Rocks In The Attic #491: Patti Smith – ‘Horses’ (1975)

RITA#491I always regard Horses as a punk record, but that undermines its importance to the genre. Released in December 1975, it hit stereos nearly a full two years before the Sex Pistols released Never Mind The Bollocks. That would make this pre-punk, or very late-in-the-day proto-punk, sitting on the line between angsty ‘70s singer-songwriter rock and the burgeoning underground club scene in New York City.

It’s a strange record to listen to. It’s definitely a lot more subtle, more literate, than the American punk that would follow it. The one misconception about punk is that the genre is littered with stupid people, but it seems more like it was a breeding ground for the intelligentsia of the times. There are probably high-brow and low-brow components of every musical genre, but punk definitely comes across as sounding low-brow but put together by smart people.

Patti Smith’s music – essentially beat-style poetry put to punkish mid-70s rock guitar rock – definitely belongs on the smarter, more artistic end of the punk spectrum. Johnny Rotten wasn’t a fan, going out of his way to make sure that everybody heard his disapproval of her 1976 London show (he dismissed her as a ‘hippy with a tambourine’). Sneer away, Johnny, sneer away.

Hit: Gloria

Hidden Gem: Free Money

Rocks In The Attic #490: John Lennon – ‘Imagine’ (1971)

RITA#490Post-Beatles album number two finds John hitting his stride as a solo artist. I love his first record, the minimalist John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band; there’s a certain charm to it, but it’s by no means a record for the Beatle-loving masses. Here we find him producing a piece of work as commercial – but still as artistically valid – as anything released by the Beatles from 1965 onwards.

The only sour note on the record is How Do You Sleep?, a nasty attack on McCartney in retaliation for comments he had made in public about John and Yoko. I’ve never heard these comments, nor have I ever deciphered McCartney’s lyrics on Ram, which are supposed to be just as negative.

Still, if you’re going to have a go at somebody, at least be subtle about it. Lennon’s lyrics on How Do You Sleep? just make him out to sound nasty and childish. He even precedes the song by a short blast of an orchestra tuning up, the same idea thought up and used by McCartney on the intro to the title song on Sgt. Pepper’s.

One of the points stressed by Mark Lewisohn in his fantastic Beatles biography, Tune In: The Beatles – All These Years, Vol 1, was that Lennon could be so brutal and nasty in the way he would ridicule others. Usually, it would be people outside his circle of friends who would feel the brunt of his antagonism, but from time to time those close to him would get a earful too. How Do You Sleep? finds him completely unrestrained, doing everything except actually mentioning McCartney by name. The lyrics are so thinly veiled that he might as well have called the song ‘Paul Is A Douchebag’. In fact, a more Beatle-y insult might have been to name it ‘The Wally Was Paul’.

Always the most honest Beatle, Imagine finds John admitting that he doesn’t have all the answers on songs such as How? and Crippled Inside. It’s refreshing to hear such uncertainty from a ‘rock star’, and it’s almost the exact opposite of what you would hear from a global superstar in the twenty first century. It’s hard to imagine somebody as egotistical as Kanye West writing a song like How? Kanye knows everything of course, yet it’s strange how he couldn’t stop that knowledge from preventing his descent into bankruptcy.

One of my favourite moments on Imagine, the closing track Oh Yoko!, was included on the soundtrack to Wes Anderson’s 1998 masterpiece Rushmore. It’s a lovely song, and used to great effect in the film when Max and Herman decide to join forces to win Rosemary’s affections. A song like that shouldn’t work in a film; it’s a love song written for somebody in particular – Yoko Ono, of course – and she’s name-checked repeatedly in the song. It should only really make sense if the love interest in the film is named Yoko.  I’m not sure if the lovely Olivia Williams could pass for Japanese though.

Imagine represents an artistic peak for Lennon. His later albums would find him trying to repeat the success of this record, not least on its (official) follow-up, Mind Games, in 1973. Imagine is a fantastic record, and one of the reasons he never managed to match it is that it’s so bloody good – the curse of perfection.

