Rocks In The Attic #372: Various Artists – ‘60 Number Ones Of The Sixties’ (1990)

RITA#372In terms of hits, this is the undoubtedly the best album in my collection. Sixty (UK) number ones! That’s a lot of A-sides – and most of them are still superb, even now fifty years later. I bought this for DJing purposes – and while I did delve into it from time to time, I ended up playing Je T’aime by Serge Gainsbourg and Jane Birkin the most because the landlord of the bar I worked at really liked it.

Oh, and San Francisco (Be Sure To Wear Some Flowers In Your Hair) by Scott McKenzie, because Danny Beetle used to like that one. And Do It Again by the Beach Boys, because that’s my favourite single of theirs. And Tom Jones’ It’s Not Unusual always goes down a treat, doesn’t it? It seems everybody has their favourite ‘60s hit.

Sixty number ones, and not a record by the likes of Elvis, the Beatles or the Stones. It’s a wonder how anyone else ever managed to reach the top, with Lennon and McCartney dominating the charts the rest of the time. And looking at the quality of the songs on here, why would anybody even bother? If I was a recording artist in the 1960s and I heard something as sublime as Fleetwood Mac’s Albatross (Peter Green single-handedly inventing chill-out and ambient in one fell swoop), I’d just give up there and then. Get a job in a shoe shop or something.

Hit: Baby Love – The Supremes

Hidden Gem: Shakin’ All Over – Johnny Kidd & The Pirates

Rocks In The Attic #371: The Who – ‘Live At Leeds’ (1970)

RITA#371The quintessential single-disc live album, Live At Leeds needs no introduction. I first heard about it through a comedy show – Vic Reeves and Bob Mortimer’s first series on the BBC (The Smell Of Reeves & Mortimer) – where it was featured in a novelty song: The Who, Live At Leeds / A Packet Of Seeds / And a top hat full of gloy, gloy, gloy. Once you start buying rock music though, you quickly learn about the high watermark this record is held up as.

There’s just something infinitely more attractive about a live set on just one record. Short, sharp and to the point. AC/DC’s If You Want Blood – You’ve Got It is another great example of capturing something so energetic in such a small timeframe. The antithesis would probably be something like Peter Frampton’s Frampton Comes Alive album, about as far away from the immediacy of the Who as you could imagine.

There are just six songs on this record, mainly taken up by the fifteen minute extended medley of My Generation and the eight minutes of Magic Bus. Looking at the full set list from the Leeds gig, it’s a wonder how they managed to reduce it down to just two sides of music – a staggering thirty three songs played on the night would have provided enough material for three or four discs.

Hit: My Generation

Hidden Gem: Magic Bus

Rocks In The Attic #370: John Lennon – ‘Mind Games’ (1973)

RITA#370In terms of a timeline, it really depends where you consider this album in Lennon’s career. It’s actually solo record #7. First there was the three albums of noise with Yoko, then there’s the first post-Beatles album John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band. Then there’s the odds and ends political album, Some Time In New York City, and then finally this, 1973’s Mind Games.

You could argue though that it feels like solo record #2, after Imagine, if you disregard those experimental albums with Yoko, the omnibus feel of Some Time In New York City and – hold tight – the starkness of John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band. Being the first post-Beatles release, of course that one is the first solo album, but Imagine always feels like his first proper stab at matching the output of his previous band. John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band, despite how much I love it, always comes across as something intended for Lennon’s therapist, not the record-buying public of 1970.

When discussing Mind Games before its release, Lennon talked it up as “like Imagine on speed”. It isn’t as accessible as Imagine, and without that album’s iconic song it struggles to hold its head above his other solo albums. There are fewer moments of brilliance on this album, but they’re still there regardless – just check out that fantastic piano break on Out The Blue.

It’s interesting that Lennon used an upper in his analogy. To me, Mind Games feels like much more of a chilled out record. I guess “like Imagine on a downer” doesn’t sound as attractive.

Hit: Mind Games

Hidden Gem: Meat City

Rocks In The Attic #369: Ry Cooder – ‘Bop Till You Drop’ (1979)

RITA#369There are some real gaps in my record collection, which I’m not really proud of. Ry Cooder is one such gap. I’ve seen Buena Vista Social Club, where Cooder is treated as a slide-guitar playing God, but before that I’d never listened to any of his albums and only heard of him by name. I picked this up at the Auckland vinyl fair late last year and I love it. I didn’t know what to expect – something a bit less mainstream sounding, I guess, to account for that fact that he’d flown under my radar for so long; but it sounds like it belongs on the charts, alongside the AOR likes of Fleetwood Mac and the Eagles.

Wikipedia tells me that this is the first major label pop record to be recorded digitally. Wow – 1979 – I didn’t even think the word ‘digital’ was even uttered before the 1980s.

Note to self – buy more Ry Cooder.

Hit: Little Sister

Hidden Gem: I Think It’s Going To Work Out Fine

Rocks In The Attic #368: John Barry – ‘Thunderball (O.S.T.)’ (1965)

RITA#368We watched Thunderball a few weeks ago. It really is a mess of a film, oddly paced and the first real mis-step of the series. It’s only a dash over two hours long, but it feels like a three-hour epic. I have trouble enjoying it, and usually start wishing I’d put You Only Live Twice on instead.

