Rocks In The Attic #524: Herb Alpert & The Tijuana Brass – ‘Greatest Hits’ (1970)

rita524I’ll quite happily rescue a Herb Alpert record from the charity shop, especially if it’s in good condition and it’s a decent album. This is the first (of many) Alpert compilations, collecting the sharper moments from the group’s first five records.

The highlight of course is Spanish Flea, such an oddity and an earworm that can come into your head – to never leave – at any moment. Shopping for mince? In the middle of a job interview? Being questioned by Police over the disappearance of your ex-girlfriend? Here’s a slice of catchy trumpet jazz to take your mind off the pressure of concentrating.

Hit: Spanish Flea

Hidden Gem: America

Rocks In The Attic #523: Albert Lee – ‘Albert Lee’ (1982)

RITA#523.jpgKnown as the ‘guitar player’s guitar player’, Albert Lee might never have found success as a solo performer or in one particular band, but his list of jobs as a sideman and session musician is almost endless.

I first became aware of him at 2002’s Concert For George. It seems like he exists in that world – showcase concerts at venues like the Royal Albert Hall, alongside the likes of percussionist Ray Cooper, and with master of ceremonies Eric Clapton usually organising things.

Despite his Englishness, his fondness for country music adds a transatlantic element to his songwriting. A song like Your Boys could have been performed by any American AOR artist in the mid-80s, and I guess this is why I find his lack of mainstream success such a mystery.

There are a couple of outstanding songs on this record – the aforementioned Your Boys, the opener Sweet Little Lisa, and the smoldering Boulevard (or On The Bourlevard as it’s listed on the record), written by Hank Devito, the pedal steel guitarist in Emmylou Harris’ backing group The Hot Band. The rest of the album isn’t too shabby either. The songs are radio-friendly as well; so perhaps the record company, Polydor, didn’t promote it well enough?

In fact, I’d suggest Boulevard as a great song you’ve never heard…

Hit: Real Wild Child

Hidden Gem: Boulevard

Rocks In The Attic #522: The Beatles – ‘1’ (2000)

rita522Last week, I was lucky enough to see Ron Howard’s Beatles documentary Eight Days A Week – The Touring Years. I look forward to any new release relating to the fab four, but once every couple of years something comes along that gets a little more hype than usual.

Do we need a new documentary charting the Beatles’ experiences touring the UK, the USA, and beyond between 1963 and 1966? Probably not. The subject matter has been covered well enough by the Beatles Anthology TV series and The Beatles: The First U.S. Visit (itself a re-edited version of the Maysles brothers’ 1964 documentary What’s Happening! The Beatles in the USA).

There was more than enough archive footage in Eight Days A Week that I hadn’t seen before to keep it interesting, and my only criticism was that they could have done a little more to bring the still images to life other than bizarrely highlighting the band’s smoking habits by adding animated smoke plumes from their cigarettes.

The thing I was really looking forward to though was the full performance from 1965’s Shea Stadium concert, restored in 4K and presented after the documentary. I’m still holding out that this will see a home media release, but everything I’ve read in relation to Eight Days A Week states that the Shea Stadium film is strictly “in cinemas only”.

The Shea Stadium show is just nuts. The Beatles look awesome, with their military shirts and sheriff badges, obviously having lots of fun. Their stage is a long way from the audience, lit from lights on the edge of the stage where their monitors would usually be in today’s standard concert set-up. The lights add an odd glow to their faces, giving the impression that they’re playing a concert in the pits of hell.

But it’s the audience that just defies belief. Girls screaming themselves faint, being carried away by policemen or propped up by family members and friends. It’s the closest to a true religious experience that music has ever become – without the influence of drugs of course.

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Having seen the film on its first night here in New Zealand, I rushed home to send my review to BBC’s flagship film show – Kermode And Mayo’s Film Review on BBC Radio 5 Live. I got the email through a couple of hours before the show, thinking I may have missed my chance, but luckily I was just in time. From the sounds of it, I raised the ire of the notoriously cranky Mark Kermode, so I can tick that off my list. As Frank Skinner once said, I’ve marked a few commodes in my time.

(And for the record, they were random American celebrities – the appearance of Whoopi Goldberg and Sigourney Weaver were really jarring in the middle of a Beatles documentary, although I admit both were in there for eventually decent reasons).

