Monthly Archives: November 2015

Rocks In The Attic #442: Darcy Clay – ‘Jesus I Was Evil’ (1997)

RITA#442Darcy Clay’s star had burnt out long before I arrived in New Zealand. Like most immigrants who arrived here in the twenty first century, I know Jesus I Was Evil from its token inclusion on the Nature’s Best collection. I missed the bus (and the buzz) when he was alive.

I therefore know very little about Clay. There isn’t much to know anyway – six songs on this 1997 EP (recently re-released to celebrate bFM’s 45th birthday), a slot supporting Blur in the same year, and a bullet to the head shortly after (the night before he was due to play at a suicide awareness concert).

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Darcy Clay

I really didn’t know what to expect from the rest of the EP. Would it be as lo-fi and catchy as Jesus I Was Evil? The answer is a resounding yes – even Clay’s cover of Dolly Parton’s Jolene manages to sound like it was recorded on the fly. He might have his detractors for not being able to play a barre chord on the guitar, but man he can play a groove on the bass.

If anything, he’s like New Zealand’s Beck Hansen; maybe not as musically talented, but with just as much ‘fuck you’ attitude as the Sex Pistols.

Hit: Jesus I Was Evil

Hidden Gem: Jolene

Rocks In The Attic #441: Pearl Jam – ‘Vitalogy’ (1994)

RITA#441.jpgAll I remember about this album when it first came out is an incredible amount of hoo-ha around the size of the CD case it came in (purposefully larger than a standard CD case so that it wouldn’t fit into a CD rack), and the band’s continued boycott against touring with Ticketmaster. One of the biggest bands in the world after just two albums, and people were already discussing things like packaging rather than the music.

Even the band had realised this. “I think we all agreed that it had gotten insane, that it was no longer about the music,” Vedder said after the end of the tour was cancelled due to him suffering from a severe bout of food poisoning.

This is the last Pearl Jam album I remember hearing at the time. I wasn’t a fan, but I still saw the videos and heard the singles. But from here on – after Better Man – they stopped producing hit singles, and slowly turned into an album band. You couldn’t escape Ten and Vs. In fact, if you gave me a pencil and a piece of paper today, I couldn’t even draw what I thought was the cover of the album after this – I just have no idea. After Vitalogy, they just turned into a band for Pearl Jam fans.

A couple of years ago Cameron Crowe’s Pearl Jam Twenty documentary made me reappraise the band, and go back to these first three records. Vitalogy might sound to most like a band growing up; to me it’s the sound of a band sitting on a fence between playing for the mainstream and playing for themselves.

Hit: Better Man

Hidden Gem: Not For You

Rocks In The Attic #440: Fleetwood Mac – ‘Rumours’ (1977)

RITA#440I saw Fleetwood Mac last night – a very wet, rainy night in Auckland to tick another band off my list. Outdoor concerts are always a risk, especially at this time of the year but a couple of bright pink ponchos (they only had pink left!) from the $2 shop were a lifesaver. When I put them on the counter to pay, the Asian lady on the till said “Ahh, you go concert!” so they must have done a run on them yesterday, hence why they only had pink ones left.

Any band that throw away something so fantastic as The Chain as their opening number must be something special. They absolutely caned Rumours for their first four songs – following The Chain with You Make Loving Fun, Dreams and Second Hand News – and you’d be forgiven for thinking that they had only ever recorded one album. In fact, by the end of their set, they only left two songs unplayed off this monster of a record – I Don’t Want To Know and Oh Daddy.

I’ve loved Rumours ever since I saw the album being picked apart on the first run of Classic Albums. That first bunch of albums covered by the show – Electric Ladyland, Graceland, Who’s Next, The Band – were an education, and the Fleetwood Mac episode was just as eye-opening. At that point in time (the early ‘90s), the band hadn’t yet reformed for The Dance so it looked unlikely that I’d ever get to see the band play live. They seem to have been touring non-stop ever since The Dance though, so it was only a matter of time.

Since 1998, Christine McVie hasn’t been playing with them, so I’ve been holding off – who wants to go and see a band who can’t play a third of their songs? Thankfully, she renounced her retirement from touring last year, and I finally got to see all five of them together.

