Monthly Archives: February 2014

Rocks In The Attic #312: The Beatles – ‘Past Masters Vol. 1’ (1988)

RITA#307Being as the Past Masters albums represent a net, picking up all the loose ends that don’t appear on any of the thirteen official albums, I always regard this as just as important a piece of the Beatles legacy as those works. For me, they are albums #14 and #15.

There are songs across both Past Masters releases that stand head and shoulders above some of the band’s deeper album tracks, and the only reason they weren’t included on the albums anyway was in line with the band’s policy to avoid including established singles from albums, which was the done thing at the time.

Like most of the record-buying world, I know the Past Masters collection from their CD release – where they are very separate releases. The vinyl version sticks them together as a double-album, which I think is an odd thing to do, joining two very different sets of songs together as an alternative – but incomplete – greatest hits. For this blog, I’m treating them as individual albums – that’s just the way I know them.

It must have been great to be a Beatles fan in 1988 when this came along. Credit goes to Mark Lewisohn who compiled the two albums – going back to see what had been excluded from the LPs throughout the ‘60s. The inclusion of all 4 tracks from the Long Tall Sally EP is great, and it’s nice to hear some of the B-sides get their moment in the sun.

Vol. 1 covers 1962 to the first half of 1965 and can very much be seen as the one album that encapsulates Beatlemania (more than any of the standalone studio albums), given the singles it includes – From Me To You, She Loves You and I Want To Hold Your Hand – while the last A-side included on the album, 1964’s I Feel Fine, points to the second, more creative half of their career.

Anyway, who wouldn’t want to listen to the German-language version of She Loves You and I Want To Hold Your Hand? It’s a shame Die Beatles only released one single – they could have been a great band…

Hit: She Loves You

Hidden Gem: I’m Down

Rocks In The Attic #311: The Who – ‘It’s Hard’ (1982)

RITA#311Argh, the ‘80s! The cover of this record is a bit confused. Roger Daltrey looks like a real estate agent. Pete Townshend looks like a pre-op transsexual. John Entwistle looks bizarrely like Ringo Starr in a pinstripe suit. Kenney Jones looks like a waxwork. All four of them are facing away from a young boy playing a Space Invaders machine, his back to the camera, in a darkened room. Aside from the allusions to Pinball Wizard, I don’t know what this all means, but it feels dodgy. Don’t worry though; Townshend was just doing research, right?

Thankfully the album doesn’t sound as unnaturally ‘80s as they were trying to make themselves look on the cover. There’s a fair bit of synth on the album – but no more than say, Quadrophenia, and that always jarred slightly on that album anyway.

The reason I’ll put this album on will always be the last track on the first side – Eminence Front, with lead vocals by Townshend himself. I know the song from the soundtrack of Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, so hearing its slow burn always reminds me of driving around Los Santos, San Fierro and Las Venturas, knocking over pedestrians and doing drive-bys.

Hit: Athena

Hidden Gem: Eminence Front

Rocks In The Attic #310: Stone Temple Pilots – ‘Core’ (1992)

RITA#310I’ve been lucky with finding coloured vinyl copies of STP’s back catalogue. I love coloured vinyl and I love Stone Temple Pilots so it’s nice to have their first three albums on yellow, purple and blue marble vinyl respectively.

Core was the first STP album I bought – in the Boxing Day sale in 1994 if I remember correctly. I also bought the Beatle’s Revolver and Alanis Morissette’s Jagged Little Pill on the same day. Well, two out of three ain’t bad. Those were the days too when I would buy CDs and be able to listen to them almost instantly on the bus ride home on my Discman. I bought the CDs from the original Virgin Megastore on Market Street – the cool building with the cash from the tills going round the building in pneumatic pipes. Core would have found its way into my Discman by the time I had marched back up Market Street to get the 24 or 181 home.

Of the first three STP albums, Core is clearly the best although Purple and Tiny Music… both have their strong points. Core just sounds more cohesive, like they had toured the shit out of these songs before Brendan O’Brien put them down on record. It’s also the heaviest album of the three, with fewer departures into other genres than its successors. While those musical variations characterise the second and third album, it’s the straightforward and no-nonsense approach that sums up the sound on Core.

My first exposure to the band was seeing them perform Plush on some MTV awards – probably in 1993. I immediately disliked them because Weiland came from the Eddie Vedder school of grunty singing. It wasn’t until I heard Vasoline – the second single off their second album – that I started to change my mind. They’re constantly looked at as opportunists, riding the tailcoats of grunge with little in the way of originality but when you take the grunge lens off them they probably have a lot more in common with classic American rock of the 1970s.

Guitarist Dean DeLeo and brother Robert DeLeo on bass are true heroes of mine, and one of their greatest accomplishments is managing to lay down so much great material while dealing with the challenge of Scott Weiland. I’m very lucky to have been able to finally see the band play in the New Zealand in 2011 – before the latest spat in 2013 saw the band fire Weiland and record with another singer.

They played Crackerman – my favourite STP song – only a few songs into that set at the Vector Arena and I could have walked out there and then, a very happy man.

Hit: Plush

Hidden Gem: Crackerman

Rocks In The Attic #309: Aerosmith – ‘Aerosmith’s Greatest Hits’ (1980)

RITA#309There’s a great story in Aerosmith folklore about this album – the band’s first compilation (and to say it was the first of many would be a major understatement). A coke-addled Joe Perry was walking around a supermarket in 1980, probably shopping for vodka and aspirin. A fan approached him with a record and asked for his autograph. He had left the band the previous year after an altercation over spilt milk – no really – but obliged the fan anyway. The only trouble was, he didn’t recognise the record – the band had released it without his knowledge.

