Watch Stephen Sondheim (RIP) Teach a Kid How to Sing “Send In the Clowns”




Stephen Sondeim’s  “Send in the Clowns,” like the much mangled “Memory” from the much maligned musical CATS, has weathered any number of ill-advised interpretations.

The show-stopping solo from 1973’s A Little Night Music’reference to clowns is not meant to be literal, but that didn’t stop the Muppet Show from sending a trio of them in to back Judy CollinsFrank Sinatra peeked around on every chorus, as if he’d yet to come to grips with the fact that Bozo wouldn’t be popping up on cue.




It’s misinterpretations like these that set composers spinning in their graves, but Sondheim is still very much in the game. His approach to musical theater continues to be exacting, no doubt nerve wracking, though the Guildhall School of Music and Drama student he’s fine-tuning in the video above bears up bravely.

She’s a couple of decades too young to play Desiree, whose unsuccessful attempt to woo an old lover away from his teenage bride occasions the song, but no matter. Her adjustments show the dividends a close reading of the text can pay.

See what you can do with Sondheim’s advice next time you’re singing in the shower, the only place private enough for me to believe I’m doing credit to his oeuvre. Those of us who can’t sing can take heart knowing that the original Desiree, Glynis Johns, couldn’t either, at least by the master’s usual standards. The song’s uncharacteristically short phrasing allowed her to shine as an actress, and deflected from any vocal shortcomings.

Here are the lyrics. If you need further inspiration, watch Ingmar Bergman’s Smiles of a Summer Night, on which A Little Night Music is based.

Those who are more director than diva may prefer to evaluate the performances below. In my opinion, at least one of them merits a firm rap on the knuckles from Maestro Sondheim for excessive wallowing. (Hint for those whose time is short: we’ve saved the best for last.)

Judi Dench, Desiree in the 1995 Royal National Theatre revival, performing at the BBC Proms 2010, in honor of Sondheim’s 80th birthday.

Glenn Close, another Night Music vet at Carnegie Hall.

Carol Burnett stuck close to the spirit of the original in a non-comic sketch for her 1970’s variety show, costarring the late Harvey Korman.

Bernadette Peters, the 2010 Broadway revival’s Desiree, at Southern Methodist University. Her accompanist seems pretty happy with this performance. 

Dame Judi again, showing us how it’s done, in costume on the edge of a giant red bed, with Laurence Guittard as Frederik. Have a hankie ready at the 3:10 mark.

Related Content:

James Taylor Teaches You to Play “Carolina in My Mind,” “Fire and Rain” & Other Classics on the Guitar

David Lynch Teaches Louis C.K. How to Host The David Letterman Show

What Books, Movies, Songs & Paintings Could Have Entered the Public Domain on January 1, 2014?

Ayun Halliday is the musically ungifted Bride of Urinetown. Follow her  @AyunHalliday

Blade Runner and Alien TV Shows Confirmed by Ridley Scott




Ridley Scott is 83, and good on him for not slowing down. The Last Duel came and went, but it actually existed and was an original idea, based on a true historical event, and with a script from Nicole Holofcener, and featured a re-teaming up of Ben Affleck and Matt Damon. And as of this writing, House of Gucci is set to open and give us some salacious scandal and murder among the hoity and toit, just in time for Oscar season. He’s even recently dropped some hot takes against the superhero movie factory of Hollywood. So Scott’s doing well. Then why does this latest announcement feel so underwhelming?

According to a BBC interview on Monday, Scott is also developing a 10-episode limited series based on Blade Runner *and* a limited series based on Alien, this time set on earth.

It’s not totally clear how much Scott is actively involved.




“We [have already] written the pilot for ‘Blade Runner’ and the bible,” he says, referring to the master plan of the 10 episodes. “So, we’re already presenting ‘Blade Runner’ as a TV show, the first 10 hours.” But who his co-creators are, we don’t know right now. And there are similar questions in the upcoming Alien series, which has been rumored since 2020. Noah Hawley, who turned the Coen Bros. Fargo into something like a jazz riff on the Coen’s films spread across several decades, is set to be the showrunner.