Hit: Imagine

Hidden Gem: Oh Yoko!

Rocks In The Attic #489: Various Artists – ‘The Incredible World Of James Bond’ (1967)

RITA#489I flew back from Sydney last week. Trying to save a bit of money, I didn’t splash out on the usual airline offerings – a meal, alcohol, movies – and instead opted for the basic package. As it turned out, I didn’t miss the free movies as you could still watch a raft of free documentaries.

I watched a couple of good documentaries on the way out to Sydney five days earlier – Elstree 1976, about the bit-part players in the original Star Wars film, and then to follow on the geek-fest, I Am Your Father, a documentary about Dave Prowse, the actor inside the Darth Vader suit.

So I was happy to sit and watch documentaries on the flight back. This time, I opted for Everything Or Nothing – The Untold Story Of 007. Being a big Bond fan, it’s very rare that I ever find out anything I don’t know about the films. I’ve read a heap of books and consumed all the documentaries and featurettes on the Blu Rays (I now have the box set); everything else you see on TV tends to just be a very general overview of the films for the benefit of casual viewers.

Everything Or Nothing was different though. The documentaries on the Blu Rays are all sanctioned by EON Productions (the documentary takes its name from EON – Everything Or Nothing – Cubby Broccoli and Harry Saltzman’s production company, set up to produce the Bond films), but Everything Or Nothing seems to have been produced independently. So instead of the official viewpoint you commonly get from EON, this was a warts and all retelling of the Bond story.

Interestingly, this meant there was a lot of content around the Ian Fleming / Kevin McClory lawsuits over the novel and film of Thunderball, and Sean Connery’s falling out with Broccoli towards the end of his tenure as an official Bond. Great stuff – and a really enjoyable watch for a lifelong Bond fan.

The Incredible World Of James Bond is a passable early compilation of instrumental Bond material. Some of the LP’s tracks are conducted by Monty Norman and John Barry, which adds an air of authenticity to the proceedings, but then these are cobbled together with renditions by the Leroy Holmes Orchestra. “Who?”, I hear you all shout in unison.

Hit: Bond Back In Action Again – John Barry

Hidden Gem: Jump Up – Monty Norman

Rocks In The Attic #488: Iron Maiden – ‘Killers’ (1981)

RITA#488I saw Maiden in Auckland a few weekends ago. They’re one of the big metal bands I still haven’t seen so I thought I’d put on a black t-shirt and head along. I’ve never been a huge fan of them; they’re a little too much in the realm of puberty and double-denim for me. They did put on a good show though.

Maiden were always a source of ridicule when I was growing up because they were the only band that would actually wear their own band t-shirts on stage. I think it’s pretty sweet for bands to wear other bands’ t-shirts when they’re on stage, you know, as a sign of respect; but to wear your own band’s t-shirt just reeks of narcissism. Surely they wouldn’t still be doing this, I thought as I headed to the arena; but sure enough there was Janick Gers strutting around the stage in a dirty, black Iron Maiden t-shirt. Just him though; damn, I was hoping for a higher score than one out of six. One of the other guitarists Dave Murray usually wears them too, but not on this night.

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The other ridiculous thing about the band, and their contemporaries, is the name of their sub-genre of heavy metal – N.W.O.B.H.M. A ridiculous acronym, standing for New Wave Of British Heavy Metal, this was coined by Sounds journalist Geoff Barton to describe the punkier, more uptempo metal bands that rose to prominence as the ‘70s turned into the ‘80s.

I didn’t really know what to expect from their set-list, but I hardly knew any of the songs – and that’s even with listening to the Best Of The Beast compilation once a year or so since it was released. They rolled out The Trooper, Number Of The Beast and Fear Of The Dark, but there was no Run To The Hills, no Two Minutes To Midnight and no Bring Your Daughter To The Slaughter, their only number one single. Maybe they’re just one of those bands who don’t like to play their hits.