Aerosmith’s Greatest Hits is a terrible record. It’s full of great songs – the very cream of their 1970s output – and on paper it looks like a great compilation. Walk This Way, Sweet Emotion, Dream On, Draw The Line, Back In The Saddle – what could go wrong? Well, somebody at CBS decided to use heavily edited versions of most of the singles – stripping away some very important moments.

You don’t need to be a hardcore Aerosmith fan to realise that one of the best parts of Sweet Emotion is its bass guitar and guitar talkbox intro. Here, you get the single version which opens smack bang in the first chorus. Disgraceful.

Same Old Song And Dance – again represented by the single version – interestingly uses a noticeably different vocal take, complete with an alternate lyric on one of the verses. Kings And Queens is also butchered, with the intro again falling on the cutting-room floor. It’s a strange strategy – CBS weren’t restricted by time, nor were they trying to cram as much material on the album as possible. The two sides run to a total of 37 minutes, so the excised portions could have been put back in without any loss of audio clarity. It’s just odd, as though somebody at CBS thought they’d lose potential buyers if the record-buying public found out any of the songs got 30 seconds in without a lyric being heard.

The hidden gem on the album is undoubtedly their studio version of Come Together. Recorded for the ill-fated Sgt. Pepper’s movie, and produced by George Martin, a version of the song had previously appeared on 1978’s Live! Bootleg. But to hear the studio version, you either had to buy the single or risk listening to the film’s soundtrack album.

I saw the band last April (for the fifth time) and they played Come Together. After twenty years of waiting, it was fantastic to finally see them play a Beatles song.

Hit: Walk This Way

Hidden Gem: Come Together

Rocks In The Attic #308: Boston – ‘Boston’ (1976)

RITA#308More Than A Feeling is always mentioned as an influence on Nirvana’s Smells Like Teen Spirit and held up as the one song it shares the most DNA with. The similarities are there – a catchy rock song built around a cyclical guitar riff – but that’s about it. A lot of famous guitar riffs are cyclical – it’s a hallmark of a catchy riff – but I see no reason to single Boston out.

You wouldn’t think it, but once you get past the family-friendly More Than A Feeling, Boston’s debut turns into a decent hard rock album – the pop single is definitely the softest thing on there. I know Smokin’ from the soundtrack to Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, and the rest of the album can be summarised by that song much better than its opening hit single. If anything, Boston come across as an American Deep Purple – guitar and organ led rock songs, with an unrelenting rhythm section.

The album is still the second best-selling debut album of all time in the United States (after Appetite For Destruction), and I guess that fact alone points to how important this album is to the musical psyche of that country – something that may not translate as well to the rest of the world.

Hit: More Than A Feeling

Hidden Gem: Foreplay / Long Time

Rocks In The Attic #307: Lorde – ‘Pure Heroine’ (2013)

RITA#307Last Wednesday night I stood on Auckland’s waterfront and watched a homecoming gig by a 17-year old New Zealander who had just won two Grammys in Los Angeles a couple of days before. As far as expecting to see things like this happen again, I think seeing Halley’s Comet before we’re next due to would be more likely.

Without consciously meaning for it to be, Lorde’s Pure Heroine has been the soundtrack of my summer – just like Tame Impala’s Lonerism was the soundtrack of my winter last year. I’d like to think I’d rate her without all the hype, but then again I can’t imagine I would have heard any of her music without it.

I remember seeing the first photo of her – a publicity photo in The Listener sometime in late 2012 or early 2013. She was just a cute girl (steady…) with nice hair, sat next to a dog and a couple of words about her being someone to watch out for. But the press is always full of next big things – if you always listened to journalists about these things, you’d be constantly let down.

Then all of a sudden, Royals is #1 in the US charts for nine weeks, and then at the top of the UK charts. The scary thing though was the sheer amount of whacky covers of the song that popped up on YouTube; and then of course New Zealand’s tall poppy syndrome rears its ugly head and she starts to be shot down online and in the press. You’d think music critics (and musos in general) who usually champion New Zealand music would welcome her success, but no, they’re happier supporting the likes of Anika Moa and Dave Dobbyn. In New Zealand, it’s considered successful if you’re famous in New Zealand and New Zealand only.

On Wednesday night’s concert, she rolled out album-opener Tennis Court mid-set. It’s my favourite song on the album and every time I hear it, I always think the world’s got it wrong with Royals. Part of the success of that song must surely be the fact that it’s essentially a nursery rhyme – I mean, we can’t expect the American record-buying public to have sophisticated tastes, can we? Remember, this is the country that gave us Foreigner and Toto.

But for me, Tennis Court is where it’s at. In fact, I wouldn’t have bought the album had I not seen the awesome minimalist music video for that song. Royals may have alerted the world to Lorde, but Tennis Court shows that she can produce music that’s world-class. The rest of the album is pretty strong too. I wouldn’t say that Joel Little’s production sounds particularly cutting-edge; if anything, it sounds like early-2000s downbeat electronica out of the UK – think Zero 7; but the centrepiece is Lorde’s voice, and while she may not be as retro-sounding as Amy Winehouse, Duffy or Adele, there’s still something special about her.

One little thing I like about the production on the album is its cyclical beginning and end – with ‘Don’t you think that it’s boring how people talk’ the first line on the album, and ‘Let ‘em talk’ the final line. I love that sort of thing, very Roger Waters at the end of The Wall – ‘Isn’t this where we came in?’

I guess we now have to sit back and see what Ella Yelich-O’Connor does next. I do agree that she’s currently the antidote to the Miley Cyruses and Katy Perrys of the world, so hopefully she’ll continue down that path and avoid the pitfalls of glamour and celebrity.

Hit: Royals

Hidden Gem: A World Alone