Rocks In The Attic #462: The Clash – ‘The Clash’ (1977)

RITA#462.jpgMy love/hate relationship with the Clash continues. Re-released on Record Store Day’s Black Friday in 2015, I really only bought this because of the lovely split vinyl in white riot / Protex blue. It’s too good just to look at though.

One of the things I love about this debut album is the tracklisting versus the running time. Fourteen songs breeze past in thirty five minutes. What’s not to like about an album where the average running time is two minutes and fifty three seconds? If you don’t like a certain song, by the time you reached that decision, there’ll be another one coming around the corner in a matter of seconds.

I should like the Clash. They’re clearly the most talented of all the bands that came out of the punk movement in the UK. They can really play and they’re great songwriters, which you can’t say for a lot of the punk bands that got by on a mixture of attitude, nose rings and spit. It isn’t the band that’s to blame though for my apathy towards them, it’s the bloody fans.

Clash fans are one of the worst subcultures in music fandom. To Clash fans, the Clash are the beginning and end of everything. And don’t get me started on the deification of Joe Strummer. As part of a well-balanced musical diet, the Clash are a healthy pursuit, but moderation is everything and the Clash are really nothing more than the best of a bad bunch. Or are they something more? What am I missing?

Hit: White Riot

Hidden Gem: Police & Thieves

Rocks In The Attic #461: Stevie Wonder – ‘Songs In The Key Of Life’ (1976)

RITA#461Songs In The Key Of Life is one of those double albums that’s like an entire Desert Island Discs episode in one package. There aren’t many double albums that I’d be happy listening to over and over again as I grew my beard out and learned how to spear fish, but this is one of them. I just hope there’s a lady on the island that I can dance with when I’m blasting out As or Sir Duke.

It’s interesting looking at the singles that were released off this album to promote the album – only I Wish, Sir Duke, Another Star and As. So that means no 7” releases for either Pasttime Paradise – famous more for its use by Coolio in Gangsta’s Paradise – or Isn’t She Lovely – undoubtedly the most famous song off the record – but denied a single release by Stevie himself who wouldn’t allow Motown to release a shortened edit of the six and a half minute song.

It’s a testament to Stevie’s talent and sheer dedication to his craft that he was able to pull a double-album’s worth of such strong material together, and that’s not including the bonus 7” record which adds a further four songs onto the running time. Soul music and R&B isn’t known for its double albums. The genre is borne out of dancing and partying, and who wants to flip a record over that many times? In fact, for almost the same reason, the other genre that tends to eschew the double album format is punk. Well, until London Calling came along – a genre-spanning collection similar in scope and confidence to Songs In The Key Of Life.

Speaking of flipping the record over, Songs In The Key Of Life is one of those weird records with the A/D B/C format, built for record changers. I still haven’t seen one of those near-mythical machines so I’m yet to experience one in action, but I always think it would be better to order the sides A/C B/D and then if you had two turntables and a mixer you could seamlessly play the album without stopping.

Isn’t She Lovely reminds me of the times I used to visit friends in Wexford, Ireland. We used to go and see a covers band called the Dylan Bible Band, who used to do a great cover of the song. It’s built to be played endlessly, when you have the right players (which Dylan Bible did), and it sounded great just going around and around as a seemingly infinite chord progression, just like Stevie’s version.

Hit: Isn’t She Lovely

Hidden Gem: Contusion

Rocks In The Attic #460: 10cc – ‘10cc’ (1973)

RITA#460My parents recently came over to our side of the world for Christmas, and my Dad brought with him a couple of ripe quiz questions. The first one was something along the lines of:

‘Which ‘60s group’s first three singles went to #1 in the UK?’

The answer wasn’t 10cc (they didn’t get release a single as 10cc until the early ‘70s) – it was Gerry & The Pacemakers – but his second question was just as tricky:

‘Which band’s three UK #1s were sung by different vocalists?’

This had me scratching my head for days, thinking it was going to be more of a vocal group like Sister Sledge or somebody like that, rather than a band who play instruments. Of course the correct answer was 10cc – Rubber Bullets (Lol Creme) in 1973, I’m Not In Love (Eric Stewart) in 1975, and Dreadlock Holiday (Graham Gouldman) in 1978.

