Monday, December 28, 2020

Review: 'Stanley Kubrick Produces'

Stanley Kubrick is one of the most recognizable and revered film directors and arguably the one who most effectively and indelibly smuggled big ideas and experimental storytelling into mainstream cinemas. However, a close look at his career reveals that Kubrick put a lot more of himself into producing than directing. Over the final three decades of his career, he directed only five films, but he was constantly busy with distribution, marketing, home video releases, dubbing for foreign markets, etc. And he lavished all the attention on this unglamorous stuff that he expended on his directing. Ultimately, his obsession with every facet of production so consumed his time that he could direct only one picture in the final twelve years of his life.

I'm a major Kubrick fan, and I've read several books about him, but I didn't quite grasp why his career was as odd as it was until reading James Fenwick's Stanley Kubrick Produces. Bolstered with a tremendous amount of research in the Stanley Kubrick Archives at the University of the Arts London, Fenwick highlights how dedicated Kubrick was to maintaining control of his work from the very beginning of his career. It began with media spin in the days when he wanted to project the idea that he had more control than he really did and he tended to bungle his productions. He made the ultimate blunder when he and partner James B. Harris signed a contract with Kirk Douglas's production company that gave the actor far more say than it gave Kubrick. 

The interesting takeaway from Stanley Kubrick Produces that Fenwick doesn't overemphasize is that Kubrick's obsession with control was often about creating and presenting his work as well as he possibly could. It may seem crazy for a producer to get involved in how his movies are dubbed for foreign markets, which is a task usually farmed out to companies that specialize in that kind of work. However, anyone who has ever seen a film dubbed with flat, unengaged voices knows how integral voice acting is to the effectiveness of a film. Kubrick was rightly offended by attempts to market Paths of Glory as a blood and guts war movie or 2001: A Space Odyssey as pulp sci-fi and one can understand why an artist of his caliber would want to get involved in that side of the business for the sake of how the world approached his art. While the many mistakes documented in Stanley Kubrick Produces expose Kubrick as not as infallible as some fans consider him to be, and his attempts to subvert labor union rules were downright immoral, the infamous obsessiveness it also documents only highlights how complete his artistry was.

Tuesday, December 15, 2020

Review: 'The Rolling Stones'

For a band regularly derided as ugly and dirty throughout their nearly sixty-year career, The Rolling Stones' mugs have sure sold a lot of books. Originally published in 2014, editor Reuel Golden's The Rolling Stones was just the latest in a long history of Stones-centric photo books. Most of its images had been previously published, but since it's a Taschen book, it is atypically comprehensive. Its more than 450 pages are packed with pictures of them from their most photogenic days in the sixties to sessions for their most recent album at that time, 2005's A Bigger Bang. Half of those 450 pages focus on the sixties with a variety of publicity photos, album cover sessions, and recording studio documents. Surprisingly few catch them on stage in their most vital days, though concert pics become the dominant type when The Rolling Stones starts sucking in the seventies. Hilariously, and thankfully, the book sprints through the Stones' most execrable decade, the eighties, in just ten pages, while about twenty each are allotted for the inessential nineties and twenty-first century. 

Because so many of these images will be familiar to Stones fans, The Rolling Stones will be most valuable to fans purchasing their first Stones photo book or others looking to consolidate. I've seen my share, but some of these were new to me, such as a shot of Brian Jones holding a (presumably) psychedelic mushroom aloft in 1967 and a shot of Keith Richards's pre-Redlands living room, which is as Spartan as a hotel room. My favorite shots are the LP-cover outtakes, but that's just because I can never get enough of seeing Charlie Watts pal around with a donkey.

Taschen is now publishing an updated edition of The Rolling Stones, though the only post-2014 photos can be found in the memorabilia and discography sections. Perhaps more pics were added to the sixties and seventies. I doubt anyone would complain about that. 

Monday, December 14, 2020

Review: 'Film Noir Style: The Killer 1940s'

Even with its multilayered mysteries and bizarre developments, film noir was always more about style than plot. No one can tell you what The Big Sleep is about, but everyone remembers Bogart’s rumpled trench coat/fedora combo and Bacall’s sharp houndstooth suit.

Kimberly Truhler surveys film noir style in her new book Film Noir Style. This is more than an analysis of the costumes the actors wore in films such as The Postman Always Rings Twice and Gilda, though it is that. Truhler occasionally discusses how lighting, set design, and camera angles fashioned the instantly identifiable noir aesthetic.


Monday, December 7, 2020

Review: 'Cool Town: How Athens, Georgia, Launched Alternative Music and Changed American Culture'

In the late seventies, The B-52’s magnetized the pop world’s attention to Athens, Georgia, where a new scene was starting to coalesce. There was no particular Athens sound. The-B-52’s kitschy retro party rock was nothing like Pylons angular avant-funk or Bar-B-Q Killer’s chaotic punk or Vic Chesnutt’s gritty songcraft or R.E.M.’s jangly Nuevo folk rock. But the fact that so much varied creativity was blossoming in a particular location was noteworthy and highly influential. That creativity expanded beyond pop as students and artists attracted to a bohemian oasis in the conservative state invented new ways to express themselves and hang out. They got inventive on the cheap with weird food-oriented art shows or made spectacles of themselves while people watching. Outside artists such as Matthew Sweet were drawn to the Athens to catch some of its magic.

