Rocks In The Attic #757: Carlo Maria Cordio – ‘Absurd (O.S.T.)’ (1981)

RITA#757Absurd is an Italian horror film from 1981, originally released as Rosso Sangue (the literal translation being Red Blood) and directed by Joe D’Amato. It has also been released under the titles Anthropophagus 2Zombie 6: Monster HunterHorrible and The Grim Reaper 2, so take your pick really and call it whatever you want.

I have to admit, it’s one of the very few soundtracks in my collection I bought before seeing the film. There’s just something about an LP sleeve featuring a madman holding his intestines – AND HIS INTESTINES ARE EMBOSSED ON THE COVER, SPELLING OUT THE NAME OF THE FILM – that I just had to have.

RITA#757aI finally got around to watching the film last week. As with the majority of films on the UK’s video nasty list, it’s unbelievably awful. The acting is sub-standard, the dialogue is laughable, the English-language dub is handled terribly, and the whole thing just left me wanting less.

The film’s only saving grace – aside from Wes Benscoter’s awesome artwork – is the music score by Carlo Maria Cordio. Sounding almost like it could have been recorded by Goblin, or a Meddle / Obscured By Clouds­-era Pink Floyd, it’s a lovely slice of prog-rock. The soundtrack does sound very repetitive though. I’m pretty sure some very similar sounding cues are repeated, in Death Waltz Records’ attempts to ensure that all of the film’s music is captured; I would have been happy with a single disc rather than a double LP.

Hit: Seq 1

Hidden Gem: Seq 8

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Rocks In The Attic #756: Various Artists – ‘Stax Does The Beatles’ (2008)

RITA#756This year’s Record Store Day was an embarrassment of riches. Not only did it deliver a bunch of sought-after soundtracks, but the funk and soul fan in me was well looked after too.

First released digitally back in 2008, a now double-LP of Stax artists doing Beatles covers sounds like something I’d make up in my dreams. Two of my favourite musical pillars colliding, the only thing that would beat this would be the unearthing of a secret LP of Stax songs recorded by the Fab Four themselves between Revolver and Sgt. Pepper’s. I’ll keep dreaming about that one.

In fact, it doesn’t take much to imagine what Stax Does The Beatles sounds like. Much of the material collected here is available on the individual Stax releases they’re culled from, with only one or two hard to find tracks included. Probably the most famous cover, Otis Redding’s Day Tripper, is presented as an alternate take that’s just as rocking as the well-known version found on his Dictionary Of Soul from 1966. Another gem is a cover of And I Love Her, a b-side by Reggie Milner who only recorded two singles for Stax.

RITA#756aStax house-band Booker T. & The M.G.s  – once going so far as to record an entire LP in homage to the Beatles – turn in the highest number of performances on the album, responsible for four of its fifteen tracks (five if you include guitarist Steve Cropper’s solo effort of With A Little Help From My Friends, the title-track of his 1969 album).

The album’s liner notes make reference to the little-known fact that Brian Epstein once scouted the Stax studios as a potential place to record the Beatles. His visit to Memphis in March 1966 ultimately led to nothing – Epstein abandoned the idea due to fears over security – and the resulting album, 1966’s Revolver, was recorded back at Abbey Road like the majority of their work. It sounds like a match made in heaven though. “Who knows what it would have sounded like had we recorded it at Stax,” ponders Cropper.  Paul McCartney’s soulful Got To Get You Into My Life, covered here by Booker T. & The M.G.s, remains Revolver’s only glimpse of how close the Beatles came to recording a soul and R&B-influenced album in 1966.

The liner notes do make a glaring omission, however. Of all the records in the world, this really was the place to mention that John Lennon used to jokingly refer to the Stax house-band as Book-A-Table & The Maitre-D’s.

