Music Discoveries: Rolling Stone’s 500 Greatest Albums of All Time 110-101


In September 2020, Rolling Stone magazine released their most recent list of the 500 Greatest Albums of All Time, which includes a greater variety of artists and genres than previous lists. Looking through the list, there were many albums I’d never listened to before and a few I’d never even heard of. In fact, counting it up, I found that I’d only listened to 140 of the albums, although I’d heard songs from many more. So I’ve decided my project for 2021 is to listen to 10 albums each week and write up some thoughts about each one.

Previous Posts:

500-491 400-381 300-291 200-191
490-481 390-381 290-281 190-181
480-471 380-371 280-271 180-171
470-461 370-361 270-261 170-161
460-451 360-351 260-251 160-151
450-441 350-341 250-241 150-141
440-431 340-331 240-231 140-131
430-421 330-321 230-221 130-121
420-411 320-311 220-211 120-111
410-401 310-301 210-201

Artist: Joni Mitchell
AlbumCourt and Spark
Year: 1974
Label: Asylum
Have I Listened to This Album Before?: No
Am I Familiar With This Artist/Songs from This Album?:  No
Would I Listen to this Album Again?: No
Favorite Tracks:

  • “Raised on Robbery”

Thoughts: I just realized that this is the fourth of five Joni Mitchell albums on the RS 500 list.  And yet I have nothing to say about it.  Mitchell’s music has a soporific effect on me.  I kind of feel like I’m missing out on something that everyone else gets.


Artist: Lou Reed
AlbumTransformer
Year: 1972
Label: RCA
Have I Listened to This Album Before?: No
Am I Familiar With This Artist/Songs from This Album?: Yes
Would I Listen to this Album Again?: Yes
Favorite Tracks:

  • “Vicious”
  • “Perfect Day”
  • “Walk on the Wild Side”
  • “Satellite of Love”
  • “Goodnight Ladies”

Thoughts: I’m kind of surprised that so many of the songs that Lou Reed is known for are all from the same album.  But it makes it a great album.  David Bowie and Mark Ronson participate for that extra glam touch.


Artist: Fiona Apple
AlbumWhen the Pawn…
Year: 1999
Label: Epic
Have I Listened to This Album Before?: No
Am I Familiar With This Artist/Songs from This Album?: Yes
Would I Listen to this Album Again?: Yes
Favorite Tracks:

  • “To Your Love”
  • “Paper Bag”
  • “Fast As You Can”
  • “The Way Things Are”

Thoughts: Another great album from Fiona Apple – the tiny person with a great big voice – that I was totally unaware of at the time.


Artist: Television
Album: Marquee Moon
Year: 1977
Label: Elektra
Have I Listened to This Album Before?: Yes
Am I Familiar With This Artist/Songs from This Album?: Yes
Would I Listen to this Album Again?: Yes
Favorite Tracks:

  • “Venus”
  • “Marquee Moon”
  • “Guiding Light”

Thoughts: Television, pioneers of New York City punk rock, have a glam sheen on their debut album. Television proved the grand extent of possibility within New York punk by being the antithesis of The Ramones.


Artist: Hole
Album: Live Through This
Year: 1994
Label: Geffen
Have I Listened to This Album Before?: No
Am I Familiar With This Artist/Songs from This Album?: Yes
Would I Listen to this Album Again?:
Favorite Tracks:

  • “Violet”
  • “She Walks On Me”

Thoughts: Hole is a band I was aware of but didn’t pay much attention to back in the 90s.  I think part of that was due to the widespread belief that Courtney Love was profiting off the recent suicide of her husband Kurt Cobain, which in retrospect was really unfair to Love.  It turns out that “Violet” is the only song I recognize – and I hadn’t even known it was a Hole song – whereas the song I thought I knew by Hole is apparently not on this album (and I can’t remember what it’s called!).


Artist: The Allman Brothers
Album: At Fillmore East
Year: 1971
Label: Capricorn
Have I Listened to This Album Before?: No
Am I Familiar With This Artist/Songs from This Album?: Yes
Would I Listen to this Album Again?: I’d probably find some other Blues/jam album first
Favorite Tracks:

  • “Statesboro Blues”
  • “Stormy Monday”

Thoughts: Since “Southern Rock” is not my thing, I wasn’t looking forward to this album.  First, of all The Allman Brothers were clearly a talented live act.  Second, most of the tracks are extended jams on Blues standards which makes it hard to go wrong.  The album does include Allman Brothers’ originals like “Whipping Post,” which is a tired classic rock staple, but overall it’s not a bad album.  I haven’t been keeping track, but there don’t seem to be too many live albums in the RS 500 list, which is a shame, because there are a lot of good ones out there.


Artist: Rolling Stones
AlbumSticky Fingers
Year: 1971
Label: Rolling Stones
Have I Listened to This Album Before?: Yes
Am I Familiar With This Artist/Songs from This Album?: Yes
Would I Listen to this Album Again?: Yes
Favorite Tracks:

  • “Brown Sugar”
  • “Sway”
  • “Wild Horses”
  • “Can’t You Hear Me Knocking”
  • “You Gotta Move”
  • “I Got the Blues”
  • “Dead Flowers”
  • “Moonlight Mile”

Thoughts: The opening track and #1 single is best enjoyed if you don’t listen to the lyrics too closely (which I think most people have done over time).  But the rest of the album brings about much less conflicted enjoyment with some great Blues rock (“Sway,” “You Gotta Move”), Mick Jagger’s most soulful vocals (“I Got the Blues”), country rock (“Wild Horses,” “Dead Flowers”), Latin jazz fusion (“Can’t You Hear Me Knocking”), and the most thrilling to song to listen to while walking a long a moonlit beach when you’re a 15-year-old camping with your family on Assateague Island and can’t fall asleep (“Moonlight Mile”).


