Tuesday, March 08, 2011

"I'm A Believer" by The Monkees

Birthday wishes go out today to Micky Dolenz - drummer, vocalist, and one-quarter of The Monkees who (with Davy Jones, Michael Nesmith, and Peter Tork) were a manufactured band whose ensuing popularity seems to have taken just about everyone involved by surprise. Yet under the supervision of Don Kirshner the creation of Bob Rafelson and Bert Schneider - who were themselves inspired by The Beatles' film A Hard Day's Night - not only became enormously popular in their cultural moment but would remain so for thirty years. Pioneers in the field of boy bands, The Monkees also provided a crucial step in the evolution of the music video.

I'm a Believer was the band's second big hit, spending seven weeks at the Number 1 spot on the American charts as well as climbing all the way to the top of its UK counterpart in 1966, the year it was released; some of their other hits included Last Train to Clarksville (their first single and first US #1), Pleasant Valley Sunday, and Daydream Believer (yet another #1).

Hindsight being 20/20 and all, it seems inevitable that a band inspired by The Beatles when they were still fun would have a certain appeal, especially at a time when John, Paul, George, and Ringo themselves were evolving into a serious, thoughtful (albeit increasingly less fun) band; yet even thirty years after The Beatles had broken up The Monkees were still drawing crowds to their various reunion tours, dispensing their trademark brand of feelgood nostalgia with a puckishly infectious chemistry.
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Remembering... John Inman

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When the news of John Inman's death - on this day in 2007 - was met with near universal grief across the blogosphere it ironically gladdened me; that his portrayal of the flamboyantly camp Mr. Humphries on the classic Britcom Are You Being Served? could be as beloved as the man himself says as much about the role television can play in the long term when it comes to eradicating social stigmas as it does about Inman's own likability.

Gay activists such as those with the UK's Campaign for Homosexual Equality protested his performance on the show, complaining about his stereotypical characterization, which shows just how out of touch the professionally offended (and their agenda) can be; while they were shouting behind their picket signs a generation of kids was growing up impressed with the way Mr. Humphries deftly dealt with (and in) innuendo as the best-liked employee of the fictional Grace Brothers department store.

After the show ended, Inman played the character in its Australian version, a fact I learned just this moment which will keep me from sleeping tonight because now I desperately want to see those episodes, having already seen every second of the British original. He also had a very successful career later in life as a pantomime dame, appearing in over 40 productions in the UK, often as an Ugly Sister in Cinderella alongside Barry Howard. In December 2005 he entered into civil partnership with Ron Lynch, his partner of 35 years; Inman died on this day in 2007 at the age of 71, having been admitted to St Mary's Hospital in London's Paddington neighbourhood.
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"Beautiful Wreck" by Shawn Mullins

In a way it's good that the outmoded thinking of record labels is actively engaged in stifling fair use; in marking the birthday of roots rock singer-songwriter Shawn Mullins today I've been unable to post either the video for Lullaby (his biggest hit to date) or the video for Shimmer (a favourite of ours here at the Pop Culture Institute) both of which first appeared on his 1998 album Soul's Core.

So, rather than living in the past, I've been forced to come forward to the present and have been handsomely rewarded in the process, by posting the equally high quality track called Beautiful Wreck, from his 2006 album 9th Ward Pickin Parlor.

Thanks for that go out to the addled-brained executives at Sony/BMG, who are scrambling around desperately trying to find a working business model for the digital age, despite the fact that Cory Doctorow's already figured one out. ~ MSM

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Gratuitous Brunette: Freddie Prinze, Jr.


Even though he has yet to find a role in which to distinguish himself, the fact that Freddie Prinze Jr. (born on this day in 1976) has been able to overcome a considerable tragedy early in his life without letting it define him is a testament not only to the mother who raised him but to his own outlook as well.

In January 1977, when little Freddie was just 10 months old, his father committed suicide (possibly by accident) at the age of only 22, while despondent over his broken relationship with Freddie's mother and under the influence of Quaaludes; that his father was also a well-known stand-up comic and television comedian - star of the sitcom Chico and the Man - meant that his son's personal loss was also a matter of public record, which could only have been compounded through the years by the fact that they bore the same name.

