Category Archives: Various Artists

Rocks In The Attic #756: Various Artists – ‘Stax Does The Beatles’ (2008)

RITA#756This year’s Record Store Day was an embarrassment of riches. Not only did it deliver a bunch of sought-after soundtracks, but the funk and soul fan in me was well looked after too.

First released digitally back in 2008, a now double-LP of Stax artists doing Beatles covers sounds like something I’d make up in my dreams. Two of my favourite musical pillars colliding, the only thing that would beat this would be the unearthing of a secret LP of Stax songs recorded by the Fab Four themselves between Revolver and Sgt. Pepper’s. I’ll keep dreaming about that one.

In fact, it doesn’t take much to imagine what Stax Does The Beatles sounds like. Much of the material collected here is available on the individual Stax releases they’re culled from, with only one or two hard to find tracks included. Probably the most famous cover, Otis Redding’s Day Tripper, is presented as an alternate take that’s just as rocking as the well-known version found on his Dictionary Of Soul from 1966. Another gem is a cover of And I Love Her, a b-side by Reggie Milner who only recorded two singles for Stax.

RITA#756aStax house-band Booker T. & The M.G.s  – once going so far as to record an entire LP in homage to the Beatles – turn in the highest number of performances on the album, responsible for four of its fifteen tracks (five if you include guitarist Steve Cropper’s solo effort of With A Little Help From My Friends, the title-track of his 1969 album).

The album’s liner notes make reference to the little-known fact that Brian Epstein once scouted the Stax studios as a potential place to record the Beatles. His visit to Memphis in March 1966 ultimately led to nothing – Epstein abandoned the idea due to fears over security – and the resulting album, 1966’s Revolver, was recorded back at Abbey Road like the majority of their work. It sounds like a match made in heaven though. “Who knows what it would have sounded like had we recorded it at Stax,” ponders Cropper.  Paul McCartney’s soulful Got To Get You Into My Life, covered here by Booker T. & The M.G.s, remains Revolver’s only glimpse of how close the Beatles came to recording a soul and R&B-influenced album in 1966.

The liner notes do make a glaring omission, however. Of all the records in the world, this really was the place to mention that John Lennon used to jokingly refer to the Stax house-band as Book-A-Table & The Maitre-D’s.

Hit: Day Tripper (Alternate Take) – Otis Redding

Hidden Gem: Something – Isaac Hayes

RITA#756b

Advertisements

Rocks In The Attic #752: Various Artists – ‘Cruising (O.S.T.)’ (1980)

Cruising-Gatefold-FINAL-1024What was Exorcist­-director William Friedkin doing in a hardcore gay bar, in the middle of the night, dressed only in a jockstrap, socks and shoes?

Let’s start at the beginning.

In 1977, Friedkin was one of the most successful film directors of the decade. 1971’s The French Connection earned him a Best Director Oscar, and he was nominated for the same award for 1973’s The Exorcist. 1977’s Sorcerer, a remake of 1953’s The Wages Of Fear, firmly established him as an exciting renegade director who didn’t play by the rules, and who switched genres for each film.

RITA#752aLooking for his next project, Friedkin originally turned down a film adaptation of the novel Cruising by New York Times reporter Gerald Walker, first published in 1970. Telling the story of a New York City cop working undercover to find a serial killer in the gay S&M clubs of Greenwich Village, Friedkin found it outdated and difficult to connect to.  He believed the gay scene had changed tenfold since the book’s release, and was now far edgier and more complex.

Friedkin then started to see news reports about a string of unsolved murders around the S&M clubs in the West Side of New York. Over the next two years, plastic bags containing body parts were found floating in the Hudson River.

In 1979, Friedkin read a newspaper headline claiming that the murderer had been caught. Next to the article was a photograph of the suspect, a man he recognised. Paul Bateson, a 39-year old former radiology technician, was ultimately found guilty of murdering journalist Addison Verrill, a regular at the Mineshaft, a popular leather bar. Bateson was sentenced to 20 years in prison, and although he boasted about being responsible for the ‘bag murders’, he was never officially charged for those killings.

