Monthly Archives: November 2013

Rocks In The Attic #297: The Doobie Brothers – ‘What Were Once Vices Are Now Habits’ (1974)

RITA#297I can remember a moment from when I was 10 or 11, and was spending a Saturday watching my Dad play cricket. I don’t like sport now and I didn’t like sport then, so getting dragged along to see my Dad play cricket in the middle of nowhere was always a chore.

I used to pass the time by reading comics until the boredom ended and we could catch the bus home. This time though, I was listening to music on my Walkman. We’d just been to America (recounted here) and so I was listening to my new favourite band, the Doobie Brothers.

I remember being sat outside the clubhouse, half-watching the game, and two guys sat near me asked who I was listening to. I told them it was the Doobie Brothers, and they cracked a joke. They said – and I can’t remember the names they used – something along the lines of “The Doobie Brothers? Who’s that? <Insert name> and <insert name>?”

I didn’t know either of the names they said, and so I can’t remember them now; but in hindsight, and to speculate on the joke a couple of decades later, they probably said the name of two high-profile sportsmen who were in trouble over drugs in some way or another.

Other than my Dad (who bought the tape of the Doobie Brothers that became the soundtrack to our American holiday), that was the first time I ever heard anybody else mention the band. Because I didn’t understand the joke, I simply thought they were taking the piss out of the band, and so one of my first memories of rock music will be forever linked with somebody making fun of what I was listening to.

Maybe that’s why I never felt the need to listen to the same bands as everybody else. I really didn’t care if people liked the bands I was listening to – I was listening, not them! – and so that left me open to listen to a lot of bands that other people often saw – sometimes with good reason – as a joke.

When all my peers were listening to Oasis in 1994 and 1995, I proudly held my head high and carried on listening to Aerosmith and the like. In the sixth form common room, I’d listen to everybody argue over what album was better – Definitely Maybe or (What’s The Story) Morning Glory?  I’d put my headphones back on and carry on thinking about a far more important question – which album was better – Highway To Hell or Back In Black?

What Were Once Vices Are Now Habits has to be my favourite album title by the Doobs. I really can’t work out why this particular incarnation of the band was playing with two drummers – as shown on the album cover – but the album is as solid as The Captain And Me and Stampede on either side of it; and it’s always good to hear the Memphis Horns outside of a Stax album.

The Doobie Brothers’ first #1 hit single Black Water appears on this album, and while the rest of the album doesn’t match the strength of that song, it’s not a weak album by any respect. The one thing that really annoys me is the fact that some idiot at Warner Bros. Records decided to list the songs on the back cover in alphabetical order – not their running order. Maybe they were smoking something in the office that day…

Hit: Black Water

Hidden Gem: Flying Cloud

Rocks In The Attic #296: The White Stripes – ‘Icky Thump’ (2007)

RITA#296I guess the fact that I’ve had this album in my collection for about three years, still sealed in its shrinkwrap, speaks for itself. The White Stripes at one point were probably the most cutting-edge band in America – but after Elephant I don’t think anyone really took any notice of them.

I don’t think the quality of their records suffered after Elephant – there’s definitely nothing wrong with either Get Behind Me Satan or Icky Thump – but perhaps everybody just got over the novelty of seeing a two-piece band on stage (something that the Black Keys helped with).

I remember reading an interview with Jack White in the early 2000s and he was saying how important it was to remain an enigma to their fans. ‘As soon as the music press find out everything about me, I’ve had it’ – he said, of words to those effect. Perhaps everybody just got bored of them. There used to be a load of mystery around Jack and Meg White’s relationship – are they brother and sister or husband and wife? – and as soon as it was revealed that they were a divorced couple, suddenly they didn’t seem so special anymore.

This album is the soundtrack of Jack White’s marriage to Karen Elson – the Jean Paul Gaultier supermodel who went to my secondary school (she was in the year below me). Icky Thump is surely a reference to the infamous Yorkshire martial-art Ecky Thump from The Goodies television show. I still find it hilarious that Karen Elson would have taken Jack White home to meet her parents in Oldham. Funnier still is that while he was there, somebody brought up The Goodies in conversation. White and Elson’s marriage didn’t last long unfortunately so now I can’t claim my hometown to be the home of a rock star. Well, unless you count Barclay James Harvest.

No matter how I try, I can’t separate Icky Thump from a certain video I saw online once starring a young ‘actress’ being showered with more than just compliments. Whoever has uploaded this particular compilation had used the White Stripes song to soundtrack every highlight (and unless you’re offended by anything at all, don’t dare try and track this down). Good times!

Hit: Icky Thump

Hidden Gem: 300 M.P.H. Torrential Outpour Blues

Rocks In The Attic #295: Andrew Lloyd Webber – ‘The Phantom Of The Opera (O.S.T.)’ (1987)

RITA#295One of the things I most regret about leaving the UK is that I didn’t go to see any West End productions when I had the chance. My parents took me to see Barnum – a musical about the famous American circus promoter, and starring Michael Crawford – when I was 9 or 10; but I seem to remember I was more excited about the awesome A-Team figures I’d just managed to score from the McDonalds around the corner.

