The one hundred and sixty-fourth TV show: #45 The Donna Reed Show
Watching The Donna Reed Show is an odd experience. For the most part, it's a sitcom squarely from the 1950s, with a proper housewife and a standard nuclear family. The kids are well behaved and willing to learn their lessons. The father is a pediatrician, dedicated to his job but with wise advice when it's needed. Donna Reed of course plays the stay at home mother, keeping the house clean, cooking well and keeping on top of the required social engagements. It's at its best when they can break the facade - when the kids can be sassy, the husband goofy and Donna Reed's character not be perfect. It feels like too often, though, they're restricted enough that they can't do so. It means that the joy is in the small moments, a gag in a scene and a comment here and there.
It's the fifties sentiments that constrain and limit the series and it needs a good plot to break through that - selling pickles, for example, rather than dealing with rejecting a boy as a dance partner for being too short - so the lessons don't matter as much. When you find that, it feels quite good to follow, but the series mostly just feels too outdated to keep me interested too often.
The one hundred and fourteenth classical recording: #479 Claude Debussy - Fetes Galantes
As much as this list covers the bigger classical pieces, when you think about people gathering around a piano to sing a song it feels like Fetes Galantes might have been the sort of music used. A piano and a vocalist are all the instruments needed for these songs, a small and simple set of them. They sound lovely and simple, but because of their lack of power lack some staying power as well - lovely but simple.
The two hundred and seventy-seventh album: #277 John Cale - Paris 1919
At what point does a wall of sound cross over from big into over the top? While Paris 1919 features some nice, meaningful pop songs, but on a number of them the orchestral score takes over, creating a sound that's over the top and distracting without feeling they make the song better - it's John Cale's voice and lyrics that matter, worked best with an instrumental backing that's simpler, or feels more integrated - Andalucia does the former well, while Paris 1919 manages to walk the balance well enough that the urgent violins work in the context of the song, rather than feeling overbearing.
The two hundred and seventy-sixth album: #276 Hawkwind - Space Ritual
Pulling off a double album is a tricky thing. You need to be able to fill ninety minutes with music that is consistent enough for your sound but has enough variation to keep your listeners interested. Having lengthy prog rock tracks helps fill the sound, but as this album proves, their repetitiveness can jar and not all tracks can sustain the interest for as long as is needed. Even a short track like Upside Down feels like the repetition wears out its charm. Part of this is the live aspect of this album, which was meant to be an audiovisual spectacle that obviously doesn't translate as I listen to it now.
What it means is that I find myself tuning out large parts of the labrum until a track has a reason to grab me again, with most of it just getting lost as a repetitive drone stops appealing to me.
The one hundred and thirteenth classical recording: #159 Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart - Symphony no. 41, "Jupiter"
After a rough Monday, I needed something to lift my spirits a bit. This symphony did so quite well, a high energy performance with its romantic elements, some gentle elements interspersed with bombast. There's something in there that gives you a lot of energy, with a finale that especially manages to set up that finish and just left me with that optimism I needed today.
The two hundred and seventy-fifth album: #275 Bob Marley & The Wailers - Catch a Fire
I've not always loved the reggae we covered for the list that much, but Catch a Fire worked well for me. If I have to give a reason, it's the rather insulting-feeling "it's not too reggae". What I mean with that is not that the sound of the album has changed to become more palatable to a wider audience, but that while the reggae sound is present in the album, it doesn't dominate or feel like the main point of the album. Instead, the album feels like it focuses on creating some pop tracks in the reggae 'mold', accessible and polished, using reggae instruments and sounds without those being the focus of the album.
The one hundred and twelfth classical recording: #84 Johann Sebastian Bach - St John Passion
Needs must, and I don't think I could have skipped doing one of the famous Easter oratorios at any time other than Easter, but having workmen hammering away just outside the room I work in hasn't been the ideal way to experience a piece like it. It meant that my focus was diverted and I missed out on the lyrics of the performance and the division in songs, instead letting the music do its thing. In particular, I think I've been missing out on some of the nuances of the different arias, which have been blending together more than they probably should. They are heavy, stately, the choral sound that I expect to hear from Bach. The tenderness increases later in the piece, especially as the sadness of loss comes in, but that is as much down to the choice of vocalists, switching to sopranos as time goes on to get that effect.
This work has its feel and sound that feels like it fits in with the religious setting it would be performed in. It means that it's not a piece best suited for casual listening, but it works here.
The one hundred sixty-third TV show: #950 Africa
After Blue Planet, I've been looking forward to another David Attenborough nature documentary. Africa came up as an option and it's been amazing to watch. The harsh conditions of large parts of Africa leads to a diversity of behaviour that stays fascinating and the conditions threatening nature on our planet seem to be felt worse there than anywhere else. The sights we see are amazing - especially how things are filmed that have never been seen before - and the glimpses of the life of these animals stay fascinating. Seeing short segments of how these were filmed makes it even more impressive (and sometimes heartbreaking), but there is a lot that comes just from the sight of these creatures.
There is hope in the almost obligatory conservation episode. People are trying to preserve them too, work with others to protect them. The Sahara desert will stay inhospitable and those that survive are amazing in their capabilities, but we can avoid making it worse. And with that we can see more creatures in their natural behaviour, with all the ways in which they can interact. It remains a beautiful series in a beautiful continent with some amazing creatures.
The one hundred and sixty-second TV show: #1 The Ed Sullivan Show
When it came to picking a show yesterday, I went for the earliest one in existence. It's a show that I wasn't expecting to be amazed by, but as the first show it feels it will help define early American television. It lasted until 1971, at which point its audience was too old for the advertisers, but seeing it promote I Love Lucy was an interesting way to set its place in history.
The Ed Sullivan Show is a variety show, and it really seems to be there. Ed Sullivan isn't a major presence that you see, on regular shows doing little more than introducing the show and possibly having a short interview with one or two of the guests. While probably known at the time and working for that, he doesn't have the charisma to pull this off for a modern audience. The acts are the most interesting part then, but while it gets the occasional youth-focused rock song, it also has a number of songs that do feel dated. It's not quite as intentional as the Good Old Days, but to the contemporary viewer there's not as much to this show as its reputation may suggest. It's best preserved through clips and compilations, rather than full episodes.
The one hundred and sixty-first TV show: #364 Moonlighting
At some point, Moonlighting failed to pay off the hype. There's an interesting feeling to the show, one that does what it wants with some fun meta-jokes and fourth wall breaking, including them walking off set at one point to do a chase through the studio. It's cheeky and fun, and when it goes for those it's a lot of fun. The problem is the other half, where David (Bruce Willis) and Maddie (Cybil Shepherd) are in a will they, won't they relationship that just isn't as gripping as the creators think it is. It's not too believable, it's drawn out way too much and it works best when we aren't actually worrying about this love plot - frequently bickering friends is far better than a love story.
And having seen the episode where it comes together and they sleep together for the first time - a supposed highlight - shows how toxic the writing around this is. It was a frustrating episode that we didn't like, and missing the genius that the show can be when it wants to be its own madcap self. There's a lot of potential here in Moonlighting, which occasionally pays off, but in the end it's not what I'd want it to be.