This lovely reissue of 10cc’s debut from 1973 – in beautiful red vinyl – features some interesting liner notes (remember them?) by Michael Heatley. In his short biography of the band up to this point, Heatley mentions that 10cc, despite the harmonic similarities drawn between themselves and Queen, saw their output to be more in line with Steely Dan. I’ve never considered this, but they’re probably as close as you’re going to get to the UK’s answer to Walter Becker and Donald Fagen’s clever lyrics.

What isn’t in debate is the quality of 10cc’s output by their first album. No debut jitters here, they sound fully formed and their recent history as songwriters through the late ‘60s serves them well. This isn’t typical boy meets girl material; it’s storytelling with that acerbic and cynical wit typical of Becker and Fagen.

I love Rubber Bullets. Despite its camp charm, it’s got such a hook (similar in tone and subject matter to its partner in crime I Predict A Riot by the Kaiser Chiefs); but it’s by no means the only highlight of the album. Even if you take away the other singles – Donna, Johnny Don’t Do It and The Dean And I – you’re still left with a very strong set of songs; songs that other less-talented bands would probably kill for.

Hit: Rubber Bullets

Hidden Gem: Sand In My Face

Rocks In The Attic #459: Hall & Oates – ‘H20’ (1982)

RITA#459Grand Theft Auto: Vice City has a lot to answer for. Hearing Out Of Touch on that game’s soundtrack turned me onto Hall & Oates in a big way, but I only managed to get around to buying one of their albums on vinyl last year. I’m sure there’ll be more.

The subject of Hall & Oates often gets mined for comedic effect, and that’s fine; anybody who has cut that much of a wedge through the AOR genre is fair game. One of the funniest things I have ever read on Twitter, courtesy of New Zealander Mark Leggett, hits a fine line between the absurd and the just-about believable:

RITA#459a

(Note – as Moo quite rightly pointed out to me, this joke has some – presumably innocent – similarity with a Big Train sketch from 1998.)

This record was a massive seller, spending four weeks at #1 in the USA. Their ‘70s output was a bit more wholesome but by this point in the early ‘80s, they’d refined their craft to the extent that they could churn out million-seller pop singles like Maneater with ease.

Hit: Maneater

Hidden Gem: At Tension

Rocks In The Attic #458: Garbage – ‘Garbage’ (1995)

RITA#458Like most men (and probably most women) who saw Garbage on their first tour, promoting this debut album, I fell in love with Shirley Manson; totally unconditionally, head-over-heels in love. If she had clicked her fingers, I would have followed, asking questions. All despite reading that she once squatted over the kitchen table in her boyfriend’s apartment and took a dump in his bowl of cornflakes. She had caught him cheating apparently.

I’m always a little suspicious when rock bands enlist a hot lady to sing. Sex does sell, but so does talent and the other three quarters of Garbage already had that in spades. Drummer Butch Vig (the super-producer of Nevermind, Siamese Dream), guitarist Steve Marker (sound engineer on L7’s Bricks Are Heavy) and bassist Duke Erikson (guitarist with Spooner and Fire Town, both alongside Vig) started a new project in 1994 and decided on a female vocalist to distance themselves from the all-male bands they had prior experience with. The female angst thing was popular around the mid-‘90s, with Alanis Morissette and Meredith Brooks ploughing the same field, so Manson’s vocals fit right in.

I remember hearing Queer first, and thinking it sounded very different to everything else at the time. It was still rock, but with a dark, electronic pop edge. In fact, it sounds a lot like today’s stripper pop (as Dave Grohl calls it) but in 1995 it ticked enough boxes for my ears.

I saw them play at the Apollo in Manchester, supported by Bis, in March ‘96. I remember seeing the roadies set up the stage for the headliners, and noticing the sheer amount of technology in Marker and Erikson’s flight racks. The LEDs from the various amps, processors and effects units was dizzying, and created a great backdrop.

Right from their opening number – Queer, no less – Manson owned the stage. As the band played through the opening bars, she walked out wearing knee-high leather boots, a corset and a pink feather boa. Boom. Like a thunderbolt.

I even liked their follow-up album, Version 2.0, but by the time I saw them again, at Glastonbury in 2005, I had moved on. As such, I quickly forgot about the band. Times change, and all that.

