The one hundred and fifty-ninth TV show: #183 MASH
For me, MASH was partially a rewatch. It was part of late night repeats for me for a while, mostly with episodes from the final cast from season 6 on, but I've jumped around enough to see other major episodes. The basic premise of a series set in a medical hospital in the Korean war is different enough in the 1970s sitcom landscape, but the way it manages to bring in relevant issues of the time and creates a number of more dramatic episodes shows what else they can get from it. As the series moves on, it becomes capable of experimenting and exploring these subjects in a way few shows are allowed to do. The freedom came from its enormous popularity - the final episode still holds the record of the highest ratings for a scripted series.
Revisiting and rewatching the series has been great, with the first season still holding up. Even though it's still more of a comedy at some point, halfway through it's introduced a number of more dramatic episodes while the later episodes we watched show how they seemed to have moved these to perfection. The version we had omits the laughter track as well - famously negotiated so it wouldn't play in surgery but had to be present everywhere else - which probably makes the stories work a bit better. We're going to keep watching - we'll see if we finish it - but it's great to see that (a few dated jokes aside) the series still holds up.
The two hundred and seventy-first album: #271 Lynyrd Skynyrd - (Pronounced Leh-nerd Skin-nerd)
After I commented on not liking the Rolling Stones' blues rock before, the way Lynyrd Skynyrd handles it works a lot better for me. Perhaps it's the clearer vocals, which add focus to the songs. Perhaps it's the mellotron that adds body to some of these. The overall feeling I get is an album that's rock with blues elements added, rather than adding rock to blues, and it's a mix that works better.
The mix of tracks hits well too, with SImple Man a relatively simple, quiet song after some louder, more aggressive numbers. The whole album manages to keep this up, the B-side perhaps a bit more experimental and fun, but mostly there's a nice, coherent country rock sound here that has been rare so far.
The two hundred and seventieth album: #270 The Rolling Stones - Exile on Main St.
Given how I experienced them before, I found myself struggling to get into Exile on Main St. Considering this is the Stones' most acclaimed album, that's a weird situation, but I've always preferred their hard rock tracks over their blues or country rock and that's the music that mostly seems to be on display here. It took until Sweet Black Angel - a song with more bite both musically and lyrically - for the album to really pick up steam, which felt (almost) like a waste of time.
The album picks up after that, not dropping the blues influences but having more bite to it by that point that transfers better, having that 'weight' to it that the Stones bring to their blues tracks and that makes them sound so good. Even so, it feels best for me to ignore the hype - I don't think this is on top of the list as others do.
The ninety-ninth comic: #400 Luther Arkwright
Sometimes, I feel like an awesome concept can really get wasted. Possibly because the author is too eager to copy another or because the appeal it has didn't transfer to the author. In the case of Luther Arkwright, I wonder whether the disappointment came, in part, because the outcome of the series - the main character moving to the next stage of human evolution - is one I've seen done since several times over. I suspect it might have been more novel in the late seventies, at least in comic form - or perhaps it was the done thing - but I felt it took away from the appeal the early series had to me, one of exploring parallel worlds and timelines. The way it's set up, with rolling news broadcasts from various areas and a threat for all of them, doesn't quite materialize in favour of a handwave to promote our hero. It's a shame, because parts of the latter half of the series lose steam with it when it was set up so well early on and really made me want to see this concept explored further instead.
The one hundred and fifty-eighth TV show: #575 Big Brother
I remember the first Big Brother season. Not - probably - the one you know, but the very first Dutch season that became a larger hit than anyone expected. It was meant to be a social experiment, I believe they marketed it with some strange events happening in the house messing with people's minds, but those were quickly dropped when it turned out people enjoyed just seeing these people hang out. I even remember going online on a dial up connection (or did we have cable at this point?) and watching grainy black and white footage of these people. It was mostly a normal, but large house, with a fence to keep people out, but no luxuries and no have-not bedrooms or similar. Their budget varied based on how well they did but, as I suppose it was partially improvised, most of the show was about the participants hanging out and the going-ons between them. I guess it seemed boring now, but having two of the house guests have sex under the covers and the betrayal of a secret nomination for elimination was shocking at the time. There are no head of house votes, no battles, just the experiment of having people together, see who votes who off, and where all of this goes.
Watching some episodes of Big Brother US and Canada as this viewing, the show feels so different. Contestants are really producing themselves, aware of what's happening and what the consequences of their actions are, playing a game and talking about strategies, rather than the far more interesting story of how they live their life. You get cronies around the head of household, alliances that go far beyond what stays interesting, and it lost that charm of people just living their lives. It's obnoxious and hard to watch, and I'm going to say that the original formula - although it didn't hold much interest after a first season - is better than the mess this show became at this point.
The one hundred and eighth classical recording: #304 Giuseppe Verdi - Nabucco
As hard as I've said these can be to judge, there's something energetic about an early morning roaring opera, the music injecting energy into some large performances. The story is easier to follow than some others, with a number of opera flourishes added to a biblical tale so it becomes its own thing, just 'inspired by'. It's an impressive, big piece, made for a big performance, and the evocative sound means the play can work even without those visuals.
The two hundred and sixty-ninth album: #269 Al Green - Let's Stay Together
Al Green's only album on the list is anchored by the titular track, a lovely and well performed soul classic. It sets the tone for the album - a nice smooth sound, lyrics mostly about love, nothing too complicated, just getting you through the variety of sounds while giving you something to hold on to. The tracks are a bit grocery story music - a song you can put on to remove silence, without causing too much concern or oddities. I'm not sure there are necessarily masterpieces in here, but the album is here as an example of a great soul album, well performed and lovely to listen to throughout.
The two hundred and sixty-eighth album: #268 War - The World Is a Ghetto
War, at least on their fifth album, trades on lengthy funk jazz tracks. While the first two tracks - Cisco Kid and Where Was You At - are okay funk songs, with the former's riffs working quite well, City, Country, City is a long jam session that seems quite nicely put together but doesn't gain anything from its thirteen minute runtime and boredom starts to set in about eight minutes in. Four Cornered Room, on the other hand, only really kicks off when its lyrics come in and it starts to deliver on that promise.
The cop out response here is that funk isn't quite for me, but I feel like I enjoy a lot of it when it's in concentrated bursts, something I think future genres take in. As it stands, though, I struggle to really appreciate pure jazz and that has carried over into funk. There's a reason I still have a 'Jazz is Dead' postcard up.
The one hundred and seventh classical recording: #235 Franz Schubert - Octet in D Major, D803
There is a blessing in listening to a lot of these recordings in that they don't require you to look for meaning in them. Some do, of course, but the goal of this octet, for example, isn't to tell a story. It's to set a mood, to explore a theme or to show off the abilities of the musicians. It means that for writing, I have less to comment on, but get to just focus on the music. It sounds lovely here, as a lively and upbeat piece that brightened my day
The ninety-eighth comic: #46 Destiny: A Novel in Pictures
While a lot of comics in the early parts of the list are newspaper strips, we're also seeing experiments with the media at this point. Destiny: A Novel in Pictures is a graphic novel at its most basic form: It's completely wordless, using one panel - from lead cuts - per page to tell a story. It's a dire one reflecting social life at the time, a poor woman living a bad life that she's unable to escape, sometimes through fate and sometimes by choice. It feels powerful enough for that even now, in a way that feels unescapable as it did nearly a century later in Scalped.
The art is gorgeous, the black line work creating a contrast that paints an even more bleak world,adding even further to that atmosphere of being inescapapble while being its own stylistic treat. It makes for a sharp work in several ways, and the fact that it's now digitized helps more with being able to enjoy that.