Hit: Day Tripper (Alternate Take) – Otis Redding

Hidden Gem: Something – Isaac Hayes

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Rocks In The Attic #755: Lynyrd Skynyrd – ‘(Pronounced ‘lĕh-‘nérd ‘skin-‘nérd)’ (1973)

Skynyrd’RITA#755s tragic story is just unbelievably sad. Five records in, with the band still very much in their ascension, a plane crash rips out the nucleus of the group. They’ve limped on ever since, gaining barely more respect than a tribute band, but the glory years were definitely a long time ago. With guitarist Ed King’s death last October, only one of the seven original band members pictured here, guitarist Gary Rossington, remains alive to tell the tale.

In just four short years, the band managed to accomplish a great deal. And they hit the ground running too. Debut album (Pronounced ‘lĕh-‘nérd ‘skin-‘nérd) from 1973 is a gem of a hard-rock record. Detractors may pigeon-hole it as dumb, sub-Allman Brothers southern rock, but it’s much more than that.

RITA#755aAside from Ronnie Van Zant’s lyrics, and the triple-guitar threat of King, Rossington and Allen Collins, the real star of the show is Dylan alumn Al Kooper, whose production elevates the band to something else. The phased drum intro to album opener I Ain’t The One sets a groove that flows through the record. The Allman Brothers were never this funky. And what sort of band comes pre-packaged with an anthem like Free Bird on their first release?

Last year’s documentary, If I Leave Here Tomorrow: A Film About Lynyrd Skynyrd, offers a good insight into the short-lived glory days of the band. Pieced together with archival footage and interviews alongside talking heads from surviving members, the film is as heartbreaking as you would expect, particularly when the survivors recount the circumstances involving the plane crash.

The doomed 30-year old Convair CV-240 had previously struggled to complete an earlier flight, and members of the band had joked about the flames they had seen shooting out of its ‘spluttering’ engine. They cautiously stepped aboard the flight from South Carolina to Louisiana on October 20th, 1977. With one engine malfunctioning, and the resulting abnormal fuel consumption, the pilots didn’t notice that the plane was running out of fuel.

RITA#755bAttempting to make an emergency landing, the pilots brought the plane down in a swamp just 300 yards short of the small, rural airstrip they were aiming for. Guitarist Gary Rossington remembers the increasing sound of the plane skimming the treetops for 100 yards, before the plane hit the ground.

Lead singer Ronnie Van Zant, guitarist Steve Gaines, his backup-singing sister Cassie Gaines, the band’s road manager Dean Kilpatrick, pilot Walter McCreary and co-pilot William Gray all perished in the crash. ‘Crew inattention to fuel supply’ was ultimately determined to be the cause of the crash, according to the National Transportation Safety Board.

Hit: Free Bird

Hidden Gem: I Ain’t The One

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Rocks In The Attic #754: George Harrison – ‘Cloud Nine’ (1987)

RITA#754Imagine if George Harrison, Eric Clapton, Elton John, Ringo Starr and Jeff Lynne had got together and formed a band, maybe recorded an album together. What a project that would have been! Well imagine no more, as it did happen, in the form of this, George’s eleventh and final (in his lifetime) studio album from 1987.

The stars were definitely aligning around George around this time. The players on this album attest to the strength of this; neither of them needed the work. And it wasn’t the only supergroup that George would play with before the decade was out. A year later he and Jeff Lynne would form the Traveling Wilburys with Bob Dylan, Tom Petty and Roy Orbison – itself the result of a need to record a b-side for a Cloud Nine single.

In fact, it’s Jeff Lynne who I see as the unsung hero behind these two projects. His production is the reason Cloud Nine sounds so focused, compared to some of George’s more meandering efforts. It sounds upbeat and now, mainly thanks to that big drum sound – something he would apply again to Ringo’s drums ten years later on the Beatles’ ‘reunion’ singles, Free As A Bird and Real Love. Lynne would apply the same formula to Roy Orbison’s Mystery Girl and Tom Petty’s Full Moon Fever in 1989, before pulling Paul McCartney back on creative track with 1996’s Flaming Pie.