1 was released in 2000, as an attempt by Apple Records to release a single-disc CD compilation of all of the Beatles’ number one singles (the vinyl release was fortunately split over two discs). Essentially, it’s a re-tread of 1982’s 20 Greatest Hits – the last official release to have different UK and US variations. That record collected each of the number ones in their respective markets, aside from Something which was left off due to running time. 1 combines the two collections, adding Something back in, to stretch the tracklisting out to twenty seven songs. Magic.

Hit: She Loves You


Hidden Gem: The Ballad Of John And Yoko


Rocks In The Attic #521: Fawlty Towers – ‘Fawlty Towers ’ (1980)

RITA#521.jpgI went to see David Brent: Life On The Road the other night. A major disappointment, the film didn’t really go anywhere past its initial premise. In fact, it would have made a much better hour-long TV special.

Even since The Office finished after two series, Ricky Gervais has claimed to be following John Cleese’s model with Fawlty Towers: two six-episode runs, leaving the public wanting more, but killing the show off before standards start to slip. A couple of lukewarm Office Christmas specials muddied the water slightly, but it did look like Gervais had left the show behind ever since.

Unfortunately, the latest appearance of David Brent is a failed attempt to hark back to the early 2000s success of The Office. The absence of Gervais’ writing partner Stephen Merchant could be to blame, but I just think too much water has passed under the bridge. The mockumentary concept – never original, merely forgotten by the time The Office first aired – is now a staple of television comedy. It’s so ubiquitous that shows don’t even bother alluding to the format anymore (see Parks & Recreation, Modern Family), and audiences don’t even question the way that talking head interviews to camera break up the narrative.

The most annoying aspect of Life On The Road was Brent’s high-pitched laugh – a sound used sparingly in the television show, but rolled out seemingly after every other line in the film. Still, the damage that Gervais has done to the Brent legend is nothing next to the awfulness of John Cleese recently rolling out Basil Fawlty for a Specsavers commercial. How the mighty have fallen…

Hit: “Mrs. Richards” Scene 2: Mrs. Richards’ Room

Hidden Gem: “Hotel Inspectors” Scene 2: Dining Room At Lunchtime

Rocks In The Attic #520: Wells Fargo – ‘Scarred And Grey’ (1977)

rita520Sometimes when you come across an album in a stack of clearance records, and you see that it’s fully signed by the band, the fifty cent price-tag more than justifies the risk of taking it home.

Wells Fargo were a country band from the UK club circuit of the 1970s. They’re definitely not to be confused with the American bank or the Zimbabwean revolutionary rock band of the same name that were around in the same decade. This is nice, gentle music. It’s the sort of music that I would hear endlessly on weekends when I would be forced to follow my Mum around craft centres and art shops in the North West of England. The memories make the music sound like wool.

Hit: Southbound

Hidden Gem: Rainy Day Woman

Rocks In The Attic #519: Ennio Morricone – ‘The Untouchables (O.S.T.)’ (1987)

RITA#519aThere are no half-measures in Brian De Palma’s The Untouchables. It is a film of absolutes.

We open on a 1930 Chicago street, where a young girl falls victim to the bombing of a city bar. She’s in the wrong place at the wrong time, but her innocence is purely there to shock us. It is not enough for De Palma to simply suggest that she perishes in the explosion. Instead, the girl is shown holding the bomb the instant before it explodes. De Palma doesn’t give us the opportunity to look away.

Early in the film, Sean Connery’s beat cop Malone asks Elliot Ness about the lengths he’ll go to arrest mob boss Al Capone:

What are you prepared to do? You wanna know how to get Capone? They pull a knife, you pull a gun. He sends one of yours to the hospital, you send one of his to the morgue.

Here, Kevin Costner’s Eliot Ness is presented with absolutes. There is an established order in the city and corruption is rife in the police department. To defeat Capone, he must become the aggressor. To be the victor, protagonist must become antagonist.

After Ness’ first small victory against Capone’s crime empire, there are swift repercussions. At a business dinner with his henchmen, Capone punishes the one he sees as responsible by killing him with a baseball bat. Another absolute, this time to set an example.

This isn’t a film where the heroes don’t suffer consequences of their actions. Four soon becomes three and is then reduced to two.  In perhaps the film’s most emotional scene – of which there are many – Connery’s character, with his dying breath, again asks of Ness ‘What are you prepared to do?’

