Monthly Archives: March 2014

Rocks In The Attic #318: Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers – ‘Damn The Torpedoes’ (1979)

RITA#318I never really understood Tom Petty. He seems to carry an air of grandeur around with him, and whenever he appears as a talking head on music documentaries, he’s a bit unnerving to watch – the guy can look like a freakin’ zombie. I’m guessing him and sunlight are not best friends .He also seems to be the weak link in the Travelling Wilburys. Well, him and Jeff Lynne. Damn, Jeff Lynne is even the weak link in E.L.O.

I had never really heard anything of note by Petty except for cheesy radio-friendly hits like Free Fallin’, so there was obviously something I was missing. I knew this album – that red album by Tom Petty – was supposed to be a classic, so I picked it up at a record fair in Auckland last year.

What a great record, a truly solid album. There are three big hits – Refugee, Here Comes My Girl and Don’t Do Me Like That – but the rest of the album stands up very well. All killer, no filler, as they say.

Production-wise, the album sounds ahead of its time. Produced by Jimmy Iovine, it has a remarkable feel, released in the last year of the 1970s but achieving the kind of clarity of sound that would be synonymous with 1980s production.

I’m not sure if I agree with Rolling Stone when they said that this is “the album we’ve all been waiting for – that is, if we were all Tom Petty fans, which we would be if there were any justice in the world,” but I’m glad I have this album in my collection.

Hit: Refugee

Hidden Gem: You Tell Me

Rocks In The Attic #317: The Joe Perry Project – ‘I’ve Got The Rock ‘N Rolls Again’ (1981)

RITA#317Like an STD he’s picked up from some filthy groupie, Joe Perry has got the rock ‘n rolls again. It’s unclear whether there’s a cure for this particular disease, but this is the ‘80s after all.

Perry’s second solo album during his brief split from Aerosmith at the end of the ‘70s is probably the best of the three. It really feels like a band effort in comparison to Let The Music Do The Talking, probably as a second guitar has been added into the mix, with vocalist Charlie Farren also providing rhythm guitar. The album also features South Station Blues – the one song from the project that was considered strong enough to feature on Aerosmith’s 1991 career retrospective Pandora’s Box.

Bass duties, like the first album, are taken up by David Hull – Aerosmith’s go-to guy over the past couple of years for filling in when Tom Hamilton has been sick. In a lovely display of word punnery, Hull changed his surname in the mid-‘80s to David Heit, so that he and Charlie Farren could get away with naming their band Farrenheit. At one time their music videos were in heavy rotation on MTV, but alas they didn’t enter the public’s consciousness like the Totos and Foreigners of the world.

I always wonder what those missing Aerosmith would have sounded like in the early ‘80s. I love 1982’s Rock In A Hard Place – it doesn’t get the respect it deserves, just because Perry and Brad Whitford aren’t on it (except for one song that Whitford plays on) – but it says something that Perry can produce three albums of material in the time that it took Tyler to get one out with his band of replacement guitarists. The toxic twins are always spoke of as being as bad as each other in terms of their drug and alcohol dependency back in the day, but it seems that Perry was able to get his shit together much better that Tyler ever did.

Hit: East Coast, West Coast

Hidden Gem: Dirty Little Things

Rocks In The Attic #316: ZZ Top – ‘ZZ Top’s First Album’ (1971)

RITA#316At some point in the past 12 months, some bright spark at ZZ Top Headquarters (Z.Z.H.Q.?) decided to finally release ZZ Top’s initial run of albums in its original, untouched, format. I’ve complained about this – many, many, many times before – but the wait is finally over: you can now walk into your local record store and purchase The Complete Studio Albums (1970-1990). This CD box set features all their studio albums between those years, with the original mixes of ZZ Top’s First Album, Rio Grande Mud and Tejas all seeing the light of day for the very first time in a digital format.

