Rocks In The Attic #566: Duke Ellington – ‘Anatomy Of A Murder’ (1959)

rita566Forget Sgt. Pepper’s and Nevermind. Forget Axis: Bold As Love, Abbey Road and Dark Side Of The Moon. The greatest album cover in the history of recorded music is this one, designed by Hitchcock alumnus Saul Bass.

Of course, that’s only my opinion, but that’s what the internet is all about, isn’t it?

Saul Bass’ titles of Hitchock’s films throughout the late ‘50s are peerless – and his work here on Otto Preminger’s 1959 film Anatomy Of A Murder is probably my favourite if I had to choose a single image.

A couple of years ago, this album cover was quite rightly included in a touring exhibition, Degas To Dali, which was showing at the Auckland Art Gallery. I wonder how long it will take until art galleries are showing album covers as exhibitions in their own right. We can’t be that far away, if it hasn’t happened already. The world of album cover design is as strong as any other medium, and contains as many surprises as you can find turkeys. I’ve just glanced at Rolling Stone’s 100 Greatest Album Covers – I’d question a lot of them, but isn’t that what art’s all about, to provoke discussion and to continually question what has come before?

Hit: Main Title And Anatomy Of A Murder

Hidden Gem: Flirtbird

Rocks In The Attic #565: Kiri Te Kanawa – ‘Kiri’ (1966)

rita565In New Zealand, Kiri Te Kanawa is more than a national treasure. She’s practically Kiwi royalty, if such a thing existed. This makes it all the more amusing to see her interviewed by satirist Jeremy Wells.

In his 2011 documentary The Grand Tour, Wells follows the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra as they tour across Europe. Wells treats the members of the orchestra with the respect they deserve, reacting to their accomplishments with wonder and good-natured ribbing. The culmination of the film is an interview with Dame Te Kanawa – or Claire Rawstron as she was born.

I can’t quite remember why she becomes such a target for Wells, but I seem to remember him trying to secure the interview with her throughout the tour, and it keeps getting delayed. By the time he’s finally granted an audience with her, he’s in fine form, acting all flustered to be in her company. She comes across as a total diva, and tries to step in, steering Wells in the direction she believes he should be taking with his questioning.

As with the best of Sasha Baron Cohen’s early interviews, Wells lets Te Kanawa dig her own hole, and by the end of the interview she is dripping in ego, self-importance and an intolerant attitude to her interviewer.

The establishment isn’t questioned enough in Kiwi culture. New Zealand needs people like Wells; he’s as good as anybody in holding a mirror up to someone like Te Kanawa to show how ridiculous and out of touch she’s become.

Hit: My Favourite Things

Hidden Gem: Climb Ev’ry Mountain

Rocks In The Attic #564: Third World – ‘96° In The Shade’ (1977)

rita560This record was rescued on my behalf from a charity shop by my father-in-law. I’m not sure why he picked it up, but I’m glad he did. When I first looked inside, the record was very dirty with mould and the signs of being stored away in the back of somebody’s garage for twenty or thirty years. I gave it the PVA glue treatment, and the record has turned out looking and sounding beautiful.

Third World are a bit of an oddity – a reggae band formed in Jamaica in 1973, but influenced by musical trends outside of their native country. So along that nice reggae groove, you can hear the likes of disco, soul and funk. It makes for a nick mix and as a result, they sound a little bit more international than their more famous musical cousins the Wailers. It’s difficult not to compare the two bands – in fact, Third World’s first big break came when they toured Europe, supporting the Wailers, after being picked up by Island Records.

One of my favourite things about this record is the band member’s profile photos on the rear cover. Only drummer Willie and bass player Richie have normal names. The rest of the band is comprised of Rugs on guitar and vocals, Ibo on keyboards, Cat on lead guitar, and best of all, Carrot on percussion.

