Rocks In The Attic #740: The Radio Orchestra – ’50 Academy Award Winners’ (1984)

RITA#740As we’re well into award season, I thought I’d pull this one out of the racks.

Coming after the dreadful Themes record I posted about earlier this week, this is another LP that doesn’t contain the original versions. It’s an easy-listening orchestra doing the business this time though, not some over-eager chap with a Yamaha keyboard.

I do like this record though, for its completeness. Every song that won the Best Song Oscar since the awards category was established is covered here, from 1934’s The Continental (from the film Gay Divorcee), all the way up to 1983’s Flashdance.

Just hearing fifty years’ worth of film music is interesting, as the orchestral themes of the first half of the century start to drift into more popular musical styles in the latter half. I would have liked to have been in the studio when the Radio Orchestra recorded their funk-lite version of Isaac Hayes’ Shaft, the winning song from 1971.

There are plenty of hits here, from Over The Rainbow to Whatever Will Be, Will Be (Que Sera Sera), and Moon River to Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head, but for a hidden gem I just had to select Three Coins In The Fountain. Not because I like the song – I’ve never seen the film, and I doubt I ever will – but it’s the song that Steve Martin starts singing to a bewildered audience on a coach in Planes, Trains & Automobiles before John Candy saves him by launching into the theme from The Flinstones.

Hit: White Christmas

Hidden Gem: Three Coins In The Fountain

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Rocks In The Attic #739: Various Artists – ‘Themes’ (1984)

RITA#739I love a good television theme; but only the original versions. None of this cheaply, re-recorded shit (like this joke of an LP) that captures the melody of the theme but little of anything else.

I used to have a cassette of TV themes when I was growing up; recorded off an LP from the library, no doubt. The A-Team and Magnum P.I. were on there, as well as some other themes that I hadn’t seen by that point, like Hill St. Blues and The Rockford Files. It even had Dallas on there, a show I hated but would always watch the beginning of, for that glimpse of the Cowboy’s stadium in the split-screen opening credits. I can’t remember if my cassette included the original versions or not; it’s too long ago now, but I like to think they did.

Maybe it speaks to my poor knowledge of licensing rights, but surely it would be cheaper to hunt down the rights to the original versions rather than go to the trouble of re-recording them. Or maybe not, who knows? Re-recorded TV themes seem to be ten a penny; it feels like finding a needle in a haystack when you stumble across an original version.

I was scouring Spotify the other day for original TV themes. I found a decent number, but the vast majority were those horrible re-recorded versions that all sound like they were recorded on one keyboard with a dozen different settings. The trouble is that most great TV themes are intertwined with one’s memories of the show, so when you hear Terry Keyboard’s version, it just sounds insulting.

RITA#739aA particular favourite I’ve recently rediscovered is Stewart Copeland’s instrumental theme for The Equalizer, the late ‘80s vigilante show starring Edward Woodward (cue joke about why he has so many ‘d’s in his name). The Equalizer was always one of those shows that I wasn’t allowed to watch when it was originally aired. It was on too late and deemed by my parents to be too adult for me, too violent, and the action wasn’t cartoonish enough like Airwolf or the Roger Moore Bond films. The Professionals was another one I never got to watch.  I always got to watch the opening credits to The Equalizer though, and those were scary enough.

Hit: Magnum P.I.

Hidden Gem: Chi Mai

Rocks In The Attic #738: Creedence Clearwater Revival – ‘Creedence Gold’ (1972)

rita#738Our weekly Wednesday night pub quiz had a great question the other night. There’s a round called The List where you have to, erm, list ten of something. It’s either something boring – the ten longest rivers of the world, or the ten countries with the highest population, for example – or it will be something from popular culture. Ten Tintin books, ten films from the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and ten Oscar nominations for Meryl Streep have been my favourites so far.

I’m waiting for the day that the question relates to the James Bond films…

The trick is that you only get points for an unbroken run of answers, so if you get your eighth answer wrong, you would only get seven points (even if answers nine and ten are correct). In other words, the strategy is to put down your dead-certs first, with anything you’re unsure about down at the bottom of the list.

Last weeks’ question was to name any ten of the twenty-two bands that played at the original Woodstock festival in 1969. Now, I could name ten artists who played quite easily, but the question clearly stated ‘bands’ and so it was much, much trickier.

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Not only could I not remember some of the more obscure band names, but I also doubted how accurate the answers would be. Would they know, for example, that Hendrix’s band on the day wasn’t the Jimi Hendrix Experience, but the little-known Gypsy Sun & Rainbows? In the end, it turns out the quiz company did know this (they even had Hendrix’s second name when he referred to them as a plain ol’ Band Of Gypsies), but I was so confident that they wouldn’t, that I put it down as my tenth answer.

