Category Archives: 1978

Rocks In The Attic #814: Linda Ronstadt – ‘Living In The USA’ (1978)

RITA#814Living In The USA is Linda Ronstadt’s seventh studio album, released in September of 1978. Its cover image, of Ronstadt standing in a corridor wearing a pair of roller-skates, is credited with increasing the popularity of skating in the United States.

It was a different time.

In fact, the album looks like an advertisement for roller-skates, with the front, rear cover and inner sleeve depicting Ronstadt either putting on her skates, struggling to stand up in them, or struggling to skate in them.

I’m not quite sure why I have any of her records at all in my collection. I’m sure she’s seen as some of national treasure in her native America, but she always felt more like an imported curio in the UK. She seems to get a fair bit of radio airplay here in New Zealand, but it’s the kind of middle-of-the-road AOR that fits the Dad-Rock demographic of the Kiwi stations. Perhaps if she had done a Bond song, she might have ended up with the kind of longevity that Carly Simon has.

RITA#814aLiving In The USA features songs made popular by Chuck Berry (Back In The USA), Elvis Presley (Love Me Tender) and Elvis Costello (Alison), but ultimately, the fact that Ronstadt doesn’t write her own songs is a major limit to her credibility. She’s essentially a cover-artist, a pub-singer who got lucky, the Jane McDonald of the 1970s. Her only solid contribution to popular culture was bringing together musicians Glenn Frey, Bernie Leadon, Randy Meisner and Don Henley together to play on her second studio album, Silk Purse. The band gelled so well on stage, they stayed together and called themselves the Eagles.

Hit: Love Me Tender

Hidden Gem: Mohammed’s Radio

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Rocks In The Attic #779: Various Artists – ‘FM (O.S.T.)’ (1978)

RITA#779Is there a worse film with such a great jukebox soundtrack? I don’t know what went on with the production of this film, but they managed to amass a who’s who of AOR tracks – courtesy of many different record labels – on the soundtrack.

It’s amazing to see the ident of the film studio, and the opening credits roll over a Steely Dan track. Their title track is one of the band’s only tracks not to appear on any of their studio albums, and serves as a great reason to own this soundtrack. Within the bands discography, it falls between the recording of 1977’s Aja and 1980’s Gaucho. The instrumental reprise of the title track, unavailable anywhere else, makes it essential for any diehard Steely Dan fan.

The plot of the film – a hit radio station staffed by a plucky bunch of rebels, faced with interference from their corporate owners – is about as interesting as the trade dispute storyline from The Phantom Menace.

The cast – of mostly unknowns – aren’t particularly bad, or unlikable, it’s just that the story is so damn uninteresting. It plays more like a soap opera than a feature film, and the claustrophobia of the radio station offices is really only punctured by two concert performances, by Jimmy ‘Great Spread’ Buffett and Linda Ronstadt.

RITA#779aWhat a corker of a soundtrack though. Alongside the Dan’s FM, we also get their groovy Do It Again, the Eagles’ Life In The Fast Lane, Foreigner’s Cold As Ice, the Doobie’s It Keeps You Runnin’, the Steve Miller Band’s Fly Like An Eagle, Tom Petty & The Heartbreaker’s Breakdown, Queen’s We Will Rock You and the full 8-minute cut of Joe Walsh’s Life’s Been Good To Me. It really is the American Graffiti of late ‘70s rock music. My only criticism is that it’s comprised entirely by white singers and bands, and I can’t imagine any radio station in the late 1970s being so blind to African-American artists.

In fact, the hits come so thick and fast, the film feels more like a 2-hour trailer for a much better film, given how used we are to hearing big songs flip between one to another so rapidly. It’s just a shame the film doesn’t live up to the quality of the music.

No static at all, but a whole load of white noise.

Hit: More Than A Feeling – Boston

Hidden Gem: FM Reprise – Steely Dan

Rocks In The Attic #741: John Williams – ‘Superman: The Movie (O.S.T.)’ (1978)

RITA#741“All those things I can do, all those powers, and I couldn’t even save him.”

With this line, delivered by a grieving Clark Kent near the end of the film’s weighty first act, the writers of Superman: The Movie clearly identify the character’s central flaw: that despite his super-powers, he’s unable to save everybody.

This paradox is echoed at the end of the film (in a scenario later lifted by The Dark Knight), where Superman is forced to decide between saving Lois Lane and saving everybody else. Only by interfering with human history – and thereby breaking his father’s golden rule – can he do both.

