Monthly Archives: January 2020

1001 Songs – 1977: Part Two

List Item:  Listen to the 1001 Songs You Must Hear Before You Die

Black Betty – Ram Jam

Okay, I started listening to a later remix of this before the beat was a bit too modern and dancey for a blues rock song from 1977. Then when I found the correct version… it still felt incredibly modern and one of those songs that really was crying out for a dance remix.

‘Black Betty’ is this brilliant mixture of boogie-woogie and hard rock that is a cover of an old African-American work song. Needless to say, that due to the origins and content of the song (and that this band were white) this song managed to conjure up a bit of controversy at the time. It’s still a great execution, even if the content is a bit wanting.

Born for a Purpose – Dr. Alimantado & The Rebels

The further we get into reggae’s evolution, the more it is progressing into something that I am no longer dreading. The production is cleaner, which means that the lyrics are taking centre stage. There is also a whole lot more variation in the song, which is really necessary when you are making something nearly 6 minutes long.

It’s just a pity that these developments never became universal within reggae, but horses for courses I suppose.

Zombie – Fela Kuti & Africa 70

Time for the list to make a rare veering off of Western music and highlight a genre that I have yet to hear before: Afrobeat.

This is a word I’ve heard a number of times to generically refer to music from Africa, but I’m not surprised that such a cool name has also been applied to a genre; in this instance a genre fusing West African musical styles with jazz and funk from America.

At twelve and a half minutes long, and lyrics only starting just before the halfway mark, it’s definitely hard to ignore the jazz influence. Like Fela Kuti himself, ‘Zombie’ is a very political song aimed at the military in his native Nigeria for following orders without thoughts.

Wuthering Heights – Kate Bush

Time for debut song of one of my favourite artists of all time. The first time where a woman got to number one in the UK charts with a song she wrote herself. And she was 18. And she was raised in a neighbouring major town.

I’m biased because I love Kate Bush, but ‘Wuthering Heights’ is one of those watershed moments in music. This song is 458th in this list and there hasn’t been much like this before.

It’s the birth of art pop and a host of other genres It’s the song that influenced a huge section of female singers afterwards. And she was 18 with massive acclaim still to come in her life.

Not bad for a song written from the perspective of a ghost in Emily Brontë’s classic gothic novel (specifically from the BBC adaptation… not the book) because Kate Bush just happened to like the idea.

Uptown Top Ranking – Althea & Donna

I believe that this is the first reggae song I have heard on this list with female vocals. That alone makes this a really interesting entry. Then you figure in that it was the first song by a female duo to top the UK starts and it was all down to radio DJ John Peel playing it by accident… welll it just makes for a really interesting story.

The song itself is more of a step back to earlier reggae, especially when compared to ‘Born For A Purpose’ in terms of the repetition and the overall style. However it still has the progression because of the cleaner production. Not entirely sure how this became a hit, but it’s great to finally hear some female reggae artists.

I Feel Love – Donna Summer 

Third female vocalist in a row, that must be some sort of record for this list so far. Like ‘Wuthering Heights’ earlier, ‘I Feel Love’ is another of those landmark records. Not only is this the moment where disco went electronic and started to bleed into other neighbouring genres and inspire new ones, this was the moment that electronic music gained sung lyrics and a kick drum.

Giorgio Morordor’s production is sublime as he takes you on this hypnotic journey. Together with Donna Summer’s breathy and other-worldly vocals, ‘I Feel Love’ is one of those songs that can still make you take time and zone out completely. It was an instant classic in a year of genre-defining moments that still has plenty of songs to go.

Peg – Steely Dan

Time for something a bit more conventional as we get to ‘Peg’ by Steely Dan (a song I first heard as a cover by Nerina Pallot). After some pretty major songs, it’s actually quite nice to have this as a mental break after so many heavy hitters.

This isn’t a revolutionary song, but it’s a nice song that helps exemplify the jazz-infused soft rock genre. It’s a nice signpost of the other types of rock that were out there at the time. Nice to hear the softer side sometimes.

Marquee Moon – Television

Well, I did say at the beginning of the month that I would be hearing ‘Marquee Moon’ again. Thanks to my initial listen to the album, I now associate this album (and song) with the ill-informed act of putting up a flatpack bookshelf in 33 degree heat.

