Monthly Archives: September 2015

Rocks In The Attic #425: Paul McCartney – ‘The Family Way (O.S.T.)’ (1967)

RITA#425Long before any cherries were spilt, this was the first solo offering by Paul McCartney – in fact the first solo offering by any Beatle. It is entirely un-Beatle-like, and offers nothing related to the fab four’s summer of love, psychedelic state of mind except for maybe a blast of brass before Sgt. Pepper’s band tuned up.

There’s nothing particularly mind-blowing about the score – most of it is simply a selection of cues to soundtrack a “nice little film” set in the north of England.  I haven’t seen the film by the way, and while I expect it would play on the BBC every once in a while, there’s absolutely no chance it would get anywhere over the cultural Berlin Wall of New Zealand’s borders so I’ll have to find it by other methods.

Certain sections of the score – which sound like they are used over city scenes showing ‘swinging London’ (London buses and Carnaby St miniskirts) – sound extremely dated with heavy bass and uptempo brass. It’s in the quieter moments that the soundtrack shines though, and while it’s not essential listening it’s definitely a must-hear for Beatle fans and completists.

Hit: Love In The Open Air

Hidden Gem: Cue 2M5

Rocks In The Attic #424: Guns N’ Roses – ‘Use Your Illusion II’ (1991)

RITA#424The companion piece to Use Your Illusion I, this one was always my favourite of the two, really just because it has You Could Be Mine on it. In the early ‘90s, when I first heard this album I was already a huge movie fan, and so I knew the song like the back of my hand from its appearance in Terminator 2: Judgement Day.

Listening to the album twenty four years later, it feels more and more bloated with every listen. The record kicks off with Civil War which immediately leaves a sour taste in my mouth, being the last song that Steven Adler played drums on before he was unceremoniously kicked out of the band. When they said goodbye to Adler, they also said goodbye to the one component that brought swing to the band.

Matt Sorum may be a fine replacement, but he’s nothing special – a rock by numbers drummer, with none of the groove that Adler splashed all over Appetite For Destruction. Adler is sorely missed, and instead of sounding sleazy, the overall sound is too polished, too safe to be considered dangerous. If anything, it just made me mad that people would lap this turgid crap up by the bucketload, but only a few years later one of my favourite British rock bands, the Wildhearts, would sell a decimal point worth of records in comparison – even though everything they released was innovative, energetic and more interesting. There are more riffs in one three-minute Wildhearts song than in an eight minute GNR epic like Estranged or November Rain.

Use Your Illusion II also gives us Get In The Ring – a huge, embarrassing mess of a song aimed at the band’s rock critics. In this sickeningly jolly, uptempo number, Axl Rose embraces his southern hick sensibilities and calls out several journalists who had stuck in his craw over the years. His vocals sound like the sort of thing you’d hear in a trailer park around midnight on a Friday, before the camera crew from Cops turns up, and an overweight police officer jumps on somebody and shouts “Stop resisting!” as he employs  excessive force. Instead of sounding dangerous, Axl sounds pitiful. What a way to prove your critics right.

I’ve never owned The Spaghetti Incident? I have no reason to. After this, GNR were dead to me. And I wouldn’t even consider listening to Chinese Democracy. What a fall from grace. At one point, Guns N’ Roses were the biggest rock band in the world – but history keeps confirming that they really only had one great album.

Hit: You Could Be Mine

Hidden Gem: So Fine

Rocks In The Attic #423: Imagination – ‘Night Dubbing’ (1983)

RITA#423I picked this up in a job lot once, and probably haven’t played it until today. I know absolutely nothing about the band – I don’t even know if they’re British or American (naughty me for presuming that they’re one or the other, but a large section of my record collection – maybe upwards of 95% – come from one side of the Atlantic).

Wikipedia tells me they’re British – and just two tracks in, I recognise Just An Illusion. Or at least, I recognise the bare bones of the song, this being a remix album of the band’s hits from their first two albums. If anything, it makes me want to check out their studio albums.

I can definitely hear house music and the Hacienda in these grooves – mostly in that organic, liquid bass and the Roland 808 drum sound. It’s a sound I really like, a sound from my childhood.

Hit: Just An Illusion

Hidden Gem: Flashback

Rocks In The Attic #422: Bob Dylan – ‘Pat Garrett & Billy The Kid (O.S.T.)’ (1973)

RITA#422When I bought this record, a few years ago at the Auckland record collectors fair, the stall owner thanked me for my purchase by coming around to my side of the counter, leaning into me with the stale breath of the previous night’s beers and giving me a quick burst of Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door, air-guitar and all.