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Superman has no weaknesses, except his allergy to that pesky kryptonite, and so his inability to protect all innocent life becomes the character’s true Achilles’ heel. Richard Donner’s Superman makes a big deal out of this; it’s a film about the humanity of the character (with a painfully obvious subtext concerning the American dream). The comic-book superhero stuff is just dressing.

RITA#741aDonner’s film is so much better than recent efforts with the character, it almost seems an insult to compare it to them. After a long break following the woeful Superman IV: The Quest For Peace, we all narrowly escaped the ‘90s Tim Burton version starring Nicolas Cage before the property seemed to fall back into safe hands. Bryan Singer’s Superman Returns (2006) was all set to be a masterpiece. The storyline (co-written by Singer, himself a huge fan of Donner’s version of Superman) did away with the third and fourth films, placing it directly after the respectable Superman II.

“Interesting,” we all thought. This could be something. The director of 1995’s The Usual Suspects had shown that he could direct comic-book superheroes with 2000’s X-Men (and its 2003 sequel). It was pitched to be a continuation of the Richard Donner / Richard Lester films. The opening credits even took the swooping, swooshing style of those earlier films, set to John Williams’ score. What could go wrong?

Well, sadly, everything.

RITA#741bAside from a forgetful cast, and a lacklustre script, the storyline involving ‘SuperBoy’ – the product of a romance between Clark Kent and Lois Lane – was just unbearable. What did Singer expect to happen if the film had been more successful than it ultimately was? Was he thinking that the franchise would continue with ‘SuperBoy’, ‘SuperPrePubescent’, ‘SuperSulkyTeen’, ‘SuperSurreptitiousMasturbator’ and so on?

This storyline, more than anything in Singer’s film, killed the franchise yet again. We would have to wait another seven years for Zack Snyder’s Man Of Steel to land. Again, it looked hopeful. I’m a huge fan of Snyder’s Watchmen (2009) and so it looked like the franchise was safe in the hands of somebody who could do dark-DC well. Even better, the film was produced by Christopher Nolan who had done marvellous things with DC’s other flagship character, Batman, in the early 2000s. What could go wrong?

Again, sadly, everything.

Man Of Steel takes all the joy out of the character, and replaces it with a migraine. A bastard behind the eyes, as Withnail would put it. The only good thing about watching Man Of Steel is getting to the closing credits without slipping into a coma. The apple has fallen a long, long way from Richard Donner’s tree.

To be fair, I don’t mind 2016’s Batman Vs. Superman: Dawn Of Justice – particularly the bit where the delightful Gal Gadot turns up to the Doomsday fight as Wonder Woman – but Superman is the least interesting character in a universe that is doing its best to ape Marvel’s successes.

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The final nail in the coffin – so far – was the return of Superman in 2017’s Justice League. This sludgefest of a film might have been better without Superman appearing, but it was already terrible without him. Moral of the story: if the actor playing Superman refuses to shave his (Mission: Impossible – Fallout) moustache off to complete re-shoots, for WHATEVER REASON, leading to uncanny valley CGI problems, then HE DOESN’T DESERVE TO PLAY SUPERMAN.

Of course, half of the magic from Richard Donner’s Superman comes from John Williams’ epic score. It’s possibly my favourite of his soundtracks – which all depends on which film I saw last: Superman, Star Wars, E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial, Jaws, or Raiders Of The Lost Ark.

There are many passages in both the main title theme, and the score overall, that almost bring a tear to my eye. The score is like a direct line to the nostalgia of my childhood; a magic button, composed by a magician himself.

Hit: Theme From Superman (Main Title)

Hidden Gem: The Fortress Of Solitude

Rocks In The Attic #637: Boney M. – ‘Nightflight To Venus’ (1978)

RITA#637When I think about all the great disco groups of the 1970s, I’m not usually thinking about Boney M. To me, great disco was solely an American proposition – K.C. & The Sunshine Band, Chic, Earth, Wind & Fire, The Trammps. Even the Manx-born / Australian-bred Bee Gees sounded American during their genre-defining Saturday Night Fever period.

So a foreign-born – and most importantly, a foreign-sounding – disco band like Boney M. never really fit in anywhere. The band hail from the West Germany of the 1970s, with members originally from Jamaica, Aruba and Montserrat. If they had travelled north from the Caribbean, and landed in the USA they might have indeed been a vital part of the American disco scene.

