Monthly Archives: August 2017

Rocks In The Attic #618: Hans Zimmer – ‘True Romance (O.S.T.)’ (1993)

RITA#618.jpgYou wait twenty-five years for a True Romance soundtrack to be released on vinyl, and then two turn up at once. Already this year, we’ve had the long-awaited pop soundtrack for the film seeing its debut on wax; now we have a release dedicated solely to Hans Zimmer’s score. Being a fan of all things Tarantino, I had to get this to complete my collection. I mean, the guy’s practically my best friend!

Do I need this score though? No, definitely not. The pop soundtrack captures a couple of tracks from Zimmer’s score and these serve as a pretty good representation. The full score actually gets a little tedious towards the end; the innocence of the main melody turns into something a little more serious. Out go the lovely xylophones and marimbas, and in come some really dated synth cues that feel a little out of place for what is an otherwise very cool film.

RITA#618aI’m starting to come around to Hans Zimmer. I’d previously written him off as a workaday composer, but I’m starting to appreciate the occasional hidden gem amongst his many scores (137 and counting). His soundtracks for Christopher Nolan (particularly Batman Begins and The Dark Knight) have been my favourite action scores this side of the turn of the century – perfectly blending digital sounds within a traditional orchestral score.

Hit: You’re So Cool (Main Title)

Hidden Gem: Not My Clothes

 

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Rocks In The Attic #617: John Barry – ‘Diamonds Are Forever (O.S.T.)’ (1971)

RITA#617Sean Connery is back! Shirley Bassey is back! Director Guy Hamilton is back! Everybody’s back!

Bond producers Harry Saltzman and Cubby Broccoli’s attempts to reproduce the success of 1964’s Goldfinger were thinly veiled. Get the original 007 back in the role, get Goldfinger’s director back, and the singer of its theme song. Get Richard Maibaum, the screenwriter of Goldfinger, to write the script, and instruct him to set most of the film in America, much like the 1964 film. Hell, even the subject matter of the film is similar – where the subject matter of Goldfinger deals with gold, Diamonds Are Forever deals with, erm, diamonds.

The only problem is that the film it isn’t anywhere near as good as Goldfinger. The plotting is messy, and the film feels a little lost at sea between the swing of the sixties, and the sleaze of the seventies. It’s lucky that the Bond producers were able to bring Connery back, as the film might have suffered more without his magnetic presence.

The previous Bond, George Lazenby, had been offered a contract for seven films but left after only one (On Her Majesty’s Secret Service). In his place, the role almost went to American actor John Gavin – the heroic brother-in-law in Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho. Gavin even signed a contract to play Bond, before the producers were able to lure Connery back, and Gavin was again set to play Bond in Live And Let Die before they changed their minds again and settled on Roger Moore.

Connery looks a little heavy this time around – and his ever-present hairpiece looks more obvious than it ever had, John Barry’s score comes a little too close to sounding like James Last in his attempts to replicate the lounge music of the Las Vegas setting, and Charles Gray’s portrayal of Ernst Stavro Blofeld loses all the menace that Donald Pleasance had brought to the role (admittedly this had been lost with Telly Savalas’ portrayal in OHMSS).

But I love Diamonds Are Forever regardless. It features my favourite Bond girl – the top-heavy Lana Wood – despite her role being very short and sweet. The theme song remains one of my favourites, and I was lucky enough to see Bassey perform it one year at Glastonbury in a medley of her Bond themes. Bond’s gadgets are reined in before the silliness of the Roger Moore era, and the film feels like one last hurrah for Connery’s 007 (although of course he would return to the role one more time in 1983’s Never Say Never Again).

The only drawback about the film is the stunt work, particularly in the mistakes they made with the Ford Mustang car chase. First of all, the thrilling police pursuit through the streets of Las Vegas is partly ruined by the fact that the sequence is clearly being watched by crowds of onlookers – as the producer’s were unable to close off the city’s streets from pedestrians.

