Monthly Archives: May 2014

Rocks In The Attic #327: Aerosmith – ‘When The Lightning Strikes’ (1988)

RITA#327This is a nice little bootleg recording of the band on the Permanent Vacation tour, from February 6th 1988 and recorded at California’s Long Beach Arena (the first of two concerts there). The sound isn’t fantastic – it’s a little muddy – and the closeness of some of the voices in the audience – “Yeah! Wooh! Yeah!” – leads me to believe it’s not a sound-desk recording (a woman starts screaming in the middle of Dream On and it sounds like she’s either being raped, or she really, really dislikes early Aerosmith ballads). If it is an ambient recording though, I guess it’s not too bad. But if it is a sound-desk recording, it sounds like it has suffered from being copied a few times prior to being put down on vinyl.

The band are firing on all cylinders here. You can tell they’re enjoying their revival – and the energy coming off the stage is akin to that of a much younger band. The crowd seems to get more amped up when they start playing their contemporary hits – Dude (Looks Like A Lady) gets a massive cheer four songs into the set, which is worrying and explains how the hit singles were received at the time.

This recording is right in the middle of Steven Tyler’s sex addiction years – which would come (no pun intended) to a head (again, no pun intended) on the lyrics to Pump one year later. It’s definitely not a family show, as Tyler leads the audience into an impromptu sing-along of the wholesome phrase “I want to party on your pussy, baby!”

There are some nice additions to the set-list here; songs that don’t really see the light any more, pushed out of their ‘90s setlists by a wave of late Geffen-era power ballads. Live recordings of Bone To Bone (Coney Island White Fish Boy) and When The Lightning Strikes are great to hear, as is Big Ten Inch Record (even though the band had already released a live recording of that on the Pandora’s Box set). Bone To Bone (Coney Island White Fish Boy) is even listed incorrectly as Come Back on the tracklisting, suggesting that the album was not put together by fans. The fantastic One Way Street from the first albumgets an outing and isn’t even mentioned.

One of the greatest things I’ve seen when attending Aerosmith shows has been watching Joe Perry play slide guitar on Rag Doll, sat on a chair on stage, with his guitar lying across his knees. I think of the five time I’ve seen them, they’ve only played the song twice, so it’s always a rare occurrence. Rag Doll is one of the better singles from Permanent Vacation – and it’s joined here by other great tracks from that album – Hangman Jury, Permanent Vacation, and their cover of The Beatles’ I’m Down. Unfortunately, it’s also joined by Angel – arguably the worst song Aerosmith ever recorded. I say ‘arguably’ as some of their later musical crimes are in the same league. For me though, Angel will sadly always represent the beginning of the end.

Hit: Walk This Way

Hidden Gem: Hangman Jury

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Rocks In The Attic #326: Transvision Vamp – ‘Velveteen’ (1989)

RITA#326Ugh. I don’t know why I have this in my record collection. Just listening to it makes me feel unwell. That opening “Waaaggggghhhhh” is a foreboding wail of plastic attitude and try-hard anarchy.

Transvision Vamp’s music belongs on the soundtrack of a very bad late ‘80s film. Maybe some sub-Richard Curtis romantic comedy, set in London, starring Richard E. Grant or Hugh Laurie.

I was in a meeting at work once, and somebody’s mobile phone rang out. The ringtone was Nirvana’s Smells Like Teen Spirit, and it belonged to an odious senior executive at an advertising agency.  She laughed, and said “I’m such a rock chick!” Groan. If Nirvana hadn’t have come along when they did, providing accessible popular rock for people to use to claim some sort of ‘alternative’ness, lame people like her would still regard Transvision Vamp’s style of music as cutting edge.

Still, Wendy James is super hot.

Hit: Baby I Don’t Care

Hidden Gem: Song To The Stars

Rocks In The Attic #325: Tom Johnston – ‘Everything You’ve Heard Is True’ (1979)

RITA#325This is the first solo album by moustachioed head Doobie Brother Tom Johnston. I picked it up in the sales racks at Real Groovy in Auckland, and I’m glad I did. Sometimes you just have to trust your gut when buying records, and it paid off this time.