Artist: De La Soul
Album: 3 Feet High and Rising
Year: 1989
Label: Tommy Boy
Have I Listened to This Album Before?: Yes
Am I Familiar With This Artist/Songs from This Album?: Yes
Would I Listen to this Album Again?: Yes
Favorite Tracks:

  • “The Magic Number”
  • “Jennifa Taught Me (Derwin’s Revenge)”
  • “Eye Know”
  • “Tread Water”
  • “Potholes in My Lawn”
  • “Say No Go”
  • “Me Myself and I”
  • “Plug Tunin'”

Thoughts: I can never be certain what album I listened to most often to in my life but 3 Feet High and Rising is a strong contender. I’ve really exposed my lack of knowledge of 90s and 00s hip-hop as I’ve worked through this list, but I guess I never got over that De La Soul had less of a lasting influence than gangsta rap.


Artist: The Clash
AlbumThe Clash
Year: 1977
Label: CBS
Have I Listened to This Album Before?: Yes
Am I Familiar With This Artist/Songs from This Album?: Yes
Would I Listen to this Album Again?: Yes
Favorite Tracks:

  • “Remote Control”
  • “I’m So Bored With the U.S.A”
  • “White Riot”
  • “Career Opportunities”
  • “Police & Thieves”

Thoughts: The Only Band That Matters roars into existence with their debut album.  The Clash is full of raw punk rock and meaningful lyrics that still resonate decades later.

More on this album in my Clash Music Discovery.


Artist: Led Zeppelin
AlbumLed Zeppelin
Year: 1969
Label: Atlantic
Have I Listened to This Album Before?: Yes
Am I Familiar With This Artist/Songs from This Album?: Yes
Would I Listen to this Album Again?: Yes
Favorite Tracks:

  • “Good Times, Bad Times”
  • “You Shook Me”
  • “Dazed and Confused”

Thoughts: Another stunning debut for a genre-defining band, Led Zeppelin captures Led Zep as a pure Blues Rock act. The guitar and drum solos display virtuosic talent and there isn’t a shred of the mystical folk rock and prog rock that Led Zeppelin would incorporate into their sound in later years.

HOLY COW! We enter the Top 100 next week!


