Monthly Archives: July 2019

Rocks In The Attic #775: Michael Jackson – ‘Monsterjam’ (2017)

RITA#775I recently watched Quincy, the 2018 documentary about Quincy Jones, co-directed by his daughter Rashida Jones (with Alan Hicks). I was hoping it was going to be a feature-length episode about the Los Angeles medical examiner, but you can’t have everything.

Watching it, I was suddenly hit by the realisation that I’m not really a fan of Michael Jackson – I’m a fan of his partnership with Quincy Jones. I can take or leave most of Michael’s earlier material both with the Jacksons, and solo; and the same goes for most of his work after he stopped collaborating with Quincy, the 1930s-born producer who outlived him.

RITA#775aThose three classic albums – 1979’s Off The Wall, 1982’s Thriller and 1987’s Bad – are perhaps the perfect blend of artist and producer; maybe the greatest collaboration since Sir George Martin and the Beatles. Without Quincy, Michael would have continued making records; and vice versa. Neither would have had the same success though. Together, they made pure gold.

This unofficial release from 2017 is a lazy wedding DJ’s wet-dream: four 20-minute continuous mixes of the King of Pop’s hits over two LPs – one blue, one red. It’s a little Stars On 45 at times, but decent nevertheless.

Hit: Billie Jean

Hidden Gem: Scream

Rocks In The Attic #774: Dave Grusin – ‘The Goonies (O.S.T.)’ (1985)

RITA#774I sometimes worry that my kids are watching the wrong kind of films. They seem to exist purely on a diet of animated films – which isn’t that bad considering how well made the likes of Pixar and Dreamworks films are – but those films are always very full-on, very colourful and not exactly subtle.

I fear that when their tastes develop, they won’t appreciate nuance. Or that they won’t understand the joy of a perfectly composed camera shot. But most of all, I worry that they’ll find live-action films boring. It’s a fear that’s probably shared by lots of cinephile parents: have animated films turned my children into ADD viewers?

RITA#774aMy kids are a range of ages – seven, six and four at the time of writing – so it’s hard to judge what’s appropriate for them. They’ve seen – and love – the first Star Wars film (by that, I mean Episode IV, not Episode I – I’m not an animal). My wife’s also shown them a few live-action classics like Mary Poppins and Willy Wonka & The Chocolate Factory. I’m just eager to show them all of the films I was watching at their age. I tried them on Richard Donner’s Superman: The Movie about six months ago and it was “too scary” for the eldest and the youngest. Middle-child seems to be unaffected by anything she sees.

I saw Return Of The Jedi and Octopussy at the cinema when I was weeks away from turning five (and Never Say Never Again a few months later in that most Bondiest of years), and had been watching recent films of the same ilk – For Your Eyes Only, The Empire Strikes Back – on video at home, yet here’s my 7-year old saying that a 40-year old superhero film is too frightening.

My almost-desperate need for them to like Bond films led me to showing them a couple of exciting moments from a few films – the Lotus Esprit driving off the dock in The Spy Who Loved Me, and the AMC Hornet barrel-roll in The Man With The Golden Gun ­– but none of them seemed to show any interest. My middle-child has been saying ‘The name’s Bond, James Bond’ to me in recent weeks, so perhaps there is some hope…

RITA#774bI recently showed them The Goonies, another Richard Donner film, and an evergreen favourite of mine since its release. It’s now generally accepted as a classic ‘80s kids film, but I don’t seem to remember it having such universal acclaim when I was growing up. The only people who liked it were myself and other weird non-sporty kids who liked action and sci-fi films. I never heard girls discussing The Goonies. They talked a lot about Bros and New Kids On The Block maybe, but never Back To The Future or Explorers. Maybe I was talking to the wrong girls.

I had better luck with The Goonies. My eldest – the scaredy-cat of the three – thought parts were too frightening, and watched half of it from behind the couch. The youngest fell apart at the scene where Sloth is introduced to Chunk, and didn’t watch any more. Middle child – again – loved every minute. I think she might end up being my cinema-buddy when she’s older.

