Monthly Archives: April 2013

Rocks In The Attic At 250

A bit of a misleading title, as though I’ve been writing this blog since the good year 1763…

Despite carting my 600+ strong vinyl collection to the other side of the world in 2008, I somehow felt the need at the time to sell my turntable for a bit of pre-move cash. About a year ago, after living in New Zealand for over 4 years, I still didn’t own a turntable. I was still buying records, but I didn’t have anything to play them on. It got so bad that I started buying duplicates of records that I already owned – simply because I had become a stranger to my own record collection. ‘Did I really own Tracy Chapman’s debut album?’ I would ask myself in a record shop. When I got home, I realised that yes, I did, and no, it’s not an album worthy of having two copies.

A friend at work pointed out the absurdity of my situation, so I made a point to invest in a turntable as soon as possible. My technical know-how isn’t the best, so I really didn’t know what to buy. I’ve hung around with enough DJs in the past to know that I needed a direct-drive turntable, as opposed to an unreliable belt-drive turntable, but apart from that, I didn’t know a thing. I found a Stanton turntable on Trade Me – sold by a Cash Convertors-style shop – so it was still in relatively good condition, probably pawned by somebody not long after buying it. Thanks to the surround sound system left at our house by my Brother-In-Law, and a little pre-amp unit from the local electronics store, I was back in business. All those hundreds of shiny black discs in the corner of my living room could be listened to again!

Armchair CroppedAround this time, I had started reading Blog On The Tracks – the counter-culture music blog on the stuff.co.nz news website written by Wellington journalist Simon Sweetman. What a surprise to find something like this in New Zealand – it’s a real shame but most New Zealanders only get culture from their yoghurt. Simon’s blog made me think twice about New Zealand – it isn’t quite the cultural backwater that I had become to regard it as in the four years I had been living in the country. Yes, it’s a small country, and the majority of the population prefer the dull, simple pleasures of rugby and fishing, but there are intelligent, artistic people here too. I just need to look for them.

Simon’s side-blog, offthe tracks.co.nz features a segment called The Vinyl Countdown where he gives brief reviews of records in his collection. I had been toying with the idea of starting a music blog, writing about my favourite records, but focusing more on the personal stories behind why I bought the album in the first place, or the memories that go along with each disc. I’ve always thought the standard way that most journalists review music – by actually describing the sound coming out of the speakers – is very boring to read; and I’ve always liked it when a reviewer has put their own unique, personal slant on the record.

Reading offthetracks.co.nz – and being able to listen to my record collection again – gave me the final inspiration to start writing. I already had the intention to start a blog so I “borrowed” the format of The Vinyl Countdown, which gave me a structure for what I wanted to do. I’ve since apologised to Simon a couple of times for the blatant theft, and he’s always took it in good grace. I’m pretty sure that type of format is relatively common on blogging sites anyway, but I think it’s important to always pay respect and name your sources.

Record Collection April 2013So I started my blog, originally on blogger.com, but first I needed a name. Quickly finding that every pun on the word vinyl had already been used for a blog title, I opted for something that was a bit more personal. Two of the strongest ‘70s albums from my all-time favourite band Aerosmith, Toys In The Attic and Rocks, had always been a cornerstone of my record collection, so combining these titles seemed to work. It was either Rocks In The Attic or Toys In The Cellar.

Looking back, a couple of things stand out as regrets. I started naming a ‘hit’ and a ‘hidden gem’ for each album at the end of each post, and although this sounds relatively simple, it’s bloody hard sometimes. There are a couple of records in my collection that have nothing close to anything you would regard as a ‘hit’ (or a ‘hidden gem’ for that matter); and conversely, there are dozens of records in my collection where every song is a hit. I tend to regard the most well known song as the ‘hit’ (and if this doesn’t work, then the highest-placed charting single or the opening track); and the better of the lesser known songs as the ‘hidden gem’.

Another regret is my initial choice of Blogger as the location for my blog. I had used Blogger before so I was familiar with how to use it, and despite protestations from good friend Moo, I stuck with it. The last straw with Blogger occurred when the site stopped operating with Internet Explorer, and only accepted Google Chrome. Time to decamp, I thought. I then spent a whole weekend transferring my blog, post by post, which by then was well over a hundred, onto WordPress. After I had spent a great deal of time doing this, Moo innocently asked why I didn’t just use the ‘import blog’ function in WordPress. Cue Basil Fawlty meltdown.

