Category Archives: 1973

Rocks In The Attic #849: The J.B.’s – ‘Doing It To Death’ (1973)

RITA#849The J.B.’s second album proper, Doing It To Death finds the band following their 1972 debut with another set of future funk classics.  This time, despite the band being essentially an instrumental outfit, their bandleader James Brown is present and correct on most of the tracks. He leads the charge on the swing of the ten-minute title track, and on the album’s repetitive glimpses of the political You Can Have Watergate Just Gimme Some Bucks And I’ll Be Straight.

At the top of More Peas, James asks the rest of the band ‘Can we do it again?’ in a call and response chant, evoking the opening of the previous album’s Pass The Peas. It’s an odd move to suddenly join his backing band on their ‘instrumental’ side-project, given that the reason for the spin-off band in the first place was a loophole around his record company not allowing his vocal on too many records each year.

Hit: Doing It To Death (Parts 1 & 2)

Hidden Gem: More Peas

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Rocks In The Attic #827: Steely Dan – ‘Rotoscope Down’ (1973)

RITA#827You can keep your expensive Zeppelin and Floyd bootlegs. I’m more interested in curios like this, a ‘peak behind the curtain’, as the record’s subtitle tells us, of Steely Dan’s 1973 American tour.

Recorded in front of a small audience at the Los Angeles Record Plant in late 1973, although some sources put the date as March 20th 1974, it’s a brilliant run-through of selections from the band’s first three studio albums (Can’t Buy A Thrill, Countdown To Ecstasy and Pretzel Logic). The inclusion of three songs from Pretzel Logic suggests the recording is from the later date, as this would fall after the February release of the album.

RITA#827aThe liner notes on the simple pink-photocopied insert that acts as the cover reads:

THE BOYS IN THE BAND ARE DENNY DIAS ON GUITAR / JEFF “SKUNK” BAXTER ON GUITAR / WALTER BECKER ON BASS GUITAR AND VOCALS / JIM HODDER ON DRUMS (AND BACKING VOCALS) / DONALD FAGEN ON PIANO AND VOCALS / RECORDED IN LATE 1973 AT THE LOS ANGELES RECORD PLANT / NO IT’S NOT YOUR EARS…THE BAND ARE PLAYING LOUD TO THE POINT OF DISTORTION / THE TAPE WAS EDITED (EXTENSIVELY) BY DEEK / EXTRA SPECIAL THANKS TO MR. TIME FOR THE GOOD SENSE AND SOUND ADVICE / THE BAND GET VERY, VERY EXCITED DURING TRACK THREE ON SIDE TWO / AS MELTS THE SNOW IT’S OL’ STEREO / BYE BYE / TAKRL 1924

The comment around the distortion is spot-on. It doesn’t sound bad, just the result of being recorded outside of the mixing desk I’m guessing. The band are on fire though, as you would expect them to be.

Hit: Reelin’ In The Years

Hidden Gem: Mobile Heart

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Rocks In The Attic #804: The Band – ‘Moondog Matinee’ (1973)

RITA#804If The Band had been born thirty years later, and were from Southport, they’d be called Gomez. Stay with me here…

Not only is there a rootsy vibe going on in both bands, but they both feature multiple vocalists and occasionally swap instruments. The biggest difference, apart from time itself, is their nationality. The Band are Americana incarnate whereas Gomez couldn’t be more English. Members of The Band have strange North American names like Levon and Garth, while Gomez have middle-class English names like Tom, Ben and Olly.

I first saw Gomez when they were touring second album Liquid Skin, on the Other Stage at Glastonbury 1999. Last week, twenty years later, I finally saw them for the second time. They played at Auckland’s fantastic Powerstation, as part of their Liquid Skin 20th Anniversary tour, a full seven years after the last time they graced our shores. I missed the 2012 show for some reason, but really glad I caught this one: a full play-through of their 1998 debut Bring It On, followed by a full performance of Liquid Skin.

