Rocks In The Attic #355: The Beatles – ‘With The Beatles’ (1963)

RITA#355Of the three Beatles records with a 60/40 split between originals and covers, this one has to be my favourite. I’m not too fond of some of the covers on Please Please Me and Beatles For Sale. The latter album always feels rushed – which it was – although you can hear how strong their original material was becoming on that record. With The Beatles gets the balance just right.

At this point, they’re still very much a band with everything to prove. They’d soon be on the crest of a wave, but here they’re still paddling their hardest to get there. In an opener like It Won’t Be Long, you can see how the world fell in love with their optimism. Post-war austerity’s days were numbered. There’s a section in the Beatles Anthology TV series where It Won’t Be Long is used to soundtrack some footage of the band on a British seaside holiday. They’re all wearing old-style bathing suits, and having a blast of a time. It was probably one of the last holidays where they could live a relatively normal life without being mobbed.

One of my main gripes about their first record is that some of the covers seem to be a little on the soft side – worlds apart from the leather-clad rockers they started as. Still, one of my favourite songs on this second album is Till There Was You­ – not only a cover, but one of the soppiest love ballads you’re ever likely to hear. I think by this time though, they’re making everything they touch their own thing. It seems so perfect for McCartney, he might as well have written it. Six months later with the soundtrack to A Hard Day’s Night he had the mastered the process with And I Love Her. Silly Love Songs was only just around the corner.

Of course, the really amusing thing about this record is that they made Ringo out to look like a midget on the cover…

Hit: All My Loving

Hidden Gem: Till There Was You

Rocks In The Attic #354: John Barry – ‘You Only Live Twice (O.S.T.)’ (1967)

RITA#354I recently heard the news that the next Bond film – #24 in the official series – is to be titled SPECTRE.  I couldn’t be happier about this. Skyfall was such a crushing disappointment for me – I could write a blog post on just that alone – but suffice to say, there were several moments in the cinema that I covered my eyes, groaned aloud and tried to hide behind my wife’s shoulder. I haven’t seen the film since and I don’t have any plans to. It broke what could have been an untouchable run for the Daniel Craig years.

Titling the next film SPECTRE is a truly wonderful thing for a Bond fan to hear. Due to copyright issues, the name of the crime organisation has been off-bounds in the official films since Diamonds Are Forever. They turn up in 1983’s unofficial Never Say Never Again, but they don’t appear in any of the official films in Roger Moore’s, Timothy Dalton’s or Pierce Brosnan’s tenure.

SPECTRE is therefore a sole hallmark of the Connery films. The legal issues have now been resolved and the crime syndicate will be making a reappearance in the 21st century. This is a great fit with the Daniel Craig films returning to the gritty feel of the early Bonds. Other news like the casting of Cristoph Waltz, Léa Seydoux, Monica Bellucci just make it sound even better. Monica Bellucci as a Bond girl? Not since Lana Wood’s role as Plenty O’Toole in Diamonds Are Forever have we seen a Bond Girl with – ahem – assets of that size.

You Only Live Twice really scared me growing up. Watching Bond “die” in the opening sequence was really confusing to a five year old. That sort of misdirection just doesn’t make sense to somebody that young. I guess it would be the same for kids these days seeing Bond “die” in the opening sequence of Skyfall.

You Only Live Twice is the last truly serious Connery Bond film. By the time he reappeared in the role four years later, the films had started down the slippery slope of high camp. Diamonds Are Forever has a great opening sequence – where Connery’s Bond is out for revenge – but this is at odds with the tone of the rest of the film.

Hopefully SPECTRE will live up to the legacy of those first five Connery films. Please, please, please…

Hit: You Only Live Twice

Hidden Gem: Capsule In Space

Gathering No Moss…In Auckland

Saw the Stones in Auckland last night. My first time, and possibly my last chance. It was the last night of the 2014 tour to mark the 50th anniversary celebrations.

Here are my top 10 moments:

1. The triumvirate of Honky Tonk Women, Jumping Jack Flash and Brown Sugar. Boom. Good night!

2. After Start Me Up, the band did seem to go into a six-song lull (excluding  Tumbling Dice which, like anything off Exile On Main St., is fantastic; and It’s Only Rock ‘N Roll is really only a load of waffle built around a catchy chorus). They then came back with Honky Tonk Women. Then, after that song ended, the guy behind shouted ‘Play something we know!’. After Honky Tonk Women! What a buffoon!

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3. Over the whole tour, you got a chance to vote online for the audience choice. Instead of the untouchable Street Fighting Man, which I voted for (many, many times), the stupid idiots – like the Honky Tonk Women heckler – chose Like A Rolling Stone. Don’t get me wrong, I love the song – when Dylan does it – but the Stones’ version is so dull. Why oh why couldn’t they have chosen Street Fighting Man???

