Monthly Archives: June 2016

Rocks In The Attic #498: Elton John – ‘Captain Fantastic And The Brown Dirt Cowboy’ (1975)

RITA#498I’d always assumed that the cover art for this record was done by the same guy who did the cover to Goodbye Yellow Brick Road, but apparently not. For that same reason, I’d always compared it to that earlier, more successful record and been quite disappointed with it as a result. It’s still leagues ahead of his ‘80s output though, primarily because it’s a band effort – his last recorded with the band until 1983’s Too Low For Zero.

It’s arguable – but probably very true – that Elton peaked with Goodbye Yellow Brick Road and it’s been downhill ever since. I saw him the other week singing on the Graham Norton with Welsh popster Bright Light Bright Light. Without his piano in front of him, he looked very strange – like an Elton John lookalike in fact. It could only have looked weirder if he was a lookalike, and he was then joined by a Queen Elizabeth lookalike, dancing along to the song with her corgis.

As a record, Captain Fantastic seems to get overlooked, mainly because there are no hits on it. Elton has praised this aspect of it in interviews, regarding it as one of his finest because of its lack commerciality. It’s true that the concept of the album – an autobiographical tale of Elton and Bernie Taupin’s early years in the music business – isn’t disturbed by a big stupid hit single. We’re only twelve months before Don’t Go Breaking My Heart with Kiki Dee, which I love, but would have been so out of place here.

Hit: Someone Saved My Life Tonight

Hidden Gem: Tell Me When The Whistle Blows

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Rocks In The Attic #497: Andrew Lloyd Webber – ‘The Odessa File (O.S.T.)’ (1974)

RITA#497I haven’t seen The Odessa File. The wife found me the soundtrack in the local charity shop, and I’m a sucker for soundtracks, so it was very much appreciated. Composed by a pre-world famous Andrew Lloyd Webber, it’s a mixed bag of material – a Perry Como Christmas tune, some rousing German choral marches and some very listenable instrumental incidental music.

Some of the instrumental music is so good in fact, it almost seems a shame that Lloyd Webber concentrated on musical theatre for the majority of his career. He might have been an outstanding soundtrack artist had he continued down this route instead.

Tracks like Solomon Tauber’s Diary or Music At Riga sound like they’ve been lifted off a blaxploitation soundtrack, maybe something from a label like Stax. They’re totally at odds with the rest of the record though, and very interesting especially as they were recorded by what was probably a very white band. A mention should go out to Vic Flick – the guitarist of Monty Norman’s James Bond Theme – who plays guitar on the soundtrack.

I’ll have to check out the film though. I’m a big fan of early Jon Voight, before he turned into a bit of a strange character. He’s probably more famous now for being the estranged father of Angelina Jolie, when he was obviously a very talented – and Oscar-winning – actor back in the day.

Hit: Main Title Music

Hidden Gem: Solomon Tauber’s Diary

Rocks In The Attic #496: Barclay James Harvest – ‘Early Morning Harvest’ (1972)

RITA#496I should like this band – they’re from Oldham! One of the founding members went to my school. They’re probably Oldham’s most famous musical exports, except for the Inspiral Carpets perhaps. And those N-Trance guys. And Mark Owen from Take That. And Darren Wharton, the keyboard player from Thin Lizzy. Wow, Oldham was really a melting pot of talent!

I’m not au fait with Barclay James Harvest’s music though. I’m very familiar with the Barclays bank in Oldham – just on the corner of High Street. I don’t think that counts though. I might send in a fake CV to the branch, using the name James Harvest, and crowbarring all of their song titles into the cover letter – you know, just for shits and giggles. Given the average intelligence level in Oldham – about as low as the number of teenage pregnancies is high – and the general lack of interest in the town’s history by its inhabitants, it would just get thrown in a bin by the HR manager. Oh well, it’s an idea. Maybe I’ll do it when I’m retired, if Barclay’s still exist by then. The bank can’t be doing well; I’d bet most Oldhamers (Oldhamites?) keep their money under the mattress, next to their stockpile of Woodbines.

Barclay James Harvest write melodic folk rock, not a million miles away from the likes of America. The band America, that is, not the country. Although the country is about a million miles away from the town of Oldham, recently named the most deprived town in England. In fact, that might make it more similar to some places in America – Oldham, twinned with the Bronx!