These days I have the opportunity to see touring musicals when they play in Auckland – Wicked has just spent its ten-year anniversary as a musical while playing at the Civic – but seeing a show here is filled with jeopardy. We don’t seem to get many British or American productions; usually it will be the Australian version of the show and who wants to see Les Miserables crippled by a thick Australian accent?

Worse still, a couple of years ago we had Cats play at the Civic in Auckland. The advertising and posters would lead you to believe it was an official production – British, American or Australian – as they used the original artwork you would associate with the original Andrew Lloyd Webber show; but things were not as they seemed. Friends of mine who went to the show were horrified to learn – once they’d sat in their seats, of course – that the production was by the Howick Players, a local theatre troupe. I find the simple fact that there’s a group of amateur dramatic called the Howick Players amusing enough, but then to learn that they skilfully passed off their show as a West End production (until they stepped on the stage in dollar-shop costumes) is hilarious. I think the Howick Players might just be my favourite local theatre group.

I’ve never seen The Phantom Of The Opera so I can’t comment on how representative the soundtrack album is. It’s the original cast recording – Sarah Brightman, Michael Crawford, etc – so I’d guess it’s the genuine article, or as close as you can get. There’s some cracking tunes on this – The Music Of The Night, Think Of Me, and the title track of course – but it’s not the easiest musical to listen to. It’s very wordy, and I know musicals need to have some form of dialogue to advance the narrative, but the big musical numbers seem to be outweighed by lengthy passages where the players sing a truckload of dialogue.

I’d always thought Echoes by Pink Floyd sounded familiar when I first heard it. Roger Waters claims – with good reason, too! – that Andrew Lloyd Webber stole the descending/ascending motif from this song for the title track of Phantom. I just heard Phantom first (unfortunately). You can understand where Waters is coming from – he definitely has a point. You don’t really hear it said much these days, but the early Lloyd Webber productions were always regarded as operas with a rock slant, so it’s not too far-fetched to assume the maestro would have his ears open to what was happening in that genre of music. There are other parts of Opera that scream Pink Floyd to me – the cries of “Sing For Me!” at the end of the title song reek of Roger Waters circa The Wall.

Waters has never officially challenged Lloyd Webber over the plagiarism, but he has mentioned him in song. The lyrics to one of his solo recordings, It’s A Miracle, reads:

We cower in our shelters,
With our hands over our ears,
Lloyd Webber’s awful stuff,
Runs for years and years and years,
An earthquake hits the theatre,
But the operetta lingers,
Then the piano lid comes down,
And breaks his fucking fingers,
It’s a miracle!

Hit: The Music Of The Night

Hidden Gem: Think Of Me

Rocks In The Attic #294: Nirvana – ‘Nevermind’ (1991)

RITA#294Like a lot of people my age, this was the first exposure I had to grunge music. At first, the very idea of grunge just didn’t appeal to me – a genre made up of scruffy guys with bad hair and lumberjack shirts. Then my friends kept playing Smells Like Teen Spirit, and the intro burrowed into my head like an earworm.

I have trouble listening to this record now. I can’t hear anything resembling punk or new wave anymore; all I can hear is the perfect production by Butch Vig – the fantastic separation of voice and instruments, and the rampant double-tracking on the vocals.

There’s a great episode of Classic Albums where Vig isolates the vocals on In Bloom and you can hear just how strong those vocal melodies are on the chorus – Cobain’s lead vocal double-tracked, and then supported by Dave Grohl’s backing vocals, also double-tracked. Vig convinced Cobain that this was a good idea because it’s something that John Lennon would have done. That in itself sounds like a million miles away from punk rock.

Of the two albums, I prefer In Utero as a piece of work, and always have done. The songwriting isn’t overshadowed by the production on that album; and despite that album being the soundtrack to Cobain’s suicide, there doesn’t seem to be as much hype and baggage to put up with. I do enjoy the second side of Nevermind though, when you get away from all the overplayed singles that are littered on the first side. The album just seems to breathe a little easier on that side.

Still, Nevermind holds a lot of memories for me, and always will. That crazy photo of the baby underwater is a beautiful image – and proof that classic album covers didn’t die out in the digital age. Even the blurry photo of the band (on the back of the record sleeve, but on the inlay of the CD if I remember correctly) brings a smile to my face. In fact, the whole production design of the album is pretty awesome – the album title written in a font to make it look like it’s floating on top of water, and the back cover made to look like shimmering sunlight refracted through the water of a swimming pool. I spent many an hour of my teens just looking at the album art, and at that age you read far too much into every little thing. It just seemed important.

Throughout my adolescence (in the UK) I encountered plenty of people who were anti-American. These people will eschew anything from that side of the Atlantic, while singing the praises of anything recorded by the British, just simply because it’s British. I’ve never really understood this musical racism, and some of my closest friends have been blighted by it.

I was asked once why would I want to listen to an American chap singing about killing himself, when I could listen to an Englishman sing about living forever?