There’s an unintentionally funny scene in Thunderball where Bond dances with Domino in a hotel resort. The band next to the dancefloor look frozen in time, while couples glide around. The audible music is John Barry’s score – an instrumental version of Mr. Kiss Kiss Bang Bang – but nothing matches! The band are supposed to be miming to it, but they’re just standing there, not moving; and Bond, Domino and the surrounding couples are all dancing at the wrong speed to the music. This scene itself is a microcosm of how messy the rest of the film is.

The story behind Ian Fleming’s 1961 novel of the same name is just as muddled as the resulting film turned out to be. Decamping from England to the Bahamas to take advantage of tax breaks, he started working on a screenplay with Kevin McLory, Jack Wittingham, Ivar Bryce and Ernie Cuneo. In the prior novels, the enemy was SMERSH (a shortened version of Smert Shpionam – Russian for ‘Death to Spies’ – and eventually referred to in the film of The Living Daylights), but suspecting that the Cold War would end before the screenplay was filmed, Fleming changed the enemy to SPECTRE (Special Executive for Counterintelligence, Terrorism, Revenge and Extortion).

The screenplay went unfilmed, but Fleming recycled much of the story for the novel – the ninth in the series. Kevin McLory saw an advance copy and claimed it was based on their collaborative work for the original screenplay idea. Sued for breach of copyright, Fleming suffered a heart attack at the age of fifty three.

By the time the film appeared in 1965, Thunderball was the best selling of the Bond novels and McLory had been awarded the film rights as a result of his lawsuit against Fleming. To be able to shoot the film (and subsequently use the characters of SPECTRE and Blofeld in later films), EON Productions made McLory a co-producer on the proviso that he wouldn’t make his own version of the film for at least ten years. Never Say Never Again – a remake of Thunderball, starring an aging Sean Connery – hit cinemas in 1983, just four months after Roger Moore’s penultimate Bond film, Octopussy.

It’s hard to say which is the better film – Thunderball or Never Say Never Again. Thunderball has the effortless cool of the mid-‘60s in its favour, while Never Say Never Again feels a little more modern. While the films in the official run of films at that time – especially Octopussy – felt a little stuffy, Never Say Never Again has a bit of a harder edge. The later film still feels a little weighty, being of a similar running time and essentially telling the same story, but the action scenes pick up the pace better than in Thunderball. In particular, the motorcycle chase through Nice is as good as any of the stunts in the Moore films of the early ‘80s.

Claudine Auger plays Domino in Thunderball, and Kim Basinger plays the same role in Never Say Never Again, so at the end of the day it all boils down to what you prefer: blondes or brunettes.

Hit: Thunderball (Main Title)

Hidden Gem: Switching The Body

Rocks In The Attic #367: Def Leppard – ‘Pyromania’ (1983)

RITA#367This is album number three for the mighty Lep. As far as where this comes in their back catalogue, it’s the album before the band blew up big time with Hysteria four long years later in 1987. It’s also a much more interesting listen than the singles-fest of that later album. It’s the last album they recorded with their original line-up – guitarist Pete Willis would be replaced by Phil Collen on Pyromania, but both appear on the record. It’s also the last album recorded with drummer Rick Allen having both arms.

Of all of Def Leppard’s hit singles, it is Photograph, the second track on this album that I still have a lot of love for. The singles on Hysteria are excellent, but overplayed far too much on radio. Photograph doesn’t get the same level of exposure (pun not intended, but I’ll take it), and so it’s always a treat to hear these days.

The album cover is interesting – as cartoony as all of their album covers throughout the ‘80s, it looks a little less innocent than the others with its depiction of a skyscraper exploding, caught in the crosshairs of a weapon. Perhaps Bin Laden was a big Leppard fan in the ‘80s. Who knows…

The credits note that the album was ‘recorded between bouts of World Cup soccer’. That would have been Spain ‘82, when England won all their games in the first group stage, but failed to score in the second group stage and exited as a result. The only thing that irks me about the credit is that they refer to the beautiful game as ‘soccer’, not ‘football’ – perhaps an early indicator of how Americanised the band was to become.

Hit: Photograph

Hidden Gem: Stagefright

Rocks In The Attic #366: Abba – ‘The Singles – The First Ten Years’ (1982)

RITA#366It always amuses me when bands – or more likely, record companies – bet on what they regard as a sure thing. Here we have Abba’s The Singles – The First Ten Years. The band split in its tenth year, so there was never a ‘Second Ten Years’ follow-up to this. Similarly, I remember buying Van Halen’s Best Of – Volume 1 when it was released in 1996. I’m still waiting for Volume 2. I might be waiting for a long time.

Abba did have a follow-up, of sorts, ten years later. Gold: Greatest Hits (or Abba Gold as it’s more commonly known) was released in 1992, just as the world was beginning to forget about them. That compilation just goes to show what a new music format can do for a band’s career. Bring out the flashy, futuristic compact disc, stick a load of music on it that was released between ten and twenty years earlier, sit back and watch it rocket up the charts (with a little help from Erasure, Muriel’s Wedding and The Adventures Of Priscilla, Queen Of The Desert). Benny & Björn must be rolling in it.

Hit: Dancing Queen

Hidden Gem: Does Your Mother Know