One thing I did lose when I transferred to WordPress was some reader comments. Most of them came across, but for a time I was operating in both Blogger and WordPress, so when I shut the Blogger one down I lost a couple, especially from one excited reader who made a few welcome comments about The Band’s eponymous album. I hope he doesn’t think I was ignoring his worthy contribution.

When I started the blog, I put together an Excel spreadsheet, to log all of the albums I was posting about. With the aid of a few pivot tables and some automated formulas, I can accurately measure a couple of statistics. For the first forty or so posts, I tried to keep the distribution of albums by decade relatively even, but I knew that I couldn’t keep that up for long – my taste is far too geared towards the ‘60s and ‘70s to give anything later a chance.

After 250 posts, I can accurately report that the ‘70s are the most prominent decade in my collection, with 82 posts (33%). This is closely followed by the ‘80s, with 62 entries (25%).  The ‘90s (39, 16%) narrowly beat the ‘60’s (38, 15%). Unsurprisingly the 1950s, 2000s and 2010s are far behind with 1 (0%), 25 (10%) and 3 (1%) respectively.

The 250 posts I have written cover 287 actual discs – accounting for double-LPs and bonus discs – and 189 hours, 8 minutes and 10 seconds of actual music.

The frequency of particular artists in my collection doesn’t really surprise me either. Aside from 12 albums attributed to Various Artists (explained by soundtracks and compilations), the most common artists are Aerosmith (with 11 entries), The Beatles (8), The Rolling Stones (7), The Doobie Brothers and Led Zeppelin (both with 5), and Bob Dylan, R.E.M. and AC/DC (4 each). I’ve covered 159 separate artists so far, although there’s some double counting in there, for example, with Paul McCartney listed separate to Paul & Linda McCartney.

Couch CroppedEvery year since 1958 is represented, except 1959, 1960, 1961, 2005, 2007, 2008, 2010, 2011 and 2013. I actually have records in my collection from some of those years – I just haven’t managed to get around to them just yet – but I’ll try and fill in some of those gaps for when I run this same tally at #500.

The year that appears the most is 1980 with 12 entries, which surprises me as I really thought it would be a year from the previous decade. 1972, 1976 and 1977 come second, with 11 each, and joint bronze goes to 1971 and 2000, with 10 apiece.

Rocks In The Attic was always supposed to be a retrospective blog. It was always intended as a walk through my record collection, which mainly consists of older albums, but towards the end of the year I found myself writing about new releases from 2012. I guess that adds a bit of variety, rather than endlessly talking about records that are older than myself.

One thing I’ve really appreciated since getting fully back into listening to vinyl is the annual Record Store Day releases (and its offshoots throughout the year such as Black Friday). I’ve picked up a few things in the last 12 months – a ten-disc box-set of 7” Stax singles from 1968 to 1974, and a 10” soundtrack to Wes Anderson’s Moonrise Kingdom. Releases like this really show that vinyl is very much alive and kicking.

So, Rocks In The Attic has reached 250 and I’m not even halfway through my still growing collection. There are dozens of classic albums left to write about – both critically acclaimed and important to me (with a few guilty pleasures thrown in for good measure). I don’t think I’ll be ending this blog anytime soon – I’m having too much fun.

Thanks for reading.

Johnny Andrews, April 2013.

Hit: The fact that I get so much enjoyment from sitting down every Saturday morning and writing about the records I’m listening to.

Hidden Gem: Having anybody read my blog, and best of all, leaving a comment.

Rocks In The Attic #250: Aerosmith – ‘Pump’ (1989)

RITA#250Welcome to the 250th post of my Rocks In The Attic blog.

Tonight – Wednesday 24th April 2013 – I will see Aerosmith play in Dunedin, New Zealand. It will be the fifth time I have seen the band, almost exactly twenty years to the day that I was first became a fan, and almost twenty years since I first saw them play live. To celebrate the milestone of reaching 250 posts, and to explain why I’m trekking to the opposite end of the country – on my own! – to see them play, I’m going to write about the album that served as my introduction to the band.

