Category Archives: 1990

Rocks In The Attic #841: Maurice Jarre – ‘Jacob’s Ladder’ (1990)

RITA#841The first thing that jumps out when revisiting Adrian Lyne’s 1990 film Jacob’s Ladder is just how disgusting New York City looks. Set mostly in 1975, the city looks unrecognisable; more Pelham 1-2-3 than the tourist-friendly city of the 21st century. Tenement buildings are grimy, subway cars are strewn with litter and the streets are as uninviting as the sewers beneath them.

Tim Robbins, just before being recognised as a national treasure, plays Jacob Singer, a US infrantryman in Vietnam. In the film’s opening sequence, his platoon is ambushed by an unseen enemy while many of his comrades suffer unexplained convulsions and seizures. The sequence ends with Jacob himself receiving a bayonet to the chest.

He wakes up (WINK!) years later in New York City, having just fallen asleep on a late-night subway train. Slowly, over the course of the next ninety minutes, his life begins to unravel as he sees disturbing visions and phenomena. The special effects are great; low-key and minimal, but brilliantly effective. Being made in 1990, it manages to avoid the over-reliance on computer-generated effects that burdened Hollywood later in the decade.

Not only do we get Tri-Star and Carolco studio idents at the top of the film, but what a great ensemble cast: Tim Robbins, Ving Rhames, Macauley Culkin, Danny Aiello, Eriq La Salle, Jason Alexander (with hair) and Brian Tarantina.

The film has a really nice, slow build-up. You can’t imagine a modern-day horror taking this amount of time (aside from Ari Aster’s Hereditary and Leigh Whannell’s The Invisible Man).

Maurice Jarre’s score fits the film perfectly. The delicate, lilting piano lines of the soundtrack’s main title reminds me of Michael Andrews’ work on Donnie Darko, and it’s clear that this must have been a key text for Andrews when composing that score. To add to this, the crescendo of Jarre’s final cue, The Ladder, feels like it might have had some influence on Howard Shore’s sublime score to The Silence Of The Lambs a year later in 1991. There’s even a couple of nice needle-drops, particularly in the party scene. A mental freak-out over James Brown’s My Thang? Yes please!

I first watched the film during my first foray into horror – most probably when it was first broadcast on Sky TV in the UK – but it didn’t do much for me at the time. I’ve really enjoyed a revisit 30 years later. In light of the coronavirus pandemic reaching fever pitch last week, it’s a ripe reflection of the panic and hysteria that’s happening around the world. Just because you’re paranoid don’t mean they’re not after you.

And not a Huey Lewis & The News song in sight…

Hit: Jacob’s Ladder

Hidden Gem: The Ladder

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Rocks In The Attic #822: The La’s – ‘The La’s’ (1990)

RITA#822I might not have much to say about this record, except for my unbridled love for it and everything it stands for.

Released at the height of Manchester’s renaissance as the centre of the music word, the La’s 1990 debut reminded everybody that Manchester’s time in the sun owed a lot to Liverpool. The jangling guitars may have a debt to pay to the Smiths, but the songwriting felt like a natural extension of where Lennon and McCartney – and George Harrison for that matter – left off twenty years earlier. Were these harmonies just floating around Merseyside all that time, waiting for a voice?

I first came aware of them in the early ‘90s, when I heard There She Goes in the Mike Myers film, So I Married An Axe Murderer. While the soundtrack does eventually feature the La’s original version, it’s a watered-down cover by the permanently watered-down Boo Radleys that takes centre-stage. At the time I was stocking shelves at my local Tesco, and somehow got onto the subject of the song with our pretentious assistant store manager, a middle-aged, middle-class prat by the name of Lawrence.

RITA#822aI can’t remember why we were talking about it, but Lawrence wouldn’t believe that There She Goes was a song by a current, contemporary band. He was adamant that it was by a ‘60s band. Weird, right? Pre-internet, there was no way to convince him otherwise, and so he went uncorrected. The really patronising thing was that, as a way to end the argument with the sixteen year-old me, he enlisted the final word from the store’s “expert” on pop music – roll up Barbara off checkouts – who agreed with him (out of sycophancy, more than anything approaching knowledge). That’s Oldham mentality, right there. Pure, unchecked ignorance.  Fuck off, Barbara!

Stubborn morons aside, I think one of the reasons I love this album so much is that it flies under the radar. It should be a hit with those casual music fans from the North West who idolise the first Stone Roses record and the first Oasis record. But for the most part, the La’s debut tends to exist without that level of Ben Sherman fandom. Whether this is due to the record only having one clear pop single (There She Goes), or whether it’s due to the rest of the album’s sometimes muddy production, remains unknown.