Listening to this in a historical context as a song, rather than in the running order of the album, really does change how I perceive this song. In the album, ‘Marquee Moon’ is this epic moment, but on it’s own it overstays its welcome as a nearly 11-minute song.

It is worth repeating though that ‘Marquee Moon’ and its album really were what punk had to morph into after the initial explosion went alight like touch-paper. This post-punk genre persisted much longer than punk every could have, and I am thankful for that.

Like a Hurricane – Neil Young

It’s probably because it’s been a long time since I last did a Neil Young album for the blog (which it definitely is and I still have his 1975 album Tonight’s The Night to listen to), but I have never heard him embracing his electric side.

I know that this is one of Neil Young’s big songs and that it is a classic within the genre, but surrounded by the other songs of the year I just don’t see it doing anything particularly big or new. It’s a song that overstays it’s welcome, unlike the longer ‘Zombie’, and… yea it just left me really cold.

The Passenger – Iggy Pop

What a great song to finsh the post on. Such a change from his earlier 1977 song ‘Dum Dum Boys‘ where he was casting off the identity of the past as part of his solo debut album.

‘The Passenger’ comes from Iggy Pop’s second album of 1977 (because why not release your first two solo albums in the same year) and is far less experimental and more focused on bringing an older rock and roll style and applying some more punk musical elements to it.

Like most people my age, I know ‘The Passenger’ from a car commercial and it’s one of those songs that has managed to make me smile whenever I hear it being played. After his previous song from 1977 it’s great to hear Iggy Pop back in his element and with a lot more confidence.

Progress: 464/1021

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XL Popcorn – Gallipoli

List Item: Watch all of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”
Progress: 764/1007Title: Gallipoli
Director: Peter Weir
Year: 1981
Country: Australia

Before starting on the post proper, I want to start with this statement: the final 20 minutes of Gallipoli are exceptional. When I have talked to people about this film, the memories that people tend to have of Gallipoli is the climactic final section rather than the 90 minutes that preceded it. It is this ending that propels this film and makes it worth watching, most of the stuff beforehand, not so much.

I don’t know what it was with the early 1980s with runners as principal characters and running sequences set to electronic music that is not at all in keeping with the time period. Sure, maybe this is more of a coincidence because it’s only Gallipoli and Chariots of Fire that come to mind, but it is such an oddly specific mood that I can only wonder what would have spurred this on.

In any event, along with Mad Max, Gallipoli is one of the more successful films released in the Australian New Wave period. It’s technically a war film, although the war itself doesn’t appear much until the final half hour, so it mostly plays as a prelude to combat which is cut short because of the futility of trench warfare in World War One. For most of the prelude, we have a number of sequences showing the budding friendship between two young champion runners who volunteer for enlistment – one lying about his age and the other because he’s pretty much strong-armed into it.

Gallipoli’s identity as an anti-war film only comes into focus in the exceptional final 20 minutes where all innocence and bravado is lost and suddenly the grim realisation of imminent death is abound. Given the cockiness of the previous hour and a half, it makes for a stark contrast that serves to deepen the sense of dread you feel in the final sequence. It’s powerful stuff, but I wish that the road I saw them travelling on the way was less travelled by other (and probably better) war films.

It’s not that Gallipoli is a bad film, it’s just that it feels a bit lop-sided as war films go.  Maybe it was done this way as to properly illustrate the disconnect between the realities of war and the expectations of the soldiers that went to it with their arms outstretched and their heads turned in the direction of propaganda and blind nationalism – but I wish this dichotomy was more obvious when watching it as that would have made the first hour feel less superfluous and more necessary to the overall vision.

World Cooking – Rwanda

List Item: Cook something from every countryCountry: Rwanda
Progress: 53/193

During my research for future countries to make for an African and Caribbean nation, I came across dishes from both nations that would have resulted in me having half a plantain left over. So, I figure why not cover both of them in a weekend if time allows – so here I am writing up some Rwandan food.

Usually I try and very the geography as I eat my way around a continent, but this time I’ve ended up picking a country that is nearly equidistant to the last two I cooked (Malawi and South Sudan). It’s one of those really weird co-incidences, but it probably goes a long way to explain why the food I found during my research sat in pretty much the same wheelhouse. In fact, the dish that I ended up cooking is like a mix between the two, although I was careful to find something that didn’t repeat the major protein.

