Monthly Archives: March 2016

Rocks In The Attic #475: Stevie Nicks – ‘Bella Donna’ (1981)

RITA#475If American mattress-actress Belladonna started a musical career and called her debut solo album Stevie Nicks, well that’s just going to cause a headache for everybody. Let’s just all hope that that doesn’t happen.

This is Nick’s debut solo album, placed between Fleetwood Mac’s Tusk and Mirage. It doesn’t sound a million miles away from the Mac, and hit single Edge Of Seventeen is as strong as anything that you might expect from that band. The production just sounds a little more ‘80s; a tad more Tango In The Night than Rumours.

Away from the confines of a musical partnership, Nicks gets the opportunity to indulge herself here. You wouldn’t hear a song as countryfied as After The Glitter Fades on a Fleetwood Mac album, and she gets to entertain Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers on Stop Draggin’ My Heart Around – the only song on the record not to be written by Nicks. Even chief Eagle and professional nasty Don Henly makes an appearance on the subdued Leather And Lace.

While most songs could be lifted of any Mac album post 1975, there’s one moment on the record that would definitely have peaked Mac guitarist Lindsay Buckingham’s interest. Waddy Wachtel’s guitar riff on Edge Of Seventeen is the greatest moment on the album. Soon to be appropriated by Survivor on Eye Of The Tiger (released a year later in 1982), and sampled by Destiny’s Child on Bootylicious in 2001, it’s a thunderbolt of a hook.

Hit: Edge Of Seventeen

Hidden Gem: Bella Donna

Rocks In The Attic #474: Various Artists – ‘Stax – Number Ones’ (2010)

RITA#474Stax Records: my favourite record label, hands down. Grittier than Motown, a talent pool for Atlantic, and a tale of a rags to riches underdog in a socially conscious and racially integrated framework, Stax has got it all. The 2007 documentary (Respect Yourself: The Stax Record Story) is essential viewing, but I’m waiting for the big budget Hollywood film to tell the story. Idris Elba as Otis Redding, anyone?

Brother and Sister Jim Stewart and Estelle Axton started a country label, called Satellite Records, out of their garage in the late 1950s, but it was when they started recording R&B and changed their name to Stax that they got the attention of Atlantic Records, who picked them up with a distribution deal.

Otis Redding, Sam & Dave, Isaac Hayes, Rufus Thomas, Eddie Floyd, The Staple Singers, and of course, the Stax house band Booker T. & The M.G.s.; the label’s roll-call read like a who’s who of ‘60s and ‘70s soul acts. There’s something there for everyone, and a bunch of great number one hit singles, as this collection attests.

The Atlantic partnership proved to be the best and worst thing to happen to Stax though, and this is why it would be great subject material for a film. By distributing their records, and sometimes using the Stax studios to record artists on their own label, Atlantic acted as a protective big brother to Stax; but not for long.

In 1967, Atlantic was sold to Warners, and Stax fell by the wayside. Jim Stewart asked for the return of the Stax masters, but found out that Atlantic’s cuntish lawyers had included a clause in the 1965 distribution contract that gave away the rights to the Stax material to Atantic. Betrayed by his more savvy business partners and by his own naivety, Stewart eventually drove Stax into bankruptcy after a few short years as an independent. Such a shame.

I can’t remember the first time I heard about Stax. It was probably through my Dad, who has a great compilation – Atlantic Soul Classics – which captures (exploits?) a couple of acts from the Stax roster. I’ve since picked up that album on vinyl. After that, it was probably going back and discovering Booker T. & The M.G.s via the Blues Brothers. Good times.

Hit: (Sittin’ On) The Dock Of The Bay – Otis Redding

Hidden Gem: Who’s Making Love – Johnnie Taylor

Rocks In The Attic #473: Buzzcocks – ‘Another Music In A Different Kitchen’ (1978)

RITA#473I saw the Buzzcocks play in Auckland last night. Not being a big follower of their music, other than the singles that everybody knows, it was just novel to see one of the original Manchester bands play in such a great venue as the Powerstation.

Not being a huge fan, I didn’t expect Steve Diggle to be doing all the heavy lifting. Pete Shelley sang a few songs, but his role was mainly throwing in the odd backing vocal while throwing various rock and roll shapes. Diggle, while looking like a member of IT Support, sang his way through the two-hour set without cracking a smile.

That’s not to say that they weren’t having fun though. Shelley was definitely having a good time, interacting with the audience from what I could see – my vision was slightly impaired from standing directly behind 6’4” New Zealand comedian Paul Ego.

Of the songs I hadn’t heard before, or didn’t recognise, I couldn’t tell you if they were recorded last week or in the late ‘70s. The only album I know is this one, their debut, and any new material they played last night slotted into the older stuff well. The feeling of not knowing where one song ended and another one started was exacerbated by the fact that they seldom left gaps between songs. As soon as one song ended, it was a punkish “1…2…3…4!” into the next one.