RITA#617aSecondly, and most damning of all, the chase’s finale where Bond escapes the police by driving on two wheels through a tight alleyway was filmed incorrectly. They filmed the approach using two wheels on one side of the car, and filmed the shot of the car emerging from the alley on the opposite two wheels of the car. How terrible, and one wonders whether the continuity person – or in fact anybody working on this particular stunt – could ever hold their head high in Hollywood ever again. As a movie mistake, it’s up there with the Star Wars stormtrooper hitting his head on the Death Star doorway, or Charlton Heston supposedly wearing a wristwatch in Ben-Hur’s chariot race (an urban legend that has since been quashed).

Editors Bert Bates and John Holmes couldn’t have solved the mistake by reversing the film as both shots featured writing on buildings and advertisement hoardings, and so the only way out was a shot mid-alley which was made to look like Bond switched sides of the car mid-stunt. James Bond 007, licence to defy the laws of physics. As far as Bond mistakes go, this is even worse than choosing to soundtrack The Man With The Golden Gun’s barrel-roll stunt with a slide whistle.

RITA#617bDiamonds Are Fever’s lovable villains, the vaguely homosexual Mr. Wint and Mr. Kidd deserve special mention, and not only for their great performance in the film as the murderous duo. Mr. Wint was played by actor Bruce Glover – father of Crispin ‘George McFly’ Glover – while Mr. Kidd was played by musician Putter Smith, bass player on sessions for, among others, Thelonius Monk, the Beach Boys and the Righteous Brothers.

Hit: Diamonds Are Forever (Main Title) – Shirley Bassey

Hidden Gem: 007 And Counting

Rocks In The Attic #616: Alfred Hitchcock – ‘Alfred Hitchcock Presents Ghost Stories For Young People’ (1962)

RITA#616I took part in a trivia night last week, an annual event organised by the company I work for. Our team came a respectable sixth out of twenty five teams, but as always with these things a couple of questions really got under my skin.

In the Entertainment round, one of the questions was Which individual has won the most Oscars (28 in total)?

Now I should know this sort of thing. Ask me about which film has won the most, or which actor or actress has won the most, or even which three films have won all five major Oscars, and I’ll answer spot on, but this one had me stumped.

The rest of my team immediately suggested famous actors. I knew it wouldn’t be this – most actors do one thing and one thing only, with a small handful of people spreading their talents to directing or producing. Somebody else suggested Hitchcock, but if there’s one thing I do know, it’s that the Academy famously snubbed Hitch (he was nominated five times for Best Director, never winning, and only won once for Best Picture with 1940’s Rebecca).

Somebody else suggested Weta Workshop, Peter Jackson’s special effects studio – as New Zealanders love to talk about their own accomplishments, so the quiz writers could have put this in purposefully – but the question did state ‘individual’, and anyway, if it had been Weta Workshop all of New Zealand would know about it (and I’m sure a long-standing effects house like ILM would have won more craft Oscars than a relative newbie like Weta).

It had to be a producer, I thought, somebody who would spread their mark over a number of projects or even take the credit for the work of others. The mention of Hitchcock led me to think of Hitchcock’s American producer before he broke away and signed with Universal. But what the hell was his name? A big name producer, the kind of man with a name as big as the movies he made.

Hitchcock’s producer, Hitchcock’s producer, damn, what was his name? This reminded me of the time I started my GCSE History exam question on the development of the assembly line and mass production, looked at the question and immediately pulled a blank on the name of Henry Ford. Without remembering his name, I couldn’t tackle the question and had to resort to answering the alternative question instead.

What the hell was Hitchcock’s producer’s name? At any other time, I’d be looking on my phone for the answer, but they tend to frown on that sort of thing when you’re in the middle of a pub quiz. I had to rely on my failing memory instead.

Of course, if I had remembered David O. Selznick’s name, it would have been wrong anyway. He only won two Oscars for Best Picture (Rebecca and Gone With The Wind).

The answer – the individual who won the most Oscars – was Walt Disney of course; all for short films and documentaries. Everybody around the table kicked themselves, and we moved onto the music round, which we aced.