Hit: 1865 (96° In The Shade)

Hidden Gem: Tribal War

Rocks In The Attic #563: Stone Temple Pilots – ‘MTV Unplugged 1993’ (2016)

rita563Thank f**k for bootlegs. I reckon I might be waiting until the end of my days for Atlantic Records to dig this one for an official release, so thankfully the enterprising Russian chaps at DOL Records put this out last year. DOL were also responsible for putting out Aerosmith’s 1973 radio appearance at Paul’s Mall, so they’ve come out of nowhere to be one of my favourite – ahem – enterprising record labels.

I used to listen to so much STP in my teens that I almost can’t tell when one songs ends and another one starts. They’re burnt into my DNA. I was sad to see it was the anniversary of Scott Weiland’s death at the beginning of December. What a loss, albeit certainly not an unexpected one.

I don’t think I ever saw the original transmission of STP’s Unplugged set back in the day on MTV. While it might have been in heavy rotation across the Atlantic, it definitely didn’t see that kind of airplay in the UK. In fact, once Kurt Cobain killed himself, pretty much all of the rock programming on the channel was taken over by Nirvana.

When STP released their second record, Purple, they released one of the singles, Vasoline, with a couple of songs from the Unplugged set. I know these versions of the debut album’s Crackerman and David Bowie’s Andy Warhol like the back of my hands, and have always wanted to hear the full set. The wonder of the Internet allowed me to watch the show a couple of years ago, and then I finally got my hands on this disc last year.

Hopefully an official version will see the light of day someday. DOL are great at finding unreleased material to put in stores, but their mastering leaves a lot to be desired. On that early Aerosmith record, they change the running order of the songs to make them fit on the two sides better, and on this STP record there’s a one-second gap of air in the audience reaction between a couple of the tracks, like a badly mastered home CD. Still, beggars can’t be choosers.

Hit: Plush

Hidden Gem: Crackerman

Rocks In The Attic #562: Various Artists – ‘Less Than Zero (O.S.T.)’ (1987)

rita562I watched this film for the first time recently. I’d always been aware of it because it’s one of a handful of notable soundtrack appearances by Aerosmith from around this time. The Aerosmith completist in me searched this record out long before I had a chance to watch the movie.

The soundtrack opens strongly with a Permanent Vacation-era Aerosmith rocking out to a cover of Huey “Piano” Smith’s Rockin’ Pneumonia And The Boogie Woogie Flu. Drummer Joey Kramer is on fine powerhouse form, and the band really sound as young and energetic as anybody else, enjoying their second lease of life in post-rehab sobriety. The record was released by Def Jam, and many of the songs were produced by Rick Rubin, so I can only presume Aerosmith are included as a result of the Run-DMC connection.

The rest of the record – mostly cover songs – is a patchy affair. Poison’s weak attempt at Kiss’ Rock And Roll All Nite belies the whole glam rock movement’s claim to artistic merit, Slayer’s version of Iron Butterfly’s In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida is fun, while the Bangles’ version of Simon and Garfunkel’s Hazy Shade Of Winter sounds like they’re on autopilot.

So I sat down to finally watch the film I knew the music of so well. I really wish I hadn’t. If anything, Less Than Zero resembles the awful St. Elmo’s Fire in terms of its shallow posturing, although it is slightly harder-edged coming a couple of years after that earlier film. As an adaptation of Bret Easton Ellis’s debut novel, I have trouble seeing any of his satire on the screen as it seems to have been overwhelmed by big gloop of late-‘80s Hollywood sheen that engulfs the film.

Something terrible happened as I watched the final act of the film. I got a slap in the face from déjà vu when Andrew McCarthy’s character narrowly prevented Robert Downey, Jr.’s character from taking part in a gay tryst. Then, in the final shot of the film where McCarthy, Downey, Jr. and Jami Gertz are driving off into the sunset, and McCarthy realises that Downey, Jr. has died from a drug overdose, I had a realisation myself. I had seen this film before. I just hadn’t remembered it because it was so forgettable.