Last night was a great concert – despite being sat up in the cheap seats with the riff-raff, in the pouring rain. Even Lorde was there (the closest thing to New Zealand rock royalty), braving the elements with her parents. At one point, a Facebook photo of Richie McCaw posing with his wife looking out from one of the corporate boxes buzzed through the crowd.

My favourite moment, other than the always awesome Tusk was the choruses of Little Lies – a blast of ‘80s pop brilliance where all three vocalists sing together. I was singing along with Lindsey Buckingham’s part at the end of each line – probably my favourite snippet of backing vocals from that entire decade.

Hit: Go Your Own Way

Hidden Gem: Second Hand News

Rocks In The Attic #439: James Brown – ‘The Best Of’ (1987)

RITA#439I grew with a CD copy of this album in the house. It was my Dad’s only James Brown album. Well, at least he had one. It could have been worse; it could have been a James-free house. Ugh, that would have been a disaster.

This is a pretty run of the mill compilation. The K-Tel record label doesn’t really scream artistic authenticity, and as you might expect it’s just a cash-in record to follow on from the success of the Gravity record a year before. Living In America, the big hit off Gravity, was used as Apollo Creed’s entrance music (before being destroyed by Ivan Drago) in Rocky IV – and if a James Brown song takes centre-stage in a Hollywood blockbuster, well the obvious thing to do is to bring out a greatest hits package to capitalise on the scores of movie-goers who might want to hear a bit more.

As far as James Brown compilations go, there are much better ones; but it suits the casual listener’s first toe in the funky water. Two songs from Gravity stand up next to the Godfather’s biggest pop singles from the 1960s and his greatest funk workouts from the 1970s. The long running time (xx minutes) works perfectly on CD, but the vinyl pressing is too busy, too compressed to provide a decent document of James’ – and most importantly, his band’s – sound.

Hit: I Got You (I Feel Good)

Hidden Gem: Honky Tonk

Rocks In The Attic #438: Amy Winehouse – ‘Frank’ (2003)

RITA#438I finally watched the Amy documentary last night. Well, we watched everything but the last twenty minutes as we were both so tired. I’m holding out hope that when we watch the last twenty minutes tonight, that she’s going to be okay but I know full well how the story ends. Who in the world doesn’t?

When the documentary first came out, there seemed to be a lot of misplaced guilt around people feeling sorry that they joked and laughed about Winehouse when she was still alive and going through her various troubles with drugs and alcohol. That’s just human nature, isn’t it? We like to laugh at drunks. If Keith Richards died of a drug overdose tomorrow, would there be a similar response, collectively asking ourselves why we didn’t step in over those so many years? I blame Jagger; he’s clearly an enabler.

I first read about Winehouse in a magazine interview she gave to promote Frank. She was responding to criticism she had received around comments she made to the effect that she didn’t listen to Miles Davis because he was too intense. Shock horror! How could a musician in the public eye – a jazz singer of all things – have the audacity to say that she doesn’t like Miles Davis?

I like Frank more and more each time I hear it. It definitely isn’t Back To Black, it’s too meandering for a start, but there’s still something there – a hint of what would be possible with a better bunch of songs and a switched-on producer in Mark Ronson.

Hit: Stronger Than Me

Hidden Gem: You Sent Me Flying

Rocks In The Attic #437: Jerry Goldsmith – ‘Poltergeist (O.S.T.)’ (1982)

RITA#437It was Halloween last weekend, which meant, living in the New Zealand, the sight of young children dressed in vaguely scary clothes in broad daylight. There’s something about living the southern hemisphere, celebrating Halloween just as spring is turning into summer that just removes any aspect of horror from the proceedings. Trick or treat, you say? Ah, I know you, you’re the kid who lives four doors down.

Poltergeist is an odd film. Essentially a big-budget horror from one of the studios (MGM / UA), in response to the wealth of independent horror that had crossed over into the mainstream in the prior decade, the film feels less like a horror, more like a family-friendly adventure film.

