Category Archives: 1995

Rocks In The Attic #603: Alanis Morissette – ‘Jagged Little Pill’ (1995)

RITA#603On Boxing Day in 1995 I got the bus into Manchester, my Christmas money burning a hole in my pocket. I think I’ve managed to avoid Boxing Day crowds ever since, but you don’t think about these things when you’re a teenager.

It was cold on Market Street, super cold. Still, those with money to spend had braved the cold to be able to spend it. I couldn’t find anything worth buying in the big HMV – my record store of choice – and found myself at the Virgin Megastore down the street.

I bought two CDs that day – the Beatles’ Revolver and Alanis Morissette’s Jagged Little Pill. One album would be an evergreen in my record collection to this day, the other a passing trend. In fact, a few years later when I sold all of my CDs, and started buying records, I re-bought Revolver immediately. Jagged Little Pill was released back in the day on vinyl, but it would have only been a limited run, and I probably wouldn’t have been too bothered in tracking it down.

If anything, I felt a little betrayed by the album. It had been marketed to me as an alternative rock fan – the lead single You Oughta Know came with a dark music video featuring Red Hot Chili Peppers Flea and Dave Navarro, who played on the song. I was still interested in the Chili Peppers around this time, and the recently released One Hot Minute was a regular feature on my Discman, so their involvement added an air of respectability to Morissette. You Oughta Know might be a great, rocking song but it’s one that is completely under-representative of the rest of the album.

And herein lies the rub. The rest of the record is interesting enough, but after I heard Hand In My Pocket or Ironic about a hundred times on the radio, my enthusiasm for the record started to wane. The album spilled a staggering six singles into the pop charts, and so it became harder to enjoy as a complete body of work.

RITA#603aI was still excited twenty years later to hear about the vinyl re-issue by Newbury Comics (and in a lovely blue marble pressing). But what would I think about the album after all these years? Well, it brings back lots of great memories from around 1995 and 1996 – finishing Sixth Form, a great summer with friends, and leaving home to go to University – but that’s about it.

I’m much more cynical now. Songs such as Perfect, Your Learn, Head Over Feet and Wake Up are stereotypical ‘90s coffee-shop rock. The overplayed big singles are just as hard to listen to, seemingly crafted to appeal to casual music fans or AOR fans looking for something between Bryan Adams albums. It’s not surprising to hear that Morissette co-wrote the album with producer Glen Ballard – the man who co-wrote Man In The Mirror for Michael Jackson.

The cynic in me also feels justified when I found out – via Morrissey’s autobiography – about a meeting he had with Warner Records in the early ‘90s:

Seconds later, I am not in his office. I am politely ushered out. I ask key faces at Reprise what it was all about, and I am reliably informed how Warner need a massively successful ‘act’ who is ‘alternative’, and I was indeed being auditioned for the star part since I had thus far been the most successful ‘alternative’ artist in America.
‘Alternative to what?’ I foolishly ask.
I hear nothing more, but I note the immediate meteoric Warner rise of Alanis Morissette – the incongruous promotional manifesto enveloping her first album that shifts 27 million copies worldwide. Evidently Alanis had all that I lacked in order to gain a saturated global push.
‘Is THAT why I was interviewed? I later ask Howie Klein.
‘YES!’ he half-shouts, as if I ought to know everything.

The rolodex spat out the next card in the alphabet and in Morrissey’s place they reinvented Morissette, a Canadian singer with two forgettable dance-pop albums to her name.

I’ve recently been re-watching The Trip To Italy. It was nice to hear Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon also reappraise her landmark album.

Hit: Ironic

Hidden Gem: All I Really Want

Rocks In The Attic #550: White Zombie – ‘Astro-Creep 2000 – Songs Of Love, Destruction And Other Synthetic Delusions Of The Electric Head’ (1995)

rita550In 1995, I used to spend most of my time in the common room at college, listening to rock and metal, and reading magazines like Kerrang! and Metal Hammer. I’d attend lessons from time to time, but the highlight of my life at this point was sitting in the common room, my feet up, controlling the stereo, and sneering at anybody brave enough to try and put any Oasis on. Life goals!

We’d also shoot home movies during our free periods, soundtracked by the likes of White Zombie, and characterised by the usual kind of hi-jinks that sixteen year olds get up to. These Not So Vulgar Videos, as we titled them, are a great time capsule of my youth although I’m naturally ashamed at some of the content.

I don’t think I’d heard Astro Creep 2000 since going to University in 1996, and it being reissued on vinyl twenty years later. My musical tastes developed beyond metal rather quickly by the time I left college, and so I looked back on this album as a product of my naive adolescence.

Listening now, it’s interesting just how enjoyable the record is. I could do without some of Rob Zombie’s ‘Morris Dancing’ vocal rhythms – something that System Of A Down stole and made a career out of – but the songwriting, playing and production on this record is awesome. Of particular interest to me are the film dialogue samples employed throughout – from the likes of Dawn Of The Dead, The Omega Man, Shaft and The Haunting. No wonder I liked this sort of thing when I was sixteen.

Hit: More Human Than Human

Hidden Gem: Electric Head Pt. 1 (The Agony)

Rocks In The Attic #500: Manic Street Preachers – ‘The Holy Bible’ (1995)

RITA#500Part I: A Search

When I started this blog back in April 2012, I never believed I would own a copy of my favourite album, the Manic Street Preachers’ peerless classic The Holy Bible, on standard black vinyl. It just seemed like it would never happen. On its release in 1995, it only saw a picture disc release on vinyl. And while I have that beautiful piece of wax, it might be nice to look at but it’s a dog to listen to. The only thing worse would be a flexi-disc – and I have that too: NME’s 7” Verses From The Holy Bible.