It’s sad that George didn’t release any more studio albums after this, before he died in 2002. Aside from working on the Beatles’ Anthology project, I guess he was happy just to tinker around in his garden, and bring up his son, Dhani.

Speaking of Dhani, I was happy to see his name credited as the composer of HBO’s recent documentary The Case Against Adnan Syed.  Alongside his writing partner, Paul Hicks, he’s been working as a composer for films and TV shows since 2013. Given the soundtrack success of partnerships Nick Cave & Warren Ellis, and Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross, it’s more than likely that we’ll hear more from Harrison and Hicks in the near future.

Hit: Got My Mind Set On You

Hidden Gem: Fish On The Sand

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Rocks In The Attic #753: Led Zeppelin – ‘In Through The Out Door’ (1979)

RITA#753I’ve just finished the new Led Zeppelin book, recently released to mark the band’s 50th anniversary. A coffee-table book the size of a small coffee-table, it features heaps of unseen photographs as it charts the bands from their early days at the end of the ‘60s to their reunion show at the O2 in 2007.

Put together with the same care and attention as the similarly monolithic Jimmy Page book from 2010, it’s good for a quick glance while you’re sat on the toilet, but I don’t know why anybody would stump up the cash required to buy these massive tomes. I borrowed both from my local library.

RITA#753aWell, I tried to borrow the recent one from my library, but was heavily delayed by the usual lack of common sense of civil servants. Having ordered the book months before it was released, I finally got an email notification that the book was now ready to collect. I looked at the date: didn’t the library close today for a month of renovations?

I fired an email back. ‘Where can I pick up the book from? Surely it wasn’t delivered to a closed library.’

‘The book was delivered to the library on Saturday’, came the reply.

‘But you didn’t email me until the following Monday, after the library had closed?’

‘Yes, the system only sends out those emails from Monday to Friday.’

I guess you get what you pay for. A month later, I finally got my hands on it, from the freshly carpeted library.

One thing the book made me do was to revisit In Through The Out Door, probably the Zeppelin album I listen to the least (alongside Coda). Both are well worth a listen, but fall extremely short of the high standards set by the rest of the band’s back catalogue.

I’ve always liked certain aspects of In Through The Out Door – the drone of In The Evening, the funk of South Bound Suarez, the 8-bit computer game music breakdown halfway through Carouselambra – but the classical feel of All My Love, and the overall keyboard-heavy instrumentation across the record make it almost indistinguishable from earlier Led Zeppelin. If studio album number eight sounded this different, I hate to imagine what their ninth would have been like, had the band not lost John Bonham.

RITA#753bOne thing I’ve always liked is the cover design. A sepia image of a man sat at a dusty bar, with a series of alternate covers depicting the viewpoints of the bar’s other patrons. And if that wasn’t oblique enough, the album was packaged with a paper bag as an outer sleeve. The inner sleeve also features a line drawing, which if wet with water would become permanently coloured; but I’ve never been brave enough to test this out on my original pressing.

I was such a Zeppelin fiend throughout my teens, I would have given my right arm to listen to some of the unreleased tracks and alternate versions that have subsequently come out over the last decade of reissues. I’ve only dipped my toe into them, as I fear they will be the final ‘new material’ we will get from the band, and I don’t want to consume them too quickly (in much the same way as I have an unwatched DVD of To Catch A Thief, the last of Hitchcocks’s golden period films I haven’t seen).

I’ll get around to all of those unreleased tracks one day. And weirdly, despite them being my least favourite albums by the band from their initial run, it’s the bonus stuff from In Through The Out Door and Coda that I look forward to hearing the most.

Hit: All My Love

Hidden Gem: Carouselambra

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Rocks In The Attic #752: Various Artists – ‘Cruising (O.S.T.)’ (1980)

Cruising-Gatefold-FINAL-1024What was Exorcist­-director William Friedkin doing in a hardcore gay bar, in the middle of the night, dressed only in a jockstrap, socks and shoes?

