Monthly Archives: October 2013

Rocks In The Attic #289: The Clash – ‘Live At Shea Stadium’ (2008)

RITA#289I might get shot for this, for I’m just not a huge fan of The Clash. I find their supposed masterpiece London Calling to be bloated and dull, aside from the overlooked Train In Vain which almost seems to be tacked on to the end as an afterthought. They can write a decent tune though – and this great live album is a testament to that.

The album was recorded in 1982 at the famous New York baseball ground, with The Clash middle on the bill between an opening set by ex-New York Doll David Johansen and headliners The Who. It’s essentially a race through their greatest hits, and next to each other these songs – Should I Stay Or Should I Go, Rock The Casbah, London Calling – really highlight the strength of the band’s pop credentials.

Clash fans may be annoyed at the choice of set list – they don’t play much material from their punk beginnings, and they especially don’t have the balls to play I’m So Bored With The USA – but at the end of the day, the whole thing comes across simply as a promotional jaunt to sell records – a captive audience of teenage Who fans represents a great opportunity to grow your fanbase on that side of the Atlantic. History has painted Strummer and company as punk’s last flag bearers of art before commerce, but it looks here like they were just trying to sell as many records as everybody else.

Hit: Rock The Casbah

Hidden Gem: Clampdown

Rocks In The Attic #288: Pink Floyd – ‘The Dark Side Of The Moon’ (1973)

RITA#288If there’s one thing that I just cannot understand about people who don’t listen to music regularly, it’s their lack of commitment. The Dark Side Of The Moon is a great example of an album that a lot of people own – it is thought around fifty million copies have been sold worldwide – but it’s also an album that for an overwhelming majority of the people who own a copy, it’s probably the only Pink Floyd album they own.

If you love an album so much, why would you not seek out more? I think if you go either way from this album – onwards with Wish You Were, Animals and The Wall; or backwards with Meddle, Obscured With Clouds and Atom Heart Mother – there are a run of seven very strong albums, each with their own strengths and highlights (but perhaps none with the universality and perfection of Dark Side). Are people just lazy or do they just want to avoid hearing a Pink Floyd record that’s a little rougher around the edges?

Personally, I prefer Wish You Were Here to this, and I even prefer the earlier albums from Atom Heart Mother onwards, but I can see why people love Dark Side so much. It’s one of those LPs that offers so much to the listener, and like a lot of Floyd’s other material it rewards repeat plays – a spin of this record through a pair of headphones uncovers a wealth of treasures that can otherwise go unnoticed through a stereo.

I’ve never been a fan of lyrics – my preference is always to put the music first – but Roger Waters’ lyrics are always a treat. This passage from Time is a great example of his skill and strength as a poet:

So you run and you run to catch up with the sun but it’s sinking,
Racing around to come up behind you again.
The sun is the same in a relative way but you’re older,
Shorter of breath and one day closer to death.

Hit: Money

Hidden Gem: Breathe

Rocks In The Attic #287: 10cc – ‘Live And Let Live’ (1977)

RITA#28710cc really confuse me. They’re capable of writing killer pop tunes, but a lot of their material is a chore to listen to. It’s almost as though they try everything they can, covering every musical style under the sun and occasionally they fire a hit. It’s the musical equivalent of throwing a load of shit at a wall in the vain hope that some of it will stick.

The thing is, when the shit does stick, it’s the best sounding shit you’ve ever heard. Rubber Bullets has to be my favourite 10cc song – left off this live album as it only features songs written by Stewart and Gouldman, thereby missing out on all of the more arty material from Godley and Creme (who had recently left the band); but Rubber Bullets doesn’t sound like the same band who would go on to release the easy listening slush of I’m Not In Love.

Rubber Bullets, like Dreadlock Holiday, sounds like the work of a novelty act – but if you listen to the playing on this record, and the frightfully well-spoken introductions between songs, 10cc seem more like a middle-class workhorse of a band characterized by their more random, nuttier moments rather than the sum output of their entire career.

Live And Let Live was recorded at the Manchester Apollo (in addition to London’s Odeon theatre). I saw so many great bands at the Apollo (with an early Rage Against The Machine gig being the most memorable) that this album almost wins me over before the needle drops.

The one negative aspect of this record is that it includes all but one song from their previous studio album, Deceptive Bends – despite it only being released six months earlier. It’s always disappointing when you go and see a band and they over-fill the set with songs from their latest offering, but then including it all on a live album somehow feels even worse. Perhaps this was a deliberate attempt to inflate the set, and attempt to make it look like they weren’t missing Godley and Creme.

Hit: I’m Not In Love

Hidden Gem: Art For Art’s Sake

Rocks In The Attic #286: Aerosmith – ‘Just Push Play’ (2001)

RITA#286Nothing says how truly bad this album is more than the cover. There are no redeeming qualities I can find about it. If they handed out awards for the band that chose the worst image to put on the cover of an album, Aerosmith would have swept the boards in 2001.