The album’s tenth anniversary came and went in 2005, but saw no vinyl release – just an interesting and very much welcomed CD / DVD box set, including the very interesting American mix of the album. Things started looking up – finally – in 2015 when the band released a twentieth anniversary box set, which included four CDs of material, a book, and that all-elusive black vinyl. I wavered though. Of course I wanted that slab of vinyl; I just didn’t really want the rest of the set. CD box sets tend to gather dust in my house, and once I’ve listened to all the bonus material, they just get pushed to the back of a shelf and never taken out again. I then found out that the vinyl record housed the four CDs in little pockets on its sleeve. Screw that – my plans of taking the vinyl album out to put with the rest of my MSP vinyl collection were dashed. So I continued to wait…

I waited through all the album’s twentieth anniversary celebrations in 2015.  I waited patiently. I waited while I heard the news that the band were going to play the album in its entirety at some live shows in the UK. After seven years living on the other side of the world, here was something that finally made me regret leaving the UK in the first place. Only the amazing 2012 London Olympics had prompted the same feelings. The reasonable part of me knew I was being silly, but the unreasonable part of me wanted to travel back in time to tear up my immigration documents.

It was nice to see the album’s appearance on last year’s Record Store Day list of exclusive vinyl releases. But it was just a picture disc again – two actually – one for the UK mix of the album and one for the US mix. Well, that was something, at least (and I picked those up in no time). But still no standalone black vinyl.

Then in October or November of 2015, I noticed that Amazon was listing a pre-order of the vinyl record – as a standalone release – for the end of December. No details, just a vague description: “vinyl” and “discs = 1”. I was sceptical. I had pre-ordered it before from Amazon, and for some reason the release didn’t happen; my order at that time was ultimately cancelled. Surely the same thing would happen here. Perhaps it was a nasty joke by some Amazon employee, maybe a God-botherer annoyed at the album’s appropriation of the holiest book around.

But then it turned up, the first piece of vinyl to land in my mailbox in 2016. A beautiful piece of black vinyl. No box set. No fancy release. Just a single disc in a minimalist package. No tracklisting on the rear cover; just a photo of the band and a quote by Octave Mirbeau. No lyric sheet on the inside; just an inner sleeve with a CCCP design on one side, and a photo of the band on the other side, overlaid with a quote by Solomon Northup (he of Twelve Years A Slave fame).

It was finally here.

RITA#500a

Part II: An Introduction

It was hearing Faster that started it all. Up to that point, I hadn’t noticed the Manics. I had definitely taken a dislike to their name though. Manic Street Preachers? How pretentious! What does that even mean?

It’s dangerous when you haven’t heard any music by a band, and the only thing you have to go on is their name. If the name sounds cool, then you’d be forgiven for expecting the band to be cool. If the name sounds unbelievably pretentious, well…

So I bought a compilation called Danger Zone during my second year at University. I’d heard some of the tracks before, but mostly the CD introduced me to a lot of the rockier indie bands I had avoided up to that point. It was the Manics’ Faster that really got my attention. It was like nothing I’d heard before – edgy, off-kilter, the sound of inertia committed to tape – and with lyrics name-checking Norman Mailer, Henry Miller, Sylvia Plath and Harold Pinter. Rock songs weren’t supposed to mention writers and poets, and as I was currently studying English literature, they sounded like the kind of lyrics I should probably be listening to. I needed all the academic help I could get.

The other thing that grabbed me about the song was the production. The first few lines with James Dean Bradfield’s vocals switching between a reverb and a clean sound was awesome, especially through a pair of headphones when you can really hear the difference. And guitar-wise, it was refreshing to hear a heap of effects that I just hadn’t heard before in my diet of Aerosmith, AC/DC, and the like.

I rushed out and bought The Holy Bible on CD, expecting to find more of the same. On first listen, I was disappointed. Faster was clearly the best song on the album, but what the hell was all this other stuff? Anorexia, prostitution, the holocaust, mass murderers, American politics, right-wing totalitarianism; to say that it’s a serious album would be a grave understatement.

A casual listener might have been put off by such content, but at that time I had the time and the inclination to fully digest myself in an album, to immerse myself in it until I knew it backwards and could form a valid opinion of it.

RITA#500b

Part III: An Obsession

Everyday from that point onwards, for maybe six months or more, The Holy Bible would be on my MiniDisc player (the highly unfashionable pre-cursor to the iPod). I’d listen to it on the long walk into University, sometimes finding myself listening to Archives Of Pain, a song about serial killers, whilst walking through the red-light district where Yorkshire Ripper Peter Sutcliffe picked up some of his victims.

I’d listen to it between lectures, as I wandered the streets of Huddersfield to kill time. Then I’d listen to it again as I took the same long walk home. The only albums I’d share in my musical diet were the Manics’ earlier albums, Generation Terrorists and Gold Against The Soul. They were good, but they weren’t in the same class as The Holy Bible. I’d listen to them to try and understand their follow-up album; how had this band arrived at producing such a unique piece of art?

Posters of the Holy Bible adorned my bedroom walls, and I sought out everything connected to the album. In particular, in those dark days before the advent of YouTube, I went to great lengths to see a performance of Faster on BBC’s Top Of The Pops – a performance that at the time of broadcast saw a record number of complaints (over 25,000). The reason? Bradfield’s black balaclava (with ‘James’ scrawled on the front of it) and the rest of the band’s military garb prompted comparisons with the IRA. Viewed now, it looks very tame but the troubles were in full swing at the time so it’s not hard to understand how the Mary Whitehouses of the UK were horrified.

RITA#500e

My girlfriend at the time wore a handmade necklace adorned with a Holy Bible lyric – I know I believe in nothing but it is my nothing, from Faster. I loved it so much she made me one as a gift, featuring another of my favourite lyrics from the album – Why do anything when you can forget everything?, from This Is Yesterday. I wore it every day until it split and the many lettered beads it was made of spilled all over the floor.

RITA#500cPart IV: An Understanding

To fully appreciate what the NME would ultimately call ‘a vile record’, it’s important to provide some context on how these four individuals came to record the album, and it’s impossible not to view the record without considering the unfortunate events that followed during its promotion.

As a band, the Manics are easily divisible into two camps. First, there are the musical writers of the band, vocalist / guitarist James Dean Bradfield and his drumming cousin, Sean Moore. They’re complimented by the lyricists of the group, guitarist Richey Edwards and bass player Nicky Wire.

