Rocks In The Attic #484: Shirley Bassey – ‘Impossible Dreams’ (1970)

RITA#484Good old Shirley. I’ve always had a soft spot for her because of the James Bond connection, but her other stuff is just as enjoyable. Take Big Spender for example – it may be one of the cheesiest songs ever recorded, fodder for strippers and not much else, but she really belts it out. Her performance really justifies it being a well-known song, and I just love that overlooked middle-eight (‘Wouldn’t you like to have fun? Fun? Fun?’) that takes the song somewhere else entirely.

If I had to choose which was my favourite Bond theme by Bassey, I’d have to go for Diamonds Are Forever. Goldfinger’s too obvious – and well overplayed – and while I like the mellow feel of Moonraker, it does sound a bit Love Boat for my tastes.

I got to see Bassey play a medley of her three Bond themes when she played Glastonbury in 2007; my last one before we left for New Zealand. As good as it was to see her perform that Bond medley, it was horrifically put together; crow-barred together in fact.

You always want songs to segue into each other naturally in a medley, but Bassey’s composer had seemingly stuck them together with no thought about rhythm or key. So you had ‘This heart is cold…’ from Goldfinger stop on a dime, before the ‘Where are you?’ opening section from Moonraker seemingly came out of nowhere, and then an even worse join into the middle-eight from Diamonds Are Forever.

The Arctic Monkeys had paid tribute during their headlining slot the night before, when they covered Diamonds Are Forever, and it was funny to see her on stage being fed the line “Arctic Monkeys – that’s how you do it” without her actually knowing who or what she was talking about.

Hit: Big Spender

Hidden Gem: If You Go Away

Rocks In The Attic #482: Penguin Cafe Orchestra – ‘Penguin Cafe Orchestra’ (1981)

RITA#483This reminds me of an old girlfriend. She had four albums at her house on Leeds Road in Huddersfield: Ladies And Gentlemen – The Best Of George Michael, a cassette of Blur’s The Great Escape, Tracy Chapman’s debut, and finally this, the second Penguin Cafe Orchestra album.

I notice that I now own three of those albums. I can’t ever see myself owning the George Michael compilation, but you never know. It hasn’t ever been released on vinyl, yet. Maybe one day.

I remember once lying in her bed one day, mid-morning, listening to music. The doorbell went downstairs, and she got out of bed and stood at the top of the stairs. “Oh, it’s just Dad,” she said as she started to walk down the stairs.

I panicked. Here I am, in my birthday suit, lying in her bed; his daughter’s bed. I hadn’t met him before – we’d only been seeing each other for a couple of weeks at that stage – and I didn’t particularly want to meet him under these circumstances.

What do I do? Doesn’t this happen all the time on television and in films? Do I hide under the bed? Hide in the wardrobe? Jump out the window? No, that would be worse. A naked man with broken legs lying on the pavement is harder to explain.

I sat up in bed, frozen in fear. A rabbit caught in headlights. Do I stay where I am, and resign myself to shaking his hand while I have the security of a duvet to cover myself? Or do I risk getting out of bed and putting my clothes on before he has a chance to climb the stairs and open the door?

In the end, I stayed frozen solid – possibly with a sub-conscious hope that he had the eyesight of a Tyrannosaurus Rex, and wouldn’t be able to spot me if I stayed absolutely still.

Fee-fi-fo-fum, I smell the blood of an Englishman. Be he alive, or be he dead, I’ll grind his bones to make my bread.

She came back upstairs a few minutes – although it felt like a few hours – later, without her father. He had come around to drop off an LPG gas bottle, and she had somehow managed to persuade him not to come in.

A wave of relief washed over me. She pressed play on the Penguin Cafe Orchestra CD and got back into bed.

Hit: Telephone And Rubber Band

Hidden Gem: Yodel 1

Rocks In The Attic #482: Aerosmith – ‘Live At Paul’s Mall, Boston’ (2015)

RITA#482I love this record. It’s perhaps my favourite bootleg; I’ve owned a CD copy of it for years before finally finding it on vinyl a few weeks ago. Dating back to April 1973 (the sleeve incorrectly dates it to March), when the band were touring in support of their first album, it’s the holy grail of live performances for Aerosmith fans.