I can stand up for Aerosmith all day, but I have trouble sticking up for this album. Even Joe Perry agrees:

I don’t think we’ve made a decent album in years. ‘Just Push Play’ is my least favourite. When we recorded it there was never a point where all five members were in the room at the same time and Aerosmith’s major strength is playing together. It was a learning experience for me: it showed me how not to make an Aerosmith record.

The one moment where the band sound anything like the Aerosmith of old, is dealt with quickly on opener Beyond Beautiful. That’s almost a kick-ass song, but even then it really only ranks along with the more mediocre moments of Nine Lives. Sadly Just Push Play then descends into sheer awfulness.

The embarrassing rap-rock of title track Just Push Play is followed by big single Jaded – which they still play live (as I witnessed in Dunedin earlier in the year). Big ballad Fly Away From Here shows again what sort of song the band regards as their bread and butter, and then all of a sudden they’ve lost me. This is really the first Aerosmith album they should have titled ‘Crushing Disappointment’. In fact, that title probably works better with their choice of cover image.

It’s also probably the first album since Get A Grip that I didn’t actively look forward to when it came out. I wasn’t listening to a lot of Aerosmith when it came out, so it sort of passed me by. I did buy the picture disc of Jaded when I saw that on vinyl, but probably after hearing that, I ignored the rest of the album.

RITA#286a

In fact, that release of Jaded has a fantastic art direction – with both the front and back cover images proving once again that sex sells. It’s amazing how they managed to have such a shocker with the art direction on Just Push Play and then they go and pull this pair of images out of the bag.

Due to its very limited print on vinyl, this was the last Aersomith I got my hands on. I’m glad I have it, as it completes my collection, but it’s never going to be a regular feature on the turntable.

Hit: Jaded

Hidden Gem: Beyond Beautiful

Rocks In The Attic #285: Led Zeppelin – ‘The Song Remains The Same (O.S.T.)’ (1976)

RITA#285There may be 50 Reasons To Listen To Led Zeppelin, but I could probably think of 50 reasons not to listen to Led Zeppelin play live. Some bands just outstay their welcome on stage, and for me a twenty seven minute rendition of Dazed And Confused is the very definition of taking the piss.

For me, a band’s live work should be representative of their studio work. If I was at a Pink Floyd gig, and they played all twenty three minutes of Echoes (the song that takes up all of the second side of Meddle), then fair enough. What I don’t want a band to do is an extended jam on a song that only takes up four or five minutes of running time on an album.

I wonder how much of the lengthy set-list was invented to soundtrack those long self-indulgent mini-film pieces in the concert movie, or conversely if those mini-films were designed to just keep viewing audiences interested. Watching four middle-aged men stand on a stage for an hour and a half isn’t exactly the most engrossing thing to watch when you’re at the cinema.

As much as I dislike Dazed And Confused’s lengthy running time though, I do love that breakdown half way through where Plant riffs on the lyrics to San Fransisco (Be Sure To Wear Some Flowers In Your Hair) by Scott McKenzie.

The playing on this album is superb – nicely catching Zeppelin at their prime – but spreading nine songs over an hour and a half of music just makes the experience a chore to listen to. In comparison, How The West Was Won, released in 2003, is a far punchier affair, and much more enjoyable to listen to.

Hit: Stairway To Heaven

Hidden Gem: Celebration Day

Rocks In The Attic #284: Daft Punk – ‘Discovery’ (2001)

RITA#284This album was bought for me by my Irish girlfriend, and that thing they always say about long-distance relationships is true. It also doesn’t help when her father dislikes you purely for being English. Talk about a hurdle to overcome! There’s a sticker on the back of this record that states ‘This item is reserved for MS CATHY MURPHY, No address supplied’, and I’ve kept it on there as a reminder of my frequent visits over to Wexford.

I can’t remember why Cathy bought it for me – I presume it was my birthday – but I was definitely in to Daft Punk at the time. I think I already had their first album on vinyl, something I bought not to long after I found the 12” for Around The World – an early DJing tool of mine. Homework, the debut album, is a little too Detroit for my liking – the singles are good, but a lot of the album tracks are repetitive knock-offs, pointless to listen to unless you’re in a club.

Discovery is a step forward, towards a more disco-oriented sound. They also seem to have spent a bit more time crafting the album, although it does outstay its welcome near the end of its sixty minute running time.

This was probably the last I heard of Daft Punk until I heard the Tron soundtrack. I sidestepped 2005’s Human After All – I think I had outgrown dance music by that point – and thought their star had faded. The music in Tron is undoubtedly the best part of the film (and I love their little cameo, even though it could be two stage hands in those helmets), and is a great taster to their return to form on this year’s Random Access Memories.

