Category Archives: 1981

Rocks In The Attic #620: Bill Haley & His Comets – ‘Bill Haley 1927 – 1981’ (1981)

RITA#620What if Elvis had never happened? What if Elvis had walked into Sun Studios in Memphis in 1953, but was prevented from making his first recording for Sam Phillips by a city-wide power cut? Of if he was hit by a bus walking over to the studio? The whole future of popular music and teen culture might have changed into an alternate timeline that doesn’t bear thinking about.

Two years later, Bill Haley’s Rock Around The Clock turns rock and roll into a household name, but there’s no good-looking teen idol to pass the flame to (up and comers Chuck Berry, Little Richard and Jerry Lee Lewis are all killed in a package tour bus crash). Instead, teenagers across America turn to Haley for inspiration, as he signs with manager ‘Colonel’ Tom Parker. Tartan blazers become the hottest fashion accessory, and teens across the country turn to the emerging fast food restaurants to gain weight in adulation of their portly hero.

In 1957, Haley buys a large farming property, Graceland, between Memphis and the Mississippi border. A year later, Haley meets fourteen year old Priscilla Beaulieu and they marry after a seven year courtship. Haley becomes the most famous musician in the world, with his artistic credibility waning only after volunteering to join the army in 1958.

Throughout the 1960s Haley concentrates on acting and appears in a number of films celebrating middle-age. His return to music, the 1968 Comeback Special, renews public interest and reclaims Haley’s fanbase away from the British clarinet explosion of Acker Bilk. Dubbed the Fab One, Bilk had begun to alienate his global audience in recent years with music heavily influenced by his hallucinogenic drug use.

RITA#620aIn the 1970s, Haley becomes a staple of the Las Vegas casino scene. He switches draper jackets for white and gold jumpsuits, and it seems that his star will never fade with a million impersonators copying his gold wraparound sunglasses and kiss-curl hair-style. However, in December 1980 tragedy strikes when Haley is gunned down by an obsessive fan outside the New York apartment he shares with his Japanese wife, the artist Yoko Ono. Haley falls into a coma, and dies a few months later.

Haley’s legacy – the influential sound of rock and roll – can still be heard across pop charts to this day, and his lasting effect on fast-food culture is covered in Morgan Spurlock’s 2004 documentary, Super Size Me, a celebration of the age of American obesity.

Hit: Rock Around The Clock

Hidden Gem: Rip It Up

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Rocks In The Attic #619: Bob James – ‘Sign Of The Times’ (1981)

RITA#619Here’s a sign of the times. I was watching Walter Hill’s 1978 heist film The Driver the other day; part of my ongoing fascination with Edgar Wright’s wonderful Baby Driver from this year. I was watching the film in bed on Saturday morning, and my four-year-old jumped into bed and started watching with me.

There’s a scene towards the end of the picture where Ryan O’Neal’s character steps into a phone-box in the train station to make a short call.

“Look – he’s getting into a lift,” Isobel said.

“No,” I said. “It’s a phone-box. He wants to call somebody.”

Thus began a short conversation around the wonders of modern technology, and the fact that in 1978 when you’re made arrangements with criminals, you couldn’t just call them on your Samsung Galaxy. She thought it was a lift / elevator simply because of its shape and the fact that he stepped inside it.

The simple phone-box has all but disappeared from our screens this century; it made a final death rattle in Joel Schumacher’s Phone Booth from 2002. That film seemed like the last preposterous variation on the ‘peril within a space’ movie trope kicked off by 1987’s Die Hard (peril in a building), and copied by 1992’s Under Seige (peril on a boat), 1994’s Speed (peril on a bus) and countless others since.

Try and think of the last time a character in a film – set in the present day – made a call in a phone-box. It’s virtually impossible, simply because it just doesn’t happen anymore. But before the advent of cheap mobile phones around the turn of the century, it was commonplace.

The phone-box used to represent a form of safety. I’ll never forget the opening credits to television’s The Equalizer, when the panicked woman ran from an unseen antagonist into the illuminated security of a phone-box. And what would Bill & Ted have used as a time-travelling device if phone-boxes weren’t around? (We may find out the answer to that question if the long-rumoured third film ever gets made – perhaps it will be a smart-phone after all).

I’m not sure what any of this has to do with Bob James, but it saves me writing about those horrible photos of him inside the record’s gatefold cover.