RITA#804aI’m glad to report the years have been kind. When I first saw them, I was as curious as everyone else at the voice of guitarist Ben Ottewell. In 1999, he was just a podgy twenty-something with a much bigger voice than himself. He’s now grown into his vocal chords, a genial bear of a man. Performing live, he was dependant on too much reverb, but you could still hear the magic in his soulful voice. It reminded me a bit of Simon Fowler from Ocean Colour Scene, another band I recently saw at the same venue.

The rest of the band were exactly the same as I remember them from ’99. The genial Tom Gray (vocals / guitar / keyboards) talked the most to the audience. Twenty years ago I remember him telling the Glastonbury crowd to turn around a look at the sunset. He hasn’t changed a bit. Neither has the other guitarist / vocalist Ian Ball. Still as scrawny as he was all those years ago, he’s the most cocky and aloof of the three frontmen. Drummer Olly Peacock hasn’t aged a day, and the only real casualty of the band is the hairline of bassist Paul Blackburn, now fully shaved.

Given the type of material of the three songwriters, it is Ball’s songs that seem the most normal – straightforward post-Oasis Britpop that you would hear in any band (including my own) from that time around the late ‘90s. It’s the mixture of Ottewell’s southern-fried soul and Gray’s jazzy melodies that gives Gomez their unique sound. If anything, it feels like Ball is the lucky one of the three, for finding other songwriters that would provide an interesting counterbalance to the ordinariness of his own material.

After they played through both albums, they returned to the stage for just one song – a frantic, AC/DC-inspired version of Whippin’ Picadilly, played ‘like we did when we were teenagers.’ A magical night, for sure, and I still made it home to watch the All Blacks beat Wales to take bronze in the World Cup.

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I’m serious about the comparison to The Band though. And of all the Band’s LPs, studio album number five, Moondog Matinee, is perhaps the most Gomez-ey. It’s one of the more kookier entries in the Band’s back catalogue, and finds them recording an entire album’s worth of cover songs.

The original idea was to replicate their mid-‘60s setlists, when they were known as Levon & The Hawks, but only one song – Share Your Love (With Me) – from this period appears. It sounds like a happy album, but the reality was a band starting to come apart at the seams. ‘That was all we could do at the time,’ Levon Helm later explained. ‘We couldn’t get along; we all knew that fairness was a bunch of shit. We all knew we were getting screwed, so we couldn’t sit down and create no more music. Up on Cripple Creek and all that stuff was over—all that collaboration was over, and that type of song was all we could do.’

Hit: Ain’t Got No Home

Hidden Gem: Mystery Train

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Rocks In The Attic #786: The O’Jays – ‘Ship Ahoy’ (1973)

RITA#786MoneymoneymoneyMon-ey…………………..MON-EY!

I’ve been after this soul/funk gem for a few years now, and was hoping I’d run into a second-hand copy in the wild somewhere. Instead I managed to find the 2015 reissue at a whopping 30% off in the sale bins at Auckland’s Southbound Records. That’ll do nicely.

Ship Ahoy, the O’Jays’ third studio album finds them following up the Billboard Top 10 success of 1972’s Back Stabbers with a record built around the slavery theme of its title track. Coming three years before the success of Alex Haley’s Roots revitalised the topic for white America, the O’Jays used their prominence in the pop charts to deliver an album full of socially-conscious lyrics set against the grooves of Philadelphia soul.

RITA#786aProduced and (mostly) co-written by Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff, the album was released by Philadelphia International Records. Today, For The Love Of Money lives on in the dozens of Hip Hop samples taken from the grooves of Anthony Jackson’s phased bassline and chanting vocals of Eddie Levert, William Powell and Walter Williams. I could listen to that bassline all day.

Hit: For The Love Of Money

Hidden Gem: Put Your Hands Together

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

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Rocks In The Attic #763: David Bowie – ‘Pinups’ (1973)

RITA#763I just saw Martin Scorsese’s new documentary, covering Bob Dylan’s Rolling Thunder tour of 1975 – 1976. I’m not much of a Dylan-head, so it was all new information to me. I’d seen pictures of him playing with a face painted white, but I had no idea what that was all about. And I was surprised to learn that Gene Simmons and Kiss were partly to blame!

