Monthly Archives: January 2019

Rocks In The Attic #737: Bing Crosby – ‘The Best Of Bing’ (1973)

rita#737What links the smooth-voiced Bing Crosby with Stanley Kubrick’s Full Metal Jacket?

No, Bing didn’t ever do a tour of Vietnam (even though his comedy partner Bob Hope did). No, Bing didn’t ever struggle through basic training (it seems his talent kept him from the draft). And no, Bing wasn’t ever robbed by a prostitute in Saigon (although who knows about that one?).

No, the answer lies in a horrible moment in Full Metal Jacket where the unit beat the long-suffering Private Pile in the middle of the night with bars of soap wrapped in pillow-cases. I never really understood this, but it turns out that it’s an old trick – when you beat somebody with soap, or even oranges, in a pillow-case, it doesn’t leave marks. The science behind it is that the object used for the beating absorbs the impact before the skin does.

rita#737aAllegedly Bing Crosby used this trick to beat his kids – according to his estranged son, Gary, and if you believe it, a joke on Family Guy. Who knows? I’m just glad I’ve never been aware of the trick until now.

It’s a shame that Crosby was such a stern father – that fact at least was corroborated by his other children. His voice is so warm and friendly, it’s hard to imagine him being so strict. If we knew half the things that went on behind closed doors, we might have very different opinions of those we hold in such high regard. Allegedly, Oprah Winfrey hunts and eats cats in the local park.

Hit: White Christmas

Hidden Gem: Swinging On A Star

Rocks In The Attic #736: Willie Nelson – ‘Always On My Mind’ (1982)

rita#736News has just come in that Willie Nelson has been hit by a car. He was playing on the road again.

Jokes aside, is there a musician more associated with marijuana than Willie Nelson? Bob Marley maybe, but I can’t think of anybody else. Sure, every musician has smoked it, but Willie and Bob made a personal religion out of it. Maybe they should have taxed marijuana – would Willie have partaken then?

This 1982 studio album finds the tax-dodging Nelson playing Trigger, his trusty (and battered) acoustic guitar, on a number of covers aimed to attract a different audience – including the title song (made world famous by Elvis in 1972), Paul Simon’s Bridge Over Troubled Water, and Procol Harum’s A Whiter Shade Of Pale.

rita#736aDespite my dislike of country and western, I can just about manage to sit through this.

Hit: Always On My Mind

Hidden Gem: Do Right Woman, Do Right Man

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Rocks In The Attic #735: Various Artists – ‘A Clockwork Orange (O.S.T.)’ (1972)

rita#735I often wonder what Mary Whitehouse, the UK’s self-imposed guardian of decency, would think if you sat her down and played her an episode of The Walking Dead. Perhaps that episode where the bad guys made someone eat his own leg. Or maybe that one where Rick and crew were captured, kneeling at a trough, and waiting to be picked off one by one. Or that episode where Glenn and Abraham both got a baseball bat in the back of the head.

Maybe she’d prefer Game Of Thrones. She might like the episode where half of the principal cast were killed off at the red wedding, and the show took great joy at showing a pregnant woman being stabbed repeatedly in the belly.

It’s fair to say that we’ve gone a long, long way from the dark days of overbearing censorship; but have we gone too far?

I was reminded the other day of the United Kingdom’s video nasties list, something I hadn’t thought about for twenty years. Reading up on it, it feels like some kind of whacky parallel universe.

rita#735aIt all started with a legal loophole in the early 1980s. It’s hard to believe a market as big as home-video being unregulated, but as the popularity of home video wasn’t foreseen, videos were originally released without being reviewed for classification. Bonkers!

The subsequent list of films – 39 titles which could lead to prosecution following the Video Recordings Act 1984, a further 33 titles deemed less obscene (but which could be still seized by the police), and a final 82 films deemed even less obscene (but again could still be seized) – make for some interesting reading.

Of the first list, I’ve only seen two – The Driller Killer and The Last House On The Left – and if the quality of these films is anything to go by, I won’t be seeking out the rest. I’ve seen two on the second list – The Evil Dead and The Living Dead At The Manchester Morgue – but I have the most success with the third list, which seems to be a catch-all of pretty much every other horror film of the time, having seen eight titles: Dawn Of The Dead, Friday The 13th, Friday The 13th Part 2, Night Of The Living Dead, Scanners, Suspiria, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and The Thing.