Hit: Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger

Hidden Gem: Nightvision

Rocks In The Attic #283: Jasper Carrott – ‘Jasper Carrott Rabbitts On And On And On’ (1975)

RITA#283I used to like watching Jasper Carrott on TV when I was growing up. He’s hardly the most cutting-edge comedian around, but I guess that’s why he was so popular in the ‘70s and ‘80s – his material was generally safe for all ages.

At some point in the last ten years or so, I caught one of his programmes on the BBC and I couldn’t believe how safe and – worst of all – broad his material was. I can remember him being much funnier back in the day, or is that simply a case of relativity? When I was growing up, my only exposure to comedy was on TV – and compared to some of the performers on there, Carrott was doing his own thing. He spoke in a regional accent – Solihull brummie – and dealt almost exclusively in observational comedy. I can imagine how refreshing it would have been in the UK when Billy Connolly and Jasper Carrott turned up, breathing fresh air into a stale comedy circuit.

Throughout my teens I was exposed to cutting-edge comedians of the early ‘90s – mainly British, but then Americans like Bill Hicks, Sam Kinison and Dennis Leary – and suddenly Jasper Carrott didn’t seem as funny anymore.

Hit: Magic Roundabout

Hidden Gem: Tribute To Eric Idle My Idol

Rocks In The Attic #282: Marillion – ‘Misplaced Childhood’ (1985)

RITA#282Marillion sort of passed me by. With this 1985 album being their most successful, they were sort of past their glory years in the UK rock scene by the time I started listening to music in the early ‘90s. I remember hearing their name here and there, but anything I heard by them at the time was swiftly forgotten.

Kayleigh is a great single – and I love how the guitar intro cuts into the end of Pseudo Silk Kimono (all of the tracks bleed into one other throughout the album) – but I can understand how people see the song now as wishy-washy ‘80s nonsense. That’s probably more of a comment about the production of the song though, rather than the song itself. The synths on the album really do date the album and it’s hard to listen to this now without the keyboards standing out so much.

In fact, Marillion don’t sound a million miles away from mid-‘80s Genesis. The synths are very similar, they both fit under the prog-rock banner (although Genesis would move further and further away from that pigeonhole throughout the decade), and Fish sounds like he’s a combination of both Peter Gabriel and Phil Collins. When Collins left Genesis, getting Fish on board would have been far more interesting than the choice they went with – Stiltskin’s Ray (“Who?”) Wilson.

Hit: Kayleigh

Hidden Gem: Childhoods End?

Rocks In The Attic #281: The Beatles – ‘1967 – 1970’ (1973)

RITA#281The lines have since been blurred by subsequent compilation albums, but the Red and Blue Albums used to serve as an excellent line in the sand. Did you prefer the moptop Beatlemania of the Red Album, or the maturing experimentation of the Blue Album? The turning point chosen was the Blue Album’s opener, John Lennon’s Strawberry Fields Forever­ – a key moment of evolution in studio production, and a chance for the Fab Four to try out their new moustaches.

The Blue Album is definitely a more balanced offering than its counterpart. Whereas Allen Klein topped up the Red Album’s shorter running time by including many songs from Rubber Soul (presumably his favourite album), here the tracks are more evenly spread out: four album tracks from Sgt. Peppers, three from the Magical Mystery Tour soundtrack, three from the White Album, four from Abbey Road, three from Let It Be, and the rest of the songs coming from singles and b-sides. If anything you could say that the White Album is the least represented – a sprawling double-album with only three songs present – but given that this compilation collects all of their lengthier late-period songs, I guess some allowances had to be made to be able to make it a double-album, symmetrical to the Red Album. These four years could easily have been extended into a triple-album, but maybe Klein figured that a triple-album wouldn’t have had any more pulling power than a double.

I do question the inclusion of George Harrison’s Old Brown Shoe – the b-side to The Ballad Of John And Yoko. There are definitely stronger album tracks from around that period, which I would probably have substituted in its place – but I welcome its obscurity, a song that would later see the light of day on Past Masters Vol. 2, but at the time a definite hidden gem in their back-catalogue.

While I see the point of the 1 compilation – 2000’s attempt at putting all of the band’s number one singles in one collection – the Red and Blue Albums have the luxury of including album tracks. On 1, the years between 1967 and 1970 are represented by just eleven songs, while the Blue Album manages to cover the same period with twenty eight tracks (and doesn’t ever seem overlong or outstay its welcome).

For me, the only real sour note on this compilation is the inclusion of Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da – one of my least favourite Beatles songs. It’s definitely the catchiest track from the White Album, and probably only included here as it was such a hit single for Marmalade in January 1969 – with this single they achieved the notoriety of being the first ever Scottish band to hit number one in the UK singles chart.

Hit: Hey Jude

Hidden Gem: Old Brown Shoe