The way that they approach songwriting is also fairly unique. An existing set of lyrics by Edwards or Wire (or both) is crowbarred into a piece of music written independently by Bradfield or Moore (or both). This is why the band’s lyrics sound strangely wrapped around the music. They don’t think twice about starting a line (or even a single word) at the end of a bar of music, and finishing it on the next bar. Effectively they’re fitting a poem onto a piece of music which might not necessarily have the same metre.

This is why I have major problems deciphering their lyrics. For a while, I though the chorus of their Masses Against The Classes single was ‘Grandma Says, Against Her Glasses’. Talk about mondegreens; I could write my own MSP lyric sheets and they would be filled with the most unintelligible gibberish. I’d have more success deciphering the Super Furry Animals’ welsh lyrics (who might very well be singing ‘Ysbeidiau Heulog’ on Mwng’s song of the same name, but I’ve always heard it as ‘a spidey-eye halo’).

To record their third album, the band decamped back to Wales, to Sound Space Studios, a small studio in Cardiff. Their first two albums had been recorded in London and Oxfordshire respectively, and their last album, Gold Against The Soul, had a hollowness and a commercial sheen they were keen not to repeat.

Manics biographer Simon Price describes The Holy Bible as ‘the sound of a group in extremis, at crisis point, hurtling towards a private armageddon.’ This sums up the album perfectly, but could also be used to describe Richey Edwards himself. Of their first five albums, this is clearly the most ‘Richey’ in tone, and Nicky Wire has confirmed that the lyrics are “30 per cent me, 70 per cent Richey”.

Five months following the release of the album, and on the eve of flying out to tour the record in America, Richey disappeared. Echoing the suicide of Ian Curtis in 1980 – similarly on the eve of Joy Division touring America – this was the culmination of Edward’s deteriorating mental state.

Part V: A Disappearance

Edwards and Bradfield were staying at the Embassy Hotel in West London. They were due to fly out to the U.S.A. in the morning, for a week of interviews to promote the album and the upcoming tour. As they arrived at the hotel in the evening, Bradfield played a demo of Small Black Flowers That Grow in the Sky, a song with lyrics written by Edwards that would later appear on the band’s ‘comeback’ album Everything Must Go. Richey loved it. In the morning, Richey didn’t show in the lobby at the agreed time.

When Bradfield asked the hotel porter to open Edwards’ room, they found a box wrapped up in paper featuring literary quotes and images, addressed to his girlfriend. Inside the box was an assortment of books and videos. His full suitcase of clothes, toiletries and medication was also found.

The ensuing police investigation found that Richey had driven back to his flat in Cardiff that morning. Here, they found his passport, which he had had with him in London, his remaining medication and his credit card.

Aside from uncomfirmed sightings of Richey in Newport, he had completely vanished. Sixteen days later, his car was found abandoned in the car park of the Severn View motorway services in Aust, close to the English side of the Severn Bridge.

It was impossible to identify how long the car had been parked there, but the battery was dead and it appeared that he’d been sleeping in it, playing cassette tapes though the car stereo.

Despite numerous unconfirmed sightings early on in places as far afield as Goa, Fuerteventura and Lanzarote, to this day Edwards is still missing / presumed dead – the Lord Lucan of pop music. In 2002 his family were given the option to declare him legally dead. They chose not to, and he remained a missing person until 2008 when he was officially presumed dead.

The proximity to the bridge – a suicide spot, as most large bridges are – served as a bookend to the situation to some. Many presumed he had taken his own life, but a body was never found. How horrible. It’s one thing for a band member to kill themselves – as had happened to Nirvana the year before – but for a band member to disappear, to have questions but no answers, must be considerably more torturous.

RITA#500d

Part VI: An Appreciation

The wise people know. You’ll hear them every now and then, in the toilet of a club, or walking in a mall. All of a sudden, your ears will prick up because you hear the word ‘Manics’ spoken by others; the Cocktail Party Phenomenon in action. If you can eavesdrop further, they’ll be debating which is the best Manics album. The one that’s heard The Holy Bible will be strenuously putting forward an argument that’s it’s better than all the others. The other person, the one who’s not heard The Holy Bible, will be saying something else. But they’ll be wrong of course.

Over time my tastes have changed. I’m not as avid a supporter of the band as I once was. I still follow them, but the standard of their post-Holy Bible output has been patchy to say the least. I’m still smarting over them (or more correctly, their record company) for putting out Know Your Enemy as a single disc of vinyl, despite its 75 minute running time.

The other week, I heard the Manics’ song backing the Wales football team in the 2016 European Championship. I nearly vomited, it was so bad. The Super Furry Animals’ song was much better, just proving that it’s not a missing band member that changes a band beyond comprehension, it’s the band becoming popular, moving into the mainstream, and falling back on tried and tested songwriting formulas that turns them into the opposite of what they started out as.

In 2007, I saw the Manics at Glastonbury; my last Glastonbury festival before I left the UK. I wasn’t excited as we were walking to the stage; instead I was going to see them on auto-pilot, out of a weird sense of duty. But halfway through the opening song, You Love Us, I suddenly remembered what a big fan of the band I was and as a result, I couldn’t stop smiling.

That must have been the fourth or fifth time I had seen the band play, and I noticed that they had added a second guitarist to their touring band. Up to this point they had been doing fine as a three-piece, but now it seemed like they were finally saying goodbye to Richey by filling his part in the band. The new addition to the band stood at the back in the shadows, while stage-right remained empty, as I believe it does to this day, waiting for Richey to return.

Hit: Faster


Hidden Gem: This Is Yesterday


Note – In the writing of this post, I’m indebted to Simon Price’s wonderful Manics biography Everything (A Book About Manic Street Preachers) (Virgin Books, 1999) which helped a great deal, particularly with its in-depth report of the police investigation into Richey Edwards’ disappearance. I’ve also recently discovered Andy Johnson’s great blog Manic Street Preachers – A Critical Discography, a great repository for MSP fans, and well worth checking out.