4. The moment Keith first spoke to the crowd. “Hello Auckland…they nearly buried me here…” (Richards had to have emergency brain surgery in Auckland after falling out of a coconut tree in 2006).


5. You know you’re at a Stones gig when the old guy in front of you crouches down, takes off his leg, gives his knee a bit of a rub, and clamps his leg back on.

6. The moment ex-guitarist (and the Stones guitarist) Mick Taylor came on mid set, for a long rambling version of Midnight Rambler. I lean over to Willow and shout “Whoo hoo! It’s Mick Taylor!” Willow looks confused: “Who? The fat guy? Wasn’t he there before?”

7. Charlie Watts’ mis-start to (I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction. Don’t worry Charlie, you’ve only been playing the song for 49 years. You’ll get the hang of it one day.

8. Mick Taylor’s pointless second appearance of the night on Satisfaction - the last song of the encore – on an acoustic guitar. If there’s one song in the world that does not need an acoustic guitar part, it’s Satisfaction (although admittedly there is one – barely audible – on the original recording).  What a wasted opportunity. Give the guy a Les Paul!

9. The well appreciated fact that I could move around at will – especially during the big late ‘60s singles – as the show didn’t sell out. Really? Katy Perry, Nicki Minaj and Taylor Swift can sell out 3 or 4 nights in a row, but we can’t fill a stadium with Stones fans? Tut tut Auckland. ‘New’ doesn’t always mean ‘good’, you know.

10. Sympathy For The Devil and Gimme Shelter. No comment required.

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Rocks In The Attic #353: Suzanne Vega – ‘Suzanne Vega’ (1985)

RITA#353Suzanne Vega has to be one of my favourite memories from my first Glastonbury in 1999, probably one of my favourite memories from all of my trips to the festival.

On the Friday night, our circle of friends had finally all found each other – this was just before mobile phones became ubiquitous, so we had spent all the time on the site up to that point simply looking out for each other. We finally all met up near the Other Stage just after the Super Furry Animals’ set. From that point we at least knew where each other was camping, so we had a vague idea of where we might find each other.

Late in the afternoon on the Sunday, slightly fatigued by watching too many bands I walked over to find Paul and Kaj’s tent over in the field overlooking the Pyramid Stage. I actually walked past Lenny Kravitz playing the Pyramid Stage – something I really regret, as I’m probably never going to get chance to see him play again.

I finally found their tent – they were inside playing Top Trumps. Without any firm plans of my own, I agreed to get some food with Paul and finish the festival off by seeing Suzanne Vega headline the Acoustic Tent.

I didn’t really know anything by Vega at this point – other than the radio-friendly singles like Luca and Marlene On The Wall – so I was effectively a blank slate. She walked on stage to a huge cheer, and played the whole set on an acoustic guitar, flanked only by a lone bassist. She didn’t wear a bullet-proof vest this time though – 10 years earlier, she became the first female headliner of the festival, dressed in a bullet-proof vest as she (and her bass player) had received death threats.

To say that the audience was appreciative that night is an understatement. I’m sure the choice of artist helped, but the mood in the tent was just really chilled out, and it was a great way to wind down the festival. In all my repeat visits to the festival, I don’t think I ever enjoyed a Sunday night headliner as much.

Some years I missed the headliners altogether, and just went back to my tent to sleep. That’s another source of regret, when I missed Muse’s Sunday night headlining slot in 2004. When the rest of my friends returned to out campsite – friends who weren’t Muse fans, like I was – and told me how good it was, I couldn’t stop kicking myself. The show was so good – apparently – that even the drummer’s father had a heart attack!

Hit: Marlene On The Wall

Hidden Gem: Cracking

Rocks In The Attic #352: Van Morrison – ‘Astral Weeks’ (1968)

RITA#352I was driving around once, looked in my rear view mirror and saw Van Morrison sat on my back seat. I then remembered that mirrors reverse everything, and it was just a Morrisons Van following me.

I’m starting to appreciate this album as I get older. It’s the same with things like Miles Davis’ Kind Of Blue – when you listen to albums like these as a young man, they don’t resonate as much. Maybe you just have to listen to a certain quantity of music – maybe a certain quantity of inferior or mediocre music – for your brain to reach a valid comparison.

One of my heroes is the late comedian Bill Hicks, and I read once that Astral Weeks was the album he would listen to, over and over again, in the final stages of his battle against pancreatic cancer. It’s an album that’s designed to be played repeatedly – a cycle of songs that makes more and more sense together the more you listen to it.