Excerpts from the show first appeared officially on 1978’s Live! Bootleg, Columbia Records’ attempt at putting a live album in the marketplace to battle against all of the unofficial bootleg performances – including this one – that were switching hands by the late ‘70s.

Most of Live! Bootleg is stadium rock, together with a couple of club performances, but the real highlight is the two tracks from the Paul’s Mall performance – Jimmy Reed’s I Ain’t Got You and James Brown’s Mother Popcorn.

It might seem odd that they’d play these two songs while touring their first album – and perhaps odder still that they’d include the two tracks on an official live album – but there’s method in the madness.

I Ain’t Got You was written Calvin Carter, a songwriter at Vee Jay Records, one of the labels that initially signed the Beatles before Capitol stepped up to the plate. The song was released as a single by both Jimmy Reed and Billy Boy Arnold in 1955, but it was the Yardbird’s 1964 cover of the song (as a b-side to their Good Morning Little Schoolgirl single) that interested Aerosmith.

The Yardbirds were one of the band’s shared influences when they formed in 1970, and it’s nice to see that they were still paying songs from their heroes three years later (they would even record a cover of Think About It on 1979’s Night In The Ruts).

The James Brown cover also betrays the band’s early influences. Prior to joining the band as their stalwart drummer, Joey Kramer was the drummer of a Meters-style funk band. The only white guy in a band full of black funk musicians, his really must have been worth his shit. Aerosmith would of course dabble in funk throughout the ‘70s, on tracks like Walk This Way and Last Child, and their cover of James Brown’s 1969 funk workout should be viewed as an early forerunner of these songs.

The only problem with this bootleg is that it splits the two songs – one appears at the end of side one, the other at the beginning of side two – and presents them in the opposite order in which they were recorded (and presented on Live! Bootleg), presumably for space reasons. As a result, the Kramer kick-drum / Steven Tyler scat segue between the two songs is ruined. Bloody bootleggers, eh?

The rest of the performance is just as strong, with the band cruising through the majority of their first album, and even providing a blast through Tiny Bradshaw / Johnny Burnette’s Train Kept A-Rollin’, which they would record for 1974’s Get Your Wings – again another song that was popularised by the Yardbirds in the 1960s.

Hit: Walking The Dog

Hidden Gem: Mother Popcorn

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Rocks In The Attic #481: The Steve Miller Band – ‘Book of Dreams’ (1977)

RITA#481jpgUp to last week, I wouldn’t have known Steve Miller if he had passed me in the street. He’s one of those people I’ve just never seen interviewed (as far as I can remember), and his music is just far enough outside of the mainstream that you don’t see him regularly on the likes of MTV or in the music magazines. All in all, I get the impression that he likes his anonymity.

I love his music though; him and his older brother Glenn (that’s a joke, by the way; keep up). Even Steve’s really early stuff, like 1968’s Living In The USA is worth checking out – he definitely hit the ground running. Everybody loves The Joker (or at least everybody seems to have loved it ever since Levi’s used it for an advertising campaign in 1990). Take The Money And Run, Fly Like An Eagle, Jet Airliner – just awesome; and even the later cheese like Abracadabra can be happily put in the guilty pleasures pile.

But then, bursting out of his cloud of anonymity last week, after being inducted into the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame, he shows his true colours. Half of his complaints in regards to the Hall Of Fame process and the music business in general seemed to be fair enough – and probably needed to be said – but his attitude and treatment of the Black Keys was just disgusting. A severe case of Grumpy Old Man syndrome.

Looking very uncomfortable in a pair of matching leather jackets, Dan Auerbach and Patrick Carney gave a lovely speech to induct Miller, but ended up leaving the venue half-way through his set. According to Auerbach, Miller didn’t even know who they were when they were introduced backstage (after the event he complained about the aspect of not being able to choose who inducts you) and was just unpleasant to them throughout the evening.

