Monthly Archives: October 2012

Rocks In The Attic #160: The Doobie Brothers – ‘Best Of The Doobies’ (1976)

In 1988, when I was 10, my parents and I went to the U.S. and Canada. We spent a week in Toronto, and then went on a road trip over the next fortnight. We drove down to Washington D.C., and then up to New York City, Plymouth, Boston, over the border into Montreal, and then back to Toronto.

During those two long, hot, stuffy weeks in a rental car, I was given a crash-course into good music. Not long after we set off, my Dad bought a double cassette of The Best Of The Doobies / The Best Of The Doobies Vol. 2 to play in the car, and this became the soundtrack for the holiday.

Up to that point, music hadn’t really found me. Michael Jackson had released Bad a year earlier in 1987, and although I liked that record – and all the hype surrounding it – I still felt like an outsider to music in general. The Doobie Brothers, strangely enough (for a 10-year old boy in 1988), were my way in.

I couldn’t really think of a better band to soundtrack an American road trip. Every night we stayed in a different motel, and I’d go and find the Pepsi machine and ice bin. Every meal was at a roadside diner, and we even ate at the sort of places that had tabletop jukebox machines, just like on the cover of this album.

I don’t know why, but although I continued to listen to The Doobs when I got home, I didn’t really bother looking for anything else to listen to. I think listening to this album rekindled my interest in Huey Lewis & The News, much to the amusement of Shaunee Lever, but essentially I was still too young to get into music big-time. That would happen a few years down the road.

To this day, I still haven’t been back to the USA, but you can bet that when I do I’ll be playing this album in our rental car.

Hit: Long Train Runnin’

Hidden Gem: Black Water

Rocks In The Attic #159: Danny Elfman – ‘Batman (O.S.T.)’ (1989)

This is a very busy score – but then again so is everything that Danny Elfman does. His theme for The Simpsons is all over the place, and there’s not really a better composer suited to score the madness that Tim Burton injects into his films.

I’ve never been a big Tim Burton fan – early on I spotted his inability to create a truly three-dimensional world. Beetlejuice made me laugh, but Edward Scissorhands left me feeling cold, and I’ve felt that way ever since about most of the stuff he churns out. 1989’s Batman however, is another matter.

I was very much into Batman at the time it was released, having just got back from a holiday in the USA where I had started to read comic books. So I eagerly awaited the release of the film, and I even remember going to see it on opening night, probably with my Dad. Since Superman II, there hadn’t really been a decent superhero film, so I literally couldn’t wait to see this. My impatience was demostrated by the fact that I read the graphic novel of the film, before I watched the film itself – a huge mistake I learned to never make again.

In hindsight, it isn’t a fantastic film – especially now that Christopher Nolan has shown how a Batman film should be made – but I still have fond memories of it. Part of the nostalgia I have for the film, is the music, which proved that a superhero score could be composed by somebody other than John Williams. The Batman Theme is great, and although it’s nowhere near as majestic as Williams’ Superman Theme, it seems to suit Batman as it’s darker, moodier, and more fitting to the whole Dark Knight ethos.

This score is a perfect companion piece to Prince’s Batman soundtrack (which I also have on vinyl). Where this is dark and full of shadows, Prince’s offering is more light-hearted and almost futuristic in its sound. Let’s broaden our minds…

Hit: The Batman Theme

Hidden Gem: Descent Into Mystery

Rocks In The Attic #158: Bill Withers – ‘Bill Withers’ Greatest Hits’ (1981)

“That was Bill Withers who, thank the Lord, is still with us” – Alan Partidge.

I love a bit of Bill – who doesn’t? He’s one of those singers that, even when singing what is essentially a soppy love song, he comes across as a hard bastard. Looking on his Wikipedia page, he was born in Slab Fork, West Virginia. How masculine does that sound? “My name’s Bill, and I come from Slab Fork.” He sounds like he was chiselled out of granite. You wouldn’t mess with him, that’s for sure.

I’m not sure what he’s been doing since 1985 – the year of his last record (and even that was six since the previous one) – but these ‘best of’ compilations keep churning out (there are eight compilations listed on Wikipedia, against eight studio albums).

Wikipedia reports that he runs a publishing company in Beverly Hills. It’s a shame that he doesn’t record any more, although I guess it might be a very good thing – recording a respectable body of work, and then leaving the music business. Why don’t other people do that sort of thing – and I’m talking to you, Paul McCartney!

Hit: Lovely Day

Hidden Gem: Use Me

Rocks In The Attic #157: ZZ Top – ‘Tejas’ (1976)

Of ZZ Top’s first five albums, this one – their fifth – has always been the one I’ve found hardest to get into. It’s not a radical departure from the earlier four albums – production-wise it sounds very similar to their brand of down and dirty blues, but the songwriting and tempo is very laid back. If Tres Hombres was a whiskey album, this one sounds like it was made whilst high on peyote. Possibly, startled by their own success, they thought they’d dial it back slightly for this album. By the last track, the flamenco lullaby of Asleep In The Desert, they almost sound like they’ve passed out.

This is also another one of ZZ Top’s albums that is yet to see a faithful digital transfer of the original mix. The CD version, available since the mid-‘80s, is marred by a horrible remix – as though it’s been remixed by Kraftwerk. Although most of the Tejas tracks have turned up on compilations in their original Terry Manning mix, there are still a couple that are yet to receive this treatment. Even worse, the version of the album available on iTunes mixes tracks with the original mix, with other tracks featuring the ‘80s CD remix. Ugh.

I’m playing this album today because on the first day of daylight savings, with the sun streaming in through the ranch-sliders, it feels good to play a bit of Texas whilst sat in my shorts.