Hit: Hypnotique

Hidden Gem: The Steamin’ Feeling

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Rocks In The Attic #597: Bill Conti – ‘For Your Eyes Only (O.S.T.)’ (1981)

RITA#597My childhood hero, the great Roger Moore died recently. My favourite Bond (it doesn’t matter who you think is the best, it’s the one you grew up with that counts) and one of the nicest celebrities I’ve ever encountered. A true gentleman, Sir Roger devoted his retirement years as a UNICEF ambassador, and really deserved his Knighthood for his tireless work for the charity.

I was overjoyed to see a double-bill of The Spy Who Loved Me and For Your Eyes Only at my local cinema last week, shown as a tribute to Moore’s passing. It was a worldwide re-release, as far as I can tell, although I’m not entirely sure why those films were chosen. Spy, I understand, but I would have thought other Roger Moore films would have been a better draw-card than For Your Eyes Only. I can only presume that those two films are the ones Moore was personally most proud of?

(There’s a nice bit of serendipity in that at the end of The Spy Who Loved Me, the credits promised that ‘James Bond Will Return In For Your Eyes Only’. However, due to the success of Star Wars, it was decided to make Moonraker next, in 1979, before they got around to filming For Your Eyes Only in 1981. I’d like to think that this is just a coincidence, and that the two films were chosen for other, better reasons than a nice bit of circumstance.)

Watching Spy and Eyes on the big screen was a real treat as I’d seen neither at the cinema before – my Bond viewing started with two films, Octopussy and Never Say Never Again, in 1983 when I was five years old. I’ve seen a few of the earlier films on re-releases – Dr. No, Goldfinger and a scratchy print of Thunderball – so it was good to add a couple more Moores to the list.

For Your Eyes Only used to bore me as a kid. It had its moments, but it was such a step down from Moonraker in terms of the things that are important to a five-year old. Of course, I now love it for its bravery in trying to pull the character back closer to Ian Fleming’s template, and away from the more embarrassing moments of Moonraker.

One thing that really struck a chord with me when I saw it at the cinema was how European it feels. The locations are all on continental Europe, aside from some underwater filming in the Bahamas, doubling for Greece. It makes a nice change to the globe-trotting Moore’s Bond does in each of the four previous films.

The other thing I hadn’t noticed before was its structure. Watched back to back with The Spy Who Loved Me, it’s clear to see that in many ways it’s a remake of that earlier film, in that it tries to duplicate some of the elements which made Spy so successful. Both films start with Navy ships succumbing to peril, both have a strong female lead, and both feature England and Russia racing towards the same goal.

It was also quite eye-opening to see how much mansplaining Bond does to Carole Bouquet’s Melina. Even though she and her family are experts in underwater exploration, Bond feels the need to mansplain the technical risks of what they’re about to do. Given the term’s entry into the English language over the last five years or so, I might have to rewatch all of the Bond films to see how much mansplaining goes on (and I’m guessing it’s not a small amount).

In terms of music, For Your Eyes Only is another non-John Barry affair, who would return to score Moore’s two remaining Bond films after this one. I’ve already written about how terrible a non-Barry soundtrack can be, but I much prefer Bill Conti’s Eyes soundtrack to Hamlisch’s efforts on Spy.

If you ignore the fact that a lot of the score sounds like something you might hear on Conti’s soundtrack contributions to the Rocky films, it isn’t too bad. Those pumping horns definitely don’t sound like the kind of brass lines that John Barry would write. I’ve also written about how poorly I rate the film’s title theme, but at least it’s not Madonna.

The soundtrack also features one of those rare things – another proper song that isn’t the main title theme. These pop up from time to time on Bond soundtracks, and they’re always quite interesting. This time it’s Make It Last All Night, by Rage, which is used to soundtrack the pool party at the start of the film. It’s a nice bit of sleazy pop (and secretly, I prefer it to Sheena Easton’s bland title song).

I was lucky enough to meet Roger in 2008 at a book signing in Auckland, where he signed my copy of his autobiography. They say you should never meet your heroes, but I have no regrets. Thankfully, my wife was quick enough to film me shaking his hand on the way out. I try not to watch this video too often as it always puts such a huge smile on my face (and I don’t want to dilute that).