Listed as directed by Tobe Hooper, the film stinks of the touch of Steven Spielberg – the listed writer and producer of the film – but most likely the director by proxy. At the time, Spielberg had a clause in his contract forbidding him to direct another film while he was making E.T., so rather than a genuinely scary film about spirits attacking a family, we get something that could almost be happening on the same plot of suburbia as E.T. It’s almost impossible to consider that the “director” of this went from The Texas Chainsaw Massacre to this fluff in eight years.

The music also stinks of Spielberg. It might not be John Williams, but it’s Jerry Goldsmith doing his best John Williams impression at least.  I can’t imagine Williams writing anything as whimsical as Carol Ann’s Theme but the rest of the soundtrack’s cues for the film’s more exciting moments could definitely have sprung from his baton.

As a sidenote, for the last three years I’ve also been celebrating Guy Fawkes in broad daylight with my kids. Again, fireworks and sparklers also don’t have that same effect in the glare of the early evening sun.

Hit: Carol Anne’s Theme

Hidden Gem: The Light

Rocks In The Attic #436: Various Artists – ‘Rushmore’ (1999)

RITA#436One of my favourite films of all time, and I finally have the soundtrack on vinyl. Up to now, only the lesser Wes Anderson films have been granted a soundtrack release on vinyl – the Moonrise Kingdom 10” from Record Store Day’s Black Friday a few years ago, and The Darjeeling Limited from Record Store Day earlier this year.

Don’t get me wrong, the soundtracks to Anderson’s films are always universally awesome; it’s just that the later films themselves aren’t a shade on his early films. From The Darjeeling Limited onwards, he’s been repeating himself, with nothing that fans of his early work haven’t seen before. And those weighty Oscar nominations for The Grand Budapest Hotel don’t mean a thing – only that the Academy are consistently terrible at recognising talent early on. Just like Scorsese’s The Departed, The Grand Budapest Hotel is far from being Wes Anderson’s finest achievement.

So back to Rushmore. In 1999, I finished University and moved back into my parents’ house. Due to the nightly boredom of living with my parents again, I joined a video shop – and without a car I used to walk the three miles there and back whenever I wanted to visit the shop. One of the first films I rented was Rushmore. I was an instant Wes Anderson fan from that moment on. His brand of whimsy, teenage rebellion and school-notebook perspective on life really struck a chord with me.

Part of the reason those early Wes Anderson films work so well are the scores by Mark Mothersbaugh. From Bottle Rocket through to The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou, Mothersbaugh has been an integral component of Anderson’s work, offering a surprising range of musical styles that you’d never expect from the lead singer of Devo. From Fantastic Mr. Fox onwards, Anderson has turned to Alexandre Desplat as a composer; and while there’s nothing wrong with Desplat’s soundtracks, a Wes Anderson film without Mark Mothersbaugh is to me like a Spielberg film without John Williams.

Hit: Ooh La La – The Faces

Hidden Gem: Making Time – Creation

Rocks In The Attic #435: Freddie King – ‘Getting Ready…’ (1971)

RITA#435A few weekends ago it was the bi-annual record collector’s fair in Auckland. I really look forward to these events, held six months apart in March and October – they’re like Christmas Day for me, only without the turkey, Queen’s speech or unwanted socks and jumpers as gifts. In fact, they’re probably my favourite days of the year – one just as summer is about to start and one just as summer is about to finish.

I always go along with a budget in mind – $100 or so – but I’ll take more with me as a safety net. You never know if you’ll come across something autographed by a band you love when you’ve only got $5 left in your pocket. That would be a horrible situation to be in. I’d have to grab it and do a runner.

This year, I very quickly spent $100 – and just kept on going. I usually pick up albums for around $5 each, and usually end up spending so much just to capitalise on the opportunity – knowing that the same albums would cost me upwards of $15 or $20 each at Real Groovy in the same condition. I ended up spending upwards of $200 – budget well and truly blown. But I averaged around $6 per record – for thirty eight records in total, so I came home well and truly happy.

The thing that made me the happiest was my final purchase. I knew I had exceeded the $200 mark, so I was just about to leave when I had a look at just one more stall (don’t addicts always talk about ‘just having one more’?).