Running List of Albums I’d Listen to Again

  • 500. Arcade Fire, Funeral
  • 498. Suicide, Suicide
  • 497. Various Artists, The Indestructible Beat of Soweto
  • 494. The Ronettes, Presenting the Fabulous Ronettes
  • 489. A Christmas Gift for You from Phil Spector from Phil Spector and Various Artists, Back to Mono (1958-1969)
  • 487. Black Flag, Damaged
  • 485. Richard and Linda Thompson, I Want to See the Bright Lights Tonight
  • 483. Muddy Waters, The Anthology
  • 482. The Pharcyde, Bizarre Ride II the Pharcyde
  • 481. Belle and Sebastian, If You’re Feeling Sinister
  • 478. The Kinks, Something Else by the Kinks
  • 477. Howlin’ Wolf, Moanin’ in the Moonlight
  • 469.Manu Chao, Clandestino
  • 465. King Sunny Adé, The Best of the Classic Years
  • 464. The Isley Brothers, 3 + 3
  • 462. The Flying Burrito Brothers, The Gilded Palace of Sin
  • 459. Kid Cudi, Man on the Moon: The End of the Day
  • 457. Sinéad O’Connor, I Do Not Want What I Haven’t Got
  • 456. Al Green, Greatest Hits
  • 455. Bo Diddley, Bo Diddley/Go Bo Diddley
  • 453. Nine Inch Nails, Pretty Hate Machine
  • 452. Diana Ross and the Supremes, Anthology
  • 451. Roberta Flack, First Take
  • 448. Otis Redding, Dictionary of Soul
  • 446. Alice Coltrane, Journey in Satchidanada
  • 444. Fiona Apple, Extraordinary Machine
  • 443. David Bowie, Scary Monsters
  • 440. Loretta Lynn, Coal Miner’s Daughter
  • 439. James Brown, Sex Machine
  • 438. Blur, Parklife
  • 437. Primal Scream, Screamadelica
  • 435. Pet Shop Boys, Actually
  • 433. LCD Soundsystem, Sound of Silver
  • 431. Los Lobos, How Will the Wolf Survive?
  • 430. Elvis Costello, My Aim Is True
  • 429. The Four Tops, Reach Out
  • 428. Hüsker Dü, New Day Rising
  • 427. Al Green, Call Me
  • 426. Lucinda Williams, Lucinda Williams
  • 425. Paul Simon, Paul Simon
  • 424. Beck, Odelay
  • 423. Yo La Tengo, I Can Hear the Heart Beating As One
  • 422. Marvin Gaye, Let’s Get It On
  • 421. M.I.A., Arular
  • 417. Ornette Coleman, The Shape of Jazz to Come
  • 416. The Roots, Things Fall Apart
  • 415. The Meters, Looka Py Py
  • 414. Chic, Risqué
  • 413. Creedence Clearwater Revival, Cosmo’s Factory
  • 412. Smokey Robinson and the Miracles, Going to a Go Go
  • 409. Grateful Dead, Workingman’s Dead
  • 408. Motörhead, Ace of Spades
  • 406. Magnetic Fields, 69 Love Songs
  • 405. Various, Nuggets: Original Artyfacts from the First Psychedelic Era
  • 403. Ghostface Killah, Supreme Clientele
  • 402. Fela Kuti and Africa 70, Expensive Shit
  • 401. Blondie, Blondie
  • 400. The Go-Go’s, Beauty and the Beat
  • 398. The Raincoats, The Raincoats
  • 397. Billie Eilish, When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go?
  • 395. D’Angelo and the Vanguard, Black Messiah
  • 392. Ike and Tina Turner, Proud Mary: The Best of Ike and Tina Turner
  • 390. Pixies, Surfer Rosa
  • 388. Aretha Franklin, Young, Gifted and Black
  • 387. Radiohead, In Rainbows
  • 386. J Dilla, Donuts
  • 385. Ramones, Rocket to Russia
  • 384. The Kinks, The Kinks Are the Village Green Preservation Society
  • 380. Charles Mingus, Mingus Ah Um
  • 378. Run-DMC, Run-D.M.C.
  • 377. Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Fever to Tell
  • 375. Green Day, Dookie
  • 374. Robert Johnson, King of the Delta Blues Singers
  • 373. Isaac Hayes, Hot Buttered Soul
  • 371. The Temptations, Anthology
  • 369. Mobb Deep, The Infamous
  • 368. George Harrison, All Things Must Pass
  • 365. Madvillain, Madvillainy
  • 364. Talking Heads, More Songs About Buildings and Food
  • 363. Parliament, The Mothership Connection
  • 360. Funkadelic, One Nation Under a Groove
  • 358. Sonic Youth, Goo
  • 357. Tom Waits, Rain Dogs
  • 356. Dr. John, Gris-Gris
  • 354. X-Ray Spex, Germfree Adolescents
  • 351. Roxy Music, For Your Pleasure
  • 350. Stevie Wonder, Music of My Mind
  • 349. MC5, Kick Out the Jams
  • 348. Gillian Welch, Time (The Revelator)
  • 347. GZA, Liquid Swords
  • 346. Arctic Monkeys, AM
  • 345. Bruce Springsteen, The Wild, the Innocent & the E Street Shuffle
  • 344. Toots and the Maytals, Funky Kingston
  • 343. Sly and the Family Stone, Greatest Hits
  • 342. The Beatles, Let It Be
  • 341. The Smashing Pumpkins, Siamese Dream
  • 338. Brian Eno, Another Green World
  • 337.  Bob Dylan, John Wesley Harding
  • 335. Bob Dylan and the Band, The Basement Tapes
  • 334. Santana, Abraxas
  • 333. Bill Withers, Still Bill
  • 332. Elvis Presley, Elvis Presley
  • 330. The Rolling Stones, Aftermath
  • 329. DJ Shadow, Endtroducing…
  • 328. Vampire Weekend, Modern Vampires of the City
  • 326. Prince, Dirty Mind
  • 323.The Clash, Sandinista!
  • 320. X, Los Angeles
  • 319. The Stone Roses, The Stone Roses
  • 317. Billie Holiday, Lady in Satin
  • 316. The Who, The Who Sell Out
  • 310. Wire, Pink Flag
  • 309. Joy Division, Closer
  • 308. Brian Eno, Here Come the Warm Jets
  • 307. Sam Cooke, Portrait of a Legend