That might not sound like a big thing, but for a ZZ Top fan, it’s a revelation. Until now, if I’ve ever wanted to listen to one of these albums outside of my house and away from my record player, I’ve had to listen to it on tape. Now five or ten years ago that wasn’t too hard, but it’s been a while since I’ve driven a car with a tape-deck. These days, it’s either CD or my iPod via an AUX lead. So, choices of listening to early ZZ Top on the move have been very limited.

And who would ever want to listen to those horrible 1980s remixes? They just sound wrong. The guitar, bass and vocals have been left pretty much untouched, but the drums have been treated to give it a little more reverb and presence. The end result: early ‘70s rock n’ roll, all viewed through a late ‘80s filter, like the Pet Shop Boys covering AC/DC. For a big band, it must rank as one of the longest waits for a set of albums to be released on CD. Disgusting!

Still, it’s okay now; I can cruise along in my car and listen to ZZ Top’s First Album without needing to install my car with a turntable. I can just flick the album on my iPod and turn my car stereo up. Sweet!

ZZ Top’s First Album is a little gem of an album. It suggests everything that the band were going to do with their classic run of albums in the ‘70s – blues boogie all wrapped up in a tight three-piece: dirty guitar, driving bass and a shuffle beat on the drums. There’s a natural progression across their first three albums, but this first record probably has the most charm of the three.

Hit: (Somebody Else Been) Shakin’ Your Tree

Hidden Gem: Backdoor Love Affair

Rocks In The Attic #315: Various Artists – ‘Pulp Fiction (O.S.T.)’ (1994)

RITA#315What a soundtrack! Pulp Fiction came out in 1994 – the year I finished school – so I remember this soundtrack being the – erm – soundtrack to many parties over that summer. Whatever you might think of Tarantino’s films, his soundtracks can’t be beaten for pulling together forgotten songs and giving them another chance in the sun.

Tarantino has definitely lost his way recently – Inglourious Basterds is simply a patronising wish-fulfilment fantasy for the Jews, Django Unchained does the same for African Americans – but Pulp Fiction is almost perfect. I remember hearing so much about it; I bought it on VHS the day it came out. I’d missed it at the cinema (although I did eventually see it on the big screen, on a special screening a few years later), but I just had to see it. I don’t think I had even seen the trailer at that point – just a snippet of the film, the Jack Rabbit Slims dance contest, on Barry Norman’s Film ’94.

This was when I used to work at Tesco, so after my shift I bought the video together with some chocolate with potato chips – and consumed the lot that night (as in the chocolate and potato chips at the same time). I haven’t eaten chocolate and potato chips at the same time since – it is a pretty weird taste, and I can’t remember who recommended it to me – but it’ll forever be linked to Pulp Fiction in my memory.

I don’t think I’ll ever get over that fluffed line when Amanda Plummer repeats her expletive-filled rant at the diners towards the end of the film (‘Any of you fucking pricks move and I’ll execute every motherfucking last one of you!’ becomes ‘Any of you fucking pricks move, and I’ll execute every one of you motherfuckers!’) – and I do think it is a mistake, regardless of any well-thought out theories out there (love your thinking, Realiction) – but I’m constantly reminded of it every time I hear the dialogue that opens the soundtrack.

I do like to think though, that if I ever did commit an armed robbery, I’d announce it in Tim Roth’s wonderfully understated “Everybody be cool – this is a robbery!”

Hit: Misirilou – Dick Dale & His Del-Tones

Hidden Gem: Bustin’ Surfboards – The Tornadoes

Rocks In The Attic #314: The Rolling Stones – ‘Metamorphosis’ (1975)

RITA#314Metamorphosis is the Stones’ third post-Decca compilation (after the two Hot Rocks releases in ’71 and ’72 respectively). It’s hardly their best forty eight minutes committed to vinyl, but I guess by this stage the barrel was being well and truly scraped.