There it was – a nice copy of Freddie King’s Getting Ready… from 1971, an album I had been looking for for quite some time. Last year, while doing some research for my failed / unwanted 33 1/3 book submission, I came across an old interview with Aerosmith’s Joe Perry. He mentioned that in preparing to write and record their 1989 album Pump, he had been listening to a lot of blues records from his youth – one of which, Freddie King’s Going Down had really reminded him of the music that used to get him up in the morning, before he replaced music with drugs.

I found the album digitally easy enough, but a vinyl copy remained elusive. Until I saw it at the fair. My heart stopped for a moment when I first saw it, but then I looked at the price. A full $15. This was not only more than I had paid for everything else in my bag at that point, but it completely made a joke of the $100 budget I had set myself. Fuck it, I thought. I had been looking for the record so long, what difference does another $15 make when I’ve already gone 100% over my budget.

I’m so glad I have this in my collection. Joe’s right too – Going Down is one of the most upbeat blues stompers you’re likely ever to hear. It could almost be the rootsy precursor to Supergrass’ Alright – sunny, effervescent, truly uplifting blues.

Hit: Going Down

Hidden Gem: Walking By Myself

Rocks In The Attic’s Buyer’s Guide to….Led Zeppelin

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

Led Zeppelin rose from the ashes of the Yardbirds in London’s ultra-hip late ‘60s Flash scene. In 1968, ex-session guitarist Jimmy Page recruited fellow colleague John Paul Jones on bass, and looked north to the Midlands for gigging vocalist Robert Plant and drummer John Bonham. Success came thick and fast, especially after they cracked the USA with the release of their second album. The flame burnt fast though. In 1980, the band screeched to a halt when Bonham was found dead, the victim of one (or twenty) too many double vodkas the day before.

27 Feb 1972, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia --- Led Zeppelin performing in Sydney, Australia (L-R) John Paul Jones, Robert Plant, John Bonham and Jimmy Page --- Image by © S.I.N./CORBIS

I once had a letter – a letter! – printed in the NME. It was in response to an article where they claimed that Radiohead were ‘setting a new global blueprint’ by not releasing any singles or doing any press to promote Kid A in 2000. “Ever heard of Led Zeppelin?” I asked in my letter.

No singles? No press? And for the duration of Zeppelin’s twelve year career? It just goes to show that you can sell a heap of records entirely on word of mouth and an exhaustive touring schedule. It helps that the albums are nearly all close to fantastic too.

This was a very hard buyer’s guide to put together. How do you choose between so any great records, when tasked with only choosing three essential albums? Which ones do you leave behind? They’re all essential (and there are at least fifty good reasons to listen to the band)! Remember, it’s a buyer’s guide, so the following choices are aimed at those who are not well versed in the band’s back catalogue (if any such people exist at all).

Start off with: Led Zeppelin II (1969, Atlantic Records)

LZ1If the band’s self-assured debut set the scene, their second effort nine months later is the sound of them hitting their stride. Mainstream rock radio has taken some of the charm out of this record – redefining it almost as a greatest hits record – but there are still some surprises to be found. The interplay between the musicians on The Lemon Song is a prime example of how confident they had become in such a short space of time – just one highlight on an album full of highlights. Recorded at a number of different studios across England and America, while the band was touring, it’s an album of contradictions. It sounds heavy and light all at the same time; tight but loose; joyous and melancholic. Like the glare of a full moon in the roasting midday sun.

Follow that with: Led Zeppelin IV (1971, Atlantic Records)

LZ2IV is undoubtedly their masterpiece and the band were so sure about it, they released it without an official title and without the words ‘Led Zeppelin’ appearing anywhere on the cover or the record itself. The glaring hit on the album is Stairway To Heaven, despite never being released as a single, but the first side starts with two of the band’s biggest songs – Black Dog, a time-shifting stop-start rock masterpiece; and Rock And Roll, the band’s ode to late ‘50s music with the little help of a Little Richard drum pattern (by this time the band were well known for their musical kleptomania). The real gem of what used to be my choice hangover record throughout my teens however is the final track, When The Levee Breaks – the band’s last full-on blues cover (of a Kansas Joe McCoy and Memphis Minnie blues song about the Great Mississippi Flood of 1927) and featuring quite possibly the finest drum intro ever committed to vinyl.