Hit: A Hazy Shade Of Winter – The Bangles

Hidden Gem: Rockin’ Pneumonia And The Boogie Woogie Flu – Aerosmith

Rocks In The Attic #561: The Kinks – ‘Kinda Kinks’ (1965)

rita561If there’s one ‘60s group whose album output doesn’t quite match up to their singles output, it’s probably the Kinks. The A-sides that Ray Davies wrote during that decade are up there with the best anybody else had to offer. He’s the only songwriter that comes anywhere close to the strength of Lennon and McCartney’s singles, yet the first batch of Kinks albums in the mid-‘60s don’t really deliver on that promise.

Their debut record is built around You Really Got Me, this follow-up is buoyed by Tired Of Waiting For You, the third album has ‘Til The End Of The Day and Where Have All The Good Times Gone, and album number four has Sunny Afternoon on it. Most of – but definitely not all of – the rest of these records have a load of generic R&B-inflected filler material making up the numbers. It actually makes sense in this case to own at least one good Kinks compilation. There’s nothing patchy about a collection of their singles.

My favourite track on Kinda Kinks is Nothin’ In The World Can Stop Me Worryin’ ‘Bout That Girl, notable for its appearance in Kinks-fan Wes Anderson’s Rushmore soundtrack. This really is a beautiful, tender song and hints at the more mature songwriting we would hear from Ray Davies much further towards the end of the decade. So Long is another song in this folk vein, where you can hear more of what the Kinks became, rather than the American R&B they’re aping on the rest of the record.

Hit: Tired Of Waiting For You

Hidden Gem: Nothin’ In The World Can Stop Me Worryin’ ‘Bout That Girl

Rocks In The Attic #560: Guns N’ Roses – ‘Appetite For Destruction’ (1987)

RITA#560.jpgI saw something last night I thought I’d never see – Axl Rose, Slash and Duff McKagan on the same stage together. It’s been a long time coming, but for a large part of the twenty five years since I first heard Appetite For Destruction, it seemed unlikely that a reunion would ever happen. Slash kept himself busy, playing in Velvet Revolver (with Duff) before going on to record several decent solo albums. Axl retained the Guns N’ Roses name, touring the band in the 21st century with a host of stand-in musicians and finally releasing the long-threatened Chinese Democracy album in 2008. The new Axl was a portly fellow, rumoured to have an addiction to fried chicken and was described by one audience member in London as ‘a gold lamé blob up on stage.’ A reunion seemed as unlikely as all four Beatles playing together on stage.

Then the unthinkable happened. In 2016 Axl, Slash and Duff patched up their differences and announced a reunion tour. Who needs differences anyway when you’ve got millions of dollars to earn touring the world as a nostalgia act? Plus, that fried chicken won’t buy itself…

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The initial reaction was one of cynicism. Surely Axl would keep everybody waiting like he did in his prima donna days during the 1990s. Would it be worth buying a ticket if it meant waiting around for a few hours in the rain, waiting for Axl to finally take off his bathrobe and finish that last bucket of KFC? Of course it would!

Then the unthinkable part two happened. Axl landed the job as stand-in vocalist for AC/DC. It seems that Brian Johnson’s eardrums had enough of his own high-pitched screaming and put up a protest. He got a sick note from his doctor, ruling him out of that band due to the threat of permanent hearing loss. Step up, Mr. Rose.

It still hasn’t really sunk in that this actually happened – Axl Rose singing with AC/DC sounds like such an off-the-wall idea. Comparable to Soundgarden’s Chris Cornell singing in front of Rage Against The Machine. Oh wait, that actually happened too.

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What a great pairing – Axl DC – can it get any better? Brian Johnson’s vocals have never really fit the band if I have to be honest – there’s only so much shrieking I can handle, and after 1980’s Back In Black, there was a pretty consistent dip in quality. Other than Steven Tyler, Axl is the best choice to front Angus and company – he has the range to hit Brian Johnson’s high notes, and the ballsy tone to handle Bon Scott’s earlier material.

So the rock world waited with bated breath, and the unthinkable part three happened. Axl turned up on time and did his duty. No diva behaviour whatsoever – and best of all, his inclusion prompted the long-standing – and frankly, now quite boring – AC/DC set-list to change. They started playing songs they had rarely, if ever, played with Brian Johnson. Songs such as Riff Raff and Rock And Roll Damnation from 1978’s Powerage, If You Want Blood (You’ve Got It) from 1979’s Highway To Hell, and 1975’s Live Wire (from the Australian T.N.T. album, or the international version of High Voltage). It was so refreshing to see these songs performed once again.