The Goonies – alongside Back To The Future – might just be the most Spielbergian of the films the wunderkind is involved in but didn’t direct. In more recent times he’s lent his name to the likes of Super 8, but that film felt like a cheap attempt at capturing the spirit of Donner’s 1985 film: all style, no substance. Of course, Stranger Things owes more than a little to this film – although the ‘boys on BMXs investigating a mystery in small-town America’ trope is really only apparent in the first season.

RITA#774cI saw The Goonies at a midnight screening at Glastonbury one year with my wife. Three things stuck in my mind about the experience. Firstly, a drunk guy casually asked a girl if he could sit in the empty camping chair next to hers. She said that no, he couldn’t sit in her friend’s chair, and loudly proclaimed as he walked away, ‘What a loser; did he think all these chairs were just put here?” Secondly, as the Walsh father is about to sign the house over in the film, one clever guy in the audience shouted out ‘CHECK YOUR POCKETS!’ to a huge laugh. The drunk guy from earlier then repeated it, to little response. Yes, drunk, stupid and also a joke thief. The third and final take-out from the screening is that due to sound issues on the quite scratchy print, the dialogue wasn’t fully audible. As a result, the worse thing happened. My wife, who had never seen the film before, dismissed it as a bad film. She’s since watched it at home on her own and loved it – although due to her bad memory – she now can’t remember either watching it or praising it.

Listening to Dave Grusin’s fabulous score to the film, I’m really quite glad that it wasn’t composed by John Williams or any other Spielberg alumn like Alan Silvestri. I love both those guys, but Grusin’s score has such a childlike quality to it that would be hard to find in another composer. A Williams or Silvestri score to The Goonies would of course be excellent in their own right, but I’m just glad Donner and Spielberg chose Dave Grusin for this particular project. And given the connection to John Williams through Spielberg, it was that nice that he references Williams’ Superman: The Movie theme in the sequence on board the pirate ship.

This copy is from Varèse Sarabande’s 2018 first pressing of Grusin’s full score, on ‘Willy’s Gold’ double-vinyl (no. 477 of 750).


Hit: Fratelli Chase

Hidden Gem: The Fighting Fratellis, Sloth’s Choice And Ultimate Booby Trap


Rocks In The Attic #773: Lorne Balfe – ‘Mission: Impossible – Fallout (O.S.T.)’ (2018)

RITA#773Mission: Impossible films shouldn’t be this good.

The series felt like it started off as a ‘90s vanity project for Tom Cruise, unforgivably doing away with the IMF team of the TV series in the film’s first act. But it was directed by a very-much-still-in-the-game Brian De Palma, and the supporting cast – Jon Voight, Emanuelle Béart, Jean Reno, Ving Rhames, Kristin Scott Thomas and Vanessa Redgrave – elevated the film to being far more than just another Tom Cruise flick.

Then the second one came along in 2000 – arguably the only duffer of the series. Again, it was a superstar director – John Woo – behind the camera. Despite the misstep in tone, it’s RITA#773aa good thing they pushed on. The third film in 2006 – directed by J.J. Abrams – put the series back on course, before the peak of the franchise came with Brad Bird’s Ghost Protocol in 2011. Christopher McQuarrie’s Rogue Nation arrived in 2015, before the same director helmed Fallout last year. 

Six films, five directors – De Palma, Woo, Abrams, Bird, McQuarrie (only McQuarrie has directed two). Six films, five composers – Elfman, Zimmer, Giacchino, Joe Kraemer and Lorne Balfe (only Giacchino scored two). It would be easy to put the strength of the sequels down to the ever-changing writers and directors, working together to keep the franchise fresh and ever-changing, but lots of long-running film series have a revolving door of writers and directors.

The answer has to be in the Cruiser’s role as producer – the only constant throughout the whole run. It’s a testament to Cruise and his production team that they’ve managed to maintain such a high standard, given the usual decline in quality of Hollywood sequels.

Fallout was probably my favourite action film of 2018. The bathroom brawl sequence was undoubtedly my favourite action scene of the year – just an unbelievably brutal scene, and all credit must go the stuntmen and choreographers who brought it to life.