The Blade Runner announcement has sent the pop media press into a tizzy, trying to guess where and when the new series will be set. After all, the 1982 film was set in a bleak, dystopian 2019, and the Denis Villeneuve sequel was set in a bleak, dystopian 2049. And it was only because of this announcement that I even knew of the Adult Swim animated series, Blade Runner: Black Lotus, which is set in a bleak, dystopian 2032. Times have changed, but the Los Angeles of the future sure hasn’t. So when will it take place? Who knows?

Look, the two new series might be good, they might be meh, but Scott’s sudden prominence at the end of 2021 feels like an encapsulation of media’s divergent paths. On one hand you have his two films, both original content, one that might have a second life on streaming on and another that feels like it will have some buzz and lead people back to the cinema. Either way, they tell stories with beginnings, middles, and ends. On the other hand you have the continual franchise-ment of culture, revisiting and rehashing two excellent films from the early ‘80s that exist perfectly well as standalone stories. Do we really need more stories about the xenomorph? Do we need more stories about a very damp Los Angeles and its replicants? Is culture at a standstill? Are we doomed to recycle everything from the 1980s onward?

However, if anybody should be making money off of Ridley Scott’s legacy it’s Scott himself. Leave your thoughts in the comments below, while I put on this Vangelis soundtrack.

Related Content:

Experience Blade Runner Like You Never Have Before Through a Feature-Length Remastered Soundtrack

The Sounds of Blade Runner: How Music & Sound Effects Became Part of the DNA of Ridley Scott’s Futuristic World

Three Blade Runner Prequels: Watch Them Online

What is a Blade Runner? How Ridley Scott’s Movie Has Origins in William S. Burroughs’ Novella, Blade Runner: A Movie

Ted Mills is a freelance writer on the arts who currently hosts the Notes from the Shed podcast and is the producer of KCRW’s Curious Coast. You can also follow him on Twitter at @tedmills, and/or watch his films here.

The Drugs Used by the Ancient Greeks and Romans




Many of us living in the parts of the world where marijuana has recently been legalized may regard ourselves as partaking of a highly modern pleasure. And given the ever-increasing sophistication of the growing and processing techniques that underlie what has become a formidable cannabis industry, perhaps, on some level, we are. But as intellectually avid enthusiasts of psychoactive substances won’t hesitate to tell you, their use stretches farther back in time than history itself. “For as long as there has been civilization, there have been mind-altering drugs,” writes Science‘s Andrew Lawler. But was anyone using them in the predecessors to western civilization as we know it today?

For quite some time, scholars believed that unlike, say, Mesoamerica or north Africa, “the ancient Near East had seemed curiously drug-free.” But now, “new techniques for analyzing residues in excavated jars and identifying tiny amounts of plant material suggest that ancient Near Easterners indulged in a range of psychoactive substances.”




The latest evidence suggests that, already three millennia ago, “drugs like cannabis had arrived in Mesopotamia, while people from Turkey to Egypt experimented with local substances such as blue water lily.” That these habits seem to have continued in ancient Greece and Rome is suggested by archaeological evidence summarized in the video above.

In 2019, archaeologists unearthed a few precious artifacts from a fourth-century Scythian burial mound near Stavropol in Russia. There were “golden armbands, golden cups, a heavy gold ring, and the greatest treasure of all, two spectacular golden vessels,” says narrator Garrett Ryan, who earned a PhD in Greek and Roman History from the University of Michigan. The interiors of those last “were coated with a sticky black residue,” confirmed in the lab to be opium with traces of marijuana. “The Scythians, in other words, got high” — as did “their Greek and Roman neighbors.” Ryan, author of Naked Statues, Fat Gladiators, and War Elephants: Frequently Asked Questions about the Ancient Greeks and Romans, goes on to make intriguing connections between scattered but relevant pieces of archaeological and textual evidence. We know that some of our civilizational forebears got high; how many, and how high, are questions for future scholastic inquiry.

Related Content:

Algerian Cave Paintings Suggest Humans Did Magic Mushrooms 9,000 Years Ago

Discover the Oldest Beer Recipe in History From Ancient Sumeria, 1800 B.C.

