Monthly Archives: January 2013

Rocks In The Attic #210: Steely Dan – ‘Greatest Hits’ (1978)

RITA#210Usually I’d say a Greatest Hits collection is nearly always pointless – a way of introducing a band’s most popular songs to people who can’t be bothered, or are too busy, to listen to a studio album. They can be very valuable though – for a muso, they usually give you a good enough sample of a band before you decide to jump in and listen to the albums that made up the years preceding that collection.

Steely Dan’s Greatest Hits does one better than that though. There’s an unreleased song on here, which makes it an essential purchase for any Steely Dan fan. With only seven studio albums to their name (discounting 21st century reunion albums), a new Steely Dan song from the ‘70s is an important thing. An offcut of the sessions which produced The Royal Scam, the song Here At The Western World is a slow-burning piano-led song with a similar feel to Any Major Dude (which it follows on the album). Thankfully, it has the unmistakable Steely Dan sound.

The only drawback with this Greatest Hits set is that it came out in 1978 – the year they provided the song FM to the film of the same name – and two years before their final album Gaucho, so it’s not an exhaustive representation of their work over initial seven-album run. FM is always a great addition to any later Steely Dan compilation, and some of Gaucho’s songs are essentials on any later compilations of the band’s work.

Hit: Reeling In The Years

Hidden Gem: Here At The Western World

Rocks In The Attic #209: Arctic Monkeys – ‘Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not’ (2006)

RITA#209I have no idea why I bought this. Nor do I have any memory of actually buying it. I used to be an avid reader of the NME (and The Melody Maker, prior to its demise), and thinking back this band was probably the last ‘new’ band to be hyped out of all believability before I stopped reading the music press altogether.

I must have heard I Bet You Look Good On The Dancefloor on Radio 1, heard about the band’s fans crashing mySpace, and seen enough promise to go out and buy the album. It seems I’m not alone – apparently the album is the fastest-selling debut album in British music history. I think I listened to it once and it’s been languishing in the racks ever since.

They’re a pretty tight band – and they’re adept enough musicians to fill their songs with lead licks rather than simply chugging away on chords like most other bands – but I find Alex Turner’s ‘reet common I am’ Sheffield accent really grates. I’m sure the band has grown up by now, but my lasting image of seeing them in the NME was as a group of pale, spotty teenagers who really didn’t warrant all the hype that was being bestowed on them.

It’s a nice album title, taken from the original novel of the 1960 film Saturday Night and Sunday Morning – but that’s about the only thing I like about the record.

Hit: I Bet You Look Good On The Dancefloor

Hidden Gem: The View From The Afternoon

Rocks In The Attic #208: Saxon – ‘Strong Arm Of The Law’ (1980)

RITA#208I’m not sure why I have this record in my collection. I think it may have been part of a batch of records I was handed by somebody in the early 2000s. That’s one of the good things about collecting records – if enough people know that you’re a vinyl junkie, you’re more likely to get handed a pile of unwanted records. One of the bad things about people knowing that you collect records is that you’re more likely to get handed a record like this.

Saxon are one of those bands that belongs in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s, and doesn’t really have a place in the 21st century. They’re a poor man’s Judas Priest, and that already sounds like a pretty destitute guy. Similar bands like Iron Maiden have better songs, which means their original fanbase was bigger, and there’s a bigger need for them to continue into this century. Saxon really only exist for me to see what Spinal Tap found so amusing about them.

Although Rob Reiner’s film is drawn from a very large canvas – practically every rock band of the time is lampooned in one way or another – it is Saxon that you always hear as being the key influence on Tap, especially in looks and sound.

Listening to this for the first time, I can hear all of the bad bits of the bands I actually like from around the same time, but none of the good bits. To a normal person, it would be hard to hear the difference between Saxon and a band like Thin Lizzy or Maiden, and I can appreciate the similarities, but I guess history just leaves some bands behind from time to time.

Hit: Strong Arm Of The Law

Hidden Gem: Dallas 1pm

Rocks In The Attic #207: The Who – ‘Who’s Next’ (1971)

RITA#207I like The Who, but I like to keep them at arm’s distance. I’m always suspicious of bands where the vast majority of material is written by somebody other than the lead singer, and I guess The Who are one of the best examples of that dynamic. I also regard Pete Townshend as a little too full of himself. If I had seen The Who play back in the ‘60s and ‘70s, it would have been Keith Moon I’d have been going to see

When I bought The Who’s greatest hits, on CD in the mid-‘90s, I really liked some of their singles but others (I’m A Boy, Pictures Of Lily) I just found soft and weak, which is surprising given that they’re supposed to be this hell-raising rock band. Those songs turned me off taking a further look at their studio albums, but I seem to doing more and more of that these last few years. I’ve always liked this album – it rocks big time – but I’ve developed a new-found respect for Tommy, A Quick One and Live At Leeds recently. Who’s Next seems to catch the band at their peak, with their most consistent album – probably because the album is neighboured on both sides by their weightier ‘rock operas’.

