Monthly Archives: October 2016

Rocks In The Attic #530: Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers – ‘Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers’ (1976)

rita530It’s a shame that the songwriting of Tom Petty hasn’t earned him a personalised adjective like other famous rockers. You could throw a couple of chords together and somebody might say it sounds Dylanesque, or if your song has a melodic walking bassline it could be accused of sounding McCartneyesque. But unfortunately if you write a song that has all the hallmarks of a Heartbreakers song, nobody says that it sounds a bit Petty. Maybe this does happen and all the recording studio bust-ups are over a simple misunderstanding.

I recently had a week off work. I caught a horrible virus from my four-year old, and felt like death for a few days. During that week – and you need that amount of time to set aside – I watched Peter Bogdanovich’s four-hour Tom Petty documentary Runnin’ Down A Dream. I would probably have enjoyed it more if I hadn’t been ill, but it was a really great watch regardless.

It’s become de rigueur for an all-encapsulating documentary to be directed by a big-name director. As well as Bogdanovich’s Petty-thon, there’s Scorsese’s doco on George Harrison, and Cameron Crowe’s Pearl Jam film. Concert films attract big names too – Jonathan Demme’s work with Talking Heads and Neil Young, Scorsese’s Last Waltz with the Band, Wim Wenders foray into Cuban music, Taylor Hackford’s profile of Chuck Berry, Scorsese’s and Hal Ashby’s work with the Stones. The list is endless, and probably driven by the fact that most film directors are big fans of music to begin with.

I can’t make my mind up about Tom Petty. I love his earlier material, like this album and the unequalled  Damn The Torpedoes, but his later work in the ‘80s, ‘90s and beyond stray a little too close to the middle of the road for my liking. Maybe I’m just being a little Petty in saying that.

Hit: American Girl

Hidden Gem: Breakdown

Rocks In The Attic #529: Rodgers & Hammerstein – ‘The Sound Of Music (O.S.T.)’ (1965)

rita529I love a good overture, and this one has a pearler. It’s probably my favourite part of a traditional soundtrack – the moment where we are introduced into the musical dictionary of the film by a medley of the score’s most memorable moments. Sometimes they can be a little cloying, particular if the different melodies are crowbarred together with no thought to harmonic transition, but if they’re done well, they can be breathtaking.

I’m not a fan of The Sound Of Music. I’ve endured it a few times, but usually the experience is ruined by whoever I’m watching it with. Sound Of Music fans can be as annoying as any obsessive music fan. I once went to a party which in its later hours devolved into a viewing of the film. Okay, I thought. Why not? But then the half-dozen or so girls watching it with me decided to quote the entire film and sing all the words. They enjoyed themselves, I’m sure.

It’s the same level of fandom that has always kept me at an arm’s distance from The Rocky Horror Picture Show. I watched that film on television in my youth, and wasn’t particularly enamoured with it, but in the mid-2000s I was visiting a friend in Oxford when I saw how religiously its fans can be. On a mini-pub crawl, we came across a couple of men in one bar dressed to the nines in stockings, suspenders and garish make-up. Hmm. What’s going on here, we all thought. Then at the next bar, there were a few more men dressed in a similar fashion.

At the next bar – the one closest to the cinema which we had worked out was showing The Rocky Horror Picture Show that very night – we were faced with dozens of men dressed like Dr. Frank. N. Furter. It was a very strange sight; it was truly awesome, to correctly use a word that is so overused today. And these men weren’t the effeminate type you might associate with cross-dressers. They were all different shapes and sizes – short blokes, skinny blokes, young blokes, old blokes. The event may have even been organised by the local rugby club, because the majority of them were big, stocky, hairy blokes.

I hear that sing-a-long cinema nights of The Sound Of Music are a popular thing. People dress as nuns and  I can’t think of anything worse. Although, maybe hanging out – quite literally – at a busy bar in full drag might just be worse.