Saturday, December 5, 2020

Review: 'Portrait of a Phantom: The Story of Robert Johnson’s Lost Photograph'

In 2005, guitar salesman Zeke Schein found an original photograph depicting a man he was convinced was Robert Johnson on ebay. He won the auction after bidding $3,100 (the actual sale price was $2,176.56), passed the photo around to various bluesmen and a forensics expert, and not only amassed evidence that his picture is most likely the real deal (though it remains officially unverified), but identified the photographer and the second man in the photo: Johnson’s traveling companion and collaborator, Johnny Shines. The discovery of the photo was significant because there had previously only been two known photos of the man who was arguably the key figure in blues—more because he wrote timeless songs and developed a complex guitar technique than because of any cheesy Faustian bargain myth.

Thursday, December 3, 2020

Review: 'Charles Brown's Cool Christmas Blues' on Vinyl

With The Blazers, Charles Brown created a smooth blues sound he put to fine use on his 1947 hit "Merry Christmas Baby". After Brown went solo in 1948, that hit solidified into standard and he became pretty associated with the holiday season. He penned another seasonal standard called "Please Come Home for Christmas" in 1960 that would be covered by everyone from The Eagles to Bon Jovi to Kelly Clarkson. Ummm, guess whose version is the best.

In 1994, Brown revisited those two classics and nine other numbers for Charles Brown's Cool Christmas Blues. If anything, the album is a bit too cool. Its slow, serene sound gets a little samey. But though his re-recordings do not have the vintage atmosphere of the originals, I like the way his voice has aged. Charles Brown at 72 wasn't quite as smooth as he was at 25, but his voice acquired a lot more character. His band stretches out for some pleasant, light jazz improv. Normally I'd rather hear that version of "Jingle Bells" by the barking dogs than any version of "Silent Night", but Brown infuses the corny hymn with fresh soul by playing with its sing-songy melody in his inimitable style.

Originally released on compact disc, Charles Brown's Cool Christmas Blues is now making its vinyl debut. It's amazing to think that such an organic sounding recording was made during the digital age. It sounds terrific on this release and will surely put you deep into a seasonal groove. 

Tuesday, December 1, 2020

Review: 'Can’t Slow Down: How 1984 Became Pop’s Blockbuster Year'

Judged solely on the quality of its music, 1984 wasn’t necessarily the best year of the eighties. It did have an unusually high number of blockbuster releases. While 1982 could claim Thriller, and 1983 had Synchronicity, An Innocent Man, and Pyromania, 1984 was the year of such single-spewing juggernauts as the Footloose soundtrack, Born in the U.S.A., Eliminator, Sports, Can’t Slow Down, Like a Virgin, Private DancerShe’s So Unusual, Purple Rain, and yes, 1984. So you can’t fault Michaelangelo Matos for making the year the subject of his new book Can’t Slow Down: How 1984 Became Pop’s Blockbuster Year. 

Friday, November 27, 2020

Review: 'The Art of Star Wars: The Mandalorian'

We fans have a notoriously tough time rallying around any live action Star Wars product that isn’t the original trilogy. Who can blame us? The prequel trilogy was a turgid gasbag. The sequel trilogy got off to a lively and well received start with The Force Awakens, but it began to divide fans as it became clear that the filmmakers were just winging it, and the whole thing ended on a fatuous note with The Rise of Skywalker. Rogue One was a good yarn but too dour to truly love. Solo was dumb. 

Monday, November 23, 2020

Review: 'Bugs Bunny 80th Anniversary Collection'

 (Warner Bros. Home Entertainment provided me with a free copy of the Blu-ray I reviewed in this Blog post. The opinions I share are my own.)

The Flintstones and Tom and Jerry are fine for a dose of nostalgia, but there’s a reason that Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies are timeless: they are still really, really funny. No other cartoons of their era packed such a wallop of anarchy, imagination, and wild one liners. 

The most memorable lines spewed from the buck-toothed grin of Bugs Bunny. Bugs could be sarcastic, salacious, or just plain screwy, but he was always hilarious. There was tremendous variety in the situations and the ways Tex Avery, Robert McKimson, Friz Freling, Bob Clampett, or Chuck Jones depicted him, but the wabbit was invariably puncturing pomposity and annihilating authority. I started showing Bugs Bunny cartoons to my son when he was still in diapers to help him develop a healthy spirit of rebellion and an unhealthy sense of humor. His hankering for carrots was an unintended side effect.


Wednesday, November 18, 2020

Review: 'The Jimi Hendrix Experience-Live in Maui'

On August 1, 1970, Jimi Hendrix played a spur-of-the-moment free concert on a slapped together stage on a cattle ranch in Maui so filmmaker Chuck Wein could shoot some live footage to insert into an awful sounding Easy Rider rip-off called Rainbow Bridge. This was just four weeks before Hendrix’s infamously disappointing performance as the headliner of the Isle of Wight Festival— just seven weeks before his death. Under such circumstances, it’s natural to expect little of Hendrix’s Maui gig. Yet, recordings prove it was a spectacular testament to how in charge of his powers he still was so close to the end of his life.