  • 306. Al Green, I’m Still In Love With You
  • 304. Bill Withers, Just As I Am
  • 301. New York Dolls, New York Dolls
  • 299. B.B. King, Live at the Regal
  • 297. Peter Gabriel, So
  • 294. Weezer, Weezer
  • 293. The Breeders, Last Splash
  • 292. Van Halen, Van Halen
  • 289.  Björk, Post
  • 288. The Modern Lovers, The Modern Lovers
  • 287. The Byrds, Mr. Tambourine Man
  • 283. Donna Summer, Bad Girls
  • 282. Frank Sinatra, In the Wee Small Hours
  • 279. Nirvana, MTV Unplugged in New York
  • 278. Led Zeppelin, Houses of the Holy
  • 276. Radiohead, The Bends
  • 275. Curtis Mayfield, Curtis
  • 274. The Byrds, Sweetheart of the Rodeo
  • 273. Gang of Four, Entertainment!
  • 272. The Velvet Underground, White Light/White Heat
  • 267. Minutemen, Double Nickels on the Dime
  • 266. The Beatles, Help!
  • 263. The Beatles, A Hard Day’s Night
  • 262. New Order, Power, Corruption & Lies
  • 261. Beastie Boys, Check Your Head
  • 260. The Slits, Cut
  • 259. Janis Joplin, Pearl
  • 257. Dolly Parton, Coat of Many Colors
  • 256. Tracy Chapman, Tracy Chapman
  • 254. Herbie Hancock, Head Hunters
  • 252. Devo, Q: Are We Not Men? A: We Are Devo!
  • 250. Buzzcocks, Singles Going Steady
  • 246. LL Cool J, Mama Said Knock You Out
  • 245. Cocteau Twins, Heaven of Las Vegas
  • 242. The Velvet Underground, Loaded
  • 240. Sam Cooke, Live at the Harlem Square Club, 1963
  • 239. Boogie Down Productions, Criminal Minded
  • 238. Kraftwerk, Trans Europe Express
  • 237. Willie Nelson, Red Headed Stranger
  • 236. Daft Punk, Discovery
  • 232. John Coltrane, Giant Steps
  • 229. Patsy Cline, The Ultimate Collection
  • 228. De La Soul, De La Soul Is Dead
  • 227. Little Richard, Here’s Little Richard
  • 226. Derek and the Dominos, Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs
  • 223. John Lennon, Imagine
  • 221. Rage Against the Machine, Rage Against the Machine
  • 220. Crosby, Stills, Nash, & Young, Déjà Vu
  • 215.  Grateful Dead, American Beauty
  • 213. Fiona Apple, The Idler Wheel…
  • 212. Nina Simone, Wild is the Wind
  • 211. Joy Division, Unknown Pleasures
  • 210. Ray Charles, The Birth of Soul
  • 209. Run-DMC, Raising Hell
  • 206. David Bowie, Low
  • 205. Cat Stevens, Tea for the Tillerman
  • 202. Björk, Homogenic
  • 201. A Tribe Called Quest, Midnight Marauders
  • 198. The B-52’s, The B-52’s
  • 197. The Beatles, Meet the Beatles!
  • 195. Leonard Cohen, Songs of Leonard Cohen
  • 193. Creedence Clearwater Revival, Willy and the Poor Boys
  • 192. Beastie Boys, Licensed to Ill
  • 191. Etta James, At Last!
  • 190. The Who, Tommy
  • 189. Sleater-Kinney, Dig Me Out
  • 185. The Rolling Stones, Beggars Banquet
  • 184. Cyndi Lauper, She’s So Unusual
  • 181. Bob Dylan, Bringing It All Back Home
  • 178. Otis Redding, Otis Blue
  • 177. Rod Stewart, Every Picture Tells a Story
  • 176. Public Enemy, Fear of a Black Planet
  • 175. Kendrick Lamar, DAMN.
  • 174. Jimmy Cliff and Various Artists, The Harder They Come: Original Soundtrack
  • 173. Nirvana, In Utero
  • 172. Simon and Garfunkel, Bridge Over Troubled Water
  • 171. Sonic Youth, Daydream Nation
  • 170. Cream, Disraeli Gears
  • 169. Billy Joel, The Stranger
  • 167. Depeche Mode, Violator
  • 166. Buddy Holly, 20 Golden Greats
  • 165. R.E.M., Murmur
  • 164. Johnny Cash, At Folsom Prison
  • 162. Pulp, Different Class
  • 161. Crosby, Stills & Nash, Crosby, Stills, & Nash
  • 156. The Replacements, Let it Be
  • 155. Jay-Z, The Black Album
  • 154. Aretha Franklin, Amazing Grace
  • 153. PJ Harvey, Rid of Me
  • 150. Bruce Springsteen, Nebraska
  • 149. John Prine, John Prine
  • 148. Frank Ocean, Channel Orange
  • 146. Blondie, Parallel Lines
  • 144. Led Zeppelin, Physical Graffiti
  • 143. The Velvet Underground, The Velvet Underground
  • 142. Bruce Springsteen, Born in the U.S.A.
  • 141. Pixies, Doolittle
  • 140. Bob Marley and the Wailers, Catch a Fire
  • 139. Black Sabbath, Paranoid
  • 138. Madonna, The Immaculate Collection
  • 137. Adele, 21
  • 136. Funkadelic, Maggot Brain
  • 135. U2, The Joshua Tree
  • 134. Fugees, ‘he Score
  • 132. Hank Williams, 40 Greatest Hits
  • 131. Portishead, Dummy
  • 130. Prince, 1999
  • 127. Ray Charles, Modern Sounds in Country and Western Music
  • 125. Beastie Boys, Paul’s Boutique
  • 124. U2, Achtung Baby
  • 123. Led Zeppelin, Led Zeppelin II
  • 122. Nine Inch Nails, The Downward Spiral
  • 121. Elvis Costello, This Year’s Model
  • 120. Van Morrison, Moondance
  • 119. Sly and the Family Stone, Stand!
  • 116. The Cure, Disintegration
  • 114. The Strokes, Is This It
  • 113. The Smiths, The Queen Is Dead
  • 111. Janet Jackson, Control
  • 109. Lou Reed, Transformer
  • 108. Fiona Apple, When the Pawn …
  • 107. Television, Marquee Moon
  • 104. The Rolling Stones, Sticky Fingers
  • 103. De La Soul, Three Feet High And Rising
  • 102. The Clash, The Clash
  • 101. Led Zeppelin, Led Zeppelin

