Rocks In The Attic #340: Louis Armstrong – ‘Hello Dolly!’ (1964)

RITA#340In the almost-spoken intro to this record, Armstrong says “Hello Dolly! This is Louis, Dolly!” The weird thing is he pronounces ‘Louis’ as it’s spelt – ‘Lew-iss’ – rather than the French pronunciation – ‘Lew-ey’. Have we all been saying his name wrong all this time? (It seems this is an oddity – in the 1920 U.S. census, he registered as ‘Lewie’ and in various live recordings he refers to himself as ‘Lew-ey’, so I think we’re all of the hook. Maybe he was experimenting; it was the sixties after all!).

The album is notable for its title song – which knocked the Beatles’ Can’t Buy Me Love off the U.S. top spot in 1964. They had been at number one for fourteen straight weeks – from February 1st through to May 2nd (with I Want To Hold Your Hand, She Loves You and Can’t Buy Me Love respectively) until Louis came along. The rest of the album – made up of similar arrangements of Broadway songs – was a rush release to capitalise on this, which also went to number one.

As much as I love Miles Davis, I love Louis Armstrong’s trumpet playing just as much. The two different styles seem to be at opposite ends of the spectrum: while Davis’ playing seems hell-bent on discovering just what is humanly possible to get out of a trumpet, Louis Armstrong’s playing is just simply joyful, a celebration of life, bookending that distinctive voice of his.

Hit: Moon River

Hidden Gem: Jeepers, Creepers

Rocks In The Attic #339: The Who – ‘Who Are You’ (1978)

RITA#339There was a promising time around ten years or so ago, when it seemed like they were going to extend the CSI TV show across every city in America. First there was CSI: Crime Scene Investigation (AKA CSI: Las Vegas), with The Who’s Who Are You as the opening theme. Then came CSI: Miami, with Won’t Get Fooled Again, and finally, CSI: New York with Baba O’Riley.

It almost seemed like there was going to be a different spin-off show for every city. But there’s only so many Who songs. Imagine CSI: Cleveland with Pictures Of Lily across the opening credits, or CSI: Atlanta with Happy Jack blaring out over a montage of moody looking detectives.

There’s a new spin-off in the making, called CSI: Cyber, which has been picked up for a full season. There’s no word on which Who song will be used, but I’m hopeful it will be Squeeze Box (seriously though, the slow burn of Eminence Front from 1982’s It’s Hard would be a perfect – and not too obvious – fit).

This is Who album number eight, and the last with Keith Moon on the drummer’s stool. I’m sure it must have been mentioned that on the cover he’s sat on a chair inscribed with ‘Not to be taken away’. Unfortunate. The album’s not one of their best – you can hardly tell Moon’s on the drums, and there’s so much synth across most of the tracks (sometimes overshadowing the guitar), it just sounds dated. By this point they’ve come a long, long way from their beat group days as the High Numbers. They’re no longer relevant, just a bloated British rock band churning out middle-of-the-road material, a million miles from their Mod beginnings.

Hit: Who Are You

Hidden Gem: 905

Rocks In The Attic #338: Rod, Matt & Jane – ‘The Bumper Rainbow Album’ (1976)

RITA#338Rod, Matt & Jane? This line-up pre-dates the trio I knew from my childhood – Rod, Jane & Freddy. If Matt looks familiar on the cover of this record, it’s because he’s Matthew Corbett who later went on to take over his father’s presenting duties, sticking his right hand up Sooty’s backside.

This sort of thing seems to happen a lot in children’s television. The Wiggles have had more line-up changes than Sugababes, and the new Maori Wiggle is referred to as the brown Wiggle, which just sounds disgusting. As Tarantino would say in Reservoir Dogs, ‘Mr. Brown is a little too close to Mr. Shit.’

Just give me anything that isn’t Peppa fucking Pig!