Pipes with Cannabis Traces Found in Shakespeare’s Garden, Suggesting the Bard Enjoyed a “Noted Weed”

1,000-Year-Old Illustrated Guide to the Medicinal Use of Plants Now Digitized & Put Online

Beer Archaeology: Yes, It’s a Thing

Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities and culture. His projects include the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

Dueling as a Film Trope: Pretty Much Pop #109 Considers The Last Duel and Its Genre

In light of the release of The Last Duel (which you needn’t have watched), we talk about the trope of the honor-resolving duel in movies and TV. Mark and guest co-host Dylan Casey of The Partially Examined Life are joined by Clif Mark, host of the Good in Theory podcast who wrote his political thesis and a 2018 Aeon article on the history and logic of dueling.

Since we’re all philosophy podcasters on this one (our entertainment podcaster guest dropped out at the last minute), we bring in philosophers like Hegel and Nietzsche in as needed, the circle of ethical concern (who gets moral status and so is worthy to duel?), and of course the relevant class and gender critiques.

We also touch on The Duelists (incidentally, Ridley Scott’s directing debut, where The Last Duel is his latest), The Duelist and The Duel (two 2016 films), A Knight’s Tale, The Princess Bride, Dune, Hamilton, Bridgerton, The Karate Kid, and more.

For more information on the specter of dueling in politics, read about Justin Trudeau and Trump/Biden.

Some articles that fed our discussion (in addition to Clif’s “What Is Offensive”) include:

Follow Clif @Clifton_Mark.

This episode includes bonus discussion you can access by supporting the podcast at patreon.com/prettymuchpop or by choosing a paid subscription through Apple Podcasts. This podcast is part of the Partially Examined Life podcast network.

Pretty Much Pop: A Culture Podcast is the first podcast curated by Open Culture. Browse all Pretty Much Pop posts.

The Illustrated Version of “Alice’s Restaurant”: Watch Arlo Guthrie’s Thanksgiving Counterculture Classic

Alice’s Restaurant. It’s now a Thanksgiving classic, and something of a tradition around here. Recorded in 1967, the 18+ minute counterculture song recounts Arlo Guthrie’s real encounter with the law, starting on Thanksgiving Day 1965. As the long song unfolds, we hear all about how a hippie-bating police officer, by the name of William “Obie” Obanhein, arrested Arlo for littering. (Cultural footnote: Obie previously posed for several Norman Rockwell paintings, including the well-known painting, “The Runaway,” that graced a 1958 cover of The Saturday Evening Post.) In fairly short order, Arlo pleads guilty to a misdemeanor charge, pays a $25 fine, and cleans up the thrash. But the story isn’t over. Not by a long shot. Later, when Arlo (son of Woody Guthrie) gets called up for the draft, the petty crime ironically becomes a basis for disqualifying him from military service in the Vietnam War. Guthrie recounts this with some bitterness as the song builds into a satirical protest against the war: “I’m sittin’ here on the Group W bench ’cause you want to know if I’m moral enough to join the Army, burn women, kids, houses and villages after bein’ a litterbug.” And then we’re back to the cheery chorus again: “You can get anything you want, at Alice’s Restaurant.”

We have featured Guthrie’s classic during past years. But, for this Thanksgiving, we give you the illustrated version. Happy Thanksgiving to everyone who plans to celebrate the holiday today.

Would you like to support the mission of Open Culture? Please consider making a donation to our site. It’s hard to rely 100% on ads, and your contributions will help us continue providing the best free cultural and educational materials to learners everywhere.

Also consider following Open Culture on Facebook and Twitter and sharing intelligent media with your friends. Or sign up for our daily email and get a daily dose of Open Culture in your inbox. 

Related Content:

William S. Burroughs Reads His Sarcastic “Thanksgiving Prayer” in a 1988 Film By Gus Van Sant

Marilyn Monroe’s Handwritten Turkey-and-Stuffing Recipe

William Shatner Raps About How to Not Kill Yourself Deep Frying a Turkey

F. Scott Fitzgerald’s 13 Tips for What to Do with Your Leftover Thanksgiving Turkey

Jazz Virtuoso Oscar Peterson Gives Dick Cavett a Dazzling Piano Lesson (1979)

Duke Ellington once called Oscar Peterson the “Maharaja of the Keyboard” for his virtuosity and ability to play any style with seeming ease, a skill he first began to learn as a classically trained child prodigy. Peterson was introduced to Bach and Beethoven by his musician father and older sister Daisy, then drilled in rigorous finger exercises and given six hours a day of practice by his teacher, Hungarian pianist Paul de Marky. “I only first really heard jazz somewhere between the ages of seven and 10,” said the Canadian jazz great. “My older brother Fred, who was actually a better pianist than I was, started playing various new tunes — well they were new for me, anyway…. Duke Ellington and Art Tatum, who frightened me to death with his technique.”