Hit: For Your Eyes Only – Sheena Easton

Hidden Gem: A Drive In The Country

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Rocks In The Attic #544: Fawlty Towers – ‘Second Sitting (O.S.T.)’ (1981)

rita544Andrew Sachs, the actor who played long-suffering Fawlty Towers waiter Manuel, died last week. He was such an iconic character, and possibly my favourite when I was growing up in the early ‘80s, that I can’t imagine the show without him. He’s all over this record, providing a well needed in-character narration, that was missing on the show’s first LP.

I wonder if a character like Manuel – which could be read as a racist stereotype – would be accepted on today’s television sets. The comedy comes not from Sachs’ portrayal as a Spaniard, but from his poor grasp of English, something that might have struck a chord in the late ‘70s as package holidays to the Mediterranean started to become popular for British holidaymakers.

In later years, Sachs became infamous for his stoush with the BBC after a prank call on Radio 2’s  Russell Brand Radio Show went slightly wrong. Brand and his guest, Jonathan Ross, left messages on Sachs’ voicemail indicating that Brand had had sex with Sachs’ granddaughter Georgina Baillie, a burlesque dancer.  After an Ofcom inquiry, Russell Brand and the controller of Radio 2, Lesley Douglas, both resigned, and golden boy of the BBC, Jonathan Ross was suspended for just twelve weeks.

Sachs had suffered from dementia and was living in a nursing home in the years preceding his death. Fittingly, the day after his funeral, the BBC aired the Fawlty Towers episode Communication Problems in his memory.

“Manual, there is too much butter on those trays…”

Hit: The Rat

Hidden Gem: The Builders

Rocks In The Attic #536: Styx – ‘Paradise Theatre’ (1981)

rita536A year ago, I knew nothing by Styx. But now, thanks to a spot-on homage by Jimmy Fallon and Paul Rudd, the fantastic Too Much Time On My Hands has become my song of the year.

The timing of that when I saw that video on The Tonight Show also helped. I caught it just before I spent a long weekend in Sydney, and it’s always good to have a new song to soundtrack a trip away. It might not be a new song, per se, but it was new to me.

Styx don’t sound a million miles away from Aerosmith, so I’m not sure why it’s taken me so long to get around to listening to them. Tommy Shaw, the guitarist / vocalist from Styx, was even a song doctor for Aerosmith during the Geffen years (he co-wrote Shut Up And Dance from 1993’s Get A Grip), but even that fact didn’t turn me onto them. There are a number of dusty rock bands from the ‘70s and ‘80s that didn’t travel well, both figuratively and literally, to English audiences and I would regard Styx as one of these for sure.

Paradise Theatre is album number ten for the band, their only #1 album in the U.S., so I have a lot of catching up to do.

Hit: Too Much Time On My Hands

Hidden Gem: Rockin’ The Paradise

Rocks In The Attic #488: Iron Maiden – ‘Killers’ (1981)

RITA#488I saw Maiden in Auckland a few weekends ago. They’re one of the big metal bands I still haven’t seen so I thought I’d put on a black t-shirt and head along. I’ve never been a huge fan of them; they’re a little too much in the realm of puberty and double-denim for me. They did put on a good show though.

Maiden were always a source of ridicule when I was growing up because they were the only band that would actually wear their own band t-shirts on stage. I think it’s pretty sweet for bands to wear other bands’ t-shirts when they’re on stage, you know, as a sign of respect; but to wear your own band’s t-shirt just reeks of narcissism. Surely they wouldn’t still be doing this, I thought as I headed to the arena; but sure enough there was Janick Gers strutting around the stage in a dirty, black Iron Maiden t-shirt. Just him though; damn, I was hoping for a higher score than one out of six. One of the other guitarists Dave Murray usually wears them too, but not on this night.

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The other ridiculous thing about the band, and their contemporaries, is the name of their sub-genre of heavy metal – N.W.O.B.H.M. A ridiculous acronym, standing for New Wave Of British Heavy Metal, this was coined by Sounds journalist Geoff Barton to describe the punkier, more uptempo metal bands that rose to prominence as the ‘70s turned into the ‘80s.

I didn’t really know what to expect from their set-list, but I hardly knew any of the songs – and that’s even with listening to the Best Of The Beast compilation once a year or so since it was released. They rolled out The Trooper, Number Of The Beast and Fear Of The Dark, but there was no Run To The Hills, no Two Minutes To Midnight and no Bring Your Daughter To The Slaughter, their only number one single. Maybe they’re just one of those bands who don’t like to play their hits.

