Monthly Archives: February 2013

Rocks In The Attic #221: Super Furry Animals – ‘Outspaced’ (1998)

RITA#221With many thanks to my university housemates of my third year, Ferg and Kaj, this album was my introduction to the Super Furries. Most other people found the band through their debut, Fuzzy Logic, which I turned to next, but this b-sides and rarities album was an ample introduction to one of the best – and most enduring – bands to have emerged during the ‘90s.

There’s nothing to dislike on this album – the Welsh songs from their Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyndrobwllantysiliogogogochynygofod (In Space) EP (a reissue of which I have in my 7” collection), their Moog Droog EP, and numerous b-sides from their first couple of albums. The jewel in the crown is The Man Don’t Give A Fuck – a 1996 single built around an obscene lyric from Steely Dan’s Show Biz Kids.

That song followed me around for a while – not only was it always one of my fall-back songs to play when DJing after I left university, but a poster for the single adorned the living room of a later shared house, thanks to fellow SFA-fan Moo.

Some b-sides albums by bands can be very patchy affairs, without the coherence of a studio-album’s structure to pull it together. SFA are such an odd band – playing across so many different musical styles, and making huge left turns at every single point in time – that this album gels just as well as their studio albums from around the same time. Because of that, I’ve always regarded it as album number three proper, due to the place it falls in their chronology.

This album holds some very nice memories – Ferg endlessly singing Guacamole to himself when the album was first released, seeing SFA play live at Glastonbury a year later and watching them encore with The Man Don’t Give A Fuck as a van drove slowly into the crowd assembled at The Other Stage (when people started to climb onto the van, a large black fellow, presumably the driver, looking like B.A. Baracus, also got up there and started throwing people off into the crowd – this whole bizarre scenario was captured in the film of the clip available on their Songbook DVD), playing songs from the album during my DJ sets at 38 Bar / The Castle in Oldham, and generally just coming back to these songs time and time again.

Hit: The Man Don’t Give A Fuck

Hidden Gem: Dim Brys: Dim Chwys

Rocks In The Attic #220: Bad Company – ‘Bad Company’ (1974)

RITA#220My friend Vini always says when he hears Bad Company’s Can’t Get Enough, he can’t get the image of Christopher Walken dancing with Tia Carrere (from Wayne’s World 2) out of his head. I’m usually pretty good with disassociating music from the moving image, but now every time I hear Can’t Get Enough, I can’t get the idea of Vini being unable to separate the song from that crazy image out of my head!

Bad Company are the epitome of Dad rock – a watered-down version of Free, with very little going on of any interest. In fact, they’re a mini-supergroup, consisting not only of the singer and drummer from Free, but the bass player from King Crimson and the guitarist from Mott The Hoople.

Can’t Get Enough is an oft-overlooked rock classic, with Paul Rodger’s vocals melting nicely over Mick Ralphs’ guitar work, but the band really are a one-trick pony, dealing in a dirge of mid-tempo heavy rock that’s sometimes stifling in its simplicity.

Hit: Can’t Get Enough

Hidden Gem: Ready For Love

Rocks In The Attic #219: Average White Band – ‘AWB’ (1974)

RITA#219Quite how a Scottish soul and R&B band can produce one of the deepest funk records – Pick Up The Pieces – almost out of nowhere, is at times hard to believe. Just to give you an example of how Scottish they are, their drummer is called Robbie McIntosh, their guitar-playing vocalist is called Hamish Stuart, and their other guitarist is called – my favourite – Onnie McIntrye, which sounds like a made-up Scottish name. It wouldn’t be hard to believe if you found out that the long-lost seventh member of the group was called Kilt Mcsporran.

My love for Pick Up The Pieces is widely known among my friends. It’s easily my favourite song ever, and due to its lack of lyrics, I don’t get bored of it. It’s just an extremely funky record, and just that bit more musically interesting than the best of James Brown. The counterpoints between the horns and the guitars, with the percussion sitting in the middle, really are a joy to listen to.

The rest of this album, the band’s second, is quite terrible. Apart from a decnt cover of The Isley Brothers’ Work To Do, they almost sound like a different band to the musicians that play on Pick Up The Pieces; and if I could compare them to anything, I would have to put them next to the worst of Michael McDonald-era Doobie Brothers.

Hit: Pick Up The Pieces

Hidden Gem: Work To Do

Rocks In The Attic #218: Ozzy Osbourne – ‘Blizzard Of Ozz’ (1980)

RITA#218Aside from a woeful album title – which is only really beaten in sheer awfulness by the likes of REO Speedwagon’s You Can Tune A Piano, But You Can’t Tuna Fish – this album is fantastic. It also happens to be a master-class in the guitar.