I got a pitiful six correct:
1. The Who
2. Canned Heat
3. Country Joe & The Fish
4. Jefferson Airplane
5. Santana
6. Ten Years After
7. Crosby, Stills & Nash (INCORRECT)
8. Big Brother & The Holding Company (INCORRECT)
9. The Mamas & The Papas (INCORRECT)
10. Gypsy Sun & Rainbows (CORRECT BUT NOT COUNTED)

rita#738bI did some healthy kicking of myself when the answers were read out. CSN was deemed incorrect because the band had been infiltrated by that Canadian interloper Neil Young by August ’69, Janis Joplin’s backing band at that time was the Kozmic Blues Band (having left Big Brother & The Holding Company the prior year), and the Mamas & the Papas was just plain wrong (I didn’t think they played, but thought that they might have been one of the bands not featured on the film soundtrack due to rights reasons, and more importantly my mother-in-law was adamant).

It’s interesting to look at the full line-up outside of the film and the accompanying soundtrack. It feels almost like bands as big as the Grateful Dead and Creedence Clearwater Revival have been written out of history because of their absence from the film.

rita#738cI wondered if their sets were even filmed, before old friend (and Woodstock expert) Moo sent me the link to the Creedence set on YouTube. It’s a ripper of a set, opening with a blustering version of Born On The Bayou. After the first song ends, John Fogerty looks at the cameraman and asks “Is that thing on now?” before the video cuts off. Much of the rest of the set is audio-only, with the video creeping back intermittently.

Is there a songwriter more overlooked than John Fogerty? His name should share the same breath as Brian Wilson, Lennon and McCartney and Ray Davies, but apart from the Dude, nobody else seems to care.

Hit: Proud Mary

Hidden Gem: Born On The Bayou

Rocks In The Attic #737: Bing Crosby – ‘The Best Of Bing’ (1973)

rita#737What links the smooth-voiced Bing Crosby with Stanley Kubrick’s Full Metal Jacket?

No, Bing didn’t ever do a tour of Vietnam (even though his comedy partner Bob Hope did). No, Bing didn’t ever struggle through basic training (it seems his talent kept him from the draft). And no, Bing wasn’t ever robbed by a prostitute in Saigon (although who knows about that one?).

No, the answer lies in a horrible moment in Full Metal Jacket where the unit beat the long-suffering Private Pile in the middle of the night with bars of soap wrapped in pillow-cases. I never really understood this, but it turns out that it’s an old trick – when you beat somebody with soap, or even oranges, in a pillow-case, it doesn’t leave marks. The science behind it is that the object used for the beating absorbs the impact before the skin does.

rita#737aAllegedly Bing Crosby used this trick to beat his kids – according to his estranged son, Gary, and if you believe it, a joke on Family Guy. Who knows? I’m just glad I’ve never been aware of the trick until now.

It’s a shame that Crosby was such a stern father – that fact at least was corroborated by his other children. His voice is so warm and friendly, it’s hard to imagine him being so strict. If we knew half the things that went on behind closed doors, we might have very different opinions of those we hold in such high regard. Allegedly, Oprah Winfrey hunts and eats cats in the local park.

Hit: White Christmas

Hidden Gem: Swinging On A Star

Rocks In The Attic #736: Willie Nelson – ‘Always On My Mind’ (1982)

rita#736News has just come in that Willie Nelson has been hit by a car. He was playing on the road again.

Jokes aside, is there a musician more associated with marijuana than Willie Nelson? Bob Marley maybe, but I can’t think of anybody else. Sure, every musician has smoked it, but Willie and Bob made a personal religion out of it. Maybe they should have taxed marijuana – would Willie have partaken then?

This 1982 studio album finds the tax-dodging Nelson playing Trigger, his trusty (and battered) acoustic guitar, on a number of covers aimed to attract a different audience – including the title song (made world famous by Elvis in 1972), Paul Simon’s Bridge Over Troubled Water, and Procol Harum’s A Whiter Shade Of Pale.

rita#736aDespite my dislike of country and western, I can just about manage to sit through this.

Hit: Always On My Mind

Hidden Gem: Do Right Woman, Do Right Man

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Rocks In The Attic #735: Various Artists – ‘A Clockwork Orange (O.S.T.)’ (1972)

rita#735I often wonder what Mary Whitehouse, the UK’s self-imposed guardian of decency, would think if you sat her down and played her an episode of The Walking Dead. Perhaps that episode where the bad guys made someone eat his own leg. Or maybe that one where Rick and crew were captured, kneeling at a trough, and waiting to be picked off one by one. Or that episode where Glenn and Abraham both got a baseball bat in the back of the head.

Maybe she’d prefer Game Of Thrones. She might like the episode where half of the principal cast were killed off at the red wedding, and the show took great joy at showing a pregnant woman being stabbed repeatedly in the belly.

It’s fair to say that we’ve gone a long, long way from the dark days of overbearing censorship; but have we gone too far?

I was reminded the other day of the United Kingdom’s video nasties list, something I hadn’t thought about for twenty years. Reading up on it, it feels like some kind of whacky parallel universe.

rita#735aIt all started with a legal loophole in the early 1980s. It’s hard to believe a market as big as home-video being unregulated, but as the popularity of home video wasn’t foreseen, videos were originally released without being reviewed for classification. Bonkers!