One film commonly associated with the video nasties list was A Clockwork Orange. However, this was withdrawn from cinemas by Stanley Kubrick himself, after reports of copycat crimes. Subsequently, it was never released on home-video. Only after the director’s death was the film re-released in cinemas in 2000, and made available on VHS and DVD.

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While A Clockwork Orange is a fantastic film, it will never be one of my favourite of Kubrick’s. It’s just so damn depressing, with Michael McDowell’s Alex impossible to empathise with. Of course this is just as much to do with McDowell’s performance as it is with the character written by Anthony Burgess. I can’t ever remember McDowell playing a sympathetic character – he oozes repulsion both in the people he plays, and from the audience watching him.

Even though the age of censorship that bred the video nasties list feels like a lifetime ago, one of today’s top directors was affected early in his career. Quentin Tarantino’s Reservoir Dogs was originally denied a home-video release in the UK, despite being classified for a cinematic release in 1992. Herein lies the real headache – video classification was originally considered completely separate from cinematic classification. Another example was William Friedkin’s The Exorcist, which didn’t see a home-release until 1999, despite regularly playing at midnight screenings across the country (including my local Roxy cinema in Failsworth) since its 1973 release.

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What this all boils down to is a lack of trust in the consumer. The government would (begrudgingly) allow a film to be viewed at the cinema, but wouldn’t allow it to be viewed at home because they had no control over who would see it on the family television. In theory, it sort of makes sense, but it fails in practice. A huge home audience was initially refused the opportunity to see Reservoir Dogs, once declared ‘the greatest independent film of all time’, which despite featuring a lot of blood, doesn’t actually have much on-screen violence.

Hit: Title Music From A Clockwork Orange – Wendy Carlos

Hidden Gem: I Want To Marry A Lighthouse Keeper – Erika Eigen

Rocks In The Attic #734: Manic Street Preachers – ‘This Is My Truth Tell Me Yours’ (1998)

rita#734Love and hate. Loved the Manics at this point in their career; hated this album.

It makes for a hard listen: This Is My Migraine Tell Me Yours. If you didn’t know anything about the band, and were asked which album they recorded immediately after losing their friend and band member Richey Edwards, you’d think it was this, not the anthemic Everything Must Go from 1996.

It’s almost like a delayed hangover. Lose your bandmate, record a positive, feelgood hit of an album, then retreat and make something reflective and inward-looking. I struggled for so long trying to make some sense of its bleakness, and then all-but gave up when the desolation continued with 2001’s Know Your Enemy.

rita#734aI first heard lead single If You Tolerate This Your Children Will Be Next at a friend’s house with a few other people. My friend was channel-hopping and landed on MTV. The music video for the song started, and after 30 seconds he changed the channel again with a resounding ‘Ugh!’

If the song can’t hold the attention of your average (non-Manics) rock music fan, what chance does everybody else have? Still, the album reached #1 in the UK album charts (probably on the strength of its predecessor), and the band went on to headline the following year’s Glastonbury festival.

I attended that Glastonbury, it was my first one, and I was so excited to finally see one of my favourite bands at the time. The setlist, not surprisingly, was comprised mainly of songs from Everything Must Go and This Is My Truth. Only Motown Junk and two songs from the debut (Motorcycle Emptiness, You Love Us) were aired. Gold Against The Soul was the most underplayed (La Tristesse Durera), and only two songs from The Holy Bible were played (Yes and P.C.P.). Such was the rabid fervour of Manics fans that Yes was abandoned mid-song due to a crush in the crowd, before being restarted.

rita#734bAny discussion of the Manics’ ’99 Glastonbury show would be incomplete without mentioning their toilet faux pas. In a misguided – but to be fair, probably just misunderstood – display of elitism, the band had their own exclusive port-a-loo toilet installed backstage. It didn’t take long for the music press to latch onto it, who pointed out how far the band had come from their anarchic roots. This is my loo, go use yours.