A lot has been said of Randy Rhoads and Eddie Van Halen. Who was first? Van Halen. Who was better? Rhoads. But at the end of the day it doesn’t really matter, they’re both very different. Randy Rhoads has one foot firmly placed in classical guitar, and for me that’s what makes him more interesting to listen to that the very soul-less Eddie Van Halen.

The loss of Randy Rhoads was just a crucial loss to the guitar, and to the music world in general, as was the similar departure of Stevie Ray Vaughan. My guitar teacher introduced me to this album – Randy Rhoads’ masterpiece – and taught me most of the riffs and licks from it. It suffers from a slightly top-heavy overdriven guitar sound, and if it had been recorded just a few years earlier it might have avoided that and sounded that little bit more timeless.

I’m not that familiar with the later Sabbath albums from Ozzy’s tenure, but this album has so much energy it sounds like a debut album. Breakaway solo albums seldom sound like that – they usually sound like a natural progression from the singer’s last album with their respective band, but here Ozzy, buoyed by the youth of his protégé, records a classic of its genre.

In terms of riffs, this album has them all. Rhoads is a progressive guitar player – just the sheer amount of licks that pepper a song like Crazy Train is testament to that; but quieter moments like Dee and monsters like I Don’t Know and Steal Away (The Night) show his incredible diversity – all with that pulsating, frenetic rhythm that is his trademark.

Hit: Crazy Train

Hidden Gem: Dee

Rocks In The Attic #217: Pink Floyd – ‘The Final Cut’ (1983)

RITA#217I’ve never liked this album, and I don’t think I ever will. It just sounds like Roger Waters recreating some of the more odious sections of The Wall, without any of the musicianship of that album.

If they were going to release albums in this direction, it’s probably a good thing they split up; and I don’t regard the post-Roger Waters Pink Floyd as being anything more than a diluted version of the band – all red wine, cocaine and yuppie dinner parties.

If you have any trouble seeing The Wall as the first Roger Waters solo album, which it sort of is, it’s not even difficult to regard The Final Cut as such. I see Dave Gilmour and Nick Mason’s names on the back of this record, but I can’t hear them coming out of the speakers.

Hit: The Fletcher Memorial Home

Hidden Gem: One Of The Few

Rocks In The Attic #216: Mansun – ‘Attack Of The Grey Lantern’ (1997)

RITA#216I’m not sure who introduced me to Mansun – probably housemates Ferg and Kaj in my third year at University. I do remember though that the first song I heard by them was Wide Open Space. I saw the album on vinyl and bought it. The band then won me over immediately with the John Barry-esque The Chad Who Loved Me. This spoke to the Bond fan in me, regardless of whether it’s a direct rip-off of Barry’s theme to You Only Live Twice or not. I’m happy to regard it as a respectful homage.

The rest of the album is quite good although the strength of the material goes downhill after the big singles are out of the way. And I’m fully aware that that last sentence could have been written about any late-‘90s Britpop album. I’m sure people regard Mansun as a poor man’s Suede, but I never liked that band (aside from their comeback single Electricity).

I once chatted up the cousin of Mansun lead singer Paul Draper, in a bar in Oldham. Sadly, she rejected my advances.

Hit: Wide Open Space

Hidden Gem: The Chad Who Loved Me

Rocks In The Attic #215: Simon & Garfunkel – ‘Bridge Over Troubled Water’ (1970)

RITA#215I prefer Bookends, but as a piece of work I’m very confident this is the pinnacle of Simon & Garfunkel’s achievements. It’s their Abbey Road, and who knows what they would have gone on to do throughout the ‘70s if this hadn’t been their swan song. I’ve heard it said that this album sounds ‘effortless’, and that’s a very good word to describe it. Paul Simon makes these eleven songs sound like they’re falling out of him, and they’re put across with very little in the way of fuss.

In the space of just a couple of years, the pair progressed from a folk duo, into a folk-rock duo, and finally arrived at this album which traverses a number of different musical styles. You can hear elements of Paul Simon’s future solo career in some of the more world-music sounding songs – in the same way (but not as nearly as foreboding) as you can hear Sting’s impending solo warblings in the last couple of Police records.

There’s a nice house across the creek from my house – it’s mustard coloured and looks very Frank Lloyd Wright-esque. It’s a house to aspire to and I’ll always think of it when I hear the Simon & Garfunkel track at the end of side one.

Hit: Bridge Over Troubled Water

Hidden Gem: The Only Living Boy In New York

Rocks In The Attic #214: Various Artists – ‘Saturday Night Fever (O.S.T.)’ (1977)

RITA#214This might be outdated, a relic of a bygone age, or a warning to the future about the dangers of bad taste…but you can’t deny it’s full of good songs.

