Category Archives: 1972

Rocks In The Attic #760: Bo Hansson – ‘Lord Of The Rings’ (1972)

RITA#760Ah, the fantasy genre. The truly awful middle-ages have never appeared as good as they have in the last fifty years.  Books, films and television shows have glamorised these times, adeptly sidestepping the harsh realities of living in filth; a time when all food tasted like dirt and the average mortality rate was something like twelve years old.

J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord Of The Rings trilogy remains the genre’s high-water mark, of course, represented here by some lovely organ work by Swedish prog-botherer Bo Hansson. Before Peter Jackson’s film series in the early 2000s, and aside from a 1978 animated film, Tolkien’s work was only really visible through the imagined art of John Howe and Alan Lee.

Hansson’s Lord Of The Rings album adds to that work as a quasi-soundtrack, inspired by Tolkien’s writing and acting as an aural backdrop to the events of the books. As you might expect, it doesn’t sound a million miles away from the likes of Genesis records from around the same time. It’s the sort of music you might expect to hear in a shop that sells crystals and incense, run by a bra-less lady in her sixties.

Peter Jackson reintroduced Tolkien to the world, and gave the fantasy genre a commercial shot in the arm. This renewed interest in the anything-goes optimism of medieval times has led, of course, to the success of Game Of Thrones, both on television and in the writings of author George R.R. Martin. To be taken seriously in fantasy writing, it looks like you need to have two middle initials. One wonders whether the Yellow Pages’ fly-fishing book would have sold in greater quantities, and therefore been easier to find, if J.R. Hartley had had another middle name.

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The Game Of Thrones TV show recently concluded. After eight seasons of soap-opera level dialogue scenes, interspersed by the occasional action sequence, it’s finally over. I won’t have to hear people go on and ON about it anymore. All of these people, who have probably never seen The Wire, Band Of Brothers, or The Sopranos – or in some cases, not even Breaking Bad – will no longer bore me daily with their opinion that Game Of Thrones is television’s greatest achievement.

I have to admit, I’ve enjoyed this eighth and final season. The budgets have matched those you’d expect from feature films, and the long-separated main characters finally came together to fight a mutual enemy. If it had been like this throughout the show, I would have enjoyed it a lot more, but on the whole it’s been a long, ponderous show.

The first season was enjoyable, particularly the first episode reuniting The Full Monty’s Sean Bean and Mark Addy. It all fell apart after that, as the storylines drifted further and further apart. Most of the show’s fans seem to miss the point too, thinking that the show is about dragons and battles and the quest to sit on an iron throne. It’s not. It’s simply about a family that gets split up by the greed and bureaucracy of another family. Anything else is just dressing.

More than anything, the show was perfectly timed to cash-in on the young fans of the Harry Potter series, those annoying middle-class children who grew up immune to the derivative nature of J.K. Rowling’s books and their respective film adaptations, and were left adrift with nothing in popular culture to capture their attention. These children spent their adolescence in a time when science-fiction was in decline and Hollywood had almost killed off the traditional action genre. Suddenly, fantasy was king.

The other low point of Game Of Thrones was its unashamed use of sex to attract new, younger fans. This isn’t a new thing – even Homeland, a more serious (grown up?) show that ran over the same period, had more than its fair share of tits on display in its first season. Game Of Thrones seemed to relish in its portrayal of the female body though. You have to wonder how many of its hardcore fan-base came to the show primarily for this; came for the clunge, stayed for the dragons.

Hit: Leaving Shire

Hidden Gem: The Old Forest

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Rocks In The Attic #738: Creedence Clearwater Revival – ‘Creedence Gold’ (1972)

rita#738Our weekly Wednesday night pub quiz had a great question the other night. There’s a round called The List where you have to, erm, list ten of something. It’s either something boring – the ten longest rivers of the world, or the ten countries with the highest population, for example – or it will be something from popular culture. Ten Tintin books, ten films from the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and ten Oscar nominations for Meryl Streep have been my favourites so far.

I’m waiting for the day that the question relates to the James Bond films…

The trick is that you only get points for an unbroken run of answers, so if you get your eighth answer wrong, you would only get seven points (even if answers nine and ten are correct). In other words, the strategy is to put down your dead-certs first, with anything you’re unsure about down at the bottom of the list.

Last weeks’ question was to name any ten of the twenty-two bands that played at the original Woodstock festival in 1969. Now, I could name ten artists who played quite easily, but the question clearly stated ‘bands’ and so it was much, much trickier.