The answer is simple – there’s more joy and energy in one line of a Kurt Cobain’s song than in a lifetime of Oasis records. I’ll take invention and imagination over mediocrity any day.

Hit: Smells Like Teen Spirit

Hidden Gem: Lounge Act

Rocks In The Attic #293: Otis Redding – ‘History Of Otis Redding’ (1968)

RITA#293It’s funny how some musicians become saints when they die young, and others are just glossed over. I don’t think I ever want to see another t-shirt with the faces of Kurt Cobain, Bob Marley and Jim Morrison draped in moonlight, but still there they are, in the type of shops that typically attract the fat, lazy and stupid.

Perhaps Otis died too young – he was only twenty six at the time of his death, a year younger than the mythical age that might have guaranteed him a place on those t-shirts.

Redding died in December 1967, and there’s a pretty horrible photo of him being pulled out of the frozen lake that his plane crashed into. There’s an equally horrible set of photos of him, from a couple of days prior to the crash, which show Redding standing next to his new plane outside the aircraft hangar, beaming with pride over his new acquisition. These have more impact than the crash photo, if only because they paint a picture of youth and exuberance that was very soon snuffed out.

History Of Otis Redding was the very first of countless Otis compilations, but the only one released in his lifetime, just a month before his death. I often wonder where he would have ended up had he not died – there are dozens of singers from that era of soul – Wilson Pickett, Eddie Floyd, William Bell etc – that drifted into obscurity in one way or another. Who’s to say that Otis Redding wouldn’t have done the same thing? The question mark comes with his appearance at the 1967 Monterey Pop festival, and his apparent crossover into the pop mainstream. Unfortunately it’s a question that will never be answered.

I’ll just have to keep looking out for a t-shirt of Otis Redding’s’ face draped in moonlight…

Hit: Try A Little Tenderness

Hidden Gem: I Can’t Turn You Loose

Rocks In The Attic #292: Various Artists – ‘The Doctor Who 25th Anniversary Album’ (1988)

RITA#292A quarter of a century ago – talk about travelling through time! A relic from my childhood, I remember buying this on vinyl when I was ten years old and very much into Dr. Who. If I remember correctly, I bought it from WH Smith on Market Street in Oldham – and I can almost picture the corner of the store where the music section was.

Sadly this album is also a relic of the era when Dr. Who was very, very naff – the era of the seventh Doctor, Sylvester McCoy. A couple of years ago I met the man himself, together with his second companion Sophie “Ace” Aldred at a convention. I really wasn’t that excited to meet him – almost as if I blamed him personally for being a lame duck Doctor. Sophie Aldred was still as hot as hell though.

And anyway, I was more excited about meeting the eighth Doctor, Paul McGann, sat further along the signing table. It wasn’t his connection to Dr. Who I was bothered about – it was his role as the titular “I” (or Marwood) in Withnail And I. McGann autographed a black and white publicity still from the film, scrawled “PONCE”, and drew an arrow to his character. Fantastic!

But anyway, back to Dr. Who. This album of incidental music from the McCoy years (bookended by some earlier versions of the title theme) is delightfully naff. It’s almost nostalgically naff – and that’s the one thing that’s wrong about the current incarnation of the series on the TV at the moment. It’s too modern, too sexy and just not naff enough.

I have other problems with the modern Dr. Who – the absence of cliffhanger endings, the overuse of the Daleks, the fact that the Doctor can now control where the TARDIS lands, the overuse of the sonic screwdriver as deus ex machina – but I guess overall it’s just too damn slick.

Stop messing with my childhood, BBC. It’s Dr. Who – it’s supposed to be a bit crappy!

Hit: Dr. Who (1980)

Hidden Gem: Gavrok’s Search

Rocks In The Attic #291: The Blues Brothers – ‘Briefcase Full Of Blues’ (1978)

RITA#291It’s a real shame that the Blues Brothers are never taken seriously. To many people they’re a cheap gimmick act from the world of karaoke and hen nights; a look you can pull off with a cheap suit, a pair of sunglasses and a dusty fedora trilby. It also helps if you’re tall and skinny, and have a like-minded fat friend – or vice versa.

They’re more than that though. I don’t think Dan Aykroyd was a million miles away when he claimed that the Blues Brothers were probably the third best revue band in the world (behind James Brown’s and Tina Turner’s bands respectively). The experience is definitely there – the rhythm section from the Stax house band combined with the horn section from Saturday Night Live. Throw a couple of actors in there who obviously have a deep love of blues, rhythm & blues and soul, and you have something that may be imitated often, but never bettered.

Aykroyd himself is probably as much to blame as anybody else for watering down the Blues Brothers’ legacy in more recent years, reprising the act on stage with James Belushi and John Goodman – and I don’t even want to think about that awful film sequel.

My favourite part of this live album (and its follow-up, 1980’s Made In America) is Dan Aykroyd’s motor-mouth introduction. On this album, he squeezes around 300 words into a frantic minute of Otis Redding’s I Can’t Turn You Loose – hitting his mark with perfection at the end of his speech.

Hit: Soul Man

Hidden Gem: Opening / I Can’t Turn You Loose