Rocks In The Attic #528: Bob Dylan – ‘Highway 61 Revisited’ (1965)

rita528This was the first Dylan album I ever bought – I think because out of all of his classic singles, I liked the singalong ‘…Then You!…’ bits in Like A Rolling Stone. It really is a great song – although, like nearly all Dylan songs, I have no idea what it all means. My lyric-blindness prevents me from caring about the words too much, and it’s a blissful kind of ignorance. Perhaps if I knew what the lyrics meant, I’d like the song less, like seeing a card trick standing behind the magician.

I’d probably have listened to a lot more Dylan in my youth, if I’d started with another album – perhaps The Freewheelin’ from 1962. I still find 1965’s Highway 61 Revisited a bit of a heavy trip. Man.

This week it was announced that Bob has been awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature, “for having created new poetic expressions within the great American song tradition”. I’m sure this has made a whole load of highbrow people really angry, and I like the nomination for that establishment outrage, as much as I like it for Bob’s achievement at being awarded something nice.

Rolling Stone magazine says he deserves it – not ‘for making it through all of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s books’, a nice reference to a lyric from this record’s Ballad Of A Thin Man, but for ‘for inventing ways to make songs do what they hadn’t done before’. It’s a long time since Rolling Stone said anything against the grain though so it’s not surprising. Perhaps if this announcement would have come thirty or forty years ago, they might have taken a difference stance. Rolling Stone, like Dylan himself, once was very much the embodiment of the counter-culture. They haven’t exactly become the establishment since; instead the establishment has shifted in the intervening years, to stand behind people like Dylan.

What do I know though? I don’t even understand what he’s saying half the time.

Hit: Like A Rolling Stone

Hidden Gem: Tombstone Blues

Rocks In The Attic #527: The Rolling Stones – ‘Their Satanic Majesties Request’ (1967)

RITA#527.jpgPoor Brian. I’m just in the middle of Peter Norman’s 1980’s biography The Stones. There’s quite a large portion of the book involved with the mental (and professional) decline of Brian Jones, and it makes for quite upsetting reading.

For some reason, I had always mistakenly thought Jones was still a member of the band when he drowned in his swimming pool late one night after having too much to drink. He’d actually been kicked out of the band a couple of weeks prior to this, when Mick Jagger and Keith Richards visited him at his home to do the dirty deed. As Jones had by that time lost any trust in the songwriting pair, they took along the affable Charlie Watts in way of a neutral, calming influence.

Their Satanic Majesties Request is always seen as the black sheep of Stones albums, in much the same way that Brian Jones was the black sheep of the Stones themselves. I admit that it’s not one of their best. Their attempt to emulate the Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s leaves them sounding amateurish, most likely because the record was self-produced after Andrew Loog Oldham walked out on them in his capacity as manager and producer. His loss – but their lightning-in-a-bottle four album run, just around the corner, could never have been achieved by Oldham in the producer’s chair.

Satanic Majesties might not be their best album – but it’s a far more enjoyable listen than its predecessor Between The Buttons, which found them completely bereft of ideas. I struggle to listen to Between The Buttons – a huge step down after the peerless Aftermath. At least Satanic Majesties finds them trying to do something different, whereas Between The Buttons was a retread of earlier accomplishments, following a tired formula.

I was pleased to hear the announcement the other day that there’s a new Stones studio album on the way – Blue & Lonesome. A blues album, I don’t expect it will be any better than Aerosmith’s woeful attempt at a blues-only record, but you never know. Somebody has a great idea in that they should have titled it Brian Was A Blues Guy, or something like that, as a nice nod to their former leader.

Hit: She’s A Rainbow

Hidden Gem: 2000 Light Years From Home

Rocks In The Attic #526: Tony Hancock – ‘Golden Hour Of Tony Hancock’ (1974)

rita526Anything from the pen of Ray Galton and Alan Simpson is always worth a listen, and while I prefer the boiled-down pathos of Steptoe & Son over the broader comedy of Tony Hancock, I still love listening to this.

It’s also nice to hear Sid James, Kenneth Williams and Hattie Jacques plying their trade in radio comedy before they became household names in the ubiquitous Carry On films.