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Not only could I not remember some of the more obscure band names, but I also doubted how accurate the answers would be. Would they know, for example, that Hendrix’s band on the day wasn’t the Jimi Hendrix Experience, but the little-known Gypsy Sun & Rainbows? In the end, it turns out the quiz company did know this (they even had Hendrix’s second name when he referred to them as a plain ol’ Band Of Gypsies), but I was so confident that they wouldn’t, that I put it down as my tenth answer.

I got a pitiful six correct:
1. The Who
2. Canned Heat
3. Country Joe & The Fish
4. Jefferson Airplane
5. Santana
6. Ten Years After
7. Crosby, Stills & Nash (INCORRECT)
8. Big Brother & The Holding Company (INCORRECT)
9. The Mamas & The Papas (INCORRECT)
10. Gypsy Sun & Rainbows (CORRECT BUT NOT COUNTED)

rita#738bI did some healthy kicking of myself when the answers were read out. CSN was deemed incorrect because the band had been infiltrated by that Canadian interloper Neil Young by August ’69, Janis Joplin’s backing band at that time was the Kozmic Blues Band (having left Big Brother & The Holding Company the prior year), and the Mamas & the Papas was just plain wrong (I didn’t think they played, but thought that they might have been one of the bands not featured on the film soundtrack due to rights reasons, and more importantly my mother-in-law was adamant).

It’s interesting to look at the full line-up outside of the film and the accompanying soundtrack. It feels almost like bands as big as the Grateful Dead and Creedence Clearwater Revival have been written out of history because of their absence from the film.

rita#738cI wondered if their sets were even filmed, before old friend (and Woodstock expert) Moo sent me the link to the Creedence set on YouTube. It’s a ripper of a set, opening with a blustering version of Born On The Bayou. After the first song ends, John Fogerty looks at the cameraman and asks “Is that thing on now?” before the video cuts off. Much of the rest of the set is audio-only, with the video creeping back intermittently.

Is there a songwriter more overlooked than John Fogerty? His name should share the same breath as Brian Wilson, Lennon and McCartney and Ray Davies, but apart from the Dude, nobody else seems to care.

Hit: Proud Mary

Hidden Gem: Born On The Bayou

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 #698: Simon & Garfunkel – ‘Simon & Garfunkel’s Greatest Hits’ (1972)

RITA#698Put something happy on next, my kids said. I can’t blame them. Making them listen to Jerry Goldmsith’s Alien score first thing on a sunny Saturday morning doesn’t exactly scream golden childhood memory.

Who doesn’t like Simon & Garfunkel? Surely it’s impossible to like their brand of impossibly cheerful folk-pop. They should pipe this album into the waiting rooms of psychiatrists and mental institutions. I predict the world suicide rate would drop off a cliff overnight.

RITA#698aSpeaking of Simon & Garfunkel, I’ve finally got around to finishing the excellent BBC comedy Detectorists, written and directed by Mackenzie Crook. Two of my favourite characters are the antagonists played by the always excellent Simon Farnaby and the wonderfully underplayed Paul Casar. The recurring joke that the pair look like a poor man’s Simon & Garfunkel is one of my favourite things in the show, and it’s a shame – although completely understandable – that Crook won’t be bringing it back for a fourth series.

Hit: Mrs. Robinson

Hidden Gem: America

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Rocks In The Attic #657: Nilsson – ‘Son Of Schmilsson’ (1972)

RITA#657What do you do after you release a mainstream breakthrough like Nilsson Schmilsson? Do you repeat the formula and give the record company the same again – propping up their stakeholders and ultimately creating an even bigger expectation for a more difficult next album? Or do you just do whatever you want, and concentrate on the weirder brand of material such as Coconut from Nilsson Schmilsson?

History tells us that Nilsson took the latter route, using sound effects to comedic effect and burping between takes. Son Of Schmilsson might not have the same hit singles as Nilsson Schmilsson, or even the same boundless energy that that evergreen record does, but it’s still an enjoyable listen. I guess making a few bucks for RCA gives you the power to concentrate on your own path – and you can almost hear the anguish from their frustration at Nilsson not playing ball.

A song as delicate and pure as Turn On Your Radio is as timeless as anything on the record’s more well-known predecessor, something that Brian Wilson would have been more than proud to write.

RITA#657aI recently watched the documentary Who Is Harry Nilsson (And Why Is Everybody Talking About Him)? It’s a sad film to watch as you see an artist slowly give his life (and talent) over to drink, but nice to see so many well-respected musicians talk about him positively.

As well as his talent, Nilsson’s death in 1994 also robbed the world of a prominent and dedicated advocate for gun control (initially sparked by John Lennon’s assassination) – something the United States needs so badly at the moment.