On Sunday April 18th 1993 (I know the exact date because I remember the League Cup Final was on television), I was at a crossroads. I was 14 years old and didn’t really have a direction outside of school. I didn’t care for sports, and I’d only really dabbled with music up to that point. I was doing alright at school – I certainly wasn’t a disillusioned youth without any friends – but I had run out of hobbies and interests. I had tried to follow football, mainly because most of my friends did, but it never felt natural. In fact, if you were a boy growing up in deepest, darkest northern England in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s, there was something considered wrong with you if you didn’t like football. Looking back, I’m glad I didn’t want to conform.

I remember my parents were away that weekend – on holiday somewhere – and so I turned on the television to watch the cup final between Arsenal and Sheffield Wednesday. I gave it 15 or 20 minutes before boredom set in and I flicked through the channels. Ending up on MTV, I landed on a music video showing a rock band playing a song on an elaborate stage set. The singer was sliding on his back, down a ramp on the stage, while the guitarist – dressed in cow-print leather trousers – was playing an screaming guitar solo.

A light turned on in my head – this was Aerosmith – and the light’s been on ever since.

I had seen the band before – I remember Top Of The Pops once showing the camcorder-shot video for What It Takes, which would have been early 1990, but I didn’t really take any notice at the time. I can just remember a load of American guys, with fluffy poodle hair and dressed in lots – lots! – of denim, playing along to a song in a recording studio. Boring, no?

This was different though. The song – Love In An Elevator – hit me like a truck. I didn’t feel like I was waiting for something to happen to me, but something did. I’m not saying I had a religious experience, but from that point on, music was definitely my thing.

As soon as Love In An Elevator finished, another Aerosmith video started. I looked in the corner of the screen and a logo declared it was AEROSMITH WEEKEND (I later found out this was to promote their new album, Get A Grip, which was released the following day, Monday the 20th). I threw a VHS tape into the machine (man, I feel old), and recorded the rest of the day’s content. I would watch that video over and over, familiarising myself with the band’s hits over the last twenty years.

The following Saturday, I took the bus into Manchester and bought Pump on CD from the Our Price record store next to Boots on Market Street. I only had enough money to buy one album, and I didn’t want to take the risk of buying Get At Grip. I only had the video for Livin’ On The Edge to go on, and by this time I was very familiar with Pump’s four music videos.

We then went on a family road trip down to Cornwall, and I listened to Pump endlessly on my walkman. On our first day in Newquay, I bought a second-hand copy of Toys In The Attic on cassette, and the albums – two of Aerosmith’s best – became the soundtrack to my holiday. At that point, I didn’t really have a preference for which version of the band I preferred – the older Aerosmith from the 1970s, or this newer incarnation of the band (that seemed to sound just as young as they did when they were in their early twenties). I would very quickly turn into an advocate of the band’s initial run of albums on the Columbia label, but at this point in time, I was all about Pump.

Looking back, Pump hasn’t aged terribly well. It really is a product, and one of the best examples, of the glam-inflected late ‘80s rock scene, an outdated relic for the punk ethos of grunge to be angry about. Production-wise, the album has a clarity that feels like a mutated progression from Steely Dan’s Aja, almost as if every studio engineer had been following that album’s ground-breaking template up to this point. The clarity of the recording dates the album, and the absence of any rough edges makes it come across in today’s musical climate as a cartoonish example of ‘rock done wrong’.

I still love the album, and I think I always will. Here’s a track-by-track explanation of the reasons why (and you’d better put a lifejacket on, as I’m about to gush)…

RITA#250aTrack 1: Young Lust

You’d better keep your daughter inside, or she’s gonna get a dose of my pride…

A great album needs a great opening track, and Pump has two of them. Young Lust and F.I.N.E. are virtually inseparable to my ears, and thanks to the blink-and-you’ll-miss-it segue between the two tracks, I sometimes forget which of the two songs I’m listening to. They complement each other so well, I just hear them as one song.

Young Lust is Steven Tyler’s frenetic explanation of his sex addiction, and proof that the collective libido of this band is very much alive. He credits the sexual overtones to “making up for the lost time” he spent using drugs instead of having sex in the 1970s. The energy in Young Lust doesn’t let up, and given some of the more middle-of-the-road AOR aspect of the previous album, Permanent Vacation, this track acts as a declaration of the heavier direction the band were taking.

Track 2: F.I.N.E.

I shove my tongue right between your cheeks, I haven’t made love now for 24 weeks, I hear that you’re so tight now your lovin’ squeaks, and I’m ready, so ready…

Fucked up, neurotic and emotional!