I’m just happy that these anorak-wearing, lager-drinking louts don’t spoil the La’s like they have the Roses and Oasis. I was lucky enough to see the La’s play the majority of this, their only studio album, at Glastonbury 2005. The performance was remarkably undersubscribed, considering how momentous the occasion was: just a couple of thousand people watching them on the Other Stage as the sun set. Beautiful.

Hit: There She Goes

Hidden Gem: Every other song on the record!

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Rocks In The Attic #728: John Williams – ‘Home Alone (O.S.T.)’ (1990)

RITA#728I’ve just re-watched Home Alone. It’s probably the twentieth time I’ve seen it, but it felt like the right time to finally show it to my three daughters, aged seven, five and three. The three-year old was a little scared, but the other two enjoyed it as much as I hoped they would.

It’s funny how much of an evergreen hit the film has become. Upon its release it was a throwaway comedy, albeit a very successful one, but in the last decade or so it seems to have become as synonymous with festive TV scheduling as The Great Escape was in my youth.

What’s not to like? The McAllister family are as ignorant and self-absorbed as you’d want late ‘80s yuppy suburbanites to be portrayed, Macauley Culkin’s acting is just on the right side of precociousness, and Joe Pesci and Daniel Stern’s wet bandit burglars are laughably moronic. But it’s the two white knights of the film that give it its heart: John Candy’s polka-playing airport saviour to Catherine O’Hara, and Roberts Blossom as the ominous neighbour Old Man Marley.

The film’s other secret weapon is its soundtrack and score by John Williams. Rehashing the childhood wonder / childhood danger motif that Williams has used many times, first with Close Encounters Of The Third Kind and E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial, but later with Jurassic Park and his Harry Potter scores, Home Alone stands alongside his seminal work from the ‘70s and ‘80s.

This expanded soundtrack release, from Mondo Records, includes the festive pop songs from the film. These are another highlight of the film, as they’re not the obvious, popular versions of the Christmas classics (and presumably selected for cost reasons): the Drifters’ version of White Christmas, Mel Tormé’s Have Yourself A Merry Christmas, and Please Come Home For Christmas by Southside Johnny Lyon.

Hit: Home Alone Main Title (‘Somewhere In My Memory’)

Hidden Gem: O Holy Night

Rocks In The Attic #394: Happy Mondays – ‘Pills ‘n’ Thrills And Bellyaches’ (1990)

RITA#394I think I might be allergic to music that comes from Manchester. I’ve never hid my dislike of Oasis, but I also never liked the wave of bands that came before them. Only now, half way around the world and twenty five years later can I finally start to appreciate bands like the Smiths, the Stone Roses and these fellas, the Happy Monday.

I don’t think it’s the music by these bands that turned me off them. Instead it was the type of people who liked these bands that alienated me. They’re all popular bands, and just like with any popular bands, there’ll be an element of non-music fans following them. Or sheep, you could say.

In the case of the ‘Madchester’ years, those non-music fans represented the distasteful element in Manchester. They still do. Lads in Ben Sherman shirts, roaming the city centre; or retards walking around in cagoules in the middle of summer. Are you going on a hiking trip? No? Just going to the football? Hmm.

I once passed Tony Wilson doing his shopping in the Sainsburys at the end of Mancunian Way, heading towards Salford. He was leaning over the trolley he was pushing slowly down the aisle, and I remember he was shopping from a list. I was too nervous to say hello, and I’ll never get the chance now, but what I would say to him – if I had the balls, which I know I don’t – was that I thought he was wrong about the Happy Mondays.

In 24 Hour Party People, Wilson refers to Shaun Ryder as a genius. I just can’t stomach that. I’ll accept that Ryder might have been the spokesman for that generation – the Ecstasy generation – in the UK, but the word ‘genius’ does not apply. ‘Lucky fool’ is more apt.

Hit: Step On

Hidden Gem: Dennis And Lois

Rocks In The Attic #364: The Soup Dragons – ‘Lovegod’ (1990)

RITA#364The Soup Dragons’ cover of I’m Free reminds me of secondary school, of 5th form block, of dark blue school uniform sweatshirts, of sitting next to Wes Ellison in registration and talking about last night’s episode of The Mary Whitehouse Experience, Red Dwarf or Newman & Baddiel.

Maybe it was the age I was when this came out – eleven going on twelve – but I didn’t see 1990 as the optimist start to a bright new decade. I had other things to think about around then. For one, I was deeply interested in the “sport” of WWF wrestling. Any other free time was taken up watching John Carpenter films or searching through SKY TV to discover shiny, new American things like The Simpsons. I definitely had no time to listen to music. Yet.

