Monthly Archives: December 2018

Rocks In The Attic #728: John Williams – ‘Home Alone (O.S.T.)’ (1990)

RITA#728I’ve just re-watched Home Alone. It’s probably the twentieth time I’ve seen it, but it felt like the right time to finally show it to my three daughters, aged seven, five and three. The three-year old was a little scared, but the other two enjoyed it as much as I hoped they would.

It’s funny how much of an evergreen hit the film has become. Upon its release it was a throwaway comedy, albeit a very successful one, but in the last decade or so it seems to have become as synonymous with festive TV scheduling as The Great Escape was in my youth.

What’s not to like? The McAllister family are as ignorant and self-absorbed as you’d want late ‘80s yuppy suburbanites to be portrayed, Macauley Culkin’s acting is just on the right side of precociousness, and Joe Pesci and Daniel Stern’s wet bandit burglars are laughably moronic. But it’s the two white knights of the film that give it its heart: John Candy’s polka-playing airport saviour to Catherine O’Hara, and Roberts Blossom as the ominous neighbour Old Man Marley.

The film’s other secret weapon is its soundtrack and score by John Williams. Rehashing the childhood wonder / childhood danger motif that Williams has used many times, first with Close Encounters Of The Third Kind and E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial, but later with Jurassic Park and his Harry Potter scores, Home Alone stands alongside his seminal work from the ‘70s and ‘80s.

This expanded soundtrack release, from Mondo Records, includes the festive pop songs from the film. These are another highlight of the film, as they’re not the obvious, popular versions of the Christmas classics (and presumably selected for cost reasons): the Drifters’ version of White Christmas, Mel Tormé’s Have Yourself A Merry Christmas, and Please Come Home For Christmas by Southside Johnny Lyon.

Hit: Home Alone Main Title (‘Somewhere In My Memory’)

Hidden Gem: O Holy Night

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Rocks In The Attic #727: James Brown – ‘Santa’s Got A Brand New Bag’ (1988)

RITA#727The Godfather of Soul would have been going through a bit of a revival in the late 1980’s. His screams and drum-breaks were sampled all over the burgeoning hip hop genre, and white audiences would have been reminded of him following his appearance on the soundtrack to Rocky IV. His output around this time, particularly on 1986’s Gravity and 1988’s I’m Real, sounds very of its time. The funk is there, but so are the synthesisers and drum machines.

So it would have been a great time to cash-in with a compilation of his Christmas-themed songs from 1966 to 1970. You might find it incredible that any one artist could have recorded so many festive songs in a four-year period – twelve are presented here, culled from singles, b-sides and three standalone Christmas albums – but James’ output during this period was incredible. Not only could he have released a song of him reading the South Carolina phonebook, but the resulting single, Funky Phone Book Pts. 1 & 2, would surely have been a hit on the R&B charts.

Most of these songs collected here show the slower, soulful side of James’ pre-funk career, but the standout is a song from the pointier end of the ‘60s. Soulful Christmas is a funk workout from ‘68, featuring James belting out the lyric ‘Happiness…Good gawd…Huh…I got plenty of!’ before calling for Maceo Parker to play his funky sax.

Santa would be proud. Merry Christmas everybody.

Hit: Santa Claus Go Straight To The Ghetto

Hidden Gem: Soulful Christmas

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Rocks In The Attic #726: Joe LoDuca – ‘The Evil Dead – A Nightmare Reimagined (O.S.T.)’ (1981)

RITA#726The soundtrack rights to Sam Raimi’s original Evil Dead from 1981 have been in a legal quagmire for a very long time. Whoever owns them has them locked away in a cabin in the woods somewhere, probably in the root-cellar. In a weird twist, the original composer Joe LoDuca owns his score, but not the rights to the original recording, and so a long-overdue reissue of the score seems about as realistic as Donald Trump achieving world peace.

This year, LoDuca and Mondo Records has given us the next best thing – a full re-recording of the score, in a disgustingly beautiful green, yellow and purple swirl vinyl with red splatter. Pitched as a ‘reimagining’ of the soundtrack, it sounds similar enough to the original score with the main difference being the orchestration, both in size and scope. It sounds bigger and brighter than it did back in 1981, the same but different.