One thing I can say for sure about last night was that it was the loudest gig I’ve been to in a long time; maybe the loudest since I regularly went to rock / metal gigs in smallish venues in the mid ‘90s. My ears are still ringing now. It’s kind of nice to know I still have frequencies left in my ears to damage!

It was great to hear their most well known song, Ever Fallen In Love (With Someone You Shouldn’t’ve) rolled out in the encore. It’s leagues above anything else they’ve created, much like Love Will Tear Us Apart is for Joy Division, and How Soon Is Now for the Smiths. Maybe that’s the legacy of Manchester bands – they only have license to pen one timeless song?

The Buzzcocks’ efficient and streamlined punk pop approach left me wondering whether latter-day bands like Green Day would exist without them. If I had the use of a time machine, would I go back to 1977 and stand there, like the fourth Doctor in Genesis Of The Daleks, faced with the dilemma of destroying the Buzzcocks in order to save the rest of humanity from the blight of Green Day, but in the process potentially spawning yet more horrible bands than Green Day (is that even possible?) in their absence?

Hit: I Don’t Mind

Hidden Gem: Autonomy

Rocks In The Attic #472: Creedence Clearwater Revival – ‘Willy And The Poor Boys’ (1969)

RITA#472.jpgProbably my favourite Creedence record, this is album number four for John Fogerty and company, and their third to be released in an extremely productive 1969. Their first five albums are untouchable in my eyes – Americana at its finest – and for me, the band hits a peak with this record that they continue with 1970’s Cosmo’s Factory.

Just take the only single from the record –  Down On The Corner b/w Fortunate Son. That’s a double-A side single in anyone else’s book. A week after it was released, the Billboard charts changed the way they measured sales for singles with hits on both sides. Too right; Fortunate Son is a great song.

Great songs always get overused by pop culture though, and in the last couple of decades, Fortunate Son has become Hollywood short-hand to portray the inequality of the Vietnam War (Forrest Gump comes to mind). I still love it, regardless.

The one thing that never gets mentioned about Creedence is their absolute groove. They get pigeon-holed into the dusty swamp rock genre, and nobody ever mentions that they’re one of the grooviest bands to come out of the late ‘60s. Suzy Q from the band’s first record showed that they can groove, and their albums are just one great groove after another. I could listen to the groove from Feelin’ Blue for hours and never get bored.

Hit: Down On The Corner

Hidden Gem: Feelin’ Blue

Rocks In The Attic #471: James Horner – ‘Cocoon (O.S.T.)’ (1985)

RITA#471I don’t remember much about Cocoon, except it being one of those mid-‘80s family friendly films that seemed to rotate endlessly on television. It’s a Ron Howard film and I keep meaning to go back and reappraise his earlier films (particularly this and Splash); he’s always an entertaining director. I wouldn’t say he has a unique flair for directing, but he always tells a good yarn, and it’s nice to spot his brother in his films (Clint Howard from Gentle Ben fame).

So, something about a nursing home and something alien – an egg? – is put into a swimming pool, all the old people swim in the pool, and they get eternal youth. Something like that anyway. Steve Guttenberg’s in it – in his 1980s heyday – as is a scary Brian Dennehy, with his face peeling off or something. Yes, I need to see this again. I do remember the special effects being quite ground-breaking (by Industrial Light & Magic, as the credits on the record sleeve tells me, although they monopolised visual effects in that decade so it was hardly going to be anyone else).

The composer of the score for Cocoon, James Horner, died last year when the turboprop plane he was flying crashed into a forest in California. He was Ron Howard and James Cameron’s go-to guy, and his list of scores reads like a box-office list of highest grossing films throughout the last thirty years. He definitely has a unique style – his scores are always very soaring; probably something to do with the love of flying that killed him.

It’s odd how a star can completely disappear from the face of the earth. Guttenberg was everywhere in the ‘80s – Diner, Cocoon, Short Circuit, Three Men And A Baby, Three Men And A Little Lady, Cocoon: The Return – and if that wasn’t enough, there was a Police Academy film released every fortnight. Then the ‘90s happened and nothing; almost as though he was so synonymous with the ‘80s, when that decade ended so did he. Maybe he just got old. Maybe he just needs to have a swim in that magical alien water.

Hit: Gravity – Michael Sembello

Hidden Gem: Through The Window

Rocks In The Attic #470: James Bond And His Sextet – ‘Jazz Impressions Of Movie Themes’ (1980)

RITA#470Sounds like a worthless cash-in record, doesn’t it? Find a poor, unassuming musician called James Bond. Put him together with five other jazz cats – because a sextet sounds infitinetly more erotic than any other number, except maybe a ménage à jazz trois. Make them play jazz versions of Bond themes. Sit back, and watch the money roll in.

It isn’t that simple though. It’s actually very good. They made a decent jazz record by mistake!