Monday, November 16, 2020

Review: 'Drawn to the Dark: Explorations in Scare Tourism Around the World'

In 2013, Chris Kullstroem was fresh out of graduate school and primed to pursue her next project: she would travel the world and experience its various horrific traditions and attractions first hand. She’d hang out in an Oaxaca cemetery on Dia de los Muertos. She’d get whipped by part-time sadists in Krampus masks in Salzburg. She’d visit Kyoto during Japan’s demon-centric celebration, Setsubun. She’d check out the Transylvanian castle that inspired Dracula’s digs and do Walpurgisnacht in Berlin.

Monday, November 9, 2020

Review: 'Punk Post Punk New Wave'

From the late seventies through the eighties, Michael Grecco photographed nearly every artist that mattered: The Clash, The Ramones, Talking Heads, The B-52s, Devo, Joan Jett, Billy Idol, Dead Kennedys, Lene Lovich, Elvis Costello, David Bowie, Lou Reed, Siouxsie and the Banshees, Joe Jackson, Buzzcocks, Nick Lowe, Madness, Adam Ant, and on and on. A new collection of his work, Punk Post Punk New Wave, is as much a testament to Grecco’s great taste in music as it is a display of his talent behind the lens.

Sunday, November 8, 2020

Review: 'Halloween Nation: Behind the Scenes of America’s Fright Night'

A week into November, Halloween is not exactly the number one thing on my mind, and I tend to have Halloween on my mind more than most people. However, reading the new edition of Lesley Pratt Bannatyne’s Halloween Nation: Behind the Scenes of America’s Fright Night helped me catch that spooky wave again. 

Playing the ever affable tour guide, Bannatyne focuses on the people who make Halloween an all-year obsession by devoting their lives to growing monstrous pumpkins, building their own elaborate decorations, running haunted attractions, prepping for costume parades, performing in creepy burlesque shows, playing trick-or-treat pranks, participating in zombie-invasion recreation societies, and crafting installments of The Simpsons annual Treehouse of Horror (hiya, Mike Reiss!). They’re the people who really draw every oozing bit of fun out of the funnest holiday. And I thought I was obsessed because I start decorating my apartment in September and spend the days leading up to October 31 watching several monster movies a day. I’m a rank amateur compared to the cat who collected so much jack-o’-lantern paraphernalia that he was able to put a down payment open a house by selling $200,000 worth of his stuff. And, yes, he still owned thousands of dollars worth of leftovers as of the book’s original publication in 2011 (the new edition features a fresh introduction by the author).


Bannatyne also covers people who identify as real-life ghost conjurers and spell-casting witches. I found that stuff less interesting because those people are not necessarily enamored with Halloween and because it isn’t 2011 anymore. Back then, I might have found folks who believe they have magical powers charmingly kooky. Today, when people who believe Democrats are baby-eating lizard people from outer space can actually win seats in Congress, I have a lot less tolerance for fantasy.

Thursday, November 5, 2020

Review: 'Holly Jolly: Celebrating Christmas Past in Pop Culture'

John Waters once said, “If you don’t have yourself a merry little Christmas, you might as well kill yourself.” While I wouldn’t go quite that far, I do agree that there’s something pointlessly self-spiting about refusing the tinsely, tacky joys of Christmas. After all, are you really living if you deny yourself the pleasure of yucking it up when Ralphie nearly shoots his eye out with a Red Ryder BB gun? Are you really living if you don’t get a lump in your throat when Darlene Love wails “They’re singing ‘Deck the Halls,’ but it’s not like Christmas at all” or the Monkees harmonize like angels on “Riu Chiu”? Are you really living if you don’t ensconce yourself in pine and fairy lights every December?

I’ve been a stalwart atheist since my teens, and Christmas is the one vestige of a Catholic upbringing I still enjoy. Actually, I agree with seasonal-icon Charles Schulz, who once said, “I doubt very much that Christmas was ever a religious holiday in the first place.” The holiday was always more about the cartoon specials and very special episodes, pop songs and Scrooge movies, Coke and toy ads anyone can dig than magical mangers.

Monday, November 2, 2020

Review: 'Harry Dean Stanton: Hollywood’s Zen Rebel'

Harry Dean Stanton was a mass of contradictions. He was the quintessential character actor who saw himself as a leading man. He was an unshakable atheist who sometimes identified himself as a Buddhist. He was a loner who often found himself at the center of hard carousing. He was the bitter product of a mother who abandoned him but would not acknowledge a man who claimed to be his son. 

Sunday, November 1, 2020

Review: 'Ready Steady Go!: The Weekend Starts Here'

The most tragic consequence of the shortsightedness of the early television era is the fact that scant footage from the 173 episodes of Ready Steady Go! survives. Only nine complete episodes, one Motown special, and a handful of clips remain. That anyone would have wipe 120-or-so hours of The Beatles, The Supremes, the Stones, The Kinks, The Animals, Martha and the Vandellas, The Zombies, Dusty Springfield, The Ronettes, The Four Tops, Small Faces, or series mascots The Who performing at the height of their powers is criminal, and the pain only stings harder when you read Andy Neill’s new book Ready Steady Go!: The Weekend Starts Here.