I don’t think those outside of the USA truly understand the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame process. It does seem to be a very American thing. Most of the coverage of it seems to be from commentators amazed at how certain acts are still to be inducted, decades after their commercial peak. I applaud Miller for holding the institution up to the light, but I just can’t get over that Black Keys thing.

I’m not a huge fan of the Black Keys. In my eyes they sold out a long time ago, but Miller’s attitude seems to stem from reverse ageism – disrespecting them for being a younger band. What a battler.

Hit: Jet Airliner

Hidden Gem: Threshold

Write Moo A Letter (My Top-10 Aerosmith Songs)

A few weeks ago my good friend Moo emailed me out of the blue and asked me to list my top ten Aerosmith songs. I nearly spat out my tea. You see, Moo doesn’t like Aerosmith. In fact, that’s the understatement of the twenty first century. Out of all the bands in the world that Moo likes to pour scorn on, it’s Aerosmith. He doesn’t like to just pour scorn on them though, opting instead to apply the scorn with a high-pressure hose.

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There are plenty of reasons for his disapproval of course. Aerosmith are now a terrible band (Moo would say they always have been), they’ve pissed all over their legacy (he’d ask ‘what legacy?’) and in Steven Tyler the band are fronted by one of the most annoying men in the history of music (no argument there). The main reason he targets them though is that they’re my favourite band. A healthy friendship is all about holding your friend’s loves up to the light. Checks and balances and all that. It provides good banter too.

Of course, when it comes to criticism of Aerosmith, I have a hide as tough as a rhinoceros. I’ve written  about my love for them before, and there’s no stopping that now. I’m too old to change my ways – and anyway, for me the good easily outweighs the bad, even if the ‘bad’ gets progressively more challenging every year. Only the other day I heard that Tyler and co hinted at a farewell tour in 2017. Was I sad to hear the news? No, just like finding out your abusive parent was hit by a bus, it’ll be nice for them to go away to a place where they can’t do any more harm. And anyway, the news of Steven Tyler’s forthcoming country album was the thing that really filled me with dread.

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Moo looks for Aerosmith news in the French newspapers

So Moo was curious I guess, maybe wanting to know what makes me tick, and a woeful list in the Guardian prompted him to ask me for mine. He promised to make a Spotify playlist of the offending tracks, give it a fair listen and report back accordingly.

So the challenge: boil down my love of Aerosmith into just ten songs, and put together a list of tracks that Moo won’t turn up his nose to; an impossible feat. Aerosmith’s songs are in my DNA, my favourites change on a weekly basis, and they’d change drastically depending on who was asking.

I decided from the start to avoid the ‘big three’ – Dream On, Walk This Way and Sweet Emotion. I didn’t want to waste my precious ten choices on songs that everybody knows (even though Moo claimed to have never heard Dream On before). The other important thing for me was to draw heavily from the pre-Geffen years. I can find things I like about the Geffen years and beyond, but I think most true Aerosmith fans know that those years pale in comparison to the magic that was put down to tape in the 1970s.

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First of all, my ten and my reasons behind my choices:

1. Rattlesnake Shake (Live) (Pandora’s Box, 1991 – recording from 1971)

I chose this as it’s a great example of where the band came from. Early Fleetwood Mac extended into a Yardbirds-style jam. The guitar work-out that takes up the second portion of the song is awesome.

2. Lord Of The Thighs (Get Your Wings, 1974)

After the under-produced and somewhat workaday feel of their first album, this is possibly the first real example of the band showing their cards. Of course it helps to have a decent producer on board in the form of ‘sixth-Aero’ Jack Douglas.

3. Seasons Of Wither (Get Your Wings, 1974)

Just bloody lovely. I refuse to classify this as a power ballad – there’s more to it than that – and I would offer that this is the band’s first successful attempt at creating an otherness that is usually absent from their straight-ahead rockers and slower ballads.

