Monthly Archives: September 2012

Rocks In The Attic #151: The Rolling Stones – ‘The Rolling Stones No.2’ (1965)

Rocks In The Attic #151: The Rolling Stones - ‘The Rolling Stones No.2’ (1965)The first three Stones album are very similar – in that they’re basically a run through of the band’s favourite R&B covers. They manage to inject a bit more of themselves into this, their second attempt, and unlike their debut which only has one original song, this features three Jagger / Richards compositions.

I now can’t listen to Time Is On My Side without thinking of the song’s focus in the Denzel Washington film Fallen. It’s a great song, and takes on a strange, other-worldly feel from its use as an identifier of evil in the film. If Fallen was a truly bad film, I’d be annoyed at its inclusion, but it’s one of those popcorn movies that I’m always glad to watch when it shows on TV.

The Stones pretty much drift through their first album, and most of this one, before putting a foot wrong. Their version of Under The Boardwalk on the second side of …No.2 really stands out as a misstep, with a weak sound that doesn’t suit the band. This probably comes from an attempt to ape The Drifters’ version as closely as possible, but to me it sounds as wrong as The Beatles’ version of Gerry & The Pacemakers’ How Do You Do It?

Hit: Time Is On My Side

Hidden Gem: I Can’t Be Satisfied

Rocks In The Attic #150: The Jimi Hendrix Experience – ‘Axis: Bold As Love’ (1967)

Ten reasons why I love this album:

1. The Songs

Of the three studio albums released by Hendrix before his death, this comes across as the most personal. Are You Experienced is hook-driven and full of perfect three-minute pop songs, Electric Ladyland finds Hendrix immersed in the New York scene of barflies and hangers-on, but Axis catches him in full songwriter mode.

Hendrix’s lyrics are often overlooked, but he can really paint a picture with words. Axis showcases his love of science-fiction and his vivid imagination on tracks such as Spanish Castle Magic and Little Wing. Other songwriters can sound banal when they tell a story with lyrics – Paul McCartney commonly makes this mistake – but Hendrix seems to effortlessly get you on his side. His lyrics for Wait Until Tomorrow and Castles Made Of Sand are heartbreaking, and far from the sort of expectations set by the simplistic tone of Fire and Foxy Lady only a matter of months prior.

2. The Guitar Sound

I love the fuzz on Hendrix’s guitar throughout Are You Experienced.  The fade-in to Foxy Lady has to be one of the best sounds captured on a rock album – but Hendrix playing a clean tone on his guitar is even better. Thankfully this album is full of it.

The introduction to Little Wing is stunningly beautiful, and wouldn’t be quite the same if there was any overdrive involved. There’s a big difference between playing a guitar to chug away on some barre chords, and using it as a virtuoso instrument. It’s a really delicate piece, complimented perfectly by the addition of a glockenspiel – something that would usually be very much out of place on a rock album.

When I started learning to play the guitar, the first music book I bought was Electric Ladyland – there’s nothing like throwing yourself into the deep end. I didn’t last long with the book – I think I sold it to a friend as it was far too advanced for my skill level at the time. It always rankled me though, and eventually learning to play Little Wing gave me the confidence to go back and learn some of his other songs. I can play Hendrix’s stuff on the guitar reasonably well, but there are always a million subtleties that I overlook.

3. The Cover

If there’s one thing I hate about the late-‘60s, it’s the look associated with psychedelia. When The Beatles jumped on the bandwagon with Sgt. Pepper’s, they brought that look to a worldwide commercial level. People rave on about how timeless the Sgt. Pepper’s sleeve is, but I can’t stand it. It’s garish and like most record sleeves of that time, it dates it to a period when designers could get away with murder – as long as they painted their criminal efforts with as many colours as they had available to them.

The Sgt. Peppers sleeve is probably to blame for opening the doors of possibility for a number of visual crimes – The Rolling Stones’ terrible Their Satanic Majesties Request and Cream’s vomit-inducing Disraeli Gears immediately spring to mind. One other album sleeve to be thrown into that mix is Axis: Bold As Love. Quite simply though, I love it.

Rumour has it that the record company found out about Hendrix’s Cherokee ancestry. This got lost somewhere in translation, and the subsequent cover featured Hendrix amidst the wrong kind of Indians.