Monday, October 26, 2020

Review: 'Star Wars (BFI Film Classics)' (2nd Edition)

In his 2009 monograph for the British Film Institute, Will Brooker states that he is the first writer to take Star Wars seriously enough to study the film as a text rather than as a piece of technology or pop cultural milestone. I’ll admit that I’ve read a lot of books about the film’s development, making, history, influence, and success, but I have not read much in the way of formal analysis.

Tuesday, October 20, 2020

Review: 45th Anniversary 'Rocky Horror Picture Show' Picture Disc

Rock musicals usually don’t work because people like Andrew Lloyd Webber don’t understand the simple, primal thrust of Rock & Roll. The Rocky Horror Picture Show is a rare exception because Richard O’Brien smartly chose super-theatrical glam rock as his reference point and because his story’s sexual obsessions are all thrust. He also happens to be a terrific pop songwriter. I’ll admit that I’ve always found “Touch-a, Touch-a, Touch-a, Touch Me” annoying, but nearly every other number is aces. The performances particularly contribute to the authenticity, because most of the singers are not traditional musical-theater types. There’s nothing un-Rock & Roll about O’Brien’s Karloff croon and metal shriek or Little Nell’s bubblegum-gnawing turn on the timeless “Time Warp”. Natch, Tim Curry rules the motley roost as Dr. Frank-N-Furter, and he draws all the Jagger-esque swagger out of “Sweet Transvestite” and makes the legit inspiring “Don’t Dream It, Be It” tear-jerkingly gorgeous. 

So of course the film’s soundtrack is absolutely essential for anyone who has ever donned the garters and strutted at midnight (bonus: “Touch-a, Touch-a, Touch-a, Touch Me” is the first track on Side B, so it’s really convenient to skip!). The album has been available in a number of formats over the years, including several picture discs that have been popping up since 1979. Now Lou Adler’s Ode Records is reissuing the soundtrack on a picture disc with unique images for the film’s 45th Anniversary.


As essential as The Rocky Horror Picture Show soundtrack is, picture discs usually aren’t ideal for anyone but picture disc collectors since the format is more about novelty than strong audio. The good news is that as far as picture discs go, this one sounds pretty good. Some picture discs suffer persistent surface noise, but aside from a slight hum noticeable only between tracks, the 45th Anniversary Rocky Horror Picture Show soundtrack gets the job done. The lack of any cardboard outer cover is a bit chintzy, but if you’re simply drooling to get a gander at that photo of Frank on the disc, the clear plastic sleeve ensures you won’t have to spend a single second shivering with antici…………..pation.

Monday, October 19, 2020

Review: 'The Rolling Stones in the Beginning: With Unseen Images'

Between mid-1965 and mid-1966, Danish photographer Bent Rej was one of The Rolling Stones’ most trusted chroniclers. He began working with the band just as Mick and Keith penned their first smash, “The Last Time”, entering them into the upper echelon of pop artists. Rej exited the fold when Brian, his closest friend in the group, spiked him, and the group’s descent into druggy darkness began. Consequently, his shots tend to show an atypically innocent Rolling Stones.

Wednesday, October 14, 2020

A 'Twilight Zone' Doodle

Here's a little doodle I did to remind you that if you can't think of what to watch this Halloween season, one of the creepier episodes of The Twilight Zone tends to hit the spot. Consider trying "The Dummy", "Living Doll", "The Grave", "Jess-Belle", "The New Exhibit", "To Serve Man", "Nightmare at 20,000 Feet", "The Howling Man", "The Hitch-Hiker","Mirror Image", "It's a Good Life", "The Masks", or "Night Call". Hell... try them all!

Monday, October 12, 2020

Review: 'Paul Thomas Anderson: Masterworks'

No new filmmaker of the late twentieth-century reached for that brass ring like Paul Thomas Anderson. While most seemed content to ape Tarantino, Anderson made clear his aspirations to join the looming likes of Kubrick, Altman, and Malick: filmmakers of preternatural vision and ambition. Although Anderson never made any bones about his film-geek touchstones (the most reductive of critics labeled Boogie Nights his “Scorsese,” Magnolia his “Altman,” There Will Be Blood his “Kubrick,” and so on), Anderson’s films were still preciously personal and wholly original in their own rights. Each new release was an event, especially as his schedule slowed to a crawl in the twenty-first century.

Friday, October 9, 2020

Review: The Mirage's 'You Can’t Be Serious: 1966-1968'

Between 1965 and 1968, The Mirage released a mere eight singles, one of which they put out under the name Yellow Pages, and no LPs. The Hertfordshire quintet still left behind a pretty terrific legacy. Yes, their first two singles for CBS —a cover of Betty Everett’s “Shoop Shoop Song (It’s In His Kiss)” and a second rate Graham Nash composition called “Go Away”—were weak. Yes, the two singles they released under their own name and duress on the Page One label were downright lousy (their A-side as Yellow Pages, “Here Comes Jane”, is pretty good). But none of that matters on Guerssen Records’ You Can’t Be Serious: 1966-1968, because this compilation only collects the sides The Mirage recorded for Philips.

