Category Archives: Various Artists

Rocks In The Attic #635: Various Artists – ‘Hannah And Her Sisters (O.S.T.)’ (1986)

RITA#635A group of wealthy, intellectual Manhattanites fall in and out of love with other as they discuss their neuroses and insecurities.

So goes the synopsis for a good many Woody Allen films. The trouble is, once you’ve seen Annie Hall (1977) and Manhattan (1979), all of the others in this realm tend to pale in significance. Hannah And Her Sisters may be endlessly watchable, but it fits into the same bracket as the light-hearted half of Crimes And Misdemeanors (1989) and the very similar-in-tone Husbands And Wives (1992). They’re enjoyable films, relatively inoffensive, yet feel like they’re cut from the same cloth. You could probably intercut scenes from all three films and not tell the difference.

One small flaw of Hannah And Her Sisters comes from Allen’s intent on showing quick, naturalist dialogue between the principle characters. While I like the approach, there are a couple of moments where it doesn’t really work, when a character starts responding to a line of dialogue from another character before they’ve finished saying it. These moments ultimately turn into actors churning through their lines, with little thought given to how a conversation actually works.

Allen’s at his most interesting when he’s not doing the bittersweet New York romantic comedies. The brilliant mock-documentary Zelig (1983) never fails to provoke a wry smile for all of its madcap ideas, and the seemingly throwaway Manhattan Murder Mystery (1993) is one of his consistently funniest films. Recent clangers like Match Point (2005) show that not everything he touches turns to gold, yet mainstream hits like the time-travelling Midnight In Paris (2011) prove that there’s life in the old dog yet, particularly in commercially appealing genre films. I’m still holding out that he’ll direct a Star Wars film one day.

I’m currently reading John Baxter’s Woody Allen: A Biography, a book I bought – and started – back in the late ‘90s, but abandoned for some reason. It’s always stuck in my craw that I didn’t finish it at the time, but it’s good to finally get back to it, despite it now only covering half of his career.

Hit: I’ve Heard That Song Before – Harry James

Hidden Gem: Back To The Apple – The Count Basie Orchestra

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Rocks In The Attic #608: Various Artists – ‘True Romance (O.S.T.)’ (1993)

RITA#608.jpgIn the early 1990s, director Tony Scott was handed a piece of gold dust. Quentin Tarantino, a cocky, young up-start had been circling Hollywood for a few years trying to develop his first script, True Romance. Tarantino decided to sell the script, and Warner Brothers snapped it up greedily. In hindsight it would have been too large a project for a first-time director anyway.

Instead Tarantino turned his attention to his next script, a simpler heist story called Reservoir Dogs. This would have been an easier film to pitch with him as director – the heist is never seen, only referred to, and much of the film takes place in one location.

By the time he was handed Tarantino’s script, Tony Scott was already a blockbuster director, arguably more commercially successful than his older brother Ridley. While Ridley had scored critical successes with Alien and Blade Runner, Scott had directed Top Gun, Beverly Hills Cop II and Days Of Thunder. His collaborations with super-producers Don Simpson and Jerry Bruckheimer say more about his directing style than anything else.

True Romance then, becomes the lost Tarantino picture. His trademark dialogue is evident throughout the film – all pop-culture references and cooler than cool soundbites – but Scott’s input muddies the water somewhat. The cinematographers that Scott worked with throughout his ‘80s and ‘90s films had a very peculiar style. Lots of obtrusive close-ups, too many filtered interiors, and a very synthetic, staged camera set-up. By the time you get to something like 1996’s The Fan, the cinematography is so overbearing that the film is practically unwatchable.

Looking back, True Romance has one of the greatest ensemble casts of all time, featuring several actors who would go onto bigger things. Joining leads Christian Slater and Patricia Arquette were Michael Rapaport, Bronson Pinchot, Dennis Hopper, Val Kilmer, Gary Oldman, Christopher Walken, Brad Pitt, Chris Penn, Tom Sizemore, Samuel L. Jackson and a pre-Sopranos James Gandolfini.