Despite his own prodigious talent, Peterson found Tatum “intimidating,” he told Count Basie in a 1980 interview. He responded to the fear by learning how to play like Tatum, and like everyone else he admired, while adding his own melodic twists to standards and originals. At 14, he won a national Canadian music competition and left school to become a professional musician.




He recorded his first album in 1945 at age 20. “Since his ‘discovery’ in 1947 by Norman Granz,” wrote International Musician in 2002, five years before the pianist’s death, “Peterson has amassed an incredible legacy of recorded work with Louis Armstrong, Ella Fitzgerald, Count Basie, Fred Astaire, Dizzy Gillespie, Coleman Hawkins, and Charlie Parker, among countless other greats.”

In the video at the top of the post from the Dick Cavett Show in 1979, Peterson shows off his elegant technique and demonstrates the “stylistic trademarks” of the greats he admired, and that others have heard expressed in his own style. He begins with his albatross, Tatum’s “stride piano,” a style that requires a good deal of left hand articulation and which, done right, can “put the rhythm section out of business,” Cavett jokes. Peterson then shows off the “the two-fingered percussiveness of Nat Cole,” the “lyric octave work of Erroll Garner,” and double octave melody lines, a very difficult two-hand maneuver.

It’s a dazzling lesson that shows, in just a few short minutes, why Peterson became known for his “stunning virtuosity as a soloist,” as one biography notes. In the video above, producer and YouTube personality Rick Beato explains why he thinks Peterson played the “Greatest Solo of All Time” in the 1974 rendition of “Boogie Blues Study” further up. As David Funk, who posted the Cavett video clip to YouTube, puts it, “What more can you say?” To understand why Louis Armstrong called Peterson “the man with four hands,” we simply need to watch him play.

Related Content:

How Music Unites Us All: Herbie Hancock & Kamasi Washington in Conversation

Deconstructing Stevie Wonder’s Ode to Jazz and His Hero Duke Ellington: A Great Breakdown of “Sir Duke”

Jazz Deconstructed: What Makes John Coltrane’s “Giant Steps” So Groundbreaking and Radical?

Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

Read 800+ Thanksgiving Books Free at the Internet Archive

On Thanksgiving Day, Americans make the (sometimes arduous) effort to gather for an enormous traditional meal and for many, a now equally traditional viewing of televised football. But even when stretched to their maximum length, these activities occupy only so many hours. What to do with the rest of the day? You might consider heading over to the Internet Archive and filling it with some holiday-appropriate reading. Last year that site’s librarian Brewster Kahle tweeted a suggestion to “check out 700 Thanksgiving books! (from delightful to dated to a little weird)” in their online collection, a collection that has since risen to more than 800 digitized volumes.

There, especially if you sort by popularity, you’ll find a wealth of Thanksgiving-themed children’s books, from Wendi Silvano’s Turkey Trouble and Mark Fearing’s The Great Thanksgiving Escape to Charles Schulz’s A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving and Norman Bridwell’s Clifford’s Thanksgiving Visit (whose titular big red dog features at this very moment in his own major motion picture).




But there are also selections for grown-up readers. Take, for example, Laurie Collier Hillstrom’s The Thanksgiving Book: a Companion to the Holiday Covering its History, Lore, Traditions, Foods, and Symbols, Including Primary Sources, Poems, Prayers, Songs, Hymns, and Recipes: Supplemented by a Chronology, Bibliography with Web Sites, and Index — the length of whose title belies its publication in not the 19th century, but 2008.