There’s a conversation in the Making Of Pump film where Brad Whitford clearly states to Tyler and Perry that he doesn’t want to call the album F.I.N.E. – one of the proposed suggestions. Although the chosen title of the album fits nicely with the ethos of the band – that they are pumped and ready (to take the American meaning of the word) – the word ‘pump’ has other connotations outside of the USA. In Britain, it’s a childish term for flatulence, so you can imagine the sniggers that this title provokes amongst early adolescents. The other meaning of Pump – as slang for sexual intercourse – also doesn’t travel particularly well, but you can understand the allure of the title. There’s a scene in The Making Of Pump where Joe Perry explains to Tyler that his own Mother couldn’t even pronounce the title because it embarrassed her so much. I guess if you’re in the rock n’ roll business, and you’re not shocking your parents, you’re not doing it right.

If Young Lust was dirty and full of sexual innuendo, the lyrics of F.I.N.E. manage to go one step further. That lyric where he rasps about sticking his tongue between his lover’s cheeks sounds so Spinal Tap, you can almost imagine David St. Hubbins singing it in one of the verses of Big Bottom or Sex Farm.

As if to further provoke the PMRC, Tyler namechecks Tipper Gore in the song – alongside Joe Perry of course – and it’s amazing that the album was released without a ‘Parental Advisory: Explicit Lyrics’ sticker. That tends to happen with conservative America – it never reads between the lines. Tyler once read a newspaper article in 1976 which talked about “how disgusting rock lyrics are, and they used ‘Walk This Way’ as an example of how lyrics should be nice and wholesome. I couldn’t believe it. Obviously, they didn’t get the meaning of ‘you aint’ seen nothin’ till you’re down on a muffin’.

Track 3: Going Down / Love In An Elevator

I’m bettin’ on the dice I’m tossin’, I’m gonna have a fantasy…

Probably the one song most guilty of turning Aerosmith into a camp novelty rock act, Love In An Elevator is an unfairly maligned rock masterpiece. If you say ‘Aerosmith’ to somebody, they’ll immediately return the name of this song as the one thing they associate the band with. It’s stuck in there, like a mental Rorschach test that everybody in the world has agreed on, or as though ‘Aerosmith’ is a foreign word which translated back into English, means ‘love in an elevator’.

If you took the lyric out, and replaced it with something a little more banal and pedestrian, people would view the song differently. Yes, it has a cheesy chorus – “Whoa!…Whoa-Yeah!” – but if you ignore this too (I understand I’m digging very deep here), it’s an awesome guitar work-out between Joe Perry and Brad Whitford, with screaming, duelling guitar solos. It is a fantastic song – and probably the song that first got me hooked on the band.

Tyler credits the song as a natural progression from Dude (Looks Like A Lady), and you can sort of see why. The band had returned from the brink of disaster, and registered their comeback with a 1987 single that hit #14 on the Billboard Hot 100 – their highest placing since 1976. Left to their own devices to try and repeat that success, Tyler wrote a lyric about naughty things going on in an office.

The unfortunate side effect was that the band became known for novelty rock singles, and this undermined the more serious body of work they put together throughout the 1970s. As a measure of how Love In An Elevator has penetrated popular culture throughout the world, you only have to think about how non-Americans have no problem saying the name of the song. Nobody outside of North America refers to that method of transportation as an elevator, and so it becomes an Americanism that the rest of the globe seems to be happy to accept.

Anyway, Love In A Lift just doesn’t have that same ring to it, and Love On An Escalator has the added danger of getting things trapped in machinery..

Track 4: Monkey On My Back

You best believe I had it all and then I blew it, feedin’ that fuckin’ monkey on my back…

The Making Of Pump film shows the band jamming on an early version of this song, and it sounds pretty terrible. It doesn’t lend itself well to acoustic guitars – probably one of the reasons it was recorded for Aerosmith’s Unplugged set, but edited out of the transmission. Tyler is then shown declaring his love for the song, defending it against producer Bruce Fairbairn who wants to put it on the backburner and concentrate on other tracks.

I’m glad they persevered as Monkey On My Back is my favourite song on the album. I’m not a huge fan of slide guitar, mainly because of its association with Country & Western music and inbreeding, but Joe Perry’s distorted slide guitar is always a highlight of his playing. From Draw The Line to Rag Doll, his slide playing always manages to sound cool, and a million miles away from lap-steel country slide.