Hit: It’s Only Love

Hidden Gem: El Diablo

Rocks In The Attic #156: Queen – ‘Sheer Heart Attack’ (1974)

This album, Queen’s third, is where the band starts to sound interesting. The first two albums are far too lacking in melody for my liking, and seemed designed purely for early 1970s headbangers.

Killer Queen is a fantastic single and probably one of my favourite Queen tracks. For some reason, something clicks when Freddie Mercury writes songs in a style other than rock / heavy metal. Of course, this isn’t true of a lot of his material – some of it is truly awful – but most of their big singles throughout the ‘70s are timeless.

The album in general is a big leap forward from Queen and Queen II – although it only shows a few hints of the band’s knack for melody and their ability to write a universal pop song. That reputation was still to be established (…and subsequently destroyed).

Hit: Killer Queen

Hidden Gem: Now I’m Here

Rocks In The Attic #155: The Beatles – ‘1962 – 1966’ (1973)

This collection, better known as The Red Album, was the first compilation to be officially released after the band split.

Essentially it’s a gathering together of all of The Beatles singles between those years, complimented by the occasional album-track; however it strangely includes 6 non-single album tracks from Rubber Soul. This has always caused consternation among Beatles fans – why favour so many songs from Rubber Soul while Revolver is ignored with only two tracks.

The answer seems to be that the albums were compiled by the then-manager Allen Klein. It simply seems to be a case of his personal choice, but at the end of the day I’m glad that Rubber Soul got plundered and the far superior Revolver escapes relatively unscathed.

I once took part in a pub quiz where one of the questions was the reason why this album, and its follow-up 1967 – 1970, were coloured red and blue respectively. The answer – from the guy running the quiz – was that it was a nod to the band’s hometown of Liverpool, and the colours of their two football teams, Liverpool and Everton. I don’t know if I believe that – and considering that I’ve read more books on The Beatles than on any other band, I’m yet to read that claim anywhere else.

Hit: I Want To Hold Your Hand

Hidden Gem: Drive My Car

Rocks In The Attic #154: Elvis Costello – ‘The Man – The Best Of Elvis Costello’ (1986)

I’ve never really been able to figure out Elvis Costello. On the one hand, he’s a fantastic songwriter, but I think I have a problem in that he doesn’t fit into one genre of music – he moves around so much that it’s impossible to pigeon-hole him.

I know his stuff more through other band’s covers of his material – Pump It Up, especially – rather than his own recordings. Listening to these songs back-to-back, I think his voice puts me off him more than anything else – he slurs his lyrics in the same way that Buddy Holly hiccups his. They look like they share the same optician too.

I can take him or leave this Elvis – and I get the impression that like a lot of London acts, he’s far more relevant to southerners rather than grim northerners like myself.

Hit: Oliver’s Army

Hidden Gem: Pump It Up

Rocks In The Attic #153: Stereophonics – ‘Performance And Cocktails’ (1999)

I’m never been a huge fan of this band. I loved this album – and most of its singles – when it came out, but then fame and success seemed to do something to the band, and all of a sudden they started doing really lame stuff like singing Handbags And Gladrags on talk shows, sat moodily on stools.

In other words, they sold out. Their first album set themselves up as a rock band in the vein of early Manic Street Preachers; then this album, their second, pushed them over into the mainstream – mainly because of the five Top-20 singles that were pulled from the album. Unfortunately Performance And Cocktails follows the usual trend that record companies employ – stack all the singles on side one, and stick all the filler on the flip-side.

I don’t think they were even on my radar until I saw them performing Just Looking on TFI Friday. Not a bad song, I thought. I then caught their music video for The Bartender And The Thief, and I was impressed. That song in particular speaks to the rocker in me.

I’m always sceptical about music videos and the role they play in music these days, but the videos they made to promote this album are well worth a watch. The Bartender And The Thief pays homage to the Suzie Q / entertaining the troops scene of Apocalypse Now, Pick A Part That’s New parodies The Italian Job, I Wouldn’t Believe Your Radio does the same for Easy Rider and Hurry Up And Wait takes inspiration from M*A*S*H.

I regret not seeing the band in their prime, supporting Aerosmith in 1999 at Wembley (I went to my first Glastonbury festival instead). I did catch them in New Zealand a few years ago, at the Powerstation – a tiny venue compared to the sort of places they would play in the UK. They might not have played Handbags And Gladrags, and they might have been dressed in leather jackets, but they still played a few too many of their catchy, post-2000, pop singles for my liking.

Hit: Just Looking

Hidden Gem: She Takes Her Clothes Off

Rocks In The Attic #152: Bob Dylan – ‘The Times They Are A-Changin’’ (1964)

Of Dylan’s early albums, this is probably the one most representative of him as a protest singer. Each of the albums that would follow would slowly take him away folk music in general, and towards the pop charts.

There are three things I love about this album. Firstly, The Times They Are A-Changin’ is a fantastic single, and one of my favourites before he went electric. Blowin’ In The Wind always gets selected as the ‘song of a generation’ – mainly because of its resonance (read: vagueness), but in my eyes The Times They Are A-Changin’ is far superior in its relevance to the 1960s.

Secondly, I like the cover. In extreme close-up, Dylan looks almost like he comes from another planet. The vinyl copy I have has a slightly corrugated front cover, which makes it feel nice too.

Finally, I love Boots Of Spanish Leather. I don’t love it as much as Girl From The North Country from the previous album – it’s the same chord progression and finger-picking style – but it’s almost as good. I guess folk music lends itself a little better to being able to mix and match lyrics to chord progressions – at least more than traditional pop music does – and at least if he’s stealing from somebody, he’s only stealing from himself.

Hit: The Times They Are A-Changin’

Hidden Gem: Boots Of Spanish Leather