Rocks In The Attic #554: Various Artists – ‘Weird Science (O.S.T.)’ (1985)

rita554“She’s alive…!”

It’s not surprising how madcap a Danny Elfman film score can sound when you consider the output of his former band, Oingo Boingo. Their title track to this film is insane, and really sets the scene for such an off-the-wall comedy. I’m not really a fan of key changes in songs – or modulations, to use the correct term – but the one in Oingo Boingo’s Weird Science really amps up the song, and creates an excitement in those opening credits that sets up the tone of the film really well.

The rest of the record is the sort of passable ‘80s fluff that tends to dominate film soundtracks from this era. Cheyne’s Private Joy sounds like a poorly sung demo recording, Max Carl’s The Circle tries its hardest to be a Bryan Adams song, and the record just goes on and on like this. One wonders how much money they had to spend on the soundtrack, when it’s populated by such mediocrity.

Of course, this is still 1985 and the power of the 1980s pop soundtrack hadn’t really hit until that same year, with The Power Of Love from Back To The Future. Even a hit like 1984’s Ghostbusters soundtrack was populated by a couple of naff songs. I wonder whether the soundtrack to Weird Science would have been a little stronger had the film been released a year later?

Hit: Weird Science – Oingo Boingo

Hidden Gem: Eighties – Killing Joke

Rocks In The Attic #553: Al Martino – ‘Love Is Blue’ (1968)

RITA#553.jpgAl Martino is probably best known for his portrayal of Johnny Fontane in the Godfather films. He plays the Godson of Marlon Brando’s Vito Corleone, and appears at Connie’s wedding at the start of the film to rapturous screams from the girls present. Johnny’s career has gone onto bigger and better things since they last saw him, with more than a little help from his Godfather early on in his career.

I often wonder, with his character being based on unsavoury rumours concerning Frank Sinatra’s early career, what repercussions Martino felt in his day job as a singer.  The horse head scene in the Godfather, designed to intimidate producer Jack Woltz into giving Fontane a part in a war film, is supposedly influenced by Sinatra’s casting in From Here To Eternity. It would have made for one interesting atmosphere if Martino ever ran into Sinatra backstage somewhere in Vegas. I fear that the Rat Pack would have driven him out of the business – his recording output slowed down considerably following the release of The Godfather in 1972.

Love Is Blue is a collection of quite syrupy ballads from 1968. Martino has a great voice, but the overblown orchestral instrumentation on the record stands him apart from the likes of Sinatra and his like. As a result the record strays too near to the likes of easy listening to be taken serious. It isn’t surprising then that Martino was chosen to sing such a syrupy ballad to Connie Corleone (If Have But One Heart) at her wedding…

Hit: Call Me

Hidden Gem: Goin’ Out Of My Head

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Rocks In The Attic #552: Genesis – ‘Trespass’ (1970)

rita552I keep buying Genesis records, almost by accident, at record fairs. They’re always cheap – around the five dollar mark and so I reason that it can’t hurt to take them home. As a result, without any discernible effort I’ve managed to pick up most of their back catalogue – nine of their fifteen studio albums, plus 1973’s Genesis Live.

I wish original Pink Floyd records were as easy – and as cheap – to come across. This is a 1974 ABC Records re-pressing, and at five bucks was significantly cheaper than a Floyd record from around the same time would be.

I don’t think I’ll ever become a big Genesis fan no matter how many of their records I own. The Peter Gabriel years are all a bit too twee for me; a little bit too steeped in English folk. And while I prefer the Phil Collins era, there’s not a great deal of fresh air between those albums and a Collins solo record. I’m sure a diehard Genesis fan would disagree, but I’m too disinterested to spot the difference. Ah, ennui…

Hit: The Knife

Hidden Gem: White Mountain

Rocks In The Attic #551: Frank Sinatra – ‘Songs For Young Lovers’ (1954)

RITA#551.jpg1954? That makes this recording over sixty years old. It still sounds crystal clear – it would, it’s the 2015 Record Store Day reissue – but regardless, it’s still magical sounding. In the next couple of decades we’re going to start approaching being able to listen to 100 year old recordings. Insane. Well, I guess we can listen to 100 year old recordings now, but considering that nobody put out anything worth a salt until the 1950s, it won’t be worth considering for a while yet.

In fact, that’s wrong. Glenn Miller’s a boss, and he was the best-selling recording artist from 1939 to 1943. So 1939 would mean twenty two years until the centennial celebrations for the likes of In The Mood and Chattanooga Choo Choo. But just imagine when we reach the 100 year anniversary of the first Frank Sinatra hit, or Elvis’ Heartbreak Hotel, or the first Beatles album. Good grief. Will we start referring to it as classical musical?

Running in under a sprightly twenty two minutes, this 10” album comes from a time before the 12” record won the war to become the primary record format. This happened a few years later around 1957, just in time for the rock and roll explosion. It’s a nice format, but obviously the shorter running time leaves you wanting more. We’d call it an EP these days, but back then they’d probably just refer to it as Frank’s latest record, regardless of the running length.

