Category Archives: 2016

Rocks In The Attic #651: David Bowie – ‘1966’ (2016)

RITA#651.jpgIt’s interesting that Bowie emerged from such run-of-the-mill ‘60s beat-pop into something so relevant and unique. For me, aside from standout singles Space Oddity and The Man Who Sold The World, he doesn’t really become interesting until Hunky Dory – and then all of a sudden he’s very interesting.

This LP – a collection of his 1966 singles recorded for the Pye label – could have been recorded by any number of London-based mod singers from the mid-‘60s. It’s not a million miles from the likes of the Kinks, except that it’s a million miles from them at the same time. You can hear that it’s Bowie – that strange, almost pained delivery of vocals is hard to miss – but the material is second-rate. Where Ray Davies made ordinary sound interesting, here Bowie makes ordinary sound, well, ordinary.

Still, it’s a nice little time-capsule of where he started, and at least it’s not as bad as The Laughing Gnome.

Hit: I’m Not Losing Sleep

Hidden Gem: Do Anything You Say

Rocks In The Attic #633: Ramin Djawadi – ‘Westworld (O.S.T.)’ (2016)

RITA#633It’s a hard life being a soundtrack nut. Last week, I was waiting online to order a copy of the score to Friday The 13th: The Final Chapter [spoiler alert – as the fourth instalment of eleven films, it was far from being the final chapter] from the always excellent Waxwork Records. At 2am, when I found out that the record was going on sale in the USA at the equivalent of 5am NZ-time, I went to sleep for three short hours before waking up to place my order (a double LP in Tommy Jarvis blue & white swirl with green splatter), and then going back to sleep.

Last week I also received Waxwork’s repressing of John Harrison’s 1985 Day Of The Dead score in a lovely blood-smear double LP set; and earlier this morning, the postman brought me a trans-Pacific package from Newbury Comics, featuring John Carpenter and Allan Howarth’s score to Christine (1983), in a blue and gold split red splatter, and this, the soundtrack to HBO’s Westworld TV series, in blood red vinyl.

I have to admit, I was a little cautious when I heard that they were remaking Westworld into a television show. The 1973 sci-fi western is an old favourite of mine from when I would tape films off the TV in the middle of the night, and although a recent rewatch showed that it has dated quite a bit, you still don’t want TV companies from ruining something you hold in high regard.

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But it’s HBO we’re talking about – the company behind The Sopranos and The Wire, arguably the two best TV shows of the 21st century – so the subject matter would surely be in safe hands. Ultimately those hands belong to Jonathan Nolan and Lisa Joy, as creators of the show. Jonathan Nolan has been an integral part of his brother Christopher’s work, co-writing Memento, the Dark Knight trilogy, The Prestige and Interstellar, so I was sold on his involvement alone.

Supported by an intriguing all-star cast (Anthony Hopkins, Ed Harris, Evan Rachel Wood, Thandie Newton and Jeffrey Wright), the show was very good, although structurally it felt a little too unbalanced with its numerous narrative twists all taking place in the last couple of episodes. Nolan and Joy have suggested that the show will run to five seasons, so if anything, the groundwork has been laid for some more cerebral television.

My favourite aspect of the show however, was the music. Not only does Ramin Djawadi’s score give us a lovely bit of cello in the ominous title theme, but the real aural treat is the show’s diagetic music. Played on a pianola, the anachronistic soundtrack features honky-tonk piano renditions of Soundgarden’s Black Hole Sun, the Stones’ Paint It Black, the Animals’ arrangement of House Of The Rising Sun, Amy Winehouse’s Back To Black, the Cure’s A Forest, and Radiohead’s Fake Plastic Trees, No Surprises and Exit Music (For A Film).

Hit: Main Title Theme – Westworld

Hidden Gem: Black Hole Sun

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Rocks In The Attic #575: The Rolling Stones – ‘Blue & Lonesome’ (2016)

RITA#575I’ve been burnt before by a blues cover album. In 2004, Aerosmith released Honkin’ On Bobo, a record collecting eleven blues covers and one original song. After 2001’s simply awful Just Push Play, the back-to-basics blues album was supposed to be their redemption. I nearly lost my shit when I first heard about it, especially as the advance word was that it was going to be produced by their old ‘70s partner in crime, Jack Douglas. How could this go wrong?

So I approached Blue & Lonesome with a degree of caution. I’d heard a couple of pre-release teasers (Hate To See You Go and Ride ‘Em On Down) and they sounded pretty good. When I finally picked up the album, I was overjoyed with it. It succeeded, where Honkin’ On Bobo failed, in the sheer sonic quality of the record. If Aerosmith’s album sounded too clean and polished, the Stones’ effort sounded ballsy and authentic.