Hit: The Sound Of Music

Hidden Gem: Climb Ev’ry Mountain

Rocks In The Attic #528: Bob Dylan – ‘Highway 61 Revisited’ (1965)

rita528This was the first Dylan album I ever bought – I think because out of all of his classic singles, I liked the singalong ‘…Then You!…’ bits in Like A Rolling Stone. It really is a great song – although, like nearly all Dylan songs, I have no idea what it all means. My lyric-blindness prevents me from caring about the words too much, and it’s a blissful kind of ignorance. Perhaps if I knew what the lyrics meant, I’d like the song less, like seeing a card trick standing behind the magician.

I’d probably have listened to a lot more Dylan in my youth, if I’d started with another album – perhaps The Freewheelin’ from 1962. I still find 1965’s Highway 61 Revisited a bit of a heavy trip. Man.

This week it was announced that Bob has been awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature, “for having created new poetic expressions within the great American song tradition”. I’m sure this has made a whole load of highbrow people really angry, and I like the nomination for that establishment outrage, as much as I like it for Bob’s achievement at being awarded something nice.

Rolling Stone magazine says he deserves it – not ‘for making it through all of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s books’, a nice reference to a lyric from this record’s Ballad Of A Thin Man, but for ‘for inventing ways to make songs do what they hadn’t done before’. It’s a long time since Rolling Stone said anything against the grain though so it’s not surprising. Perhaps if this announcement would have come thirty or forty years ago, they might have taken a difference stance. Rolling Stone, like Dylan himself, once was very much the embodiment of the counter-culture. They haven’t exactly become the establishment since; instead the establishment has shifted in the intervening years, to stand behind people like Dylan.

What do I know though? I don’t even understand what he’s saying half the time.

Hit: Like A Rolling Stone

Hidden Gem: Tombstone Blues

Rocks In The Attic #527: The Rolling Stones – ‘Their Satanic Majesties Request’ (1967)

RITA#527.jpgPoor Brian. I’m just in the middle of Peter Norman’s 1980’s biography The Stones. There’s quite a large portion of the book involved with the mental (and professional) decline of Brian Jones, and it makes for quite upsetting reading.

For some reason, I had always mistakenly thought Jones was still a member of the band when he drowned in his swimming pool late one night after having too much to drink. He’d actually been kicked out of the band a couple of weeks prior to this, when Mick Jagger and Keith Richards visited him at his home to do the dirty deed. As Jones had by that time lost any trust in the songwriting pair, they took along the affable Charlie Watts in way of a neutral, calming influence.

Their Satanic Majesties Request is always seen as the black sheep of Stones albums, in much the same way that Brian Jones was the black sheep of the Stones themselves. I admit that it’s not one of their best. Their attempt to emulate the Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s leaves them sounding amateurish, most likely because the record was self-produced after Andrew Loog Oldham walked out on them in his capacity as manager and producer. His loss – but their lightning-in-a-bottle four album run, just around the corner, could never have been achieved by Oldham in the producer’s chair.

Satanic Majesties might not be their best album – but it’s a far more enjoyable listen than its predecessor Between The Buttons, which found them completely bereft of ideas. I struggle to listen to Between The Buttons – a huge step down after the peerless Aftermath. At least Satanic Majesties finds them trying to do something different, whereas Between The Buttons was a retread of earlier accomplishments, following a tired formula.

I was pleased to hear the announcement the other day that there’s a new Stones studio album on the way – Blue & Lonesome. A blues album, I don’t expect it will be any better than Aerosmith’s woeful attempt at a blues-only record, but you never know. Somebody had a great idea in that they should have titled it Brian Was A Blues Guy, or something like that, as a nice nod to their former leader.

Hit: She’s A Rainbow


Hidden Gem: 2000 Light Years From Home

Rocks In The Attic #526: Tony Hancock – ‘Golden Hour Of Tony Hancock’ (1974)

rita526Anything from the pen of Ray Galton and Alan Simpson is always worth a listen, and while I prefer the boiled-down pathos of Steptoe & Son over the broader comedy of Tony Hancock, I still love listening to this.

It’s also nice to hear Sid James, Kenneth Williams and Hattie Jacques plying their trade in radio comedy before they became household names in the ubiquitous Carry On films.