RITA#752bFriedkin had recognised Bateson from a scene during the filming of The Exorcist in 1972. In an attempt to explain her daughter’s strange behaviour, Chris MacNeil agrees for Regan to undergo an invasive medical procedure called a cerebral angiography. The scene is extremely disturbing, and just as unsettling as the film’s later horror scenes. The murder suspect, Paul Bateson, had been an extra in this scene, acting in his capacity as a radiology technician. Friedkin remembered him for wearing an earring and a studded bracelet, both of which was rare to see at the time, particulary on a medical professional.

After meeting with Bateson while he was on trial, Friedkin changed his mind about adapting Cruising, thinking that an updated version loosely influenced by the ‘bag murders’ would be an interesting proposition. He originally cast Richard Gere as the undercover cop, but reneged on this – much to his regret – when Al Pacino read the script and asked to play the part.

By that point, Friedkin already had a history of pushing filming to the limits, to attain the ultimate in authenticity. In The French Connection he had filmed the film’s iconic car/train chase for real, without blocking the streets off or notifying the authorities. In The Exorcist, he had fired guns with blanks to unnerve actor Jason Miller, and pushed for special effects to feel as real as possible, leading to Linda Blair and Ellyn Burstyn suffering from back injuries after being yanked around violently in harnesses. For Cruising, Friedkin, still pushing for authenticity, wanted to film the bar scenes in the Mineshaft, the gay S&M club where Bateson met his victim(s).

RITA#752cThe Mineshaft and other gay bars were owned by Matty ‘The Horse’ Ianello, a member of the Genovese crime family. Friedkin approached Ianello, asked permission to film there, and in turn Ianello put him in touch with the bar’s manager, Wally Wallace.

After Friedkin outlined his plan to film inside the bar, and use the bar’s regulars as extras, Wallace smiled. ‘Well, you’ll never get actors to simulate what our members do,’ he replied.

That weekend, Friedkin attended the club to scout the location, accompanied by a retired Police detective. ‘Wally and his enforcers welcomed us at the door,’ Friedkin writes in his liner notes to Waxwork’s new reissue of the soundtrack. ‘But we had to check our clothes, like all the other members, and strip down to jockstraps, shoes and socks.’

‘We were the two ugliest guys in the room and nobody hit on us. Participation in any of the activities was by choice. We hung around for a couple of hours, drifting and watching. Even knowing what to expect, we left in disbelief. Don’t take this as judgemental – I was in my early 40s – but we had never seen anything like this. We went back several times before the start of filming and we got to know the regulars. Few had any problems appearing in the film and the sex scenes were all real. Pacino was there for most of it.’

It definitely makes for a strange film and not the obvious choice for a filmmaker with two mainstream hits under his name. Pacino plays the role relatively understated, exactly at the halfway point between his earlier, softer presence and the later, gruff-voiced Pacino which he would start to perfect in Brian De Palma’s Scarface a few years later in 1983.

RITA#752dIn film class at University, our lecturer played us a very odd clip from the film. Pacino sits in a room being interviewed by the Police, who are unaware that he is working undercover. Out of the blue, a black man wearing only a jockstrap and a cowboy hat walks into the room, slaps Pacino and exits. The short scene serves no narrative purpose and has stuck with me all these years for its utter randomness. I had thought that the film might have another scene, either an earlier scene feeding it, or a later scene explaining it, but no. When I eventually saw the whole film, it’s just as baffling as watching the scene in isolation. How marvellous.

RITA#752eI recently tracked down Interior. Leather Bar., James Franco and Travis Matthew’s 2013 documentary in which they attempt to film the 40 minutes of gay sex scenes that were cut, and eventually lost, from Cruising. In the hands of a comic actor like Franco, the project is quite difficult to take seriously, and while they are successful in enlisting actors and filming such scenes, the resulting scenes don’t match the sleazy aesthetic of Friedkin’s 1980 film.

