Rocks In The Attic #574: Steven Tyler – ‘We’re All Somebody From Somewhere’ (2016)

RITA#574.jpgAmerica needs our help. A series of unfortunate circumstances in the second half of 2016 led to one man being given more power than he can handle. It’s something we should all be collectively terrified of; a landmark event which could potentially have far-reaching consequences over the next few years, and beyond. Yes, Aerosmith’s Steven Tyler has released a solo album…

I have to admit, Aerosmith’s ’70s output is the very root of my musical DNA and I’ve always remained somewhat of a fan of the band despite their long, slippery artistic slope from the ’90s to the present day.

I’m also an avid collector of the band’s output and so my shelves “need” this – Steven Tyler’s debut solo record. I dropped the needle on the first side with a mixture of trepidation and morbid curiosity. Could this record be as bad as it sounds on paper?

Recorded in Nashville, it’s an album of country rock songs – a genre that Tyler has focused on more and more ever since a joke song in the late ’80s surprised everybody and turned out to be way more popular than anybody could have expected.

If you recall the second commercial peak of the band – 1989’s Pump – the album ended with a ballad, What It Takes, that was nothing more than a straightforward parody. Tyler even sings it in a mock-country, southern drawl, and in the accompanying music video the band play the song in a bar, behind chicken-wire – their only experience of country music being the bar scene in The Blues Brothers.

The song was taken far too seriously and is still played in concert to this day. As a result, they overloaded their next studio album, 1993’s Get A Grip, with country rock ballads in an attempt to recapture this glory.

So it’s not a surprise that Tyler’s activities outside of the band have led him to Nashville, the home of country music, in an attempt to validate his efforts. Half of the record is produced by T Bone Burnett, so there’s another marker of authenticity for you.

As a whole, the record doesn’t sound too offensive. It’s the equivalent of combining all the more mediocre songs from the most recent Aerosmith studio albums, which themselves were a lesson in mediocrity.

Do you remember the Grammy Award winning Janie’s Got A Gun, from the Pump record? It was a song about sex-abuse, tastelessly sequenced in the middle of an album that was otherwise lyrically obsessed about the joys of sex. Even a country rock rendition of Janie’s Got A Gun on Tyler’s record isn’t as bad as it could have been, but having three quarters of Stone Temple Pilots as your backing band doesn’t hurt. Lindsey Buckingham turns up on one of the tracks too but his contributions don’t really stand out from the hired hands that make up the rest of the studio band.

The final song on the record – a cover of Big Brother & The Holding Company’s Piece Of My Heart – is probably the strongest song on the album. It’s a nice tribute to Janis Joplin, whose vocal style Tyler has aped from the very beginning, regardless of the lazy Jagger comparisons.

Don’t all thank me at once but I’ve been listening to Steven Tyler’s We’re All Somebody From Somewhere so you don’t have to!

Hit: Janie’s Got A Gun

Hidden Gem: Piece Of My Heart

Rocks In The Attic #573: Aerosmith – ‘Brand New Song And Dance’ (1986)

RITA#573I love a good Aerosmith bootleg, and this one’s a peach. Recorded on March 12th 1986 whilst touring the Done With Mirrors album, this captures the band in an energetic form. The show was recorded in Worcester, Massachusetts which makes it a homecoming gig for the band, and this probably explains why the show was professionally recorded and transmitted on radio.

I really love Done With Mirrors – it’s a lovely little album with a lot of charm, just mightily underproduced – and so it’s a real treat to hear them playing the songs from the record while they’re still fresh. Alongside five songs from that record, we also get treated to a rendition of No Surprize, a song that has long since slipped from Aerosmith setlists in the intervening years. As at the time of writing (March 2017) they haven’t played it live since 2002. Sweet Emotion is noticeably absent, but the full set-list for the performance lists them playing it that night. Also not captured on record was a rendition of Bone To Bone (Coney Island White Fish Boy); another gem they don’t play live too often.

Looking at my Aerosmith collection, alongside all of the official studio records, live albums and many, many compilations, I now seem to have a burgeoning pile of Aero-bootlegs. I have recordings from the tours to promote 1973’s self-titled debut, 1975’s Toys In The Attic, 1979’s Night In The Ruts, 1987’s Permanent Vacation and now 1985’s Done With Mirrors. I might try to fill in some of those blanks, especially as I know that bootleg recordings exist on vinyl for most of their tours up until the 1990s. A new goal is born!

Hit: Walk This Way

Hidden Gem: Let The Music Do The Talking

Rocks In The Attic #572: Various Artists – ‘Fletch (O.S.T.)’ (1985)

rita572Record collecting can be a rollercoaster of emotions. On the two vinyl collecting groups on Facebook that I hang around in, I regularly see posts from members who have bought something amazing, for next to nothing, from a charity shop / thrift store / op-shop (depending on where they are in the world).

These minor hauls are usually a random bunch of records, in perfect condition, that somebody has just donated to the store for reasons unknown. The accompanying photograph shows the records in all their pristine glory – first pressings of Beatles records, or a bunch of early Pink Floyd albums, or something unattainable like a plum Atlantic pressing of Led Zeppelin’s debut with turquoise lettering.