I’m sure most people would argue that the cover is just as offensive, wild and garish as anything produced around those times, but I truly see it as a piece of art – one of the nicest gafefold sleeves in my collection.

4. The Drum Intro To Little Miss Lover

Mitch Mitchell is oft-overlooked for his contribution to rock music. John Bonham and Keith Moon are always seen as the best drummers from the late ‘60s and early ‘70s, but Mitchell is a master player. He just suffers from having his parts overshadowed by Hendrix – and what a problem to have.

One of his standout moments across all three Hendrix studio albums is this funk-driven introduction to Little Miss Lover. Unfortunately, it’s so good that somewhere along the way it caught the ears of the Master of Mediocrity, Noel Gallagher – who used the sample as the basis for Fuckin’ In The Bushes from their Standing On The Shoulder Of Giantsalbum.

This meant that for a distinct period of time, Oasis fans claimed themselves a bit of credibility because of the Hendrix connection. I already despised Oasis and their legion of numbskull fans; I loathed them even more now.

5. Walking Down The Aisle

When I got married in 2011, my wife walked down the aisle to Little Wing.

In the weeks running up the wedding, she couldn’t decide between that and Led Zeppelin’s Over The Hills And Far Away. She wanted both played at the wedding – one to walk down the aisle to, and the other to walk back up the aisle to, as a married couple.

I convinced her that Little Wing worked much better as a down-the-aisle song, as the section in Over The Hills And Far Away where the bass and drums kick in, a minute and a half into the song, seemed more apt to mark a joyous occasion.

The beautiful Little Wing was used to soundtrack a beautiful moment.

6. Fulfilling The Record Contract

Hendrix was tied to a really bad record contract from day one, and never really made any money before he died. His estate now makes millions off his name, and it’s sad that his business affairs were always in such dire straits during his short tenure as a rock star.

The initial contract Hendrix signed with Track Records tied the Experience to release two LPs during 1967. Are You Experiencedhad already landed in May of that year, so surely another release would be of an inferior quality. Most bands would knock something out quickly, but Hendrix turns around and delivers a masterpiece.

7. Three Copies And Counting

Of all the albums in my vinyl collection, this is the one I own the most copies of. I bought two second hand copies while I was still living in Manchester – neither of which had a gatefold sleeve. About a year ago I bought brand new copy of the 2010 reissue from Real Groovy in Auckland. This is a heavyweight vinyl release, and also features the full gatefold sleeve, together with a booklet containing photos and an essay on the album.

You can say what you want about the Experience Hendrix releases – yes, they may be cashing in on Hendrix – but they’re supremely well packaged, and give his music the justice it deserves. If you don’t like the endless re-releasing of his albums, don’t buy them. It’s that simple.

8. The Production.

Electric Ladyland, would perfect the direction that Hendrix wanted to go but his first soundscapes came along on the title song of Are You Experienced, and were cemented here on Axis.

The wall of rolling feedback that symbolises the sound of a UFO taking off, on the album’s comedic opener EXP, leads the way into a set of songs where production really is as important as the songwriting. Axis would be the second and final album that Hendrix would record with Chas Chandler on production duties, and you definitely get a feeling that these sessions were fun. Electric Ladyland, on the other hand, can sound very serious at times and just a bit too heavy. Man.

9. The Font.

Hendrix’s handwriting is easily identifiable- his handwritten lyrics happily pop up all over the liner notes of the Experience Hendrix releases.

This font of his handwriting style cleverly takes the name of the album – Axis Bold.

10. Spanish Castle Magic.

Purple Haze, Foxy Lady and Fire always get their dues when it comes to their place in the rock riff canon. For some reason, Spanish Castle Magic gets lost in the dust.

It has a wealth of riffs – the stuttering overdrive of the intro, the main arpeggiated riff, and the descending, syncopated power-chords of the verses all combine to provide a really heavy guitar assault.

Hit: Little Wing

Hidden Gem: Bold As Love

Rocks In The Attic #149: Various Artists – ‘Walt Disney’s Original Soundtrack Collection Vol. 2’ (1964)

Rocks In The Attic #149: Various Artists - ‘Walt Disney’s Original Soundtrack Collection Vol. 2’ (1964)Q: What’s the difference between Bing Crosby and Walt Disney?

A: Bing sings, but Walt Disney.

