Rocks In The Attic #342: Kiss – ‘Crazy Nights’ (1987)

RITA#342The song Crazy, Crazy Nights reminds me of two things – Mark & Lard’s afternoon show on BBC1 Radio (“Stop…. carry on!”), and the embarrassing fact that I used to like this kind of rock music, without any trace of irony.

As far as Kiss goes, this record falls into mid-period, make-up-free Kiss. Ace Frehley and Peter Criss are long gone at this point, replaced by Bruce Kulick on guitar and Eric Carr on drums. I remember reading once how Kulick was shot in L.A., outside the Rainbow, by a couple of stray bullets. As serious as it sounds, it’s almost in the Spinal Tap school of music anecdotes.

This album is terrible. It sounds nothing like the Kiss of the 1970s; instead it sounds like every other rock record released around this time. It’s music for the West Coast American summer, for strip clubs and Don Simpson / Jerry Bruckheimer movies; dumb music for dumb Americans.

Hit: Crazy, Crazy Nights

Hidden Gem: No, No, No

Rocks In The Attic #341: Manic Street Preachers – ‘Everything Must Go’ (1996)

RITA#341I’ve been listening to the Manics a lot recently. I tend to listen to Pandora at work, the online radio station where you can tailor-make your own channel. The Manic Street Preachers channel throws up some good stuff, and some great related artists. I find most of the time though, it just shows how fantastic the Manics used to be, and how fantastically average they are now. This album signals the end of them being a relevant force in music, and it was all downhill from here.

I was in my first year at University when this was released in 1996. I wasn’t a Manics fan at the time, so the band sort of passed me by until I discovered the first three albums a year or so later (all off the back of hearing Faster from The Holy Bible – the highlight song from their greatest album). But I remember hearing A Design For Life a lot during my first freshers term, and seeing them perform it on things like TFI Friday.

I eventually got around to hearing the album, and it’s a solid album, nothing bad about it, but a huge step down from The Holy Bible. You can see why all the Britpop kids went for it at the time – all big choruses and a stadium rock, wall of sound production. In fact, as a first album by a new band (which to a lot of people, it would have been), it’s great. Maybe that’s what they should have done – in a Joy Division / New Order kind of way – rather than continuing as their established name, despite the loss of an integral member of the band.

Richey Edwards? Fantastic lyricist, terrible guitarist. Left his car near a known suicide spot on the eve of an American tour to support The Holy Bible (shades of Ian Curtis there). I love The Holy Bible so much – for me it’s been my favourite album released during my lifetime. I love everything about it – everything that’s dark and depressing about it, and the very real fact that maybe something had to happen to the tortured soul of Richey Edwards for it to be made. All true art is suffering, and the lyrics of The Holy Bible paint a picture of somebody having a hard time coping with the realities of life.

The beauty of The Holy Bible is why the big dumb pop sound on Everything Must Go annoys me so much. With The Holy Bible, the Manics were an edgy post-punk rock band (via Guns ‘N Roses and Metallica). With Everything Must Go, they turned towards the anthemic, everyman qualities of Springsteen, with a sound perfect for the hordes of pissed-up mad-fer-it lads, bored with Oasis and too ignorant to understand anything beyond the lyrical complexities of ‘I know a girl called Elsa / She’s into Alka Seltzer’.

Terrible. The beginning of the end. What a waste of a once-great band.

Hit: A Design For Life

Hidden Gem: Small Black Flowers That Grow In The Sky

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