Just like I had predicted with my original idea around a producer taking the credit for the work of somebody else, I wonder if Walt had won his Oscars fair and square? Maybe it was a case of – to paraphrase a joke – What’s the difference between Walt Disney and Bing Crosby? Bing Crosby gives credit to others, but Walt Disney.

Hit: The Haunted And The Haunters (The Pirate’s Curse)

Hidden Gem: Johnny Takes A Dare (The More The Merrier)

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Rocks In The Attic #615: Eric Clapton – ‘Unplugged’ (1992)

RITA#615In 1992, mild-mannered Somerset accountant Russell Chives was asked to perform his Eric Clapton impression for a group of friends at a dinner party in West London. He reluctantly pulled out his acoustic guitar and gave them a rendition of Wonderful Tonight, which everybody enjoyed through the fog of red wine.

Among the guests that night was MTV executive Chad Frame who saw something in Chives. Eric Clapton, a recovering alcoholic, had died the previous year; his passing overshadowed by the death of Queen’s Freddie Mercury and subsequently reported on page 7 of the tabloids (it’s true, nobody knows you when you’re down and out). Frame thought Chives’ impression of Clapton was good enough to show to the station and asked if he’d be interested in coming in for an audition.

Chives arrived at Frame’s London office and was greeted by a room full of executives. After he ran through his Clapton impression, Frame pitched the room his idea. He wanted to launch a range of albums featuring the work of deceased musicians performed by sound-alikes. The first release: a blues album featuring Russell Chives as Eric Clapton. If this proved successful the plan was to launch auditions to find performers for a synth album of Liberace songs, and a reggae album of Roy Orbison’s hits.

On 16th January 1992, Chives arrived at Bray Studios in Windsor to perform the album to a select group of accountant friends. In order to cover any mistakes that he might make, Chives was backed by a team of accomplished musicians – including guitarist Andy Fairweather Low and oddball percussionist Ray Cooper.  The group strolled through a lengthy set, featuring blues staples and a handful of Clapton originals. The audience was respectful and even applauded with pity when Chives attempted a version on Clapton’s Layla but got the tempo completely wrong.

The album eventually saw the light of day in August 1992. The five months between recording and release had been a heart-wrenching time for Chad Frame. In order to cut costs, he made the mistake of ordering the album cover to be pressed at a printing plant in Bosnia, where a brutal civil war was starting to emerge. As a result, there were many quality control oversights.

Chives’ one original song on the album – a biting critique of West Country racism (“Would you know my name, if I saw you in Devon?”) – was incorrectly listed as Tears In Heaven, but worst of all Chives’ name was left off the cover altogether. The record was supposed to be credited to ‘Russell Chives as Eric Clapton’ but printing plant employees misread Chives’ name as a Serbian insult, understanding it to be a practical joke from their Croatian colleagues.

The resulting double-album went on to sell 26 million copies worldwide and won three Grammy awards. MTV aired a film of the performance which resonated with a yuppie audience largely ignorant of Clapton’s recent death and who couldn’t quite remember if he had always dressed like an accountant from Somerset.

At the behest of a cocaine-fuelled Chad Frame, Russell Chives changed his name officially to Eric Clapton and signed a twelve-album deal with Reprise Records. His mediocre output from 1994 onwards is now viewed by historians to be the lasting cultural legacy of the breakup of the former Yugoslavia.

Hit: Tears In Heaven

Hidden Gem: Old Love

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Rocks In The Attic #614: The Sex Pistols – ‘The Great Rock ‘N’ Roll Swindle (O.S.T.)’ (1979)

RITA#614.jpgI saw Alex Cox’s Sid & Nancy recently. I’d avoided it all my life, not being a particular fan of either Alex Cox films or the Sex Pistols. I like Never Mind The Bollocks of course, I think it’s an essential rock and roll record for any collection, but to borrow a phrase of my Dad’s, I wouldn’t spit on them if they were on fire. Which begs the question – if there was a fire at a Pistols gig, would the audience be able to summon up the required levels of spittle to extinguish it?

