Rocks In The Attic #395: Status Quo – ’12 Gold Bars’ (1980)

RITA#395Why not?

That was a rhetorical question, by the way. I think of few reasons as to ‘why’, but a multitude of reasons as to ‘why not’. I recently read the autobiography of Francis Rossi and Rick Parfitt – embarrassingly called XS All Areas – and I can quite honestly say it was the worst rock autobiography I’ve ever read. And I’ve read Steven Tyler’s autobiography.

The really damning thing about Status Quo’s story is that they just come across as dullards who got lucky playing pub rock. They then screwed founding member Alan Lancaster over by dissolving the band in 1985 and then regrouping without him. Nice, really nice. Rock and roll seems to be full of those nasty stories – whether it be Pink Floyd simply not bothering to pick up Syd Barrett on the way to the recording studio one night, or Lennon, McCartney and Harrison getting Brian Epstein to do their dirty work for them by breaking the news to Pete Best that he was out of the band.

Still, Quo were a fantastic choice to open Live Aid, only because Rockin’ All Over The World was so apt. It couldn’t have been more appropriate unless they had opened with an obscure b-side about Ethiopians starving to death.

But that’s it. That day in July 1985, with Alan Lancaster’s very last appearance on bass guitar, is where Quo stopped for me. The Status Quo finally changed. They turned into a lame ‘80s band with shorter hair, trendy ‘80s clothes and a younger backline. I can’t listen to something like In The Army Now without cringing. And what a fall – working with fellow nostalgia hawkers the Beach Boys, or bringing out songs extolling the virtues of Manchester United – it just got worse and worse, like a car crash happening in super slow motion. Is it over yet?

Hit: Rockin’ All Over The World

Hidden Gem: Living On An Island

Rocks In The Attic #394: Happy Mondays – ‘Pills ‘n’ Thrills And Bellyaches’ (1990)

RITA#394I think I might be allergic to music that comes from Manchester. I’ve never hid my dislike of Oasis, but I also never liked the wave of bands that came before them. Only now, half way around the world and twenty five years later can I finally start to appreciate bands like the Smiths, the Stone Roses and these fellas, the Happy Monday.

I don’t think it’s the music by these bands that turned me off them. Instead it was the type of people who liked these bands that alienated me. They’re all popular bands, and just like with any popular bands, there’ll be an element of non-music fans following them. Or sheep, you could say.

In the case of the ‘Madchester’ years, those non-music fans represented the distasteful element in Manchester. They still do. Lads in Ben Sherman shirts, roaming the city centre; or retards walking around in cagoules in the middle of summer. Are you going on a hiking trip? No? Just going to the football? Hmm.

I once passed Tony Wilson doing his shopping in the Sainsburys at the end of Mancunian Way, heading towards Salford. He was leaning over the trolley he was pushing slowly down the aisle, and I remember he was shopping from a list. I was too nervous to say hello, and I’ll never get the chance now, but what I would say to him – if I had the balls, which I know I don’t – was that I thought he was wrong about the Happy Mondays.

In 24 Hour Party People, Wilson refers to Shaun Ryder as a genius. I just can’t stomach that. I’ll accept that Ryder might have been the spokesman for that generation – the Ecstasy generation – in the UK, but the word ‘genius’ does not apply. ‘Lucky fool’ is more apt.

Hit: Step On

Hidden Gem: Dennis And Lois

Rocks In The Attic #393: Cheap Trick – ‘Live At The Budokan’ (1979)

RITA#393I bought a great rock magazine in the early 2000s. It was published by one of the established monthly magazines – Mojo or Q, I can’t remember which – but is was a special issue about essential rock albums you might not have heard. So, there was no Beatles, Stones or Floyd in there. No Bob Dylan. No Zeppelin. No Nirvana. Those would be obvious choices for an essential albums list – this was trying to present something a little out of the ordinary.

This one magazine turned me onto so much – ZZ Top’s Tres Hombres, Ted Nugent’s eponymous debut, Blue Oyster Cult’s Agents Of Fortune – as well as a couple of albums I knew like the back of my hand – Aerosmith’s Toys In The Attic.

It also turned me onto a couple of albums I’ve still not got my head around. One of them is this, Cheap Trick’s 1979 live album recorded at the Budokan in Tokyo. There are a bunch of rock bands from the ‘70s that never really left a lasting impression in the UK. Cheap Trick, Kiss and Aerosmith are definitely guilty of this. I’m not really sure why – but for some bands I suspect it has something to do with a failure to promote their albums, or tour, outside of their native America. Aerosmith only ever crossed the Atlantic once in the ‘70s, to play the Reading festival in 1977. So it might not be hard to believe that some people thought that they were a new band when they came back from the dead in the late ‘80s (they’re probably the same people who thought that Run DMC wrote Walk This Way).