Hit: Clocks

Hidden Gem: Happy Christmas

Rocks In The Attic #337: The Jimi Hendrix Experience – ‘Stone Free’ (1981)

RITA#337I got accused the other day of not listening to enough Jimi Hendrix. The accuser was my wife, and I guess there’s plenty of worse things she could have accused me of (laundry, the rubbish bins, etc). The thing is, with Hendrix, there’s not a great deal of material to listen to, and I think I got it all out of my system in my teens.

Don’t get me wrong, I love the guy, but I’m not going to listen to him endlessly in case I get sick of him. Hendrix is one of the cornerstones of my taste in music, my record collection and my guitar playing. Without him, my taste in music wouldn’t be as refined, there’d be some pretty major gaps in my record collection and my guitar playing would be much more average than it is now (which is pretty average).

I tend to listen to Electric Ladyland more than anything else these days – it’s a bit more of a voyage, with some really eclectic and experimental material. If I want something shorter and more immediate, I tend to go for Are You Experienced?; but of the three, the purity of Axis: Bold As Love will always be my favourite.

I found this compilation in a record shop in Withington, and you know what? Something on it really surprised me. A diehard Hendrix fan, I thought I knew it all. You see, after I devoured the three studio albums, the important live recordings (Monterey, Woodstock, Isle Of Wight, Band Of Gypsys), and a decent mid-‘90s compilation (The Ultimate Experience), I stopped. I didn’t want to dilute my interest by delving into the posthumous studio albums that were released in the late ‘90s.

These albums – First Rays Of The New Rising Sun and South Saturn Delta (both 1997) – were official releases, driven by the Hendrix family, and fully realised with the help of Eddie Kramer in the producer’s chair. They’re cash-in releases, but at least they’re a bit more authentic (and interesting) than your typical grab-bag compilation album.

Ezy Rider, one of the tracks on First Rays Of The New Rising Sun, is a true hidden gem and was included here on this 1981 compilation album, Stone Free. Before I heard it, I thought I knew everything there was to know about Hendrix. Turns out, I didn’t.

I’ve since listened to those two late ‘90s albums, together with two later releases – Valleys Of Neptune (2010) and People, Hell And Angels (2013) – and they’re not great. There’s some interesting material, but the best of the bunch had already seen the light of day on lesser releases like this one.

Hendrix fans should listen to Ezy Rider, if they haven’t already – it really stands up to the quality of material on his three original studio albums. It also proves that the man can still surprise, long after he’s dead.

Hit: All Along The Watchtower

Hidden Gem: Ezy Rider

Rocks In The Attic #336: Various Artists – ‘Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (O.S.T.)’ (1978)

RITA#336The one person who should be stood up against a wall and shot for this travesty of an album is George Martin. In just eighty three minutes, Martin manages to avoid all traces of innovation he was known for in the previous decade, and produces an album full of schlocky middle-of-the-road Beatles covers. With very few exceptions, each song sounds like it was recorded with Murph and the Magictones (in the Armada Room at the Holiday Inn, “Quando Quando Quando…”).

I’ve never seen the film that this album soundtracks, and I don’t think I ever want to. I’ve seen the segment where Aerosmith perform Come Together on YouTube – the highlight of the album (and while you might think I would say that, being a diehard and unapologetic Aerosmith fan, Robert Christgau earmarked it at the time as being the best of a very bad bunch, along with Earth, Wind & Fire’s Got To Get You Into My Life); but the farcical stuff that was going on around Aerosmith, involving Frankie Howerd, was very hard to watch.

Who would ever want to listen to Donald Pleasance sing (or rather, say) I Want You (She’s So Heavy)? While Peter Sellers doing A Hard Day’s Night in the ‘60s raised a smile, this just sounds bad. And Frankie Howerd singing When I’m Sixty-Four and Mean Mr. Mustard? Are you fucking joking?

