Monthly Archives: June 2014

Rocks In The Attic #331: The JBs – ‘Food For Thought’ (1972)

RITA#331My sole purchase (so far) from this year’s Record Store Day releases – a re-release of the 1972 debut album from the JBs (James Brown’s backing band, for the uninitiated).

This is as good as anything James Brown was releasing around this time (he’s listed as not only the producer, but also ‘the creator’). Still, even though it’s (mainly) instrumental, you still get the odd cry or whelp from James in the background (after the opening chant of ‘Pass the peas, like they used to say’, that’s clearly him shouting ‘Pass them then!”).

I was lucky enough to see Fred Wesley play in Auckland last year, and highlights of the show were definitely Pass The Peas and Gimme Some More, from this album. It’s shows like that which restore my faith in Auckland society. I can go for months (years sometimes!), thinking there’s no culture in this city, or anybody close to having the same interests as me, and then I find hundreds all at once in the same place.

Sadly, while Record Store Day gave me Food For Thought this year, it also provided some figurative food for thought. I think this year’s Record Store Day will be the last year I attend at opening time. Last year was bad enough at Real Groovy in Auckland at 9am. This year it was even worse – double the amount of people as 2013, all clambering over each other to get records on one small double-sided rack. What should be a happy, joyous occasion is just turning nastier and nastier every year. This year, it even smelt bad – it’s poorly attended by chicks, so all you get is overweight, bearded men reeking of body odour.

Both years I’ve then gone onto Southbound Records in Mt Eden around 10am, and it’s been much nicer – on Record Store Day, they have a couple of helpers walking around asking if you’d like (free) coffee. Still, I reckon Southbound at 9am on RSD would be just as unpleasant at Real Groovy at the same time. It’s so small, there’s hardly any room to move when 10 people are in there, I can’t imagine what it’d be like with 20 or 30 people (or more).

I’ll take my chances later in the day, and maybe from next year, take the kids along – who knows, they might enjoy the festive mood. Surely that’s the point of the day, not the early doors, every-man-for-himself, display of music-industry capitalism at its worst.

Hit: Pass The Peas

Hidden Gem: Wine Spot

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Rocks In The Attic #330: Betty Boo – ‘Boomania’ (1990)

RITA#330A lot of dodgy music came out around the time the 1980s turned into the 1990s. I remember there was a faction of kids at school who were very interested in Acid House culture and ‘musical’ acts like 2 Unlimited. It was also considered fashionable to wear Joe Bloggs t-shirts. This was the less talented branch of the tree that was rooted in Manchester’s Hacienda and the rise of the DJ as the cultural medium of the times.

I don’t know what’s worse – the fact that Betty Boo seems to take her lead from the flirtatious Betty Boop (and tainting the cartoon’s image for evermore), or the fact that when she’s not singing she’s rapping in a strong Brooklyn accent. She’s from Kensington for Christ’s sake. Salt-n-Pepa have a lot to answer for.

Where Are You Baby? is a great little pop song – away from the Brooklyn posturing that spoils Doin’ The Do, and it remains my favourite song on an otherwise dated slice of 1990.

Betty Boo’s Wikipedia page clearly states ‘Not to be confused with Betty Boop’. You’re damn right.

Hit: Doin’ The Do

Hidden Gem: Boo’s Boogie

Rocks In The Attic #329: Huey Lewis & The News – ‘Fore!’ (1986)

RITA#329A definite guilty pleasure, this is the first album I ever remember owning. I doubt we actually owned a copy though, we probably borrowed the LP from the library and taped it. Thank you Oldham libraries. Still, it’s the first record I remember playing over and over. Passion for the album undoubtedly came from the inclusion of The Power Of Love from the soundtrack to the first Back To The Future film. Strangely, the track was only added to the European and Japanese releases of the album, which means that in their native country the album had to stand up on its own merits.