Monday, October 5, 2020

Review: 'David Bowie: Icon'

Many, many pop artists have emphasized image because their content isn’t all that substantial. David Bowie was the rare one whose musical and personal aesthetic were both of the highest caliber and both were integral to his overall artistry. His image complimented the music; it never covered for the music. It is telling that Bowie’s blandest periods of personal style tended to coincide with his blandest music (see the “Dancing in the Streets” video).

Tuesday, September 29, 2020

Review: 'Now Is the Time to Invent! Reports from the Indie-Rock Revolution, 1986-2000'

A big part of running Psychobabble involves trawling the Internet in search of cool-looking upcoming books to review. One that interested me when I came across its pre-order page on Amazon was Now Is the Time to Invent! Reports from the Indie-Rock Revolution, 1986-2000, and I immediately put in a review-copy request with Verse Chorus Press. That was October 2012. For whatever reason, the book didn’t come out that year or the year after that or the year after that. It just kept getting put off, but my interest never waned, because I could never find much retrospective coverage of eighties/nineties indie-rock. In fact, I often feel like that whole scene was some weird dream that only I dreamt, a dream that left behind fab recordings by nocturnal phantasms such as Throwing Muses, Pavement, The Breeders, and Belle and Sebastian. While there’s never been a shortage of nostalgia for all things fifties, sixties, seventies, and eighties, the only thing from the nineties anyone seems to remember is Friends, and Friends sucked.

Thursday, September 24, 2020

Review: 'Limelight: Rush in the ’80s'

The first volume in Martin Popoff’s biographical series on Rush ends just as the band is on the precipice of world domination… or at least, serious popularity outside of Canada. The second volume, Limelight: Rush in the ’80s, continues the story Neil Peart-style (that means it doesn’t miss a beat). We know we’re in superstar territory when the book begins with a discussion of Permanent Waves, Rush’s first album to go top-ten in the UK and US. The hardships and struggles of the previous decade are a distant memory, and the trio hits their artistic stride with the three most unimpeachable albums in their catalog.

Monday, September 21, 2020

Review: 'Jimi Hendrix: The Stories Behind the Songs'

Jimi Hendrix is one of Rock & Roll’s definitive artists, and quite likely its most original and innovative musician. However, his recording career as leader of the Experience and solo artist lasted less than four years. During that time he put out just four albums, but his unreleased recordings became a cottage industry starting with 1971’s The Cry of Love. There is enough of that material in circulation that David Stubbs was able to put together a whole book called Jimi Hendrix: The Stories Behind the Songs in 2003. The book critiqued and analyzed every available Hendrix recording, while placing it all in historical context.

Thursday, September 10, 2020

Farewell, Diana Rigg

We Americans had Batman and Batgirl. The British had John Steed and Mrs. Emma Peel. I won't argue over who was cooler, but both dynamic duos brought groovy-mod style, flash action, and buckets of irony to mid-sixties TV. Mrs. Peel was not Steed's first partner, but she's the one Avengers fans tend to remember most fondly, largely because of Diana Rigg's unforgettably bemused performance.

A discussion of Diana Rigg's career will likely begin with the pop-art ka-pow that first made her household name, but her career hardly hinged on The Avengers. She was Vincent Price's mustachioed co-conspirator in Theatre of Blood. She was the only woman to marry James Bond (if ever so briefly) in On Her Majesty's Secret Service. She was memorably miscast as plain-Jane Helena in the boffo 1968 adaptation of A Midsummer Night's Dream. She starred Paddy Chayefsky's bizarro medical-drama/monster movie The Hospital, cameoed in The Great Muppet Caper, hosted PBS's Mystery!, and proved she was still unimaginably cool when she played Lady Olenna Tyrell on Game of Thrones.

No matter the role, Diana Rigg always imbued it with her innate charm and the gravitas of a first-rate actor. Sadly, she died today of cancer at the age of 82. 

Friday, September 4, 2020

Review: 3 Martin Denny Reissues

After New York-born pianist Martin Denny relocated to Honolulu, he became so enamored with the local sounds that he cooked up a new hybrid of laid-back jazz and Polynesian music that is now credited as a cornerstone influence of so-called “Tiki Culture”. The origins and execution of Denny’s music funk it up with a strong whiff of kitsch. He let percussionist August Colon loose to babble a wacky stream of birdcalls over the tunes. The covers of his albums pose white model Sandy Warner in tableaux and wigs intended to sell her as Polynesian or Asian. Song titles such as “Jungle Madness”, “Sake Rock”, and “Pagan Love Song”, as well as Denny’s signature term “exotica,” are sure to give modern audiences pause. Any song with a title referencing China or Japan inevitably begins with the bang of a gong. Yet, the beauty, innovation, and magnetic retro-appeal of Denny’s music are undeniable and on full display in a new vinyl reissue series from Jackpot Records.

Friday, August 28, 2020

Review: 'Fashion in the 1960s'

The 1960s were not always rich in substance (welcome to Gilligan’s Island!), but the decade’s style was often unimpeachable. Before frumpy hippie non-fashions took over toward the end of the sixties, sharp lines, vivid colors, eccentric materials, and wild op-art patterns defined the decade. The sixties were also very notable for making a place for men on the runway. It seems like we’ve been shut out of genuinely exciting fashions ever since.