Listening now to this pristine 20th-anniversary pressing, it’s clear that This Is My Truth Tell Me Yours is a beautiful album. It’s just dull as dishwater for the most part. The sound of a band heavily sedated, deep in therapy. Just look at that cover. They look lost.

Hit: If You Tolerate This Your Children Will Be Next

Hidden Gem: Black Dog On My Shoulder

Rocks In The Attic #733: Queen – ‘A Night At The Opera’ (1975)

rita#733I finally caught Bohemian Rhapsody at the cinema recently. I wasn’t too bothered at first, thinking I probably wouldn’t enjoy it. In the end, it was okay, but – just like the band’s discography – it had some killer moments, surrounded by too much filler.

The problem with music biopics is that they tend to go down two routes. They’re either interesting artistic exercises (Control (2007), Ray (2004), I’m Not There (2007)), or they exist as a paint-by numbers exercise to sell cinema tickets on the strength of their subject’s name.

Bohemian Rhapsody falls firmly in the latter. It’s always risky watching a biopic when you know so much about the band. How will the film keep me interested and entertain me, when I already know what’s going to happen?

This film isn’t for me though. It’s for the other 99% of the cinema-viewing public; those whose experience of the band is a well-played copy of Queen’s Greatest Hits in their car’s CD-changer, and the knowledge only that Freddie Mercury died of AIDS.

It’s a wonder the film ever got made at all. Original lead Sacha Baron Cohen departed the project back in 2013, after falling out with the film’s executive-producers, Queen’s Brian May and Roger Taylor. He claims they wanted Mercury’s death to be plotted in the middle of the film, with the second half dealing with Queen’s dull as dishwater post-Mercury career. He wouldn’t clarify which of the two said this to him, before adding that Brian May was “an amazing musician” but “not a great movie producer.”

Baron Cohen’s involvement might have led to a better film. He suggested directors David Fincher and Tom Hooper, before the film landed with Bryan Singer, whose departure due to ‘personal issues’ led to the film being completed by Dexter Fletcher. Having seen what Fincher can do with a biopic (The Social Network (2010)), it’s a real shame he wasn’t hired. Hooper would also have been an interesting choice, being no stranger to biopics either, with both The Damned United (2009) and The King’s Speech (2010) under his name.

Baron Cohen’s mooted replacement was Ben ‘low whisper’ Whishaw, an actor with a similarly limited range as the film’s eventual star, Rami ‘low energy’ Malek. I first saw Malek in HBO’s mini-series The Pacific, in a role that suited his mumbling, bug-eyed weirdness. He then landed a similarly comatose lead in Mr. Robot, a TV show that rewarded viewers of its first year with an awful nudge-nudge-wink-wink season finale.

rita#733aWe’ll never know what Baron Cohen’s interpretation of Mercury would be like, but we can imagine. And I imagine it to be far, far more interesting than what we got from Malek. Aside from a bit of pouting, and a plummy accent, I didn’t ever think I saw Freddie Mercury in him. His performance (and the film’s marketing) reduces Freddie to a caricature of a moustache and a pair of aviator sunglasses. He’s just won the Golden Globe though (which might suggest an Oscar win in February), so what do I know.

The casting of the rest of the band deserves credit though. At one point, at a band meeting to discuss Mercury’s plans to go solo, the actor playing John Deacon (Joseph Mazzello, also from The Pacific) looked so much like the bassist, that I thought it was him. I glanced at the actor playing Brian May (Gwilym Lee), who embodied the guitarist from his first scene, and the lines between fiction and reality started to blur. Then the camera cut to Rami Malek and it was like somebody waking me up from sleepwalking.

Only Ben Hardy’s casting as drummer Roger Taylor felt a little off the mark. The actor did a fine job delivering his lines, but he just didn’t come across as enough of a cunt.

Much has been said about the screenwriters’ toying with timelines for dramatic effect, leading to a glut of historical inaccuracies. Most importantly, Freddie Mercury didn’t learn he had AIDS until 1987, and didn’t inform the band until 1989 – four years after the film’s Live Aid finale.