The weird thing is that isn’t simply jazz versions of twelve Bond themes. A cursory glance at the tracklisting might you think it is, but the songwriting credits say otherwise. Yes, you get jazz interpretations of Monty Norman’s James Bond Theme, and John Barry’s From Russia With Love, Goldfinger, Thunderball and 007, but then it starts to get interesting.

The remaining songs are all original compositions – they sound nothing like the themes from the films; they just share the same titles. So we get The Man With The Golden Gun and You Only Live Twice – both compositions by James Bond himself (licensed to play killer basslines) – and a couple of others.

Strangely one of the other original compositions is For Your Eyes Only – a Bond film that was yet to see the light of day (it was released in 1981, a year after this record was released). So maybe it is just a cash-in; a wisely sequenced tracklisting to benefit from the interest in the next film in the series.

Well I like it regardless. It takes the genius of John Barry and does something different with it.

Hit: James Bond Theme

Hidden Gem: You Only Live Twice

Rocks In The Attic #469: José Feliciano – ‘Feliciano!’ (1968)

RITA#469Feliciano!, José’s 1968 collection of rock and pop covers, in great condition, for the princely sum of fifty cents? Yes please!

There’s not much I can say about this record other than how good it is. But you probably already know that. It’s one of those records that could very easily stray into the nursing home stratosphere of easy listening, but there’s an element of cool that you just can’t argue with.

Even if you just take his instrumental cuts – the Beatles’ And I Love Her and Here, There And Everywhere for example – it’s just marvellous. His voice on the other tracks is just the cherry on the top.

Feliciano! is actually his fourth English album in as many years, but that didn’t stop the Grammys giving him the Best New Artist award in 1969. He was also nominated for Album Of The Year, but lost out to Glen Campbell for By The Time I Get To Phoenix.

Hit: Light My Fire

Hidden Gem: And I Love Her

Rocks In The Attic #468: Julian Lennon – ‘The Secret Value Of Daydreaming’ (1986)

RITA#468You have to admire John and Cyn’s boy. One of the most famous musical offsprings of all time, it can’t have been easy for him, regardless of how easily his surname would have opened doors. He must have had every move and every breath overanalysed and compared to his father for every second of his musical career.

This is his second album – a solid effort, despite everything he had going against him. Yes, he sounds like John – but nowhere as near as much as Tame Impala’s Kevin Parker. The scary thing though is how much he looks like John. Just take a look at that album cover – he’s 23 years old; about the same age as John in 1963. Essentially it’s John’s face with a mullet instead of a moptop.

A couple of years ago, there was a bit of buzz around a band being formed by the sons of the four respective Beatles. The press had a field day with the resulting pun-filled headlines; Here Come The Sons being the best of a very bad bunch. I’m so happy there was no truth to the rumours. Pop will truly have eaten itself that day.

Hit: Stick Around

Hidden Gem: Everyday

Rocks In The Attic #467: The Kinks – ‘Kinks’ (1964)

RITA#467.jpgA couple of months ago, I got so sick of having no Kinks records in my collection I resolved to do something about it. But there was a problem – after nearly twenty years of collecting, I had never seen any Kinks records in the wild. They do exist, don’t they? I haven’t just made them up in my head?

So, what do you do when you can‘t find an animal in the wild? You employ the services of a poacher. Onto Discogs I went, and I found some very nice recent reissues of the first three albums – Kinks (1964), Kinda Kinks (1965) and The Kink Kontroversy (1965) – all on lovely red vinyl. I paid my money and very soon, just like the dentist-cum-hunter who shot and killed Cecil the lion, I had my prize. By the way, Cecil The Lion sounds so English, it could almost be the title of a Kinks song.

Of all the beat explosion bands that emerged in the wake of the Beatles, the Kinks might just be my favourite. Their run of ‘60s singles – from You Really Got Me in 1964, though to Lola in 1970 – is bloody strong, and of such a high quality they really should be seen as equals to the Beatles, the Stones and the Who. They’re quite often not though. They tend to be considered as poor cousins, one rung down on the ladder with the likes of the Hollies, Manfred Mann and the Animals.

In Ray Davies, the Kinks had something that those premier bands could only dream of – a one-man Lennon & McCartney and  a remarkably consistent songwriting machine. Only Pete Townshend comes close in being the singular visionary for one of those top ‘60s band – and as far as I’m concerned, the strength of Davies’ songwriting blows him out of the water.

As a debut album, this record is very similar in tone and content to its contemporaries, being comprised mainly of R&B and rock n’ roll covers, together with a previous few examples of original material. The two standout songs on the album – You Really Got Me and Stop Your Sobbing – are exactly that though – standout songs. They’re absolutely fantastic. Stop Your Sobbing might be more famous for its cover by the Pretenders (it was never released as a single by the Kinks), but it’s still a great song.

The record is also notable for the non-Kink personnel who played on the sessions – namely Jimmy Page from Led Zeppelin on guitar, and Jon Lord from Deep Purple on piano. Crikey!

Hit: You Really Got Me

Hidden Gem: Beautiful Delilah