Rocks In The Attic #458: Garbage – ‘Garbage’ (1995)

RITA#458Like most men (and probably most women) who saw Garbage on their first tour, promoting this debut album, I fell in love with Shirley Manson; totally unconditionally, head-over-heels in love. If she had clicked her fingers, I would have followed, asking questions. All despite reading that she once squatted over the kitchen table in her boyfriend’s apartment and took a dump in his bowl of cornflakes. She had caught him cheating apparently.

I’m always a little suspicious when rock bands enlist a hot lady to sing. Sex does sell, but so does talent and the other three quarters of Garbage already had that in spades. Drummer Butch Vig (the super-producer of Nevermind, Siamese Dream), guitarist Steve Marker (sound engineer on L7’s Bricks Are Heavy) and bassist Duke Erikson (guitarist with Spooner and Fire Town, both alongside Vig) started a new project in 1994 and decided on a female vocalist to distance themselves from the all-male bands they had prior experience with. The female angst thing was popular around the mid-‘90s, with Alanis Morissette and Meredith Brooks ploughing the same field, so Manson’s vocals fit right in.

I remember hearing Queer first, and thinking it sounded very different to everything else at the time. It was still rock, but with a dark, electronic pop edge. In fact, it sounds a lot like today’s stripper pop (as Dave Grohl calls it) but in 1995 it ticked enough boxes for my ears.

I saw them play at the Apollo in Manchester, supported by Bis, in March ‘96. I remember seeing the roadies set up the stage for the headliners, and noticing the sheer amount of technology in Marker and Erikson’s flight racks. The LEDs from the various amps, processors and effects units was dizzying, and created a great backdrop.

Right from their opening number – Queer, no less – Manson owned the stage. As the band played through the opening bars, she walked out wearing knee-high leather boots, a corset and a pink feather boa. Boom. Like a thunderbolt.

I even liked their follow-up album, Version 2.0, but by the time I saw them again, at Glastonbury in 2005, I had moved on. As such, I quickly forgot about the band. Times change, and all that.

Twenty years on, the debut has been re-released in a beautiful 45rpm double pink vinyl package. It sounds great, and has definitely taken me back to those post-grunge days. I still love Queer, but it’s I’m Only Happy When It Rains which really impresses me. I’d go so far as saying that it’s one of my favourite songs from that entire decade. That’s a huge call, considering the amount of great music that the ‘90s gave us, but there’s something about the song’s ‘pour your misery down’ refrain that just speaks to me.

Postscript: Sex might very well sell, but without any discernible talent, it’s about as useful as a chocolate fireguard. In the mid-2000s, Shirley Manson appeared as an antagonist in The Sarah Connor Chonic…, The Sarah Cronner Chon…, The Sarah Connorcles…ah fuck it, that lame Terminator TV series that swiftly got cancelled. Manson might ooze talent and sex appeal on stage, but she most definitely cannot act, and her unconventional looks (upside-down eyes, pale skin and bright ginger hair), which looked great on stage, just made her look odd among the stereotypically beautiful people on TV. The show was bad enough before she appeared, but she just seemed to be the final nail in the coffin.

Hit: I’m Only Happy When It Rains

Hidden Gem: Supervixen

Rocks In The Attic #426: Supergrass – ‘I Should Coco’ (1995)

RITA#426I’ve been waiting a bloody long time to get my hands on a vinyl copy of this – my original pressing of In It For The Money has always been very lonely next to so many Supertramp records, and I finally have a companion piece for my 7” of Alright / Time.

Recently reissued to celebrate the album’s twentieth anniversary, the re-release comes with the record’s original bonus 7” – an energetic blast through Hendrix’s Stone Free, backed with a John Peel session of one of their own songs (the sticker on the front of the record strangely says it comes with a “one sided 7” vinyl” when in fact it’s a standard double-sided 45rpm 7”).

Although I’m more of a fan of album number two, I like I Should Coco more and more with every listen. It sounds like speed, and it’s not hard to imagine how different this sounded at the time compared to all the rest of Britpop’s dull, plodding Indie rock.

Alright? Mansize Rooster? Caught By The Fuzz? It’s choc-full of hits, but for me the real gem of the album is Time. They sound like kids on the rest of the album, but with Time they really display a maturity that’s beyond their (teenage) years. They would write more soulful material like this – Late In The Day from the second album and Moving from the third album are good examples – but their debut record is really all about the energy of their live set.

What’s not to like about Supergrass? A fantastic songwriter in Gaz Coombes, a driving bass player with great backing vocals in Mick Quinn, and in Danny Goffey a madcap drummer from the Keith Moon school of percussion. The only thing not to like is that horrible rumour that Steven Spielberg saw the music video for Alright and wanted to turn the band into a Monkees-style TV experiment.

Most of the first record sounds like it was recorded in one take with very minimal production. It was actually recorded for less than the budget for the Alright video, which is a horrible example of misplaced record company investment.

Hit: Alright

Hidden Gem: I’d Like To Know

Rocks In The Attic #400: Various Artists – ‘The Best Of James Bond – 30th Anniversary Collection’ (1992)

Bond 00A new Bond film – Spectre – is imminent, set to be released on the 6th of November 2015. To say that I’m looking forward to it is a major understatement. Hopefully it can restore my faith in the series, after the let-down of the appalling Skyfall – a Bond film for non-Bond film fans.

To celebrate the 400th Rocks In The Attic blog post, here are the twenty four* previous Bond themes, ranked from worst to best.

Bond 0(*Prior to Spectre, there are actually twenty three Bond films in the official series, but Dr. No doesn’t really have a theme song, other than Monty Norman’s original James Bond Theme, and that tune really belongs to all of the films. I’ve also included the themes to the two unofficial Bond films – the spoof Casino Royale from 1967, and 1983’s Never Say Never Again – because they’re well worth considering).