In retrospect, I’m glad I didn’t get into music earlier than I did. If I had done, I would have probably been a fan of music like this – mediocre Madchester-era indie. It would have meant joining an already existing bandwagon, rather than developing my own taste (for something that nobody else was interested in).

Hit: I’m Free

Hidden Gem: Drive The Pain

Rocks In The Attic #330: Betty Boo – ‘Boomania’ (1990)

RITA#330A lot of dodgy music came out around the time the 1980s turned into the 1990s. I remember there was a faction of kids at school who were very interested in Acid House culture and ‘musical’ acts like 2 Unlimited. It was also considered fashionable to wear Joe Bloggs t-shirts. This was the less talented branch of the tree that was rooted in Manchester’s Hacienda and the rise of the DJ as the cultural medium of the times.

I don’t know what’s worse – the fact that Betty Boo seems to take her lead from the flirtatious Betty Boop (and tainting the cartoon’s image for evermore), or the fact that when she’s not singing she’s rapping in a strong Brooklyn accent. She’s from Kensington for Christ’s sake. Salt-n-Pepa have a lot to answer for.

Where Are You Baby? is a great little pop song – away from the Brooklyn posturing that spoils Doin’ The Do, and it remains my favourite song on an otherwise dated slice of 1990.

Betty Boo’s Wikipedia page clearly states ‘Not to be confused with Betty Boop’. You’re damn right.

Hit: Doin’ The Do

Hidden Gem: Boo’s Boogie

Rocks In The Attic #268: The Black Crowes – ‘Shake Your Money Maker’ (1990)

RITA#268This is a solid – but essentially unremarkable – debut record from Atlanta’s best Rolling Stones / Lynyrd Skynyrd tribute band. Their second album, The Southern Harmony and Musical Companion, would get them a lot more attention, but their whole career can probably be traced down to the very funky cover of Otis Redding’s Hard To Handle that appears on this record.

I’ve never seen The Black Crowes live, and I probably never will now, but I’m not too bothered. I think The Southern Harmony and Musical Companion is a great rock n’ roll record, but they’re one of those bands who have a certain sound – in this instance, Stones and Skynyrd – and they never deviate. As a result, a lot of their material sounds very similar – bluesy guitar riffs, a swampy beat, and soulful lead and backing vocals. The only thing that changes really from song to song is the tempo – and you can really hear this on Sourthern Harmony’s opener Sting Me. The version chosen for the record is a frantic rocker, but there is a much slower take of the song available. The band sound great playing either version, but it makes you think that they could probably do that trick with all their material.

Remedy, from that second album, is their high watermark; the one occasion when all those elements came together perfectly. I love that song, and it’s just a shame that it’s been ever-decreasing circles in the decades since.

Hit: Hard To Handle

Hidden Gem: Sister Luck

Rocks In The Attic #201: Led Zeppelin – ‘Remasters’ (1990)

RITA#201I remember finding this – the triple-LP edition – in the racks at King Bee Records in Chorlton. I didn’t need it; I already had all the Zeppelin albums on vinyl (I had made this my first priority when I started buying vinyl). So why would I fork out for this, two hours and thirteen minutes of music I already owned?

Looking at my record collection as a whole, this compilation probably means more to me than any other compilation out there. When I first started listening to rock music, this set – the double-CD edition – was one of the first things I pilfered from my Dad’s collection. I only knew the odd Zeppelin song at that point, so it was a lot to take in at first listen. The CD version is slightly longer too, as it adds Misty Mountain Hop and The Rain Song, which are both absent from the vinyl version.

I remember being challenged listening to this compilation – as both a listener of music, and also an aspiring musician – trying to find a way in to a very dense, rich set of songs that were completely new on me. Zeppelin songs are thankfully absent from being used (and overused) in television and film, so it’s not like I had a frame of reference from hearing the songs elsewhere.

The collection encompasses their entire career too, so there are various genres of music covered. Up to now I had only listened to rock, and rock alone; but here was Zeppelin playing heavy blues, soul, R&B, reggae, and all shades of rock in-between. As a guitarist listening to this for the first time, Jimmy Page’s catalogue of guitar riffs are a wonderful thing to discover.

It’s also pretty unique in that, yes it’s a compilation, but Zeppelin never released any singles; so what is it exactly a compilation of? In 1990, Jimmy Page got together with George Marino and remastered their entire back catalogue, releasing them over two boxed sets. The Remasters album is a scaled-down “sampler” of those two sets. With no list of hit singles to choose a tracklisting from, Remasters is simply a collection of the songs Jimmy Page regards as the bands most popular songs.