The original Cruising soundtrack released in 1980 featured ten songs that appear in the film by Willy DeVille, The Cripples, The Germs, John Hiatt, Madelynn Von Ritz and Rough Trade. Waxwork’s recent 3 x LP reissue expands the soundtrack significantly, featuring a further eighteen songs. The label worked closely with William Friedkin, Sony, and Universal Pictures to locate and unearth the original masters that include the original Jack Nitzsche score sessions, the full recording sessions by the Germs, and all music recorded for the film.

There’s lots to like on this collection – the rock and roll sleaze of Willy DeVille, the post-disco new wave of Rough Trade and the hypnotic bass jazz of Barre Phillips and Ralph Towner. Probably most important, given their lack of available material, is the unearthing of five Germs songs recorded (but not used) for the film.

Hit: It’s So Easy – Willy DeVille

Hidden Gem: Shakedown – Rough Trade

RITA#752f

Rocks In The Attic #747: Various Artists – ‘Sharky’s Machine (O.S.T.)’ (1981)

RITA#747Thank God I had a video recorder in my room, growing up. It might have been a top-loader – much to the amusement of anybody who saw it – but it did the job. It meant that I could tape films in the middle of the night, rather than staying up and propping my eyelids open. When a teacher asks you why you’re so tired in class, it’s never a good idea to say that you stayed up to watch The Eiger Sanction.

I would record anything that sounded exciting: anything starring Clint Eastwood, Charles Bronson, Burt Reynolds, Sylvester Stallone, Kurt Russell, Bruce Willis, Rutger Hauer, Harrison Ford, Chuck Norris, and so on. Thankfully, the action genre is a little more racially diverse these days; I essentially grew up on a diet of white dude action heroes.

An old favourite was always Sharky’s Machine, directed by and starring Burt Reynolds, very much at the top of his game. Reynolds plays Tom Sharky, a tough Atlanta cop who gets transferred to the vice department. There, he discovers a high-class prostitution ring, and slowly falls in love with one of the girls as he stakes out her apartment.

On a recent re-watch, I admit it’s not a great film. But there’s just something about American cop thrillers from the ‘70s and ‘80s that I adore: the cityscapes, the grittiness, and the endless banks of lit-up office blocks against the night sky. For me, a weak script and a few hammy acting performances can usually be overlooked, purely on the strength of the filming locations.

RITA#747bReynolds also oversaw the soundtrack, alongside producer Snuff Garrett. This move – with Reynolds directing and overseeing the soundtrack – almost makes him a proto-Tarantino character, with Reynold’s only real contribution to that universe being his appearance in Paul Thomas Anderson’s Tarantino-esque Boogie Nights in 1997. The other connection, of course, being the inclusion of Randy Crawford’s Street Life on both the Sharky’s Machine soundtrack, and the soundtrack to Tarantino’s Jackie Brown.

Originally the opening track on the Crusaders’ 1979 album of the same name, Street Life was originally a slower, 11-minute song featuring a guest vocal by Randy Crawford. The version recorded for the Sharky’s Machine soundtrack was recorded by Doc Severinson, who also composed the original score for the film, and is credited only to Randy Crawford. This shorter version of Street Life is far punchier and more direct than the Crusaders’ original, and is a stone-cold funk / soul gem.

The inner gatefold of the record shows a wonderful photo collage of the recording sessions, alongside publicity stills from the film. The liner notes read: For Sharky’s Machine, Burt Reynolds and Snuff Garrett have brought together some of the greatest jazz talents in history. This is followed by a detailed list of all the participants, most of which are unrecognisable to my uncultured eyes.