I guess it wasn’t too much of a risk – Johnston was the driving force behind the first classic run of Doobie Brothers albums, alongside Patrick Simmons – and so you’d expect a solo album to be more of the same, at the very least. Any risk comes from the question of whether Johnston could still cut it, five years after he made his last meaningful contribution to the Doobs. After Stampede in 1975, he effectively stood on the sidelines, only appearing on a few songs on Takin’ It To The Streets (1976) and Livin’ On The Fault Line (1977) before being replaced by beardy MOR pusher Michael McDonald. The reason – chronic stomach ulcers and “exhaustion”.

Thankfully, Everything You’ve Heard Is True is just like an early Doobs record. It’s even produced by Ted Templeman. The only noticeable change is that the songs are a little less rocky – so you don’t get anything approaching China Grove. There’s plenty of soul though – and a lot of the tracks are little funkier than your typical Doobie Brothers fare.

The cover shows Johnston sat on a stool in a bar, lighting a cigarette. Behind the bar, amongst the nuts and bottles, and usual debris and clutter you find behind a bar, there’s a great little pun. A printed sign reads ‘OUR CREDIT MANAGER IS HELEN WAITE. IF YOU WANT CREDIT GO TO HELEN WAITE.’

Hit: Savannah Nights

Hidden Gem: Down Along The River

Rocks In The Attic #324: Creedence Clearwater Revival – ‘Creedence Clearwater Revival’ (1968)

RITA#324Three hundred and twenty four records in, and this is the first Creedence record I’m writing about. Disgraceful! There’s a reason for it though.

Back in Manchester, I made do with a best of compilation – Creedence Gold – and just never got around to buying any of the studio records. I had to stop buying vinyl for a while – as I moved over to New Zealand, got a haircut and a real job – and during that time I listened to a lot of music through my iPod. It was during this time that I listened to lot of Creedence – probably an unhealthy amount.  A lot of 85 and 86 bus trips into Manchester, and back to Chorlton, were soundtracked by Creedence.

For me, they’re comparable to the Beach Boys. I can put them on the turntable, and it feels like slipping into a warm bath – great American music of an effortlessly high calibre. They’re the alternative Beach Boys even – the dirtier, scruffier version, with a focus on groove instead of harmony, and songs about levees and bayous instead of T-Birds and surfboards.

I had to avoid listing Suzie-Q as the hidden gem of this album – it’s a little too well-known from its appearance in Apocalypse Now to be considered ‘hidden’ – but that’s the real groove of the album; its centrepiece. Ninety-Nine And A Half (Won’t Do) is another favourite – written by Steve Cropper, Eddie Floyd and Wilson Pickett.

Hit: I Put A Spell On You

Hidden Gem: Ninety-Nine And A Half (Won’t Do)

Rocks In The Attic #323: Led Zeppelin – ‘Houses Of The Holy’ (1973)

RITA#323I don’t know what it is exactly, but of all the Zeppelin albums, this one seems to be the most pompous. This is their first one entirely self-composed, which for most bands would mean a move away from recording covers. For Zeppelin it means they stopped stealing old blues songs, hoping nobody would notice.

The pomposity reaches unbearable heights on The Rain Song – all seven and a half minutes of it. I read somewhere that they wrote this song on the advice of George Harrison, who told Jimmy Page that Zeppelin should really write some more melodic material. To that I simply say NO, JIMMY PAGE – STICK TO RIPPING OFF OLD BLUES SONGS LIKE WHEN THE LEVEE BREAKS. IT’S WHAT YOU DO BEST!

Oh well. They may not be as steeped in the blues as on the first four albums, but they can still put together a decent rock album. I could just do without the ‘heavy pastoral’ direction that seems to be creeping in. I’m not too keen on The Crunge (a misplaced James Brown pastiche) or D’yer Mak’er (cod-reggae) either. But apart from these confused attempts at a different sound, the rest of the album is superb.

Dancing Days is a great little bit of Middle-Eastern groove (and nicely covered by Stone Temple Pilots back in the ‘90s); Over The Hills And Far Away means a great deal to me – it’s the song I first wooed my wife with (on the guitar) and it’s the song we walked down the aisle to, seven years later; The Song Remains The Same is just pure madness – a guitarist’s dream; I still get the shivers when I listen to John Paul Jones’ keyboards in No Quarter – especially if I’m in a darkened room; and finally The Ocean has to be one of the most overlooked Zeppelin riffs – all the more remarkable for coming out of John Bonham’s mind, not Jimmy Page’s.

And if I’m having a bad day, that last doo-wop minute of The Ocean always cheers me up.

Hit: No Quarter

Hidden Gem: Over The Hills And Far Away