Hit: I Get A Kick Out Of You

Hidden Gem: The Girl Next Door

Rocks In The Attic #550: White Zombie – ‘Astro-Creep 2000 – Songs Of Love, Destruction And Other Synthetic Delusions Of The Electric Head’ (1995)

rita550In 1995, I used to spend most of my time in the common room at college, listening to rock and metal, and reading magazines like Kerrang! and Metal Hammer. I’d attend lessons from time to time, but the highlight of my life at this point was sitting in the common room, my feet up, controlling the stereo, and sneering at anybody brave enough to try and put any Oasis on. Life goals!

We’d also shoot home movies during our free periods, soundtracked by the likes of White Zombie, and characterised by the usual kind of hi-jinks that sixteen year olds get up to. These Not So Vulgar Videos, as we titled them, are a great time capsule of my youth although I’m naturally ashamed at some of the content.

I don’t think I’d heard Astro Creep 2000 since going to University in 1996, and it being reissued on vinyl twenty years later. My musical tastes developed beyond metal rather quickly by the time I left college, and so I looked back on this album as a product of my naive adolescence.

Listening now, it’s interesting just how enjoyable the record is. I could do without some of Rob Zombie’s ‘Morris Dancing’ vocal rhythms – something that System Of A Down stole and made a career out of – but the songwriting, playing and production on this record is awesome. Of particular interest to me are the film dialogue samples employed throughout – from the likes of Dawn Of The Dead, The Omega Man, Shaft and The Haunting. No wonder I liked this sort of thing when I was sixteen.

Hit: More Human Than Human

Hidden Gem: Electric Head Pt. 1 (The Agony)

Rocks In The Attic #549: Wings – ‘Wings Greatest’ (1978)

RITA#549.jpgI’m currently half-way through reading Howard Sounes’ Fab: The Intimate Life Of Paul McCartney. While it’s not the most revelatory of Beatle biographies, Sounes does win points for writing the most cutting paragraph of Sir Paul’s woeful fashion sense:

Paul showed up in a baggy tartan suit, like a Caledonian clown. [Linda McCartney] wore a maternity dress. Paul had cut a sharp figure during the Sixties, never more so than when he strode across the Abbey Road zebra crossing in a beautifully tailored Saville Row suit. Now he had mislaid his style compass. It would be years until he found it again. Not all Seventies fashion was bad, but it is fair to say that Paul McCartney dressed appallingly throughout that decade and much of the Eighties, wearing ill-chosen clothes and sporting a trendy yet hideous mullet haircut.

Ouch! Thankfully, unless you scan the record covers intensely, it’s now quite easily to overlook his sartorial crimes. All’s that’s left is a load of catchy – sometimes syrupy – songs. The other target in Sounes’ book is the strength – or weakness, if we’re going to be honest – of McCartney’s lyrics. For me, you can forgive something like Silly Love Songs when you have something like Live And Let Die to consider. The unbelievably good sometimes outweighs the unbelievably bad. Still, he does seem to defer to the act of choosing words because they rhyme rather than the words meaning anything. Just try and decipher the lyrics to Jet; it’s just gibberish.

You can’t fault the man’s light-hearted approach to promotion though. The album was supported by a jokey television advert, featuring several members of the public singing Wings tunes, ending with a dustman, parked in his lorry in Abbey Road, singing a wildly out of tune rendition of Band On The Run, at which point Paul, Linda and Denny Laine pull up alongside and Paul shouts “You’re a bit flat mate!”. The driver leans out his window and says “Funny, I only checked them this morning”.

Hit: Live And Let Die

Hidden Gem: Junior’s Farm

Rocks In The Attic #548: Kyle Dixon & Michael Stein – ‘Stranger Things Volume One (O.S.T.)’ (2016)

rita548Clearly the pop-culture TV phenomenon of 2016, Stranger Things landed in July through Netflix – with all eight episodes released concurrently, providing the perfect opportunity to binge-watch. The show is steeped in nostalgia, tailor-made for somebody my age, taking its cues from science-fiction films of the 1980s, most notably the works of Steven Spielberg, George Lucas, John Carpenter, Richard Donner, Joe Dante, Stephen King and Robert Zemeckis. It’s almost as if the kids from Stephen King’s It met up with Richard Donner’s Goonies and fell into a Carpenteresque, Spielbergian sci-fi horror.

On paper, that all sounds amazing, but the thing that clinched it for me is the heavily John Carpenter influenced soundtrack – all moody synths and drum loops – which really helps to place the show in the 1980s. I’ve written about John Carpenter’s soundtracks twice before – I’m a big fan – and this soundtrack stands up with the best of his work, but also touches on the likes of Vangelis and Tangerine Dream among others. Composers Kyle Dixon and Michael Stein are half of Austin-based synth pioneers Survive, a band I really need to check out. Stein and Dixon were brought on board after the show’s creators, the Duffer Brothers, used a Survive song in the mock trailer they created to pitch the show to Netflix. They were hired when the show was green-lit, with early demos influencing the casting process by being played over the actors’ audition tapes.

Season two of Stranger Things is planned to air some time in 2017, with the main cast fleshed out by the addition of ‘80s stalwart Paul Reiser and chief-Goonie Sean Astin.

Hit: Stranger Things

Hidden Gem: Kids