He has a few years yet, obviously, to find himself a career-defining role, during which time he can still coast on his looks; Hell, with looks like these he can probably coast forever if he wants. In the meantime, his own marriage to Sarah Michelle Gellar is in its ninth year (an almost unheard of achievement in Hollywood terms) and he continues to be cast, likely due to his affable nature (as evidenced on any of his talk-show appearances); the fact that he seems to have his priorities straight already makes him a success in our eyes.

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What's The Occasion? International Women's Day

Although it seems both superfluous and patronizingly minimalistic to celebrate International Women's Day in this age of grrrl power, when female empowerment is as rampant as misandry, but when Clara Zetkin first suggested the idea in 1911 it was truly revolutionary; in those days women didn't even have the right to vote in most countries, many were employed in demeaning work, and those who couldn't even get that got to do their demeaning work for free at home, where the spectre of domestic violence hung over them always...

PhotobucketThis is not to say that the situation has been entirely remedied; equal pay for equal work is still a hot-button issue, and a husband's hands may still wreak havoc on a wife's life today, especially in much of the developing world. But only the most hardcore devotee of Valerie Solanas could deny that the world in 2008 is a much better place for women than it was in 1908, especially in North America and Europe.

Here at the Pop Culture Institute we value all people every day, and encourage our readers present and future to do the same; still, it's nice to set aside a portion of the year, whether it be March 8th or indeed the entire month of March - Women's History Month in the US - or October (in Canada) to value and celebrate the half of our species too frequently left out of the history they are at least half responsible for creating.

Nevertheless, we feel the need to remind mothers that they are best suited for making their sons into decent men, and sincerely hope they take every opportunity to do so in the future.
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"Cars" by Gary Numan

To an artist dreaming of success, a smash-hit song can seem very elusive indeed; yet for someone who's had one it can seem more like a nightmare. Cars - from his 1979 album The Pleasure Principle - may be the coolest of the New Wave tunes, but birthday boy Gary Numan is clearly tired of talking about it. For a performer who has continued to record and perform (and innovate) ever since its release, constant reminders that his greatest success are nearly three decades behind him don't sit well with the electronic music pioneer.

Nevertheless, the song will always have a place in my heart - not to mention on his set list - which is why I'm posting it now; as a Canadian boy who has spent the past quarter of a century dreaming of London, Numan's biggest hit will always occupy a cherished place both on my iPod and in the soundtrack of my life.
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Pop History Moment: The Accession of Queen Anne

Following the death of her sister, Mary II, from smallpox in December 1694, the woman then known as Princess Anne became the heir apparent (rather than heiress presumptive) of her brother-in-law William III; she should have become Queen in her own right on that day, of course, since she was a Stuart while William was both Dutch and merely the widower of the rightful sovereign. Parliament had made him co-sovereign in February 1689, though, so that was that; England would be stuck with him until it no longer was...

PhotobucketAnne's patience (not to mention the Nation's) was rewarded however when, on this day in 1702, she obtained her birthright - William III having contracted pneumonia after being thrown from his horse. That day she became Queen Anne in her own right, along with the usual constitutional quandary which generally accompanies the accession of a queen-regnant. Equally troubling, Anne had no heir, despite fourteen pregnancies, and was, as such, the last Protestant member of the House of Stuart who, like the Tudors before them, couldn't seem to produce a Y chromosome to save their lives, let alone their dynasty. She also inherited, along with her crown, a thorny situation regarding the Act of Settlement.

Anne's reign, though short, would prove pivotal; Scotland was brought kicking and screaming into the United Kingdom in 1707 under the terms of the Acts of Union, and Anne herself would be the last monarch to veto legislation - the Scottish Militia Bill of 1708 - an unimaginable situation today in the age of constitutional monarchy. Her reign also saw the rise of two-party politics (Tory and Whig), the "first Prime Minister" Sir Robert Walpole, as well as a burgeoning British Empire and growing influence on the Continent as well, especially after the victory of the Battle of Blenheim in 1704. Likewise, it was an age of artistic and architectural flowering that didn't end with her August 1714 death...
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POPnews - March 8th

[From its earliest days (such as the one, in May 1792, when the Buttonwood Agreement was signed under a buttonwood tree on Wall Street) to its humble beginnings in 1817 when it rented rooms at 40 Wall Street, the New York Stock Exchange has been inordinately benefiting from boom times and annihilating the US and world economies on a semi-regular basis ever since - to the point where its daily opening bell must more often than not sound like a death knell. This building, located at 18 Broad Street and designed by George B. Post, opened in 1903; it was designated a National Historic Landmark and added to the National Register of Historic Places in June 1978.]