The subsequent list of films – 39 titles which could lead to prosecution following the Video Recordings Act 1984, a further 33 titles deemed less obscene (but which could be still seized by the police), and a final 82 films deemed even less obscene (but again could still be seized) – make for some interesting reading.

Of the first list, I’ve only seen two – The Driller Killer and The Last House On The Left – and if the quality of these films is anything to go by, I won’t be seeking out the rest. I’ve seen two on the second list – The Evil Dead and The Living Dead At The Manchester Morgue – but I have the most success with the third list, which seems to be a catch-all of pretty much every other horror film of the time, having seen eight titles: Dawn Of The Dead, Friday The 13th, Friday The 13th Part 2, Night Of The Living Dead, Scanners, Suspiria, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and The Thing.

One film commonly associated with the video nasties list was A Clockwork Orange. However, this was withdrawn from cinemas by Stanley Kubrick himself, after reports of copycat crimes. Subsequently, it was never released on home-video. Only after the director’s death was the film re-released in cinemas in 2000, and made available on VHS and DVD.

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While A Clockwork Orange is a fantastic film, it will never be one of my favourite of Kubrick’s. It’s just so damn depressing, with Michael McDowell’s Alex impossible to empathise with. Of course this is just as much to do with McDowell’s performance as it is with the character written by Anthony Burgess. I can’t ever remember McDowell playing a sympathetic character – he oozes repulsion both in the people he plays, and from the audience watching him.

Even though the age of censorship that bred the video nasties list feels like a lifetime ago, one of today’s top directors was affected early in his career. Quentin Tarantino’s Reservoir Dogs was originally denied a home-video release in the UK, despite being classified for a cinematic release in 1992. Herein lies the real headache – video classification was originally considered completely separate from cinematic classification. Another example was William Friedkin’s The Exorcist, which didn’t see a home-release until 1999, despite regularly playing at midnight screenings across the country (including my local Roxy cinema in Failsworth) since its 1973 release.

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What this all boils down to is a lack of trust in the consumer. The government would (begrudgingly) allow a film to be viewed at the cinema, but wouldn’t allow it to be viewed at home because they had no control over who would see it on the family television. In theory, it sort of makes sense, but it fails in practice. A huge home audience was initially refused the opportunity to see Reservoir Dogs, once declared ‘the greatest independent film of all time’, which despite featuring a lot of blood, doesn’t actually have much on-screen violence.

Hit: Title Music From A Clockwork Orange – Wendy Carlos

Hidden Gem: I Want To Marry A Lighthouse Keeper – Erika Eigen

Rocks In The Attic #734: Manic Street Preachers – ‘This Is My Truth Tell Me Yours’ (1998)

rita#734Love and hate. Loved the Manics at this point in their career; hated this album.

It makes for a hard listen: This Is My Migraine Tell Me Yours. If you didn’t know anything about the band, and were asked which album they recorded immediately after losing their friend and band member Richey Edwards, you’d think it was this, not the anthemic Everything Must Go from 1996.

It’s almost like a delayed hangover. Lose your bandmate, record a positive, feelgood hit of an album, then retreat and make something reflective and inward-looking. I struggled for so long trying to make some sense of its bleakness, and then all-but gave up when the desolation continued with 2001’s Know Your Enemy.

rita#734aI first heard lead single If You Tolerate This Your Children Will Be Next at a friend’s house with a few other people. My friend was channel-hopping and landed on MTV. The music video for the song started, and after 30 seconds he changed the channel again with a resounding ‘Ugh!’

If the song can’t hold the attention of your average (non-Manics) rock music fan, what chance does everybody else have? Still, the album reached #1 in the UK album charts (probably on the strength of its predecessor), and the band went on to headline the following year’s Glastonbury festival.

I attended that Glastonbury, it was my first one, and I was so excited to finally see one of my favourite bands at the time. The setlist, not surprisingly, was comprised mainly of songs from Everything Must Go and This Is My Truth. Only Motown Junk and two songs from the debut (Motorcycle Emptiness, You Love Us) were aired. Gold Against The Soul was the most underplayed (La Tristesse Durera), and only two songs from The Holy Bible were played (Yes and P.C.P.). Such was the rabid fervour of Manics fans that Yes was abandoned mid-song due to a crush in the crowd, before being restarted.

rita#734bAny discussion of the Manics’ ’99 Glastonbury show would be incomplete without mentioning their toilet faux pas. In a misguided – but to be fair, probably just misunderstood – display of elitism, the band had their own exclusive port-a-loo toilet installed backstage. It didn’t take long for the music press to latch onto it, who pointed out how far the band had come from their anarchic roots. This is my loo, go use yours.

Listening now to this pristine 20th-anniversary pressing, it’s clear that This Is My Truth Tell Me Yours is a beautiful album. It’s just dull as dishwater for the most part. The sound of a band heavily sedated, deep in therapy. Just look at that cover. They look lost.

Hit: If You Tolerate This Your Children Will Be Next

Hidden Gem: Black Dog On My Shoulder