Monthly Archives: August 2012

Rocks In The Attic #144: Joni Mitchell – ‘Blue’ (1971)

Rocks In The Attic #144: Joni Mitchell - ‘Blue’ (1971)This is one of those classic albums that is so well-known, but for all the right reasons. There is no pop hit on this album that might bring the casual listener to it, like Big Yellow Taxi on the earlier Ladies Of The Canyon. It’s hard then to decide what is the hit and what is the hidden gem on this album. I’d say All I Want has to be the hit. As the first song, this really says ‘Blue’ to me, more than any other song on the album, even the titular song. For a hidden gem on the album, I could pretty much choose every track. I’ve opted for California as I really like the super-slow fade-out at the end of the song, with Mitchell singing against Sneaky Pete Kleinow’s pedal steel guitar (Stephen Stills and James Taylor also play on the album).

Blue was introduced to me through the first series of the Classic Albums TV programme, and it’s remained a favourite ever since. I prefer it to Ladies Of The Canyon as it works much better as one whole piece of work. Whereas Ladies Of The Canyon exists as a collection of songs, Blue is more cohesive with a number of themes that run throughout the album. The style of guitar playing she employs in All I Want and Carey are also highlights for me.

For some reason, listening to this reminds me of driving over Snake Pass, between Manchester and Sheffield. It’s funny that music does that. I’m presuming I was listening to the album during that journey once, and then on a repeat trip my subconscious reminded me of the association and I played it again, further cementing the connection between the two.

Hit: All I Want

Hidden Gem: California

Rocks In The Attic #143: John Barry – ‘From Russia With Love (O.S.T.)’ (1963)

The second Bond film, and John Barry’s first full soundtrack (he had only arranged and conducted the James Bond Theme for Dr. No), this is where the music starts to become a key part in the Bond story. Barry’s brass-laden scores are an integral component of the Bond ‘sound’ and this comes fully formed here, ready for the global spotlight that would be cast on the series during the release of the next film, Goldfinger, one year later.

From Russia With Love is clearly one of the better Bond films, if the not the best one outright, and the soundtrack is notable for the first appearance of the instrumental theme 007, which scores the gypsy camp fight scene in the film. Considered to be the ‘secondary’ James Bond theme, this pops up in several films during Sean Connery’s tenure; and only once since, in 1979’s Moonraker starring Roger Moore.

The vocal version of the film’s title song, sung by Matt Munro, is one of my favourite Bond songs – and it always amuses me to change the word ‘Russia’ to ‘Rusholme’, changing the tone of the song quite considerably from the subject matter of espionage, to a simple love song about a man bringing a curry home for his wife.

Hit: From Russia With Love – Matt Munro

Hidden Gem: 007

Rocks In The Attic #142: AC/DC – ‘Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap’ (1976)

For me, and I’m talking about the international version of the Dirty Deeds album, this is where AC/DC really start sounding like AC/DC. The High Voltage album (again, to take the international release as gospel) sounds like a band searching for their sound, and I guess a few of the songs included here don’t really fit with the AC/DC template – or at least not as much as other songs on the album.

A lot of people don’t like it, but I really like the cover to this album. Designed by Hipgnosis, it’s essentially a stock photo of an American motel, with a range of random everyday people superimposed in the foreground. Those people, for no reason explained anywhere on the cover – or even in the title of the album – have their eyes blanked out with black bars. To make it even stranger, there is a Doberman amongst the crowd, and he doesn’thave a black bar across his eyes. Go figure.

The real gem of this album is Ride On– a slow blues, and for me a career highlight which they never came close to matching. I’d compare it to Since I’ve Been Loving You (from Led Zeppelin III) in that in both cases, the respective bands have endlessly tried to replicate these songs on subsequent releases without reaching those peaks again.

Hit: Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap

Hidden Gem: Ride On

Rocks In The Attic #141: Herman Kelly & Life – ‘Percussion Explosion’ (1978)

This is another throwback to my days DJing in and around Manchester. When I started DJing on Friday nights at 38 Bar / The Castle in Oldham, I initially wondered how I was going to fill so much time, from 7:30pm to midnight every week.