Galton and Simpson’s liner notes from this record describe Hancock perfectly:

Mr. Hancock’s performance has been described by some critics as the epitomisation of the struggles, frustrations and disillusionments of a romantic in a materialistic society. It has been described by other critics as the epitomisation of the struggles, frustrations and disillusionments of a materialist in a romantic society. Mr. Sidney James, on the other hand, describes him as ‘a bit of a twit’ which is as good a definition as any.

A nice touch for this record is the reappearance of Hancock’s voice at the end of the first side. After the credits for The Wild Man Of The Woods, he reappears to say:

“Well, that’s it for this side. You’d better take the needle off now; otherwise it’ll hit that metal bit that sticks up through the hole in the middle.  We never used to have that trouble with the cylinders. Never had to turn them over either; all on the same side. Progress? Cor, dear. Well go on, turn it over.”

At the start of the second side, he appears again:

Done it? Good. Well hang on, they’re not ready to start yet. Otherwise we finish too far away from the label and it looks bad, you know. Well, you can’t charge these prices and finish up halfway across the record. I told them to put a bigger label on but they wouldn’t listen. I wonder if they had labels on the cylinders? No, I expect they used to put a little note inside them, like you do in milk bottles. Right, well I think we’re ready to go. We’ll just hang on for a few seconds for those who were a bit slow in turning it over. All ready? Right…

And then finally at the end of side two:

Well, there it is. Could have happened to anybody. Anyway, I’d just like to say thank you for buying the record. Or if you’re listening to it in a record shop, don’t mess about, buy it. Not for me, but think of the bloke who owns the shop, the poor devil. He’s got a living to make, the same as the rest of us. Well, thank you again, that’s all. When I count three, take the needle off.  1…2…3……………………There’s no more.

Hit: The Wild Man Of The Woods

Hidden Gem: A Sunday Afternoon At Home

Rocks In The Attic #525: Various Artists – ‘Cocktail (O.S.T.)’ (1988)

rita525God, I miss the shameful optimism of 1980s mainstream American cinema. Yes, it was soulless (at times) and offered little in the way of substance (again, at times), but I really have a deep feeling of nostalgia for helicopter tracking shots of American cities, soundtracked by the likes of Starship’s Wild Again. Throw a bit of neon in there, and a glimpse of bikini, and I’m hooked.

I’m a child of the 1980s so America has always felt like the centre of the universe – it still is – and the main driver of that image was American cinema. Cocktail, albeit directed by a New Zealander (Roger Donaldson), is a typical example. It may not be the greatest film in the world – it’s far from it – but I’d happily watch it again right now.

I would have been very aware of who Tom Cruise was in 1988, but it might have been the first time I saw Elisabeth Shue and Bryan Brown; a couple of actors I’ve always admired. Shue appeared as the love interest in The Karate Kid (1984) and as the lead in Adventures In Babysitting (1987), but Cocktail would definitely be the first time I’d seen her in an adult role.

One of my favourite moments from Brett Easton Ellis’ American Psycho is when our anti-hero Patrick Bateman shares an elevator with Tom Cruise, who lives in the same apartment block:

The film actor, Tom Cruise, has an apartment in my building and steps into the elevator just after me. I press the “PH” button for him and he nods his thanks. He is wearing a sport coat from Ralph Lauren over a tshirt, also Ralph Lauren, Calvin Klein Jeans and Ray Bans and is very short.
‘I really liked
Bartender“, I say to him.
‘The movie is called
‘Oh, right, of course.’
We turn away from each other as the elevator hums along. Then, he slowly turns towards me.
‘Your nose is bleeding,’ he tells me.
I hadn’t noticed it, although it is bleeding heavily and I reach for my pocket square by Bill Blass as we arrive at my floor. As I step into the hallway, covering my nose with the handkerchief, I hear Tom Cruise stabbing frantically at the ‘Close Door’ button.

Hit: Don’t Worry, Be Happy – Bobby McFerrin

Hidden Gem: Powerful Stuff – The Fabulous Thunderbirds

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.


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