Rocks In The Attic #997: Hole – ‘Live Through This’ (1994)

Hole’s second album Live Through This generated a lot of attention for Courtney Love’s band, and probably not the kind of attention they were looking for. The enduring myth around the album is that it was co-authored, or ghost-written by Love’s husband, Kurt Cobain.

It might seem obvious to explain that the term ‘ghost-written’ here suggests that Cobain wrote the album for her in secret, although the timing of the album’s release – just seven days after Cobain’s suicide in April 1994 – may have suggested to Hole’s more mystical critics that Cobain wrote it as a real-life ghost.

Released so soon after Cobain’s death, Live Through This was thrown onto shelves with what I’m sure was hand-rubbing gusto by the record label. It’s also important to note that the label was DGC – an imprint of Geffen, the label that had released Nirvana’s Nevermind and In Utero. ‘Should we delay the release of the Hole album as a mark of respect?’ a well-meaning intern may have suggested, to a barrage of laughter. Record labels will be record labels.

But, my thoughts on Courtney Love aside (spoiler alert: I don’t like her), it seems unbelievably sexist and reductive to think that she couldn’t have written this album. It’s the ‘90s equivalent of believing that Yoko Ono broke up the Beatles.

Love herself has only addressed the issue a couple of time, to strongly deny it and suggest that it would be a stronger album if he had written it. ‘His skills were much better than mine at the time – the songs would have been much better. That’s the first thing.’

Hit: Doll Parts

Hidden Gem: Rock Star

Rocks In The Attic #996: Goldfrapp – ‘Felt Mountain’ (2000)

I really like this. It feels like the natural progression of the trip-hop scene, only a little classier. That’s not to say that bands like Massive Attack and Portishead aren’t classy; it’s just that I imagine Goldfrapp to be listened to by more than just crusties. You know the ones: white people with dreadlocks, cardigan purchased at WOMAD, woven bracelets.

Felt Mountain is Goldfrapp’s debut studio album from 2000. Granted, I do get them mixed up with Röyksopp – it’s the double-p thing – and that particular outfit reminds me of one of the worst flatmates I ever had the pleasure of knowing. 

I also have trouble remembering the brilliant whistle that serves as the hook of the album’s lead single, Lovely Head. I can always recall a guitar line or even a horn part, but something about whistling avoids my memory. In the past twenty years, while trying to recollect this song, I’ve somehow landed at that other whistle-based hit of the 2000s – this out-of-tune atrocity by Peter Bjorn And John.

Lovely Head is brilliant though, a truly haunting slice of pop. I need to find more Goldfrapp!

[A massive thank you to my new friend and recent partner in 24-hour movie marathon crime, Karl Lock, who helped me identify that Peter Bjorn And John song, on his first guess from my expertly vague decription].

Hit: Lovely Head

Hidden Gem: Paper Bag

Rocks In The Attic #995: Pretenders – ‘Pretenders’ (1980)

Most of the time, pickings are slim in New Zealand’s op-shops – our equivalent of a US thrift store or a UK charity shop. The usual suspects are always evident: Nana Mouskouri, James Last, Roger Whittaker, and a New Zealand living legend, Kamahl.

Dead-man’s records, I call them, and they usually smell like it too. Then occasionally, you come across a small nugget of gold. I once found this original 1980 US pressing of the Pretenders’ debut album, and for only a dollar, in an op-shop in Glen Innes.

I’m not the biggest fan of Chrissie Hynde and band. I can never make up my mind about what I’m listening to. Is it new wave or pop? Are they just following on from the trail blazed by Blondie a couple of years earlier?

That said, this album is an absolute banger – I even love its mainstream hit, Brass In Pocket, which I’ll never tire of despite hearing it thousands of times on the radio. There’s a maturity in that song than stands out from the frantic, in-your-face approach of the rest of the album.

Hit: Brass In Pocket

Hidden Gem: Up The Neck

Rocks In The Attic #994: Huey Lewis & The News – ‘Small World’ (1988)

There should be a name for the condition you can get into when you love a band so much, but for some reason a particular release just doesn’t work for you – no matter how much time and effort you put into it.

After Nevermind and In Utero, I remember trying to like Bleach to the same extent, but I just couldn’t get into it. Ditto when the Wildhearts went all industrial after PHUQ and released the comparatively dreadful Endless, Nameless. Or when Stone Temple Pilots lost a bit of their mystique after Tiny Music… and released the tepid No. 4.

My first big disappointment along these lies was back in 1988 with the Small World album by Huey Lewis & The News. It’s the band’s fifth studio album, and the follow-up to 1986’s Fore! which hit number one on the Billboard 200. I loved Fore! to bits. I still do, but man, this record is such a weak follow-up.

It’s clear from the first song, Small World (Part One) that the songs just aren’t there. Production-wise, it doesn’t sound too different than its predecessor; the songwriting just isn’t up to scratch. Fore! generated five top-ten singles in the USA, but Small World could only manage one, the instantly forgettable Perfect World which peaked at number three.

