Category Archives: 1985

Rocks In The Attic #797: The Cars – ‘Greatest Hits’ (1985)

RITA#797What does the rock band Queen and the new-wave band the Cars have in common? Both bands have great albums and great singles, of course, and both featured a fantastic central songwriter. But the answer is in the man who was an integral part of each band’s respective success: Roy Thomas Baker.

Much has been written about Cars frontman Ric Ocasek in recent weeks, following his death at the age of 75 – a fantastic songwriter, and a great producer in his own right – but an important element of the Cars’ success was the Englishman who produced their first four albums.

Baker never seems to get enough credit for producing the first batch of Queen albums (Queen, Queen II, Sheer Heart Attack and A Night At The Opera, before being called back for Jazz). Under his guidance, they turned from long-haired heavy rockers to pop superstars, and while it’s likely the genius of Freddie Mercury would have shone through under any producer, it’s hard to imagine those albums being helmed by anybody else.

After his success with Queen, Baker was snapped up by CBS Music and moved to America. There, he replicated his success with Queen by producing the Cars’ first batch of records on Elektra, eventually becoming the Senior Vice President of A&R at the label.

So with Baker producing both band’s first four albums, including a run of fantastic pop-rock singles, it’s not hard to see the Cars as America’s answer to Queen.  There’s obviously the Weezer connection to the ‘90s alternative-rock scene, but they seem like an important link between punk, rock and pop, that led to bands like the Foo Fighters, the Strokes, the Arctic Monkeys and the Killers dominating the early 21st century.

Plus, Drive is such a killer song, and there’s another comparison: both the Cars and Queen were such an integral part of Live Aid.

Hit: Drive

Hidden Gem: Tonight She Comes

Rocks In The Attic #774: Dave Grusin – ‘The Goonies (O.S.T.)’ (1985)

RITA#774I sometimes worry that my kids are watching the wrong kind of films. They seem to exist purely on a diet of animated films – which isn’t that bad considering how well made the likes of Pixar and Dreamworks films are – but those films are always very full-on, very colourful and not exactly subtle.

I fear that when their tastes develop, they won’t appreciate nuance. Or that they won’t understand the joy of a perfectly composed camera shot. But most of all, I worry that they’ll find live-action films boring. It’s a fear that’s probably shared by lots of cinephile parents: have animated films turned my children into ADD viewers?

RITA#774aMy kids are a range of ages – seven, six and four at the time of writing – so it’s hard to judge what’s appropriate for them. They’ve seen – and love – the first Star Wars film (by that, I mean Episode IV, not Episode I – I’m not an animal). My wife’s also shown them a few live-action classics like Mary Poppins and Willy Wonka & The Chocolate Factory. I’m just eager to show them all of the films I was watching at their age. I tried them on Richard Donner’s Superman: The Movie about six months ago and it was “too scary” for the eldest and the youngest. Middle-child seems to be unaffected by anything she sees.

I saw Return Of The Jedi and Octopussy at the cinema when I was weeks away from turning five (and Never Say Never Again a few months later in that most Bondiest of years), and had been watching recent films of the same ilk – For Your Eyes Only, The Empire Strikes Back – on video at home, yet here’s my 7-year old saying that a 40-year old superhero film is too frightening.

My almost-desperate need for them to like Bond films led me to showing them a couple of exciting moments from a few films – the Lotus Esprit driving off the dock in The Spy Who Loved Me, and the AMC Hornet barrel-roll in The Man With The Golden Gun ­– but none of them seemed to show any interest. My middle-child has been saying ‘The name’s Bond, James Bond’ to me in recent weeks, so perhaps there is some hope…

RITA#774bI recently showed them The Goonies, another Richard Donner film, and an evergreen favourite of mine since its release. It’s now generally accepted as a classic ‘80s kids film, but I don’t seem to remember it having such universal acclaim when I was growing up. The only people who liked it were myself and other weird non-sporty kids who liked action and sci-fi films. I never heard girls discussing The Goonies. They talked a lot about Bros and New Kids On The Block maybe, but never Back To The Future or Explorers. Maybe I was talking to the wrong girls.

I had better luck with The Goonies. My eldest – the scaredy-cat of the three – thought parts were too frightening, and watched half of it from behind the couch. The youngest fell apart at the scene where Sloth is introduced to Chunk, and didn’t watch any more. Middle child – again – loved every minute. I think she might end up being my cinema-buddy when she’s older.

The Goonies – alongside Back To The Future – might just be the most Spielbergian of the films the wunderkind is involved in but didn’t direct. In more recent times he’s lent his name to the likes of Super 8, but that film felt like a cheap attempt at capturing the spirit of Donner’s 1985 film: all style, no substance. Of course, Stranger Things owes more than a little to this film – although the ‘boys on BMXs investigating a mystery in small-town America’ trope is really only apparent in the first season.