Hit: Street Life – Randy Crawford

Hidden Gem: Sexercise – Doc Severinsen

RITA#747a

Rocks In The Attic #739: Various Artists – ‘Themes’ (1984)

RITA#739I love a good television theme; but only the original versions. None of this cheaply, re-recorded shit (like this joke of an LP) that captures the melody of the theme but little of anything else.

I used to have a cassette of TV themes when I was growing up; recorded off an LP from the library, no doubt. The A-Team and Magnum P.I. were on there, as well as some other themes that I hadn’t seen by that point, like Hill St. Blues and The Rockford Files. It even had Dallas on there, a show I hated but would always watch the beginning of, for that glimpse of the Cowboy’s stadium in the split-screen opening credits. I can’t remember if my cassette included the original versions or not; it’s too long ago now, but I like to think they did.

Maybe it speaks to my poor knowledge of licensing rights, but surely it would be cheaper to hunt down the rights to the original versions rather than go to the trouble of re-recording them. Or maybe not, who knows? Re-recorded TV themes seem to be ten a penny; it feels like finding a needle in a haystack when you stumble across an original version.

I was scouring Spotify the other day for original TV themes. I found a decent number, but the vast majority were those horrible re-recorded versions that all sound like they were recorded on one keyboard with a dozen different settings. The trouble is that most great TV themes are intertwined with one’s memories of the show, so when you hear Terry Keyboard’s version, it just sounds insulting.

RITA#739aA particular favourite I’ve recently rediscovered is Stewart Copeland’s instrumental theme for The Equalizer, the late ‘80s vigilante show starring Edward Woodward (cue joke about why he has so many ‘d’s in his name). The Equalizer was always one of those shows that I wasn’t allowed to watch when it was originally aired. It was on too late and deemed by my parents to be too adult for me, too violent, and the action wasn’t cartoonish enough like Airwolf or the Roger Moore Bond films. The Professionals was another one I never got to watch.  I always got to watch the opening credits to The Equalizer though, and those were scary enough.

Hit: Magnum P.I.

Hidden Gem: Chi Mai

Rocks In The Attic #735: Various Artists – ‘A Clockwork Orange (O.S.T.)’ (1972)

rita#735I often wonder what Mary Whitehouse, the UK’s self-imposed guardian of decency, would think if you sat her down and played her an episode of The Walking Dead. Perhaps that episode where the bad guys made someone eat his own leg. Or maybe that one where Rick and crew were captured, kneeling at a trough, and waiting to be picked off one by one. Or that episode where Glenn and Abraham both got a baseball bat in the back of the head.

Maybe she’d prefer Game Of Thrones. She might like the episode where half of the principal cast were killed off at the red wedding, and the show took great joy at showing a pregnant woman being stabbed repeatedly in the belly.

It’s fair to say that we’ve gone a long, long way from the dark days of overbearing censorship; but have we gone too far?

I was reminded the other day of the United Kingdom’s video nasties list, something I hadn’t thought about for twenty years. Reading up on it, it feels like some kind of whacky parallel universe.

rita#735aIt all started with a legal loophole in the early 1980s. It’s hard to believe a market as big as home-video being unregulated, but as the popularity of home video wasn’t foreseen, videos were originally released without being reviewed for classification. Bonkers!

The subsequent list of films – 39 titles which could lead to prosecution following the Video Recordings Act 1984, a further 33 titles deemed less obscene (but which could be still seized by the police), and a final 82 films deemed even less obscene (but again could still be seized) – make for some interesting reading.

Of the first list, I’ve only seen two – The Driller Killer and The Last House On The Left – and if the quality of these films is anything to go by, I won’t be seeking out the rest. I’ve seen two on the second list – The Evil Dead and The Living Dead At The Manchester Morgue – but I have the most success with the third list, which seems to be a catch-all of pretty much every other horror film of the time, having seen eight titles: Dawn Of The Dead, Friday The 13th, Friday The 13th Part 2, Night Of The Living Dead, Scanners, Suspiria, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and The Thing.