As a lifelong Bond fan, I’m always well-attuned to the occasional franchise coming along and overshadowing 007. We had it with the Bourne films, and it’s now happening with the Mission: Impossible films. ‘Bond is finished,’ people will say on social media, completely oblivious to the fact that the Bond films are now as strong as they ever were in terms of appeal and Box Office. It’s a simple solution: the cinemas can accommodate both. The Mission: Impossible films are not better or worse than the Bonds, they’re just different. May they continue for a long time.

Hit: Mission: Accomplished

Hidden Gem: The Exchange


Rocks In The Attic #772: Joy Division – ‘Unknown Pleasures’ (1979)

RITA#772The post-punk period must be one of the most interesting times in terms of British music. If punk rose to combat the swathes of prog-rock and endless keyboard warbling that was troubling the charts, then post-punk is the natural progression of that art form.

Where 1977’s UK punk music was often drenched in distorted guitars, and the vocalists made little attempt to carry a tune, post-punk seems to offer a little more. Joy Division’s instrumentation is stark but audible. You can clearly hear that they’re not masters of their instruments yet. Bernard Sumner plays his guitar like a sixth-form student who only picked it up a couple of months ago, Peter Hook’s noodling suggests he doesn’t understand the purpose of a bassline and would rather be playing guitar, and Steven Morris’s drums are only interesting because of Martin Hannet’s brilliant, ahead-of-its-time production.

We’re all here for Ian Curtis’ vocals though. Crooning over such disparate music sure makes for an interesting mix of styles. I often wonder how much Curtis’ style of singing influenced the New Wave of the early 1980s, and wider pop music through the rest of the decade. If the Beatles and their contemporaries on both sides of the Atlantic retained the scream of late ‘50s rock and roll, which then evolved into the back-to-basics growl of punk, then Curtis seems to do something completely different. His vocal style is more in line with the drawn-out drawl of Jim Morrison. I shudder to think that this might be responsible for Neil Tennant’s horribly over-enunciated vocals for the Pet Shop Boys. Ugh, I hope not.

RITA#772bI might not listen to Unknown Pleasures often – it’s musically too primitive for my likings – but I understand and appreciate its importance. The album’s just turned 40, and people are still talking about it. The desolate nature of the music reminds me of Manchester too – of cold, stark streets and empty bus-rides when your only warmth is from that night’s beer. When I think of Manchester music, I don’t think of Mick Hucknall’s plastic soul, or Shaun Ryder’s baggy party music. I don’t think of the jangle of the Smiths or, thankfully, the mediocre Dad-rock of Oasis. I think of Curtis, Sumner, Hook and Morris standing next to a dual-carriageway in the snow.

Hit: Shadowplay

Hidden Gem: Day Of The Lords

Portrait of Joy Division

Rocks In The Attic #771: Scissor Sisters – ‘Scissor Sisters’ (2004)

RITA#771I’d heard a few of this band’s singles – most probably Laura, Comfortably Numb and Take Your Mama – on BBC Radio 2 (where else?) before I dragged my friend Denise to see them play the Pyramid Stage on the Saturday morning at Glastonbury 2004. I was so glad I did; it was a performance that has really stuck with me, regardless of the direction the band went in after this first album.

The band started playing the opening bars of Take Your Mama, to a huge cheer, before their vocalists hit the stage. The huge screens either side of the stage caught Jake Shears and Ana Matronic walking backstage as they spotted the size of the crowd. They almost fell over each other in shock, which just made the crowd roar even louder. Unfortunately, although the performance is available on YouTube, that particularly joyous moment isn’t captured.

RITA#771aOne of the things I’ve always loved about Glastonbury is that bands don’t always turn up, play their set and leave straightaway. Occasionally, they’ll stay for the whole weekend – particularly if it’s a fresh up-and-coming band enamoured with the festival itself – and you may even catch a glimpse of them walking past you. At some point the next day, I ran into the Scissor Sisters as we both queued up to buy some potato wedges and sour cream from one of the food trucks. Rock and roll!

I lost touch with the band after this record. Their brand of music – half Elton John, half Talking Heads – is perfect radio-friendly single material, and their brilliant collaboration with Elton on I Don’t Feel Like Dancin’ from their follow-up album is a prime example of this. They seemed to head towards the pop charts and away from the indie-rock charts, and so I didn’t hear as much from them.