Then, one show into the GNR reunion tour, the unthinkable part four happened. Axl broke his foot. It’s still unclear how he did this – so one can only speculate that a bottle of Hot Sauce fell on his foot as he opened the fridge for a midnight feast of fried chicken. He ended up fulfilling the rest of GNR’s U.S. tour, and the remaining AC/DC dates sat on a throne of guitars borrowed from Dave Grohl.

Last night my wife took a bullet and stayed home to put the kids to bed so that I could go down early to catch the support band, Wolfmother. When I got to the stadium I spoke to a lovely lady named Lucy, who had endured a 9-hour bus trip from Gisborne to see the show. Crikey! She sat next to me as she rolled a joint, out of sight of the security staff, and in minutes we had bonded over our mutual dislike of Michael McDonald-era Doobie Brothers.

I was really looking forward to seeing Wolfmother after I caught them supporting Aerosmith in Dunedin back in 2013. At that concert, the sight of the band bouncing on to the stage like exuberant puppies made me smile. Four years later and they’ve reduced their ranks significantly. What was once a boisterous four- or five-piece back in 2013 has now distilled into a tight trio. I’m not sure if this was intentional, but it meant one member was pulling more than his fair share of the weight – bassist Ian Peres also played keyboards, incredibly both at the same time during some songs.

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Twenty minutes later and Guns N’ Fucking Roses emerged. My wife had made it with just minutes to spare, and thankfully she was there to see opener It’s So Easy. They followed this with Mr. Brownstone, and Western Springs went off like a firework.

Axl did that jaunty side-to-side dance with his microphone stand, looking like a menopausal Nicole Kidman, Slash took all his solos with his guitar propped up on one elevated thigh, and Duff kept up on the bass, sticking his neck out to sing backing vocals.

The set-list was really strong with songs from Appetite For Destruction, and while I like most of the singles from the Use Your Illusion records, the songs from the debut record are just in a different class. They’re truly magical, and the whole of that first record is like lightning in a bottle.

I could never really work out why I liked Appetite so much more than the Use Your Illusion albums, and it wasn’t until I read Slash’s autobiography that I figured it out. Drummer Steven Adler – the one missing component that didn’t survive into that second line-up of the band – really provides the groove of ­Appetite. His replacement Matt Sorum is a powerhouse drummer himself, but Adler had something else – a swing that you don’t get with most 4/4 rock drummers. I’d have loved to have seen a full reunion with Adler on board, alongside original rhythm guitarist Izzy Stradlin, but I’m more than happy to have seen three out of the original five.

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Covers were well-represented, not surprisingly for a band with only four albums of original material to their name. As well as the likely contenders – Live And Let Die and Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door – they also played the Misfit’s Attitude, the Who’s The Seeker, and in one really touching moment, a cover of Pink Floyd’s Wish You Were Here afforded Slash and rhythm guitarist Richard Fortus the opportunity for a lovely bit of guitar work. November Rain was prefaced with Axl playing the piano outro from Derek & The Domino’s Layla, and Slash played snippets of the Godfather theme, Voodoo Chile (Slight Return) and Zeppelin’s Babe I’m Gonna Leave You before the night was through.

If I had one criticism, it was that the show could have easily been an hour shorter. After two hours when I told my wife that there was almost another hour left, she mimed shooting herself in the head (I noted that this was an odd thing to do in the presence of Duff McKagan, the last person to see Kurt Cobain alive; they found themselves sitting next to each other on a flight to Seattle where Cobain took his life a few days later).

At one point, the audience nearly chuckled themselves to death when Axl sang his big emotional number – This I Love, from the Chinese Democracy record. This was like bad wedding music; just awful and such a polar opposite to the youthful vibrance that is all over Appetite For Destruction.

Hit: Sweet Child O’Mine

Hidden Gem: Mr. Brownstone