 

TV Review: Star Trek:Discovery (2019)


Title: Star Trek: Discovery
Release Date: 2019
Creator: Bryan Fuller and Alex Kurtzman
Season: 2
Episodes:14
Production Company: Secret Hideout | Roddenberry Entertainment | Living Dead Guy Productions | CBS Studios
Summary/Review

While the first season of Star Trek: Discovery showed some promise, it suffered from the 21st-century television malady of using “grimdark” as the baseline for storytelling.  The season starts with a brutal war story and then takes a left turn into an evil mirror universe. Thankfully, the second season has more of the hopeful future of possibility that is the heart of Star Trek.  There’s definitely a lighter tone, humor, and a sense of a group of people who are working together for, well, discovery.

The season begins with a new captain, Christopher Pike (Anson Mount), transferring from the Enterprise to take temporary command of Discovery.  Pike is a character from the pilot of the original Star Trek series who returned for a two-part episode called “The Menagerie.”  Being a prequel to the original series, Discovery has been guilty of playing up to fan nostalgia (and one episode in particular this season goes very deeply into going where Star Trek has gone before) by bringing in familiar people and things.  With Pike, though, I think it works, similar to Sarek and Amanda, as they are all familiar people in Star Trek lore but have had limited screen time.

A bigger challenge is the significant role of another familiar character, Michael Burnham’s (Sonequa Martin-Green) foster brother Spock (Ethan Peck).  Not only is Spock one of the most important characters in Star Trek history but he is so entwined with Leonard Nimoy that it feels an act of arrogance to recast him.  Ultimately I can’t fault Peck, who does the best he can taking on an iconic role, and Spock’s presence in the series arc makes sense having established him as the family of our main character, Burnham.  I can’t help feeling though that this is a way of trying to gain Star Trek legitimacy for the series without really earning it.

While season 2 is a great improvement over season 1, I feel that Discovery is still missing something that I love about Star Trek.  What is missing is the whole exploring “strange new worlds” thing. All the plots and conflict of the original series involved “boldly going” somewhere new.  By the time of The Next Generation, the Enterprise seemed to be shuttling between places already discovered, but they still met “new life and civilizations” all the time  Discovery, by contrast, seemingly is just always in crisis and the conflict is within Starfleet (a big no-no under Gene Rodenberry, and obviously an artificial restraint to storytelling, but Discovery seems to be over-correcting). Even when they do visit places like Saru’s (Doug Jones) homeworld, we really don’t find out all too much about the planet beyond meeting Saru’s sister.

Past iterations of Star Trek have been accused of being boring, but the show did take time for world-building and character development. This season was good in fleshing out some of the secondary characters and giving a little more about the many familiar faces on the bridge.  On the downside, one episode finally fills in the background of one character only to have the episode end with their death. It’s an old trick in tv and not a good one. So much of this season is about plot twists and new threats that come so fast it’s hard to even make sense of them sometimes. It starts with a search for mysterious signals in the galaxy, then a search for Spock, and then a mysterious sphere with an archive of data.  The antagonists are the CIA-like Section 31 intelligence organization of the United Federation of Planets, and then suddenly a sentient artificial intelligence.  It all gets a bit exhausting.

Mind you, Discovery is a fun show and one I want to keep watching.  The characters and acting fill in a lot of gaps where the plotting and writing fail.  I just think it could be a great show and more true to its Star Trek lineage while also being more adventurous in storytelling. The season ends with a thrilling space battle and an all-hands-on-deck plot to save the universe where all the major characters contribute.  And it pretty much answers why we have never heard of Discovery or Michael Burnham or the spore drive in previous Star Trek series while also setting up a premise for Season 3 that could redefine the show in exciting ways.  I shall keep watching

Related Posts:

TV Review: Star Trek: Discovery (2017-2018)


Title: Star Trek: Discovery
Release Date: 2021
Creator: Bryan Fuller and Alex Kurtzman
Season: 1
Episodes: 15
Production Company: Secret Hideout | Roddenberry Entertainment | Living Dead Guy Productions | CBS Studios
Summary/Review: As a long time fan of the Star Trek original series and Star Trek: The Next Generation, and all their spinoff films,  I’ve been eager to watch this newest Star Trek universe series. My feelings after viewing the first season are mixed.  The show veers away from the Gene Roddenberry rules into darker territory than previous series, but it also has a tendency toward ludicrous plot twists over effective storytelling. Keeping in line with 21st-century television, Discovery is a serialized program as opposed to the mostly stand-alone episodic approach of its predecessors.

Unlike other Star Trek shows which centered on the captain, the main character of this show is  Michael Burnham (Sonequa Martin-Green, who was great in The Walking Dead), a science specialist on the U.S.S. Enterprise.  She is a human who was orphaned in a Klingon attack as a child and raised as the ward of the Vulcan Sarek (James Frain), essentially making her Spock’s adopted sister. As the series begins, she is a first officer being groomed to be a captain, but convinced that the Federation must make a preemptive attack on the Klingon Empire, she attempts a mutiny and is busted down to the lowest levels.

The first half of the season deals with Burnhams attempted mutiny, the start of the Federation-Klingon War, and Burnham’s recruitment to the Discovery by the eccentric military captain Gabriel Lorca (Jason Isaacs of Lucius Malfoy fame but with an American accent). The early episodes are hit and miss but I think do a good job of establishing Burnham and her regrets and hopes for redemption while also introducing the rest of the characters. It also shows some developments of an experimental technology on the Discovery,  the spore drive.  Basically it uses a galaxy-wide mycelial network (yes, space fungi!) to jump to different places in space.  It sounds weird, but then again, so were dilithium crystals.

The second half of the season is set primarily in the Mirror Universe, a plot device going back to the original series of an alternate universe where everyone has evil duplicates.  Unfortunately this half of the season is pretty much mediocre as the creators indulge their desire to make the show “gritty and dark.” There’s a definite influence of the 2000s Battlestar Galactica without that show’s gravitas. The second half of the season also has multiple characters being revealed as not who they were, but not in very effective ways.  It feels like the twists were thought up first and then the stories were filled in later.  Thankfully, the final episode builds on the hope on optimism that is the corner of Star Trek storytelling and gives me hope for future seasons.

