Category Archives: 1979

Rocks In The Attic #648: Rod Stewart – ‘Greatest Hits’ (1979)

RITA#648A couple of weekends ago, my wife left the house to go the supermarket. She phoned me five minutes later, with a degree of urgency in her voice. On her way to the supermarket, she spotted a car-boot sale in a church car-park. She had found a man selling three boxes of records. Her call was to see if I wanted any of the classic rock LPs he was selling at the princely sum of a dollar each.

“Have you got Green River by Creedence Clearwater?”

“No, get it.”

“Rod Stewart – Greatest Hits?”

“No, get it”

“The Travelling Wilburys?”

“Yes, but get it anyway.”

And so on. She eventually brought back a box of forty six records, which the seller only took thirty dollars for. Result. I would have paid close to that for the Creedence record alone.

Nine of the records are Rod Stewart albums, and a further four are Faces albums with Rod singing on them. That’s a twenty-eight per cent Stewart penetration rate. Maximum Rod.

Hit: Maggie May

Hidden Gem: Hot Legs

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Rocks In The Attic #614: The Sex Pistols – ‘The Great Rock ‘N’ Roll Swindle (O.S.T.)’ (1979)

RITA#614.jpgI saw Alex Cox’s Sid & Nancy recently. I’d avoided it all my life, not being a particular fan of either Alex Cox films or the Sex Pistols. I like Never Mind The Bollocks of course, I think it’s an essential rock and roll record for any collection, but to borrow a phrase of my Dad’s, I wouldn’t spit on them if they were on fire. Which begs the question – if there was a fire at a Pistols gig, would the audience be able to summon up the required levels of spittle to extinguish it?

There’s an unwritten law that bands from lower socio-economic backgrounds can’t be intellectual. To be intelligent is to be phoney. As long as they’re wise to the fact that they’re downtrodden by society, that’s all that matters. So you get people like John Lydon – arguably a very bright individual – pulling retarded faces and generally acting like a buffoon to get attention.

That first wave of British punk – and especially the Pistols – seemed to cultivate this trope. They even fired original bass-player Glen Matlock for being ‘boring’ (read: intelligent and articulate). He also washed his feet constantly in the sink and liked the Beatles, two things forbidden in the punk handbook.

Matlock’s replacement, the oft-celebrated Sid Vicious, represents for me everything that’s wrong about punk. Brought into the band because he looked good and was a friend of Rotten’s, his short tenure in the band only served to fuel the band’s notoriety. To go back to the Beatles, Vicious was essentially the Stuart Sutcliffe of the Sex Pistols – terrible at playing his instrument, but a good comrade and one that looked appealing (even if he didn’t sound appealing). Even punk bands of today will use Sid Vicious as their archetype. Green Day, who like to think of themselves as a punk band, but are just as much of a corporate shill as Taylor Swift and Katy Perry, have traded for decades on the sneer and attitude of Sid.

Gary Oldman’s portrayal in Sid & Nancy feels spot-on, when you compare it to interview footage from Sid’s few years in the limelight. He’s a junkie idiot, plain and simple, and the really cynical thing about the film is that it seems to celebrate Sid – holding him up as a hero and a martyr for punk.

I haven’t seen The Great Rock ‘N’ Roll Swindle – the Julien Temple mockumentary that this album soundtracks. I might get around to it one day, but I’ve had my fill of the Pistols for the time being. The record stands for itself though, and makes for a pretty interesting listen – a double-record with lots of archival live rehearsals, combined with some oddities. Sid croons through My Way and succeeds through some rock and roll covers, there’s an early, weightier version of Anarchy In The UK, and for a bit of levity some off the wall Pistols covers by a disco group, a trio of French street musicians and Great Train Robber Ronnie Biggs backed by Pistols guitarist Steve Jones and drummer Paul Cook.

Hit: Anarchy In The UK – The Sex Pistols

Hidden Gem: Black Arabs – Black Arabs

Rocks In The Attic #592: George Gershwin – ‘Manhattan (O.S.T.)’ (1979)

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I recently got to see Woody Allen’s Manhattan on the big screen – re-released and screened as part of the New Zealand International Film Festival’s Autumn Classics programme.

Of the two most famous films of his ‘70s output – 1977’s Annie Hall and 1979’s Manhattan (the Rubber Soul / Revolver of Allen’s filmography) – I’ve always preferred Manhattan. While Annie Hall is undoubtedly a fantastic film, overshadowing Star Wars at the 1978 Academy Awards by winning Best Picture, Best Director, Best Original Screenplay (Allen & Marshall Brickman) and Best Actress (Diane Keaton), it’s accolades also bring a lot of weight with it.

Manhattan, on the other hand, didn’t win a sausage at the 1980 Academy Awards – despite nominations for Best Supporting Actress (Mariel Hemingway) and Best Original Screenplay (Allen & Brickman again). Where Annie Hall is the quintessential Woody Allen film, and the progenitor of the modern romantic-comedy, it also suffers from being the most obvious, the one chosen as a life template by dilettante faux-bohemian women due to the kooky allure of Diane Keaton’s character.