I remember getting a lot of stick for liking Huey Lewis & The News at the time. They weren’t cool, and that doesn’t seem to have changed over time. There’s a great reference to the band in an episode of the overlooked sitcom Up All Night (with Christina Applegate and Will Arnett) where they try and impress a recently moved-in neighbour couple. When Will Arnett’s character attends their house-warming party dressed in a Huey Lewis t-shirt, he crumbles under questioning from his wife as to whether he’s wearing the t-shirt to be ironic or not. Man, I would love a Huey Lewis t-shirt – and not to wear ironically.

Obviously the other film to feature a song from this album is American Psycho, with Hip To Be Square used to soundtrack one of Patrick Bateman’s murders. In the excellent novel by Bret Easton Ellis, a whole chapter is devoted to the merits of Huey Lewis & The News (similar chapters are devoted to Whitney Houston and Phil Collins). The disappointing film adaptation does little to capture the wit of the novel, and Bateman’s short monologue about Huey Lewis is the only concession to these bizarre chapters amongst Bateman’s obsession with ‘80s fashion and the aesthetics of business cards.

The Power Of Love is one of those movie soundtracks songs from the ‘80s that I don’t think I will ever get bored of (it doesn’t hurt that Back To The Future is such a strong film). I guess when you think about it, it’s strange that the song chosen to musically represent the film’s protagonist espouses the virtues of love, while the film ends on such a materialistic note (which would have been far worse if Crispin Glover’s claims are anything to go by). Marty’s return to Jennifer, and subsequent kiss, almost seem to take second-billing to the revelation that Marty’s father is now a successful author and can afford to buy Marty a brand-new pickup truck. The sequel’s convoluted storyline takes this a cynical step forward with Marty attempting to use time-travel to win sports bets for monetary gain.

Or maybe you shouldn’t think too hard about ‘80s films…

Hit: The Power Of Love

Hidden Gem: Naturally

Rocks In The Attic #328: The Rolling Stones – ‘Dirty Work’ (1986)

RITA#328If record covers are anything to go by, this should be the worst Rolling Stones record in the world, if not the worst record by any band ever. In a horribly misguided attempt to look relevant in the mid 1980s, the band is photographed on the cover of the album wearing an array of garish pinks and yellows, draped over a disgusting green couch. Charlie Watts – battling heroin and alcohol addiction at the time – is sat on the floor, wearing a similar colour shirt to the floor. The apathy dripping off his face is matched only by his obvious desire to blend into the background. Not surprisingly, this is the last time the Stones would appear on the cover of a studio album until 2005’s A Bigger Bang.

The album finds themselves still attempting to reinvent themselves for a new generation. U2 producer Steve Lillywhite is brought into co-produce alongside Mick and Keith, which at least makes them sound less ‘classic rock’, and they even try their hand at a bit of reggae, a cover of Half Pint’s Too Rude, which sounds very much like something The Clash would do. In the end though, the album seems to replace melody with energy and tempo, and like most of their ‘80s albums they just sound like they’re trying far too hard.

The album is dedicated to long-time pianist and road manager Ian Stewart who had recently died of a heart attack. That’s one of the things in the Stones story that always makes me a little sad – Stewart was one of the founding Stones, but was removed from the official line-up by Andrew Loog Oldham because his square jaw didn’t fit with the band’s image. Great – kicked out of the band because of his looks – and they say bands like One Direction are image-obsessed. People always talk about the 5th Beatle (or the 37th Beatle as Mitch Benn has recently claimed to be), but Ian Stewart probably has more right to claim to be the 6th Stone.

Hit: Harlem Shuffle

Hidden Gem: Key To The Highway

Rocks In The Attic’s buyer’s guide to…AC/DC

  – 3 essential albums, an overlooked gem, a wildcard, one to avoid, and the best of the rest –

“I’m sick to death of people saying we’ve made eleven albums that sounds exactly the same. In fact, we’ve made twelve albums that sound exactly the same.” So says, AC/DC lead guitarist and fifty-nine year old Scottish Australian schoolboy, Angus Young. While other bands have been cursed by following the same formula over and over again (Francis Rossi, please stand up), AC/DC have turned it to their advantage.
ACDC0Over fourteen studio albums, the band have stuck to a blueprint of blues-based heavy rock. 99% of their songs follow the same format – counterpoint guitar riffs from brothers Angus and Malcolm, steady 4/4 drum beats, driving bass lines, soaring vocals and finally, a solo from Angus. There’s no room for piano, no room for strings and the only backing vocals you get are from the rest of the band, who are about as tuneful as an after-hours pub karaoke session.