For a year or two, Huey Lewis & The News were on track for being one of the biggest bands in the world – with a massive album and a hit song from a hit movie – and then it all seemed to just fizzle away.

Hit: Perfect World

Hidden Gem: Walking With The Kid

Rocks In The Attic #993: George Benson – ‘The Other Side Of Abbey Road’ (1970)

I’ve been after this one for a long time. One of my favourite Beatles albums covered by George Benson, just two months after Booker T. & The M.G.’s did the same thing with their McLemore Avenue set.

The legacy of Abbey Road continues to live on, and you can see how immediately that album was received among the Beatles’ contemporaries compared to lesser works like the ragtag Let It Be, which finally saw the light of day in the month between the M.G.s and Benson tributes.

There’s a magic on Abbey Road that marks it different from the rest of the Beatles’ studio albums. Well, they’re all magical of course, but there’s something else on that album – something in the songwriting, or possibly from the comfort of being back together with George Martin. Who knows?

There’s some lovely electric piano and organ on this recording, courtesy of Bob James and Herbie Hancock, and while the album strays into easy-listening lounge music from time to time, there’s enough soul and funk injected to keep it from descending into slush.

Hit: Here Comes The Sun

Hidden Gem: Come Together

Rocks In The Attic #992: Lorde – ‘Solar Power’ (2021)

Lorde plays against expectations with studio album number three by releasing an Ibiza chill-out record, and packaging it with an image of her bikini-clad butt. Good on her.

By this time, I had hoped she would have shirked the songwriting and production duties of Jack Antonoff – who contributed to second album Melodrama – and collaborated with somebody else. Nothing against Antonoff – he seems to know what he’s doing – but I liked the idea of her working with a different producer on each album. Melodrama was such a departure from the weird melancholy of her debut Pure Heroine, brilliantly produced by Joel Little, that I was hoping her new output would have another distinct identity.

That said, Solar Power couldn’t be any more different than Melodrama if it tried. I had hoped that the lead single title track was just a demo recording when it was first released, slightly concerned at the lack of a beat, but the rest of the album is just as low-key and sparse of rhythm. And the sixth-form schoolgirl lyrics are still there.

Will it sell by the bucketloads? Probably. Will it be the soundtrack of many a festival in 2022? Probably. Will it grow on me? Probably.

Hit: Solar Power

Hidden Gem: Secrets From A Girl (Who’s Seen It All)

Rocks In The Attic #991: Otis Redding – ‘The Great Otis Redding Sings Soul Ballads’ (1965)

…Soul Ballads is Otis Redding’s second studio album, his first of two albums released in 1965. At this point, he’s still very much a soul superstar in the making; it would be Otis Blue, released just six months later, that would see him starting to attract attention outside of the genre.

Like the previous year’s Pain In My Heart, …Soul Ballads features a backing band of Booker T. & The M.G.’s and the Memphis Horns. The addition for this album though is the appearance of an uncredited Isaac Hayes on piano – rumoured to be his debut performance on record.

With that backing band, and the power of Redding’s voice, they could have just jammed along while he sang words out of the phone book, and it would have been brilliant. Aside from Mr. Pitiful, Redding’s first top-10 single, which closes the album, it’s a fairly low-key affair with his songwriting still very much a work in progress (seven of the album’s twelve songs are covers).

One aspect of the album that never gets mentioned is the cover art. A seemingly throwaway piece of packaging, it’s a Pop Art triumph with Redding’s profile photo repeated in various shades of filtered colour.

One of my favourite Redding songs, Mr. Pitiful will always remind me of the Labour Party winning the UK General Election in 1997. Celebrating Tony Blair’s win, scenes from their celebration included a dour John Prescott looking like he was hating the moment. When quizzed by journalists, he revealed that he wasn’t a fan of the music (D:Ream’s Things Can Only Get Better – only the party’s campaign song) being played at the event. A few days later, a photo opportunity was captured when another celebration took place, with Prescott’s choice of music front and centre. I have an image, seared into my brain, of Prescott and his wife dancing to Mr. Pitiful, clapping and gyrating as though he was at a Northern Soul night.

Hit: Mr Pitiful

Hidden Gem: That’s How Strong My Love Is

Rocks In The Attic #990: Norman Greenbaum – ‘Spirit In The Sky’ (1969)

As with a lot of famous songs, I first heard the original version of Spirit In The Sky in a movie. I knew the tune of course, being just 8-years-old when Doctor and The Medics covered it in 1986 – a UK number one. Knowing no better, I probably thought they wrote it.

But it wasn’t until I heard Norman Greenbaum’s song on the soundtrack to Wayne’s World 2 in 1993 that I understood that the song was something else. That Wayne’s World 2 soundtrack is such a gem of classic rock – and still yet to see the light of day on vinyl. Alongside Spirit In The Sky stands Golden Earring’s Radar Love, the Edgar Winter Group’s Frankenstein and Bad Company’s Can’t Get Enough.