Manhattan is the Woody Allen fan’s Woody Allen film. It’s shot in 2.35:1 widescreen black-and-white, which avoids the risk of any low-brow audience seeing it, and it’s also a much more low-key affair. The nature of the relationship between Woody Allen and Diane Keaton’s characters might be the narrative focus of Annie Hall, but in Manhattan this is merely a peripheral matter. Instead, the later film deals more with the threat of being alone in a city full of people. As a result, while the one-liners in Annie Hall may be funnier, the jokes in Manhattan have more weight.

While Annie Hall may serve as the template formula for the rom-coms of today’s cinema, it’s the overbearing melancholia of Manhattan that inspired perhaps the greatest film in the modern-day genre, Rob Reiner’s When Harry Met Sally (1989).

Hit: Rhapsody In Blue

Hidden Gem: Mine

Rocks In The Attic #579: Bob James & Earl Klugh – ‘One On One’ (1979)

RITA#579Whenever I see a Bob James record, I buy it. It’s one of my record store rules. Of course, I’m always chasing a better Bob James record than Touchdown, and I think I’ll always be chasing it as I’m not sure such a thing exists.

This record, which arrived in stores between James’ sixth (Touchdown) and seventh solo record (Lucky Seven), finds him collaborating with jazz guitarist Earl Klugh. It makes for a great combination as the two players compliment each other well. As with most of Bob James’ work, every song sounds like the theme-song for a late-‘70s / early-‘80s television show which you’ve never heard. Obviously that analogy doesn’t work for Touchdown’s Angela, the theme-song from Taxi, as that one you would have heard, but you get the point.

One of my favourite things about this record is the cover. I really wish designers would get a little more experimental in these sorts of things. Usually record covers are a photo of the band, or a pretty picture, but I really dig it when they’re designed to look like other things. The allure of the everyday. This matchbook design is great, and spoiled really only by the lettering of the artist and title (and on my copy, a big logo stating that it’s a half-speed mastered, audiophile pressing).

Hit: Kari

Hidden Gem: The Afterglow

Rocks In The Attic #517: U.F.O. – ‘Strangers In The Night’ (1979)

RITA#517“Hello Chicago!…”

I felt like a blast of heavy metal, given that I’ve just watched Heavy Metal Parking Lot – the documentary love-letter to being young, dumb, full of booze and standing around waiting for your favourite band to play in your hometown.

The premise of the film is very simple – two documentary filmmakers, Jeff Krulik and John Heyn, took a movie camera and a microphone to the parking lot of the Capitol Centre arena in Landover, Maryland on May 31st 1986 to film heavy metal fans who had congregated there to see Judas Priest on their Fuel For Life tour.

As you might expect, the short film is full of idiots – boozed-up, shirtless and, for the most part, willing participants for the filmmakers who are obviously there to poke fun at their subjects. Krulik and Heyn don’t get too involved in fact, and the only ridiculing evident is self-inflicted, with some gentle prompting by way of questions to the interviewees.

The film did make me think about how I was at that age – in my mid-teens and with a love of heavy metal. I know my behaviour wasn’t quite as extreme as the teens in this film, but I definitely saw a lot of people acting like this as soon as they had a couple of beers inside them. Only a couple of years ago I was standing in the crowd at  Black Sabbath concert, and the young, overweight girl next to me was asleep on her feet, drunk out of her head, and smelling of vomit as she bounced against each of the people stood around her, like an intoxicated ball in a pinball machine.

I’ve always been staunchly against anything coming close to ‘laddish’ behaviour, but this film is full of it. The young teens are emboldened not just by their drunkenness, but by being safely amongst their own kind. It’s a kind of pack mentality; an innocent kind, without any negative consequences.

Even more interesting than the 1986 film, is Krulik and Heyn’s follow-up documentary which traces a handful of Heavy Metal Parking Lot’s original interviewees. Most of the subjects are happy to have been tracked down and can view the film with good-natured nostalgia for the days of their youth, but the final segment is slightly different. In their search for ‘Zebraman’ – a youth dressed in a zebra patterned two-piece outfit, Krulik and Heyn knock on a door of a suburban house to be greeted by the man himself. Only he has his arms crossed and doesn’t look to happy that they’ve found him. He seems to be the only one to regret his involvement in the film, but still manages to crack a smile or two.

U.F.O.’s Strangers In The Night is a double live album from 1979, featuring songs recorded during the band’s North American tour promoting the Obsession album. It’s the last album to feature guitarist Michael Schenker, who almost went on to replace the recently departed Joe Perry in Aerosmith.

I know hardly anything about U.F.O. Their music, like a lot of classic heavy metal, bores me to tears. I think I first heard about the album in a special edition of Q or Mojo espousing essential rock albums. I never think a live album is a good way to first hear a band (although AC/DC Live worked wonders for me) and so this record just washes over me. As my wife once famously said to me at a Steely Dan concert, ‘I can’t tell when one song finishes and the next one starts’.

