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

Rocks In The Attic #333: ZZ Top – ‘Afterburner’ (1985)

RITA#333I’m not saying that ZZ Top were old men by the time they recorded this album, but the chorus on the opening track seems to consist solely of Billy Gibbons singing “slippers and my sleeping bag” over and over. A lyric check on Google corrects me – the misheard lyric is “slip inside my sleeping bag.” So Billy Gibbons isn’t just an old man, he’s a dirty old man! Track number three sees Gibbons’ lyrics returning to perversion. Entitled Woke Up With Wood, I’m presuming it’s not about a carpenter who fell asleep in his tool-shed.

Afterburner represents ZZ Top at their worst. If 1983’s Eliminator showed the band taking a sharp left turn in their musical direction, this record shows them much further down that same road, many miles west of their original highway. The album is essentially a rehash of the formula they laid down on Eliminator, without the strength of the songs on that earlier album.

Both albums, and the follow-up Recycler (1990), sound extremely dated now.  It’s not hard to understand why grunge came about to blow away the cobwebs of rock music like this. To think that ZZ Top released their third album of this sort of crappy synthesised rock in 1990, when grunge was in full swing is almost hard to believe.

Hit: Rough Boy

Hidden Gem: Stages

Rocks In The Attic #332: The Beatles – ‘Yellow Submarine (O.S.T.)’ (1969)

RITA#332Strangely it took Apple records a long seven months after the Yellow Submarine film was in cinemas to release this soundtrack accompaniment.  That wouldn’t happen these days. In fact these days, the soundtrack albums typically beat the films to the marketplace in most cases. I guess Apple records was a relatively new to this sort of thing, so they can be forgiven. Still, it’s not a great album, is it?

The 1999 rerelease album (the Yellow Submarine Songtrack) is a far better collection of songs – being made up of the actual Beatles songs – both old and new – which appear in the film. The first side of the original soundtrack is bookended by Yellow Submarine (from Revolver) and the All You Need Is Love single from 1967. The excellent Hey Bulldog and the forgettable All Together Now were recorded especially for the soundtrack, while Only A Northern Song was a leftover from Sgt. Pepper’s and the delicious feedback of It’s All Too Much was from a session not too long after.

The second side of the album is taken up with excerpts of George Martin’s orchestral score for the film. This is probably the main reason why the album seems to sit uncomfortably in the Beatles’ official studio canon – for half of its running time, the Beatles don’t even appear.

Yet, despite the soundtrack album’s misgivings, the film itself is strangely enjoyable. The animation is great, and there are plenty of in-jokes and references for adult audiences. It’s almost a precursor to the type of film that Pixar would make a couple of decades later.  It’s probably a good film because the Beatles themselves didn’t have very much to do with it (aside from their very short appearance at the end of the film, in all their sideburned glory), because let’s face it, the quality of their films went quickly downhill after A Hard Day’s Night.

Hit: Yellow Submarine

Hidden Gem: Hey Bulldog

Rocks In The Attic #331: The JBs – ‘Food For Thought’ (1972)

RITA#331My sole purchase (so far) from this year’s Record Store Day releases – a re-release of the 1972 debut album from the JBs (James Brown’s backing band, for the uninitiated).

This is as good as anything James Brown was releasing around this time (he’s listed as not only the producer, but also ‘the creator’). Still, even though it’s (mainly) instrumental, you still get the odd cry or whelp from James in the background (after the opening chant of ‘Pass the peas, like they used to say’, that’s clearly him shouting ‘Pass them then!”).

I was lucky enough to see Fred Wesley play in Auckland last year, and highlights of the show were definitely Pass The Peas and Gimme Some More, from this album. It’s shows like that which restore my faith in Auckland society. I can go for months (years sometimes!), thinking there’s no culture in this city, or anybody close to having the same interests as me, and then I find hundreds all at once in the same place.

Sadly, while Record Store Day gave me Food For Thought this year, it also provided some figurative food for thought. I think this year’s Record Store Day will be the last year I attend at opening time. Last year was bad enough at Real Groovy in Auckland at 9am. This year it was even worse – double the amount of people as 2013, all clambering over each other to get records on one small double-sided rack. What should be a happy, joyous occasion is just turning nastier and nastier every year. This year, it even smelt bad – it’s poorly attended by chicks, so all you get is overweight, bearded men reeking of body odour.

Both years I’ve then gone onto Southbound Records in Mt Eden around 10am, and it’s been much nicer – on Record Store Day, they have a couple of helpers walking around asking if you’d like (free) coffee. Still, I reckon Southbound at 9am on RSD would be just as unpleasant at Real Groovy at the same time. It’s so small, there’s hardly any room to move when 10 people are in there, I can’t imagine what it’d be like with 20 or 30 people (or more).

I’ll take my chances later in the day, and maybe from next year, take the kids along – who knows, they might enjoy the festive mood. Surely that’s the point of the day, not the early doors, every-man-for-himself, display of music-industry capitalism at its worst.

Hit: Pass The Peas

Hidden Gem: Wine Spot

Rocks In The Attic #330: Betty Boo – ‘Boomania’ (1990)

RITA#330A lot of dodgy music came out around the time the 1980s turned into the 1990s. I remember there was a faction of kids at school who were very interested in Acid House culture and ‘musical’ acts like 2 Unlimited. It was also considered fashionable to wear Joe Bloggs t-shirts. This was the less talented branch of the tree that was rooted in Manchester’s Hacienda and the rise of the DJ as the cultural medium of the times.

I don’t know what’s worse – the fact that Betty Boo seems to take her lead from the flirtatious Betty Boop (and tainting the cartoon’s image for evermore), or the fact that when she’s not singing she’s rapping in a strong Brooklyn accent. She’s from Kensington for Christ’s sake. Salt-n-Pepa have a lot to answer for.

Where Are You Baby? is a great little pop song – away from the Brooklyn posturing that spoils Doin’ The Do, and it remains my favourite song on an otherwise dated slice of 1990.

Betty Boo’s Wikipedia page clearly states ‘Not to be confused with Betty Boop’. You’re damn right.

Hit: Doin’ The Do

Hidden Gem: Boo’s Boogie