Category Archives: 1979

Rocks In The Attic #810: Various Artists – ‘Quadrophenia (O.S.T.)’ (1979)

RITA#810New Zealand is a long way to go for anybody. It’s at the arse-end of nowhere. This is fine when our small island wants to stay out international affairs, or keep nuclear ships out of our waters, but it also puts off celebrities and artists from making the trip. Who wants to spend longer than a couple of hours on an airplane?

This year we’ve had tour cancellations from Ozzy Osbourne (due to a genuine injury), and Kiss (due to some half-hearted bullshit, conveniently allowing them to make more money playing Australia and Japan). Two big-name cancellations might not sound like a lot, but when you consider that we might only get half a dozen similarly sized acts per year, it can be a big blow to music fans.

RITA#810aSo you have to make the most of what you can get. Occasionally, very occasionally, we might get a big-name actor, writer or director coming over on a promotional jaunt. I’ve been lucky in the past meeting Roger Moore, Quentin Tarantino and Danny Boyle. That’s three of my heroes right there, and I feel incredibly lucky to have met them. But that’s the sum total of my being in the country for twelve years. Living in LA, New York or London, one might be able to meet three big names in the course of twelve weeks.

And so when my wife told me that one of Britain’s greatest character actors, Timothy Spall, would be coming not only to New Zealand, but to the local art-house cinema in my small village outside of Auckland, I was immediately suspicious. I’ll believe it when I see it, I said. The announcement was just a few days before the event, and why the hell would Tim Spall want to come to New Zealand anyway?

Yet, the doubting Thomas in me was silenced.

On Friday night, I had the pleasure of watching his latest film, a bleak biopic of the North West’s greatest painter L.S. Lowry, before a Q&A with Spall himself. Mrs. Lowry & Son, directed by Adrian Noble, is far from the best film Spall’s been in. The sometimes-hammy script, limited narrative, even more limited filming locations and a greater focus on Lowry’s mother, instead of Lowry himself, makes it a seriously flawed film. Of course Spall’s subtle performance is the highlight of the film, as is Vanessa Redgrave’s portrayal of the painter’s overbearing matriarch, but both actors deserve much better material.

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After a bleak 90-minutes, the film ended on a bright note with the expected intertitles explaining Lowry’s subsequent achievements – that his unsupportive mother died before his first major exhibition, his paintings now sell for millions, and his work is displayed inside the purpose-built Lowry art gallery in Salford. The credits rolled, and into the cinema walked the man himself, resplendent in a blue suit and waistcoat.

Unfortunately, the limitations of the venue – Howick’s beautiful Monterey Cinema – meant that things didn’t go smoothly. This is a cinema that regularly forgets to the turn the lights down and shut the door to the theatre when a film starts. Another time, during a 3-D screening of Alfonso Cuarón’s

Gravity, my 3-D glasses just stopped working mid-film. I rushed out to the lobby, and was told that the 3-D headsets were battery-operated (!) and they handed me another pair, with no apology. It’s a nice little cinema, but the incompetence of its staff lets it down.

So, after the applause died down, Timothy Spall walked to the front of the screen and started talking. The morons had forgotten to charge the wireless microphone. The cinema that advertised a ‘once in a lifetime event’ had failed to prepare the one thing that they needed for said event. It beggars belief.

Thankfully, Spall took the issue with good grace, forced into a corner of the room with the microphone wired into the power supply. His anecdotes and stories were as good as I had hoped. He covered his battle with leukaemia, explaining that when the rest of the cast of Mike Leigh’s Secrets & Lies travelled to Cannes with the film, he went into hospital for chemotherapy instead. The silver lining, aside from beating the disease of course, was that when he left hospital he was inundated with film offers because Secrets & Lies had done so well.

RITA#810cIn another great story, he mentioned that after his preparation and research for playing the other famous British painter JMW Turner, in 2014’s Mr. Turner, he became a painter himself and his work is now displayed in The Lowry, alongside Lowry’s work. Art imitating life becoming art itself.

I asked a question too:

Me: Hi Tim, I’m a big fan. And I’m a big fan of Rafe too.

Tim: I’m a big fan of Rafe’s too! [laughs] He’s talking about my son, ladies and gentlemen.

