For me, there is a distinct pleasure in sharing items of pop culture with people. I love the act of introducing people to something they haven’t come across before, and then seeing them getting joy from it, perhaps discovering a new favourite. But when I was thinking about this the other day, I realised that the things that I often recommend are not necessarily my absolute favourites – there are things which I love that I would never think to recommend to people, because I assume that most people would have come across them already. But there are certain things, lesser known, indie, obscure, or just forgotten, that I find that I champion over and over again. So, I thought I’d put a list together. Please feel free to engage with this selection in the comments, or to recommend your own 🙂
I’ve tried to provide some sort of A/V material of each of my choices, obviously that’s not always possible.
1. Josie and the Pussycats
There’s something about this movie that just keeps me coming back and back. On the surface, it’s a very minor film. But when you give it more than a cursory glance, it is actually a fascinating look at commercialism and pop culture. Plus it’s funny. And the soundtrack is far catchier than it deserves to be. I just keep coming back to it. Plus: Alan Cumming, Parker Posey, Missi Pyle, and a Vanilla Ice cameo. Who could ask for anything more?
2. William Shatner – “Has Been”
William Shatner’s music career has long been a source of derision. His early album (along with pretty much any other musical output of his ST-TOS co-stars) has been regularly held up as an example of why actors should stick to acting. But his 2004 album, “Has Been”, defies all the precedent. This is an excellent album. Part of that can certainly be put down to his collaboration with musical genius Ben Folds, who produced and orchestrated the album, as well as co-writing most of the songs with Shatner and others. Shatner is in fine form, not taking himself too seriously, although at times really tapping into some genuine emotion. It’s not perfect – there are one or two tracks around the middle that don’t do a lot for me, but it still rates for me as one of my favourite albums, and one I still go back to repeatedly.
3. Wizard Rock
So this isn’t so much a piece of pop culture, as a phenomenon. Wizard Rock is songs written and performed by fans of Harry Potter. Sometimes they write as characters from the books, sometimes they create their own characters, and sometimes they are just meta-textual about the phenomenon itself. It is not all of the highest quality, but the creativity is amazing, and I can just get lost in Youtube loops for hours. I’ll put a Wrock link below that talks reflexively about what it means to make Wizard Rock, but a brief Youtube search for Wizard Rock or Wrock will bring up a host of others.
4. Not The Nine O’Clock News
I find that I don’t recommend a lot of the same TV regularly, mainly because I have very eclectic tastes, and also because TV series usually require a significant time commitments. However, NTNON is one series that I heartily recommend and regularly share my DVDs around. Made in the UK between 1979 & 1982, following in the footsteps of Monty Python, NTNON is deeply satirical, features a wonderful cast, and makes me laugh over and over again. There are really only two DVD collections available, so there’s not a huge amount of content to watch. And a lot is available on Youtube too.
I have a massive soft spot for music documentaries. And this is one of my favourites, charting the origins of hip-hop and turntablism. Not much to say about it, it just excites me, beyond belief. I’ll put the trailer below, but the full documentary seems to be on Youtube…
6. Ernest Cline – “Ready Player One”
I read this book for the first time about 12 months ago, and have read it twice again since then. For people who have an undying love for the pop culture of the 1980s and 90s, this book is an absolute treasure trove. It’s very hard to find a video to go with this, but it turns out, there is actually a book trailer! Also, I haven’t heard it, but the audiobook is apparently read by Wil Wheaton and as wonderful as you might imagine.
7. Leon/The Professional
This film is not necessarily unknown, but yet I am constantly amazed by the number of people who haven’t come across it, or at least had the opportunity to see it. These days, it’s best known as the vehicle that “discovered” a very young Natalie Portman. And she is superb in it, absolutely. But Luc Besson is in top form, and brings together a cast including Jean Reno in his finest screen performance, and Gary Oldman in superlative form. It is sweet, it is sad, it is disturbing, and it is wonderful.
8. The Flaming Lips – “Yoshimi Battles The Pink Robots”
The Flaming Lips are one of those bands that has escaped a lot of people, even music fans. They have been around for so long, been so eclectic, even appeared on Beverly Hills 90210. But while I do recommend almost all their work, two of their albums from around the turn of the millenium truly stand out. First they released The Soft Bulletin, which showed a new direction, and massive potential. And then, in 2002, they released Yoshimi Battles The Pink Robots. And what a piece of work it is. This album never fails to make me feel happy.
I’m sure there are more, but that seems like a good place to leave it. Fascinated to hear your thoughts.