Or perhaps you’d prefer to accompany the digestion of your Thanksgiving feast with a holiday-appropriate work of fiction. In that case your choices include Thanksgiving Night by literary examiner of modern family life Richard Bausch; Thankless in Death by murderous-thriller powerhouse J.D. Robb (alter-ego of prolific romance novelist Nora Roberts); and even Truman Capote’s “The Thanksgiving Visitor,” collected in one volume along with his stories “A Christmas Memory” and “One Christmas.” That last book will give you a head start on the rest of the holiday season to come, wherever in the world you may live. And if that happens to be Canada, you can give your kids a head start on next year’s Canadian Thanksgiving while you’re at it. Enter the collection here.

Related Content:

The Illustrated Version of “Alice’s Restaurant”: Watch Arlo Guthrie’s Thanksgiving Counterculture Classic

William S. Burroughs Reads His “Thanksgiving Prayer” in a 1988 Film By Gus Van Sant

Bob Dylan’s Thanksgiving Radio Show: A Playlist of 18 Delectable Songs

Marilyn Monroe’s Handwritten Turkey-and-Stuffing Recipe

F. Scott Fitzgerald’s 13 Tips for What to Do with Your Leftover Thanksgiving Turkey

Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities and culture. His projects include the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

The Secrets of Beethoven’s Fifth, the World’s Most Famous Symphony

Revered by music lovers of temperaments as varied as Peanuts’ Schroeder and A Clockwork Orange’s AlexLudwig van Beethoven is one of the most celebrated composers in the Western classical music canon.

Symphony No. 5 in C minor is surely one of his most recognized, and frequently performed works, thanks in large part to its dramatic opening motif —

dun-dun-dun-DAH!

Music educator Hanako Sawada’s entertaining TED-Ed lesson, animated by Yael Reisfeld above, delves into the story behind this symphony, “one of the most explosive pieces of music ever composed.”




Middle and high school music teachers will be glad to know the creators lean into the heightened emotions of the piece, depicting the composer as a tortured genius whose piercing gaze is bluer than Game of Thrones’ Night King.

Beethoven was already enjoying a successful reputation at the time of the symphony’s 1808 premiere, but not because he toiled in the service of religion or wealthy patrons like his peers.

Instead, he was an early-19th century bad ass, prioritizing self-expression and pouring his emotions into compositions he then sold to various music publishers.

With the Fifth, he really shook off the rigid structures of prevailing classical norms, embracing Romanticism in all its glorious turmoil.

The famous opening motif is repeated to the point of obsession:

Throughout the piece, the motif is passed around the orchestra like a whisper, gradually reaching more and more instruments until it becomes a roar.

Besotted teenagers, well acquainted with this feeling, are equipped with the internal trombones, piccolos, and contrabassoons of the sort that make the piece even more urgent in feel.

Just wait until they get hold of Beethoven’s Immortal Beloved letters, written a few years after the symphony, when the hearing loss he was wrestling with had progressed to near total deafness.

Whether or not it was the composer (and not his biographer) who characterized the central motif as the sound of “Fate knocking at the door,” it’s an apt, and riveting notion.

Take a quiz, participate in a guided discussion, and customize Hanako Sawada’s lesson, “The Secrets of the World’s Most Famous Symphony,” here.

Listen to the symphony in its entirety below.

Related Content:

Beethoven’s Unfinished Tenth Symphony Gets Completed by Artificial Intelligence: Hear How It Sounds

Did Beethoven Use a Broken Metronome When Composing His String Quartets? Scientists & Musicians Try to Solve the Centuries-Old Mystery

Watch Animated Scores of Beethoven’s 16 String Quartets: An Early Celebration of the 250th Anniversary of His Birth

Ayun Halliday is the Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine and author, most recently, of Creative, Not Famous: The Small Potato Manifesto.  Follow her @AyunHalliday. 

In 1997, Wired Magazine Predicts 10 Things That Could Go Wrong in the 21st Century: “An Uncontrollable Plague,” Climate Crisis, Russia Becomes a Kleptocracy & More

Hydrogen-powered cars. Biological, then quantum computing. Gene-therapy cancer treatments. An end to the War on Drugs. Reliable automatic translation. The impending end of the nation-state. Man setting foot on Mars. These are just a few of the developments in store for our world by the year 2020 — or so, at any rate, predicts “The Long Boom,” the cover story of a 1997 issue of Wired magazine, the official organ of 1990s techno-optimism. “We’re facing 25 years of prosperity, freedom, and a better environment for the whole world,” declares the cover itself. “You got a problem with that?”