Even the name of their team – the Untouchables – suggests something absolute. In response, “Touchable” reads Capone’s message daubed in blood at the murder of the team’s accountant.

The Untouchables is also a film of set-pieces: the failed warehouse bust in the dead of night, the successful whiskey bust on the Canadian border, the train station shoot-out, the final showdown with Capone’s assassin on the courthouse roof. The train station sequence is probably the most famous scene in the film – a heavy-handed homage to Sergei Eisenstein’s Battleship Potemkin – featuring a gun battle between Ness, Andy Garcia’s Stone and a number of Capone’s henchmen attempting to protect his bookkeeper. The toppling baby carriage caught in the middle of the action provides the central focus of the exchange; we care as much for the safety of the baby as we do that Ness gets his man. The tension created by Gerald B. Greenberg and Bill Pankow’s editing is almost unbearable. A standard action film would usually score this type of action with a bombastic soundtrack, but Ennio Morricone instead chooses a haunting children’s lullaby to contrast with the danger on screen.

Morricone’s score is full of surprises. The opening credits open with a driving orchestral main theme (The Strength Of The Righteous) contrasted with a solo harmonica – an echo of Morricone’s western soundtracks. The harmonica line follows a different melody and time-structure and can be read as an analogy of Ness’ struggles during the film. He begins as a solitary voice standing up against crime and corruption, just as the harmonica cuts through as a counterpoint to the thunderous main title.

We also hear the sound of opulence in the Al Capone theme, utilised over his scenes in his Lexington Hotel base. The aforementioned Machine Gun Lullaby is supremely affecting, and the two victory themes – Victorious and The Untouchables – find Morricone using the orchestra to soundtrack the rare victories over Capone’s empire.

One criticism of the film is that the soundtrack can occasionally come across as overly-sentimental and mawkish. It holds the hand of the audience, to ensure the correct emotive path is taken. Early in the film, Ness And His Family is used to soundtrack the agent’s home life immediately after we’ve seen the opening scene showing the girl as an innocent victim of the bombing. Morricone uses the score to contrast the horrors of what we’ve just seen with what Ness has to lose – his family, another absolute.

But it is Morricone’s score over Connery’s final scene – Death Theme, and its reprise in Four Friends – that I find the hardest to listen to. Just listening to the record conjures up a great emotional scene between Connery, Costner and Garcia. It’s almost too much to bear. Connery won the Best Supporting Oscar for the film, and most likely for that scene in particular. It was a rightful win; the crowning achievement of a film that doesn’t get the level of praise it deserves.

De Palma’s films are often conflicted. He is often criticised for a cinematic approach of style over substance. The Untouchables melds the two perfectly and absolutely.

Hit: The Strength Of The Righteous (Main Title)

Hidden Gem: Death Theme

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Rocks In The Attic #518: Beastie Boys – ‘Paul’s Boutique’ (1989)

RITA#518aIt’s been a long time coming but I finally have some Beastie Boys in my record collection.

Like most musos, I was shocked to wake up one morning in May 2012 to find out that Adam “MCA” Yauch had died. It’s always a blow when someone so young (47) dies when you’re not expecting them to. With MCA it probably felt like he was even younger, just because the Beasties are eternally stuck in their youth. That morning I reached for my copy of Licensed To Ill before I realised I didn’t have any Beasties on vinyl. Bummer.

I’ve righted that wrong now, with this lovely repress of the Beasties’ second album. As much a Dust Brothers album as a Beastie Boys album, it’s chock-full of samples – about a quarter of a million dollars’ worth in clearing rights. Any album that lifts samples from five Beatles songs (The End, Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (Reprise), When I’m Sixty Four and Back In The U.S.S.R.) on one song (The Sound Of Science) is worth checking out.

The Dust Brothers’ use of sampling is not overbearing either. On Hey Ladies, they use a tiny snippet of The Commodores’ Machine Gun, but not the main hook of the song. Instead they just take a short vamp from the outro of the song, to use as a groove to drive Hey Ladies along. Lionel Ritchie’s former band never sounded so cool.

On breaking the shrinkwrap on this record, I was amazed to find that it has a four-panel gatefold sleeve, to showcase a panoramic version of the album’s cover photo. A wonderful surprise.

Hit: Hey Ladies

Hidden Gem: Shake Your Rump

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