24. Die Another Day – Madonna (2002)

Bond 1Die Another Day is not only hands-down the worst Bond film, it also has the honour of having the worst theme song. If there’s one person who needs to stay away from films, it’s Madonna. The producers even gave her a part in the film! Her filmography reads like a criminal record. Body Of Evidence? Who’s That Girl? Swept Away? If you haven’t seen these films, keep it that way. Die Another Day was released in the midst of her attempt to reinvent herself as a British person, all flat caps and tweed jackets. Ugh. Pass the sick bucket.

23. For Your Eyes Only – Sheena Easton (1981)

Bond 2Carly Simon’s theme to The Spy Who Loved Me was such a hit in 1977 that the producers spent the early 1980s trying to replicate its success. This and the theme to the next film in the series, Octopussy, are some of the weakest Bond themes – all synths and dated atmospherics, about as far away as you can get from what a Bond theme should be. For Your Eyes loses more points for repurposing the title of the film into a cheesy double-entendre.

22. All Time High – Rita Coolidge (from Octopussy, 1983)

Bond 3I guess when you’re faced with a title like Octopussy, you’re going to need to change the name of the song. Nobody wants to hear somebody crowbar the words ‘hussy’ and ‘fussy’ just so that they can rhyme them with ‘Octopussy’. Or do they…? I’m not too sure what that song would be about, perhaps something along the lines of Bond not being particularly choosy about his women: With girls, he was never fussy / He’d take them all, any hussy / But the one that really took his eye / No word of a lie / Was Octopussy.

21. Tomorrow Never Dies – Sheryl Crow (1997)

Bond 4Just as the early-‘80s was a fallow period for good Bond themes, so was the late-‘90s. There’s nothing particularly offensive about Tomorrow Never Dies or The World Is Not Enough, but there’s nothing great about them either. They both sound like they’ve been written by a computer program designed to write Bond themes: Start. Open file. Insert menacing three-note ascending motif. Run.

20. The World Is Not Enough – Garbage (1999)

Bond 5David Arnold might have hit his stride now, but back in the ‘90s he was really struggling. John Barry left a big pair of shoes to fill (size 007s probably), and subsequently Arnold’s first few soundtracks seem to crumble under the pressure. His choice of theme-tune artist is a little strange for this one too. Garbage were indie darlings back in 1995, but by 1999 they were an afterthought. A less than exciting second album didn’t help, and their Bond song was released long after the honeymoon was over.

19. Casino Royale – Herb Alpert & The Tijuana Brass (from Casino Royale, 1967)

Bond 6Herb Alpert & The Marijuana Brass, more like. If you’ve never seen 1967’s Casino Royale, don’t bother. It’s a big, sloppy mess of a film. The music, however, is much better. Aside from Burt Bacharach’s The Look Of Love, performed by Dusty Springfield, you get this short, sharp slap of catchy ‘60s trumpet jazz. Although it’s one of the few highlights of the film, I’ve only rated it low down because it’s so far out of step with the rest of the theme songs.

18. You Know My Name – Chris Cornell (from Casino Royale, 2006)

Bond 7Getting the singer from Soundgarden to do a Bond song – for 2006’s Casino Royale – sounds like a fantastic move. Just listen to a song like Jesus Christ Pose from 1991’s Badmotorfinger – the guy can wail. So on paper, it sounds great. But the more memorable Bond themes have something – a certain je ne sais quoi, usually in the form of a hook or a riff, or a catchy chorus. This has nothing of the sort. In fact, it’s so forgettable it’s almost a black hole (sun) in my knowledge of Bond themes.

17. Goldeneye – Tina Turner (1995)

Bond 8Bono and the Edge wrote a fantastic film theme in 1995, just not for a Bond film. Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me, Kill Me was released as the theme to Joel Schumacher’s otherwise woeful Batman Forever. It’s everything a Bond theme should be – majestic, sweeping, cutting edge and quite simply, cool as fuck. Their other effort, for Goldeneye, performed by Tina Turner – no stranger to a film theme, herself – is the exact opposite. It’s cold, uninviting and the worst thing about a great film in the series.

16. The Living Daylights – A-Ha (1987)

Bond 9John Barry’s final entry in the Bond soundtrack canon is one of his weakest. Buoyed by the success of working with a successful pop band – Duran Duran on A View To A Kill – he tried a second time with A-Ha, the Norwegian darlings of the moment. The song sounds very over-produced, and this is evident when listening to A-Ha’s preferred ‘cut back’ version, found on their album Stay On These Roads. This actually sounds like the A-Ha of Take On Me and The Sun Always Shines On T.V. and is a far better fit for a Bond film.

15. The Man With The Golden Gun – Lulu (1974)

Bond 10If you think Lulu’s Bond theme is bad you should listen to Alice Cooper’s rejected song for the film. A different song entirely, it’s an oddity that thankfully never saw the silver screen (it would beat Lulu’s version by appearing on Alice’s 1973 album, Muscle Of Love). I actually like the Lulu song – it’s high camp entirely fitting for a Roger Moore film. There’s one famous detractor though – its composer John Barry would later go on record to say that the song, and the score for the film, was the weakest of his many contributions to the series. “It’s the one I hate most… it just never happened for me.”

14. Licence To Kill – Gladys Knight (1989)

Bond 11The most incestuous Bond theme (the producers of the song were sued over its familiarity to the Goldfinger theme), Licence To Kill is probably the last of the traditional Bond themes. From this point on, the themes went further down the pop route, shepherded by David Arnold. The baby boomers passing the baton to generation X, if you will. The studio where they recorded the theme to Licence To Kill was filled with bowls of seedless oranges – as the producers were confused by Gladys Knight’s ultimatum that she would only record the song without the pips.

13. Thunderball – Tom Jones (1965)

Bond 12Legend has it that Jones fainted at the end of the recording of this song, due to the long sustained note. Truth or myth, who knows? It is a beast of a note he holds, so it isn’t out of the realms of believability. In Thunderball, we have the very first example of the Bond theme trying to repeat a tried and tested formula. A year earlier, Shirley Bassey’s Goldfinger – also with a long sustained note at the climax of the song – had pointed to the way forward. From now on, brass was key (a brass key?) in the sound of Bond themes. With Thunderball, John Barry tried to repeat what he had achieved with Goldfinger – it just isn’t as good a song, with a confused approach to the film’s title (Don Black’s lyric personifies Thunderball, and presents it as a character in the film – a la Goldfinger – when in the film, it was just a codename for Bond’s mission – ‘Operation Thunderball’).