Track 5: Water Song / Janie’s Got A Gun

What did her Daddy do? It’s Janie’s last I.O.U…

For me Janie’s Got A Gun is the first album on Pump where I’ll switch off mentally. Guitar-wise there isn’t much going on, except a very nice acoustic guitar solo by Joe Perry, so apart from that the song does nothing for me. Yes, it deals with a shocking subject – that of incest and sexual abuse – but I don’t really want to listen to that sort of thing out of choice. It seems very strange to feature a song about sexual abuse, in the middle of an album about sex, written by a self-confessed sex addict.

Aerosmith aren’t strangers to writing a song about social issues. They’ve even wrote about child abuse before, on Uncle Salty from Toys In The Attic, so in that respect Janie’s Got A Gun doesn’t shock as much as it should do.

The song is notable for having a music video directed by a young David Fincher, three years before his first film as director (the doomed Alien³). That atmospheric video works well with the tone of the song – a piano-driven oddity that comes across as a distant relative of 1973’s Dream On.

RITA#250bTrack 6: Dulcimer Stomp / The Other Side

You love me, you hate me, I tried to take the loss, you’re cryin’ me a river but I got to get across…

When you’re 14 years old, and you haven’t got much money to buy music, the number of tracks on an album is always something you pay much more attention to than you really should. “Hmm, I could pay £15 for this album with 12 songs on it, or I could buy that album for £12 with 15 songs on it. Decisions, decisions…”.

Unfortunately I bought some of my earliest record purchases using that very same logic – which is probably why I avoided Pink Floyd for so long. Pump is a perfect example of an album’s tracklisting making it sound like there’s more content on there than there actually is. Love In An Elevator and Janie’s Got A Gun both have intro tracks which precede them, but we’re talking mere seconds of dialogue or random instrumentation. The intro track that leads into The Other Side however is a real song, albeit a very short instrumental that runs at only 50 seconds. It’s a folkish blast of country, performed in collaboration with Randy Raine-Reusch, a musician whose speciality is odd and unique instruments from around the world.

The Other Side is probably the most straightforward pop song on the album – it’s my favourite of the four singles, and is great for anybody who loves a bit of brass in a rock song (see The Who’s 5:15, The Beatles’ Savoy Truffle and Aerosmith’s earlier Chiquita). It’s straightforward in the sense that it doesn’t have a novelty lyric, it doesn’t deal with a shocking social issue, and it isn’t a pastiche of country & western (more on that later). It isn’t exactly formulaic however. The guitar riff that plays of the start of every verse, which Tyler is shown directing Perry to play in the Making Of Pump film, is so odd and out of time, that away from the confines of the song you’d have trouble understanding where it might fit into a four and a half minute radio hit. It’s also odd that the intro to the song marks the second time on the album that Tyler hums the melody or guitar line (the first example being the intro riff to Love In An Elevator). The art of humming must have been enjoying a renaissance in the late ‘80s – either that or Tyler felt the need to use up as many tracks and overdubs as he possibly could.

The strangest thing about The Other Side is that somebody – and I’m not sure who – decided that the song sounded a little too much like Standing In The Shadows Of Love by The Four Tops. The writers of the song, Holland, Dozier & Holland, threatened to sue Aerosmith for plagiarism, and so later copies of the album credit the song to Steven Tyler, Jim Vallance, Brian Holland, Lamont Dozier and Eddie Holland. When you hear the two songs back to back, you can hear the similarity in the two melodies, but only just. Essentially it’s a similar run of four musical notes played in ascending order, and comes across to me as coincidence and nothing more.  You could say the same about the ‘What did her Daddy do?’ lyric in Janie’s Got A Gun, but once you start looking for things like this, where do you stop.

I often wonder if The Other Side came onto the radar of the folk at Motown Records because of the name of the song that would follow it, the unrelated My Girl.

Track 7: My Girl

Day after day, the same old grind, and grind and grind and grind….

My Girl is the first song on Pump that I’d consider as a filler track, or an album track. On a lesser album, you could imagine it being considered as a single, but alongside the rest of Pump it struggles to lift its head above more commercial-sounding tracks. It does match the energy of those first two tracks on the album though, and I wonder if it would fit better as the third song on the album, rather than tucked away on the second side, where it serves as the first song in the album’s only lull in quality.