You want to be happy for the person posting their good news, but an overwhelming pang of jealousy kicks in and you want to kill the bastard instead. Why does this never happen to me, you ask yourself, as you recall the countless times you’ve sifted through the records at op-shops across New Zealand and found nothing better than the ingredients for a Nana Mouskouri / Harry Secombe  / James Last mash-up.

Recently my fortunes changed. I visited a new op-shop in my home town; a store that used to be a guitar shop until it closed down last year. I ventured into the shop cautiously and saw a bunch of records displayed on the racks that the previous shop used to display sheet music. There they were, the usual suspects; records that won’t sell in a million years. I picked up a Carly Simon compilation, and quickly put it down when I noticed the $12 price tag. Ouch! A cursory look told me that the pricing was wildly inconsistent – some were a dollar or two, some were over ten bucks.

Then I saw it, the soundtrack to one of my favourite ‘80s comedies – Fletch, starring Chevy Chase. And for the princely sum of two hundred New Zealand cents. It might not be a turquoise Led Zeppelin, but it was something I’d been looking for in the racks ever since I started purposefully collecting records in the late ‘90s.

Of course I could have easily found the record on Discogs, the global repository for record collecting, but there’s something about the thrill of finding a record in the wild. I really couldn’t believe my luck, although I’m sure nobody will share my enthusiasm for such a record.

Released a year after Beverly Hills Cop, the score to Fletch was also composed by Harold Faltermeyer – a very hot property around that mid-‘80s period. The soundtrack collects four songs performed by him, alongside a batch of typically nondescript ‘80s pop songs (a couple of which are produced by Faltermeyer). I even like these songs, by the likes of Stephanie Mills, Kim Wilde and John Farnham, as they’re just so linked to the film in my brain. Whenever I listen to Dan Hartman’s Fletch, Get Outta Town, I immediately think of Chevy Chase commandeering a sports car. Harold Faltermeyer’s Diggin’ In reminds me of Chase snooping around an office looking for clues just before being chased out of the property by a Doberman (if there were two dogs, would they be Dobermen?).

As a comedy of the 1980s, Fletch wasn’t by any means a commercial success. It isn’t Ghostbusters or The Blues Brothers or Beverly Hills Cop, but I love it. For me, it symbolises the time when I would record films off the television, to re-watch endlessly, using the VCR in my bedroom. On a four hour tape, I would record Fletch and then wait for months for the 1989 sequel, Fletch Lives, to be aired so I could record it straight after.

Hit: Bit By Bit (Theme From Fletch) – Stephanie Mills

Hidden Gem: Fletch Theme – Harold Faltermeyer

Rocks In The Attic #571: Soundgarden – ‘Badmotorfinger’ (1991)

rita571I think I remember the first time I ever heard Jesus Christ Pose. Who wouldn’t? It was a B-side on the single to Black Hole Sun; a live version from South Dakota. Boom – what a song. Just white noise and a screaming vocal. What the hell are these guys smoking?

Then I found the album somewhere. Maybe Jesus Christ Pose is the only good song on the album, I thought? Pah! First track – Rusty Cage. Oomph! Then Outshined – what a groove!

Soundgarden are from Seattle – so the obvious thing at the time was to lump them in with the grunge movement of the late ‘80s and early ‘90s. But that grunge label was really just a lazy way to pigeon-hole a bunch of bands together that didn’t really share anything except geography. Where Nirvana was just a punk band, and Pearl Jam was a classic rock band with an overproduced debut album, Soundgarden’s sound was straight ahead metal – a heavy, sludgy, American answer to Black Sabbath, with a scream to match.

Badmotorfinger is album number three for Soundgarden, and their last one before they crossed over into the mainstream and onto MTV with 1994’s Superunknown. It’s also the first Soundgarden record to feature Ben Shepherd on bass, who replaced Jason Everman following the Louder Than Love tour.

Jason Everman – the man that grunge forgot – is an interesting character. First, he was credited as the second guitarist on Nirvana’s debut Bleach, despite not playing on the record (Kurt Cobain provided the credit to thank Everman for stumping the $606.17 it cost to record the album) and being ejected from the band shortly after. He joined Soundgarden for the Louder Than Love tour, before leaving straight after – and effectively missing out on the band’s advancing career. In 1994, just as grunge was imploding on MTV, Everman joined the U.S. Army, and completed tours in Iraq and Afghanistan. In a nice nod to their former member, Nirvana invited Everman along to their Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame induction in 2014.

Hit: Jesus Christ Pose

Hidden Gem: Mind Riot

Rocks In The Attic #570: Steptoe & Son – ‘Steptoe & Son Ride Again’ (1970)

rita570Alan Simpson died recently – one half of the songwriting duo, Galton & Simpson, behind Tony Hancock and Steptoe & Son. It’s a sad loss for British comedy.

Galton and Simpson met in an unexpected place – a sanatorium in Surrey where they were recuperating from tuberculosis.

