Monthly Archives: January 2017

Rocks In The Attic #557: Leonard Bernstein – ‘West Side Story (O.S.T.)’ (1960)

RITA#557.jpgI haven’t seen West Side Story. Or at least, I can’t remember watching it. It could very easily have been on the television when I was growing up, but I usually can’t stomach musicals so I wouldn’t have paid it any attention.

Thirty years later, I’m a big fan of Larry David’s Curb Your Enthusiasm, and so the thought of West Side Story’s Officer Krupke really makes me laugh. In an episode of his show, Larry bumps into a Police Officer who he notices is actually named Officer Krupke. He almost doesn’t believe it, in the mindset that Leonard Bernstein and Stephen Sondheim only named the character as such so that the lyrics of Gee, Officer Krupke! provide a play on words when the song ends with ‘Officer Krupke, what are we to do? / Gee, Officer Krupke – Krup-you!’ – a thinly veiled disguise of ‘Fuck you!’. Larry’s enthusiasm for the song eventually gets him into trouble with said policeman in the episode’s final scene, when he’s mistaken for shouting the expletive out of his car window at a young girl who lives in his neighbourhood.

I’m not usually a fan of those sorts of forced conclusions in sitcoms, where two or three factors in the narrative arrive together to form a pay-off. They can feel a little hammy, especially when you can see them coming as soon as the set-up is established, but Larry David’s are nearly always spot-on. I still laugh just thinking about Larry taking a baseball bat out of his trunk, or saving Ricky Gervais with a baguette on the underground, or standing up for a chef stricken with Tourettes by joining in with him.

Hit: America

Hidden Gem: Gee, Officer Krupke!

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Rocks In The Attic #556: Blondie – ‘Plastic Letters’ (1978)

rita556Plastic Letters is album number two for Blondie, and starts to see them move towards more of a pop sound after their grittier debut. Their choice of covering Randy & The Rainbow’s 1963 hit Denis points to the direction which the band was going in from this point forward. I can’t help but think that early fans of the band in and around New York City would have felt a little disappointed in this gradual shift in direction.

It would be the equivalent in the UK of the Pistols or the Clash recording a cover by Gerry & The Pacemakers for their second album. Now, while I could imagine Johnny Rotten and company doing something like this, it would be too much like selling out for Strummer’s band. Some punk bands remained true to their original manifesto, while others like Blondie made a shortcut straight past post-Punk and New Wave, seemingly straight into the pop mainstream.

Isn’t this just what successful bands do though? The Beatles very quickly turned their backs on their rock and roll roots, opting to magpie the best parts of Motown, folk and R&B to produce their own “original” pop sound (one gets the impression that the rock and roll covers on the first couple of Beatles albums would have sounded old-hat at the time, whereas looking back they appear to come from the same era). Perhaps Debbie Harry and Chris Stein always had their eyes on the pop charts when they put Blondie together. Maybe when they were writing their early two-minute punk songs, they were really writing two-minute pop songs.

Alongside Denis, the album’s other big hit (I’m Always Touched By Your) Presence, Dear features the couplet Stay awake at night and count your R.E.M.s / When you’re talking with your super friends. While Michael Stipe claims to have chosen the name of his band at random from a dictionary, could he have subconsciously heard these lyrics on the radio?

Hit: Denis

Hidden Gem: Bermuda Triangle Blues (Flight 45)

Rocks In The Attic #555: Bob Hope – ‘The Bob Hope Radio Show’ (1976)

rita555The hit rate for Bob Hope’s material – joke after joke after joke – is relentless. You could get tired from this kind of assault on your sense of humour, but Hope’s show is interspersed with musical numbers which act as a palette-cleanser for the next barrage of jokes.

The two shows on this record were broadcast around the world to America G.I.s in late 1945, and much of the material is not only army-centric, but deals with the premise of leaving the forces now that the war is over. Of course, this provides ample subject material for Hope to riff on, and the audiences (at military separation centres in California) lap up every gag.

You can almost taste the palpable sense of relief in these radio shows. The audience have not only reached the end of the war, they’ve also reached the end of their military career and presumably are about to re-enter normal life. If I was in their shoes I’d be laughing at anything, a cathartic release, but the strength of Hope’s material gives them more than enough to find funny.

Hit: “A discharge? That’s a little piece of paper that changes a Lieutenant’s name from Sir to Stinky”

Hidden Gem: “Not everybody flies inside the plane with their parachute open! Well, I didn’t know the pilot was being personal when he said ‘Jerk!’”

Rocks In The Attic #554: Various Artists – ‘Weird Science (O.S.T.)’ (1985)

rita554“She’s alive…!”