Another surprise was spotting a post-Bowie Mick Ronson playing in Dylan’s tour band. I’m not much of a Bowie-head either, so I wasn’t sure what Ronson ended up doing after he left Bowie’s employ. Turns out he was a very busy boy, recording two solo albums and essentially becoming a gun for hire.

Ronson appears in the Scorsese film a couple of times, playing some blistering lead guitar on a couple of songs on stage, and can be glimpsed walking around backstage and in some of more interesting off-stage sections of the film. It really made me realise how much I miss seeing him strutting around with his Les Paul. It was sad to hear Joan Baez recount asking Ronson what Dylan thought of him, and Ronson replied ‘I don’t know; Bob’s never spoken to me’.

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The highlight of the Dylan film for me was seeing Joni Mitchell playing Bob and his entourage the song Coyote, which she had written for the tour. Bob half-heartedly joins in, and you can see his face almost drain at Joni’s use of non-standard tuning and funny chords. It’s the same look of despondency he throws at a pair of CBS records executives when he goes in to ask about them releasing Hurricane as a single (to draw attention to the false imprisonment of boxer Rubin ‘Hurricane’ Carter). One executive immediately starts talking about markets and the possibility of airplay on black radio stations. Bob just doesn’t care and his face shows it.

My one very small criticism of Scorsese’s film relates to the only time I’ve seen Dylan play. At the end of the film, in the run-up to the credits, each of Dylan’s tour dates since the Rolling Thunder tour are listed, separated by year. I paused the 2018 list to have a look at the date I saw him play, in Auckland. Not only is the concert listed against an incorrect date, but it’s also attributed to Brisbane, New Zealand – an imaginary combination of locations in the Pacific. Jeez, Scorsese is such a hack director!

Pinups is probably the Bowie album I know the least from his early glam period. I don’t know why; I think I just avoided it in my youth simply for being a covers record. Whenever I do listen to it though, I really enjoy it. It’s nice to see the kind of mainly London-esque material that was making Bowie tick at the time – The Who, The Pretty Things, Pink Floyd, Them, The Yardbirds, The Kinks, The Mojos, The Easybeats and The Merseys. It’s actually a bloody strong LP, finding Bowie having a lot of fun, backed by Ronson and bass player Trevor Bolder from the Ziggy Stardust / Aladdin Sane albums, and drummer Aynsley Dunbar. Nice to see Twiggy on the cover too.

Hit: Sorrow

Hidden Gem: Here Comes The Night

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Rocks In The Attic #755: Lynyrd Skynyrd – ‘(Pronounced ‘lĕh-‘nérd ‘skin-‘nérd)’ (1973)

Skynyrd’RITA#755s tragic story is just unbelievably sad. Five records in, with the band still very much in their ascension, a plane crash rips out the nucleus of the group. They’ve limped on ever since, gaining barely more respect than a tribute band, but the glory years were definitely a long time ago. With guitarist Ed King’s death last October, only one of the seven original band members pictured here, guitarist Gary Rossington, remains alive to tell the tale.

In just four short years, the band managed to accomplish a great deal. And they hit the ground running too. Debut album (Pronounced ‘lĕh-‘nérd ‘skin-‘nérd) from 1973 is a gem of a hard-rock record. Detractors may pigeon-hole it as dumb, sub-Allman Brothers southern rock, but it’s much more than that.

RITA#755aAside from Ronnie Van Zant’s lyrics, and the triple-guitar threat of King, Rossington and Allen Collins, the real star of the show is Dylan alumn Al Kooper, whose production elevates the band to something else. The phased drum intro to album opener I Ain’t The One sets a groove that flows through the record. The Allman Brothers were never this funky. And what sort of band comes pre-packaged with an anthem like Free Bird on their first release?

Last year’s documentary, If I Leave Here Tomorrow: A Film About Lynyrd Skynyrd, offers a good insight into the short-lived glory days of the band. Pieced together with archival footage and interviews alongside talking heads from surviving members, the film is as heartbreaking as you would expect, particularly when the survivors recount the circumstances involving the plane crash.