I’d heard that a friend of a friend, Danny Buckley – who we would rechristen Danny Beetle – was an aspiring DJ, so I roped him into playing for an hour or so each week. It was probably very good for me that I did this. Danny opened my ears to many different types of music that I never would have unearthed myself.

One such example is Dance To The Drummer’s Beat, by the ‘70s Miami band Herman Kelly & Life. This track really grooves, punctuated throughout by an overdose of cowbell which, to borrow a phrase from the liner notes, sounds like a ‘beautiful, twitching, ticking musical time bomb’.

Hit: Dance To The Drummer’s Beat

Hidden Gem: Do The Handbone

Rocks In The Attic #139: Paul Simon – ‘Graceland’ (1986)

Rocks In The Attic #139: Paul Simon - ‘Graceland’ (1986)I recently watched Under African Skies, the documentary about the recording of Graceland which has been touring the film festival circuit over the past 18 months or so. The film marks the 25th anniversary of the album’s release, and has the usual talking heads interspersed with archive footage from the recording sessions.

One of the big talking points was Simon’s stealthily assembled recording sessions in South Africa, bypassing the cultural boycott of the country imposed by the ANC. It’s funny that the music industry often criticises Queen for playing concerts in South Africa at this time (a topic that really annoys Brian May when brought up in interviews), yet Paul Simon is almost universally applauded for collaborating with South African musicians and recording part of this album there. Did he collaborate or did he exploit them? He seems to have given co-writing credit wherever it’s due, but surely he seems to have become much, much richer – both financially and artistically – than them as a result.

I’m not sure which side of the fence I sit, and I don’t really like to tarnish art with politics, but the whole thing reeks of a certain duplicity. What isn’t in doubt is whether this is a good album or not. I think it’s fantastic, and it’s a refreshing change from the sludge of mid-‘80s solo albums released by rock stars from the ‘70s. I’ve loved the album ever since I saw it covered during the first series of Classic Albums. It quickly became a favourite, throughout college and university, and I’d always try to push onto other people.

If I had any criticisms at all, it would be the title of the song that lends its name to the album. Although it’s a fantastic song, and one of the album’s highlights, it just doesn’t fit right hearing about America, New York City and Elvis’ home when the rest of the album is so rooted in South Africa – both lyrically and musically. In the documentary Under African Skies, Simon recounts that it also didn’t make sense to him at the time, and that he always meant to the change the title of the song at least, but that no matter what he tried he just couldn’t change those words that fit so well. Perhaps it’s the counterpoint, between the subject matter of America and South Africa that actually makes it so interesting.

A couple of years ago I went to see Simon & Garfunkel in concert. I don’t know what I was expecting but they totally exceeded my expectations, and to this day it remains one of the best gigs I’ve been to. Halfway through their set, Paul Simon walked offstage for a short break while Art Garfunkel remained on stage with the band. I started to lose interest after he followed a fantastic version of Bridge Over Troubled Water with a new song he had recently written. Right then, as my guard was down, and I thought I’d witnessed the peak of their performance with songs like Old Friends and The Sound Of Silence, Paul Simon walked back onstage to do his solo piece and give Garfunkel a short break. He walked out to the middle of stage and pointed across to the piano-accordionist that had suddenly appeared, who in turn started the opening notes to The Boy In The Bubble. I’d never have believed I would have seen Paul Simon perform this song, so it was a very happy and welcome surprise.

Hit: You Can Call Me Al

Hidden Gem: The Boy In The Bubble

Rocks In The Attic #138: The Doobie Brothers – ‘The Doobie Brothers’ (1971)

Rocks In The Attic #138: The Doobie Brothers - ‘The Doobie Brothers’ (1971)I’ve always loved The Doobie Brothers because of Tom Johnston’s songwriting, but it wasn’t until I saw them live that I realised that Pat Simmons and his fingerpicking style is just as important to the band’s sound.

Simmons’ fingerpicking is most notable on their later hit single Black Water, but it’s all over this album. The interplay between what he brings to the table, together with Johnston’s voice and second guitar, really is the sound of The Doobie Brothers.

This debut is incredibly laid-back and it’s almost hard to believe that this band would go on to record some really big hits throughout the ‘70s. They almost sound too chilled-out to orchestrate anything as contrived as a pop single, and perhaps that’s more the influence of producer Ted Templeman than anything else.