Who’s Next has been plundered by the producers of the CSI television series, with two of its tracks (Won’t Get Fooled Again and Baba O’Riley) appearing as the theme music to and CSI: Miami and CSI: New York respectively. I’m still waiting for Boris The Spider to be used as the theme to CSI: Scranton.

Hit: Won’t Get Fooled Again

Hidden Gem: My Wife

Rocks In The Attic #206: Manic Street Preachers – ‘Gold Against The Soul’ (1993)

RITA#206The first Manics song I ever heard was From Despair To Where, used to great effect in the underrated BBC sitcom Game On. Despite that, the band stayed off my radar until I discovered The Holy Bible and worked my way backwards to this album, and then their debut Generation Terrorists.

Gold Against The Soul was a mis-step, I believe, for a band that showed so much promise with their first album. It sounds a little too polished and American, although the band sounds as confident as ever (as though they weren’t already excreting confidence by the bucketload on their first album).

The biggest – and most positive – change from their debut to this album is James Dean Bradfield’s vocals. On Generation Terrorists, he screams a lot of the vocals; here, he’s much more soulful especially on the plaintive introduction to From Despair To Where and on the big single, La Tristesse Durera (Scream To A Sigh).

I’d file Generation Terrorists under rock, but I’d file this under metal, which is maybe why I don’t tend to listen to it as much as the albums on either side of it.

Hit: La Tristesse Durera (Scream To A Sigh)

Hidden Gem: Life Becoming A Landslide

Rocks In The Attic #205: Peter Frampton – ‘Somethin’s Happening’ (1974)

RITA#205Like a lot of bands or artists that are more famous for their live work than their studio work, Peter Frampton’s albums prior to Frampton Comes Alive sound quite weak.

He was obviously doing something right, as the songs sound great when they appeared on that live offering. In their original environment though, they just don’t sound fully formed. I wouldn’t put it down to the production – there’s nothing that sounds out of place – but there’s just an absence of the energy that spills out of Frampton and his band on the live album. The songs, in the context of Frampton Comes Alive all seem to fit together and complement each other that little bit better.

A song like Doobie Wah (a shameless Doobie Brothers rip-off if I’ve ever heard one, saved only by the blatant confession in the title) on this album sounds like a completely different song that pops up as the second track on Frampton Comes Alive. It is the same song, but the energy is just missing here. Peter Frampton was just in the right place at the right time with his blockbuster live album, and I guess that live set is now best remembered as a symbol of the type of rock excess that punk came along and happily challenged.

Hit: Baby (Somethin’s Happening)

Hidden Gem: I Wanna Go To The Sun

Rocks In The Attic #204: KC & The Sunshine Band – ‘Greatest Hits’ (1980)

RITA#203I’ve inherited my love for KC & The Sunshine Band from my Dad – I found this album in his CD collection when I started listening to music. When I started buying vinyl, I was happy to find this in the ‘Disco’ racks for next to nothing.

Since then, and despite their regular appearances on Hollywood soundtracks, I’m still yet to find another soul who likes KC & The Sunshine Band. Perhaps I need to go to Florida to meet other like-minded folk (The Sunshine Band are named after the Sunshine State of Florida).

The thing I like about disco (when it’s done well) is that it’s just rock music with a very, very deep groove. Harry Wayne Casey and his band are very interesting to listen purely as a group of very skilful musicians, and it’s probably the word ‘Disco’ that turns most people away from them.

Oh well, their loss.

Hit: That’s The Way (I Like It)

Hidden Gem: Boogie Shoes

Rocks In The Attic #203: Nirvana – ‘Bleach’ (1989)

RITA#202I remember wanting this album so much to be better than it actually is. That’s the curse when you start listening to music – your ability to critique isn’t fully established, so instead of just accepting that an album isn’t all that great, you just dig your heels in and listen to it more, as though you can potentially make it better just by the act of repetition.

Bleach is far from being as good as Nevermind, and it’s not even in the same league as In Utero, which I’ve always regarded as their best and most consistent album. Listening to Bleach now though, it seems to have aged very well. I remember listening to the album throughout the ‘90s was always a bit of a chore, something I had to do every once in a while to fulfil my duties as a Nirvana fan.

