Watch David Bowie Perform “Starman” on Top of the Pops: Voted the Greatest Music Performance Ever on the BBC (1972)

The Beatles were made for black-and-white television, as evidenced by the immediacy with which their 1964 performance on The Ed Sullivan Show launched them into permanent international superstardom. Though only a few years younger than the Fab Four, their countryman David Bowie arose in a different era: that of color television, with its vastly expanded aesthetic range. Bowie is known to have carried himself as if his own international superstardom was guaranteed, even during his early years of struggle. But it was only when he took full, lurid advantage of the technologically-expanded sonic and visual palettes available to him that he truly became an icon.

“It’s deceptively easy to forget that in the summer of 1972 David Bowie was still yesterday’s news to the average Top of the Pops viewer, a one-hit wonder who’d had a novelty single about an astronaut at the end of the previous decade,” writes Nicholas Pegg in The Complete David Bowie. But his taking the stage of that BBC pop-musical institution “in a rainbow jumpsuit and shocking red hair put paid to that forever. Having made no commercial impact in the two months since its release, ‘Starman’ stormed up the chart.” As with “Space Oddity,” “the subtext is all: this is less a science-fiction story than a self-aggrandizing announcement that there’s a new star in town.”

“It is hard to reconstruct the drabness, the visual depletion of Britain in 1972, which filtered into the music papers to form the grey and grubby backdrop to Bowie’s physical and sartorial splendor,” writes Simon Reynolds in Shock and Awe: Glam Rock and Its Legacy, from the Seventies to the Twenty-first Century. But to understand the impact and meaning of Bowie — and in particular, Bowie of the Ziggy Stardust era that had only just begun — we must imagine the sheer exhilaration of new possibility a young, artistically inclined Top of the Pops viewer must have felt as Bowie-as-Ziggy and the Spiders from Mars overtook their television sets for “Starman”‘s three minutes and 55 seconds.

“No matter how weird and alien you felt, you couldn’t have been as weird and alien as David Bowie and his bandmates looked,” writes the Guardian‘s Alexis Petridis. The occasion is that paper’s new list of the 100 greatest BBC music performances, whose range includes Bob Dylan, Prince, the Pixies, Talking Heads, Patti Smith, and Dizzy Gillespie. But the top spot goes to Bowie’s 1972 Top of the Pops gig, due not least to the fact that “umpteen viewers have testified to the life-changing, he’s-talking-to-me effect of the moment when Bowie points down the camera as he sings the line ‘I had to phone someone so I picked on you.'” CNN’s Todd Leopold likens the Beatles to “aliens dropped into the United States of 1964,” but as Bowie would vividly demonstrate eight years later, the real invasion from outer space was yet to come.

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Ziggy Stardust Turns 50: Celebrate David Bowie’s Signature Character with a Newly Released Version of “Starman”

8 Hours of David Bowie’s Historic 1980 Floor Show: Complete & Uncut Footage

How David Bowie Turned His “Adequate” Voice into a Powerful Instrument: Hear Isolated Vocal Tracks from “Life on Mars,” “Starman,” “Modern Love” “Under Pressure” & More

What Happens When Artificial Intelligence Creates Images to Match the Lyrics of Iconic Songs: David Bowie’s “Starman,” Led Zeppelin’s “Stairway to Heaven”, ELO’s “Mr. Blue Sky” & More

Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the Substack newsletter Books on Cities, 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.

Watch the Sesame Street Episode Banned for Being Too Scary, Featuring The Wizard of Oz’s Wicked Witch of the West (1976)

In 1939, Margaret Hamilton made cinema history as the Wicked Witch of the West in The Wizard of Oz. In 1976, she made television history by reprising the role on a Sesame Street episode that was pulled from the show’s rotation immediately after it aired.  It seems to have drawn Sesame Workshop, then known as the Children’s Television Workshop, a fair few complaints from the parents of disturbed children. As a result, writes Mental Floss’ Michele Debczak, “the episode was banned for being ‘too scary’ for kids, and for decades it was difficult to find,” seen only on low-quality video tapes and in the troubled minds of certain Generation Xers.

Now Hamilton’s Sesame Street appearance has become available on Youtube, ready for you to watch with the braver children in your life this Halloween. But then, it’s hard to imagine any twenty-first-century viewer being truly frightened by it, no matter how young. (This in contrast to the Wicked Witch’s army of flying monkeys in the original film, which continues to give kids the creeps generation after generation.)

Some may even be delighted by the evident relish with which Hamilton plays her part, even 37 years after the first time; as William Hughes writes at The AV Club, she “was always game to reprise the role of the Witch on behalf of educational programming; she also appeared, around that same period, on several episodes of Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood.”