Tuesday, August 25, 2020

Review: 'Alien Invasions! The History of Aliens in Popular Culture'

Because it isn’t very likely that aliens from other worlds have ever visited Earth, they can be imagined in any number of ways. Are they tentacled, bulbous-brained beasts? Are they green-skinned seductresses in brass bikinis and weird headgear? Are they friendly little, big-eyed chaps who just want to go (and phone) home? Are they hostile? Neutral? Are they super advanced or super primitive? Are they from distant galaxies or our very own moon?

Thursday, August 20, 2020

Review: 'Planet Wax: Sci-Fi/Fantasy Soundtracks on Vinyl'

There have been a lot of compilations of album cover art, and they’re usually good for a flip-through but lack focus and insight. Planet Wax: Sci-Fi/Fantasy Soundtracks on Vinyl is in a whole other universe. Collecting the covers of sci-fi and fantasy soundtracks, Aaron Lupton and Jeff Szpirglas’s new book has a specific focus and is atypically enlightening.

Tuesday, August 4, 2020

Review: 'Fright Favorites: 31 Movies to Haunt Your Halloween and Beyond'

It was hard enough boiling a century of horror cinema down to 200 spook shows. Imagine having to whittle it down to 31.

I understand the significance of the number—just enough to watch a single picture on each night of October—but its skimpiness skirts inconsequence. Normally, I wouldn’t even bother with a book like Fright Favorites: 31 Movies to Haunt Your Halloween and Beyond. I made an exception because its author is the David Bordwell of horror: David J. Skal, the writer of such essential tomes as The Monster Show: A Cultural History of Horror, Hollywood Gothic: The Tangled Web of Dracula from Novel to Stage to Screen, and Death Makes a Holiday: A Cultural History of Halloween.

Thursday, July 23, 2020

Review: PJ Harvey's 'Dry' and 'Dry Demos'

In 1992, Polly Jean Harvey punctured the grunge lethargy like a switchblade through a dingy flannel. Harvey neutered most of her guitar-wielding peers with legit rage and a harrowingly expressive voice weaned on Siouxsie Sioux and Captain Beefheart. That voice and her filthy guitar work led the eponymous trio PJ Harvey (Steve Vaughn: bass; Rob Ellis: drums) through eleven bluesy blades on their debut Dry.

Monday, July 20, 2020

Review: 'Elvira: Mistress of the Dark' Blu-ray

It’s been less than a year since I last reviewed a Blu-ray edition of Elvira: Mistress of the Dark. I’m not sure what kind of loosey-goosey rights issues brought us to this place, but it is now time for another.

To recap, RLJ Entertainment’s Blu-ray of Elvira’s spooky, kooky film debut was generally underwhelming. According to 2019-me, the disc’s image is “soft and dull” and its colors are “muted.” “Extras are non-existent aside from a trailer.”

Saturday, July 18, 2020

Can You Name the 101 Artists of the 1970s?

If you took that Name the 101 Artists of the 1960s quiz the other day and are just burning for more, then you might be ready to take Psychobabble's Name the 101 Artists of the 1970s challenge. Once again, a selection of songs--most of which are semi-obscure--are provided and you have to name the artist who recorded all three. So flop down on your bean-bag chair, light the lava lamp, and have a go at Psychobabble's 101 Artists of the 1970s quiz after the jump...

Thursday, July 16, 2020

Can You Name the 101 Artists from the 1960s?

I created a little name-the-60s-band quiz on Sporcle, but you can take it right here on Psychobabble. If you can name all 101 artists based on the three song hints I've provided, you are a true Psychobabbler. Just be careful... some of the artists are a bit obscure and some of the hints are a bit tricky...

Thursday, June 18, 2020

Review: 'Star Trek: Year Five: The Wine-Dark Deep'

One of the great pleasures of the first three issues of Jackson Lanzing and Collin Kelly’s Star Trek: Year Five is the comic series’ faithfulness to Gene Roddenberry’s original TV show. Artists and writers alike rendered characters with perfect fidelity to Kirk, Spock, Uhura, Sulu, Bones, and the rest. The stories could have been adapted to actual episodes of the original TV series due to a simplicity and clarity in line with what could be brought to the small screen in the late sixties.

Tuesday, June 16, 2020

Details About Lost Monkees Compilation Emerge

In 1969, The Monkees released their first official compilation album on Colgems Records, The Monkees Greatest Hits. The record featured all of the group's top-ten singles and tracks from their first five albums, all released before The Monkees took a commercial nose-dive in 1968 with the cancellation of their TV series and the release of the avant garde flop Head. Aside from some curious omissionssuch as the top-twenty hit "D.W. Washburn", the high-charting B-sides "Words" and "Tapioca Tundra", and the ever-popular TV theme songThe Monkees Greatest Hits largely played it safe, while its photo-devoid cover was downright unimaginative.

Monday, June 15, 2020

Review: 'Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing and Horror Cinema'

Like Karloff and Lugosi, Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee partnered in several beloved horror movies that are all the more loved because these two particular actors appeared in them together. Unlike Karloff and Lugosi, Cushing and Lee’s partnership extended beyond the screen. They were close friends who spoke of each other in only the most rapturous tones. That friendship also affected their work, as when Lee prevented Cushing from deserting the Horror Express production by gently reminding him of the good times they had together.

