Monthly Archives: January 2014

Rocks In The Attic #306: Bob Dylan – ‘Bringing It All Back Home’ (1965)

RITA#306I’m liking Dylan more and more these days. I was listening to Roger McGuinn’s version of It’s Alright, Ma (I’m Only Bleeding) on the Easy Rider soundtrack the other day and it just made me want to listen to Dylan’s version – a seven and a half minute highlight from this album, his first of 1965.

I think this was the second Dylan album I ever heard, after Highway 61 Revisited, and it always used to annoy me that production-wise, Maggie’s Farm is so similar sounding to Subterranean Homesick Blues. The instrumentation on both songs is almost identical, to the extent that you can imagine Dylan and his band running from one song into the other while the tape’s still rolling. If the songs bled into one another, I wouldn’t have a problem but the fact that they put a song between them on the album reeks of hopeful misdirection. A similar accompaniment can be heard after the false start on Bob Dylan’s 115th Dream, so maybe the backing band only knew one style of playing and were hoping Bob wouldn’t notice.

That’s not to say that Subterranean Homesick Blues isn’t every kind of awesome. One of my favourite Dylan tracks, it’s one of those timeless records – gibberish lyrics wrapped up in a punk spirit, twelve years before the Sex Pistols and the Clash turned up.

Listening to Dylan’s own version of Mr. Tambourine Man always reminds me of a Dylan poster that used to hang in our Sixth Form assembly area. From memory, I think it just had Dylan’s face with ‘Hey Mr. Tambourine Man’ printed below. I don’t know who put it there, or how long it had been there, but I get the impression that it had been there for a while. It’s probably still there now.

Hit: Subterranean Homesick Blues

Hidden Gem: It’s Alright, Ma (I’m Only Bleeding)

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Rocks In The Attic #305: Nick Drake – ‘Five Leaves Left’ (1969)

RITA#305Of all the artists in my record collection, Nick Drake is probably the one I spend the most time trying to introduce to other people. He’s got such a unique sound that I always think people are missing out if they’ve never heard of him. And if it’s a non-muso I’m talking to, I can almost bet 100% that they’ve never heard of him. It sometimes helps these days if you tell people that Brad Pitt is a big fan.

This isn’t my favourite Nick Drake record – that would have to be Bryter Layter – but all three are so good, it’s sometimes hard to tell them apart. Thankfully he avoids the ‘aye-diddley-dee’ pitfalls of a lot of ’60s / ‘70s British folk, and as a result his unique melancholic style doesn’t ever sound dated.

As much as I like Fairport Convention’s Liege & Lief (released in the same year), there’s always that aspect of traditional British folk music that they can’t ever seem to get away from. Drake takes a different path, and he sounds just as relevant now as he did forty four years ago.

There’s a tonne of adjectives that I could use to describe Drake’s music – eloquent, haunting, ethereal – but I always hate that about music journalism; like painting-by-numbers using a thesaurus and a typewriter. It’s hard to pick a hidden gem on this record – every song qualifies –and anyway, his short canon of work is such a buried treasure in itself.

Hit: Time Has Told Me

Hidden Gem: Saturday Sun

Rocks In The Attic #304: John Barry – ‘Goldfinger (O.S.T.)’ (1964)

RITA#301One of the things that will forever be associated with Bond is a thundering brass score on the soundtrack. This soundtrack for the series’ third film is where John Barry really hits his stride and forever links Bond with the sound of brass. From now on, the music was just as important as the moving image.

Goldfinger also represents Shirley Bassey’s debut performance as a singer of a Bond song – she would go on to provide the vocals to 1971’s Diamonds Are Forever and 1979’s Moonraker. At Glastonbury in 2007 I saw Bassey do a medley of her Bond songs – something I was glad to see, being a huge Bond fan, despite the medley sounding like it was crowbarred together by a musical arranger with epilepsy. I also saw Chris Cornell perform You Know My Name a few days later in Dublin – four Bond themes sung by their original artists in four days!

Goldfinger is far from being my favourite Bond film, but I can understand why it’s a popular favourite. It’s the archetypal Bond film that set the template for pretty much every Bond film, until 2006’s Casino Royale reset the clock.

Hit: Main Title (Goldfinger) – Shirley Bassey

Hidden Gem: Alpine Drive – Auric’s Factory

Rocks In The Attic #303: ZZ Top – ‘La Futura’ (2012)

RITA#303I bought this the same day I bought Aerosmith’s latest record, Music From Another Dimension! Both are lavish releases – Aerosmith’s offering is on double cherry red vinyl, with a CD of the album included; ZZ Top’s is also a double, but nicely on 45RPM due to the much shorter running time of the album (thirty nine minutes, compared to Aerosmith’s hour and nine minutes).

There’s one other key difference too. ZZ Top’s record is a great listen, managing to look both forwards as well as backwards, while Aerosmith’s is toss on toast – with a large dollop of toss and not much toast.

ZZ Top have been making their records sound dirtier and dirtier ever since they spent the ‘80s and early ‘90s producing synthesiser rock; now it seems they’ve finally made a record that sounds as genuinely greasy as something like Rio Grande Mud or Tres Hombres.

There’s a section of I Don’t Wanna Lose, Lose, You, where they shift from the verse into the chorus, that just sounds like the ZZ Top of old. It’s my favourite moment on the record, and proof that the old dogs have got some life left in them yet.

With this album, and their back catalogue now fully available in a digital format (see here for an explanation of this twisted – but thankfully now resolved – affair), ZZ Top are now very much back in my good books.

Hit: I Gotsta Get Paid

Hidden Gem: I Don’t Wanna Lose, Lose, You

Rocks In The Attic #302: The Rolling Stones – ‘Out Of Our Heads’ (1965)

RITA#302Another early Stones record with very little in the way of Jagger and Richards compositions (they managed three on this one). This is still very much Brian Jones’ band, but this album really only highlights the limitation of doing things Brian’s way – twelve songs appear on the British release of the album, nine of which are covers. Only two months later the Beatles would release Rubber Soul – a collection of songs that really shows how far behind their cotemporaries the Stones were.

Of course, of the three Jagger / Richards songs on Out Of Our Heads, two of them would make the history books. Heart Of Stone went on to become a top-20 single in the US, and the albums closing song I’m Free would earn the band a mini-resurgence when it was covered – re-imagined is probably a better description – by the Soup Dragons in 1991, hitting #5 in the UK charts.

That Soup Dragons song is a little more Soup Dragons than it is the Rolling Stones, but I guess as usual the lyrics carry the legal imprint of a song more than the music does. The Stones taking credit for the Verve’s Bittersweet Symphony is another matter though – that song uses only a snippet of an orchestral version of The Last Time (as recorded by their manager’s side-project, the Andrew Oldham Orchestra in 1966). This has to be one of the most tenuous plagiarism cases ever – somehow the Stones managed to lay a 100% claim to a 1997 hit single featuring an orchestral motif recorded by another artist interpreting their work back in 1966.

“Free, any old time, to get what I want,” Jagger would sing in 1965, and he wasn’t joking.

Hit: Heart Of Stone

Hidden Gem: Mercy, Mercy