One film commonly associated with the video nasties list was A Clockwork Orange. However, this was withdrawn from cinemas by Stanley Kubrick himself, after reports of copycat crimes. Subsequently, it was never released on home-video. Only after the director’s death was the film re-released in cinemas in 2000, and made available on VHS and DVD.

rita#735b
While A Clockwork Orange is a fantastic film, it will never be one of my favourite of Kubrick’s. It’s just so damn depressing, with Michael McDowell’s Alex impossible to empathise with. Of course this is just as much to do with McDowell’s performance as it is with the character written by Anthony Burgess. I can’t ever remember McDowell playing a sympathetic character – he oozes repulsion both in the people he plays, and from the audience watching him.

Even though the age of censorship that bred the video nasties list feels like a lifetime ago, one of today’s top directors was affected early in his career. Quentin Tarantino’s Reservoir Dogs was originally denied a home-video release in the UK, despite being classified for a cinematic release in 1992. Herein lies the real headache – video classification was originally considered completely separate from cinematic classification. Another example was William Friedkin’s The Exorcist, which didn’t see a home-release until 1999, despite regularly playing at midnight screenings across the country (including my local Roxy cinema in Failsworth) since its 1973 release.

rita#735c

What this all boils down to is a lack of trust in the consumer. The government would (begrudgingly) allow a film to be viewed at the cinema, but wouldn’t allow it to be viewed at home because they had no control over who would see it on the family television. In theory, it sort of makes sense, but it fails in practice. A huge home audience was initially refused the opportunity to see Reservoir Dogs, once declared ‘the greatest independent film of all time’, which despite featuring a lot of blood, doesn’t actually have much on-screen violence.

Hit: Title Music From A Clockwork Orange – Wendy Carlos

Hidden Gem: I Want To Marry A Lighthouse Keeper – Erika Eigen

Rocks In The Attic #712: Various Artists – ‘Negro Spirituals’ (1961)

RITA#712I watched Soundtrack For A Revolution recently – Bill Guttentag and Dan Sturman’s 2009 documentary charting the civil rights movement through its music. The films blends archival footage with studio performances of contemporary musicians interpreting songs from the struggle.

The performances were a little sterile, a little too VH1 Classics for my tastes – and included a song from Joss Stone of all people. Joss Stone? Really?

The archival footage was fantastic as always though – and provided a history of the movement from its inception up to the assassination of Martin Luther King. As a film, it’s not as powerful as Raoul Peck’s brilliant I Am Not Your Negro from 2016, although the two films do overlap as you might imagine.

RITA#712aI often wonder whether we’ll see documentaries like this in 30 or 40 years about the #metoo movement, or about the rise of trans-gender rights, or the (almost) universal acceptance of gay marriage. Part of the fascination with the civil rights movement is that it was originally reported on by a right-wing, conservative media with an arm-length stance that is difficult to fathom now. Current issues instantly provoke outrage from the liberal majority, and are reported on by a (more) liberal media, and so a documentary might be less revelatory than we have seen for twentieth century issues.

The Eighties documentary miniseries from CNN (originally broadcast in 2016) included a fairly lengthy segment about the AIDS crisis. This is something I remember hearing a lot about when I was growing up, but didn’t really understand the finer details like the initial confusion and lack of understanding about the disease.  Even such a brief, potted history within the confines of a much larger series was fascinating – and a full retrospective would make for a great subject in a feature-length documentary.

Hit: He’s Got The Whole World In His Hands

Hidden Gem: Jericho

RITA#712b

Rocks In The Attic #683: Various Artists – ‘Spectacular Sound Effects In Stereo’ (1967)

RITA#683Somebody somewhere walked into a record store in 1967 and purchased this together with Sgt. Pepper’s.

Here’s hoping they got the records mixed up in the wrong sleeves, took some strong acid and settled down to listen to the Beatles’ latest.

Hit: DC-8 Engines Starting Up

Hidden Gem: Orchestra Tuning Up