Hit: Nobody

Hidden Gem: Chicago

Rocks In The Attic #137: The Joe Perry Project – ‘Let The Music Do The Talking’ (1980)

Rocks In The Attic #137: The Joe Perry Project - ‘Let The Music Do The Talking’ (1980)I’d like to say this is better than anything that Aerosmith was doing in 1980 – because Joe Perry is Aerosmith, right? – but it’s really not. It sounds like a solo album from just one aspect of Aerosmith, which of course is what it is. As much as I love Joe Perry – and regard him as the most kick-ass part of Aerosmith, this album really proves that he is just one element of that band, and that on his own he has trouble reaching the same peaks.

This album was released after Joe Perry left Aerosmith – following a backstage arguement involving spilt milk, of all things – and put together relatively quickly compared to the marathon recording sessions that were plaguing Aerosmith at the time.

It’s pretty cheesy, but I love the album cover. The front has a photograph of Joe, guitar slung over his back, delivering the master tape to a board meeting of executives sat across a ridiculously large glass conference table. The rear cover has a shot of Joe, sat at an ornate desk in near-darkness like a private detective, cigarette in hand, overlooking 8”x10” black and white photographs of his band. Love it!

Hit: Let The Music Do The Talking

Hidden Gem: Shooting Star

Rocks In The Attic #136: Huey Lewis And The News – ‘Sports’ (1983)

There’s an amusing spelling mistake on the cover of this album. You don’t tend to see typos like this on album covers, and probably for a good reason given the amount of money it takes to get an album out, and the considerable sum it is then expected to make back. On the album credits, the album is listed as being ‘recored’, instead of ‘recorded’ by Jim Gaines. Oh dear, I’m sure a young executive at Chrysalis Records felt the heat the day this record was pressed.

In the wake of Back To The Future, and their hit-single The Power Of Love, Huey Lewis And The News were my favourite band – at least for a few years until they fell of my radar and were replaced by the 1987 version of Michael Jackson. To my ears at least, their brand of rock n’ roll doesn’t sound too dated – even though on paper they should.

Any rock album of the mid-‘80s, especially one with saxophone and keyboards, runs the risk of now sounding irrelevant, but on this album, and it’s follow up, Fore!, they don’t sound too bad. Huey Lewis’ vocals soulful vocals definitely help, but perhaps it’s also because of Lewis’s background with ‘70s San Fransisco band Clover, and the fact that he was already an established recording artist, working through the ‘80s, not as a product of the ‘80s, and able to cleverly sidestep any of the now-dated clichés from that decade. I’m sure that the fact that this album was self-produced didn’t hurt either – away from the influence and gimmickry of the latest hot-shot ‘80s producer.

Hit: I Want A New Drug

Hidden Gem: Bad Is Bad

Rocks In The Attic #135: Pink Floyd – ‘Meddle’ (1971)

Rocks In The Attic #135: Pink Floyd - ‘Meddle’ (1971)My favourite Pink Floyd album changes all the time. When I first started listening to them, Meddle was easily my favourite as it didn’t come prepackaged with a load of hype and expectancy like their later albums. I’d say the same for the Obscured By Clouds soundtrack too – another hidden gem in their back-catalogue.

You can hear the beginnings of Dark Side Of The Moon on Meddle too, in the close-knit harmonies of David Gilmour and Rick Wright’s vocals. If they hadn’t recorded Dark Side, and instead gone on to record umpteen albums like Meddle, I’d be a very happy man; but I’d also be very sad at losing Dark Side, Wish You Were Here, Animals and The Wall from that parallel universe.

Right now, and for maybe the past year or so, Wish You Were Here has been my favourite Floyd album.  That doesn’t mean I still don’t enjoy Meddle though. I love its laid-back attitude, and the low-key approach to the song choices – as though they just recorded what seemed to fall out of them at the time. I also like the fact that they decided to fill one side of the record up with just one song – albeit a 23-minute song.

In terms of album covers, it might be one of their most overlooked, but I love it. On the outside cover, a super close-up photograph of a human ear, overlaid with a lighting effect projected onto ripples of water; on the inner gatefold, a warts and all black and white shot of the band – essentially just a photograph, but one of my favourites.

Hit: One Of These Days

Hidden Gem: A Pillow Of Winds