Main: Rwandan Beef Stew and Ugali

This recipe is one of those I have had since I did my initial rush of research when I first started on this project. It came from a document that I found on Dining for Women, a charity that helps fight gender inequality around the world. The whole document contains a number of recipes that they linked to Rwanda, so I ended up cooking the beef stew and the ugali. Their main website now contains a really nice looking chicken and plantain stew, which I might have to make in the future.

I won’t say much about the ugali as I had before for Malawi, but under the name of nsima. It’s the same thing with a different name and is going to be one of those side dishes that I’ll be happy to keep making as I cook my way around the Great Lakes region of Africa and end up using a lot of the different names as I write these meals up as blog posts.

The stew itself was great, then again I haven’t often been disappointed by the African one pot meals I have made so far. What really set this apart for me was the addition of the sliced plantain as well as the more subtle spicing. I still have no idea why the recipe called for me to coat the plantain in lemon juice prior to adding it, but it worked out well so I’m not really going to knock it.

Next time on the world cooking challenge will, finally, be my next Caribbean nation crossed off: St Kitts and Nevis. With half a plantain in the fridge next to soaking saltfish, I just know that the next meal is going to be a good one. Also, it means I get to make dumplings… which I hope turn out well as I have been missing starch heavy foods on this current diet of mine.

Acclaimed Albums – Sign ‘O’ The Times by Prince

List item: Listen to the 250 greatest albums
Progress: 200/250Title: Sign ‘O’ The Times
Artist: Prince
Year: 1986
Position: #29

It’s been nearly 6 years since I started this blog and this album list and I have finally reached album 200. Considering that I pretty much spend 6-7 hours a say with some sort of headphones, it’s taken me a touch too long to get to this point. Similarly, it’s been 3 years since I covered a Prince album on this blog… which is just plain ridiculous.

Of the three Prince albums within the Top 250 (the other two being 1999 and Purple RainSign ‘O’ The Times is both his highest placed in this list as well as being the longest of bunch. It might also be the most diverse that I have heard him being on one album, which isn’t something you can say too lightly about Prince. It begins with a very contemporary socially conscious song (which mentions things like the Challenger explosion and the AIDS crisis) and ends in a soulful slow jam.

Despite being a long album at 80 minutes, it’s actually quite difficult to say that he padded it out with too many filler songs. Instead you have songs that go from the quite good to the excellent. I’m not sure if, for me, there’s a song that ascends to the heights of ‘When Doves Cry’ but that might just be a familiarity thing more than anything.

The song that probably hit me the hardest on the first listen was ‘Housequake’ as Prince is a whole lot of fun at his funkiest. There was also ‘I Could Never Be Your Man’, which probably hit because of how much I love a song that fits into the “dancing with tears in your eyes” genre. I was also impressed at the live backing vocals provided by the concert goers in ‘It’s Gonna Be a Beautiful Night’, but that was more the scale than anything to do with the actual song. On further listens, ‘Hot Thing’ and ‘Starfish and Coffee’ also really started to stand out.

It breaks my heart a bit that this is the last Prince album on the list, but what a way to finish off an artist. This is one of those people whose back catalog is so immense that I’ve been a bit reluctant to make a start because who knows how long it would take to investigate. Now that I’ve heard Sign ‘O’ The Times I think this would be a really worthwhile endeavour.

So, any advice on the best way to proceed would be greatly appreciated.

World Cooking – North Korea

List Item: Cook something from every countryCountry: North Korea
Progress: 52/193

Okay, so I know that in my last world cookery post I said that I was going to make something from the Americas next. However, today ended up being the the second hottest day in UK history and one thing led to another and boom I ended up making something with its origins in North Korean cuisine… twice. It’s cool how these things turn out sometimes, especially today’s dish would not have been possible without the Korean shop that recently opened in London’s Chinatown.

Back when I cooked somewhat modern for South Korea as the third entrant on this country list, I said that I wanted to explore more traditional food when I got to North Korea. The reason for this being that, with things as they are, it’s not easy to actually find recipes for what is eaten in North Korea… if anything depending on the circumstance. Also, I’m not entirely sure what the national dish would be.