Let’s start at the beginning.

In 1977, Friedkin was one of the most successful film directors of the decade. 1971’s The French Connection earned him a Best Director Oscar, and he was nominated for the same award for 1973’s The Exorcist. 1977’s Sorcerer, a remake of 1953’s The Wages Of Fear, firmly established him as an exciting renegade director who didn’t play by the rules, and who switched genres for each film.

RITA#752aLooking for his next project, Friedkin originally turned down a film adaptation of the novel Cruising by New York Times reporter Gerald Walker, first published in 1970. Telling the story of a New York City cop working undercover to find a serial killer in the gay S&M clubs of Greenwich Village, Friedkin found it outdated and difficult to connect to.  He believed the gay scene had changed tenfold since the book’s release, and was now far edgier and more complex.

Friedkin then started to see news reports about a string of unsolved murders around the S&M clubs in the West Side of New York. Over the next two years, plastic bags containing body parts were found floating in the Hudson River.

In 1979, Friedkin read a newspaper headline claiming that the murderer had been caught. Next to the article was a photograph of the suspect, a man he recognised. Paul Bateson, a 39-year old former radiology technician, was ultimately found guilty of murdering journalist Addison Verrill, a regular at the Mineshaft, a popular leather bar. Bateson was sentenced to 20 years in prison, and although he boasted about being responsible for the ‘bag murders’, he was never officially charged for those killings.

RITA#752bFriedkin had recognised Bateson from a scene during the filming of The Exorcist in 1972. In an attempt to explain her daughter’s strange behaviour, Chris MacNeil agrees for Regan to undergo an invasive medical procedure called a cerebral angiography. The scene is extremely disturbing, and just as unsettling as the film’s later horror scenes. The murder suspect, Paul Bateson, had been an extra in this scene, acting in his capacity as a radiology technician. Friedkin remembered him for wearing an earring and a studded bracelet, both of which was rare to see at the time, particulary on a medical professional.

After meeting with Bateson while he was on trial, Friedkin changed his mind about adapting Cruising, thinking that an updated version loosely influenced by the ‘bag murders’ would be an interesting proposition. He originally cast Richard Gere as the undercover cop, but reneged on this – much to his regret – when Al Pacino read the script and asked to play the part.

By that point, Friedkin already had a history of pushing filming to the limits, to attain the ultimate in authenticity. In The French Connection he had filmed the film’s iconic car/train chase for real, without blocking the streets off or notifying the authorities. In The Exorcist, he had fired guns with blanks to unnerve actor Jason Miller, and pushed for special effects to feel as real as possible, leading to Linda Blair and Ellyn Burstyn suffering from back injuries after being yanked around violently in harnesses. For Cruising, Friedkin, still pushing for authenticity, wanted to film the bar scenes in the Mineshaft, the gay S&M club where Bateson met his victim(s).

RITA#752cThe Mineshaft and other gay bars were owned by Matty ‘The Horse’ Ianello, a member of the Genovese crime family. Friedkin approached Ianello, asked permission to film there, and in turn Ianello put him in touch with the bar’s manager, Wally Wallace.

After Friedkin outlined his plan to film inside the bar, and use the bar’s regulars as extras, Wallace smiled. ‘Well, you’ll never get actors to simulate what our members do,’ he replied.

That weekend, Friedkin attended the club to scout the location, accompanied by a retired Police detective. ‘Wally and his enforcers welcomed us at the door,’ Friedkin writes in his liner notes to Waxwork’s new reissue of the soundtrack. ‘But we had to check our clothes, like all the other members, and strip down to jockstraps, shoes and socks.’