Track 8: Don’t Get Mad, Get Even

Then you catch your girlfriend, with her skirt hiked up to here, honey, don’t get mad, get even…

The worst song on the album, Don’t Get Mad, Get Even has a nice little didgeridoo and harmonica intro (again with Steven Tyler humming the melody line), but then descends into nothing. It almost sounds as though they had a chorus, and tried to write a song around it. The verses are almost non-existent, and any intentional laid-back groove is destroyed by a real headbanger’s approach to the chorus.

Track 9: Hoodoo / Voodoo Medicine Man

Livin’ lovin’ gettin’ loose, masturbatin’ with a noose, now someone’s kickin’ out the chair…

This song is very Brad Whitford. It fits well with No More No More from 1975’s Toys In The Attic, and Round And Round from 1976’s Rocks. Aerosmith songs co-written by Whitford are usually either incredibly funky (eg. Last Child), or really heavy, like this.

The spoken-word introduction, Hoodoo, sounds really nice and echoes Prelude To Joanie, the similar dreamlike introduction to Joanie’s Butterfly from 1982’s Rock In A Hard Place. When the song gets going, it really does get going – the heaviest song on Aerosmith’s heaviest album.

Track 10: What It Takes / Untitled Instrumental (“The Jam”)

Girl, before I met you I was F.I.N.E. fine, but your love made me a prisoner, yeah my heart’s been doing time…

I love What It Takes. It’s a great song, and the only real ballad on the album. Joe Perry originally held a view that the band should never play ballads, and that unless they played a slow blues, they should always remain up-tempo. That viewpoint seems to have been overlooked in recent years. As much as it pains me to say it, Aerosmith are now as regarded as much for their ballads as they are for their rock songs. And What It Takes is the reason why.

Yes, the band had crossed over into syrupy ballads before, but they were always rock-driven (aside from the occasional woeful power-ballad like Permanent Vacation’s Angel. What It Takes is something else entirely – it’s a pastiche of a country & western bar-room sing-along. Steven Tyler even sings some of the lyrics in a faux-country styling, a la Mick Jagger on the likes of Country Honk and Dead Flowers.

Even though What It Takes took Aerosmith down a path where they can realistically be accused of selling out, I still love the song. There’s even an alternate video, put together with offcuts from The Making Of Pump that plays a little better than the original MTV video.

B-Side: Ain’t Enough

One’s just too many, but a thousand’s not enough, and you can’t make up your mind, playing blind man’s bluff…

There’s also one additional track from the Pump sessions that saw the light of day around the same time that the album was released. Ain’t Enough was the B-side on the Love In An Elevator single (I still have the 3” CD single – yes a CD that’s half the size of a normal CD, why didn’t that take off, specifically for singles?). Other tracks from the Pump sessions have seen the light of day since – usually in re-recorded form, but Ain’t Enough is the only track that was released in promotion of the album.

If it were up to me, and it’s not, I’d switch out this song for Don’t Get Mad Get Even. Ain’t Enough doesn’t break any new musical ground – it’s a B-side remember – but I do think it has more going for it than Don’t Get Mad Get Even.

RITA#250c

There’s a couple of other things that compliment Pump that are well worth mentioning. I’ve referred to The Making Of Pump throughout this post, and it really is essential viewing if you like the album, the band, or even just rock music in general.

Looking back now, it does seem slightly dated. The sections showing the band writing and recording in the studio are still fantastic – recorded on a standard, grainy camcorder of the day – but the talking head segments are a little off, recorded against a stark white infinity screen, with each individual band member talking to the camera amongst random props (including, bizarrely, a stepladder). Tyler uses the occasion to reel off some of his best pearls of wisdom, while the rest of the band look on, in varying degrees of discomfort.

Making-of documentaries are usually retrospectives, but here we see the band in the studio, and it’s really eye-opening to see the album take shape amongst petty arguements, hissy fits (Joe Perry: “Don’t tell me what to do!”) and appeasement of record company exec (John Kalodner really does come across as a very had man to please).

The other notable appearances when promoting the album are the band’s guest appearance on The Simpsons (including a nice version of Young Lust on the closing credits), and the band’s guest appearance on Saturday Night Live, including a live rendition of Janie’s Got A Gun, and one of the funniest Wayne’s World sketches, alongside guest presenter Tom Hanks.