So when I hear a record like this – effectively Cheap Trick’s greatest hits performed in concert – I have no frame of reference. I didn’t grow up listening to these singles, like somebody growing up in the USA might have done. The radio stations in the UK never played them – so I’m like a blank canvas. Even something as ubiquitous as I Want You To Want Me – now on the soundtrack to every teen flick to come out of Hollywood – was a rare sound in the UK.

I recently watched the Foo Fighters: Sonic Highways episode filmed in Chicago. It’s a great series, and nice to see them paying respect to Cheap Trick guitarist Rick Nielsen. His guest appearance on the song recorded there – Something From Nothing – does leave me scratching my head though. It’s a great song, with a little funk to it, but Nielsen’s contribution is minimal – and barely audible. A wasted opportunity!

Hit: I Want You To Want Me

Hidden Gem: Hello There

Rocks In The Attic #392: The Animals – ‘The Animals’ (1964)

RITA#392On opening track, Story Of Bo Diddley, it’s highly amusing that Eric Burdon refers to Richmond in Surrey as the deep south. Why not, eh? That would make the Animals hometown of Newcastle Upon Tyne equal to Chicago, wouldn’t it? They’d probably like that, given their love of Chicago blues.

Of all the British Invasion groups of the ‘60s, the Animals always get classified as a second-tier group. They didn’t come bursting out of the starting gates with their own compositions, like the Kinks or the Who, and unlike their closest rivals the Rolling Stones, they never made the leap from blues copyists to writing their own songs.

It’s a shame that they’ll forever be linked with House Of The Rising Sun rather than something of their own making. They deserve some respect for the arrangement of that song though, which takes the song somewhere special. In Dylan’s hands – and prior to him, in Dave Van Ronk’s hands – it sounded ordinary.

Hit: Memphis Tennessee

Hidden Gem: Story Of Bo Diddley

Rocks In The Attic #391: Tears For Fears – ‘Songs From The Big Chair’ (1985)

RITA#391I remember liking the sound of Tears For Fears when I was growing up, but I never bought any of their records. These were the days where you could tape the songs you liked straight off the radio, when BBC Radio 1 did the Top 40 rundown on Sunday afternoons.

It’s a wonder anybody ever made any money from selling records in the 1980s, when you could just get a blank tape and record your favourite songs. If I remember correctly, it was every new entry from 40 up to 21, and then each song in the Top 20. Screw illegal downloads, this was probably worse for the record industry. Home taping killing music? No doubt.

The only issue with taping off the Top 40 is that you always had to get a nice clean recording. If you were lucky enough to have a double-deck stereo, you could tape the whole thing and then copy tape-to-tape just the songs you wanted, but what was the fun in that? You’d also get a little bit more tape hiss going down that route. No, instead you’d be perched next to the stereo, with RECORD, PLAY and PAUSE all pressed down, awaiting Bruno Brookes to announce the song you were waiting for, so you could set your C60 or C90 running.

In my first or second year at secondary school we once had a day at the end of term where we had no lessons. I can’t remember what we were doing instead of learning, but we were sat in our form room waiting for the hours to pass. One girl said she had taped the chart show and brought it in. Great, we thought, something to listen to. She set the tape running. It wasn’t the Top 40 she had taped off the radio; instead she had made an ambient recording of the previous night’s Top Of The Pops off the television. She had put her tape player next to the TV, and recorded the sound through the tape player’s inbuilt microphone. Needless to say it sounded horrible, with the latest Go West single drowned out by the sound of her family eating their Thursday night chippy tea.

Hit: Everybody Wants To Rule The World

Hidden Gem: I Believe

Rocks In The Attic #390: Mike Post – ‘Television Theme Songs’ (1982)

RITA#390Mike Post is the man. Responsible for the themes behind such TV shows as Hill Street Blues, The A-Team, Quantum Leap, Magnum P.I., CHiPS, The Rockford Files and many, many more, this is a guy who knows how to create a catchy tune to fit a narrow sixty-second window.

There are a couple of songs on this album that I’m not aware of – Theme From The Greatest American Hero (Believe It Or Not), Theme From White Shadow and School’s Out (From Richie Brockelman Private Eye) – I’m guessing because those shows didn’t play in the UK. I do recognise Believe It Or Not, believe it or not, from its use in a New Zealand television commercial (for Lotto?) over the last couple of years. Still, you don’t need to have been exposed to these themes in your childhood to be able to see them as instantly catchy slices of television soundtracks. Still, I don’t want to start spreading rumours but Mike Post must have been – ahem – exposed to a hell of a lot of children in the ‘80s…

I’d buy the album alone for the themes to Hill Street Blues, Magnum P.I. and The Rockford Files. Great stuff. I have a childhood memory of listening to the theme to The Rockford Files on a tape player while I was in a bath (hardly safe, I know, but my parents were probably trying to kill me) and thinking that the pitch-fiddling synth line playing the main melody sounded like a duck.