I also lost my job around this time, and so I stopped spending as much time in the car listening to the radio. Maybe I lost touch with the Scissor Sisters because I stopped listening to Radio 2.

Hit: Take Your Mama

Hidden Gem: Mary

Rocks In The Attic #770: Robert Palmer – ‘Riptide’ (1985)

RITA#770Addicted To Love: the sound of mid-80s AOR. It’s the kind of song we would hear on Atlantic 252, while driving around North Wales on family holidays. This, Simply Red and late-period Genesis became the accidental soundtrack to the towns of Prestatyn, Rhyl and Llandudno.

I recently met a colleague at work who was born and raised in Mold, just over the border into North Wales from Chester. We’ve been reminiscing about Rhyl, and how it was just the best place for kids in the 1980s. The Rhyl Sun Centre almost felt futuristic, with its car rides descending from the ceiling, and its wave pool that seems par for the course in today’s leisure centres. Alongside its funfair – a scaled-down version of Blackpool’s Pleasure Beach – Rhyl even had a monorail along its waterfront. However, the project descended into bankruptcy just a few weeks after its opening in 1980, and abruptly closed.

RITA#770aRobert Palmer’s catchy rock-by-numbers anthem reminds me of those days, of riding around the BMX course on Rhyl’s seafront, or going down the Sun Centre’s tube-slides. My parents owned a static caravan on a site in Gronant, just outside Prestatyn, which we used to go to on weekends between Spring and Autumn.

Those times make up some of my happiest childhood memories. The local arcade had the original Star Wars game in which you sat inside an X-Wing flying across the Death Star, one of the local café’s introduced me to the joy of toasted currant teacakes, and I used to regularly play with a friend and his sister, recreating scenes from our favourite sci-fi show V. Happy days.

Lester Cohen Archives

The music video for Addicted To Love deserves a mention too; one of the most iconic videos of the original MTV era. Not a great deal happens in the video, it’s essentially a performance piece. Palmer performs the song backed by a band of attractive models who are wearing heavy lipstick and tied-back hair. This look pays homage to the art of Patrick Nagel, the original artist behind Duran Duran’s Rio sleeve. It’s a joy to watch.

Hit: Addicted To Love

Hidden Gem: Hyperactive


Rocks In The Attic #769: Emerson, Lake & Palmer – ‘Brain Salad Surgery’ (1973)

RITA#769The fourth album by prog-rock botherers Keith Emerson, Ricki Lake and – erm – Robert Palmer, Brain Salad Surgery sounds as tuneless and chaotic as anything else I’ve heard by them. The album packaging is a piece of art though, which is why I picked it up.

This is the first time most people were presented with the artistic style of one H.R.Giger. Six years later, Giger’s design of the xenomorph and its organic environs in Ridley Scott’s Alien would bring him worldwide fame.

RITA#769aA couple of weeks ago, my wife and I took part in a trivia night at our kids’ school. The school was celebrating 40 years since it was founded, and so the theme of the night was 1979. A couple of teams turned up as the 4077th from M*A*S*Hone team came as the rock band Kiss, and another team came as the board game Guess Who?

Our team went as the crew from the USCSS Nostromo, from Ridley Scott’s film. My wife borrowed a 3-D printer, using it to make a couple of accurate-looking chest-bursters and a facehugger.  She even made a papier-mâché alien egg, and put a vaporiser inside it which glowed green and emitted a foggy mist. Our brilliant team name, chosen by my clever wife, was ‘Ripley’s Believe It Or Not’.

RITA#769bI was chosen to ‘host’ one of the chest-bursters, and put it through a white t-shirt with red paint for that authentic ‘just given birth’ look. The rest of our team looked fantastic too, particularly one guy who turned up as the science-office Ash, creepily played by Ian Holm in the film.

It was a very messy night. A free bar will tend to do that. However, despite the alcohol and the party atmosphere, our team managed to win the quiz. Thank you H.R.Giger, for having such a fantastically weird mind.

Hit: Jerusalem

Hidden Gem: Benny The Bouncer


Rocks In The Attic #768: Various Artists – ‘Ghostbusters II (O.S.T.)’ (1989)

RITA#7681989. 11-years old. Painful disappointment at the cinema. Thankfully, the same year also gave us Tim Burton’s Batman just two months later, so all was not lost. It still hurts to think about how disappointing Ghostbusters II was though.