A hotchpotch of demos, outtakes and alternate versions, the album has little in the way of hits – although Out Of Time is a well known pop hit of the ‘60s. The album was released on the same day as the first Atlantic Records compilation of the band’s material, Made In The Shade, and any cursory glance over that album’s tracklisting – pulling together material from Sticky Fingers, Exile On Main St., Goats Head Soup and It’s Only Rock ‘n Roll – suggests a much better way to spend an hour of your time.

The album’s one saving grace is its cover – a trippy Kafkaesque illustration of the band as various man-size bugs, clothed in late ‘60s garb, holding masks of their human form: the Stones as we know them. Both Brian Jones and Mick Taylor are present, making the band an odd-looking sextet. And speaking of guitarists, most of the tracks on the first side were recorded with session musicians – namely Jimmy Page and Big Jim Sullivan.

I have tickets to see the Stones very soon, in Auckland, and I can’t wait. They’ve always eluded me in the past – I’ve been busy doing other things, or tickets have been too expensive – but I just had to get tickets this time. Time is running out and all that. I remember hearing about a few European gigs they did back in 2003, supported by AC/DC. Man, that would have been a great show.

We have tickets in the cheap seats; well, standing actually, and they weren’t cheap either! But it’s okay – I’m not sure I want to be that close to a rapidly aging Mick and Keef. The word on the street is that Mick Taylor may be making an appearance, and that would just make my night, but I’ll be happy just to see the band before they pack it in for good.

Hit: Out Of Time

Hidden Gem: I Don’t Know Why

Rocks In The Attic #313: Bob James – ‘Touchdown’ (1978)

RITA#313Smooth jazz! I bought this from the second-hand bookshop on Devonport’s pier. I’d actually seen it a few weeks earlier, but I went back and got it for $4 – a great price for a great album.

You have to watch yourself in that bookshop though. The shop is in two parts, one on each side of the main concourse through the pier. There’s an assistant behind a counter, but only in one of the stores – the other is unmanned. When I bought this record, I was in the unmanned side of the store, flicking though the vinyl crates and a lady walks in and says to me “I’d like to ask you about a book…”.  According to the other browser that was in there at the time, this happens quite regularly.

I owned up immediately and pointed her across the way to the owner of the shop, but maybe I should have tried to give her some literary advice. Next time, maybe.

I like how Bob James numbers his records – this is album number six so it’s called Touchdown because in American Football, a touchdown is worth six points. The previous album Heads features a nickel on the cover (being worth five cents) but the cleverness ended with the next album simply called Lucky Number Seven.

I used a snippet of Angela for the closing credits of the video I made around the birth of my first beautiful daughter. It’s always been one of my favourite TV themes, and the rest of the album is up to that standard. It may sound like porn music, but it’s still entrancing in an instrumental Steely Dan sort of way.

Hit: Angela (Theme From Taxi)

Hidden Gem: Touchdown

Death Of A Ghostbuster

“Well, let’s say this Twinkie represents the normal amount of psychokinetic energy in the New York area. Based on this morning’s sample, it would be a Twinkie… thirty-five feet long, weighing approximately six hundred pounds.”

– Egon Spengler (Harold Ramis), Ghostbusters (1984)

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Last Tuesday I got to work, turned on my computer and was shocked to see a headline on a news website: ‘Ghostbusters star Harold Ramis dies’. It’s always alarming to hear about one of your heroes dying, especially if you didn’t know they were ill and the news comes out of the blue. It’s been less than a month since Phillip Seymour Hoffman died – similarly without any advance warning – but as much as I respect, admire and enjoy Hoffman’s work (I’ve been a big fan of his ever since I saw him in Boogie Nights), the death of Harold Ramis has meant so much more to me.

I was six years old when I first saw Ghostbusters. In those days, you went to see a film on the weekend – a matinee showing probably – and they were an event. I remember seeing The Karate Kid one weekend, and on the way out of the cinema all the kids were doing karate chops and kicks on each other. When we saw Back to the Future, everybody was pestering their parents for a skateboard on the way home. I even recall a showing of Rocky V where the entire cinema – and I mean the entire cinema­ – was chanting Rocky’s name during the fight at the end of the film. Sitting in a darkened room, with a few hundred strangers, all shouting – “Ro-cky! Ro-cky! Ro-cky!” – was truly magical. That’s what cinema should be – rather than the bathtub of apathy and sarcasm it’s become.