Hit: Theme From Hill Street Blues

Hidden Gem: Theme From The Rockford Files

Rocks In The Attic #389: Foo Fighters – ‘Foo Fighters’ (1995)

RITA#389A big, big album for me, this came out in the summer of 1995 (which would have been in between my two years of sixth form / A-levels). It’s wrapped up in my head with a lot of good times, and a couple of regretful decisions. I might not be a big fan of the music they bring out these days (too middle of the road for my tastes), but I can proudly say that I was a Foo Fighters fan from day one.

I wasn’t that much of a Nirvana fan before Kurt Cobain killed himself. A lot of my friends liked them, and I was very aware of them, but the whole grunge thing didn’t really float my boat. Of the other bands around at the time, I probably preferred Stone Temple Pilots who seemed to be coming at everything from more of a classic rock approach. I did come to appreciate Nirvana though – endless viewings of their videos and the Unplugged show on MTV in the months after his death meant that you couldn’t really avoid them.

Of the stuff I had heard, I definitely leant more to the rawer sound on In Utero than the slickly produced Nevermind. I liked Heart Shaped Box so much I bought the single on CD, and ended up really digging one of the b-sides – Marigold – written and sung (in a bathtub?) by Dave Grohl.

Fast forward to the next summer, and I read – probably in Kerrang – that Dave Grohl had put together his own band. I hadn’t heard anything by them, but I bought their debut single – This Is A Call – purely on the strength of what I heard in Marigold. I loved every second of it, and the two what-ended-up-being non-album b-sides, Winnebago and Podunk, were great too.

A month later, I bought the debut album on the day of its release. Boom, I was definitely a Foo Fighters fan now, and to me they felt like the world’s best-kept secret. There was no hype – nothing – about the band at this point. Dave Grohl might be a household name now, but back then he really was just ‘the drummer from Nirvana’.

A couple of months later and we arrive at the first regret of this story. It’s actually one of my biggest musical regrets, and I’m still sore about it. The Foo Fighters were coming to Manchester – 5th September 1995 – to play a gig at Manchester University, supported by the Presidents Of The United States Of America (another band I would have killed to see at the time). I couldn’t go, for some reason, despite regularly attending gigs at the University, or the Academy next door, around those couple of years. I seem to remember it being something to do with having an exam the day after, but the date doesn’t stack up – why would I have had an exam at the start of the new school year?

Anyway, for whatever reason, I missed it. This annoys me so much – I don’t want to be one of those fans who ditches bands as soon as they become famous, but here was a band I was really into from their very early days, after hearing the promise of a b-side and reading about their formation in a couple of centimetres of newsprint. Grrr.

Their second album came out when I was in my first year at University, and almost immediately I started to lose interest. That second album – recorded by the full band, but with drums naughtily re-recorded by Grohl – was good, but it went down a different road than the personal feel of the debut album.

I did eventually get to see them – at a V festival in Stafford in 2001 – but by then I didn’t recognise them anymore. The line-up of that small group he had originally put together had already changed four times (in just six years). Drummer William Goldsmith had enough of his drum parts being re-recorded by Grohl and left in 1997, followed soon after by Grohl’s Nirvana bandmate, guitarist Pat Smear. By the time I saw them in 2001, even Smear’s replacement, Franz Stahl, had come and gone, replaced by Chris Shiflett. I don’t remember enjoying them. They didn’t belong to me anymore, they belonged to everybody else.

As a measure of how turbulent the band was at the time, on the day that I saw them in Stafford in 2001, drummer Taylor Hawkins – drafted in from, ugh, Alanis Morissette’s touring band – was hospitalised after a drug overdose following their set. Thankfully, these days they seem a little more settled.

I saw them again in 2006, at another festival (Manchester’s Old Trafford cricket ground). Again, meh. Music for panel-beaters and hairdressers.

My second regret came in 2011 when, now living in New Zealand, I missed the chance to see them play a small intimate charity gig at Auckland’s Town Hall. The reason this time – a work event I couldn’t get out of. I recently almost missed out on a repeat of this gig earlier this year, which they had to cancel at the last minute due to one of their equipment trucks crashing on their way up to the gig.

It looks like if I ever want to see the Foo Fighters play a small gig – which I feel I deserve – I’ll have to kidnap Dave Grohl. Now, where did I put that masking tape…

Hit: I’ll Stick Around

Hidden Gem: Good Grief