Lead vocal duties divide the band into two eras – the band’s formative years were helmed by fellow Scottish Australian Bon Scott, but his untimely death in 1980 saw the band enter a more commercial phase under the screams of flat-cap loving Geordie Brian Johnson.

But regardless of what you may have heard, there are differences between their albums. Each of their 1970s albums follow a progressive arc, until they settled on their massive world conquering sound as they entered the 1980s. Albums since that point have struggled to find that same high level of quality, acting mainly as a springboard for the band to go out on the road for yet another world tour.

Start off with: Highway To Hell (1979, Atlantic Records)

ACDC1The album that saw the AC/DC break America was also their swansong with Bon Scott, who would die just months later. Up to this point all the studio albums were produced by former ‘60s Australian beat group stars Harry Vanda and George (older brother of Angus and Malcolm) Young.  For Highway To Hell, the band would enlist the production duties of Robert John “Mutt” Lange – notable amongst other things for producing Def Leppard’s Hysteria, and marrying Shania Twain.

Lange’s production revitalised the band. Overnight they changed from a noisy rock band from the backwaters of Australia into a household-name stadium rock band. Aside from the title track – typically played by the band in their live shows to open their encore – not much else from the album has survived into the band’s live set to this day; but this is probably the most consistent of all their albums.

Follow that with: Back In Black (1980, Atlantic Records)

ACDC2After Bon Scott’s death, the band could have called it a day. Most bands would have, if they’d lost their lead singer. But AC/DC were always more about guitars than vocals. After auditioning half of London for the job (including Gary Holton who would go on to play Wayne in TV’s Auf Wiedersehen, Pet), the band settled on Brian Johnson. The resulting album is a tribute – a relatively sincere one, considering the medium – to their fallen bandmate. Opener Hells Bells sets the scene with a tolling bell, before the band slowly introduce their new banshee vocalist.

Back In Black, also produced by Robert John “Mutt” Lange, is probably AC/DC’s most commercial-sounding record. Singles such as the title track and You Shook Me All Night Long saw the album become the best-selling rock album of the 1980s. It’s currently tied with Pink Floyd’s Dark Side Of The Moon as the second best-selling album of all time (after Michael Jackson’s Thriller).

Just like VHS beat Betamax as the consumer’s choice of video in the 1980s (a fact commonly attributed to the pornography industry selecting the fledgling VHS technology as the way forward), Back In Black outstripped all other contenders in record sales by being purchased by every strip club in America. You Shook Me All Night Long has soundtracked a lot of lapdances – it’s not heavy rock, it’s stripper rock! Def Leppard would achieve the same feat later in the decade with Pour Some Sugar On Me, from their best-selling Hysteria album – a song that sounds like it’s describing a sexual act, but was probably written about their one-armed drummer Rick Allen making a cup of tea.

Oh, and Shoot To Thrill? The best middle-eight instrumental section in rock music, hands down.

Then get: Powerage (1978, Atlantic Records)

ACDC3Powerage is AC/DC’s greatest achievement – the last thing they did before they crossed over into the mainstream. At this point, it’s all still them; there’s no ‘hit-making’ hot-shot producer in the background to claim any credit. The album is no-frills rock ‘n roll from start to finish, although it does come with a celebrity endorsement – Rolling Stone Keith Richards earmarked it as his favourite AC/DC record.

Aside from Sin City, not much else from the record has survived into the band’s live set to this day. Still, opener Rock ‘N Roll Damnation is almost the quintessential AC/DC song, and Riff Raff has one of the band’s longest intros, building up for over a minute and finally released when Angus Young bends an open D-chord that sounds as sick as anything.

But it’s the slow-burn of songs like Down Payment Blues that really wins people over, on Powerage, the most introspective of their records.