RITA#726aThe Evil Dead was one of the first horror films I saw in my early teens. Alongside the Friday The 13th and Halloween films, Sam Raimi’s second full-length feature made a big impression on me. It wasn’t until much later that I realised that it also made a big impression on New Zealand filmmaker Peter Jackson, who took the film’s DIY special-effects ethos as the basis for his first feature Bad Taste.

I still love the first Evil Dead. It was improved on greatly in the 1987 sequel, itself more of a remake than a continuation, but the original still stands as a classic of its genre. The 2013 remake / reboot, which in a weird twist of fate (given the Peter Jackson connection) was filmed in New Zealand, was just a mess, a dirge of a film. Just like the root-cellar, avoid at all costs.

Hit: Main Title

Hidden Gem: A Nightmare Reimagined / Overture

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Rocks In The Attic #725: Chas & Dave – ‘Mustn’t Grumble’ (1981)

RITA#725Chas Hodges, one half of Chas & Dave, died earlier in the year. Strangely this has been the year where I’ve listened to more of the duo than any other time in my life.

About six months ago, while being slightly obsessed with an online pool and snooker video game (Hustle Kings on the PS4), I started listening to Chas & Dave’s Snooker Loopy on repeat. I love the song from my childhood. Is it the best song about snooker ever committed to record? It might just be. It’s definitely the best music video featuring the sport. Well, the best one with Dennis Taylor contributing vocals at least.

RITA#725aMy renewed interest in Chas & Dave led me back to probably their furthest reaching musical contribution – their work as studio men (guitar and bass) on Labi Siffre’s I Got The, later sampled as the backbone of Eminem’s My Name Is.

There was always a bit of ridicule levelled at the duo when I was growing up. For the longest time, they were the furthest thing from cool. I remember everybody laughing at a tour poster in the ‘90s that advertised ‘Chas & Dave Live In Concert* (*Not Original Dave)’. I’m sure they never went out of fashion in London though. This sort of knees-up Mother Brown music seems to be written in the DNA of cockneys.

This record is one of their better-known ones, featuring the single Rabbit, commonly trotted out as one of their best tunes. Looking at their discography, they were busy boys, almost releasing an LP a year from 1974 until the momentum started running out in the ‘90s and the schedule switched to a different compilation every other year.

Hit: Rabbit

Hidden Gem: I Miss Ya Girl

Rocks In The Attic #724: George Harrison – ‘George Harrison’ (1979)

RITA#724You’d be forgiven for thinking that by the time of George’s eighth solo album, he was bereft of ideas. This 1979 effort finds him not only running out of ideas for album titles, but he also re-uses earlier material: the second-track, Not Guilty, is a leftover from the last self-titled album he was involved in, the Beatles’ eponymous 1968 release.

But there’s lots to like about this record. It’s a bit happier and a bit more laid-back than his previous work, having married Olivia Arias and become a father to Dhani a year earlier.

Side-two opener Faster – “inspired by Jackie Stewart and Niki Lauda” – is perhaps one of the last hidden gems of George’s solo career – a non-charting single, released as a picture-disc (a first for a Beatle past or present) with all proceeds going to charity (a cancer fund set up following the death of Swedish F1 driver Gunnar Nilsson in 1978). George must have had enough invested into the song to go to the trouble of filming a promotional video for it.

RITA#724aSpeaking of chart positions, this album comes a full five years after George had a #1 single anywhere in the world – 1973’s Give Me Love (Give Me Peace On Earth), the sole single from Living In The Material World, which topped the US Billboard. His poor chart performance through 1977 and 1978 correlates with the rise of punk, and his more mature songwriting was probably at odds with Johnny Rotten, Joe Strummer and the rest of the new breed of youth music.

Here Comes The Moon is lovely, the first single Blow Away is great, and there really isn’t a weak song on the album. But that’s probably the rub – while George might not write or record bad songs by this point, he also doesn’t write or record anything particularly outstanding. His next single, All Those Years Ago in 1981 performed much stronger in the wake of John Lennon’s death, and it wouldn’t be until 1987 before he topped the charts again (with his Jeff Lynne-produced cover of I’ve Got My Mind Set On You).

Mention must be made of George’s hairstyle during 1979. The rear cover image shows him walking across his garden, not only in the largest pair of flares this side of the 1960s, but with a perm long enough to make any poodle-breeder proud.