This album led me onto buying each of their studio albums, one by one. I already had Led Zeppelin II on vinyl (again, stolen from my Dad’s record collection), but that was the first one I bought on CD because I loved it so much. I think I then bought each of the studio albums in chronological order.

Remasters served as a way in to each studio album; there were always a couple of songs at least on every album that I knew from Remasters. When I listen to the album now, it just washes over me because I know it so well – it’s part of my musical DNA. Sometimes it gets so bad that I have to really think hard about which song I’m listening to. I find that happens a lot when you know a compilation album so well. Without the flow that the songs were intended for on their original studio album, they take on a structure of their own.

Hit: Stairway To Heaven

Hidden Gem: Achilles Last Stand

Rocks In The Attic #74: Various Artists – ‘Air America (O.S.T.)’ (1990)

Rocks In The Attic #74: Various Artists - ‘Air America (O.S.T.)’ (1990)Of all the film soundtracks I have in my record collection, this is probably the film I’m least familiar with. I think I’ve only seen it once, and it doesn’t ever seem to be played on TV (well, not on New Zealand television at least).

I bought this as it has an Aerosmith song on it – a cover of The Doors’ Love me Two Times, presumably recorded during the Pump sessions.

The rest of the album isn’t bad – a random collection of pop rock mainly from the late sixties and early seventies. Aside from Do It Again by Steely Dan – which always sounds good – the real treasure on the album is Rescue Me – Fontella Bass’ 1965 single on Chess Records.

On a negative point, this album goes a long way to showcase how poorly made vinyl records were in the early 90s. On both sides, the run-in groove has been cut into the record incorrectly so that when you put the needle down it doesn’t actually run onto the first song – it’s just goes around in a circle without the songs starting. Idiots.

Hit: California Dreamin’ – The Mamas & The Papas

Hidden Gem: Rescue Me – Fontella Bass

Rocks In The Attic #57: Jane’s Addiction – ‘Ritual de lo Habitual’ (1990)

Rocks In The Attic #57: Jane’s Addiction - ‘Ritual de lo Habitual’ (1990)We were the first family I knew of to get Sky TV in the UK. It caught on very fast, but when we first got it installed there was nobody else we knew at the time who also had it. So when The Simpsons started, we would watch it religiously, and then I would go to school and for a short time there wouldn’t be anybody else who I could talk to about it. Part of the fun of being at school is shared experiences – “Did you watch Dr. Who last night?”, etc – but in this respect I couldn’t discuss The Simpsons with anybody else except my own family.

So when I first started listening to rock music – back in early 1993 – the house was already set up to receive MTV, and for a few years I became an addict. I consumed everything. Headbanger’s Ball. Beavis & Butthead. 120 Minutes. Unplugged. The MTV Music Awards, when you’d see great things like John Paul Jones playing bass on Lenny Kravitz’s Are You Gonna Go My Way, or The Beastie Boys playing Sabotage as a little garage-rock three-piece. I watched the breaking news, and the resulting tributes, when Kurt Cobain blew his head off with a shotgun. I even remember being at a friend’s house, steaming drunk, and being elated to see Joe Perry being interviewed live, on the red carpet before one of the awards shows.

The point I’m trying to make is that despite the evil that I now see MTV as – mainly because videos can take away your objectivity about music – it was a big part of my life, and for a few years it supported my burgeoning addiction to rock music.

During this time, there was a music video I would see all the time. My first impressions were of the visual elements of the video – a man, grossly made-up as a pregnant woman, shoplifting in an American grocery store, interspersed with Perry Farrell singing the song looking like a robber, with nylon tights stretched over his face. It was funny. I used to like catching the video whenever it was played, simply because it amused me. Then the music started to grow on me. It was a rock song, but with these weird crashing jazz chords played over the top.

Of course, since then I’ve learnt who Jane’s Addiction are, especially how Perry Farrell was the architect of Lollapalooza. I was also a big fan of One Hot Minute – the sole Red Hot Chili Peppers album which Jane’s Addiction guitarist Dave Navarro played on.

Listening back, I’m not a huge fan of Ritual de lo Habitual – I love Been Caught Stealing, but the rest of that first side has a very similar sound. That’s okay, it’s just their sound and just like the very early Chili Peppers albums, it’s that almost jokey version of punk. I’m much more interested in the second side – where the songs go a bit more progressive rock.

Hit: Been Caught Stealing

Hidden Gem: Three Days