In Big Bird’s neighborhood, the Wicked Witch accidentally loses her broom to David, whom readers of a certain age may remember as the spirited law student who once dated the iconic Maria Rodriguez. Only when the Witch shows him some respect, David insists, will he return that precious possession. Thus begins the Witch’s campaign of terror and trickery on Sesame Street, which continues until David finds a way to outsmart her into a wholly uncharacteristic show of courtesy. This story within the episode deals with the timeless theme of overcoming fears; and as the long unavailability of the episode itself shows us, giving in to fears — especially those of public backlash — can have real consequences.

Related content:

When Mississippi Tried to Ban Sesame Street for Showing a “Highly Integrated Cast” (1970)

Alfred Hitchcock Presents Ghost Stories for Kids (1962)

Watch Twin Beaks, Sesame Street’s Parody of David Lynch’s Iconic TV Show (1990)

Watch Vincent Price Turn Into Edgar Allan Poe & Read Four Classic Poe Stories (1970)

When L. Frank Baum’s Wizard of Oz Series Was Banned for “Depicting Women in Strong Leadership Roles” (1928)

Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the Substack newsletter Books on Cities, 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.

130 Animators Remake an Episode of Frasier, One Frame at a Time

Behold a crowdsourced, collaborative art project where more than 130 animators and filmmakers from 11 different countries joined together and remade a full episode of Frasier. (It’s the finale of Season 1, “My Coffee with Niles.”) The project’s mastermind, Jacob Reed, asked individual artists to animate different scenes, each with a different style, and then he stitched them all together. Above, you can see how everything hangs together.

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via Laughing Squid

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A BBC Science Show Introduces the Moog Synthesizer in 1969

In the fall of 1969, there were still a great many people who’d never heard a synthesizer. And even among those who had, few would have known how its unfamiliar sounds were actually made. Hence the importance of the segment from the BBC program Tomorrow’s World above, which introduced the Moog synthesizer (originally created by Robert Moog) to viewers across Britain. Having come on the market four years earlier, it would go on to change the sound of music — a project, in fact, on which it had already made serious inroads, with such Moog showcases as the Doors’ “Strange Days” and Wendy Carlos’ Switched-on Bach having already become cultural phenomena unto themselves.

Manfred Mann would also do his part to make an impact with the Moog. Calling him “the Moog pioneer of rock music,” Fidelity magazine’s Hans-Jürgen Schaal writes that “Mann lent his instrument out to be used to produce the first Moog solo on a record by Emerson Lake & Palmer. He even did the keyboard work himself on the first Moog solo by Uriah Heep.”

It is Michael Vickers, a multi-instrumentalist veteran of Mann’s eponymous band, who demonstrates the Moog for Tomorrow’s World by playing a variety of melodies through it on a keyboard — though not before plugging in a series of patch cords to create just the right electronic sound.

Whether or not the BBC viewers of 1969 had ever heard anything like the Moog before, they almost certainly hadn’t seen anything like it before. Despite looking less like a musical instrument than like a piece of military hardware, it actually represented, like most technological advancements, a step forward in ease of use. As presenter Derek Cooper puts it, the Moog “produces sounds in a matter of minutes which would normally take radiophonic experts with their complicated equipment,” like the BBC’s own Daphne Oram or Delia Derbyshire, “days of work and multiple re-recordings to achieve.” Not that the average hobbyist could afford the Moog seen in this broadcast back then — nor, for that matter, can the average hobbyist afford the $35,000 a faithful re-creation of it costs now.

via Laughing Squid

Related content:

Bob Moog Demonstrates His Revolutionary Moog Model D Synthesizer

How the Moog Synthesizer Changed the Sound of Music

Hear Glenn Gould Celebrate the Moog Synthesizer & Wendy Carlos’ Pioneering Album Switched-On Bach (1968)

Electronic Music Pioneer Wendy Carlos Demonstrates the Moog Synthesizer on the BBC (1970)

Discovering Electronic Music: 1983 Documentary Offers a Fun & Educational Introduction to Electronic Music

Thomas Dolby Explains How a Synthesizer Works on a Jim Henson Kids Show (1989)

Watch Composer Wendy Carlos Demo an Original Moog Synthesizer (1989)

Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the Substack newsletter Books on Cities, 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.

When a Young Sofia Coppola & Zoe Cassavetes Made Their Own TV Show: Revisit Hi-Octane (1994)

It makes sense that Sofia Coppola and Zoe Cassavetes would be friends. Not only are they both respected filmmakers of Generation X, they’re both daughters of maverick American auteurs, a condition with its advantages as well as its disadvantages. The advantages, in Coppola’s case, have included the ability to get Zoetrope, her father Francis Ford Coppola’s production company, to foot the bill for a project like Hi-Octane: in the words of a 1994 W magazine profile, “a non-talk show in which Sofia and Zoe drive around and interview cool people, essentially their friends” — a group that included Keanu Reeves, Martin Scorsese, Gus Van Sant, and the Beastie Boys.