1755 - Thomas Paine published African Slavery in America, the first American document to call for the total abolition of slavery.

1782 - Some 90 Moravian Christians of the Lenape living in the Ohio village of Gnadenhütten had their skulls crushed with mallets during the Gnadenhütten Massacre, which was carried out by 160 Pennsylvanian militiamen under Lieutenant Colonel David Williamson in retaliation for raids against American forces carried out by other Indians of the same nation.

1817 - The New York Stock Exchange was founded, with Anthony Stockholm as its first president.

1844 - Oscar I ascended to the throne of Sweden-Norway following the death of his father, Charles XIV John.

1911 - International Women's Day was launched in Copenhagen by Clara Zetkin, leader of the Women's Office for the Social Democratic Party in Germany.

1921 - Eduardo Dato Iradier was assassinated by Catalan anarchists while exiting the parliament building in Madrid, the second Spanish Prime Minister in a decade to be so killed; a predecessor, Jose Canalejas, had met a similar fate at the hands of anarchist Manuel Pardiñas in November 1912.

1924 - The Castle Gate mine disaster killed 172 coal miners near Castle Gate, Utah.

1936 - The Daytona Beach Road Course held its first oval stock car race, but those participating were only able to complete 75 of the 78 laps planned; Milt Marion was declared the winner, with second place finisher Ben Shaw and third place finisher Tommy Elmore unsuccessfully protesting the results.

1945 - Allied forces moved large numbers of troops across the Rhine River to significantly reinforce and expand their tenuous hold on the captured Ludendorff Bridge (better known as the Bridge at Remagen), allowing them to push some armor across the river and better secure the nascent lodgement. Capturing the bridge cleared the way for Operation Plunder to proceed later in the month; the event was later made into the 1969 film The Bridge at Remagen, and the remains of the bridge today house a museum.

1957 - The 1957 Georgia Memorial to Congress, which petitioned the U.S. Congress to declare the ratification of the 14th & 15th Amendments to the U.S. Constitution null and void, was adopted by the state of Georgia.

1963 - The Ba'ath Party came to power in Syria following a coup d'état by a clique of quasi-leftist Syrian Army officers calling themselves the National Council of the Revolutionary Command. Salah al-Din al-Bitar was chosen as Prime Minister under this arrangement; the Ba'ath Party remains in power in Syria to this day.

1966 - A bomb planted by young Irish protesters including Joe Christle blew up Nelson's Pillar in the centre of Dublin's O'Connell Street; no one was hurt in the blast although a taxi operated by Steve Maughan was totally destroyed in the blast. Within days the Go Lucky Four (comprised of four schoolteachers from Belfast - Gerry Burns, Finbar Carolan, John Sullivan and Eamonn McGirr) had a pop hit with Up Went Nelson (sung to the tune of The Battle Hymn of the Republic) which lasted six weeks on the charts; in January 2003 the Spire of Dublin was erected on the same site.

1971 - Joe Frazier became the undisputed world heavyweight boxing champion after winning a unanimous 15-round decision over Muhammad Ali at Madison Square Garden in New York.

1974 - Charles de Gaulle Airport opened near Paris.

1978 - The first-ever episode of the radio series The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, by Douglas Adams, was transmitted on BBC Radio 4.

1980 - The Tbilisi Rock Festival - the first such event of its kind to feature rock music in the Soviet Union - began; in all the event would run for eight days and feature such rock music legends as Moscow's Mashina Vremeni (fronted by Andrei Makarevich), Gunnar Graps’s Magnetic Band from Talinn, and Alexander Sitkovetsky’s art-rock group Autograph.

1983 - US President Ronald Reagan first called the Soviet Union an 'evil empire' during a speech to the National Association of Evangelicals in Orlando; although thought to have been coined by Reagan's speechwriter, Anthony R. Dolan, for use in an address to the British House of Commons in June 1982, the phrase appears nowhere in the so-called 'Evil Empire speech' except in its title.

1985 - A failed assassination attempt against Sayyed Mohammad Hussein Fadlallah in Beirut killed at least 45 and injured 175 others.

2004 - A new transitional constitution was signed by Iraq's Governing Council; it has since been replaced by a permanent constitution, approved by referendum in October 2005.
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