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I would have seen Ghostbusters at the Roxy – an old-school cinema halfway between Oldham and Manchester. It’s been demolished now, but I saw so many great films there: Temple Of Doom, Back to the Future, Return of the Jedi, The Goonies, The Karate Kid, every James Bond film from Octopussy to License To Kill, the Police Academy films – the list is endless. In short, if there was a big film released in the 1980s, I saw it at the Roxy. When in the queue outside, you had to dodge the crazy old man who owned the place, but it was worth it. If you stood out of line, or were playing up, he’d “nudge” you with his walking stick; but you always knew that you’d soon be inside – in the dark, with the warm smell of popcorn taking you to a different place.

When you’re building a snowman in the schoolyard, you expect compliments from your friends; but when one of my friends looked at my creation and declared that it looked like the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man, I had no idea what he was talking about. Word was spreading around the school about this great new film, and I was taken to see it that night.

From that moment on, I wasn’t just into Star Wars and James Bond, I was into Ghostbusters too. The marketing people didn’t get it quite right though – perhaps they didn’t predict that the film would have such a following among kids – but I remember there was nothing you could buy. No toys, no t-shirts, nothing. When the Real Ghostbusters cartoon came along later in the decade, only then did the marketing machine catch up. I had all of the figures, the Ecto-1 car, Slimer and the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man. I even had a t-shirt with an illustration of Slimer on it.

As co-writer of Ghostbusters – alongside Dan Aykroyd – Harold Ramis was responsible for one of the best films of the 1980s and undoubtedly one of the best comedies of all time. It might sound clichéd, but they really don’t make them like that anymore. Ghostbusters and Back to the Future – released a year apart – were very similar: a universal comedy, suitable for all ages, with a dash of science-fiction and making the most of the best visual effects available. Of the two, Ghostbusters always seemed a little edgier – it was more of a guy’s film, rather than Back to the Future which had a set of all-American family values at its core.

There was that scary ghost at the beginning too. It took me a long time to get over that. The librarian ghost looked harmless at first glance, but when she was riled up, it was truly frightening. When I look at it now, all I can see is a good-for-its-time piece of stop-motion trickery, but to a  six year old, it provoked nightmares.

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Harold Ramis’ character, Egon Spengler, was never my favourite Ghostbuster. The popular choice would have been Peter Venkman, Bill Murray’s character – the droll anarchist who didn’t really want to be there. Dan Aykroyd’s character, Ray Stantz, provided a lovable, childlike character, but Spengler was just as integral to the film as Venkman or Stantz. A straight man, Spengler was the real nerd of the team. Bespectacled and nebbish, he represented the respectable arm of the Ghostbusters. He was such a good fit for that role, that it always jarred when I saw him play another type of character. Watching him in something like Stripes just didn’t feel quite right.

Without really meaning to, I’ve seen nearly all of Ramis’ films, both as an actor and as a director. He’s always raised a smile, when he’s turned up recently in small roles like the doctor in As Good As It Gets, or Seth Rogen’s father in Knocked Up, but it’s always Ghostbusters he’ll be remembered for. What a great film – a true classic of my childhood. After not seeing it for a few years, I remember watching it in my bedroom at University, nursing the hangover from hell – and it was like watching it fresh again, just blown away by how strong a film it is.

I’m pretty sure Aykroyd was the driving force behind Ghostbusters – his name comes first in the screenwriting credits, and he’s never been shy at claiming the idea was his own in interviews – so I can only assume Ramis was brought in to add jokes and flesh out the script. Regardless, he’s had a hand in writing a film that has probably contributed more to my sense of humour than any other.

I salute Harold Ramis.

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