One aspect I could never get over at the time was how laid-back the drums were, by Dave Grohl’s predecessor Chad Channing. Again, in hindsight the drum parts don’t seem too bad. The technique and power of Dave Grohl from Nevermind is noticeably absent, but I feel pretty guilty that Chad Channing had been unfairly maligned simply for not being Dave Grohl.

Dave Grohl eh, I wonder what ever happened to him?

Hit: About A Girl

Hidden Gem: School

Rocks In The Attic #202: Weezer – ‘Weezer’ (1994)

RITA#202Last night I high-fived Rivers Cuomo.

After 18 years of being a fan of Weezer, I finally got to see them pay live last night. Of all the (contemporary) bands that I really liked in the early ‘90s, I think they’re one of the last ones – if not the last – that I’ve caught live. Everybody else I saw at the time, I think.

Weezer played a greatest hits set first, followed by an intermission (where their sound guy did a nice slide-show of some early band photos on the big screen), followed by a run through of this entire album, their debut, commonly known as The Blue Album.

This also marks the first time I’ve caught one of these nostalgia gigs where a band runs through one of their classic albums in its entirety. Or at least I think it’s the first time. I’ve seen plenty of bands on their first tours supporting their debut albums, so I may have seen something similar unintentionally in the past.

I got a lot of stick for liking this album when it came out – mainly from one friend at college who just couldn’t get his head around Buddy Holly – a poppy sing-along song if I’ve ever heard one; but I think their back catalogue validates clearly that they’re more than a one-hit wonder with flashy Spike Jonze MTV videos.

This album reminds me a lot of walking to college, through the winter of 1994, listening on my Discman. It’s funny how an album, conceived in California and recorded in New York City, can take on a whole other meaning in a grim Northern English town.

It’s one of those albums that I can listen to over and over and not get tired – a batch of tunes with great melodies, well produced (by The Cars’ Ric Ocasek). I’ve never been a big fan of their other albums – I bought Pinkerton when it came up (the follow-up to this), and I only listened to it once, naively disappointed that it wasn’t The Blue Album. Last night’s greatest hits performance really reminded me of how much I love their later single Hash Pipe though.

And it’s always good to high-five your heroes – especially in the usually impersonal environments of an arena gig.

Hit: Buddy Holly

Hidden Gem: The World Has Turned And Left Me Here

Rocks In The Attic #201: Led Zeppelin – ‘Remasters’ (1990)

RITA#201I remember finding this – the triple-LP edition – in the racks at King Bee Records in Chorlton. I didn’t need it; I already had all the Zeppelin albums on vinyl (I had made this my first priority when I started buying vinyl). So why would I fork out for this, two hours and thirteen minutes of music I already owned?

Looking at my record collection as a whole, this compilation probably means more to me than any other compilation out there. When I first started listening to rock music, this set – the double-CD edition – was one of the first things I pilfered from my Dad’s collection. I only knew the odd Zeppelin song at that point, so it was a lot to take in at first listen. The CD version is slightly longer too, as it adds Misty Mountain Hop and The Rain Song, which are both absent from the vinyl version.

I remember being challenged listening to this compilation – as both a listener of music, and also an aspiring musician – trying to find a way in to a very dense, rich set of songs that were completely new on me. Zeppelin songs are thankfully absent from being used (and overused) in television and film, so it’s not like I had a frame of reference from hearing the songs elsewhere.

The collection encompasses their entire career too, so there are various genres of music covered. Up to now I had only listened to rock, and rock alone; but here was Zeppelin playing heavy blues, soul, R&B, reggae, and all shades of rock in-between. As a guitarist listening to this for the first time, Jimmy Page’s catalogue of guitar riffs are a wonderful thing to discover.

It’s also pretty unique in that, yes it’s a compilation, but Zeppelin never released any singles; so what is it exactly a compilation of? In 1990, Jimmy Page got together with George Marino and remastered their entire back catalogue, releasing them over two boxed sets. The Remasters album is a scaled-down “sampler” of those two sets. With no list of hit singles to choose a tracklisting from, Remasters is simply a collection of the songs Jimmy Page regards as the bands most popular songs.

This album led me onto buying each of their studio albums, one by one. I already had Led Zeppelin II on vinyl (again, stolen from my Dad’s record collection), but that was the first one I bought on CD because I loved it so much. I think I then bought each of the studio albums in chronological order.

Remasters served as a way in to each studio album; there were always a couple of songs at least on every album that I knew from Remasters. When I listen to the album now, it just washes over me because I know it so well – it’s part of my musical DNA. Sometimes it gets so bad that I have to really think hard about which song I’m listening to. I find that happens a lot when you know a compilation album so well. Without the flow that the songs were intended for on their original studio album, they take on a structure of their own.

Hit: Stairway To Heaven

Hidden Gem: Achilles Last Stand