The doomed 30-year old Convair CV-240 had previously struggled to complete an earlier flight, and members of the band had joked about the flames they had seen shooting out of its ‘spluttering’ engine. They cautiously stepped aboard the flight from South Carolina to Louisiana on October 20th, 1977. With one engine malfunctioning, and the resulting abnormal fuel consumption, the pilots didn’t notice that the plane was running out of fuel.

RITA#755bAttempting to make an emergency landing, the pilots brought the plane down in a swamp just 300 yards short of the small, rural airstrip they were aiming for. Guitarist Gary Rossington remembers the increasing sound of the plane skimming the treetops for 100 yards, before the plane hit the ground.

Lead singer Ronnie Van Zant, guitarist Steve Gaines, his backup-singing sister Cassie Gaines, the band’s road manager Dean Kilpatrick, pilot Walter McCreary and co-pilot William Gray all perished in the crash. ‘Crew inattention to fuel supply’ was ultimately determined to be the cause of the crash, according to the National Transportation Safety Board.

Hit: Free Bird

Hidden Gem: I Ain’t The One

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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 #700: ZZ Top – ‘Tres Homres’ (1973)

RITA#700Post number 700. I hope my daughters will read this blog in the future to research my taste in music after I’m dead, but they’re more likely to use it to figure out how much my record collection is worth.

If you’re reading this, girls, here’s a history lesson. The year is 2018, and the world is changing. A businessman, rather than a politician, is in the White House, the new Doctor Who is a lady, and there’s talk of the next James Bond not being a privileged white dude.

RITA#700aAnd most surprising of all, one of the late twentieth century’s most popular pub-facts is no more: drummer Frank Beard is no longer the only member of ZZ Top without a beard.

Studio album number three finds the Texan trio hitting their stride and crossing over into the mainstream. After a low-key, blues-driven debut and a rockier, more commercial follow-up, they really find the perfect mix of grit and soul on Tres Hombres. Its Top Ten success would start to turn to the band into a stadium act in their native country, effectively laying the foundation for their seven-year Worldwide Texas Tour in support of Fandango! and Tejas.

Why do I love this record so much? Because after your Sgt. Peppers, and your Dark Side Of The Moons, and all of the other rock albums that everybody and their cat has heard – Nevermind, Hotel California, Led Zeppelin IV, Back In Black, etc – you’re left with a bunch of great records that are invisible to the casual listener, and this is the jewel of that crown. A truly hidden gem (outside of the United States). Just listen to the stuttering opening groove of Master Of Sparks and try and forget it; that particular earworm has been in my brain for the past twenty years.

Hit: La Grange

Hidden Gem: Master Of Sparks

Rocks In The Attic #673: The Beach Boys – ‘Holland’ (1973)

RITA#673If there was ever a band that was stuck in time, like an insect trapped in the sap of a tree, it’s the Beach Boys. They were the hippest American band between 1962’s Surfin’ Safari and 1966’s Pet Sounds – or more specifically between 1962’s Surfin’ Safari single and 1966’s Good Vibrations. Then Brian stepped back and things changed.

Don’t get me wrong, I love records like Surf’s Up and this, their 1973 album, Holland – but it’s not California Girls, is it? Without Brian Wilson’s input on this record – aside from a couple of token writing credits including a 7” fairytale EP in the vein of Nilsson’s The Point! (although nowhere near as charming) – the Beach Boys seem lost at sea. If you close your eyes, you can almost imagine them being a band on their own merits, without the genius of Brian, but then you hear those harmonies and you’re instantly reminded of Help Me Rhonda or I Get Around.

The band even looks out of place when you see them in colour around this period – on stage in multi-coloured satin shirts or in white suits. They seem forever to be locked into the antiseptic cleanliness of mid-‘60s teen television, grooving against white infinity screens alongside bikini-clad dancing girls.

Hit: Sail On, Sailor

Hidden Gem: The Trader