Me: We’ve just seen Rafe in BBC’s War Of The Worlds, which he was fantastic in. I wanted to ask whether there’s a bit of rivalry in the family now that you’re both such big-name actors?

Tim: Oh no [laughs], not at all. I’m a big fan of Rafe’s. In fact, I’m his biggest fan! No, I’m immensely proud of him, and he’s a great son. And he’s a great Dad himself, too.

RITA#810dAfter the Q&A, I rushed out to the lobby to ask him for a photo and for an autograph on my Quadrophenia soundtrack LP. His first film appearance, some forty years ago, Spall has a small role as the awkward projectionist at the advertising agency where Phil Daniel’s Jimmy works (when Jimmy bothers to turn up). I showed him the LP. ‘What’s that?” he peered. ‘Oh, Quadrophenia! Ha! Wow, is that the album?’

Unfortunately, I didn’t get around to asking Tim my other question. I had recently seen a clip of Rafe Spall mentioning that he had narrowly missed out on the role of Dr. Who. When the BBC producers told him not to tell anybody he was going through the audition process, he instead told everybody. Word got back to them, and he was dropped. I wanted to ask a hypothetical question: if Rafe got the part of another British screen hero, James Bond, would Tim be keen on playing M?

I’ll ask him next time.

Hit: Louie Louie – The Kingsmen

Hidden Gem: Zoot Suit – The High Numbers

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Rocks In The Attic #803: Sister Sledge – ‘We Are Family’ (1979)

RITA#803I’ve been looking for a nice clean copy of Sister Sledge’s debut album, We Are Family, ever since I’ve been collecting records. I finally found a reasonably priced ($9.95 USD) copy courtesy of my favourite Discogs seller, Vinylizking.

This album might just be the single greatest achievement of the partnership between Nile Rodgers and Bernard Edwards. The pair have produced many albums by other artists, and of course have produced themselves in Chic, but this particular album is arguably the strongest of the bunch. He’s The Greatest Dancer, Lost In Music, Thinking Of You, and the title track are four of the greatest songs from the soul and funk genre, and the fact that all four are on the same studio album is just mind-blowing. This record might as well be called Sister Sledge’s Greatest Hits. Even Nile Rodgers agrees, saying in his 2011 autobiography that ‘pound for pound, I think We Are Family is our best album hands down.’

Sister Sledge Portrait

CIRCA 1977: (Clockwise from bottom left) Kathy Sledge, Joni Sledge, Kim Sledge and Debbie Sledge of the vocal group “Sister Sledge” pose for a portrait in circa 1977. (Photo by Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)

The hefty package I received in the mail last week – nine LPs in total; a mixture of soul, funk and soundtracks – is probably going to be my last decent-sized haul from Discogs. Up to now, the country where I live has been relatively relaxed about charging GST taxes at the border. Anything under $400NZD has been exempt from charges. This has been great as a record collector, as I’m not sure if you’ve noticed but New Zealand is at the edge of the world.

Our national carrier, NZ Post, has even provided a service called YouShop where they have provided mailing addresses in the USA, the UK and China, where you can send parcels from online stores in those countries, and they will collect them and mail back to NZ at a competitive shipping rate. The service only started in 2012, but I’ve used it over a hundred times. It’s fantastic whenever overseas stores either don’t offer international shipping, or charge an arm and a leg for it (presumably to deter the hassle of dealing with overseas buyers).

From December, under pressure from New Zealand retailers, the Government has announced that all shipments from overseas will be eligible for a 15% GST charge. These are the same New Zealand retailers who will, for example, import paperback novels with a UK RRP of £7.99 GBP and charge $35 NZD for it. Despite a (current) exchange rate of $2.02 NZD to £1 GBP, this means they’re effectively charging more than double for the price of goods. Granted the UK RRP will include some element of shipping and overheads – it’s not a cost price – but even though shipping to New Zealand will be significantly more than shipping around the UK, there’s still something very wrong with the price we’re faced with.

As a result, to keep going with the book example, the small percentage of New Zealanders who do read, have been ordering them from overseas – either from Amazon or Book Depository. I purchased a book for my wife from Book Depository – it arrived with free shipping for $15 NZD. If I had purchased it from a New Zealand retailer, it would have cost $26 NZD.