My knowledge of Dylan after the ‘60s is very limited. I know about the big albums – but in terms of everything else, there seems to be so much chaff among the wheat that it’s almost a minefield, like the musical equivalent of trying to separate the good Woody Allen films from the bad ones.

I haven’t seen the film that this record soundtracks. Coming to a cultural backwater like New Zealand has severely limited my chances of being able to see the film on television or though a friend, so I’m going to need to seek it out through other channels. As I approach the end of my thirties, there’s still a heap of older films I still need to see; only last night I was watching Peter Bogdanovich in The Sopranos and I realised I haven’t seen any of Bogdanovich’s own films. Well, I’ve seen Mask – everybody has seen Mask as the BBC used to play it with alarming regularity – but I haven’t seen any of his other films like The Last Picture Show or What’s Up Doc?, despite reading so much about Bogdanovich and seeing him critique other directors such as Hitchcock and Truffaut. My knowledge of Truffaut films is similarly limited, and ashamedly the only thing I know him from is his appearance in Spielberg’s Close Encounters Of The Third Kind.

I was speaking to a friend at work the other day and the subject of youthful ignorance came up – the fact that young people today are just so blind, not only to cultural matters, but also in terms of current events and even historical events. I wonder if the rise of technology and social media has had a negative effect on the ability for young people to see the importance of understanding about anything other than themselves. I’ve heard Spike Lee say similar things about young African American kids, but it’s a universal problem – an epidemic of the twenty first century.

Yes, I’m starting to sound very much like an old man. But I ain’t knockin’ on heaven’s door just yet!

Hit: Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door

Hidden Gem: Main Title Theme (Billy)

Rocks In The Attic #421: Supertramp – ‘Breakfast In America’ (1979)

RITA#421For some reason it took me a really long time to hunt down a clean second-hand copy of this record. I’d come across copies of it in the sale racks at Real Groovy all the time, but when I looked at the disc they always looked like somebody had actually eaten their breakfast off the top of them.

I remember reading that at one time it was probably the most ubiquitous record out there, because hi-fi shops were in the habit of giving the album away with every stereo system they sold. Maybe the record was a little too middle of the road for most people, and they banished it to an area where it would pick up dust before they found it twenty years later and sold it off in a bulk lot.

I finally found a nice copy one day, and for all its cheesiness, I love it. I love the harmonies. I love the balance between melancholia and bright cheery sunshine. I love the big fat lady serving breakfast on the cover. I love the reproduction of Manhattan done in breakfast-related cutlery and tableware. It makes me want to go to Denny’s. It makes me want to order a full breakfast from a big fat lady waitress in a yellow uniform.

Hit: Breakfast In America

Hidden Gem: Gone Hollywood

Rocks In The Attic #420: Alice Cooper – ‘Alice Cooper’s Greatest Hits’ (1974)

RITA#420I stole this one out of my Dad’s small collection of vinyl when I was about fourteen. At that point, I only knew School’s Out and nothing else, but this whole record quickly became a firm favourite of mine. In fact, I’d say it’s one of my favourite rock compilations.

There’s something about the quality of the Alice Cooper band at this stage – when the band was called Alice Cooper, not the man – that Alice has never managed to recapture during his solo years. I saw him play live in Auckland a few years ago, and just like Ozzy he seems to take the approach that the heavier the band the better. So we got a lot of the songs from this album, but performed by a group of young guys in a band that was closer to metal than rock.

It’s such a shame because you lose a lot of the appeal of classic rock songs when you amp them up to metal. Imagine if Metallica did an album of Doobie Brothers covers – all the subtleties and nuances would fly out the door as soon as they plugged in. You can hear this in Metallica’s cover of Whiskey In The Jar, which just sounds like a metal-by-numbers imitation of the Thin Lizzy version.

I was stoked when Richard Linklater included two songs from Alice Cooper’s Greatest Hits on the soundtrack to Dazed And Confused. Both songs used – School’s Out and No More Mr Nice Guy are used in the scenes with Wiley Wiggins’s character Mitch Kramer. School’s Out, not surprisingly, soundtracks the moment that school finishes; and No More Mr Nice Guy plays over the scene where Mitch gets captured – and paddled – by the seniors.