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Fear Of The Dark
is a great song though – my favourite Maiden song by a mile, ever since I saw a video of them paying the sing at Donington in 1992. I was pleased to hear the audience sing along to all the instrumental parts too, just like on the Donington video.

They’re a funny-looking bunch of blokes though, aren’t they? First you have Bruce Dickinson, the literal pilot of the band and recent cancer survivor. The rest of the band weren’t really aware that the ‘80s had ended, all dressed up in their skin-tight studded leather trousers and sneakers, but Bruce was there in cargo pants and a hoodie. Then there’s Steve Harris, the metaphorical pilot of the band, in his long shorts pogoing up and down on the bass.

The band have three lead guitarists – Dave Murray, Janick Gers and Adrian Smith – a bit of a cheat, I think, when most bands of their ilk can get by fine with just two. Murray looks like a melted version of Joni Mitchell, Gers just looks happy to be there, playing the guitar in his Iron Maiden t-shirt, and Smith is really the only one who looks to be dressed in a decade other than the ‘80s, wearing a fashion scarf around his neck, and a bandana around his forehead. Okay, the bandana is very ‘80s, but somehow it made him look a hell of a lot more modern than the rest of the band.

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Rounding out the sextext is drummer Nicko McBrain, a man so frightening he looks like he could share the dressing room with Eddie, the band’s ghoulish mascot. Check out his name – McBrain! Crikey – I would not want to run into him in a dark alley.

Killers was album number two for Maiden, and their last with original vocalist Paul Di’Anno. The band don’t sound complete without Bruce Dickinson’s high-pitched wail and the record sounds strange as a result. Dickinson’s vocals were a point of difference for the band after this album, and Di’Anno’s vocals – in the same register as a lot of other metal singers – just don’t have that same sort of appeal.

I did like the years in the ‘90s between Bruce Dickinson leaving and re-joining the band. They got Wolfsbane singer Blaze Bayley in on vocals. Now if you’ve heard that thing about your porn name being the name of your first pet and your Mother’s maiden name, then Blaze Bayley – albeit with a difference in spelling – is mine. Wow – a porn career, and a bit of moonlighting singing for Iron Maiden too!

Hit: Purgatory

Hidden Gem: Genghis Khan

Rocks In The Attic #482: Penguin Cafe Orchestra – ‘Penguin Cafe Orchestra’ (1981)

RITA#483This reminds me of an old girlfriend. She had four albums at her house on Leeds Road in Huddersfield: Ladies And Gentlemen – The Best Of George Michael, a cassette of Blur’s The Great Escape, Tracy Chapman’s debut, and finally this, the second Penguin Cafe Orchestra album.

I notice that I now own three of those albums. I can’t ever see myself owning the George Michael compilation, but you never know. It hasn’t ever been released on vinyl, yet. Maybe one day.

I remember once lying in her bed one day, mid-morning, listening to music. The doorbell went downstairs, and she got out of bed and stood at the top of the stairs. “Oh, it’s just Dad,” she said as she started to walk down the stairs.

I panicked. Here I am, in my birthday suit, lying in her bed; his daughter’s bed. I hadn’t met him before – we’d only been seeing each other for a couple of weeks at that stage – and I didn’t particularly want to meet him under these circumstances.

What do I do? Doesn’t this happen all the time on television and in films? Do I hide under the bed? Hide in the wardrobe? Jump out the window? No, that would be worse. A naked man with broken legs lying on the pavement is harder to explain.

I sat up in bed, frozen in fear. A rabbit caught in headlights. Do I stay where I am, and resign myself to shaking his hand while I have the security of a duvet to cover myself? Or do I risk getting out of bed and putting my clothes on before he has a chance to climb the stairs and open the door?

In the end, I stayed frozen solid – possibly with a sub-conscious hope that he had the eyesight of a Tyrannosaurus Rex, and wouldn’t be able to spot me if I stayed absolutely still.

Fee-fi-fo-fum, I smell the blood of an Englishman. Be he alive, or be he dead, I’ll grind his bones to make my bread.

She came back upstairs a few minutes – although it felt like a few hours – later, without her father. He had come around to drop off an LPG gas bottle, and she had somehow managed to persuade him not to come in.

A wave of relief washed over me. She pressed play on the Penguin Cafe Orchestra CD and got back into bed.

Hit: Telephone And Rubber Band

Hidden Gem: Yodel 1