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How Joe Perry could see anything at all in the mid-’70s is a complete mystery

4. Adam’s Apple (Toys In The Attic, 1975)

A sick guitar riff. By this time, it feels like Joe Perry could come up with a riff – no matter how backwards it sounds – and the band would just effortlessly bring it to life. The dictionary definition of a deep cut, the song did eventually enjoy a brief moment in the spotlight on 1988’s Gems compilation and an even sicker live version on 1991’s Pandora’s Box.

5. No More No More(Toys In The Attic, 1975)

A sunny tale of life on the road in a rock and roll band, you can almost smell the dusty tour-bus and imagine the crumbling walls of the cheap motels. The band would have been travelling more comfortably and staying at a better class of accommodation after their stratospheric rise in the wake of this album. No matter where I am, no matter what time of day it is, the sun always shines in my mind when I play this song.

6. Last Child (Rocks, 1976)

A great example of the band’s funk-inspired beginnings (drummer Joey Kramer’s gig prior to joining the band was in a Meters-style funk outfit). It definitely sounds like white man’s funk though. You could dance to it, but it might give you a headache if you over-think it.

7. Sick As A Dog (Rocks, 1976)

From the same album, Sick As A Dog is the jewel in the crown on Rocks. This rocker features an instrumental break half way through, giving the band the chance to switch instruments. The song starts off with Joe Perry on bass and Tom Hamilton on rhythm guitar. Then in the break, Steven Tyler takes over on bass while Perry resumes guitar duties for the end solo. Awesome.

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Breaking down walls with Run DMC

8. Krawhitham(Pandora’s Box, 1991 – recording from 1977)

This one’s an unreleased instrumental track written and played by the ‘other three’ – Joey Kramer, Brad Whitfordand Tom Hamilton – while they were waiting, bored, for Tyler and Perry to turn up to the studio. It’s my jam, to use the common parlance of the time.

9. Chiquita (Night In The Ruts, 1979)

This was being recorded just as Joe Perry walked out of the band in 1979. In his absence, Tyler took what Perry had intended to be a guitar line and turned it into a great horn part, reminiscent of the Who’s 5.15, or the Beatles’ Savoy Truffle.

10. Monkey On My Back (Pump, 1989)

This is the only post-sobriety one I’ve bothered to include. There are good songs from this period, but they’re definitely fewer and farther between. And it doesn’t make sense to include more at the expense of a song from their golden period. The Geffen years weirdly correlate with the advent of compact discs and as a result everything sounds a little too cold and clinical from here on in.

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Vini and Moo singing along to some Aerosmith classics


I flicked off the email to Moo and waited for the criticism to come back. It didn’t take long. Over to Moo…

Rattlesnake Shake

“OK, I suppose. Like a million other early ‘70s bands. Nice Eddie Vedder-ish vocals though. I dispute the awesomeness of the jam at the end. It went on for far too long. At one point I thought it was never going to end.”

Lord Of The Thighs

“This is pretty good, the guitar riff and piano line sound quite sinister. Like something from a gritty ‘70s cop film. Although I’m impressed that they can sing the lyrics without laughing.”

Aero3Seasons Of Wither

“This isn’t too bad. Almost as good as early Boston.”

Adam’s Apple

“This is much better. Although I’d stop short of saying it’s good.”

No More No More

“At this point, I start to think that I just won’t like them. There’s nothing wrong with this exactly, it’s just dull.”

Last Child

“Is it me or does this sound like Hit Me With Your Rhythm Stick? But this is the best so far; really good song.”

Sick As A Dog

“This is not very good.”

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Krawitham

“Not bad, but it feels like a song with the singing missing, which I guess is what it is.”

Chiquita

“This is pretty good. Nice horns as you say. It shows that they had listened to punk and (almost) understood it.”

Monkey On My Back

*listens to the first half then presses skip*

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With the benefit of hindsight, maybe I should have chosen different songs? I did think about including Aerosmith’s live cover of James Brown’s Mother Popcorn from 1978’s Live! Bootleg. It’s a funky gem, but the eleven-minute track includes a ‘hidden’ version of Draw The Line which might have tested his patience even further.