Twenty years on, the debut has been re-released in a beautiful 45rpm double pink vinyl package. It sounds great, and has definitely taken me back to those post-grunge days. I still love Queer, but it’s I’m Only Happy When It Rains which really impresses me. I’d go so far as saying that it’s one of my favourite songs from that entire decade. That’s a huge call, considering the amount of great music that the ‘90s gave us, but there’s something about the song’s ‘pour your misery down’ refrain that just speaks to me.

Postscript: Sex might very well sell, but without any discernible talent, it’s about as useful as a chocolate fireguard. In the mid-2000s, Shirley Manson appeared as an antagonist in The Sarah Connor Chonic…, The Sarah Cronner Chon…, The Sarah Connorcles…ah fuck it, that lame Terminator TV series that swiftly got cancelled. Manson might ooze talent and sex appeal on stage, but she most definitely cannot act, and her unconventional looks (upside-down eyes, pale skin and bright ginger hair), which looked great on stage, just made her look odd among the stereotypically beautiful people on TV. The show was bad enough before she appeared, but she just seemed to be the final nail in the coffin.

Hit: I’m Only Happy When It Rains

Hidden Gem: Supervixen

Rocks In The Attic #457: Marvin Hamlisch – ‘The Spy Who Loved Me (O.S.T.)’ (1977)

RITA#457.jpg“But James, I need you…”

“So does England!”

Cue disco music.

It’s a shame that one of the most iconic moments in Bond history is blighted with this turgid, pandering-to-the-times, piece of artificial bullshit titled Bond ’77. You think it couldn’t get any worse, but then halfway through Bond ’77 – and really, calling the song that just irks of self-importance as though everybody was waiting for the theme tune to be updated – we get a horn part. It’s not a horn part in the style of John Barry (who must be vomiting in the cinema aisle at this very moment); it’s a horn part in the style of K.C. & The Sunshine Band. Only worse.

Then old James’ parachute opens and it’s alright. Hamlisch’s delicate piano introduction kicks in and we get one of the better theme songs in the series, courtesy of Carly Simon. The rest of the soundtrack isn’t that bad actually. It’s always been one of my favourite Bond films, and would probably be my firm favourite if Barry was in the composer’s chair.

The first appearance of Jaws, the launch of a white Lotus Esprit off a jetty into the ocean, a super hot Bond Girl (the future Mrs. Ringo Starr), the fight sequences in Egypt and on Stromberg’s Atlantis; this film has everything. In fact, it’s the film where Roger Moore really hits his stride and becomes his own Bond. If Live And Let Die was a transitional film, and The Man With The Golden Gun was a film where his performance was too close to Connery’s, The Spy Who Loved Me finds Moore raising his eyebrows and filling the screen with his natural, smarmy charm.

And it would be sacrilege to discuss The Spy Who Loved Me without mentioning Alan Partridge’s take on the film.

Hit: Nobody Does It Better – Carly Simon

Hidden Gem: Ride To Atlantis

Rocks In The Attic #456: Meat Loaf – ‘Bat Out Of Hell’ (1977)

RITA#456It’s not that I dislike Meat Loaf, but he’s just a poor man’s cottage pie, isn’t he?

This record always reminds me of mock-headbanging to the title song on the stereo in our sixth form common room. Due to my appearance at the time – denim jacket, long hair, slacker attitude – I had been trying at length to convince my fantastic English teacher, Mr. Summers, that I was something more than a stereotypical rocker. Then one afternoon he walked past our common room, and in the split-second that he glanced through the doorway, he saw me headbanging enthusiastically to Meat Loaf. I never lived that one down. Moral of the story: never headbang to make somebody laugh; to those not in on the joke, you look like a moron.

This album must prompt acts of hilarity. I have another memory of being sat in the passenger seat of my pal Stotty’s car, and watching him gleefully clap along to the clap-along section at the end of You Took the Words Right Out of My Mouth (Hot Summer Night). He wasn’t doing it with any ounce of seriousness; he was doing it to make me laugh by pointing out the fact that some people somewhere in the world would have earnestly done this very thing that the record asks the listener to do.

This is a behemoth of a record, having sold over forty three million copies worldwide. Forty three million! When you think about it, it’s difficult to comprehend that many of anything let alone 12” records, (5”) compact discs or (4”x 2.5”) cassettes. It’s hard to imagine them making that many copies, let alone all the people around the world who bought (or stole) them. Apparently it still sells around 200,000 copies every year. That’s nostalgia for you…

Hit: Bat Out Of Hell

Hidden Gem: All Revved Up With No Place To Go