Spirit In The Sky is Greenbaum’s debut album, released in 1969, with its title track’s guitar tone a sign of things to come in the 1970s. He followed the album in 1970 with Back Home Again, and Petaluma in 1972, but never managed to match the thrill of that first breakthrough hit.

Ostensibly a one-hit wonder, Greenbaum still appears to be performing (if Wikipedia is to be believed) at the age of 79. His legacy, Spirit In The Sky, remains a gospel rock song – like the Doobie Brothers’ version of Jesus Is Just Alright With Me – that everybody seems to enjoy despite its fairly obvious Christian leanings (although, as his name would suggest, Greenbaum is actually Jewish).

Hit: Spirit In The Sky

Hidden Gem: Alice Bodine

Rocks In The Attic #989: Roy Orbison – ‘Mystery Girl’ (1989)

In 1987, Rick Rubin produced the Less Than Zero soundtrack, a bunch of strange cover versions recorded by a range of artists. The Bangles took on Simon & Garfunkel’s Hazy Shade Of Winter, Poison did Kiss’ Rock And Roll All Nite, and Slayer took on Iron Butterfly’s In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida.

On the whole, it was newer artists covering older, established songs – with one exception. Roy Orbison, the then 51-year-old crooner, was tasked with a cover of Danzig’s Life Fades Away. A music legend covering an out of character, modern day rock song? That’s interesting…

You can almost still hear the cogs working in Rick Rubin’s head, echoing through time, and surely it was this successful ‘comeback’ album from Roy Orbison a couple of years later – a collaboration with Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers – that sold Rubin on the idea of reviving Johnny Cash’s career with a similar project.

Released just eight weeks after his untimely death from a heart attack at the age of 52, Mystery Girl was a bitter pill to swallow; a comeback album that worked, but then couldn’t be followed.

 It almost reads like a dry run for the Cash / Rubin albums. Three songs are produced by Jeff Lynne, with that sparse, clean sound personified on the only single You Got It. This style followed his work on the Traveling Wilbury’s debut, and would be solidified on Tom Petty’s solo debut Full Moon Fever, released four months later.

The rest of the album is produced by a mixture of personnel: T-Bone Burnett, Bono, Barbara Orbison (Roy’s widow), and Orbison himself co-producing with Heartbreaker Mike Campbell.

If the slate of producers wasn’t interesting enough, the songwriters on the album included Bono and the Edge from U2, Elvis Costello, Diane Warren, Albert Hammond, Jeff Lynne and Tom Petty.

Performing on the tracks alongside Orbison was predominantly Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers, alongside performances by Jim Keltner, Al Kooper, George Harrison, Ray Cooper, Bono, Steve Cropper and the Memphis Horns.

It’s a wonder that with so many producers, so many songwriters and so many musicians, that the album sounds so cohesive. It could very well have been an absolute mess. Instead, it’s a great listen that proved that the stars of yesterday could still knock out great work.

Hit: You Got It

Hidden Gem: In The Real World

Rocks In The Attic #988: Various Artists – ‘The Big Lebowski (O.S.T.)’ (1998)

I’ve seen this film, the Coen brothers’ glorious paean to Los Angeles film noir, dozens of times.

But I’ve alway wondered something about that second dream sequence, the one soundtracked by Kenny Rogers and the First Edition, after the Dude gets drugged by Jackie Treehorn.

The Dude enters that dream sequence, in a wonderful wide shot where all the perspectives are askew. He’s dancing crazily, wearing white overalls and a tool belt.

I’ve never understood the significance of the tool belt before. The Dude has no occupation, as he points out several times in the film, so why show him in workman’s clothes?

This time it hit me.

In the previous scene, the Dude spends a good portion of time hammering a piece of wood into the floor, which he uses – unsuccessfully – to barricade the door shut.

The tool belt is simply there because he’s, in his mind, successfully done some DIY that day. It’s remained in his subconscious, just like the guy at the bowling alley who looks like Sadam Hussein and Julianne Moore’s character who reminds him of a Hun.

How wonderful.

As well as being a great movie, its soundtrack is deserving of all its acclaim. Potentially the best collection of needle-drops for a ‘90s film outside of a Tarantino soundtrack, this is chock-full of bangers with nothing you might call obvious.

I’ve definitely heard Dylan’s The Man In Me used in films a lot more since The Big Lebowski, most recently in Kevin Macdonald’s brilliant The Mauritanian from earlier this year. But I get the impression that this was considered a deep cut when it was pulled for this film.

Captain Beefheart, Elvis Costello, Kenny Rogers & The First Edition, Townes Van Zandt, Henry Mancini’s Lujon, the Gypsy Kings doing Hotel California; this soundtrack couldn’t be any cooler if it tried.

Hit: The Man In Me – Bob Dylan

Hidden Gem: Traffic Boom – Piero Piccioni