Monthly Archives: April 2014

Rocks In The Attic #322: Madness – ‘Absolutely’ (1980)

RITA#322Madness always felt like something above me when I was growing up, somehow out of my reach, but enjoyable nevertheless. It wasn’t until one of my early bosses, Neil Walsh, and one of my good friends, Paul Hughes, started talking to me about the band that I gave them a proper listen.

The one thing that sticks out about Madness is the streak of melancholy that runs through even their most upbeat of songs. They’re undoubtedly a pop band, but it seems they’ve popularised sad tunes instead of happy tunes. Some of their songs are both though – Baggy Trousers is a rollicking opening to the album, but it just sounds so…ominous.

It also feels like Madness doesn’t really translate to the rest of the UK as well as they do within Londoners. I’ll always associate the band with cockney skinheads – all sunburn and stonewashed denim – even though I’m sure there have fans from all walks of life.

There’s an early episode of Sacha Baren Cohen’s Bruno, where he interviews a drunk in a London bus-stop late at night. The drunk has a problem understanding what he’s being interviewed about, and when Bruno asks him to give an example of something he’s done that’s outrageous, he just about manages to mumble something about ‘walking across the beer tent at Madness.’ As soon as Bruno makes it clear that he wants the drunk to give a message to camera, to the gay audience back in Germany, he becomes belligerent and homophobic. Unfortunately, it’s this type of person that taints the image of the band for everybody else. The band themselves might be as left-wing as they come, but it doesn’t matter – a small element of their fan base have right-wing tendencies, and that’s something I find hard to forget.

Hit: Baggy Trousers

Hidden Gem: Return of The Los Palmas 7

Rocks In The Attic #321: Billy Joel – ‘An Innocent Man’ (1983)

RITA#321Pianists are seldom taken seriously in the world of rock ‘n roll. I don’t know what it is, but for some reason, after the likes of Little Richard and Jerry Lee Lewis ripped up the piano in the 1950s, the instrument has tended to have a hard time. I guess it’s seen as a safe choice, when compared to the ‘devil’s instrument’ of a guitar – with an air of respectability that you can never quite get away from.

Billy Joel will always be the American Elton John in my mind (or should that be Elton John as the English Billy Joel?) – they’re neighbours in the grand alphabet of rock ‘n roll – but I think he’s capable of so much more than the bespectacled Reg Dwight. Listening to a song like The Longest Time – a doo-wop classic, with vocals accompanied by nothing more than a bass guitar and a set of brushes – Joel sounds like he should have been recording music in the 1950s, not the 1980s. I’ve always had a soft-spot for We Didn’t Start The Fire, and even The River Of Dreams, as annoyingly catchy as it is, shows that if nothing else, he can write a decent melody line.

And still, no matter how guilty I feel listening to Billy Joel, I can always take pride in the fact that at least I’m not listening to Barry Manilow…

Hit: Uptown Girl

Hidden Gem: Easy Money

Rocks In The Attic #320: George Martin – ‘Live And Let Die (O.S.T.)’ (1973)

RITA#320You can scream and scream from the rooftops that John Lennon was the coolest Beatle. You can argue that after the break-up of their partnership Paul McCartney really showed his hand, and without Lennon to steer him away from the cliff-edge of mediocrity, he was left to descend into whimsy – revealing himself to be less than half the sum of the Lennon & McCartney partnership. But no matter what you say about McCartney, you can never take Live And Let Die away from him.

Arguably one of the best Bond themes, Live And Let Die was the first out-and-out rock song to grace the series. Up until this point, John Barry’s ominous brass and stirring strings had been the trademark of the films, with the themes usually taking a big band arrangement. A new actor in the role energised the film, and the ex-Beatle along with George Martin, were here to provide a new slant on the music.

Music is integral to the Bond films, and when they take a step away from John Barry, it either works magically, like it does here, or fails miserably. Listen to the “Disco Bond” stylings of Marvin Hamlisch’s The Spy Who Loved Me score for evidence that some things should just never be tinkered with.

Roger Moore’s first outing as 007 will always be one of my favourites. The setting is great – America, followed by the West Indies – and it seems to take a different approach to the films that came before it. Bond is seldom in control, with most of the weighty middle act being one long chase sequence – and unusually Bond is the quarry.

Bond films are always guilty of being influenced by wider cinematic trends – Moonraker’s other-worldly plot in the wake of Star Wars being the best example – and here the first half of the film inhabits the world of Blaxploitation movies. This sounds terrible, and could have been a really bad move for the producers, but any potential for misguided stiff English racism quickly dissipates. All that’s left is some really fun lines: “Names is for tombstones, baby! Y’all take this honkey out and WASTE HIM! NOW!”

I saw Paul McCartney play Glastonbury in 2004. Down at the very front for the gig (for which I had to endure the Black Eyed Peas in order to get into position), I was busy wondering which Beatles songs he was (and wasn’t) going to play. I had forgotten all about the majesty of Live And Let Die – and when he pulled it out, mid-set, it was the best surprise ever.

Hit: Live And Let Die (Main Titles) – Paul McCartney & Wings

Hidden Gem: San Monique – George Martin

Rocks In The Attic #319: Rainbow – ‘Down To Earth’ (1979)

RITA#319As far as records signed by famous dead drummers go, this one’s a beaut. I found this in a record store in Manchester, with ‘To Lesley, Best Wishes, Cozy Powell’ scrawled on it in biro. My Mum’s name is Lesley, so if she developed a love for late 1970s rock, I could always present this to her as a gift. Given her predilection for Cliff Richard records, I think this one will stay safely in my collection.

Back in 1994, when I was too young to go to music festivals, I remember I had a video that I had taped off MTV. To promote Donington’s Monsters of Rock festival in 1994 – the one headlined by Aerosmith and featuring a great supporting bill of up-and-coming bands like The Wildhearts, Terrorvision and Therapy? – they had put together a show of bands who had played Donington in the past.

It was that video that got me into a lot of bands – at that point I had developed a love for Aerosmith, but I hadn’t been exposed to much else. Most importantly the show closed with a performance of For Those About To Rock (We Salute You) from the AC/DC Live At Donington film from 1991. I’d never seen the mighty ‘DC before, and that performance – the sheer bombast of it all – turned me on to the band big time.

One of the other videos they played to represent past Donington highlights was Rainbow’s Since You’ve Been Gone. The band had headlined the very first Donington back in 1980, and without any footage from that appearance to show, they opted to show the cheesy music video for the song instead. It’s such a fantastic song, hardly the most representative song to showcase Ritchie Blackmore’s band – it’s essentially a pop single – but it’s something that always gets me reaching to turn the volume up.

Hit: Since You’ve Been Gone

Hidden Gem: All Night Long