Then get: Led Zeppelin III (1970, Atlantic Records)

LZ3Imagine Metallica following their self-titled Black Album with a jazz record, or the Sex Pistols recording a country and western album after their sneering 1977 debut. That’s about the level of genre-flipping between Led Zeppelin II and Led Zeppelin III. To write songs that would form the basis of the album, Plant and Page retreated to a cottage in the Welsh countryside without electricity or running water. You can almost smell the rustic setting as the band replaces heavy blues for eastern-tinged bluesy folk, on what is undoubtedly the album where Zeppelin proved they were more than just long-haired headbangers.

Criminally overlooked: Coda (1982, Swan Song)

LZ4It is what it is – a bunch of left-over songs from various stages in their career, released as a bookend to the band’s 12-year reign – and for that reason it usually gets the cold shoulder. But some of these tracks were simply left off albums due to the space limitations of a single-disc LP. So to fulfil some contractual obligations to Atlantic Records, we get a Led Zeppelin III outtake, a Houses Of The Holy outtake, three In Through The Out Door outtakes, a couple of live songs and a drum workout – Bonzo’s Montreaux – which for me is the thundering highlight of the album.

The long-shot: In Through The Out Door (1979, Swan Song)

LZ5A lot of people don’t like the band’s final studio record because Jimmy Page’s guitars take somewhat of a back seat compared to prior albums. In his place, the keyboards of John Paul Jones play a more prominent role on what is arguably the most challenging record to unlock. Like most, I wrote In Through The Out Door off when I first heard it, but it’s grown on me over the years and while some of the keyboards sound a little too carnival-y, the pros definitely outweigh the cons.

Avoid like the plague: The Song Remains The Same (1979, Swan Song)

LZ6There really aren’t any Zeppelin albums to put into this category but at a push I’d have to offer this, their first officially released live album – a soundtrack to the convert film of the same name. What’s not to like? Well, it was pompous, overblown music like this that resulted in the British punk explosion from the summer of 1977 onwards. Who wants to listen to a sleep-inducing  twenty seven minute rendition of Dazed And Confused? Not me, that’s for sure. Where prog bands such as Pink Floyd can easily fill one side of a record with one song, Zeppelin really struggle to keep interest levels up. It may have been a joy if you were there, stoned out of your mind, but you’d need a lot of drugs to find this song exciting at home. The concert film struggles to pique my interest too – so ponderous that they had to intersperse it with cinematic cut-scenes. There are great moments on this record – not least Bonham’s amazing drum work – but this is probably the Zeppelin record I play the least.

Best compilation: Remasters (1990, Atlantic Records)

LZ7My introduction to the band, Remasters was the first Zeppelin compilation; a greatest hits set from a band that didn’t release any singles in the UK (until Atlantic spoiled it with a 1997 release of Whole Lotta Love). What to include? What to leave out? The decision, as always, went to Jimmy Page – still very much the leader and figurehead for the band ten years after they split. The double-CD / triple-LP set was just a sampler for the full box set of recorded material that Page had digitally remastered, but is now universally seen as the definitive Zeppelin collection, no matter how many times they repackage it.

Best live album: How The West Was Won (2003, Atlantic Records)

LZ8Still to see the light of day on vinyl, How The West Was Won was released to very little fanfare in 2003 as a triple-CD; which is a shame as it’s by far their most exciting live album. The result of two West Coast shows on their 1972 American tour, the band sound very energetic and the atmosphere is electric. Page considered the band to be at their artistic peak during this period, and it shows. There’s definitely something to be found here that just isn’t evident on the Song Remains The Same soundtrack / snoozefest. By that time, Zeppelin were just going through the motions, showing the fatigue of another endless American tour. On How The West Was Won, they sound very much like what you’d expect from the band that had just released Led Zeppelin IV; the biggest band in the world.

I don’t tend to listen to much Led Zeppelin these days. I played their records so much through my teens that I know them like the back of my hands. When I do hear them though, blasting out of a car on a summer’s day or on the stereo as I’m flipping through the racks at a record store, it brings a massive smile to my face. I understand Led Zeppelin aren’t everybody’s cup of tea. I get that. Not everybody can have great taste in music.

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