12. Moonraker – Shirley Bassey (1979)

Bond 13Shirley Bassey’s third and final Bond theme may be her weakest, but it’s still a lovely slice of film music. It does lose points for sounding a bit like something you would expect to hear on The Love Boat – strange considering that this film is the series’ only departure into science-fiction. You’d think that they might have tried to do something a bit harder with the theme song, but maybe it was just the strings of John Williams’ Star Wars score they liked.

11. Skyfall – Adele (2012)

Bond 14At the time of writing, the artist for the theme to Spectre has not been announced, but it’s rumoured that Adele may be reprising her duties from Skyfall to sing her second theme. I couldn’t be happier about this. If there’s anybody who deserves a repeat performance, it’s Adele; she could be the Shirley Bassey of our times. She’s definitely got the lungs for it, and the classy, ballgown-wearing credentials.

10. You Only Live Twice – Nancy Sinatra (1967)

Bond 15That ominous orchestral sweep that opens this theme is one of the most threatening sounds committed to vinyl. It also sounds like the orchestra are walking backwards, into the main motif. It reminds the listener that despite the lush swings, this is still a Bond theme – even though when we hear this for the first time in the film, Bond has just been assassinated. OR HAS HE??? The theme is notable for being the first to be performed by a non-British artist, Nancy ‘daughter of Frank’ Sinatra. It’s also the little known fourth theme to be sung by Shirley Bassey, covered for her 2007 retrospective album, Get The Party Started (a full album of Bassey covering Bond themes had been earlier withdrawn from sale in the late ‘80s and again in the early ‘90s).

9. Never Say Never Again – Lani Hall (1983)

Bond 16Probably the most overlooked Bond theme, Lani Hall’s contribution to the ‘unofficial Bond film’ of 1983 will never be included on Bond theme compilations, or used in any of EON’s promotional materials. What a shame, because it’s pretty good. If they shot a porn parody of Bond – and I’m sure that one, if not many, must exist already – it would probably sound like this. The thing about porn parodies of Bond films is that you wouldn’t need to change the titles too much – Goldfinger speaks for itself, as does Thunderball and The Man With The Golden Gun. More specific, niche tastes would be covered by Moonraker, Dr. No and, ahem, Goldeneye.

8. Diamonds Are Forever – Shirley Bassey (1971)

Bond 17The theme to Diamonds Are Forever needed to be something special. It marked the first time a Bond singer had returned for a repeat performance – something nobody else has managed to do, except Bassey herself for a third and final time in 1979. Bassey’s second effort is everything a Bond theme should be – sexy, dangerous and with a universal appeal. Diamonds Are Forever also holds the title for being the funkiest Bond song, with a slinky bass line that Bootsy Collins would be proud of.

7. Another Way To Die – Jack White & Alicia Keys (2008)

Bond 18The first Bond theme for a long time that actually sounded like it was doing something different, this effort from 2008’s Quantum Of Solace sounds like a bad idea. Professional enigma and vintage enthusiast Jack White sharing vocals with Alicia Keys – the product of a performing arts education? This doesn’t bode well. Instead, it’s a delightful slice of alternative rock with Bondian overtones. Jack White is welcome back in the house of Bond anytime.

6. From Russia With Love – Matt Munro (1963)

Bond 19Those were the days, when a spy thriller at the movies just had to a have a syrupy love song on the soundtrack; something for the ladies to enjoy while the men pondered over the plot details and wondered if there was ever a chance for the popcorn trick (made famous in the 1982 film Diner) to actually work. From Russia With Love, by “England’s Sinatra”, Matt Munro, gets a free pass in my book. It’s the first Bond theme proper, and therefore has nothing to compete with. It could have been slush, but it’s magical.

5. Goldfinger – Shirley Bassey (1964)

Bond 20Waaap – waaaaaaap –waaap! If this isn’t the brassiest song in the world, I’m not sure what is. Everything about this song screams Bond, and it’s difficult to imagine the song being performed by anybody else other than Shirley Bassey. One of the inspirations was Mack The Knife, so it could have been a Sinatra-type crooner belting out something smoother than Bassey’s abrasive rasp. Jimmy Page played on the session, which gives the song an extra bit of credibility, and although it feels like everybody loves the song, the film’s co-producer Harry Saltzman tried to remove it from the film, saying ‘”That’s the worst f**king song I’ve ever heard in my f**king life”. Not a fan then.

4. A View To A Kill – Duran Duran (1985)

Bond 21Growing up in the 1980s, you’d be forgiven for thinking that Bond themes were the mainstay of middle of the road songstresses – all breathy vocals and atmospheric production. Then 1985 came along, and we suddenly got the most exciting Bond theme since Live And Let Die. Roger Moore might be close to claiming his pension in A View To A Kill, but the theme song more than makes up for it. It could have been far, far worse – let’s all feel thankful that Grace Jones didn’t sing the title song. Just don’t ask Simon Le Bon to sing A View To A Kill in front of a billion people – at Live Aid, he sounded almost prepubescent as he reached for a high note in the chorus (at 2:54 here).

3. Nobody Does It Better – Carly Simon (from The Spy Who Loved Me, 1977)

Bond 22Perhaps the quintessential Bond film of the 1970s – it was to that decade what Goldfinger was to the 1960s – Nobody Does It Better marks the first time that the name of the film wasn’t the name of the theme (although ‘The spy who loved me’ is crowbarred into the lyrics at one point). This is a beautiful song, with a lovely piano introduction by composer Marvin Hamlisch – and what a great way to segue into the credits sequence: Bond, looking like a plastic banana, skis off the end of a mountain and deploys a Union flag parachute. And then, as Alan Partridge would say, “Glang…glangalangalangalangalangalang…glangalang…”

2. On Her Majesty’s Secret Service – John Barry (1969)

Bond 23Propose a Bond theme without a vocal these days, and I’d run a mile, but John Barry gets away with this purely because it’s such an awesome melody. This is the epitome of cool – George Lazenby skiing down a mountain in 1969, to this ominous instrumental. It even sounds a bit futuristic, with a Moog synth part laying down the driving bass line. The only reason this theme doesn’t top the list is that the first few seconds of synth do sound a bit like the beginning to The Teddy Bear’s Picnic. This is thankfully not as obvious in the Propellerheads’ balls-out awesome 1997 cover.