Hit: Mockingbird

Hidden Gem: Taking Some Time On

Rocks In The Attic #495: Neil Young – ‘Harvest’ (1972)

RITA#495If ever I could pick a perfect album, this is one of the ones I would pick. Yes, it might not be to everybody’s taste, but in terms of a record that has a consistent level of quality songwriting from start to finish, it’s up there with the likes of Revolver, Dark Side Of The Moon and Led Zeppelin IV.

I shouldn’t like it either. It’s got both feet firmly steeped in the country tradition, and I’m somewhat allergic to that most inbred of musical genres. It was recorded in Nashville too, so it’s the real deal. Young went down there and recorded the album with a pick-up band, writing out the charts for them using the Nashville number system they would have been very familiar with.

Of all the 33⅓ books I’ve read, the one on Harvest, by Sam Inglis has been my favourite so far. It’s one of the earliest ones in the series – the third one to be published – and is well recommended if you wish to know more about the recording of the record. Some of those 33⅓ books can be a bit hit and miss, but that one seems to stand out from that early bunch of titles.

I probably need a new copy of this record. I picked up a second-hand copy a few years ago that has definitely seen better days. The cover looks like it’s been under somebody’s pillow for 12 months, and there’s a fair bit of surface noise on the actual disc. Either that or Neil Young employed somebody to fry some eggs in the studio as they were recording.

Hit: Heart Of Gold

Hidden Gem: The Needle And The Damage Done

Rocks In The Attic #494: Various Artists – ‘Every Man Has A Woman’ (1984)

RITA#494Yoko Ono got a raw deal, didn’t she? Known to the entire globe as ‘the woman who split up the Beatles’, she didn’t really do anything malicious or wilful to break up the band (and if anything, they would have split up whether she was in the picture or not). Her only crime was to exist as far as some people are concerned. Well, that’s not very nice, is it? ‘All you need is love’, John sang in 1967, but half of his fans have a hatred for his wife usually reserved for their personal enemies.

While some of her high-pitched wailing puts me off, some of her songwriting is great. I might like her contributions to Double Fantasy far less than I like John’s, but they still stand up. And who knows what might have happened next, had John not been gunned down. Half of Double Fantasy – admittedly Yoko’s half – is very much new wave, and I wonder if John would have gone down that route in the early ‘80s (as McCartney did with McCartney II in 1981).

Every Man Has A Woman is a collection of Yoko Ono covers put together to mark her 50th birthday. Devised by John, but completed by others after his death, it features the likes of Elvis Costello, Harry Nilsson, Lennon himself, Roseanne Cash, Roberta Flack, and a young Sean Lennon covering songs from Approximately Infinite Universe (1973), Double Fantasy (1980), Season Of Glass (1981), and It’s Alright (I See Rainbows) (1982). Nilsson appears three times throughout the course of the record, perhaps in an attempt to apologies to Yoko for leading John astray during his long weekend of 1973 to 1975.

Hit: Every Man Has A Woman Who Loves Him – John Lennon

Hidden Gem: I’m Moving On – Eddie Money

Rocks In The Attic #493: Various Artists – ‘Moonlighting (O.S.T.)’ (1987)

RITA#493A great bunch of songs, as long as you ignore the first stirrings of a singing career by that seminal 1980s soul singer, Bruce Willis. Listening to Bruce, it’s clear that Dean Martin has a lot to answer for – singers like Bruce have been slurring their vocals like Deano for the past 50 years, but thinking that they’ve been doing a Sinatra instead (if there’s anything that you can’t knock Sinatra for, it’s his diction).

I only saw a few episodes of Moonlighting when it originally aired. I always enjoyed it, but I was probably a bit too young at the time and so I didn’t watch it regularly enough for it to mean anything to me. But with the power of the internet, and with ‘her indoors’ being a huge Bruce Willis fan to keep happy, we’ve been slowly working our way through each season.

It’s a great, light-hearted show – albeit with both feet firmly stuck in the ‘80s. It’s always good to see Bruce with a full head of hair, and amusing to see the soft-focus employed whenever Cybill Shepherd has a close-up. More Vaseline on the lens, mister camera operator…

Hit: When A Man Loves A Woman – Percy Sledge

Hidden Gem: Limbo Rock – Chubby Checker