There’s an unwritten law that bands from lower socio-economic backgrounds can’t be intellectual. To be intelligent is to be phoney. As long as they’re wise to the fact that they’re downtrodden by society, that’s all that matters. So you get people like John Lydon – arguably a very bright individual – pulling retarded faces and generally acting like a buffoon to get attention.

That first wave of British punk – and especially the Pistols – seemed to cultivate this trope. They even fired original bass-player Glen Matlock for being ‘boring’ (read: intelligent and articulate). He also washed his feet constantly in the sink and liked the Beatles, two things forbidden in the punk handbook.

Matlock’s replacement, the oft-celebrated Sid Vicious, represents for me everything that’s wrong about punk. Brought into the band because he looked good and was a friend of Rotten’s, his short tenure in the band only served to fuel the band’s notoriety. To go back to the Beatles, Vicious was essentially the Stuart Sutcliffe of the Sex Pistols – terrible at playing his instrument, but a good comrade and one that looked appealing (even if he didn’t sound appealing). Even punk bands of today will use Sid Vicious as their archetype. Green Day, who like to think of themselves as a punk band, but are just as much of a corporate shill as Taylor Swift and Katy Perry, have traded for decades on the sneer and attitude of Sid.

Gary Oldman’s portrayal in Sid & Nancy feels spot-on, when you compare it to interview footage from Sid’s few years in the limelight. He’s a junkie idiot, plain and simple, and the really cynical thing about the film is that it seems to celebrate Sid – holding him up as a hero and a martyr for punk.

I haven’t seen The Great Rock ‘N’ Roll Swindle – the Julien Temple mockumentary that this album soundtracks. I might get around to it one day, but I’ve had my fill of the Pistols for the time being. The record stands for itself though, and makes for a pretty interesting listen – a double-record with lots of archival live rehearsals, combined with some oddities. Sid croons through My Way and succeeds through some rock and roll covers, there’s an early, weightier version of Anarchy In The UK, and for a bit of levity some off the wall Pistols covers by a disco group, a trio of French street musicians and Great Train Robber Ronnie Biggs backed by Pistols guitarist Steve Jones and drummer Paul Cook.

Hit: Anarchy In The UK – The Sex Pistols

Hidden Gem: Black Arabs – Black Arabs

Rocks In The Attic #613: Styx – ‘Styx II’ (1973)

RITA#613One weekend in May of last year I had great fun walking around Sydney, Australia with Styx’s Too Much Time On My Hands blaring out of my iPod. I had been introduced to the band through an awesome parody by Paul Rudd and Jimmy Fallon, which led me to seek out the Paradise Theatre album. I checked out a greatest hits compilation around the same time, and wasn’t overly fond of what I heard. Styx, like a lot of long-surviving American rock bands, had clearly seen the commercial appeal of releasing a multitude of power-ballads as singles.

So when I saw this record in the sale racks of my local record store – alongside the more celebrated Pieces Of Eight, which I picked up at the same time – I thought I’d give it a chance. The band sound young and hungry, but even on the prog-oriented moments of the album they threaten to break into a power-ballad at any moment.

Lady, a power ballad in everything including name, was a belated success for the band. The band recorded two more albums – 1973’s The Serpent Is Rising and 1974’s Man Of Miracles – before Lady hit #6 in the US charts in 1975 and sent its parent album gold. The band moved from Wooden Nickel Records to A&M as a result, and never looked back.

Hit: Lady

Hidden Gem: A Day

Rocks In The Attic #612: Aldous Harding – ‘Party’ (2017)

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Earlier this year, New Zealand’s Aldous Harding sparked what seemed like a national debate when she appeared on Later…With Jools Holland to perform the song, Horizon, from this, her second studio album.

The resulting YouTube clip needs to be seen to be believed – it’s a great song, but Harding peppers her performance with (frankly quite disturbing) pained facial expressions. The resulting fall-out seemed to pit a New Zealand music critic, Simon Sweetman, against every misguided miltant-feminist troll in the land.

In May, Sweetman reviewed Party by comparing the record to the sound of goats screaming like humans. A very dismissive review, for sure, but when Harding’s Jools Holland performance posted online five days later, a fire-storm ensued when Sweetman repeated a similar comment on his personal Facebook page.