There’s a great joke on this LP which probably dates back to this time. When Harold takes Albert to get his chest x-rayed in The Joys Of Smoking, the following exchange takes place immediately after the young nurse leaves the room:

Harold: Tasty piece, isn’t she? She’s got T.B.

Albert: Has she?

Harold: Two beauties!

Hit: A Pregnant Situation

Rocks In The Attic #569: Thin Lizzy – ‘Thin Lizzy’ (1971)

rita569From small acorns…

All throughout my 20s, I used to see a small non-descript advert every week in the classified section of the NME: ‘GUITAR LESSONS – ERIC BELL, ORIGINAL GUITARIST OF THIN LIZZY’ and a London-area telephone number. It’d be in there without fail every week, alongside the usual ads for recording studios and CD mastering services.

Every week I’d see it and toy with the idea of catching a train down to London one day to take him up on the offer. A guitar lesson from the man behind the riffs to Whiskey In The Jar and, more importantly, The Rocker – what could be better? I’m not sure why he would be advertising his services in such a place – perhaps he had fallen on hard times and simply needed the cash.

I never got around to phoning him and booking that lesson though. I really regret it now of course. Just to ask him about that awesome riff from The Rocker, and to see his fingers blast that out, would have been a dream come true. He’s still around – a sprightly 69 years of age – although in 2010 he moved from London to West Cork in Ireland. One day maybe…

This debut from Thin Lizzy makes for interesting listening. Recorded as a trio – Phil Lynott, Eric Bell and Brian Downey, it’s a far cry from the later twin-guitar duelling histrionics of records like Jailbreak and Johnny The Fox. Half of it is in a folk vein, similar to something you might hear on an early Van Morrison album; very mellow and not what you’d expect from the band that brought us some of the best rock riffs of the 1970s.

The remaining half is a bit more guitar-heavy; a bit more in the direction of where the band was ultimately heading towards. Look What The Wind Blew In is built around a repetitive Eric Bell lick, and gives an indication of the riff-based material Phil Lynott would later hang his lyrics on. Remembering, the final song on the record, plays with light and shade as successfully as early Led Zeppelin. Thin Lizzy would be pigeon-holed in the same genre as Zeppelin later in the decade, although Lizzy would sadly never see the same levels of international success.

Hit: Look What The Wind Blew In

Hidden Gem: Saga Of The Ageing Orphan

Rocks In The Attic #568: Percy ‘Thrills’ Thrillington – ‘Thrillington’ (1977)

RITA#568.jpgIn 1971, Paul McCartney had just recorded his second solo album, Ram (actually his third if you include his 1967 soundtrack to The Family Way). He had credited the record to ‘Paul and Linda McCartney’, to get around the publishing contract he had signed as a Beatle. Under that contract, any solo recordings he made until 1973 were owned by Northern Songs, so wisely he credited the album to himself and his wife.

It’s not surprising that McCartney was pleased with Ram; despite a fair bit of whimsy, it’s a massive improvement on his uneven debut solo record. If a comparison were to be made, you could argue that the melodies on Ram follow on from the more powerful moments of Abbey Road. However, where his contributions to the Beatles’ final recorded studio record were tempered with songs by John, George and even Ringo, Ram found McCartney writing and performing the whole thing by himself in fifth gear.

Before Ram was even released, McCartney had asked arranger Richard Anthony Hewson to orchestrate the whole record as a collection of light orchestral instrumental songs, intended for a separate release. Among the orchestra who played on these sessions at Abbey Road were the cream of the studio players of the day – James Bond Theme guitarist Vic Flick, bassist Herbie Flowers and drummer Clem Cattini.

The end result is an oddity. It is thought the indulgent project was undertaken to please his father, who played in bands of this nature during the First World War – but as Howard Sounes, author of Fab: An Intimate Life Of Paul McCartney, points out, ‘the record…sounds like incidental television music, with a soupcon of the tea dance’.

Following the release of Ram in May 1971, and the recording of the instrumental version in June 1971, Paul formed Wings alongside Linda, Moody Blues guitarist Denny Laine and session drummer Denny Seiwell. As a result of this new direction, the instrumental Ram was shelved, and McCartney’s band went on to record and release Wild Life instead.

rita568a‘When Paul did finally put this off record out,’ Sounes writes, ‘he did so as quietly as possible under a pseudonym, titling the album Thrillington after an invented character named Percy ‘Thrills’ Thrillington “Born in Coventry Cathedral in 1939”. Somehow this wasn’t as amusing as Paul obviously thought it was.’

Thrillington finally saw the light of day in April 1977, released between 1976’s triple-live album Wings Over America and 1978’s London Town. While McCartney is pictured on the record’s rear cover as a reflection in the glass of the studio’s control room, and thus identifying him as the true producer of the album, Thrillington went largely unnoticed until McCartney revealed the connection during a 1989 press-conference. Following this admission, the record tripled in value and hasn’t been reissued on vinyl since its original release.

Hit: Uncle Albert / Admiral Halsey

Hidden Gem: Smile Away