I don’t buy many new releases. If I buy any at all, I might pick up one or two a year. So if I buy a new record and I don’t take it off my turntable for a while, it’s quite a big thing for me. I must have played Blue & Lonesome five or six times before I gave something else a chance.

The record might not be everybody’s cup of tea. It probably won’t be a big seller – compared to how Stones albums usually sell – simply because it’s not an original studio record. Not only is the choice of material restricted to one dusty, old genre, but the selections are quite obscure songs as well. These are the kind of songs that Keith Richards can be heard playing behind the scenes in a recent documentary, on a little record player in his dressing room.  In fact I had only recognised one of the album’s twelve songs (and that song, Willie Dixon’s I Can’t Quit You Baby, is only well-known from having been covered by Led Zeppelin and Jeff Beck’s band in the late ‘60s).

The album was put together in a prompt three days of recording – incredible really, when you consider how long they could take. Eric Clapton appears on a couple of songs, having been drafted in from the studio next door to where the Stones were recording, but I don’t think his appearance really adds anything special.

My one criticism is that it would have been nice of the Stones to have paid a little tribute to Brian Jones, their blues-obsessed former leader. I’m not sure how they could have done this, but a great idea I heard was naming the record something like Brian Was A Blues Guy.

Be sure to check out the recent episode of Sit And Spin With Joe, where my good friend Joe Royland discusses his take on Blue & Lonesome.

Hit: Ride ‘Em On Down

Hidden Gem: All Of Your Love

Rocks In The Attic #574: Steven Tyler – ‘We’re All Somebody From Somewhere’ (2016)

RITA#574.jpgAmerica needs our help. A series of unfortunate circumstances in the second half of 2016 led to one man being given more power than he can handle. It’s something we should all be collectively terrified of; a landmark event which could potentially have far-reaching consequences over the next few years, and beyond. Yes, Aerosmith’s Steven Tyler has released a solo album…

I have to admit, Aerosmith’s ’70s output is the very root of my musical DNA and I’ve always remained somewhat of a fan of the band despite their long, slippery artistic slope from the ’90s to the present day.

I’m also an avid collector of the band’s output and so my shelves “need” this – Steven Tyler’s debut solo record. I dropped the needle on the first side with a mixture of trepidation and morbid curiosity. Could this record be as bad as it sounds on paper?

Recorded in Nashville, it’s an album of country rock songs – a genre that Tyler has focused on more and more ever since a joke song in the late ’80s surprised everybody and turned out to be way more popular than anybody could have expected.

If you recall the second commercial peak of the band – 1989’s Pump – the album ended with a ballad, What It Takes, that was nothing more than a straightforward parody. Tyler even sings it in a mock-country, southern drawl, and in the accompanying music video the band play the song in a bar, behind chicken-wire – their only experience of country music being the bar scene in The Blues Brothers.

The song was taken far too seriously and is still played in concert to this day. As a result, they overloaded their next studio album, 1993’s Get A Grip, with country rock ballads in an attempt to recapture this glory.

So it’s not a surprise that Tyler’s activities outside of the band have led him to Nashville, the home of country music, in an attempt to validate his efforts. Half of the record is produced by T Bone Burnett, so there’s another marker of authenticity for you.

As a whole, the record doesn’t sound too offensive. It’s the equivalent of combining all the more mediocre songs from the most recent Aerosmith studio albums, which themselves were a lesson in mediocrity.

Do you remember the Grammy Award winning Janie’s Got A Gun, from the Pump record? It was a song about sex-abuse, tastelessly sequenced in the middle of an album that was otherwise lyrically obsessed about the joys of sex. Even a country rock rendition of Janie’s Got A Gun on Tyler’s record isn’t as bad as it could have been, but having three quarters of Stone Temple Pilots as your backing band doesn’t hurt. Lindsey Buckingham turns up on one of the tracks too but his contributions don’t really stand out from the hired hands that make up the rest of the studio band.

The final song on the record – a cover of Big Brother & The Holding Company’s Piece Of My Heart – is probably the strongest song on the album. It’s a nice tribute to Janis Joplin, whose vocal style Tyler has aped from the very beginning, regardless of the lazy Jagger comparisons.

Don’t all thank me at once but I’ve been listening to Steven Tyler’s We’re All Somebody From Somewhere so you don’t have to!

Hit: Janie’s Got A Gun

Hidden Gem: Piece Of My Heart

Rocks In The Attic #563: Stone Temple Pilots – ‘MTV Unplugged 1993’ (2016)

rita563Thank f**k for bootlegs. I reckon I might be waiting until the end of my days for Atlantic Records to dig this one for an official release, so thankfully the enterprising Russian chaps at DOL Records put this out last year. DOL were also responsible for putting out Aerosmith’s 1973 radio appearance at Paul’s Mall, so they’ve come out of nowhere to be one of my favourite – ahem – enterprising record labels.