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As a result of this economic quirk, nearly all of the bookshop chains in New Zealand have closed down in the last decade. Only a few remain, and for those stores, the sale of books only makes up a small percentage of their revenue. A number of well-run independent bookstores remain (Unity Books on Auckland’s High Street is a particular favourite), but they’re still charging those same ridiculous prices and so you have to wonder how they stay afloat. However, the pricing structure is down to the distributors, I think, rather than the stores themselves.

As a country, we need to make sure that the same thing doesn’t happen to our independent record shops. I shop at Auckland’s record stores as regularly as I can. Real Groovy, Southbound, Marbecks and Flying Out all get a decent proportion of my disposable income. But sometimes these stores don’t always stock the titles I want. Whether it’s limited releases from small boutique soundtrack labels (Waxwork, Mondo, Enjoy The Ride, Real Gone), or simply hard-to-find titles on Discogs, I’ve enjoyed the freedom to purchase these without any restrictions…until now.

NZ Post have said that they will automatically apply the GST charge on all parcels they ship into New Zealand via YouShop. So I’ll simply stop using the service. There are already loopholes around the restrictions though, which hopefully mean I’ll still be able to purchase directly from overseas vendors without incurring extra charges (the GST component will only be applied by vendors who supply $60,000 NZD in goods to New Zealand residents per annum). Many of the small, boutique record labels I purchase from will supply nowhere near that value of goods to our shores, and so I hope that they don’t get bullied by our government to comply.

On paper, I support the new charge if it were to assist the ability of New Zealand retailers to compete with the international marketplace. But I only see this legislation as justification for the ridiculous increased prices distributors pass on to our captive market.

I don’t know what this has all got to do with Nile Rodgers and Bernard Edwards, but I think they’d be similarly angry that my government is making it harder for me to buy their records.

Hit: We Are Family

Hidden Gem: You’re A Friend To Me

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Rocks In The Attic #794: Fleetwood Mac – ‘Tusk’ (1979)

RITA#794Fleetwood Mac recently played five nights in New Zealand – four of which in Auckland. They usually play one or two nights when they reach our shores, but this time they had a Kiwi among their ranks and all the proud New Zealanders wanted to see him.

The current touring line-up of the Mac was established when the band fired Lindsey Buckingham, apparently for not getting into the spirit of the band’s 50th anniversary and refusing to play material prior to his tenure with the band. Out went Buckingham, and brought in to replace him were Split Enz / Crowded House frontman Neil Finn, and Tom Petty sideman Mike Campbell. It’s a measure of how strong Buckingham was on both vocals and guitar, that the band split his responsibilities across two people (lead guitar work could easily have been handled by their touring guitarist, Neale Heywood).

RITA#794aSo, with a bit of new blood in the ranks, Fleetwood House and The Heartbreaker hit Auckland’s Spark Arena. Strangely, they opted to play exactly the same setlist for each of those nights – an odd choice for a band with such a wealth of material. The Peter Green-era material promised for their half-century anniversary was well received, and great to see. I already knew they were playing Man Of The World, and Black Magic Woman seemed an obvious choice, but it was the inclusion of Oh Well – my favourite single from that era of the band – that really put a smile on my face. This proved to be Mike Campbell’s showcase, and he played it perfectly. Given how the Buckingham / Nicks era of Fleetwood Mac are so very different to that original blues explosion version, I never thought I’d see any incarnation of the band play Oh Well.

After a shaky start – particularly in respect to Christine McVie’s voice – the band settled down and they eventually sounded almost as good as ever. I’m a huge fan of Lindsey Buckingham, and I think there’s an urgent, blind-corner aspect to his presence and his playing that was still missing. The subs still did a great job though.

RITA#794bIt almost seemed like a given that Neil Finn would be given the opportunity to perform Crowded House’s Don’t Dream It’s Over – which he did on an acoustic, with organ accompaniment from Ricky Peterson, to a rousing Kiwi chorus – but I was surprised to see the whole band back Finn on a cover of Split Enz’s I Got You. Finn’s introduction to song also explained that when the song would play on MTV in the 1980’s, Stevie Nicks would add her own background harmony, which she added during the night’s performance.

The encore started with the band’s tribute to Tom Petty – a cover of Free Fallin’ – complete with a photo montage of Campbell playing with Petty through the years, and Petty’s many appearances with Nicks. A lady behind me in the seats, probably unaware of Campbell’s credentials, saw one of the photos of Petty laughing with Nicks, and asked ‘Did she date him?’ I laughed at this typically Kiwi question – given reality TV’s stranglehold on Kiwi culture – but they did have a long and enduring friendship at least.