The show is set ten years before the beginning of the original series making Discovery essentially a prequel. There’s wisdom in this as it appears the creators wanted to tell a war story and why not have the Klingons as antagonists rather than creating a new villain, albeit I don’t think they ultimately used the Klingons to their best storytelling potential. Despite the earlier time period, the crew of Discovery have access to more advanced technology than in earlier shows.  I’m mostly fine with this, because the 1960s Star Trek did their best to show future technology with the special effects available at the time, so there’s no reason the 2010s show shouldn’t do the same.  Ultimately, though, they are going to have to explain why the spore drive doesn’t replace the warp drive by the time of The Next Generation.

The best part of the show so far is its characters.  In addition Martin-Green, the show’s main cast includes:

  • Doug Jones (creature specialist of Pan’s Labyrinth and The Shape of Water fame) as Saru, who is of a rare species known as Kelpien, serves as the first officer, and is the conscience of the ship. He’s my favorite character thus far.
  • Mary Wiseman plays Sylvia Tilly, Burnham’s roommate who is nerdy and socially awkward, but nonetheless highly-skilled and ambitious.  She’s my second favorite character.
  • Shazad Latif plays Ash Tyler, who is rescued from a Klingon jail by Captain Lorca, appointed security chief, and becomes a romantic interest of sorts for Burnham.
  • Anthony Rapp plays the sometimes crotchety/sometimes goofy chief engineer Paul Stamets who develops and maintains the spore drive.
  • Wilson Cruz plays Hugh Culber, the ship’s medical officer, and Stamets’ husband, and is the more sensible of the couple.
  • Michelle Yeoh has a recurring role as starship Captain Philippa Geourgiu who is Burnham’s mentor.

Due to the aforementioned twists, it appears that several of the characters will not be appearing in future seasons, although none of their endings are written in stone.  I’ll find out soon.

Book Review: The Good Neighbor by Maxwell King


Author: Maxwell King
Title: The Good Neighbor: The Life and Work of Fred Rogers
Narrator: LeVar Burton
Publication Info: Oasis Audio (2018)
Summary/Review:

I know a bit about the life of Fred Rogers from watching the documentary Won’t You Be My Neighbor and reading articles about him.  But I couldn’t resist listening to the first book-length biography of Mr. Rogers narrated by another PBS hero, LeVar Burton.  King does a good job of getting a clear picture of Rogers’ background, starting from childhood.

His family was wealthy, which allowed Rogers the opportunities to try his new ideas, but his parents’ philanthropy and noblesse oblige also contributed to his humility and simple lifestyle.  Rogers was also affected by instances of childhood bullying and the sense that he could find support in the neighborhood of his hometown of Latrobe, PA.

As a young man, Rogers learned television production and studied for the ministry, with the unorthodox plan of putting both callings toward educating children.  The big question of this book is whether the Mister Rogers we see on tv represents the real person, with the unanimous response of “yes” from people who know him.  So this book won’t expose any “dark secrets” but it is a very good glimpse into how a wonderful man formed his philosophy for teaching children.

Recommended books:

Rating: ****

Podcasts of the Week Ending November 9


Twenty Thousand Hertz  :: Baby Shark

The long history of the ubiquitous children’s song that became an unexpected hit this year.

Lost at the Smithsonian :: Archie Bunker’s Chair

Norman Lear’s groundbreaking show All in the Family depicted the real divisions within American family.  The famed overstuffed armchair remains on display at the Smithsonian as recognition of the show’s place in history. By the way, I’ve never before noticed how much Donald Trump’s vocal intonations resemble Archie Bunker’s.

Throughline :: No Friends But the Mountains

A history of the Kurds, a people without a nation.

Wedway Radio :: The Evolution of Disney Lands

Breaking down how Disney parks have created lands that evolved from a loose collection of attractions around a theme to fully immersive experiences.


Running tally of 2019 Podcast of the Week appearances:

TV Review: Further Tales of the City (2001)


Title More Tales of the City
Release Dates: 2001
Season: 3
Number of Episodes: 3
Summary/Review:

I’ve finished off watching all the televisual adaptions of Armistead Maupin’s Tales of the City books with 2001’s More Tales of the City.  This is the shortest of all the miniseries and apparently was released in three episodes, although the version I watched on YouTube was edited together into a single three hour movie.  The brevity actually benefits the film, because this is the weakest of all 9 Tales of the City books and consolidating the story actually improves the narrative a bit.

More Tales of the City revolved a ludicrous, plot-twist filled story about an Episcopalian cannibal cult. Further Tales of the City revolves around a ludicrous, plot-twist filled story about cult leader Jim Jones living in San Francisco three years after the Jonestown massacre.  This main story line has DeDe (Barbara Garrick) and her adorable toddler children returning home after having gone to live at Jonestown, surviving the massacre, escaping to Cuba, and then being expelled for being lesbian.  The story does give Garrick a part with more gravitas which she performs well and makes me wonder why DeDe was played mostly for laughs in the 2019 miniseries.

Another central character is Prue (Mary Kay Place), a friend of DeDe’s who had only a small role in previous series, but is the one who discovers and befriends Jim Jones, using the alias Luke (Henry Czerny), when he was living in a maintenance shed in Golden Gate Park.  Her sidekick is Father Paddy, a gossipy and secretly gay priest, played by Bruce McCullough (the second member of Kids in the Hall to appear in Tales of the City after Scott Thompson played a bit part in the previous installment). Another newcomer is a pre-Grey’s Anatomy Sandra Oh as news anchor Bambi Kanetaka, who is Mary Ann’s rival at the tv station and who’s mistreatment by the 28 Barbary Lane family reflects poorly on them and is another reason I like this book the least.