Coppola and Cassavetes didn’t do all the interviewing themselves. Their correspondents included the photographer Shawn Mortensen, whom they sent off to Paris Fashion Week to talk to the likes of Naomi Campbell, Karl Lagerfeld, and André Leon Talley, and Sonic Youth’s Thurston Moore, who hosted his own regular segment. “Thurston’s Alley” was usually shot literally there, in the alley alongside the building where he lived in New York, and, to it, he lured guests like Johnny Ramone and Sylvia Miles. But in one very special episode, he visits the Condé Nast building to interview none other than Anna Wintour — and, in one of the moments Hi-Octane‘s viewers have never forgotten, to describe the mayonnaise-based hair styling technique of Pixies Bassist Kim Deal.

“I wrote the script ’cause I was so into cars,” the young Coppola told W. “And I have access to all these interesting people — these actors and musicians. But when you see them interviewed on television, they just talk about their characters and it’s so boring. The sets are always hideously ugly. TV people always say they want to cater to people my age, but they have no idea how to do it. So we just wanted to incorporate the things we’re interested in — cars, painting, music.” In one episode, she and Cassavetes take monster-truck lessons; in another, she gets a bass lesson from the Minutemen’s Mike Watt; another features an extended profile of psychedelo-sexual-apocalyptic painter Robert Williams, whom Coppola’s cousin Nicolas Cage turns up to praise as “a modern-day Hieronymus Bosch.”

Hi-Octane aired at 11:00 at night on Comedy Central, a time slot between Whose Line Is It Anyway? and Saturday Night Live. It only did so three times before its cancellation, but each of those broadcasts offers a strong if somewhat makeshift distillation of a certain mid-nineties Gen-X sensibility, whose outward smirking disaffection is belied by its overpowering subcultural enthusiasm and sense of fun. “I wouldn’t change it because part of the sloppiness makes it unique and what it is,” Coppola said in a more recent interview. “I think if anything has sincerity and heart, this is it.” She may have known even at the time that it was all too pure to last. “Comedy Central says our show’s not funny enough,” she says to Cassavetes at the end of the second episode. “I think it’s funny that they gave us a show,” Cassavetes replies, and Coppola has to give it to her: “That is… that is funny.”

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Louis CK Ridicules Avant-Garde Art on 1990s MTV Show

Close Personal Friend: Watch a 1996 Portrait of Gen-X Definer Douglas Coupland

Andy Warhol’s 15 Minutes: Discover the Postmodern MTV Variety Show That Made Warhol a Star in the Television Age (1985-87)

Revisit Turn-On, the Innovative TV Show That Got Canceled Right in the Middle of Its First Episode (1969)

Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the Substack newsletter Books on Cities, 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.

When Salvador Dalí Gave a Lecture at the Sorbonne & Arrived in a Rolls Royce Full of Cauliflower (1955)

Salvador Dalí led a long and eventful life, so much so that certain of its chapters outlandish enough to define anyone else’s existence have by now been almost forgotten. “You’ve done some very mysterious things,” Dick Cavett says to Dalí on the 1971 broadcast of his show above. “I don’t know if you like to be asked what they mean, but there was an incident once where you appeared for a lecture in Paris, at the Sorbonne, and you arrived in a Rolls-Royce filled with cauliflowers.” At that, the artist wastes no time launching into an elaborate, semi-intelligible explanation involving rhinoceros horns and the golden ratio.

The incident in question had occurred sixteen years earlier, in 1955. “With bedlam in his mind and a quaint profusion of fresh cauliflower in his Rolls-Royce limousine, Spanish-born Surrealist Painter Salvador Dalí arrived at Paris’ Sorbonne University to unburden himself of some gibberish,” says the contemporary notice in Time. “His subject: ‘Phenomenological Aspects of the Critical Paranoiac Method.’ Some 2,000 ecstatic listeners were soon sharing Salvador’s Dalirium.”

To them he announced his discovery that “‘everything departs from the rhinoceros horn! Everything departs from [Dutch Master] Jan Vermeer’s The Lacemaker! Everything ends up in the cauliflower!’ The rub, apologized Dali, is that cauliflowers are too small to prove this theory conclusively.”

Nearly seven decades later, Honi Soit‘s Nicholas Osiowy takes these ideas rather more seriously than did the sneering correspondent from Time. “Beneath the simple shock value and easy surrealism, it becomes clear Dalí was onto something; the humble cauliflower is considered one of the best examples of the legendary golden ratio,” Osiowy writes. “Cauliflowers, rhinoceroses and anteaters’ tongues were to Dali essential manifestations of a glorious shape; deserving of an explicit depiction in his The Sacrament of the Last Supper,” painted in the year of his Sorbonne lecture. “Shape, the idea of geometry itself, is the unsung magic of not just art but our entire cultural consciousness.” Not that Dalí himself would have copped to communicating that: “I am against any kind of message,” he insists in response to a question from fellow Dick Cavett Show guest, who happened to be silent-film icon Lillian Gish. The seventies didn’t need the surreal; they were the surreal.