Instead, their music is blighted by an economical, soulless Europop production by Frank Farian – the German producer behind the Milli Vanilli lip-syncing scandal of the 1980s. They’re more Eurovision than Saturday Night Fever; more James Last than Nile Rodgers.

While the more artistically and commercially successful Abba have remained timelessly relevant on the strength of both their songwriting and the production of their material, Boney M. just feel synthetic, a product of the capitalist West Germany. They’re hugely successful however – having sold over 150 million records worldwide, so somebody must have liked them.

Once you look past the big singles – Rasputin, Rivers Of Babylon and Brown Girl In The Ring – this record isn’t too bad. The production-heavy opening track, Nightflight To Venus, gives drummer Keith Forsey a moment to shine on an otherwise dull record in terms of percussion (the rest of the album is very much driven by a straight 4/4 beat, with very little variation).

But it is the record’s final track, a cover of Neil Young’s Heart Of Gold, that is the most surprising thing of all – surprising because it’s actually quite interesting in its vocal harmony arrangement. But of course, hearing one of Shakey’s better-known songs covered by a West German / Caribbean disco band has to be heard to be believed.

Hit: Rivers Of Babylon

Hidden Gem: Heart Of Gold

Rocks In The Attic #611: 10cc – ‘Bloody Tourists’ (1978)

RITA#611The band’s second studio LP following the departure of Kevin Godley and Lol Creme, Bloody Tourists finds 10cc hitting full stride with their final number one single – Dreadlock Holiday – a song that might make you think they didn’t need Godley and Creme in the first place.

This is the 10cc of Live And Let Live – the live record recorded while touring 1977’s Deceptive Bends. If anything, the band sounds a little – not much, but a little – less whacky without the more experimental Godley and Creme. That odd music-hall influence has disappeared, and they now sound much more mature. There’s more of an AOR feel, and you can hear much more of that ‘Britain’s answer to Steely Dan’ comparison .

Is the post-split 10cc a less exciting proposition than the original four-piece version of the band? Yes and no. They can still surprise, but the surprises are fewer and farther between.

Hit: Dreadlock Holiday

Hidden Gem: For You And I

Rocks In The Attic #595: Bob Marley & The Wailers – ‘Kaya’ (1978)

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This record features my favourite Bob Marley track, Is This Love. It’s a typical Wailers song – effortless, catchy and upbeat – and doesn’t let itself be burdened by the verse-chorus-verse template of western pop music. It has a structure, but a loose structure and the emphasis comes more from the message of the song rather than the boundaries of its form.

The record also features a re-recording of Sun Is Shining. Originally released on 1971’s Soul Revolution and then on the African Herbsman compilation in 1973, the song was later lifted by Funkstar Deluxe for a reggae fusion remix in 1999 which hit #1 in the USA and #3 in the UK. I’m not a huge fan of club remixes, but this was one of those tracks that forever seems to keep Marley’s music in the public eye.

I might have to hunt down the Deluxe Edition of Kaya on CD as it features a second disc of a live performance recorded in Rotterdam on the day I was born. Maybe that’s why I like Is This Love so much. Could Bob have been playing it just as I popped out into the cosmos?

Hit: Is This Love

Hidden Gem: Misty Morning

Rocks In The Attic #538: Robert Palmer – ‘Double Fun’ (1978)

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Now this fella had a good voice. I remember shopping in Kingbee Records in Manchester on the morning that I heard he had died, and toying with the idea of buying one of his records. I didn’t buy it in the end. I hadn’t heard anything by him other than the ubiquitous late ‘80s singles Addicted To Love and Simply Irresistible, and surely I wouldn’t appreciate a full album of his yuppy rock songs.

I don’t think I ever saw any of his records in the wild again until I picked this up – studio album number four. It’s a damn good record, and Palmer’s blue-eyed soul voice is really a wonderful thing. Genre-wise, it reminds me of early Hot Chocolate – a poppy mixture of groove-based rock and grown up soul and R&B. Anybody with the confidence to work up a decent funk version of the Kinks’ You Really Got Me is worth more than five minutes of my time.

By this stage, Palmer wasn’t pulling in the likes of the Meters or Little Feat to back him in the studio, as on his first two records. I don’t immediately recognise any of the musicians who contributed to the sessions, but there are definitely a lot of them – twenty nine players in total – suggesting that the sessions were a casual, unstructured affair.

Hit: Every Kinda People

Hidden Gem: Come Over