RITA#774cI saw The Goonies at a midnight screening at Glastonbury one year with my wife. Three things stuck in my mind about the experience. Firstly, a drunk guy casually asked a girl if he could sit in the empty camping chair next to hers. She said that no, he couldn’t sit in her friend’s chair, and loudly proclaimed as he walked away, ‘What a loser; did he think all these chairs were just put here?” Secondly, as the Walsh father is about to sign the house over in the film, one clever guy in the audience shouted out ‘CHECK YOUR POCKETS!’ to a huge laugh. The drunk guy from earlier then repeated it, to little response. Yes, drunk, stupid and also a joke thief. The third and final take-out from the screening is that due to sound issues on the quite scratchy print, the dialogue wasn’t fully audible. As a result, the worse thing happened. My wife, who had never seen the film before, dismissed it as a bad film. She’s since watched it at home on her own and loved it – although due to her bad memory – she now can’t remember either watching it or praising it.

Listening to Dave Grusin’s fabulous score to the film, I’m really quite glad that it wasn’t composed by John Williams or any other Spielberg alumn like Alan Silvestri. I love both those guys, but Grusin’s score has such a childlike quality to it that would be hard to find in another composer. A Williams or Silvestri score to The Goonies would of course be excellent in their own right, but I’m just glad Donner and Spielberg chose Dave Grusin for this particular project. And given the connection to John Williams through Spielberg, it was that nice that he references Williams’ Superman: The Movie theme in the sequence on board the pirate ship.

This copy is from Varèse Sarabande’s 2018 first pressing of Grusin’s full score, on ‘Willy’s Gold’ double-vinyl (no. 477 of 750).

HEY YOU GUYYYYYYYYYYSSSSSSSSSSSSSS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Hit: Fratelli Chase

Hidden Gem: The Fighting Fratellis, Sloth’s Choice And Ultimate Booby Trap

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Rocks In The Attic #770: Robert Palmer – ‘Riptide’ (1985)

RITA#770Addicted To Love: the sound of mid-80s AOR. It’s the kind of song we would hear on Atlantic 252, while driving around North Wales on family holidays. This, Simply Red and late-period Genesis became the accidental soundtrack to the towns of Prestatyn, Rhyl and Llandudno.

I recently met a colleague at work who was born and raised in Mold, just over the border into North Wales from Chester. We’ve been reminiscing about Rhyl, and how it was just the best place for kids in the 1980s. The Rhyl Sun Centre almost felt futuristic, with its car rides descending from the ceiling, and its wave pool that seems par for the course in today’s leisure centres. Alongside its funfair – a scaled-down version of Blackpool’s Pleasure Beach – Rhyl even had a monorail along its waterfront. However, the project descended into bankruptcy just a few weeks after its opening in 1980, and abruptly closed.

RITA#770aRobert Palmer’s catchy rock-by-numbers anthem reminds me of those days, of riding around the BMX course on Rhyl’s seafront, or going down the Sun Centre’s tube-slides. My parents owned a static caravan on a site in Gronant, just outside Prestatyn, which we used to go to on weekends between Spring and Autumn.

Those times make up some of my happiest childhood memories. The local arcade had the original Star Wars game in which you sat inside an X-Wing flying across the Death Star, one of the local café’s introduced me to the joy of toasted currant teacakes, and I used to regularly play with a friend and his sister, recreating scenes from our favourite sci-fi show V. Happy days.

Lester Cohen Archives

The music video for Addicted To Love deserves a mention too; one of the most iconic videos of the original MTV era. Not a great deal happens in the video, it’s essentially a performance piece. Palmer performs the song backed by a band of attractive models who are wearing heavy lipstick and tied-back hair. This look pays homage to the art of Patrick Nagel, the original artist behind Duran Duran’s Rio sleeve. It’s a joy to watch.

Hit: Addicted To Love

Hidden Gem: Hyperactive

NOTE TO THR: DO NOT REUSE AFTER 2/16/19_ONE TIME USE WITH CONTRACT FROM PLAYBOY

Rocks In The Attic #723: Billy T. James – ‘Billy T. Live At ‘Pips’’ (1985)

RITA#723Billy T. James is one of the original national treasures of New Zealand, a club comedian from the cabaret circuit who became a household name for his long-running TV sketch comedy.

This live LP from 1985 finds him in fine form. Recorded at ‘Pips’ in Whangarei and backed by a live band, his act shows how much of an all-round entertainer he is. Opening with a performance of Lionel Ritchie’s Running With The Night, the audience seem reserved at first before he starts to win them over with his stand-up.