RITA#250d

All in all, I might only listen to Pump once a year or so, but whenever I do it always magically transports me to the age of 14, before I turned into such a cynic and when the possibilities of rock music – and music in general – first seemed endless.

Hit: Love In An Elevator

Hidden Gem: Monkey On My Back

Rocks In The Attic #249: John Coltrane – ‘Soultrane’ (1958)

RITA#249I like jazz. I like the word ‘jazz’. I like the instrumentation and musicianship. I like the fact that on a landmark jazz album, all of the players can play. I mean, really play. I like the fact that each musician gets to solo. I like the fact that the music played is mostly – if not always – impossibly cool. It’s the only true American art form, and the sound of it always brings to mind that other art form, that although not invented in America, was made an American institution – cinema.

The word ‘jazz’ means a lot to me. I probably first heard it as the name of an Autobot Porsche in Transformers (surely it isn’t a coincidence that one of the coolest Transformers was called Jazz?), and then no doubt it came onto my radar as the name of a musical genre, generally played by black musicians, that old people like to listen to.

More recently, seeing a jazz band play in a bar in Manchester – led by an extremely gifted guitarist – prompted me to stop playing guitar for a while (there was just no point when other people were that skilled). That minor infatuation with jazz in the mid-2000s then led to my most amusing association with the word jazz – watching a drunken Moo stagger around a late-night Amsterdam bar asking the clientele, in hushed tones, if they knew anywhere that he could get some hot jazz.

What I don’t like about jazz is the freneticism in playing that sometimes spoils the genre. Good Bait, the opening track off Soultrane, starts off really nicely. It swings like a motherfucker. But then Coltrane’s later passages, in which he tries to play every note under the sun as speedily as possible, really spoil the mood. I know he can play, but does he have to sound like he’s trying to blow an unwanted insect out of his saxophone? Whilst having a seizure?

And it isn’t just Coltrane. Miles Davis is the key suspect in this style of playing. I remember once reading an interview with a pre-fame Amy Winehouse (promoting her first album, Frank), where she claimed she had a hard time listening to Miles Davis because his music was so intense. I know exactly what she meant – but that didn’t stop a raft of complaints coming through to the letters page of the same publication the following month: How dare this young wannabe sully the name of the great Miles Davis? As if, once an artist is considered great, it becomes outrageous to claim anything to the contrary. Recently, a post on Stevie Wonder’s Talking Book prompted a reader to tell me that I wasn’t a Stevie Wonder fan – presumably because I mentioned in the post how I prefer Stevie’s upbeat, funky output to his dull-as-dishwater ballads. A pretty extensive Stevie Wonder collection in my record collection would point otherwise, but maybe I’m just holding onto these for a real Stevie Wonder fan, somebody without the nerve to have a preference or an opinion?

There’s an old joke I love, the subject of which you can interchange with any jazz bandleader, but I probably heard first about Ray Charles: That Ray Charles mustn’t pay his band very well, I caught two of his musicians in the toilet and they were so hard-up, they were sharing a cigarette!

Hit: Good Bait

Hidden Gem: I Want To Talk About You

Rocks In The Attic #248: Amy Winehouse – ‘Back To Black’ (2006)

RITA#248I remember Amy Winehouse coming onto my radar with her first album, Frank. I don’t think I ever heard any songs from that album – or at least I don’t remember them If I did – but I definitely read a few interviews with her when she was promoting it. The music press was touting her at the time – together with the initially promising, but consequently disappointing Joss Stone (ugh) – as the saviour of British soul music.

From the sounds of it, Frank didn’t set the world on fire, but some time later I heard Rehab, prior to its release and it hit me like a thunderbolt. I even remember being so enamoured with it – just the sheer Etta James-ness of it – that I emailed friends and told them they had to listen to it.

Rehab makes the list of my top 5 favourite songs of the 2000s. You could say that if Amy is just doing an Etta James impression, then why don’t I just listen to an Etta James record? Okay, I will. But I’ll still listen to Amy Winehouse. You can’t trademark a vocal style, and Amy brings a whole load of other things to the table. Mark Ronson also needs a lot of credit, I think, for producing her and managing to make her sound not only retro and contemporary, but more importantly relevant, without falling into the ‘easy listening’ trap that other ‘retro’ sounding female vocalists fall into. I’m talking to you, Anastacia and Gin Wigmore…

It’s always sad when an addict dies, and it always feels sadder when said addict is young and talented. I recently read a quote from one of Amy’s pre-fame friends who was saying that when she was a struggling musician, Amy was always going on about the classic soul album that she was going to make one day, and even though she didn’t make many albums (two studio albums only), Back To Black is pretty close to what she used to describe, in terms of sound and feel. I’m happy about that.