It’s not surprising how madcap a Danny Elfman film score can sound when you consider the output of his former band, Oingo Boingo. Their title track to this film is insane, and really sets the scene for such an off-the-wall comedy. I’m not really a fan of key changes in songs – or modulations, to use the correct term – but the one in Oingo Boingo’s Weird Science really amps up the song, and creates an excitement in those opening credits that sets up the tone of the film really well.

The rest of the record is the sort of passable ‘80s fluff that tends to dominate film soundtracks from this era. Cheyne’s Private Joy sounds like a poorly sung demo recording, Max Carl’s The Circle tries its hardest to be a Bryan Adams song, and the record just goes on and on like this. One wonders how much money they had to spend on the soundtrack, when it’s populated by such mediocrity.

Of course, this is still 1985 and the power of the 1980s pop soundtrack hadn’t really hit until that same year, with The Power Of Love from Back To The Future. Even a hit like 1984’s Ghostbusters soundtrack was populated by a couple of naff songs. I wonder whether the soundtrack to Weird Science would have been a little stronger had the film been released a year later?

Hit: Weird Science – Oingo Boingo

Hidden Gem: Eighties – Killing Joke

Rocks In The Attic #553: Al Martino – ‘Love Is Blue’ (1968)

RITA#553.jpgAl Martino is probably best known for his portrayal of Johnny Fontane in the Godfather films. He plays the Godson of Marlon Brando’s Vito Corleone, and appears at Connie’s wedding at the start of the film to rapturous screams from the girls present. Johnny’s career has gone onto bigger and better things since they last saw him, with more than a little help from his Godfather early on in his career.

I often wonder, with his character being based on unsavoury rumours concerning Frank Sinatra’s early career, what repercussions Martino felt in his day job as a singer.  The horse head scene in the Godfather, designed to intimidate producer Jack Woltz into giving Fontane a part in a war film, is supposedly influenced by Sinatra’s casting in From Here To Eternity. It would have made for one interesting atmosphere if Martino ever ran into Sinatra backstage somewhere in Vegas. I fear that the Rat Pack would have driven him out of the business – his recording output slowed down considerably following the release of The Godfather in 1972.

Love Is Blue is a collection of quite syrupy ballads from 1968. Martino has a great voice, but the overblown orchestral instrumentation on the record stands him apart from the likes of Sinatra and his like. As a result the record strays too near to the likes of easy listening to be taken serious. It isn’t surprising then that Martino was chosen to sing such a syrupy ballad to Connie Corleone (If Have But One Heart) at her wedding…

Hit: Call Me

Hidden Gem: Goin’ Out Of My Head

RITA#553.jpg

Rocks In The Attic #552: Genesis – ‘Trespass’ (1970)

rita552I keep buying Genesis records, almost by accident, at record fairs. They’re always cheap – around the five dollar mark and so I reason that it can’t hurt to take them home. As a result, without any discernible effort I’ve managed to pick up most of their back catalogue – nine of their fifteen studio albums, plus 1973’s Genesis Live.

I wish original Pink Floyd records were as easy – and as cheap – to come across. This is a 1974 ABC Records re-pressing, and at five bucks was significantly cheaper than a Floyd record from around the same time would be.

I don’t think I’ll ever become a big Genesis fan no matter how many of their records I own. The Peter Gabriel years are all a bit too twee for me; a little bit too steeped in English folk. And while I prefer the Phil Collins era, there’s not a great deal of fresh air between those albums and a Collins solo record. I’m sure a diehard Genesis fan would disagree, but I’m too disinterested to spot the difference. Ah, ennui…

Hit: The Knife

Hidden Gem: White Mountain

Rocks In The Attic #551: Frank Sinatra – ‘Songs For Young Lovers’ (1954)

RITA#551.jpg1954? That makes this recording over sixty years old. It still sounds crystal clear – it would, it’s the 2015 Record Store Day reissue – but regardless, it’s still magical sounding. In the next couple of decades we’re going to start approaching being able to listen to 100 year old recordings. Insane. Well, I guess we can listen to 100 year old recordings now, but considering that nobody put out anything worth a salt until the 1950s, it won’t be worth considering for a while yet.

In fact, that’s wrong. Glenn Miller’s a boss, and he was the best-selling recording artist from 1939 to 1943. So 1939 would mean twenty two years until the centennial celebrations for the likes of In The Mood and Chattanooga Choo Choo. But just imagine when we reach the 100 year anniversary of the first Frank Sinatra hit, or Elvis’ Heartbreak Hotel, or the first Beatles album. Good grief. Will we start referring to it as classical musical?

Running in under a sprightly twenty two minutes, this 10” album comes from a time before the 12” record won the war to become the primary record format. This happened a few years later around 1957, just in time for the rock and roll explosion. It’s a nice format, but obviously the shorter running time leaves you wanting more. We’d call it an EP these days, but back then they’d probably just refer to it as Frank’s latest record, regardless of the running length.

Hit: I Get A Kick Out Of You

Hidden Gem: The Girl Next Door