Obviously, with a Tom Petty song, a Crowded House song, a Split Enz song and three Peter Green-era songs, something had to move aside and unfortunately despite playing four songs from 1975’s Fleetwood Mac, and seven songs from Rumours, the band neglected to play any material from 1979’s Tusk, my second-favourite of the Buckingham/Nicks albums (after its diamond-selling predecessor).

The thing I love the most about Tusk, aside from its rousing title track, is the band’s decision to hold back and do something a little more experimental and home-made after the success (and marital strife) of Rumours. Influenced by the post-punk movement out of New York’s C.B.G.B. scene (particularly Talking Heads), Buckingham’s back-to-basics approach to songwriting, and home-studio recording, gives the album a measure of charm that goes against the usual sheen of their albums.

It’s a record I always enjoy pulling off the shelf, even if I always think I have it on the wrong speed, when Christine’s Over & Over lumbers out of the speakers. Fingers crossed the band will give the album the love it deserves when they next visit New Zealand, hopefully with Buckingham in tow, licking his wounds.

Hit: Tusk

Hidden Gem: The Ledge

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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.

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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 #753: Led Zeppelin – ‘In Through The Out Door’ (1979)

RITA#753I’ve just finished the new Led Zeppelin book, recently released to mark the band’s 50th anniversary. A coffee-table book the size of a small coffee-table, it features heaps of unseen photographs as it charts the bands from their early days at the end of the ‘60s to their reunion show at the O2 in 2007.

Put together with the same care and attention as the similarly monolithic Jimmy Page book from 2010, it’s good for a quick glance while you’re sat on the toilet, but I don’t know why anybody would stump up the cash required to buy these massive tomes. I borrowed both from my local library.

RITA#753aWell, I tried to borrow the recent one from my library, but was heavily delayed by the usual lack of common sense of civil servants. Having ordered the book months before it was released, I finally got an email notification that the book was now ready to collect. I looked at the date: didn’t the library close today for a month of renovations?

I fired an email back. ‘Where can I pick up the book from? Surely it wasn’t delivered to a closed library.’

‘The book was delivered to the library on Saturday’, came the reply.

‘But you didn’t email me until the following Monday, after the library had closed?’

‘Yes, the system only sends out those emails from Monday to Friday.’

I guess you get what you pay for. A month later, I finally got my hands on it, from the freshly carpeted library.

One thing the book made me do was to revisit In Through The Out Door, probably the Zeppelin album I listen to the least (alongside Coda). Both are well worth a listen, but fall extremely short of the high standards set by the rest of the band’s back catalogue.

I’ve always liked certain aspects of In Through The Out Door – the drone of In The Evening, the funk of South Bound Suarez, the 8-bit computer game music breakdown halfway through Carouselambra – but the classical feel of All My Love, and the overall keyboard-heavy instrumentation across the record make it almost indistinguishable from earlier Led Zeppelin. If studio album number eight sounded this different, I hate to imagine what their ninth would have been like, had the band not lost John Bonham.

RITA#753bOne thing I’ve always liked is the cover design. A sepia image of a man sat at a dusty bar, with a series of alternate covers depicting the viewpoints of the bar’s other patrons. And if that wasn’t oblique enough, the album was packaged with a paper bag as an outer sleeve. The inner sleeve also features a line drawing, which if wet with water would become permanently coloured; but I’ve never been brave enough to test this out on my original pressing.

I was such a Zeppelin fiend throughout my teens, I would have given my right arm to listen to some of the unreleased tracks and alternate versions that have subsequently come out over the last decade of reissues. I’ve only dipped my toe into them, as I fear they will be the final ‘new material’ we will get from the band, and I don’t want to consume them too quickly (in much the same way as I have an unwatched DVD of To Catch A Thief, the last of Hitchcocks’s golden period films I haven’t seen).

I’ll get around to all of those unreleased tracks one day. And weirdly, despite them being my least favourite albums by the band from their initial run, it’s the bonus stuff from In Through The Out Door and Coda that I look forward to hearing the most.