Hit: Blow Away

Hidden Gem: Faster

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Rocks In The Attic #723: Billy T. James – ‘Billy T. Live At ‘Pips’’ (1985)

RITA#723Billy T. James is one of the original national treasures of New Zealand, a club comedian from the cabaret circuit who became a household name for his long-running TV sketch comedy.

This live LP from 1985 finds him in fine form. Recorded at ‘Pips’ in Whangarei and backed by a live band, his act shows how much of an all-round entertainer he is. Opening with a performance of Lionel Ritchie’s Running With The Night, the audience seem reserved at first before he starts to win them over with his stand-up.

Being half-Maori and half-Scottish (“I’m half Maori and half Scots. Half of me wants to go to the pub and get pissed, and the other half doesn’t want to pay for it”) most of his material revolves around being from a racial minority, and all other minorities – Chinese, Japanese, gays (“poofs”), immigrants – are fair game. Different times, and all that.

I first laughed out loud at a routine in which he did an note-perfect impression of Bunny Wailer singing She’s A Lady for a TV commercial, with the lyrics changed to:

Well she’s all you’d ever want / She’s the kind they’d like to flaunt and take to dinner / She’s got style, she’s got grace / She’s got herpes on her face…

In 1988, Billy T. suffered a heart attack and underwent a quadruple bypass, followed by one of the first heart transplants in New Zealand. While the operation was initially a success – leading to a return to the stage in 1990 – his health deteriorated and died from heart failure in 1991.

Since arriving in New Zealand over ten years ago, I’ve found much of the art and culture here is a watered-down version of what I knew from the UK (and in some cases, the USA). Billy T. is a different prospect though – he’s naturally funny, and the equal of the great British comedians of the 1970s and 1980s.

Hit: Running With The Night

Hidden Gem: The Band

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Rocks In The Attic #722: The B-52’s – ‘Cosmic Thing’ (1989)

RITA#722The B-52’s fifth studio album, Cosmic Thing, has just been reissued for this year’s Record Store Day – Black Friday event. It’s a nice little release, on rainbow-coloured vinyl to match the album’s cover art.

Cosmic Thing marks a point of transition in the B-52’s career. Up to this point, they had been a quirky new-wave act, a cross-breed of surf-rock and thrift-store aesthetic. They looked and sounded like they had walked out of a John Waters film, and aside from a #1 single in Canada, they had barely troubled the pop charts.

In 1985, the band lost original guitarist Ricky Wilson to AIDS-related illnesses, and drummer Keith Strickland took over guitar duties. The last album they recorded with Wilson, 1986’s Bouncing Off The Satellites, reached #85 in the US album charts – a new low for the band – and you might have been forgiven for thinking that the band’s days were numbered.

A new record contract with Reprise led to the band’s resurgence, and they delivered Cosmic Thing in June 1989. With production duties shared between Nile Rodgers (6 songs) and Don Was (4 songs), the album sounds bigger and slicker than anything they had put out previously, and commercial reception was similarly positive.

The album reached #4 in the US, #8 in Canada and the UK, and #1 in Australia and New Zealand. Singles Love Shack and Roam both reached #3 in the US Billboard Top 200, and the more ubiquitous of the two, Love Shack hit #2 in the UK, and took the top spot in Australia, Ireland and New Zealand.

One has to wonder what level of influence Nile Rodgers had on the guitar sound of the album – his clean, funky guitar tone is all over the record (although he only plays on one track), and Love Shack benefits greatly from the production of Don Was, sounding more like a madcap Was Not Was offcut than the more two-dimensional output of the B-52’s first four records.

The B-52’s will always make me smile. They’re a fun band anyway, but two reasons specifically stand out for me. Firstly, vocalist Kate Pierson has one of the best female singing voices of the 1980s. Powerful, raucous, and lush, it’s hard to imagine R.E.M. crossing over into the mainstream as effortlessly as they did without her contributions to 1991’s Out Of Time (on Shiny Happy People, Near Wild Heaven and Me In Honey).

The other reason I love the B-52’s is for one of the best male singing voices of the 1980s – Fred Schneider. Fred’s campy, over-enunciated hollering over the band’s work is truly unique and has provided much amusement over the years as I’ve walked around the house randomly shouting “Funky little shack…FUNKY little shack.”

Hit: Love Shack

Hidden Gem: Dry County

B-52's & Wilson, Cindy & Pierson, Kate & Strickland, Keith & Sch