Just to make things ever worse, the album is one of those annoying ‘70s double albums where sides A and D are on one disc, and B and C share the other disc. I’m prepared to forgive certain double albums for this (Electric Ladyland, Songs In The Key Of Life, for example), but with this album being so unlistenable I really resent the inconvenience. Did anybody ever even see one of those turntables that would play this sequence of sides? I’m sure it was just a record company conspiracy to confuse stoned people in the 1970s: “Hey man, as well as being blind, Stevie Wonder doesn’t seem to be able to spell. What gives, dude?”

Hit: Got To Get You Into My Life – Earth, Wind & Fire

Hidden Gem: Get Back – Billy Preston

Rocks In The Attic #335: The Travelling Wilburys – ‘Traveling Wilburys Vol 1’ (1988)

RITA#335As a rule I don’t go for supergroups. There’s too much ego, hype and general bullshit to get in the way. At least with this album, there’s no truth to spoil the illusion – none of the contributors (George Harrison, Bob Dylan, Roy Orbison, Jeff Lynne and Tom Petty) are mentioned anywhere on the album sleeve. Instead, they’re only represented by their pseudonyms (Nelson, Lucky, Lefty, Otis and Charlie T. Jr. respectively). The album’s liner notes are by Michael Palin (again, under a pseudonym – Hugh Jampton), which is another nice touch.

It just sounds like a bad dream though, doesn’t it? George Harrison, Bob Dylan, Roy Orbison, Jeff Lynne and Tom Petty? All songwriters well past their prime, and in Orbison’s case, close to the end of his life. The production – by Lynne and Harrison – is about as far from analogue as you can get; everything sounds digitised and far too clean. The guitars all sound the same on every single track – clean, bouncy and soul-less acoustic guitar, and like everything that Harrison was touching in his solo career, that horrible overdriven slide guitar of his is over the whole album like a bad stain.

You’d be forgiven for expecting the songs to be pretty good, given the calibre of the songwriters involved. As a collection of songs, they’re not too bad – the album’s only real saving grace. Handle With Care and End Of The Line are great tunes (from Harrison) and the only song I dislike is the dirge of Dylan’s Tweeter And The Monkey Man.

The album does succeed in coming across as it is intended to be. That is, four middle-aged guys and a senior citizen having a sing-song in somebody’s garage.

Hit: Handle With Care

Hidden Gem: Last Night

Rocks In The Attic #334: Vangelis – ‘Chariots Of Fire (O.S.T.)’ (1981)

RITA#334I haven’t seen Chariots Of Fire, or at least I don’t think I have. If I did, it must have been when it was first on television, which would have been when I was about five years old. It hardly seems the sort of film that would excite a five year-old though.

Almost everything on this soundtrack sounds like Blade Runner. I know the score – and the soundscape – of that film so well, that you can hear certain sections in this soundtrack that he’s rehashed for the later Ridley Scott film. When I finally get to see Chariots Of Fire, I’ll be disappointed if there are no Voight-Kampff empathy tests as part of their University education.

Before I bought this record – for no more than a dollar, from one of my local charity shops – I hadn’t heard anything from the soundtrack except for the main theme (Titles). The rest of the album is just as good, with a lovely electric piano on Abraham’s Theme showing where Zero 7 got some of their inspiration from.

After the excellent opening ceremony to the 2012 Olympic Games in London, the main titles of Chariots Of Fire will forever be linked to that great little sketch by Rowan Atkinson. I need to see the film, otherwise I’ll start to think that I have seen it, and that I really enjoyed its humour, especially in that scene when Rowan Atkinson outran everybody on the beach.

That’s the good thing about living in this decade – films at your fingertips. All though growing up, adolescence, and into my twenties, I would wait patiently for certain films to show on television. In the UK, there was a good chance for classic films to turn up from time to time on a BBC2 retrospective. Unfortunately New Zealand television doesn’t have the same mandate to educate viewers – they just show the same action films and rom-coms over and over. There was also that time that TVNZ played Thunderball the week after they had played Never Say Never Again. Idiots!

Hit: Titles

Hidden Gem: Abraham’s Theme