In any event, with my upcoming trip to South Korea on the horizon (and a general uptick in my interest in Korean food, television and music), today’s dish is one that I’ve known about for a while. When I saw the temperature was due to climb to over 38 degrees, I though that this would be the perfect dish to deal with the heat, the fact that it has it’s origins in North Korea and I could make a version close to that tradition as opposed to South Korean made for an extreme case of serendipity.

Main: Raengmyŏn

Raengmyŏn, a cold noodle dish that can be served with ice as part of the broth, appears to be a dish of great cultural importance. It’s origins are from North Korea where the appeal has since spread into the southern half of the country. It appears to have been invented quite a while ago and is such a part of North Korean identity that it was presented as a gift to the South Korean leader at the beginning of a peace summit.

For most of this dish, I took the recipe from The Spruce Eats and expanded a bit from there. I marinaded some bulgogi beef overnight and served it here alongside a hard-boiled egg, pickled radish, cucumber, noodles (proper ones from the Korean market) and apple (nowhere is selling pears at the moment, and I visited 4 stores to try and find them). The broth itself was a chicken-beef-vinegar mix that was especially refreshing in this ridiculously hot weather.

In the end, this was such a hit that I made it for lunch and dinner. Not only was it cool and refreshing in the hot weather, but it was also very low calorie yet full of flavour. This is one of those recipes that I will definitely be coming back to again and again as (aside from the overnight beef) it is just so very simple to make. Even if the idea of a cold tangy noodle soup doesn’t necessarily appeal, raengmyŏn really should be on your list to try.

Right, so the next country will still not be a Caribbean one and instead it will be a recipe that I found for Rwanda. I’ll literally be doing a Caribbean nation the next day, it’s just that both recipes required plantains and the Rwandan one I have makes more sense to have the day before. It’s a bit strange to be crossing off three countries in four days, but it’s nice to be chugging along on this particular challenge.

🎻♫♪ – The Fairy Queen by Henry Purcell

List Item: Listen to half of the 1001 Classical Works You Must Hear Before You Die
Progress:
69/501Title: The Fairy Queen
Composer: Henry Purcell
Nationality: English
Year:
1692

Today was a working from home day because it is the height of the July 2019 heatwave and my train line into work were operating a partial service as a way to prevent the tracks from buckling from the stress. So I sat at the dining table with two fans pointed at my head, pre-cooked beef in the fridge (more on that in tomorrow’s post) and a 17th century opera playing on the speakers.

Well, I say The Fairy Queen was an opera. This is one of those early opera pieces that isn’t quite there yet. A very large proportion of The Fairy Queen is made up of instrumentals and dances, which makes this more of a masque than a straight opera. There are still a number of sung sections (the recording I listened to featuring some exceptional enunciation by the male lead) with the story itself coming from Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream… which is a play I still have neither read nor seen an adaptation for.

I kinda wish that the music and the singing gave a better hint for the fantastical setting of the story, but on the whole it was a really pleasant listen and somehow thematically made sense as it is midsummer right now. I can only imagine how colourful a stage adaptation would have been. Still though, this is so much better than all the chanting music from the earlier sections of the list.

Graphic Content – Harvey Kurtzman’s Jungle Book

List Item:  Read half of the 1001 Comics You Must Read Before You Die
Progress:
69/501Title: Harvey Kurtzman’s Jungle Book
Creator: Harvey Kurtzman
Year: 1959
Country: USA

There’s a bit of an interesting history to the graphic novel in today’s post; one that I can better appreciate having crossed off MAD magazine nearly six months ago. After parting ways with MAD‘s publishers over financial control, his next project was  Harvey Kurtzman’s Jungle Book – a graphic novel composed of four satirical short stories told through Kurtzman’s own style.

The critical opinion of this work has really improved over time, with some wondering how different the world of US mainstream comics would have been had this not flopped. I guess that, for some, Harvey Kurtzman’s Jungle Book was an important influence. As someone who is not too knowledgeable about this medium and as someone who didn’t exactly rate the Kurtzman era of MAD… it ended about as well as you would expect.