Related content:

When Salvador Dali Met Sigmund Freud, and Changed Freud’s Mind About Surrealism (1938)

When Salvador Dalí Dressed — and Angrily Demolished — a Department Store Window in New York City (1939)

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Q: Salvador Dalí, Are You a Crackpot? A: No, I’m Just Almost Crazy (1969)

Salvador Dalí Strolls onto The Dick Cavett Show with an Anteater, Then Talks About Dreams & Surrealism, the Golden Ratio & More (1970)

How Dick Cavett Brought Sophistication to Late Night Talk Shows: Watch 270 Classic Interviews Online

Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the Substack newsletter Books on Cities, 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.

Black Mirror Predicts Our Technological Dystopia — Pretty Much Pop: A Culture Podcast #156


Your Pretty Much Pop team Mark Linsenmayer, Lawrence Ware, Sarahlyn Bruck, and Al Baker talk about Charlie Brooker’s British anthology TV series that began in 2011 and recently released its sixth season.

How has this show evolved from satirical science fiction to something more often just horror studies that study human nature? We talk about our favorite episodes and what does and doesn’t work. Does the show have to be so dark to make its point? Does it always have a point, or is some of it just fun?

To refresh yourself or learn more about these individual episode names that we keep dropping, check out the Wikipedia article listing all the episodesA Guardian article rates how well ten of the episodes predicted the future, and a Vulture article ranks every single episode.

We mention philosopher Charles Mills talking about a Black Mirror episode on another podcast.

Follow us @law_writes@sarahlynbruck@ixisnox@MarkLinsenmayer.

Hear more Pretty Much Pop, including recent episodes on Barbie and Indiana Jones. Support the show and hear bonus talking for this and nearly every other episode at 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.

Watch Rare Videos Showing Steely Dan Performing Live During the Early 1970s

The band performing in the video above is Steely Dan. Yet it doesn’t sound quite like Steely Dan, an impression partially explained by it being a live show rather than the kind of perfectionist studio recordings for whose meticulous construction (and repeated reconstruction) the group’s very name has long been a byword. But its founding masterminds Walter Becker and Donald Fagen hadn’t yet settled into that complexly pristine aesthetic at the time of this appearance, which aired fifty years ago next week on The Midnight Special. Back then, having put out only their first couple of albums, they could still present their project as a relatively conventional early-seventies rock band.

It helped that they had a relatively conventional frontman in singer David Palmer, who handles lead vocals on their Midnight Special performance of “Do It Again,” Steely Dan’s first hit. That he didn’t do so on the studio recording underscores that the band is genuinely playing live, not miming to a backing track, as was standard practice on other music shows.

It also constitutes another reason this version sounds “off” to a serious Danfan, but it would take a truly blinkered purism (a condition widespread among the ranks of Danfans, admittedly) not to appreciate this performance, especially when it gets around to the solo by the band’s original guitarist Denny Dias — another of which comes along in “Reelin’ in the Years,” played in the video just above.

Not that one guitarist could suffice for Steely Dan, even in this early lineup: they also had Jeff “Skunk” Baxter, now regarded as one of the finest studio players in the subgenre of “yacht rock.” Baxter appears prominently in their live rendition of “Show Biz Kids,” albeit as just one element of the full stage necessary to reproduce that song live. Unlike “Do It Again” and “Reelin’ in the Years,” two singles from Steely Dan’s album Can’t Buy a Thrill, “Show Biz Kids” comes from their then-newly released follow-up Countdown to Ecstasy, which offered a richer realization of both Steely Dan’s distinctive sound and even more distinctive worldview. To the refinement of that sound and worldview Becker and Fagen would devote themselves less than a year after their Midnight Special broadcast, when they quit live performance entirely for the comforts and rigors of their natural habitat: the recording studio.

Related Content:

Deconstructing Steely Dan: The Band That Was More Than Just a Band

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Steely Dan Creates the Deadhead/Danfan Conversion Chart: A Witty Guide Explaining How You Can Go From Loving the Dead to Idolizing Steely Dan

How Steely Dan Went Through Seven Guitarists and Dozens of Hours of Tape to Get the Perfect Guitar Solo on “Peg”

Watch David Bowie’s Final Performance as Ziggy Stardust, Singing “I Got You Babe” with Marianne Faithfull, on The Midnight Special (1973)

Chuck Berry & the Bee Gees Perform Together in 1973: An Unexpected Video from The Midnight Special Archive

Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the Substack newsletter Books on Cities, 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.

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