1. Live And Let Die – Paul McCartney & Wings (1973)

Bond 24When I saw Paul McCartney play Glastonbury in 2004, I momentarily forgot about the existence of the Live And Let Die theme song – a travesty, considering what a huge Bond fan I am, but excusable for the fact that I was in full Beatles mode, watching a Beatle performing Beatles songs. Then, mid-set, he launched into the piano intro to Live And Let Die and I nearly vomited from my ears in excitement. McCartney’s song tops the list because it has everything – it’s a ballad, it’s a rocker, it even has a reggae section to reflect the film’s West Indian setting. Produced by George Martin, it also has the added value of being linked to that Beatles universe that had only just come to an end a couple of years earlier. It’s a common phenomenon for musos to distance themselves from McCartney’s post-Beatles output, but no matter what you think of Ebony And Ivory or The Pipes Of Peace, you can’t take Live And Let Die from him – the best Bond theme there ever was.

Honourable Mentions

I always wonder if the would-be suitors of Honor Blackman got mixed messages when her father told them to do the honourable thing. Bad jokes aside, there are plenty of musical honourable mentions in the Bond universe. In one of the series’ rare references to pop culture, Bond even mentions the Beatles at one point, just before he’s attacked by Oddjob in Jill Masterson’s hotel room in 1964’s Goldfinger. So, in no particular order (and in no way an exhaustive list):

The James Bond Theme – Monty Norman (1962)

Bond 25The series wouldn’t be what it is without this short piece of twangy guitar, written by Monty Norman and performed by session guitarist Vic Flick. It’s John Barry’s arrangement that makes it though – while Norman wrote the melody of the main guitar riff, it was Barry who supplied the countermelodies from the orchestra that really make it all work. To make an analogy, Norman’s Bond theme melody might be a fine pair of shoes, but Barry tailored the rest of the suit. Many years of court cases have contested who the true composer is – legally, it’s Monty Norman – but I see it as a collaboration in which John Barry’s contributions have been sorely overlooked.

Kingston Calypso – Eric Rodgers (1962)

Bond 26I wrote earlier that Dr. No doesn’t really have a theme tune – except the Bond theme itself – but that’s actually not entirely true. Halfway through the opening credits, we get a blast of Kingston Calypso by Eric Rodgers – a calypso version of Three Blind Mice, in reference to the murder we’ve just seen on screen. History has covered this up – but what a great quiz question: which nursery rhyme is used on the opening credits to the first James Bond film?

– Maurice Binder (1925-1991)

Bond 27The on-screen visuals are a major component to the opening credits of the James Bond films and serve as a fantastic accompaniment to the music. Maurice Binder designed these title sequences from the very start, with Dr. No in 1962, to Licence To Kill in 1989 (missing only From Russia With Love and Goldfinger, which were designed by Robert Brownjohn). Binder also designed the famous gun barrel sequence – probably the single-most iconic visual of the Bond series, and one of the most identifiable images in film history. To young boys eager for a glimpse of side-boob or the silhouetted nipple of a girl cart-wheeling off a gun barrel, Maurice Binder was the man. Legend.

007 – John Barry (1963)

Bond 28John Barry might have missed out on the credit for The James Bond Theme, but 007 (sometimes known as The 007 Theme) is undoubtedly his own composition. Written for the gypsy camp scene in From Russia With Love, the song has soundtracked many sequences in the Bond series – an underwater fight in Thunderball, the ‘Little Nellie’ helicopter chase in You Only Live Twice, the destruction of Blofeld’s oil-rig in Diamonds Are Forever, and the Amazon river chase in Moonraker.

Bond 29Mr. Kiss Kiss Bang BangShirley Bassey / Dionne Warwick (1965)

Originally the main title theme to Thunderball, the extremely Bondian Mr. Kiss Kiss Bang Bang was recorded first by Shirley Bassey, then Dionne Warwick, before the producers demanded a theme song with the film’s name in the title. John Barry and Don Black then rushed another composition under a tight deadline, hence the existence of the Tom Jones song. Johnny Cash also composed a song intended to be used as the film’s main theme, but let’s all be glad the Bond producers had better ideas.

Bond 30The Look Of Love – Dusty Springfield (1967)

The unwatchable Casino Royale from 1967 has the honour of two themes – Herb Alpert’s titular instrumental, and also this easy-listening gem from the piano of Burt Bacharach. Dusty’s voice is so stark, it sounds like it’s going to shatter at any second. It’s sometimes hard to believe that a film project that produced such a terrible piece of celluloid also resulted in such a strong soundtrack, with this as its centrepiece – a terrific single from the summer of love.

– We Have All The Time In The World – Louis Armstrong (1969)

Bond 31For On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, the Bond producers, Cubby Broccoli and Albert Saltzman, decided to borrow an idea from the ‘unofficial’ Casino Royale, released two years earlier – both films have an instrumental main title theme, and then a syrupy ballad as a secondary main theme. Reportedly the last studio recording by Armstrong before his death in 1971 (he was too sick to play his noticeably absent trumpet), this is undoubtedly one of the loveliest songs in the Bond canon.