The other storylines seem to be treading water.  Mary Ann (Laura Linney) and Brian (Whip Hubley) are in a long-term relationship now, but straining over Mary Ann’s career focus (something that is better developed in the later books).  Michael (Paul Hopkins) has broken off with Jon (Billy Campbell) basically because of low self-esteem and has a series of flings with an actor (a character Maupin based on his real life lover Rock Hudson), a cop, and a cowboy.  And Mother Mucca (Jackie Burroughs) introduces Mrs. Madrigal (Olympia Dukakis) to a man named Royal Reichenbach (John McMartin) in a story created solely for television.

It’s a shame that they were never able to continue adapting the books with the original-ish cast.  Book 4, Babycakes, is my favorite of all the books and all three of the books from the 1980s are more character-driven and deal with more serious issues, especially the AIDS crisis.  Maupin was one of the first authors to include depictions of AIDS in fiction.  Alas, to what could’ve been.

Related posts:

TV Review: More Tales of the City (1998)


Title More Tales of the City
Release Dates: 1998
Season: 2
Number of Episodes: 6
Summary/Review:

Having watched the new Netflix series Tales of the City and then rewatched the classic 1993 miniseries Tales of the City, I dug up the sequel to the original, More Tales of the City on YouTube of all places. This miniseries suffers from the fact that it’s based on one of the weakest books in the Tales of the City series and can’t improve on its source material. The series also  anfeatures several characters cast with new actors that can be jarring.

Paul Hopkins takes over as Michael Tolliver and he end being my least favorite of the three actors to play Michael, as he overdoes the Southern accent and seems to lean in to hard on playing a stereotype of 70s gay man. Nina Siemaszko is somewhat more successful as Mona, playing the character with more vulnerability, but also looking like she’s cosplaying Chloe Webb as Mona. Diana Leblanc takes over for Frannie Halcyon who has a much bigger role in this story, and bears a startling resemblance to Barbara Garrick who plays her onscreen daughter.  Françoise Robertson takes over for D’orothea and also is an improvement for a character getting a bigger role.  Finally, Whip Hubley plays Brian, and while he looks too much like a 70s sitcom character, he does inhabit the role well.

The miniseries overall does have more of a sitcom feel and a lot of the cinematography and direction that made the original Tales of the City great is replaced by more pedestrian styles. I find the plot twists over-the-top (SPOILER) such as Beauchamp dies in a car wreck, Michael is suddenly paralyzed by Guillain–Barré syndrome, and Burke uncovered a Episcopalian cannibal cult! Again, though, those all come from the original source, so they do the best they can.

The main plots of the story involve Mary Ann (Laura Linney) and Michael going on a cruise to Mexico.  Mary Ann finds romance with a man who has amnesia regarding his time in San Francisco, Burke (Colin Ferguson), while Michael is reacquainted with Jon (William Campbell).  Meanwhile, Mona, feeling lost in life, journeys to Nevada where she ends up working as a receptionist at a brothel for Mother Mucca (a cracking good Jackie Burroughs who is actually 8 years younger than Olympia Dukakis, despite appearances).  Brian, enjoying voyeurism from his new penthouse apartment, starts a long distance fling with a mysterious woman (Swoosie Kurtz, 14 years younger than Olympia Dukakis) in another building via binoculars. DeDe has her babies with the help of her new friend-come-lover D’orthea.

It was interesting to finaly see this after 21 years, but unlike the original, I don’t think it would be worth an additional viewing.

TV Review: Tales of the City (1993)


Title Tales of the City
Release Dates: 1993
Season: 1
Number of Episodes: 6
Summary/Review:

After watching the new Tales of the City miniseries on Netflix, I saw that this original miniseries is also on Netflix and had to rewatch.  As good as the new series is, this original is really a masterpiece of television.  There’s a lot about it I love – the dialogue, the pacing, the way San Francisco is incorporated as a character, the camerawork (I especially enjoy how many scenes are shot through windows), and the music, both the period-specific pop tunes and the original score for the series. The new series, and well, a lot of television misses these deft touches.

I also like how it slowly reveals that in a city where no one seems to have any secrets that everyone has deep secrets indeed.  I like how well they handled a romance between an older couple – Anna Madrigal (Olympia Dukakis) and Edgar Halcyon (Donald Moffat) – something you rarely see depicted on film.  Marcus D’Amico is really the most heartwarming perfomer as Michael Tolliver, and I really loved his strong friendship with Mona Ramsey (Chloe Webb). That Michael in the new series doesn’t share any memories of Mona and even changes the story of how he met Mrs. Madrigal is all the more disappointing.

Even though I haven’t watched this in at least 20 years, I was surprised how well I remembered so many scenes.  The big exception is that I forgot the whole thing about D’orothea (Cynda Williams) pretending to be Black and Mona trying to appeal to her with sould food, which is one of the big misteps of this whole series and worth forgetting about.  Otherwise this is a terrific show and if you have Netflix give yourself a treat and watch it.

TV Review: Tales of the City (2019)


Title Tales of the City
Release Dates: 2019
Season: 4
Number of Episodes: 10
Summary/Review:

25 years ago, my sister introduced me to the PBS miniseries Tales of the City, which proved to be an eye-opening experiencing of seeing the intertwined lives of a group of people in San Francisco in the period of Gay Liberation and Sexual Revolution of the 1970s.  A couple more miniseries were made for a cable channel that I never saw, but I did end up reading the Tales of the City books by Armistead Maupin multiple times.  Maupin began Tales of the City as a newspaper column in 1974 and then compiled the stories into five novels through the 1970s and 1980s.  Maupin tied up the series with an original novel in 1989, but a couple of decades later he returned to the characters with three new novels published between 2007 and 2014.