Since the actual year 2020, this image has been smirkingly re-circulated as a prime example of blinkered End-of-History triumphalism. From the vantage of 2021, it’s fair to say that the predictions of the article’s authors Peter Schwartz and Peter Leyden (who expanded their thesis into a 2000 book) went wide of the mark.




But their vision of the 21st century hasn’t proven risible in every aspect: a rising China, hybrid cars, video calls, and online grocery-shopping have become familiar enough hardly to merit comment, as has the internet’s status as “the main medium of the 21st century.” And who among us would describe the cost of university as anything but “absurd”?

Schwartz and Leyden do allow for darker possibilities than their things-can-only-get-better rhetoric make it seem. Some of these they enumerate in a sidebar (remember sidebars?) headlined “Ten Scenario Spoilers.” Though not included in the article as archived on Wired‘s web site, it has recently been scanned and posted to social media, with viral results. A “new Cold War” between the U.S. and China; a “global climate change that, among other things, disrupts the food supply”; a “major rise in crime and terrorism forces the world to pull back in fear”; an “uncontrollable plague — a modern-day influenza epidemic or its equivalent”: to one degree or another, every single one of these ten dire developments seems in our time to have come to pass.

“We’re still on the front edge of the great global boom,” we’re reminded in the piece’s conclusion. “A hell of a lot of things could go wrong.” You don’t say. Yet for all of the 21st-century troubles that few riding the wave of first-dot-com-boom utopianism would have credited, we today run the risk of seeing our world as too dystopian. Now as then, “the vast array of problems to solve and the sheer magnitude of the changes that need to take place are enough to make any global organization give up, any nation back down, any reasonable person curl up in a ball.” We could use a fresh infusion of what Schwartz and Leyden frame as the boom’s key ingredient: American optimism. “Americans don’t understand limits. They have boundless confidence in their ability to solve problems. And they have an amazing capacity to think they really can change the world.” In that particular sense, perhaps we all should become Americans after all.

via Reddit

Related Content:

Pioneering Sci-Fi Author William Gibson Predicts in 1997 How the Internet Will Change Our World

Why 1999 Was the Year of Dystopian Office Movies: What The Matrix, Fight Club, American Beauty, Office Space & Being John Malkovich Shared in Common

In 1926, Nikola Tesla Predicts the World of 2026

Futurist from 1901 Describes the World of 2001: Opera by Telephone, Free College & Pneumatic Tubes Aplenty

From the Annals of Optimism: The Newspaper Industry in 1981 Imagines its Digital Future

167 Pieces of Life & Work Advice from Kevin Kelly, Founding Editor of Wired Magazine & The Whole Earth Review

Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities and culture. His projects include the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

Legendary DJ John Peel Makes a List of His 20 Favorite Albums

Image by Zetkin, via Wikimedia Commons

Before there were influencers, there was John Peel. The BBC radio DJ and journeyman music writer’s tastes helped define listening habits for generations — from his early championing of Pink Floyd and Captain Beefheart to his early championing of The Smiths and Nirvana, to… well, most everything he played, wrote about and recorded in his legendary John Peel sessions from the 1960s until his death in 2004.

For someone with such influence, Peel had a singularly humble attitude about his own importance and that of music tastemakers generally. In a 1970 interview for Radio Times, “Peel plays down the role of DJs as celebrities,” notes the John Peel Wiki, “and is quoted as saying among other things, ‘Some disc jockeys don’t realise the essential insignificance of their role.’”




His was an attitude shared by few in the music business. One person who comes to mind, producer and musician Steve Albini — an early champion of too many bands to name — likes to similarly exempt himself from the process, treating his opinions about music as incidental to the vital experience of making music itself. In an interview the year after Peel’s death, Albini ruminated on this quality in Peel:

Before he died, John Peel said something that I thought was really profound. He said when he gets a record from somebody and he doesn’t like it, he assumes that it’s his problem and that the band would not have made that record if there wasn’t something valuable about it.