– Adam & Joe’s Song Wars

Bond 32Adam Buxton and Joe Cornish are broadcasters in the UK, famous for their very funny, esoteric TV show for Channel Four, and later their radio show for the BBC. Cornish has gone on to bigger things in recent years, co-writing the script for Spielberg’s The Adventures of Tintin: Secret of the Unicorn, and directing his debut feature, Attack The Block (both in 2011). Before that though, one of the highlights of their radio show was the Song Wars segment. Every fortnight, they would set themselves a task whereby they would pick a theme, then compose and record a song related to that theme by the following week’s show. Their two alternative theme songs for Quantum Of Solace – both Adam’s version and Joe’s version – are essential listening for any Bond fan with a sense of humour.

On Her Majesty’s Secret Service – Propellerheads & David Arnold (1997)

Bond 33Everything about this homage to John Barry is freakin’ awesome – from the rotating motif that opens the song, lifted off the From Russia With Love soundtrack, to the space march interlude from You Only Live Twice – and everything between. This couldn’t be any more ‘90s big-beat / break-beat if it tried, but it still sounds fresh. That bass line gets me every time – and the counterpoint this goes to in the second section of the main orchestral riff just takes the song somewhere else.

If there’s one thing that the Propellerheads’ cover proves, it’s that the musical future of the Bond franchise (I hate that word) is safe and well. We might get the occasional dodgy theme song – the series wouldn’t be the same without them – but there’ll always be artists who love the Bond films, ready and willing to take that ascending three note structure into uncharted territory.

To finish off, here’s a photograph that took me a very, very long time to put together. I have been collecting the Bond soundtracks on vinyl every since I started collecting vinyl in the late 1990s, and decided earlier this year to ramp up my search to find them all. These are all the Bond soundtracks that have been commercially released on vinyl – there’s a gap of six films, the four Brosnan films and the first two Craig films which didn’t see a vinyl release. The treasure of this collection is the soundtrack to 1983’s Never Say Never Again – only pressed on vinyl in Japan for some strange reason, and a welcome delivery from the Hyōgo Prefecture.
Bond 34

Rocks In The Attic #389: Foo Fighters – ‘Foo Fighters’ (1995)

RITA#389A big, big album for me, this came out in the summer of 1995 (which would have been in between my two years of sixth form / A-levels). It’s wrapped up in my head with a lot of good times, and a couple of regretful decisions. I might not be a big fan of the music they bring out these days (too middle of the road for my tastes), but I can proudly say that I was a Foo Fighters fan from day one.

I wasn’t that much of a Nirvana fan before Kurt Cobain killed himself. A lot of my friends liked them, and I was very aware of them, but the whole grunge thing didn’t really float my boat. Of the other bands around at the time, I probably preferred Stone Temple Pilots who seemed to be coming at everything from more of a classic rock approach. I did come to appreciate Nirvana though – endless viewings of their videos and the Unplugged show on MTV in the months after his death meant that you couldn’t really avoid them.

Of the stuff I had heard, I definitely leant more to the rawer sound on In Utero than the slickly produced Nevermind. I liked Heart Shaped Box so much I bought the single on CD, and ended up really digging one of the b-sides – Marigold – written and sung (in a bathtub?) by Dave Grohl.

Fast forward to the next summer, and I read – probably in Kerrang – that Dave Grohl had put together his own band. I hadn’t heard anything by them, but I bought their debut single – This Is A Call – purely on the strength of what I heard in Marigold. I loved every second of it, and the two what-ended-up-being non-album b-sides, Winnebago and Podunk, were great too.

A month later, I bought the debut album on the day of its release. Boom, I was definitely a Foo Fighters fan now, and to me they felt like the world’s best-kept secret. There was no hype – nothing – about the band at this point. Dave Grohl might be a household name now, but back then he really was just ‘the drummer from Nirvana’.

A couple of months later and we arrive at the first regret of this story. It’s actually one of my biggest musical regrets, and I’m still sore about it. The Foo Fighters were coming to Manchester – 5th September 1995 – to play a gig at Manchester University, supported by the Presidents Of The United States Of America (another band I would have killed to see at the time). I couldn’t go, for some reason, despite regularly attending gigs at the University, or the Academy next door, around those couple of years. I seem to remember it being something to do with having an exam the day after, but the date doesn’t stack up – why would I have had an exam at the start of the new school year?

Anyway, for whatever reason, I missed it. This annoys me so much – I don’t want to be one of those fans who ditches bands as soon as they become famous, but here was a band I was really into from their very early days, after hearing the promise of a b-side and reading about their formation in a couple of centimetres of newsprint. Grrr.

Their second album came out when I was in my first year at University, and almost immediately I started to lose interest. That second album – recorded by the full band, but with drums naughtily re-recorded by Grohl – was good, but it went down a different road than the personal feel of the debut album.

I did eventually get to see them – at a V festival in Stafford in 2001 – but by then I didn’t recognise them anymore. The line-up of that small group he had originally put together had already changed four times (in just six years). Drummer William Goldsmith had enough of his drum parts being re-recorded by Grohl and left in 1997, followed soon after by Grohl’s Nirvana bandmate, guitarist Pat Smear. By the time I saw them in 2001, even Smear’s replacement, Franz Stahl, had come and gone, replaced by Chris Shiflett. I don’t remember enjoying them. They didn’t belong to me anymore, they belonged to everybody else.

As a measure of how turbulent the band was at the time, on the day that I saw them in Stafford in 2001, drummer Taylor Hawkins – drafted in from, ugh, Alanis Morissette’s touring band – was hospitalised after a drug overdose following their set. Thankfully, these days they seem a little more settled.

I saw them again in 2006, at another festival (Manchester’s Old Trafford cricket ground). Again, meh. Music for panel-beaters and hairdressers.

My second regret came in 2011 when, now living in New Zealand, I missed the chance to see them play a small intimate charity gig at Auckland’s Town Hall. The reason this time – a work event I couldn’t get out of. I recently almost missed out on a repeat of this gig earlier this year, which they had to cancel at the last minute due to one of their equipment trucks crashing on their way up to the gig.

It looks like if I ever want to see the Foo Fighters play a small gig – which I feel I deserve – I’ll have to kidnap Dave Grohl. Now, where did I put that masking tape…

Hit: I’ll Stick Around

Hidden Gem: Good Grief