Some of the other changes didn’t even make sense. Backstage at Live Aid, Mercury passes a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it U2, leaving the stage, fresh from their legendary set (when Bono decided to spend three minutes dancing with a member of the audience, rather than perform their big hit, Pride (In The Name Of Love)). But it was Dire Straits, not U2, who played directly before Queen. Wouldn’t a sweatband-headed Mark Knopfler be a more recognisable figure to walk past? He could even have been walking with a yoga-suited Sting. Given how loose the writers were with the facts, they might as well have had him walking past a jumpsuited Elvis.

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The most annoying thing about all of this, of course, is that the film will now become the generally accepted version of events. Adults of today and tomorrow will think that Queen were on the verge of breaking up before Live Aid, not that they used the opportunity to win back public support lost after playing in apartheid South Africa. They’ll think that they were a last minute addition to the Live Aid bill, when in fact they were one of the first bands announced. They’ll think that the band’s Live Aid set was notable for the ramp-up in charity donations, when it was Michael Burke’s video report from Ethiopia, introduced by David Bowie and set to the music of the Car’s Drive, which started the ball rolling. They’ll think the band were managed by that creepy Irish guy from Game Of Thrones and Queer As Folk.

I remember finding about Mercury’s AIDS diagnosis while reading the headlines during my Sunday morning paper round. By the following Sunday, the papers were filled with his obituaries. It was only then, when Bohemian Rhapsody was rereleased as a cassette single – which I bought, helping it get to #1 in the UK – that I started listening to the band.

Many years later, I picked up a second-hand copy of the album the song was taken from, 1975’s A Night At The Opera. It is a fine record, but the stand-out track by country mile is Bohemian Rhapsody.

Listening to I’m In Love With My Car reminds me of my favourite line of the film, a subtle ongoing joke with the rest of the band ribbing Taylor about his song: “So, Roger, what would you say is the sexiest part of a car?”

Hit: Bohemian Rhapsody

Hidden Gem: Death On Two Legs (Dedicated To…)

Rocks In The Attic #732: Billy F. Gibbons – ‘The Big Bad Blues’ (2018)

RITA#732I was looking forward to this. After the out-of-the-blue brilliance of ZZ Top’s La Futura in 2012, I’ve been eagerly awaiting a follow-up. The band have been touring since – they never seem to stop touring – but there’s still no new studio album. It seems Billy has given up waiting too, recording two solo albums during this time – 2015’s Perfectamundo, and this, The Big Bad Blues from last year.

The record feels very under-produced. Now, while this may have been a good thing for a blues album from yesteryear, it just makes this record feel cheap and rushed. The production, by Gibbons himself, alongside Joe Hardy, sounds like it was all recorded in one take (again, another plus point for an old blue record), and there’s just nothing interesting to differentiate the tracks from each other. It makes me wonder how much of Rick Rubin’s input was responsible for La Futura.

Missin’ Yo Kissin’, credited to Billy’s wife, is just a retread of La Grange (itself an appropriation of John Lee Hooker) and sounds too much like an old man trading on former glories. Only on the covers – Muddy Waters’ Standing Around Crying and Rollin’ And Tumblin’, and Jerome Green’s Bring It To Jerome – does the record kick into another gear.

Hit: Rollin’ And Tumblin’

Hidden Gem: Standing Around Crying

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Rocks In The Attic #731: John Williams – ‘Cavatina’ (1980)

RITA#731In 1977, one John Williams wrote and recorded the Cantina Band theme for Star Wars. In 1978, another John Williams recorded Cavatina, as the theme for The Deer Hunter.

The Deer Hunter’s Christopher Walken originally auditioned for the part of Star Wars’ Han Solo, before it went to Harrison Ford. Both films are about a bunch of plucky rebels fighting against an imperial oppressor. I can’t think of any more similarities, but I would like to see a cut of Star Wars with Cavatina playing in the Cantina sequence. Or even better, a cut of The Deer Hunter, with the Cantina Band theme playing over the deer-hunting scenes.

As much as I love the haunting brilliance of Cavatina, the stand-out track on this collection is a cover of the Beatles’ Because. Anybody who thinks that the Beatles didn’t progress throughout their career should listen to this. The fact that the melody of this song dripped out of the head of a 28-year old is just incredible.

Hit: Cavatina (Theme From The Deer Hunter)

Hidden Gem: Because

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