Criminally overlooked: The Razor’s Edge (1990, Atco Records)

ACDC4In March 1990, Aerosmith’s Joe Perry mentioned to Guitar World magazine that ‘people put us down for [using outside songwriters], but I wonder how an AC/DC record would sound if they’d pull somebody like Jim Vallance into the songwriting process. Would they get another one-song record with Heatseeker, or would you get a whole album that was that cool?”

At the time, AC/DC were actually in the process of doing something along these lines. While that September’s The Razor’s Edge was written in its entirety by Angus and Malcolm Young, it was produced by Bruce Fairbairn – the man who had produced Aerosmith’s successful comeback albums, Permanent Vacation (1987) and Pump (1989).

It’s almost a cliché to disregard any of the post-Back In Black albums as cannon-fodder (pun very much intended); but The Razor’s Edge saw the end of a run of ‘80s albums where the band had very much lost their way. From this point on, with albums produced by the likes of Rick Rubin and Brendan O’Brien, they spent a bit more time and effort on their studio output.

The album’s opener, Thunderstruck, is another contender for the quintessential AC/DC song and concrete proof that they were still as relevant to ‘90s rock music as they were in the ‘70s and ‘80s.

The long-shot: For Those About to Rock (We Salute You) (1981, Atlantic Records)

ACDC5The third and final album produced by Robert John “Mutt” Lange fails to match the quality of its two predecessors, but it does have its moments. It’s so close to Back In Black and Highway To Hell in its chronology that you can almost hear some of the magic of those records in its grooves. Of course, on the other side of the coin, the album’s other next-door neighbour is 1983’s Flick Of The Switch, where their mid-‘80s rot really set in.

The album-opening title trackremains a firm live fixture – they’ve closed their sets with the track for the last thirty three years – and the track serves as the true peak of their creative accomplishments. It was all steadily downhill from this point on.

Avoid like the plague: ’74 Jailbreak (1984, Atlantic Records)

ACDC6An EP – usually priced as a full-length album – containing just twenty four minutes of material, ’74 Jailbreak is a cynical cash-in release on the behalf of Atlantic Records. It’s essentially a small collection of leftover songs that didn’t make the international releases at the start of the band’s career (several of these early albums were combinations of songs from more than one Australian release, with some omissions made in the interests of running time).

This really is what you buy only when you have all of the other AC/DC albums, even the questionable mid-‘80s ones.

Best compilation: Iron Man 2 (O.S.T.) (2010)

ACDC7AC/DC must be one of the only major bands in the world without an official ‘greatest hits’ compilation. Sure, there are box-sets – Bonfire (1997) and BackTracks (2009) – but these aren’t compilations in the true sense of the word. The band has avoided issuing a simple collection of their singles – something I really respect them for.

Of the two soundtracks they have released – 1986’s Who Made Who (the soundtrack to Stephen King’s Maximum Overdrive) and 2010’s Iron Man 2 – it is the later release that stands as the nearest thing to a ‘greatest hits’ release, split roughly 50/50 between the Bon Scott and Brian Johnson eras.

It’s just a shame the film is so boring!

Best live album: AC/DC Live (1992, Atco Records)

ACDC81978’s If You Want Blood You’ve Got It captured the live sound of the Bon Scott era, but its raw energy was plagued by a muddy Vanda / Young production. 1992’s AC/DC Live doesn’t suffer from that problem. Taken from 1991’s The Razor’s Edge tour, the album offered an authentic live recording of the band. Bruce Fairbairn had got close to capturing that sound on record (on The Razor’s Edge) and was invited back to produce the live record.

Live At Donington, the album’s companion piece video, is also worth checking out. Recording during their third headlining appearance at the British rock festival, it’s essentially the same set as can be found on the AC/DC Live record (and on every subsequent tour for that matter). One nice little bonus extra on the DVD / Blu Ray version is a commentary track comprised of an interview with the Young brothers as they talk though the concepts and directions behind each of their albums. You know, those albums that are supposedly all the same…
ACDC9