Hit: Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious (from’ Mary Poppins’)

Hidden Gem: He’s A Tramp (from ‘Lady And The Tramp’)

Rocks In The Attic #148: Peter Frampton – ‘I’m In You’ (1977)

Rocks In The Attic #148: Peter Frampton - ‘I’m In You’ (1977)This is a pretty star-studded recording – Stevie Wonder, Mick Jagger and Ringo Starr all pop on this album in various guises. I guess when you release a successful album like Frampton Comes Alive!, your next album is always going to attract attention from certain quarters.

Frampton Comes Alive! was one of the first records I ‘borrowed’ from my Dad’s collection – and like most people, I know that album much better than his studio albums.

It seems that …Alive! was Frampton’s peak – and all that remained for his solo career was a slippery slope downhill. The cover of this album says it all – his career is no longer aimed at fans of Humble Pie and classic rock in general; it’s now aimed at the bedroom walls of pubescent teenage girls.

Hit: Signed, Sealed, Delivered (I’m Yours)

Hidden Gem: Won’t You Be My Friend

Rocks In The Attic #147: Bee Gees – ‘Main Course’ (1975)

Rocks In The Attic #147: Bee Gees - ‘Main Course’ (1975)I’ve always had a soft spot for The Bee Gees (I know they don’t favour the definitive article in front of their name, but it’s grammatically annoying not to slide one in there). We used to live a couple of streets away from where they grew up in Chorlton, Manchester (between them being born on the Isle Of Man and being shipped out to Australia).  They seem to offend a lot of people by their very existence, but I think their early-falsetto output between Jive Talkin’ and the Saturday Night Fever soundtrack are notable enough to ignore their other crimes against music.

I almost went to see Robin Gibb when he played in New Zealand just before he died. I was all set to buy myself a ticket until I read an interview he did to promote the show, in which he claimed that the music of The Bee Gees was more relevant than The Beatles, and had stood the test of time better. By the time I had stopped laughing, the concert had been and gone. I then felt like I’d missed out because he died not long after. In a bizarre twist of fate, newspaper articles over the last couple of weeks have all but claimed that New Zealand killed Robin Gibb – by flying over to play in New Zealand, he missed medical scans which may have prolonged his life.

I recently watched a documentary on the band, and Maurice really comes across as the most affable of the three. Barry really is the alpha lion of the pride, and Robin speaks only when he is given chance, but Maurice actually sounds like a genuinely nice bloke.

Hit: Jive Talkin’

Hidden Gem: Wind Of Change

Rocks In The Attic #146: R.E.M. – ‘Document’ (1987)

Rocks In The Attic #146: R.E.M. - ‘Document’ (1987)Document is R.E.M.’s fifth album, but their first with producer Scott Litt. You can hear how important this addition is, with not only a fantastic sound overall (the album, released on the independent I.R.S. Records comes across like a major label release) but a more channelled direction.

Earlier R.E.M. albums sound to me like a random bunch of Michael Stipe’s poetry set to Peter Buck’s jangly guitar. Here, they sound like a fully fledged band, readily placed on the brink of mainstream crossover.

Hit: The One I Love

Hidden Gem: Finest Worksong

Rocks In The Attic #145: Blondie – ‘Blondie’ (1976)

Rocks In The Attic #145: Blondie - ‘Blondie’ (1976)Whenever I listen to a band’s debut album, and the material on there isn’t really representative of their later work, I always think back to an interview I heard once with John Peel. He was explaining why his musical tastes were drawn to the obscure and away from the mainstream. To paraphrase, he said that a band’s debut is essentially their most concentrated output, and that any subsequent albums are diluted attempts to rehash earlier glories, influenced greatly by record company involvement or, even worse, the fans.

In most cases, I agree with him. But you have to bring a degree of common sense to the party. Anybody who thinks that the first R.E.M. album, Murmur, is their finest achievement would be deluded. Or U2’s debut, Boy. There are many bands who just don’t get going properly until they’re a few albums into their career – R.E.M. and U2 are extreme examples I think, but the same can be said for Blondie.

This is in no way the ‘best’ or even the most interesting Blondie album. Rip Her To Shreds, or Rip Her To Shreads as it is mistakenly spelled on the album sleeve, is the only song on here that stands up to their later output.

Hit: Rip Her To Shreds

Hidden Gem: X Offender