Hit: All My Love

Hidden Gem: Carouselambra

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Rocks In The Attic #724: George Harrison – ‘George Harrison’ (1979)

RITA#724You’d be forgiven for thinking that by the time of George’s eighth solo album, he was bereft of ideas. This 1979 effort finds him not only running out of ideas for album titles, but he also re-uses earlier material: the second-track, Not Guilty, is a leftover from the last self-titled album he was involved in, the Beatles’ eponymous 1968 release.

But there’s lots to like about this record. It’s a bit happier and a bit more laid-back than his previous work, having married Olivia Arias and become a father to Dhani a year earlier.

Side-two opener Faster – “inspired by Jackie Stewart and Niki Lauda” – is perhaps one of the last hidden gems of George’s solo career – a non-charting single, released as a picture-disc (a first for a Beatle past or present) with all proceeds going to charity (a cancer fund set up following the death of Swedish F1 driver Gunnar Nilsson in 1978). George must have had enough invested into the song to go to the trouble of filming a promotional video for it.

RITA#724aSpeaking of chart positions, this album comes a full five years after George had a #1 single anywhere in the world – 1973’s Give Me Love (Give Me Peace On Earth), the sole single from Living In The Material World, which topped the US Billboard. His poor chart performance through 1977 and 1978 correlates with the rise of punk, and his more mature songwriting was probably at odds with Johnny Rotten, Joe Strummer and the rest of the new breed of youth music.

Here Comes The Moon is lovely, the first single Blow Away is great, and there really isn’t a weak song on the album. But that’s probably the rub – while George might not write or record bad songs by this point, he also doesn’t write or record anything particularly outstanding. His next single, All Those Years Ago in 1981 performed much stronger in the wake of John Lennon’s death, and it wouldn’t be until 1987 before he topped the charts again (with his Jeff Lynne-produced cover of I’ve Got My Mind Set On You).

Mention must be made of George’s hairstyle during 1979. The rear cover image shows him walking across his garden, not only in the largest pair of flares this side of the 1960s, but with a perm long enough to make any poodle-breeder proud.

Hit: Blow Away

Hidden Gem: Faster

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Rocks In The Attic #717: Desmond Child & Rouge – ‘Desmond Child & Rouge’ (1979)

RITA#717My quest to purchase every Aerosmith-related record continues with this, the 1979 debut album by Desmond Child and his vocal group, Rouge.

In 1987, Desmond Child was one of the first ‘song doctors’ employed by Aerosmith to co-write radio-friendly hits to re-energise their career. He co-wrote the Permanent Vacation singles Dude (Looks Like A Lady) and Angel – which hit #14 and #3 on the Billboard chart respectively – and the album opener Heart’s Done Time.

His success with Bon Jovi dwarfs his first run with Aerosmith – a year before Permanent Vacation he co-wrote You Give Love A Bad Name and Living On A Prayer, both hitting #1 for the New Jersey band. Aerosmith manager Tim Collins and Geffen A&R man John Kalodner knew what they were doing in seeking Child’s services.

Child Services?!?!?

Desmond Child would continue to work with Aerosmith throughout their tenure at Geffen. He contributed to What It Takes and F.I.N.E. from 1989’s Pump, Crazy and Flesh from 1993’s Get A Grip and finally Hole In My Soul from 1997’s Nine Lives.

He’s an integral figure in that late-‘80s hard rock scene, writing and producing the entirety of Alice Cooper’s 1989 album Trash, and working with the likes of Kiss, Joan Jett & The Blackhearts, Ratt, Steve Vai.

So what does this 1979 ‘solo’ record sound like? Well, you can definitely hear the genesis of a hit-making song-writer in there. It’s perhaps closest to Bon Jovi than any of his other associates. ‘Hit single’ (according to the hype sticker, but only if reaching #51 is your definition of a hit) Our Love Is Insane definitely has a killer bass line, and the playing (by studio musicians) is without fault throughout the record.

Child shares vocal duties with the three singers in Rouge – Myriam Valle, Maria Vidal, and Diana Grasselli – and they give the album a soulful, Chic / Sister Sledge feeling. This turns out to be the record’s downfall. It tries to be everything – soul, rock, pop, funk – and doesn’t pull strongly enough in either direction. Jack of all trades, master of none.

Hit: Our Love Is Insane

Hidden Gem: City In Heat

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