It should have been a sure-fire hit. Five years after the runaway success of the first film, director Ivan Reitman had managed to reunite the original cast – a post-Aliens Sigourney Weaver, a post-Scrooged Bill Murray, and a post-Dragnet Dan Aykroyd. No mean feat in itself. Reitman also managed to secure a script by Aykroyd and fellow co-star Harold Ramis, much like the first film. The same cast, the same writers and the same director, working with a larger budget? What could go wrong?

I watch Ghostbusters II every five years or so. I always want it to be better than it is, but I’m always let down. It just doesn’t have the spark of their first film. The humour isn’t as subtle, the characters aren’t as likable as their 1984 versions, and the story doesn’t have the same David and Goliath / us versus them sensibility.

RITA#768aThe soundtrack itself is a disappointment too. It’s heavily dependant on New Jack Swing, a genre of music that lasted all of a fortnight at the end of the ‘80s. As a result, it sounds incredibly dated. Only Howard Huntsberry’s timeless cover of Jackie Wilson’s (Your Love Keeps Lifting Me) Higher And Higher, used as diagetic music blasted out of a walking Statue Of Liberty in the film, can raise a smile.

Ghostbusters II, Hudson Hawk, Super Mario Bros. As the 1980s turned into the 1990s, Hollywood went through a seemingly aimless phase of producing big-budget genre films and turning them into flops. Big expensive turkeys – dry and disappointing.

Those who defend Ghostbusters II are deluded. They’re the same misguided fools who defend Spielberg’s Hook. Nostalgia is not, and never will be, a substitute for quality filmmaking.

Hit: On Our Own – Bobby Brown

Hidden Gem: Higher And Higher – Howard Huntsberry


Rocks In The Attic #767: Bill Cosby – ‘It’s True! It’s True!’ (1969)

RITA#767.jpgThomas Newman’s American Beauty score landed in my mailbox this week. Showing the LP to a young colleague at work – who was born only a couple of years prior to its release – I felt a pang of shame mentioning Kevin Spacey’s name in the cast. I loved this film when it came out, but now it feels illicit, like I have to justify liking it. It got me thinking about this climate we’ve found ourselves living in.

Kevin Spacey. Bill Cosby. Rolf Harris. Michael Jackson. Woody Allen. There are others. The list seems to be endless. Formerly loved and respected musicians, artists, and actors, shrouded in a cloud of disgust. Some found guilty in a court of law, some in the court of social media. It doesn’t matter anymore with respect to how the general public think about them. Guilt and perception are intertwined.

Hang around on social media for a while and you will encounter three types of people. The liberals among us will say that you have to separate the art from the artist. At the other end of the spectrum, people will feel that the art is forever tainted by the crime of the artist. And in the middle will be the fence-sitters who either don’t care, or will agree with the last person who spoke.

For me, I have to separate the art from the artist. I just have to. I just can’t live without American Beauty. Or Thriller. Or Manhattan. Or Chinatown. Or the genius of Bill Cosby’s early stand-up. Think what you think, but I just have to.

If you do take the hard stance against the art for the crimes of the artist, then where do you draw the line? If we take Spacey as an example, do you distance yourself from all of his films? And if so, what about the directors of those films, or the studios that released them? Do you stand outside movie theatres and protest every time Sam Mendes directs a film, and set fire to billboards every time Dreamworks Pictures advertise their latest release?

One extreme example is the work of Welsh rock band Lostprophets. Their singer was jailed in 2013 for a string of truly horrible offences. Justice was served. But I’ve always felt sorry for the other members of his band, who had worked hard to get to that stage in their careers. The same goes for those in the periphery of the band – the technicians, record company people, and anybody else who had contributed to their success. All of their hard work is now swept under the carpet. The other band members have moved on and formed another band, yet the level of success they reached in Lostprophets has eluded them. It doesn’t seem fair.

Will I look back on this blog post in ten or twenty years’ time and see its naivety, or will I applaud myself for being able to overlook a piece of art for what has tainted it in real life? I don’t know.

Hit: It’s The Women’s Fault

Hidden Gem: Burlesque Shows