I was fortunate enough to see Amy Winehouse play at Glastonbury when she was promoting Back To Black. She had a crack band of musicians including Blues Brother Tom “Bones” Malone on trumpet,  but the one thing that I first noticed about her when she walked on stage was how tiny she was – and we’re talking Prince Rogers Nelson-tiny here – but with a remarkable beehive that was almost equal to her body length.

My friend Shelley has a great joke on that subject: Where is Amy Winehouse’s favourite London Underground station? High Barnet!

Hit: Rehab

Hidden Gem: Back To Black

Rocks In The Attic #247: Frankie Goes To Hollywood – ‘Welcome To The Pleasuredome’ (1984)

RITA#247Frankie Goes To Hollywood was a favourite band of my brother’s when I was growing up, and at the time I was a little too young to appreciate them. I think this copy of the album – the original double vinyl edition – is actually my brother’s original copy, and from seeing it around a lot during my childhood, it slowly became part of my collection.

I’m not 100% sure if I like the band, or if they truly are just style and no substance, but they seem a much better prospect than the likes of ‘80s dirgefests like Wham or Madonna. I’m also unsure as to whether the band can really play or whether Trevor Horn’s production just makes them sound very good. It’s rumoured he replaced their tracks with those of session musicians anyway, so who knows.

It might sound strange but I have great difficulty in believing that the band is from Liverpool. I don’t know if it’s the fact that they’re so ‘art rock’ (which, when we’re talking about music from the UK, I would always associate with London bands), or whether it’s simply because Holly Johnson’s raspy vocals hold no trace whatsoever of a scouse accent, but I’d never pick that city as their hometown if I didn’t know better.

Say whatever you want about this band, but you have to respect their ability to provoke. Being banned from the BBC is a great thing for a band to be, and looking back it always makes the BBC look pathetic and outdated. The whole package of the album is a treat, with a Picasso-esque cubist painting of the band on the front, and enough liner notes to fill a small book. Their posturing makes them come across as an earlier, poppier version of Manic Street Preachers, and quoting the likes of Kierkegaard and Baudelaire adds to this.

I’m not too sure about the very ‘80s merchandise listings that adorn one of the inner sleeves. An advert declaring £8.99 for a pair of ‘Jean Genet’ boxer shorts really looks out of place on a pop record, but I guess the band are making a point about the similarity between music and consumerism (while making a few bucks on the side…).

Hit: Two Tribes

Hidden Gem: Born To Run

Rocks In The Attic #246: The Doobie Brothers – ‘Minute By Minute’ (1978)

RITA#246The last Doobies album to feature Jeff ‘Skunk’ Baxter, and with Tom Johnston now a distant memory, this is really now Michael McDonald’s band. You can still hear the influence of Patrick Simmons (especially on the awesome Steamer Lane Breakdown), but his parts are usually absent from the MOR-tinged McDonald songs. It’s almost as though there are two bands at play – one band doing session work at the bidding of Michael McDonald, and another band trying their best to sound like the Doobie Brothers of days gone by.

Compared with their earlier albums, Minute By Minute is pretty average, but the cover is awesome. I’m a sucker for black and white album covers showing a warts ‘n all band photograph, and this is up there with the best of ‘em – almost as good as the inner gatefold photo of the mighty Floyd inside Meddle.

Of course, it’s nice to see Baxter on the cover for one last time. It should be a rule that all rock bands have to have somebody in their ranks with a handlebar moustache.

Hit: What A Fool Believes

Hidden Gem: Don’t Stop To Watch The Wheels

Rocks In The Attic #245: Various Artists – ‘Top Gun (O.S.T.)’ (1986)

RITA#245Is Top Gun one of the gayest films ever made? Yes!

Is the soundtrack to Top Gun one of the gayest film soundtracks ever produced? Yes!

Why do I have it in my collection? I don’t know!

Hit: Take My Breath Away – Berlin

Hidden Gem: Danger Zone – Kenny Loggins