Galton and Simpson’s liner notes from this record describe Hancock perfectly:

Mr. Hancock’s performance has been described by some critics as the epitomisation of the struggles, frustrations and disillusionments of a romantic in a materialistic society. It has been described by other critics as the epitomisation of the struggles, frustrations and disillusionments of a materialist in a romantic society. Mr. Sidney James, on the other hand, describes him as ‘a bit of a twit’ which is as good a definition as any.

A nice touch for this record is the reappearance of Hancock’s voice at the end of the first side. After the credits for The Wild Man Of The Woods, he reappears to say:

“Well, that’s it for this side. You’d better take the needle off now; otherwise it’ll hit that metal bit that sticks up through the hole in the middle.  We never used to have that trouble with the cylinders. Never had to turn them over either; all on the same side. Progress? Cor, dear. Well go on, turn it over.”

At the start of the second side, he appears again:

Done it? Good. Well hang on, they’re not ready to start yet. Otherwise we finish too far away from the label and it looks bad, you know. Well, you can’t charge these prices and finish up halfway across the record. I told them to put a bigger label on but they wouldn’t listen. I wonder if they had labels on the cylinders? No, I expect they used to put a little note inside them, like you do in milk bottles. Right, well I think we’re ready to go. We’ll just hang on for a few seconds for those who were a bit slow in turning it over. All ready? Right…

And then finally at the end of side two:

Well, there it is. Could have happened to anybody. Anyway, I’d just like to say thank you for buying the record. Or if you’re listening to it in a record shop, don’t mess about, buy it. Not for me, but think of the bloke who owns the shop, the poor devil. He’s got a living to make, the same as the rest of us. Well, thank you again, that’s all. When I count three, take the needle off.  1…2…3……………………There’s no more.

Hit: The Wild Man Of The Woods

Hidden Gem: A Sunday Afternoon At Home

Rocks In The Attic #525: Various Artists – ‘Cocktail (O.S.T.)’ (1988)

rita525God, I miss the shameful optimism of 1980s mainstream American cinema. Yes, it was soulless (at times) and offered little in the way of substance (again, at times), but I really have a deep feeling of nostalgia for helicopter tracking shots of American cities, soundtracked by the likes of Starship’s Wild Again. Throw a bit of neon in there, and a glimpse of bikini, and I’m hooked.

I’m a child of the 1980s so America has always felt like the centre of the universe – it still is – and the main driver of that image was American cinema. Cocktail, albeit directed by a New Zealander (Roger Donaldson), is a typical example. It may not be the greatest film in the world – it’s far from it – but I’d happily watch it again right now.

I would have been very aware of who Tom Cruise was in 1988, but it might have been the first time I saw Elisabeth Shue and Bryan Brown; a couple of actors I’ve always admired. Shue appeared as the love interest in The Karate Kid (1984) and as the lead in Adventures In Babysitting (1987), but Cocktail would definitely be the first time I’d seen her in an adult role.

One of my favourite moments from Brett Easton Ellis’ American Psycho is when our anti-hero Patrick Bateman shares an elevator with Tom Cruise, who lives in the same apartment block:

The film actor, Tom Cruise, has an apartment in my building and steps into the elevator just after me. I press the “PH” button for him and he nods his thanks. He is wearing a sport coat from Ralph Lauren over a tshirt, also Ralph Lauren, Calvin Klein Jeans and Ray Bans and is very short.
‘I really liked
Bartender“, I say to him.
‘Cocktail.’
‘What?’
‘The movie is called
Cocktail.’
‘Oh, right, of course.’
We turn away from each other as the elevator hums along. Then, he slowly turns towards me.
‘Your nose is bleeding,’ he tells me.
I hadn’t noticed it, although it is bleeding heavily and I reach for my pocket square by Bill Blass as we arrive at my floor. As I step into the hallway, covering my nose with the handkerchief, I hear Tom Cruise stabbing frantically at the ‘Close Door’ button.

Hit: Don’t Worry, Be Happy – Bobby McFerrin

Hidden Gem: Powerful Stuff – The Fabulous Thunderbirds