We seem to be living in exciting times. In recent weeks, Wonder Woman effortlessly became the highest-grossing live-action film directed by a woman, Patty Jenkins (with the film obviously centred on the strength and possibilities of womankind), and we were introduced to a female Doctor Who in Jodie Whittaker. As a father of three young daughters, I couldn’t be happier with what seems like a snowballing of strong female role models for them. My wife’s heartbreak over the death of Carrie Fisher late last year really brought home the fact that thirty years ago, strong female role models were very few and far between.

So, we arrive at the release of Aldous Harding’s Party. However flippant Sweetman’s comments were – and they were flippant – nothing of what he said was based on Harding’s gender. ‘But it’s implicit in what he said,’ the misguided militant-feminist trolls would argue. That kind of parochial attitude would suggest that all female artists are beyond criticism – but surely women should be open to the same level of criticism as men? Sweetman’s role as a critic is to prompt discussion, and in this one instance he has been very successful.

But would he say something just as rude about a male artist? Yes, I firmly believe he would – and has! One of my only dislikes about Sweetman’s approach is that he’ll completely write off an artist, and then no matter what that artist produces, their output will seemingly be forever harshly judged – case in point: Jack White can do no right, whereas a mediocre musician like world-famous-in-New-Zealand Dave Dobbyn can do no wrong. So I worry that Aldous will never be allowed back through the door.

A friend suggested that Sweetman probably thinks of himself as the Lester Bangs of New Zealand cultural critique. I’m not sure if that’s true – and maybe he has been critical of Dave Dobbyn or praised Jack White in the past, I just haven’t seen it if he has – but nevertheless I’m convinced he isn’t sexist or misogynist: everybody’s fair game. In fact, I find these claims of misogyny to be more damaging to feminism than they are helpful.

It’s similar situation to a BBC radio interview I once heard where Halle Berry was promoting her latest film. A comment from Hugh Jackman, one of Berry’s co-stars, led the oafish presenter Chris Moyles to impersonate what an African American body-double of Jackman might sound like. “Are we having a racist moment here?” Berry asked instantly.

I find that sort of accusation deplorable, and ultimately more damaging to the cause which is being fought. I regard myself as a feminist, and I’m similarly disappointed with some of the accusations raised at Sweetman – an early champion of Harding’s career, and a strong advocate of female artists, both local and international. “Iggy Pop can get away with those sorts of affectations on stage,” the misguided militant-feminists would say, “So why can’t Aldous Harding?” My only concern would be whether those facial expressions were evidence of anything more worrying bubbling underneath.

Still, like I said, Sweetman’s role is to prompt discourse. If he hadn’t highlighted the absurdity of Harding’s Jools Holland performance, then perhaps she wouldn’t have landed so squarely on my radar. It led me to watch Harding’s music video for Blend – a clip in which most people might not be able to see past the attraction of a young woman dancing provocatively in hot-pants. I enjoyed the subversive elements of the video greatly, and the allusion to the dancing Playmates in Francis Ford Coppola’s Apocalypse Now wasn’t lost on me, but it was the strength of the song that hooked into me. From Blend, I moved to the video for Imagining My Man, and I was sold.

I bought the record a few weeks ago. I’m close to loving it, and will seek out her first record as soon as I can. There are still some things about Party I don’t appreciate – I don’t think I’ll ever be able to hear Horizon without imaging the Jools Holland performance, and her vocal style on Imagining My Man sounds very strange, like she’s sucking on a boiled sweet – but the album’s growing on me with every listen.

The future looks bright for my daughters, in a world that is seemingly more accepting of female role-models. The last record I bought by a New Zealand artist (before Harding’s Party) was by a woman (who has gone on to massive global success – no surprises who that might have been) and the next two I buy will undoubtedly be both by women (Harding’s 2014 debut and Lorde’s sophomore Melodrama). As a feminist, I just wish that my more militant comrades on social media would pick their battles with a little more intelligence.

Hit: Blend

Hidden Gem: Living The Classics