Of course, John Peel had his opinions about music — once saying in 1978, for example, that he wished the Rolling Stones had broken up in 1965. He even had his opinions about Steve Albini, whose brutal three-piece 80s band Big Black ranked at number 15 for their Songs About Fuc&ing on a list Peel made of his 20 favorite albums. The list, below, should be read with all kinds of caveats.

In no way would Peel ever assert that these 20 records are the “20 best” of anything. These are the albums that rose to the top for him, for reasons he declined to specify, at a particular point in time 1997 when The Guardian asked him for his opinion. Peel himself found these exercises “terribly self-indulgent” notes Jon Dennis in brief commentary on each album on the list. Narrowing down one’s favorites was a particularly painful experience for someone who listened to so much music, and Peel didn’t value his own tastes over those of his listeners.

For example, in his “Festive 50,” a fifty-song roundup of his listeners’ top three songs of the year each Christmas, Peel resisted the urge to insert his picks and counterbalance what he saw as an overabundance of “white boys with guitars.” (Peel was a big promoter of reggae bands like Misty in Roots, who come in at number 5 below, as well as various other world musics on his radio show.) He admitted that coming up with his three top songs in any given year was close to impossible: “I couldn’t get any fewer than a list of 250.”

1. Captain Beefheart & The Magic Band: Trout Mask Replica (1969)
2. Velvet Underground: The Velvet Underground and Nico (1967)
3. Ramones: The Ramones (1976)
4. Pulp: Different Class (1995)
5. Misty In Roots: Live At Counter Eurovision 79 (1979)
6. Nirvana: Nevermind (1991)
7. Smiths: The Smiths (1984)
8. Neil Young: Arc Weld (1991)
9. Jimi Hendrix Experience: Are You Experienced? (1967)
10. Wawali Bonané: Enzenzé
11. Pink Floyd: Piper At The Gates Of Dawn (1967)
12. Dreadzone: Second Light (1995)
13. Four Brothers: Makorokoto (1988)
14. Dave Clarke: Dave Archive One (1996)
15. Big Black: Songs About Fucking (1987)
16. PJ Harvey: Dry (1992)
17. Richard & Linda Thompson: I Want to See the Bright Lights Tonight (1974)
18. Elastica: Elastica (1995)
19. Hole: Live Through This (1994)
20. Rolling Stones: The Rolling Stones (1964)

Related Content:

An Archive of 1,000 “Peel Sessions” Available Online: Hear David Bowie, Bob Marley, Elvis Costello & Others Play in the Studio of Legendary BBC DJ John Peel

Hear a 9-Hour Tribute to John Peel: A Collection of His Best “Peel Sessions”

Stream 935 Songs That Appeared in “The John Peel Festive 50” from 1976 to 2004: The Best Songs of the Year, as Selected by the Beloved DJ’s Listeners

Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

Get Unlimited Access to 3,000+ Courses for $1: Sign Up for Coursera’s Black Friday Special (Available Until December 4)


The pandemic has lessened the appeal, such as it was, of going out to shop on Black Friday. Of course, for a while there, it precluded the possibility of going out for any reason, even an educational one. Thus the past year or two has seen many all over the world discover the appeal of online learning. Of the platforms already active in that sector, Coursera has perhaps most enthusiastically collaborated with established universities and other educational institutions. The site offers, as previously featured here on Open Culture, University of Michigan’s writing and editing program, the Museum of Modern Art’s contemporary-art courses, Google’s information-technology career-certificate programs, and a good deal more besides.

This Black Friday, Coursera is offering a deal: for $1 you can get a month of Coursera Plus, which grants “unlimited access to 3,000+ world-class courses, hands-on projects, and job-ready certificate programs.” As Lead Product Manager Anubhav Chopra writes on the Coursera Blog, “Whether you have a long-term career goal that requires a wide variety of courses across multiple subject areas, or you’re a lifelong learner who’s constantly exploring for both personal and professional development, Coursera Plus provides the flexibility to pursue your learning goals.” Among the courses available to its users Chopra highlights the University of Michigan’s “Programming for Everybody,” Yale’s “The Science of Well-Being,” and Princeton’s “Algorithms, Part I.”