Being half-Maori and half-Scottish (“I’m half Maori and half Scots. Half of me wants to go to the pub and get pissed, and the other half doesn’t want to pay for it”) most of his material revolves around being from a racial minority, and all other minorities – Chinese, Japanese, gays (“poofs”), immigrants – are fair game. Different times, and all that.

I first laughed out loud at a routine in which he did an note-perfect impression of Bunny Wailer singing She’s A Lady for a TV commercial, with the lyrics changed to:

Well she’s all you’d ever want / She’s the kind they’d like to flaunt and take to dinner / She’s got style, she’s got grace / She’s got herpes on her face…

In 1988, Billy T. suffered a heart attack and underwent a quadruple bypass, followed by one of the first heart transplants in New Zealand. While the operation was initially a success – leading to a return to the stage in 1990 – his health deteriorated and died from heart failure in 1991.

Since arriving in New Zealand over ten years ago, I’ve found much of the art and culture here is a watered-down version of what I knew from the UK (and in some cases, the USA). Billy T. is a different prospect though – he’s naturally funny, and the equal of the great British comedians of the 1970s and 1980s.

Hit: Running With The Night

Hidden Gem: The Band

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Rocks In The Attic #693: John Barry – ‘A View To A Kill (O.S.T.)’ (1985)

RITA#693.jpgJames Bond, 007, British Secret Service, licensed to kill, fifty-seven years old.

Roger Moore is so old in this, his seventh and final outing as James Bond, that he was only prompted to give up the role due to an off-screen discussion with Bond girl Tanya Roberts. Moore discovered that he was the same age as the actress’ mother, and so finally realised that it was time to hang up his tuxedo for good. It’s was fortunate he did, as things were starting to get a little creepy. Before Bond finally seduces Stacy Sutton in the – ahem – climax of this film, he tucks her into bed during the film’s bloated second act. Ugh.

By the time of this, the fourteenth official Bond film, it had become very hard to take 007 seriously. Not only do we see Bond parading around with a girl old enough to be his daughter, but the writers take the character further and further away from Ian Fleming’s original secret agent. Prior to Bond tucking Sutton into bed, he bakes her a quiche. I swear I’m not making this up.

Christopher Walken does a nice turn as the villainous Max Zorin – a role originally turned down by both David Bowie and Sting. It’s actually a shame that Walken took the role, as it looks like the producers were offering it to every 1980s British rock star. Personally, I would have liked to see Phil Collins or Peter Gabriel battle Bond for world domination. Sledgehammer, in particular, would have made a great Bond theme – and a great film title.

Hit: A View To A Kill – Duran Duran

Hidden Gem: Snow Job

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Rocks In The Attic #676: Dick Hyman – ‘The Purple Rose Of Cairo’ (1985)

RITA#676There’s a strange part of my brain that immediately dislikes any Woody Allen film from the 70’s, 80’s or 90’s in which he doesn’t appear as an actor, yet if he appears in one of his films post-2000 then I’m instantly disappointed. Maybe it’s easier to look beyond his supposed wrongdoings back in his youth, and the glimpse of him on screen post-allegations and post-Soon Yi relationship is just too jarring?

The Purple Rose Of Cairo is a rarity in that it’s one of only two of his 1980 films in which he doesn’t star or feature in a prominent role (1988’s Another Woman being the other). It’s probably a good casting decision – usually there’s a fantastical element of his work where his character ends up with somebody far more beautiful, desirable – or in the case of Manhattan, somebody far younger – than him. The audience is usually expected to suspend their disbelief that somebody like that could fall for somebody like him – a nebbish loser who looks like he’s crawled out of a Robert Crumb drawing.

But The Purple Rose Of Cairo is something else. It’s a fantasy film – but along the traditional lines of the genre – rather than a dating / relationship fantasy. Mia Farrow plays Cecilia, a downtrodden waitress in the midst of the Great Depression who finds solace in the escapism of the silver screen. After watching one film – The Purple Rose Of Cairo­ – numerous times at the local cinema, its lead actor, the charming Tom Baxter (Jeff Daniels) breaks the fourth wall and recognises her from being sat in the audience so regularly. He emerges from the screen and enters the real world, where the pair go on an adventure involving an odd love-triangle between Cecilia, Tom and actor Gil Sheppard (Jeff Daniels again) who portrayed Tom in the fictional film.

RITA#676aIt’s a nice little film which affords Allen the opportunity to play around with the conventions of cinema, and while the main plotline is compelling enough, it’s the small sub-plot featuring the abandoned actors stuck on screen in the fictional film, conversing with the cinema owner, that I find the most enjoyable.

Jeff Daniels plays the enthusiastic all-American hero well – a part which the audience would have had difficulty swallowing if Allen had cast himself – and Mia Farrow plays to her strengths as the innocent pulled along for the ride.