‘We were the two ugliest guys in the room and nobody hit on us. Participation in any of the activities was by choice. We hung around for a couple of hours, drifting and watching. Even knowing what to expect, we left in disbelief. Don’t take this as judgemental – I was in my early 40s – but we had never seen anything like this. We went back several times before the start of filming and we got to know the regulars. Few had any problems appearing in the film and the sex scenes were all real. Pacino was there for most of it.’

It definitely makes for a strange film and not the obvious choice for a filmmaker with two mainstream hits under his name. Pacino plays the role relatively understated, exactly at the halfway point between his earlier, softer presence and the later, gruff-voiced Pacino which he would start to perfect in Brian De Palma’s Scarface a few years later in 1983.

RITA#752dIn film class at University, our lecturer played us a very odd clip from the film. Pacino sits in a room being interviewed by the Police, who are unaware that he is working undercover. Out of the blue, a black man wearing only a jockstrap and a cowboy hat walks into the room, slaps Pacino and exits. The short scene serves no narrative purpose and has stuck with me all these years for its utter randomness. I had thought that the film might have another scene, either an earlier scene feeding it, or a later scene explaining it, but no. When I eventually saw the whole film, it’s just as baffling as watching the scene in isolation. How marvellous.

RITA#752eI recently tracked down Interior. Leather Bar., James Franco and Travis Matthew’s 2013 documentary in which they attempt to film the 40 minutes of gay sex scenes that were cut, and eventually lost, from Cruising. In the hands of a comic actor like Franco, the project is quite difficult to take seriously, and while they are successful in enlisting actors and filming such scenes, the resulting scenes don’t match the sleazy aesthetic of Friedkin’s 1980 film.

The original Cruising soundtrack released in 1980 featured ten songs that appear in the film by Willy DeVille, The Cripples, The Germs, John Hiatt, Madelynn Von Ritz and Rough Trade. Waxwork’s recent 3 x LP reissue expands the soundtrack significantly, featuring a further eighteen songs. The label worked closely with William Friedkin, Sony, and Universal Pictures to locate and unearth the original masters that include the original Jack Nitzsche score sessions, the full recording sessions by the Germs, and all music recorded for the film.

There’s lots to like on this collection – the rock and roll sleaze of Willy DeVille, the post-disco new wave of Rough Trade and the hypnotic bass jazz of Barre Phillips and Ralph Towner. Probably most important, given their lack of available material, is the unearthing of five Germs songs recorded (but not used) for the film.

Hit: It’s So Easy – Willy DeVille

Hidden Gem: Shakedown – Rough Trade

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Rocks In The Attic #751: Eurythmics – ‘1984 (For The Love Of Big Brother) (O.S.T.)’ (1984)

RITA#751Nineteen Eighty-Four is my favourite George Orwell novel, and probably one of my top five books of the twentieth century. It means so much to me, that I consciously avoided the film for a very long time. Adaptations can be a strange thing, and I wasn’t willing to let my memory of the book be tainted by cinema like so many of my other favourite books have been – Bret Easton Ellis’ American Psycho and Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita to name but two.

In fact, for most of my life, I’ve known a John Hurt quote from the film more than anything else associated with the adaptation. Used as a sample in the intro to the Manic Street Preacher’s Faster, from 1995’s The Holy Bible, Hurt says ‘I hate purity. Hate goodness. I don’t want virtue to exist anywhere. I want everyone corrupt.’ Wonderful.

I finally watched the film a year or so ago. It’s okay. Not fantastic, but not terrible either. More than anything, I found it unmemorable. This, I guess, is a blessing. It neither adds nor subtracts anything from my love for the novel.

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The soundtrack however, by Eurythmics, is strangely alluring. On paper, pairing the duo with a fantastically dystopian novel doesn’t sound like a great combination, almost like Pet Shop Boys composing the score to Richard Attenborough’s Gandhi (1982), but it works. Part synth-pop, part ominous moody score, it really flows well and stands up well with the synth-wave revival of the last decade.

Hit: Sexcrime (Nineteen Eighty-Four)

Hidden Gem: I Did It Just The Same