In the end, I just don’t think that the Kurtzman style (in both storytelling and graphics) is quite my thing. Don’t get me wrong, there were enjoyable parts of Jungle Book – most specifically the first story about the private eye who isn’t all that he seems. The other three, however, just fell flat. The second story is a satire on the publishing industry where Kurtzman puts some claws into those who wronged him… so it reads a bit more sour than satirical. The final two just felt of their time and not necessarily in a good way.

I also find it hard to admire the graphical work. For something that was meant to his way to stay relevant one he lost MAD, it just felt a bit lacklustre. I know that the extra lines and some of the more primitive shapes are a stylistic choice, but it looked at times that he was trying to meet an impending deadline rather than having the chance to apply polish (polish that he may not have felt that he needed).

All in all, this is one of the lesser works that I have read for the comics list. Mercifully it was one of the shorter ones and I hope it means that the only way is up for the next pick.

Acclaimed Albums – Screamadelica by Primal Scream

List item: Listen to the 250 greatest albums
Progress: 199/250Title: Screamadelica
Artist: Primal Scream
Year: 1991
Position: #87

Since this blog is a place of honest, I’m going to be upfront with you all – I got this album all wrong. With a name like Primal Scream I was expecting something more along the likes of Psychocandy (and that’s not just because Primal Scream’s lead vocalist was the drummer on that album). I was expecting something grittier and rockier – which is why I chose this to provide some backing music to some work frustration. Instead, I get one of the pioneering albums of house music that takes influences from gospel, LSD and psychedelia.

To be honest, that first listen was a bit of a wash. My wants had gone unsatisfied and I was left thinking ‘what the crap is this’. Still loved the album artwork, I’ve always loved it and would have probably had a poster of it up in my room if I was 10-15 years older. I am now here three more plays down the line, with the experience improving with each additional listen. The sheer joy of this album is actually helping to distract me from the 33 degree weather outside that made me want to peel off my skin on the train home.

The middle two tracks of Screamadelica are ones I am going to end up having on repeat for the rest of the week, especially as the temperature begins to climb. ‘Loaded’ and ‘Come Together’ are examples of where a long run time is extremely beneficial to the feel of a track. It’s not even that they necessarily build to anything across their length, it’s just that the soundscapes are so joyous that it’s fun to romp around for 7-10 minutes.

Outside of these tracks, you get a more modern take on psychedelia on ‘Higher Than The Sun’… which sounds exactly how you would expect and would make for a great background song for a drug scene in a film. ‘I’m Comin Down’ in the second half of the album is a great mirror image of confusion and brass instruments that are still trippy as all get out, but manage to be a bit more unsettling.

Despite being released in 1991, Screamadelica is an album whose time is incredibly hard to pin down. Only the house influence helps to place it in the early 1990s – pre-dating other house classics like The Beloved’s ‘Sweet Harmony’ and building on earlier examples like ‘Little Fluffy Clouds’.

I began this album ready to discount it for not being the album I wanted but, thanks to repeat listens and a week-long heatwave, I might have just found the album that I need for the moment. I’ll probably be back listening to wood nymph on the moon music once things cool down again.

📽️ Disney Time – Atlantis: The Lost Empire

List Item:  Watch The Disney Animated Canon
Progress: 41/58Title: Atlantis: The Lost Empire
Year: 2001

A new Disney film in the canon, to me, is about as rare as finding a village in Minecraft – not something that happens at all often and, no matter how bad it ends up being, is always a welcome discovery. I mentioned in my post for The Emperor’s New Groove how this was my first new canonical Disney for 30 posts and I had no idea to expect. Now, I don’t know whether it’s the re-aligned expectations of the last few films, but I loved Atlantis. Might go as far as to say that it’s the best Disney since Hunchback

Love for this film was unexpected. After all, it has the fourth lowest Metacritic score of all the films within the canon – the top three being all films in my near future. In fact, the reviews were so bad in the USA that I don’t even remember seeing Atlantis being advertised in the UK – the other being Home on the Range. With the reviewers went the ticket-buying audience, which made this film a comparative flop.