Hit: Doctor Doctor

Hidden Gem: Only You Can Rock Me

Rocks In The Attic #507: Prince – ‘Prince’ (1979)

RITA#5072016 has been a terrible year for celebrity deaths, particularly those from music, films and television. The year started off tainted by the death of Motörhead’s Lemmy Kilmister just a few days before New Year. Then things started to go crazy with David Bowie dying suddenly on the tenth of January. Following him, we’ve also seen the passing of Eagle Glenn Frey, Beatles producer George Martin, Keith Emerson, Merle Haggard, Elvis’ guitarist Scotty Moore, and many, many more.

Losing Bowie was bad enough, but any year where we lose somebody as iconic as him, plus Prince, plus Muhammad Ali is just plain crazy. It’s like the icons of the late twentieth century are falling off the planet. I’m half expecting a plane carrying Madonna, Tom Cruise and Bruce Springsteen to crash into the Hollywood sign, while Los Angeles succumbs to a devastating earthquake.

Prince’s death seemed to hit a little closer to home, only because he had just played in Auckland a few weeks earlier as part of his Piano And Microphone tour. I would have loved to see Prince, backed by a full band but I didn’t really like the idea of seeing him play unaccompanied. There’s a part of me that regrets not chasing down a ticket, just because it was my last chance to see him perform, but with his passing I’m even more glad that I didn’t go – I like to think that my seat went to a more deserving fan.

I can take or leave Prince. His Batman soundtrack was the first album I ever owned, and I like a good deal of his big hits; I just don’t like all the Sexy Motherf*cker bullshit that he descended to in the early nineties. His contractual dispute with Warner Brothers around that time – leading to him changing his name to the symbol and writing ‘Slave’ on his cheek also turned me off him. All of a sudden, just as I was getting into music in a big way, he didn’t seem to be about the music anymore.

His Greatest Hits album is superb though, and the song off that record I’ve always liked the best is the opening number I Wanna Be Your Lover, taken from this, his self-titled second album. The recent repressing of his back catalogue on vinyl has given me the opportunity to buy the album (I’ve never seen an original pressing in the wild), and it’s a great record.

The album version of I Wanna Be Your Lover sounds even better, being a few minutes longer than the single edit available on his Greatest Hits, and the other singles from the record are all worthy additions to his canon. I can’t remember the last time I liked a record so much from start to finish.

What’s not to like? All the upbeat songs are of a similar quality to I Wanna Be Your Lover, and the slower ballads don’t grate as much as some of the soppier ballads from later in his career. I might put my toe further in the purple water, and try out some of his other records now that they’re widely available again.

Hit: I Wanna Be Your Lover

Hidden Gem: Bambi

Rocks In The Attic #450: Motörhead – ‘Bomber’ (1979)

RITA#450.jpgYesterday, while out shopping with my parents and my eldest daughter, I heard the news that I never expected – Lemmy was no more, the King was dead. Only a couple of weeks after the death of drummer “Philthy Animal” Taylor too. As indestructible as that other survivor Keith Richards, nobody expected Lemmy to die. He’s made of stronger stuff than us mere mortals surely?

I used to listen to a lot more Motörhead than I do today. I would listen to the Ace Of Spades album – their masterpiece – pretty much on repeat in my early teens, with No Sleep ‘Til Hammersmith filling in the blanks. Tastes change though, and melody became more important than heaviness. That’s probably why Ace Of Spades was such a breakthrough – the songs are there, to the extent that it’s almost a pop album. You can hear that aspect of the band throughout their career – even on earlier albums such as Bomber. They could always play, and could write great songs, it’s just that they were in the right place at the right time with Ace Of Spades. It helped that America noticed too.

What now? Ozzy is still with us, tweeting “Lost one of my best friends, Lemmy, today. He will be sadly missed. He was a warrior and a legend. I will see you on the other side.” And of course Keith is still upright. Alice Cooper is still scaring people on stage. Lemmy was different though. As much as I love the likes of Ozzy, Keith and Alice, at night they go home to their plush mansions, and travel everywhere by private jet. Lemmy seemed to be the real deal – perhaps because Ace Of Spades was their only crossover success – and it was such a long time ago (thirty five years ago!), he’s never had the kind of acceptance those other rock n’ rollers have. No private jet for Lemmy – you’d be more likely to bump into him on the local bus.

One thing I saw Lemmy do creeped into my own guitar playing on stage. In 1994, Motörhead released a single to promote the movie Airheads. The song – Born To Raise Hell – was a retread of an older song that Lemmy had written for the German band Skew Siskin. The music video for the song, accompanied by clips of the film, featured footage of Motörhead playing the song live on stage – and just as it kicked off, one thing that Lemmy did always stayed with me. Following his mantra that everything should be played LOUD, he walked over to his bass amp and ran his hand over the top of his volume and gain controls from left to right, essentially turning everything up to maximum. I used to do this from time to time, much to the chagrin of sound engineers. God bless Lemmy.

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Sean Murphy, one of the members of my vinyl group on Facebook said it best: “Woke up to the news, another of our finest gone. R.I.P. It’s only 7:15am but the neighbours shall feel my grief.”

Hit: Bomber

Hidden Gem: Lawman