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Fear Of The Dark
is a great song though – my favourite Maiden song by a mile, ever since I saw a video of them paying the sing at Donington in 1992. I was pleased to hear the audience sing along to all the instrumental parts too, just like on the Donington video.

They’re a funny-looking bunch of blokes though, aren’t they? First you have Bruce Dickinson, the literal pilot of the band and recent cancer survivor. The rest of the band weren’t really aware that the ‘80s had ended, all dressed up in their skin-tight studded leather trousers and sneakers, but Bruce was there in cargo pants and a hoodie. Then there’s Steve Harris, the metaphorical pilot of the band, in his long shorts pogoing up and down on the bass.

The band have three lead guitarists – Dave Murray, Janick Gers and Adrian Smith – a bit of a cheat, I think, when most bands of their ilk can get by fine with just two. Murray looks like a melted version of Joni Mitchell, Gers just looks happy to be there, playing the guitar in his Iron Maiden t-shirt, and Smith is really the only one who looks to be dressed in a decade other than the ‘80s, wearing a fashion scarf around his neck, and a bandana around his forehead. Okay, the bandana is very ‘80s, but somehow it made him look a hell of a lot more modern than the rest of the band.

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Rounding out the sextext is drummer Nicko McBrain, a man so frightening he looks like he could share the dressing room with Eddie, the band’s ghoulish mascot. Check out his name – McBrain! Crikey – I would not want to run into him in a dark alley.

Killers was album number two for Maiden, and their last with original vocalist Paul Di’Anno. The band don’t sound complete without Bruce Dickinson’s high-pitched wail and the record sounds strange as a result. Dickinson’s vocals were a point of difference for the band after this album, and Di’Anno’s vocals – in the same register as a lot of other metal singers – just don’t have that same sort of appeal.

I did like the years in the ‘90s between Bruce Dickinson leaving and re-joining the band. They got Wolfsbane singer Blaze Bayley in on vocals. Now if you’ve heard that thing about your porn name being the name of your first pet and your Mother’s maiden name, then Blaze Bayley – albeit with a difference in spelling – is mine. Wow – a porn career, and a bit of moonlighting singing for Iron Maiden too!

Hit: Purgatory

Hidden Gem: Genghis Khan

Rocks In The Attic #487: The Jimi Hendrix Experience – ‘Live At Monterey’ (2007)

RITA#487What a performance! From the moment that Jimi kicks into the electrifying opening guitar riff from Howlin’ Wolf’s Killing Floor to the destruction of western pop music on the Troggs’ Wild Thing, he’s really setting out his stable to American audiences.

I’ve always regarded Hendrix as a British act – two thirds of the Experience were English, and Jimi had to come to London to kick off his solo career. Who knows what would have happened if he’d have turned down Chas Chadler’s offer to go to London? Would he have kept playing as a sideman? Would he have been noticed in some other way? They say that the cream always rises to the top, but there are plenty of examples of people being overlooked completely, or finally noticed by the mainstream when they’re well past their prime.

This was the Experience’s first show on American soil, at what was undoubtedly an important performance. After winning a coin toss to decide who played first, The Who played before Hendix, resulting in Pete Townshend destroying his guitar and Keith Moon kicking over his drum kit. Hendrix and his band had to follow this, and it’s clear that they don’t sound intimidated or nervous. Hendrix would of course upstage the Who, by not only destroying his guitar but by setting fire to it (with the help of some lighter fluid).

I recently saw the Hendrix biopic Jimi: All Is By My Side. I was excited to see it; Jimi’s one of my musical heroes. I had heard that Hendrix’s estate had not authorised the use of any of Jimi’s songs in the film, and this didn’t sound very promising. In the end, I didn’t miss any of Hendrix’s songs (Stevie Nicks’ guitarist Waddy Wachtel – he of the Edge Of Seventeen riff from Bella Donna – does a great Hendrix imitation), André Benjamin was uncannily outstanding as Hendrix, and the film covered enough of the events from that London scene before he broke through.