I’ve never had a problem with Saturday Night Fever. I’ve never found myself stealing the show on a multicolour, lighted dancefloor, but I’ve often found myself strutting down the street eating a slice of pizza and carrying a can of paint. The film itself is very good, and much darker than anybody gives it credit for, but for me the one thing that has stood the test of time is the soundtrack. A hundred years from now, if an enquiring mind asked what ‘disco’ was, the fastest way to show them would be to play them this soundtrack and show them the album cover.

I really struggled to choose a hidden gem for this album. It’s full of them. I used to like Fifth Of Beethoven by Walter Murphy, but it’s sort of been done to death by every film or TV show which wants to juxtapose any staid environment with an incredibly funky song.

The inclusion of The Trammps’ Disco Inferno and K.C. & The Sunshine Band’s Boogie Shoes gives the many, many Bee Gees songs a run for their money – particularly Night Fever and Jive Talkin’ (sounding more in its right place here than it ever did on Main Course) which are both fantastic; but it is Ralph McDonald’s Calypso Breakdown that I like the best. The lead guitar breaks in the first half of the song are great, and purely as a piece of soundtrack it’s used in one of my favourite parts of the film. I challenge anybody not to move their hips when they hear this song.

Hit: Stayin’ Alive – Bee Gees

Hidden Gem: Calypso Breakdown – Ralph McDonald

Rocks In The Attic #213: James Brown – ‘Live At The Apollo’ (1963)

RITA#213Two hundred and thirteen blog posts in, and I haven’t covered any James Brown! Sacrilege!

In the summer of 2004, I went to see James Brown at Manchester’s Bridgewater Hall with Moo. The day before I had narrowly missed seeing James play at Glastonbury (a freak thunderstorm blocked my path to the Pyramid Stage where he was playing that afternoon).

Our seats at the James Brown show was in the front row, to the side of the stage, but in the front row all the same. Seeing James play live is one of my greatest achievements, and not many people can say they’ve seen him from the comfort of the first row.

I remember the ushers at The Bridgewater Hall being a little too heavy-handed in their health and safety responsibilities. The very animated gay man sat on the other side of the aisle from us, wasn’t allowed to dance in the aisle, just a step away from his seat. Every time he would wander out, he’d get ushered back into his seat.

Aside from this type of petty rule policing, the show was fantastic. Emcee Danny Ray introduced James on to the stage as he had been doing for the previous thirty years. James wasn’t as energetic as he was in his heyday, but he was far more lively than any other 71-year old I’ve seen. A couple of hot dancers and a crack-hot band filled the stage.

Throughout the show, a really old white guy in the front row of the theatre had been dancing crazily, like a zombie. At one point, James motioned to his ‘man’ (a large bodyguard type who stood close to him all night), and pointed to the old man. James’ ‘man’ went down from the stage and brought the old guy back up with him, so he could dance like a crazy zombie on stage with James. Fantastic.

I had heard about James’ numerous issues prior to seeing him perform. Moo told me that a friend of his had seen James play at his previous Manchester gig, and he had refused to come out on stage, making the support band play over and over until he was ready.

I didn’t see any of that. He was professional to the very end. All I saw was one of the greats. Just a very happy memory.

Live At The Apollo is always bandied around as one of the greatest live albums. It has a lot of charm, and it has a few problems (like how they cut a song in two between side one and side two of the record), but at the end of the day it’s still not really James Brown to me. This record captures him in his first wave of chart success, with one foot firmly placed in gospel, and a couple of years before he single-handedly invented funk with Out Of Sight and Papa’s Got A Brand New Bag. To hear a similar show to the one I saw in Manchester that time, it’d have to be Revolution Of The Mind: Live At The Apollo, Vol. III.

Hit: Please, Please, Please

Hidden Gem: Think

Rocks In The Attic #212: Ray Charles – ‘True To Life’ (1977)

RITA#212This is Ray’s first album back at Atlantic Records, where he started his career in the late ‘50s. It’s a very upbeat record, with an overall late-‘70s feel not too dissimilar to his appearance on the soundtrack to The Blues Brothers, which was only recorded a couple of years following this. The production of the album is very nice and sounds very fresh, with Ray backed by both a groove-based funk / rock band as well as a traditional big band, which really swings on a couple of the tracks.

The thing I tend to enjoy most when I’m listening to Ray Charles is not his piano playing, which is always fantastic, if a little laid-back here, but his voice. It truly is magical and unmistakable.

Hit: I Can See Clearly Now

Hidden Gem: Game Number Nine