And now Tales of the City returns to tv with a Netflix miniseries that draws on both the recent novels and the  1993 miniseries, with additional new characters and plots.  The story is set in the present day which creates a big cognitive roadblock for me as a Tales of the City fan.  The characters should have aged 40+ years since 1976, but the actors playing them have only aged 25 years and thus much of their backstories don’t add up.  With a large part of the story focusing on generational differences, we have the original Boomer characters and the new Millenial characters, but Generation X is completely erased (except, of course, that Gen X actors are playing the Boomers).

Leaving that aside, this version of Tales of the City viewed on its own is an excellent work of television.  In additon to the generational conflicts, the show focuses on truth, family, forgiveness, and how gentrification disrupts community and history.  LGBTQ actors are cast to play LGBTQ characters and the new cast brings a greater racial diversity.

Olympia Dukakis returns as Anna Madrigal, one of the great characters of literature and film.  Under threat of blackmail, Anna decides to sell her Barbary Lane apartment building.  A flashback episode to 1966 depicts Anna’s arrival in San Francisco and a shocking secret.  Young Anna is portrayed magnificently by Jen Richards, who is actually a transgender woman unlike Dukakis.

Laura Linney returns as Mary Ann Singleton.  Her character returns to San Francisco after 20 years to attend Anna’s 90th birthday party, and decides to stay when she realizes how much she misses it as her home.  Mary Ann dives into solving the mystery of why Anna is selling Barbary Lane. Initially, her character is off-putting, a pushy and privileged white woman from Connecticut, but over the course of the series she softens back into the Mary Ann we loved.

Murray Bartlett joins the cast as Michael “Mouse” Tolliver, and despite being way too young to play Michael, he does a great job inhabiting the character and has great chemistry with the other actors as if he’d been there all along.  Michael is dealing with a much younger boyfriend Ben (inspired by, but different from a character in the books and played by Charlie Barnett), and the return of an old lover who’d abandoned him, Harrison (Matthew Risch playing a character who as nothing in common with Michael’s former book boyfriends, Jon and Thack).

Paul Gross returns as Brian Hawkins, Mary Ann’s ex-husband, who raised his adoptive daughter as a single father and runs a garden nursery with Michael.  He is looking to get back in the dating game but keeps meeting up with women who remind him of Mary Ann.  He also attempts a relationship with his best friend Wren (played by Michelle Buteau, a really great character inspired by a book character of the same name, who should have had a bigger part).

The new, younger characters are also great.  Ellen Page plays Brian’s adoptive daughter Shawna, who is unaware that she was adopted and resents Mary Ann for leaving her behind (this was definitely NOT a plot in the books).  She’s pansexual and works for a radical cooperative burlesque bar that is central to many scenes of the series. And since Page is playing a character who is the biological child of a character played by Parker Posey, I now need to see Page and Posey together in a movie.

Other Barbary Lane residents include transgender man Jake Rodriguez (Garcia) and his partner Margot Park (May Hong).  Jake is realizing he is now attracted to men, while Margot regrets losing her lesbian identity from before Jake’s transition, leading to tension and eventual breakup.  Jake is a character from the newer books but characterized somewhat differently here, including having him be of Latinx heritage, while Margot is a characer new to the miniseries.

The other residents of Barbary Lane are a twin siblings Jennifer (Ashley Park) and Jonathan (Christopher Larkin) who dedicate their lives to performance art in hopes of becoming successful Instagram influencers.  Unfortunately, most of their plot is cliched Millenial sterotypes, although they are good comic relief.  They also are tied in with another returning character, DeDe Halcyon Day (Barbara Garrick), a wealthy socialite delighted to have young people make use of her mansion for their performance parties.

One frustrating element is that when Anna’s blackmailer is revealed, they are portrayed as a cartoon villain, ruining what I thought had been an intersting, nuanced character up that point.  Barring that, Tales of the City is a touching, funny, and thoughtful story and a  worthy addition to the ouevre.

TV Review: Russian Doll (2019)


Title: Russian Doll
Release Dates: 2019
Season: 1
Number of Episodes: 8
Summary/Review:

This clever tv show features the comedic talents of Natasha Lyonne as Nadia, a woman who dies repeatedly and keeps returning to relive her 36th birthday party.  The time loop concept is similar to Groundhog’s Day, a similarity the show doesn’t try to hide.  I also felt it shared some qualities with Donnie Darko, and Run, Lola, Run, especially in that the show feels like a video game character that dies and always returns to the same starting point.  Not coincidentally, Nadia is a software designer for a game company who created a particularly difficult game.

The twist here – and this is a SPOILER if you haven’t watched the show – comes in the third episode cliffhanger where Nadia meets Alan (Charlie Barnett, who could easily be cast in an Alex Rodriguez biopic), a young man who is also repeatedly dying and coming back to life.  While Nadia is struggling with her troubled childhood with her mentally ill mother (who died at the age of 36), Alan is challenged by being dumped by his long-time girlfriend on the night he planned to propose to her. The great thing about this show’s plot is not only to they have to come to terms with their problems in order to get on with their lives (literally here, but also metaphorically) but they also have to help one another to do so.

Russian Doll is by turns really dark, acerbically funny and very sweet.