The music, as per the Allen trademark, is period rag-time jazz, ably composed and conducted by Dick Hyman (‘period’ and ‘rag-time’ – what an unfortunate pair of labels!). The tunes are so well executed that they easily stand up to the one piece of contemporary music on the soundtrack – Irving Berlin’s Cheek To Cheek, sung by Fred Astaire, from the 1935 film Top Hat, which we leave Cecilia watching at the conclusion of the film.

Hit: Cheek To Cheek (Main Title) – Fred Astaire

Hidden Gem: Hollywood Fun

Rocks In The Attic #664: Various Artists – ‘White Nights (O.S.T.)’ (1985)

RITA#664In the Spring of 1986, my grandmother took me on holiday. I was seven years old. The trip to North Wales was cemented in my memory by two events – the first was a visit to an arcade, where I played Spy Hunter endlessly; the second was a trip to the cinema.

The last time I had holidayed with my grandmother was in 1983 in Torquay – the jewel of the English Riviera! On that trip, we had seen Octopussy at the cinema – my first experience watching James Bond on the big screen.

Three years later, I remember standing in front of the cinema, begging my grandmother to let me watch a film I vaguely recognised by the poster outside in the lobby. “Are you sure?” I remember her asking. She wanted to take me into a children’s film instead, as the one I was pointing at looking at little too mature for my age, even though it was only a PG certificate. But I held firm. “No, I want to see that one.” The man at the box office smiled at my grandmother. She paid, and we were in the darkness of the cinema.

The film was a little too mature for me after all. My grandmother had been right. Still I enjoyed it, even though a lot of it went over my head. I raved about some of the sequences when we left the cinema, and she seemed relieved that I wasn’t mentally scarred by any of it.

And herein lies one of the most frustrating little mysteries of my life. For many years afterwards, I didn’t know what the film was that we had seen on that trip. I remembered a couple of key moments, and the tone of the film, but I didn’t know what it was called, or who any of the actors and actresses were.

Life before the internet was hard. You couldn’t just look shit up all the time. So every now and again, when I thought about the film, I would ask friends if they remembered a film about a male Russian ballet dancer, who escapes from somewhere with a black fella. That’s all I could remember. As you can imagine, this didn’t ring any bells with anybody.

If pushed, I could probably describe the film’s first eventful moment. The Russian ballet dancer was on a plane, which was crashing, and in a moment of panic, he fell backwards against the front of the cabin and the drinks trolley rolled into him at force, smashing into his face.

For year and years, I drew blanks whenever I described it to people, but it was always so clear in my mind. Of course, as soon as the internet made such things possible, I looked it up. The whole process took about three minutes. What a time to be alive!

The film, as you have probably guessed it by now, was Taylor Hackford’s White Nights, originally released in 1985 in the USA, but which didn’t see cinemas in the UK until the following March.

I’ve just watched it for the second time, some thirty-two years later. Due to a technical issue, I had to watch the film without any of the Russian dialogue being subtitled. This probably gave me the same level of understanding as I had when I was seven years old.

RITA#664aThe film opens with a world-famous ballet-dancer, Nikolai Rodchenko (Mikhail Baryshnikov), who has defected from the USSR, flying to Japan in a commercial jet. The jet runs into problems over Siberia and is forced to perform an emergency landing. Rodchenko suffers injuries during the crash – which I had remembered surprisingly well – and is picked up by the KGB who brand him a traitor. Unable to escape, he is installed in a Leningrad apartment with a black American tap-dancer, Raymond Greenwood (Gregory Hines) and his wife, Darya (a young Isabella Rossellini in her first credited screen role). Anxious to present the return of their famous son to the rest of the word, the authorities arrange for him to return to the stage with his former dancing partner (Helen Mirren). Rodchenko escapes to the American Embassy, with Darya – in a very tense sequence – while Raymond stays behind to delay the authorities. The film’s finale finds Raymond about to be executed by firing squad, an event which is then revealed to be a prisoner exchange between East and West. He is traded for a political prisoner and walks over the border, to freedom and into the arms of his wife.

The film’s key selling point is the culture clash between East and West, between black and white, and between ballet and tap, as Baryshnikov and Hines’ characters bond over dancing to American pop music. The soundtrack is a typical slice of ‘80s pop and rock, with Phil Collins taking prime position with Separate Lives, a duet with Marilyn Martin (and written by Stephen Bishop of Tootsie fame).

Sadly absent from the soundtrack album is the film’s biggest song – Lionel Richie’s Say You, Say Me. This won the Oscar for Best Song at the 1986 Academy Awards, beating Separate Lives from the same film, as well as competition from Huey Lewis & The News’ The Power Of Love.

Hit: Separate Lives (Love Theme From White Nights)­ – Phil Collins & Marilyn Martin

Hidden Gem: My Love Is Chemical – Lou Reed