The problem with the film seemed to be the editing. It really felt like we were watching something that hadn’t been finished. Such a shame really, as it ticked a lot of boxes and failed at the last hurdle in how it was presented. Aw shucks.

Hit: Hey Joe

Hidden Gem: Killing Floor

Rocks In The Attic #486: Various Artists – ‘There’s Music In The Air Vol. 2’ (1976)

RITA#486Qantastic! Fifty cents for this little time capsule, and the record looks unplayed – how could I turn down such a deal?

Quite why this record opens with a boozy rendition of The Stripper is anybody’s guess. Why would you want to listen to that on a commercial airplane? I’d like to think it’s just a random song choice – the rest of the record seems to be just as random – but the cynic in me thinks it might have something to do with being in a captive environment where beautiful women wait on your every need. I’m guessing a man chose the playlist?

Another weird thing is that the third track on the record is Stranger On The Shore, credited to ‘Mr Acker Bilk’, presumably to prevent you from getting it mixed up with the version recorded by ‘Mrs. Acker Bilk’.

The record serves as a marketing tool, to advertise the airline’s futuristic entertainment offerings; alongside photos of people trying on earphones for what looks like the first time ever, the liner notes proudly point out that ‘On the mighty Qantas 747B you have a choice of seven channels of sound.’ Seven! How times have changed.

I suffer a little from a fear of flying. I’ve always been a bit of a nervous flyer, but as long as there’s no turbulence I’m usually fine. In fact I end up really enjoying it. I’ll be flying back from Sydney later today (Air New Zealand-tastic!), after a long weekend.

The last time I flew to Sydney, the plane trip in both directions was one of my highlights (and that’s not to say I didn’t have a good time in Sydney itself – I just don’t fly very often so I end up enjoying it when I do). I watched the Brian Wilson biopic Love And Mercy on the way out, and Guy Ritchie’s harmless but enjoyable Man From U.N.C.L.E., with a couple of beers on the way back.

There was never any stripping by the air stewardesses though; perhaps you only get that on Qantas?

Hit: Stranger On The Shore

Hidden Gem: Wheels, Cha Cha

Rocks In The Attic #485: Ryuichi Sakamoto – ‘Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence’ (1983)

RITA#485I really need more Japanese music in my collection. The two pieces I have – this and Tomoyasu Hotei’s Battle Without Honor Or Humanity (from the soundtrack to Kill Bill Vol. 1) – kick arse and leave me wanting more. I don’t know if it’s all as good as this; Yoko Ono’s oeuvre makes me think not, but I’d like to find out for myself.

Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence is perhaps my favourite David Bowie film; or at least my favourite where he has a substantial role. I’ve visited one of the locations in the film too. There’s a scene where he’s been reprimanded by a Japanese officer sat at a desk, near the front end of the film I think. It was filmed in Auckland’s Winter Gardens – I guess because of its vaguely Asian architecture – a place we visit every now and then to look at exotic plants and flowers.

One of the things I like about ‘80s film soundtracks is their use of synths and keyboards – as long as they’re used well. Where ‘50s, ‘60s and ‘70s soundtracks were mainly restricted to strings and brass, synths and keyboards really came to the fore in the late ‘70 and throughout the 1980s. Vangelis is the obvious thought here, but there are many others – David Dundas and Rick Wentworth’s score for Withnail & I and John Carpenter’s Escape From New York are a couple of specific examples, but anything touched by Tangerine Dream, Georgio Moroder or Harold Faltermeyer is a sure fire bet.

Of course synths can be bad. In the wrong hands, they can be terrible. There does seem to be a clear correlation between the quality of music dipping in the 1980s, and the proliferation of synths and keyboards. Any true musician knows how they can be used a crutch for somebody who isn’t necessarily musically skilled, and the ‘80s pop charts were full of such ‘artists’. Take a singer and a keyboard player, apply a thin layer of talent, a thick slice of cheese, and apply a liberal helping of Stock, Aitken and Waterman.

Hit: Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence

Hidden Gem: Forbidden Colours