Friday, June 12, 2020

Review: 'Original Music from The Addams Family'

Along with its sister-series The Munsters, The Addams Family brought a celebration of weirdness to weirdly status-quo sixties TV. It also brought along some very memorable music, not just with its cool, finger-snapping theme tune, but also its zesty incidental themes. A couple of years before it became de rigueur in the pop tunes of everyone from The Beatles to the Stones to The Left Banke, harpsichord was an essential element of Vic Mizzy’s Addams Family score. Could Lurch’s love of the baroque keyboard inspired the arrangements of “Fixing a Hole”, “Lady Jane”, and “Walk Away Renee”?

Tuesday, June 9, 2020

Watch New Edit of David Lynch's "Rabbits"

A few weeks after releasing the haunting short film "Fire (Pozar)", David Lynch's You Tube channel continues to host interesting content. Today, Lynch has unveiled a new edit of his bizarre-even-for-Lynch Internet series "Rabbits". 
"Rabbits" originally appeared on the long-defunct website Each episode consists of Mulholland Dr. stars Naomi Watts, Laura Harring, and Scott Coffey having non-sequitur conversations to the delight of a sitcom laugh track. Plus, they were dressed like giant, feature-less rabbits.

"Rabbits" found a more formal and permanent home scattered among the disturbing debris in Lynch's most recent feature film (assuming you don't subscribe to the theory that Twin Peaks: The Return is an 18-hour film), 2006's INLAND EMPIRE. This latest edit is titled "Rabbits 1", which implies that additional installments will follow. Watch it here:

6/26/20 Update: Part 2 is now up:

Saturday, May 30, 2020

Review: 'The Greatest Cult Television Shows of All Time'

Regardless of quality, nearly every TV show develops some sort of following. But earning the classification “cult television show” requires more than a following. By definition, cultists must be relatively few in number but legion in devotion. They stage conventions in honor of their favorite shows. They dress up as their favorite characters. They communicate in a secret language of quotes and catch phrases. They organize fervent letter-writing campaigns when their favorite shows risk cancellation.

Friday, May 22, 2020

Watch David Lynch's "Fire (Prozar)"

David Lynch always said that his main impetus for transitioning from fine artist to filmmaker was the desire to see his paintings and illustrations move. While he has certainly made his share of moving (in all senses of the word) art, an animated short he made in 2015 is Lynch's film that comes closest to fulfilling his original wish. "Fire (Prozar)" essentially looks like one of David Lynch's charcoal illustrations twitching and vibrating to life (with much assistance from animator Noriko Miyakawa). 

With its images of flames, theaters, isolated houses, and elongated deers that look like they just danced off the stage of Industrial Symphony No. 1, "Fire (Prozar)" is very recognizably Lynch. The string score by Marek Zebrowski (who worked as a Polish-to-English translator on INLAND EMPIRE) is highly reminiscent of the late Krzysztof Penderecki, whose work Lynch used to unforgettable effect in INLAND EMPIRE and "Part 8" of Twin Peaks: The Return. In fact, Zebrowski actually wrote it for the Penderecki String Quartet. All of these elements coalesce in what is likely Lynch's best animated work since 1968's "The Alphabet" (sorry, "Dumbland" fans). 

Lynch just released "Fire (Prozar)" on YouTube. See it here:

Thursday, May 21, 2020

Farewell, Phil May

Phil May was the face and voice of one of the most raucous British R&B bands. He then led The Pretty Things down a far more creative path when his short story about the life and death of a WWI vet became the basis of the first full-length--and as far as I'm concerned, best--rock opera: S.F. Sorrow

The Pretty Things never achieved the fame of The Rolling Stones or The Who, but they were arguably as fierce as the former and as creative as the latter. With his unusually long hair, sinister whisper-to-a-scream voice, and rule-redefining creativity, Phil May was a huge part of what made The Pretty Things distinctive and great. 

Sadly, I just learned that May died nearly a week ago on May 15 of complications resulting from a bicycling accident. He was 75.

Saturday, May 9, 2020

Farewell, Little Richard

Chuck Berry brought the wit, Buddy Holly brought the melodicism, and Bo Diddley brought the rhythm, but no one did more for making Rock & Roll wild, cathartic, and outright crazy than Little Richard. 

With his ten-story tall pompadour and airplane-engine shriek, there was nothing little about Little Richard. He could turn a tumble of gobbledygook like "Tutti Frutti" into an ode to fucking as terrifying (to parents) as it was exhilarating (to kids). Without the voice that screamed "Long Tall Sally", "The Girl Can't Help It", "Lucille", "Rip It Up", "Good Golly Miss Molly", "Heeby-Jeebies", "Jenny Jenny", and Psychobabble's selection for best song of the 1950s, "Keep a Knockin'", Rock and Roll would be missing as essential an element as if the letter "E" had been stripped out of the alphabet. Today we lost the man. Richard Penniman died at the age of 87 of unknown causes. The voice never will.

Wednesday, May 6, 2020

Review: 'Anthem: Rush in the 1970s'

Sam Dunn and Scot McFadyen’s funny, touching Rush: Beyond the Lighted Stage is one of the great Rock documentaries, offering an unusual degree of access to the beloved Canadian prog trio…and their moms. As is the case with most documentaries, a lot of footage did not make it into the film.