When watching Atlantis there is a very pertinent question that comes to mind (which also came up with Dinosaur): what makes a Disney film? It’s this question that really seemed to flummox crowds back in 2001 who went in expecting something young children would love and a few decent songs thrown in. Instead you get a film with visuals inspired by the Hellboy comics and a mythology that stands in the larger footsteps of Studio Ghibli films like Castle in the Sky. This is the film that Disney were trying to make all those years ago with The Black Cauldron – and I only hope that Atlantis gets some sort of critical re-evaluation soon.

The animation in this film is not Dinsey at their greatest. It hearkens back to animation we said goodbye to after The Great Mouse Detective and, to be honest the character designs are all over the place to the point where they look like models from three different films put together. It makes up for this in scope though, the use of 3D-modelling for the submersible and the whole sequence near the end with the Atlantean golems is beautifully done. I also really appreciate the work done on giving this culture a specially-constructed language with the view to have it be a possible offshoot of the Indo-European linguistic tree. Hell, this film is the Dungeons and Dragons campaign that most dungeon masters could only dream of constructing.

By no means is this one of the top tier Disney films. When I eventually do a ranking after watching and writing up Frozen 2, I don’t foresee Atlantis appearing in my Top 15. However, it deserves so much credit for being a different direction that Disney could have taken. With films like Zootopia we still see tinges of this more adult brand of story-telling, but with both Atlantis and Treasure Planet being flops – I can see why they would be so reluctant to engage in outlandish world-building for a while.

Next on the list is Lilo & Stitch, which when looking at what is to come, will be the last decent film on the list before 2008’s Bolt. I’m going to make sure that I relish it as much as possible as I know I’ll be missing it like crazy when I am halfway through watching Brother Bear.

World Cooking – Belarus

List Item: Cook something from every countryCountry: Belarus
Progress: 51/193

Last time, when I did my post on South Sudan, I said that I would be making food from one of he UN founder nations (given that South Sudan is the most recent members). Thanks to an interesting rule about the passing on of UN membership to successor states, Belarus is considered a founding member… despite being a member of the USSR at the time. This is because, upon the creation of the UN, the USSR complained about the West dominating the General Assembly. Therefore, two of the USSR constituant republics were given membership alongside the larger Soviet Union: the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic and the Byelorussian Soviet Socialist Republic. Honestly, I live for historical quirks like this.

There is a very clear Belorussian national dish, which made this post so easy to research, but what of the rest of their cuisine? Well, since it is sandwiched between Poland, Russia and Lithuania, these are the influences that make up their food. This means a very cuisine based on meat, potatoes (and other local vegetables like cabbage) and rye. Given their recent history under the Soviet Union and their continuing close ties to Russia, the concept of a national cuisine separate from their neighbour is still a fairly new one that will continue to develop as more and more people grow up in an independent Belarus.

Main: Draniki

There’s a saying that says ‘when life gives you lemons, make lemonade’. After today’s meal I think I want to use a bastardised version of this: when life gives you potatoes, make draniki (Belorussian potato pancakes). It’s one of those recipes that shows how you can make something delicious from a basic set of ingredients and by using a simple methodology (although I’ll be damned if I ever grate an onion by hand, in the mini-chopper it goes).

All the grating aside, making these draniki (following the recipe from Ingredient Matcher) awoke so many olfactory memories and actually made the whole process somewhat enjoyable. You see, when you go to a Christmas market in Central or Eastern Europe, you cannot escape from the delicious smell of freshly fried potato pancakes.

Depending on the country, the available toppings for these pancakes can vary greatly. In Germany and Austria, I have seen them being served with applesauce… which I have never quite understood. For these, I followed some pictures I saw online for a bunch of draniki recipes and accompanied them with some smetana and some smoked fish (although, I know fish isn’t traditionally found in most areas of Belorussian cuisine).

Truth be told, despite being on a weight-loss kick right now, I made four portions worth between myself and the husband and felt all the better for it. Not only did these smell the part, but they also tasted the part. I made them thinner than the ones I’ve had in Germany, which made them all the better to experience all the foods on the plate working together in harmony.

Next time, I will be cooking something from the Americas. As much as I would love to delve back into the world South American cooking by making something Peruvian or Argentine, I am still really behind on my Caribbean countries so it’ll be a sequel to the delicious meal from Saint Vincent and the Grenadines.