While many of Coursera’s high-profile offerings have to do with computers and other forms of technology, its complete list of courses and specializations (some of which award official certificates upon completion) range quite widely. At the cost of $1 for the first month of Coursera Plus (and $59 per month thereafter), you’ll be able easily to sample a variety of learning experiences and better understand your own ideal direction of intellectual and professional development. Among user favorites you’ll find graphic design, creative writing, music production, investment management, and even “First Step Korean” — from which, having lived in Seoul for years, I can confirm that many an expatriate would benefit. As for what would benefit you, you’ll just have to sign up and find out while Black Friday lasts.

Note: The Black Friday deal, which gives you access to 3,000+ courses, begins on November 21 and lasts until December 4, 2021.

Open Culture has a partnership with Coursera. If readers enroll in certain Coursera courses and programs, it helps support Open Culture.

Related Content:

Google & Coursera Launch Career Certificates That Prepare Students for Jobs in 6 Months: Data Analytics, Project Management and UX Design

Become a Project Manager Without a College Degree with Google’s Project Management Certificate

Google Data Analytics Certificate: 8 Courses Will Help Prepare Students for an Entry-Level Job in 6 Months

A 10-Course Introduction to Data Science from Johns Hopkins

Good with Words: A Series of Writing & Editing Courses from the University of Michigan

MoMA’s Online Courses Let You Study Modern & Contemporary Art and Earn a Certificate

Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities and culture. His projects include the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

Elegant 2,000-Year-Old Roman Shoe Found in a Well

When the Romans pushed their way north into the German provinces, they built (circa 90 AD) The Saalburg, a fort that protected the boundary between the Roman Empire and the Germanic tribal territories. At its peak, 2,000 people lived in the fort and the attached village. It remained active until around 260 AD.

Somewhere during the 19th century, The Saalburg was rediscovered and excavated, then later fully reconstructed. It’s now a UNESCO World Heritage site and houses the Saalburg Museum, which contains many Roman relics, including a 2,000 year old shoe, apparently found in a local well.




If you think the Italians have mastered the craft of making shoes, well, they don’t have much on their ancestors. According to the site Romans Across Europe, the Romans  “were the originators of the entire-foot-encasing shoe.” The site continues:

There was a wide variety of shoes and sandals for men and women. Most were constructed like military caligae, with a one-piece upper nailed between layers of the sole. Many had large open-work areas made by cutting or punching circles, triangles, squares, ovals, etc. in rows or grid-like patterns. Others were more enclosed, having only holes for the laces. Some very dainty women’s and children’s shoes still had thick nailed soles.

The image above, which puts all of the Roman’s shoe-making skill on display, comes to us via Reddit and imgur.

Note: An earlier version of this post appeared on our site in July 2016.

Would you like to support the mission of Open Culture? Please consider making a donation to our site. It’s hard to rely 100% on ads, and your contributions will help us continue providing the best free cultural and educational materials to learners everywhere.

Also consider following Open Culture on Facebook and Twitter and sharing intelligent media with your friends. Or sign up for our daily email and get a daily dose of Open Culture in your inbox. 

Related Content:

The Ancient Romans First Committed the Sartorial Crime of Wearing Socks with Sandals, Archaeological Evidence Suggests

A Huge Scale Model Showing Ancient Rome at Its Architectural Peak (Built Between 1933 and 1937)

A Map Showing How the Ancient Romans Envisioned the World in 40 AD

Rome Reborn: Take a Virtual Tour of Ancient Rome, Circa 320 C.E.

Free Courses in Ancient History, Literature & Philosophy

Watch the Destruction of Pompeii by Mount Vesuvius, Re-Created with Computer Animation (79 AD)

The History of Rome in 179 Podcasts

by | Permalink | Make a Comment ( 2 ) |





  • Great Lectures

  • FREE UPDATES!

    GET OUR DAILY EMAIL

    Get the best cultural and educational resources on the web curated for you in a daily email. We never spam. Unsubscribe at any time.



    FOLLOW ON SOCIAL MEDIA

  • About Us

    Open Culture scours the web for the best educational media. We find the free courses and audio books you need, the language lessons & educational videos you want, and plenty of enlightenment in between.


    Advertise With Us

  • Archives

  • Quantcast
    Open Culture was founded by Dan Colman.