I also toyed with the idea of including the Live! Bootleg version of Walk This Way. Yes, everybody and their grandmother might have heard the song, but this version has Joe Perry playing the main riff through the talk-box effect (famous for its appearance on the intro to Sweet Emotion). It could have been very different if they had applied this guitar effect to all of their songs from this point onwards – Peter Frampton eat your heart out – but hearing it on this track just sounds weirdly out of place; a curio for sure.

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The band should be applauded for sticking with their blind clothes designer

Well, you can’t please all the people all the time, can you? I once gave Moo a spare copy of AC/DC’s Powerage, which turned him onto the mighty ‘DC in a way I could never have imagined. It’s a shame that a similar thing isn’t going to happen here. Perhaps Moo is hardwired to like bad Aerosmith only? I could have easily put together a Top 10 Worst Aerosmith song list, but I wouldn’t want to put him through this. Maybe I should have bought him a copy of Just Push Play and be done with it.

Ah, fuck it. For Moo it really is just a case of No More, No More.

For another ‘alternative best of Aerosmith playlist’ check out this post on the Every Record Tells A Story blog , a great site put together by fellow Aero-head Steve Carr.

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The band take a break in the breakfast nook of the Campbell household

Rocks In The Attic #480: Tin Machine – ‘Tin Machine’ (1989)

RITA#480jpgThat blonde guy in this band sure looks a lot like David Bowie…

I really hope that there isn’t going to be a reappraisal of Bowie’s sub-par efforts in the wake of the great man’s demise. I think we can all agree that Bowie’s post-Let’s Dance albums in the 1980s (Tonight and Never Let Me Down) were lame ducks. I don’t need a string of shiny reissues to try and convince me otherwise.

The same goes for Tin Machine. It was a nice idea, to revert back to a rock and roll band in response to those terrible pop albums. But Bowie could at least have written some decent tunes. 1989 was the same year that Nirvana offered a similar noisy record in Bleach, but Tin Machine sounds like fake plastic punk in comparison. The record was influenced by Sonic Youth, but ended up sounding like Sonic Middle-Age.

Another reason behind the ill-fated project was to distance Bowie from his record label, EMI. Their relationship had reached breaking point by this time. As a result this was the last Bowie release to appear on EMI; the second Tin Machine album and all future original projects would appear on other labels. It could have backfired hugely though, if the record had been a hit; hence the lack of decent material. Bowie surely wasn’t going to let this succeed.

It’s a shame really. Guitarist Reeves Gabrels is a monster of a guitarist, and the Sales brothers on bass and drums are obviously a decent rhythm section. And of course that blonde chap on vocals can definitely sing. I take the record out for a spin once a year or so, but it doesn’t get any better sadly.

Hit: Heaven’s In Here

Hidden Gem: Working Class Hero

Rocks In The Attic #479: Jack Roberts – ‘Piano At Waitangi’ (1974)

RITA#479There must have been a bit of artistic drought in the mid-70s in provincial New Zealand. It’s the only way I can understand how an aging pianist at a resort hotel in the Bay Of Islands could have landed a record deal, with Pye Records no less.

It sounds like something out of a film. Mild-mannered Jack Roberts, sat there playing piano schmaltz to honeymooning couples on a wet Tuesday night in June, looks up to see a record company executive waiting to shake his hand. He’s there on a holiday with his estranged wife, making one last bid at saving their marriage. Mr. Bigwig introduces himself, and in an attempt to show-off to his wife, he asks the night’s entertainment what he thinks about making a record.

RITA#479aOr something like that.

Good on Jack though.

The thing I like the best about this record is the cover photos of the Waitangi Resort Hotel and its environs. Alongside the obligatory photos of Jack next to the piano, there are seven photos of a young couple enjoying the hotel and its facilities. It’s the same couple in each photo, which makes it feel like they’re the hotel’s only residents. Only a distant barman in one of the shots gives the impression that they’re not completely alone in this Overlook Hotel nightmare. I wonder who they are. Maybe it’s the guy from Pye records and his wife?

Hit: Alfie

Hidden Gem: Lara’s Theme