Aside from his tenure in Them (and their superlative version of Baby Please Don’t Go – with a little help from Jimmy Page), this is my favourite era of Van Morrison. I’m not really a fan of the forced jazz of Moondance, and I think I might tear my own eyeballs out if I ever hear Brown Eyed Girl one more time. Most importantly though, I’m not a fan of what Van Morrison has become.

Whenever I see him these days, such as in the Red, White & Blues episode of Martin Scorsese: The Blues, he’s almost unrecognisable. He’s a big bear of a man, usually dressed in clothes that wouldn’t go amiss on a 1970s black pimp called Big Daddy, with a face so bloated that you can’t actually make out any of his features anymore. He looks like somebody’s driver.

Van Morrison, Joe Cocker and Rod Stewart should form a vocal supergroup called ‘WTF Happened?’

But which musicians should join them?

Hit: The Way Young Lovers Do

Hidden Gem: Beside You

Rocks In The Attic #351: Jack Nitzsche – ‘One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest (O.S.T.)’ (1975)

RITA#351Just after my first child, Olivia, was born, I remember being sat in the maternity centre one quiet morning. It wasn’t visitors’ hours yet, so the place was pretty quiet – just sore mothers shuffling around gingerly, with a few nurses dotted around. I was sat with my wife, and our new arrival, in my wife’s room – and all of a sudden I heard the strains of a familiar song playing in the corridor outside.

I recognised it immediately – Charmaine – the easy listening classic forever associated with mental institutions (and retirement homes), not least because of its inclusion on this soundtrack. I jumped out of my chair with a smile on my face. I opened the door slowly to follow the source of the music.

I stepped out into the corridor, expecting to see Martini, Harding and Cheswick sat at a table, playing cards for cigarettes. Maybe Chief Bromden would be mopping the floor, shuffling past Frederickson and Sefelt, whispering to each other in the corner.

I looked for a nurse, thinking I would see nurse Pilbow. It was still early, so perhaps nurse Ratched wouldn’t be there yet. Perhaps Mr. Washington would be unlocking the nurse’s station, ready for medication time.

I couldn’t find anybody – perhaps they were all outside, in the exercise yard, or in the school-bus, en route to an impromptu fishing trip?

My copy of this record has a big red sticker exclaiming ‘WINNER! 5 Academy Awards’. That’s very important – five academy awards, and the five most important ones too. Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor, Best Actress, and one of the screenwriting awards, in this case, Best Adapted Screenplay. It’s one of only three films to achieve this – It Happened One Night (1934) and The Silence Of The Lambs (1991) being the other two.

It’s a perennial favourite in our house. A film that never gets old, never loses its relevance, never feels dated. It’s my favourite Jack Nicholson performance and a film where everything, absolutely everything is just perfect.

Ah, juicy fruit.

Hit: Charmaine

Hidden Gem: One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (Opening Theme)

Rocks In The Attic #350: Dexys Midnight Runners – ‘Searching For The Young Soul Rebels’ (1980)

RITA#350I love this album. No matter how ridiculous the band got with their gypsy look on Too Rye-Ay two years later (still a fantastic single in Come On Eileen, although seriously overplayed at every wedding reception since), this album is untouchable. I know bands need to evolve over time – well, some do and some don’t seem to bother – but if I could give any band a pill to stop them evolving and turning into something different, it would be this version of Kevin Rowland’s band, circa 1980.

I’ve always liked the sound of brass – it might be the proximity of Lancashire, my birthplace, to Yorkshire, the home of brass band music; it might be John Barry’s brass-heavy scores for the Connery Bond films; or it might just be that when you play brass over rock n’ roll – The Who’s 5:15, , Aerosmith’s Chiquita, The Beatles’ Savoy Truffle or Got To Get You Into My Life – it sounds absolutely awesome.

King of awesome is Geno. What a tune! I love the way it initially sounds like a boxing workout, with a speedy opening tempo, before slowing down into something else completely – a hybrid of soul, reggae, rock n’ roll, and Rowland’s intelligible crooning jazz vocal. What the f**k is he talking about? A sweaty club? The Rocksteady Rub? What the hell? In fact, if you look the lyrics up online, and remove the word ‘Geno’, you’d have a hard time convincing yourself you’d ever heard the song before.

In fact, if I could give the band a pill to stop them evolving, I’d give it to them just as they recorded Geno. We might lose Come On Eileen, but maybe they’d still write that song, just with horns instead of fiddles, and dockworkers uniforms instead of gypsy dungarees.

Hit: Geno

Hidden Gem: Thankfully Not Living In Yorkshire It Doesn’t Apply