I used to listen to so much STP in my teens that I almost can’t tell when one songs ends and another one starts. They’re burnt into my DNA. I was sad to see it was the anniversary of Scott Weiland’s death at the beginning of December. What a loss, albeit certainly not an unexpected one.

I don’t think I ever saw the original transmission of STP’s Unplugged set back in the day on MTV. While it might have been in heavy rotation across the Atlantic, it definitely didn’t see that kind of airplay in the UK. In fact, once Kurt Cobain killed himself, pretty much all of the rock programming on the channel was taken over by Nirvana.

When STP released their second record, Purple, they released one of the singles, Vasoline, with a couple of songs from the Unplugged set. I know these versions of the debut album’s Crackerman and David Bowie’s Andy Warhol like the back of my hands, and have always wanted to hear the full set. The wonder of the Internet allowed me to watch the show a couple of years ago, and then I finally got my hands on this disc last year.

Hopefully an official version will see the light of day someday. DOL are great at finding unreleased material to put in stores, but their mastering leaves a lot to be desired. On that early Aerosmith record, they change the running order of the songs to make them fit on the two sides better, and on this STP record there’s a one-second gap of air in the audience reaction between a couple of the tracks, like a badly mastered home CD. Still, beggars can’t be choosers.

Hit: Plush

Hidden Gem: Crackerman

Rocks In The Attic #548: Kyle Dixon & Michael Stein – ‘Stranger Things Volume One (O.S.T.)’ (2016)

rita548Clearly the pop-culture TV phenomenon of 2016, Stranger Things landed in July through Netflix – with all eight episodes released concurrently, providing the perfect opportunity to binge-watch. The show is steeped in nostalgia, tailor-made for somebody my age, taking its cues from science-fiction films of the 1980s, most notably the works of Steven Spielberg, George Lucas, John Carpenter, Richard Donner, Joe Dante, Stephen King and Robert Zemeckis. It’s almost as if the kids from Stephen King’s It met up with Richard Donner’s Goonies and fell into a Carpenteresque, Spielbergian sci-fi horror.

On paper, that all sounds amazing, but the thing that clinched it for me is the heavily John Carpenter influenced soundtrack – all moody synths and drum loops – which really helps to place the show in the 1980s. I’ve written about John Carpenter’s soundtracks twice before – I’m a big fan – and this soundtrack stands up with the best of his work, but also touches on the likes of Vangelis and Tangerine Dream among others. Composers Kyle Dixon and Michael Stein are half of Austin-based synth pioneers Survive, a band I really need to check out. Stein and Dixon were brought on board after the show’s creators, the Duffer Brothers, used a Survive song in the mock trailer they created to pitch the show to Netflix. They were hired when the show was green-lit, with early demos influencing the casting process by being played over the actors’ audition tapes.

Season two of Stranger Things is planned to air some time in 2017, with the main cast fleshed out by the addition of ‘80s stalwart Paul Reiser and chief-Goonie Sean Astin.

Hit: Stranger Things

Hidden Gem: Kids

Rocks In The Attic #547: Various Artists – ‘Now That’s What I Call Music – The Christmas Album’ (2016)

rita547I saw this in a record store a few weeks ago, and couldn’t resist it. I’ve had my eyes out for the original 1985 compilation, hoping that I’d come across it in a charity shop, but it hasn’t happened yet. Forty notes does seem a bit steep for this new version – a bunch of songs I’ve heard a million times – but this is usually the soundtrack to present opening in our house on Christmas Day every year, and it’ll be nice to do it from my turntable, rather than through the iPod.

It’s slightly disingenuous to refer to any of these songs as a hidden gem – they’re all so ubiquitous – but the format of my blog forces my hand. I’ve therefore chosen Brenda Lee’s Rockin’ Around The Christmas Tree, if only for the mental image it provides of Macaulay Culkin’s Kevin from Home Alone, putting on a fake house party with cardboard cut-outs and mannequins.

The song choices on this record are slightly odd – it’s a mixtures of ‘70s and ‘80s British songs (Slade, Wizzard, Wham!, Shakin’ Stevens, Band Aid, John & Yoko, Kirsty MacColl & the Pogues), together with a handful of older American hits (Dean Martin, Andy Williams, Bing Crosby, and the aforementioned Brenda Lee). The only jarring inclusion is Chris Rea’s Driving Home For Christmas – a song I’ve always liked but never loved, wondering if it’s the same journey he recounts in The Road To Hell. Bloody December traffic…

Merry Christmas everybody!

Hit: Do They Know It’s Christmas – Band Aid

Hidden Gem: Rockin’ Around The Christmas Tree – Brenda Lee