fascinating multi-faceted reading (Disney parody; jeering reaction to the wackos who burned Beatles records after Lennon’s insightful “more popular than Jesus” statement; etc.) appropriate to the film’s kitchen-sink aesthetic. It may put the implications of Performance, an atypical pop film he views as a surprising summation of many of the pop-film tropes that preceded it, and the ultimately self-defeating Pink Floyd: The Wall into clearer focus. It may also light a fire under you to see such relatively obscure films as the precociously satirical Expresso Bongo and Privilege, the first wholly “serious” pop film.

These kinds of studies of pop culture forms primarily created to turn a quid rather than make a profound socio-political statement (Privilege and Performance notwithstanding) sometimes say more about the analyst than the works being analyzed, but Glynn makes strongly convincing arguments. His organizational structure, which tucks each film into a timeline progressing through the “primitive” (the Cliff Richard and Adam Faith films), “mature” (the early Beatles films), “decadent” (druggy Yellow Submarine, Privilege, and the Rolling Stones films), and “historical” (That’ll be the Day/Stardust and the Who films), is a particularly neat way to show how these films built on and deconstructed each other.  Glynn also balances his analyses with well-researched historical backgrounds for each film, so the highly readable British Pop Film will be of interest to more than the semiotics crowd. I definitely dug it.

All written content of is the property of Mike Segretto and may not be reprinted or reposted without permission.