Years later, while watching Julien Temple’s fantastic Sex Pistols documentary The Filth And The Fury, I found out that John Lydon auditioned for the Pistols by singing Alice Cooper’s I’m Eighteen next to a jukebox.

Hit: School’s Out

Hidden Gem: Hello, Hurray

Rocks In The Attic #419: Talking Heads – ‘More Songs About Buildings And Food’ (1978)

RITA#419This is the second Talking Heads record, released two weeks to the day I was born in 1978. I always spot in those lists that the number one record when I was born was You’re The One That I Want by John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John. I think I prefer this.

The one thing that amazes me about this album – except for the music of course – is the cover. It’s probably one of my favourite pieces of album artwork – a collage of 529 close-up polaroid photos, showing the four members of the band standing looking at the camera. I never see this regarded as being a classic album cover though. Maybe it’s a little too artsy for classic rock fans – but as far as pop art goes, this is a beautiful image.

This is the first Heads album to feature Brian Eno in the producer’s chair – a partnership that would eventually see them change the face of American music, turning new wave into alternative rock, paving the way for the likes of R.E.M. and subsequently Nirvana and beyond. In terms of a comparison to their first album, this one is tighter and, dare I say it, not as fun as that debut record. One of my favourite looser moments on Talking Heads: 77 is the steel drum break in opening song Uh-Oh, Love Comes To To Town. You still hear steel drums on More Songs…, but this time it’s in a much more controlled manner (towards the end of Found A Job).

That said, Bryne is still having a whale of a time, whooping and hollering on songs like Artists Only. Here you can hear him starting to loosen up, heading in the direction of his crazy vocal performance on Once In A Lifetime. Maybe that was Eno’s plan all along – get the band under control, but let Byrne go crazy over the top?

Hit: Take Me To The River

Hidden Gem: Thank You For Sending Me An Angel

Rocks In The Attic #418: Paul Robeson – ‘The Glorious Voice Of Paul Robeson’ (1967)

RITA#418I know very little about Paul Robeson, except for his amazing voice, his links to the American civil rights movement and that the Manic Street Preachers wrote a song about him (on 2001’s Know Your Enemy).

Voice-wise, the simplest way to describe him would be Darth Vader singing a set of 1930s jazz standards. That might sound like an over-simplification, and it probably is, but he really does share that same deep, rich timbre as that other famous Shakespearean actor (and regular Othello) James Earl Jones.

This record is a lovely little thing. Robeson’s voice has the ability to soothe, despite it being so low. It’s a controlled low though, as though he would struggle to sing in any other register. In fact, if you speed him up to 45 rpm, he sounds like an overly anxious white man singing uptempo numbers.

Hit: Lazy Bones

Hidden Gem: River Stay ‘Way From My Door

Rocks In The Attic #417: K.C. & The Sunshine Band – ‘K.C. & The Sunshine Band’ (1975)

RITA#417I presume I have an original pressing of this record – it looks really old, and I’m guessing it wouldn’t have had that many reprints – and the one thing that always gets me is how thick the cardboard of the sleeve is. You could use it to prop up a car while you change a tyre, it’s that thick. I wonder if there’s a reason for it, or if the record company simply got hold of some industrial strength cardboard by mistake. Perhaps it’s to soak up all the sweat from the insides of discotheques when DJs were playing the record.

This is album number two for Harry Wayne Casey and his band. It has two of their biggest hits in That’s The Way (I Like It) and Get Down Tonight. Strangely, Boogie Shoes, also on this record, wasn’t released as a single but is perhaps more well known for its inclusion on the Saturday Night Fever soundtrack (and subsequently every other film and television soundtrack where there is a short, two minute scene set in a discotheque, or with a hot girl on roller-skates).

It’s easy to write K.C. & The Sunshine Band off as a disposable relic of the disco era, but their roots are in the funk years of the early 1970s. They’re just a bit more accessible than the heavy superbad funk of James Brown or Funkadelic. In fact, if anything they’re just a funk band with a white guy as a band leader. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it does hark back to the musical equivalent of the basketball maxim, ‘White Men Can’t Jump. We all know white men can funk – just listen to the Average White Band’s Pick Up The Pieces. Funky honkies are few and far between though – for every Beck Hansen, there are a thousand Kurt Cobains.

Hit: That’s The Way (I Like It)

Hidden Gem: Let It Go (Part One)