Hit: Remember (Christmas)

Hidden Gem: Turn On Your Radio

Rocks In The Attic #589: Nino Rota – ‘The Godfather (O.S.T.)’ (1972)

RITA#589.jpgAll hail the greatest cinema in Auckland – the Event cinema on Broadway in Newmarket. Not only was this the location where I met both Quentin Tarantino and Danny Boyle, but last Friday night they played The Godfather.

For a long time, The Godfather has been among my favourite films. I first saw it around the age of 17 or 18, and was immediately obsessed with it. It was probably the first film I was obsessed with as an adult. Prior obsessions as a teenager included the likes of Die Hard, Lethal Weapon, Terminator 2: Judgement Day and Aliens, so The Godfather was definitely a step-up, being such a decorated film and a more serious one at that.

I don’t know why the film struck such a chord with me, but it’s something I’ve never become tired with. I have a number of books on the film – Peter Cowie’s The Godfather Book and Mario Puzo’s original novel being early targets, and Harlan Lebo’s The Godfather Legacy being a happy find in more recent year. The soundtrack of Nino Rota’s score sits on my record shelves – a strange Australian pressing with a murky green cover – and of course, I have the Coppola Restoration of the trilogy on blu-ray. At University, I remember walking through a field to the supermarket with my housemates, feeling like Michael walking through Sicily accompanied by his bodyguards.

Seeing a film on the big screen is always a different prospect than watching at home though. You notice things that you would never have noticed in hundreds of home viewings – a character’s glance, a line of dialogue, the way the light falls on an object outside of the immediate foreground of a shot. It’s also nice to see it in a room full of people. The screening I saw was almost sold out, and full of much younger people than I was expecting.

As a film, it shouldn’t be so good. It goes against so many cinematic rules. The lead protagonist is clearly Michael, yet we don’t see him until a good five or ten minutes into the film, and even then he is introduced as a supporting character. Vito is initially offered as the film’s hero – or anti-hero – but his gunning down towards the end of the first act provides the film’s first challenge, a shake-up to decide not only who is going to become the patriarch of the Corleone family, but also the film’s lead protagonist.

By the end of the film, Michael’s actions have transferred him from protagonist to antagonist, and the stone-cold denoument where Michael’s study door is slowly closed on Kay, is matched only by the ending of The Godfather Part II where he sits alone to contemplate the terrible things he has done to his family.

Speaking of which, I’ll be seeing a screening of The Godfather Part II this Friday night. Same cinema, same seat probably. Leave the gun; take the cannoli.

Hit: Main Title

Hidden Gem: The Pickup

Rocks In The Attic #535: Various Artists – ‘Six Presidents Speak – A Profile Of The Presidency’ (1972)

rita535This record seemed apt, given what happened last Wednesday. Donald Trump winning the U.S. election feels like some kind of bad dream – like an episode of Charlie Brooker’s Black Mirror, or the alternate-1985 Biff Tannen from Back To The Future Part II writ large. Surely we’ll all wake up from our collective nightmare soon…

A couple of friends and I were in Auckland city attending a show when Wednesday’s results were coming to a conclusion. We were watching A Conversation On Making A Murderer, with Dean Strang and Jerry Buting, the lawyers of Steven Avery from the Netflix show. What an odd thing to be at, while the western world was slowly falling apart.

Not surprisingly, the conversation regularly switched from the specifics of the Avery case and the documentary, to a wider discussion on justice and the present state of America. Strang and Buting made many a reference to the election, and it almost seemed to make some kind of sense when they suggested that any country where an innocent man like Avery can languish in prison all his life can elect a man like Trump.

My friend Justin had a quick surreptitious check of the results on his phone during the show, but despite expecting the big comeback from Clinton – because surely, surely, Trump can’t win – we turned our phones back on at the show’s conclusion to the horror that it had been called in Trump’s favour.

Who knows what’s to going to happen now? It’s scary enough that a Republican is in the White House, but Trump isn’t even a Republican, despite what it says on the ticket. He’s not even a politician; he’s a businessman. Half of the Republican party seems to have turned their back on him in the run-up to the election. I wonder if they’ll greet him with open arms now.

I picked up this record from a charity shop for a dollar. It features soundbites from each of the six presidents between 1933 and 1974 – Franklin D. Roosevelt, Harry S .Truman, Dwight D. Eisenhower, John F. Kennedy, Lyndon B. Johnson and Richard M. Nixon.

Tricky Dicky almost sounds like a saint now, compared to you know who…

Hit: Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country – John F. Kennedy

Hidden Gem: The fact that Nixon’s middle name was Milhous – I’d forgotten this!