Thursday, April 16, 2020

Review: 'The World of Twomorrows: Celebrating 25 Years of the Future of Fandom'

In his introduction to The World of Twomorrows: Celebrating 25 Years of the Future of Fandom, Mark Evanier rewrites a quote from playwright George S. Kaufman to declare, “If you want to get revenge on a publisher, convince them there’s an audience out there for books and magazines about comic book history.”

Tuesday, April 14, 2020

And Now for No Other Reason Than It's Awesome, Here's a Selection of Groovy Ads from 'Crawdaddy'!

Perusing some old issues of Crawdaddy, I was less struck by the semi-coherent writing than I was by the groovy ads that started infiltrating "the first magazine that took rock and roll seriously" (according to those far out, groovy hipsters at the NYT) in 1967. Sell outs! 

For your enjoyment, I've selected some of my fave adverts. SEE psychedelic demigod Peter Noone hawk Shure mics to the "in crowd"! SEE a heroin-addicted amplifier! SEE a gopher dancing on an organ! SEE fab period ads for magnificent discs by The Kinks, Pink Floyd, The Byrds, Simon & Garfunkel, Laura Nyro, Nazz, and (a-hem) Tiny Tim! SEE them all here just because they're awesome groovy!
May 1967
May 1967

Monday, April 6, 2020

Review: 'On Record 1978: Images, Interviews & Insights from the Year in Music'

Four decades ago, budding rock journalist G. Brown went to work for The Denver Post. Writing for a major daily paper, he got access to an incredible assortment of talent—everyone from The Who to Peter Tosh to Blondie to Black Sabbath to Talking Heads to The Clash to Parliament. Since he was working for The Denver Post and not, say, Punk or even Rolling Stone, Brown’s assignments also included pieces on Barry Manilow, Anne Murray, Chicago, Chuck Mangione, and the like, and his interview questions were apparently of the “So, can you tell me about your new album?” variety.

G. Brown’s new book On Record 1978: Images, Interviews & Insights from the Year in Music is kind of odd. It consists of utterly neutral, 300-word write ups on 200 of the artists he covered in 1978 peppered with quotations from period interviews and illustrated with a welter of B&W press photos. Consequently, On Record 1978 reads like a compilation of press releases. However, as you move from The Cars to Wings to ELO to Rod Stewart to the Bee Gees to Chaka Khan to Linda Ronstadt to ABBA and so on, the books morphs into a fairly pleasing nostalgia balm that basically manages to capture the spirit of 1978 in a shallow nut shell.  

Friday, March 20, 2020

Review: 'And in the End: The Last Days of The Beatles'

After providing so much joy for the world, The Beatles went out in a morass of misery. There were the acrimonious management disputes, the publishing problems, the power struggles, the interpersonal irritations, the hard drug problems, and the weird and disruptive romantic relationships. Also, apparently, Paul was dead. All in all, 1969 was not a happy year for The Beatles.

Monday, March 16, 2020

Review: 'The Ox: The Authorized Biography of The Who’s John Entwistle'

One of the many things that made The Who so unique is that each member of the band had such a distinct and iconic personality. Consequently, Pete the Genius, Roger the Tough Guy, and Keith the Madman have all been the topics of multiple biographies. As the Quiet One, John Entwistle had not. Had he been, the flimsiness of that oft-used label may be better known. Entwistle may have been a man of few words and the one member of The Who who refrained from leaping around on stage, but he was also the most enduring Rock & Roll animal in the group. He remained a restless, relentless partier, an incorrigible spender seemingly dedicated to materialism above all else, and a serial philanderer right up until his death in 2002.

Monday, March 9, 2020

Psychobabble’s Favorite Year at the Movies: 1968!

A somewhat recent trend in cinema studies finds writers naming their choice for the best year in movies and penning full-length arguments to back up their picks. There have been a couple of books arguing in favor of the year of The Wizard of Oz  (yay!) and Gone with the Wind (gag!). I have not read Charles F. Adams’s 1939: The Making of Six Great Films from Hollywood’s Greatest Year or Thomas S. Hischak’s 1939: Hollywood’s Greatest Year, though I have read and reviewed Brian Rafferty’s Best. Movie. Year.Ever.: How 1999 Blew Up the Big Screen and Stephen Farber and Michael McClellan’s Cinema ’62. I enjoyed both of those books very much even though I do not share the respective writers’ opinions that 1999 or 1962 are cinema’s best years. They did get me thinking about my personal choice, though, and let’s be honest, all of these books are nothing if not expressions of their writers’ personal tastes. I’ve settled on 1968.

Thursday, February 27, 2020

Review: 'The Everly Brothers-The Cadence Recordings'

The two albums The Everly Brothers made for their first label, Cadence, aren’t necessarily their two most essential (that honor goes to their first two Warner Bros. LPs), but The Everly Brothers and Songs Our Daddy Taught Us do contain a few unquestionably essential numbers. These include “Bye Bye Love” and “Wake Up Little Susie” on the former and “That Silver Haired Daddy of Mine” on the latter. Mostly, the first two Everly Brothers albums spotlight the duo’s two sides in an extreme fashion that would be more organically blended on their next albums.
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