RITA#608aThe soundtrack also differs from most Tarantino films in that it has both a pop soundtrack and an original score, by Hans Zimmer (the only soundtrack of Tarantino’s to mix pop songs with an original score is The Hateful Eight). Zimmer’s score is delightful – practically a proto-Thomas Newman score before he rewrote the rulebook on esoteric, oddball soundtracks with 1996’s American Beauty.

Some of the pop songs wouldn’t be out of place on a Tarantino soundtrack. Charlie Sexton’s Graceland, Robert Palmer’s (Love Is) The Tender Trap and Chris Isaak’s Two Hearts feel like they belong in QT’s record collection, but mediocre tracks like Charles & Eddie’s Wounded Bird and John Waite’s In Dreams reminds you that this really is just a typical run of the mill blockbuster soundtrack, and wasn’t curated in any way by Tarantino. Even Soundgarden’s Outshined sounds a little too obvious. The absence of Aerosmith’s The Other Side – presumably due to rights reasons – is personally disappointing, but it would have just dated the soundtrack even more.

Hit: Outshined – Soundgarden

Hidden Gem: Graceland – Charlie Sexton

Rocks In The Attic #605: Various Artists – ‘Stax Funx’ (1997)

RITA#605This is an awesome compilation of some of the funkier moments from the Stax label in the late ‘60s and early ‘70s. The first side is all instrumentals – always a good thing with funk in my book (see the Average White Band’s Pick Up The Pieces or the Commodores’ Machine Gun) – but the vocal tracks on the flip-side are just as good.

The interesting thing about this collection is that a few years following its 1997 release, Quentin Tarantino would pick up the record’s first cut, Isaac Hayes’ Run Fay Run, for use on the soundtrack to 2003’ Kill Bill. It’s a good chance he heard the song on this release, or perhaps he already knew it from its original use on the soundtrack to the 1974 Blaxploitation flick Three Tough Guys (also known as Tough Guys). Of course, it’s entirely possible that both is true – he could have already known the song from the film, and potentially this compilation just reminded him of the song. Remember, this is the guy who complimented me on my Stax t-shirt.

The record is a great tester of the more harder-edged sounding material from the Stax vaults. And whether it spinned on Tarantino’s turntable or not, it serves as a great reminder of the strength of the kind of material than would otherwise have been referred to as a deep cut, or worse, forgotten completely.

Hit: Run Fay Run – Isaac Hayes

Hidden Gem: L.A.S. – South Memphis Horns

Rocks In The Attic #588: Various Artist – ‘The Wrestling Album / Piledriver: The Wrestling Album 2’ (1985 / 1987)

RITA#588I recently saw The True Story Of Wrestlemania, a 2011 documentary produced by the WWF (I refuse to refer to the organisation by any other initials). I really enjoyed it, not only to see the years I knew like the back of my hand (Wrestlemanias I through VII), but also for the years after that I’d missed, after I’d…er…grown up.

I have a real soft spot for that classic era of WWF. I don’t regret missing the so-called ‘Attitude’ era of the late ‘90s where everybody seemed to wear black, guzzle beer and walk to the ring to awful music from the likes of Limp Bizkit and Linkin Park, but that first six or seven years was a technicolour blast of entertainment I really loved at the time.

RITA#588bSo it wasn’t a hard decision to pick up this two-LP set a few years ago on Record Store Day. The original 1985 record is presented in clear red vinyl, while the 1987 follow-up is presented in clear yellow vinyl. But it’s not the first time that I’ve owned The Wrestling Album.

In 1990, a friend introduced me to WWF, and from Wrestlemania VI onwards, I was hooked for a solid two years or so. I was such an addict, I would spend all my pocket money and paper-round money on anything wrestling-related, which to begin with was very sparse. Sky TV had the rights to transmit WWF in the UK, and as I was the first person that we knew to get Sky, I became the supply guy, taping shows and sharing them with friends at school.

RITA#588cIt took the rest of the UK a little while to catch on, but eventually other things started filtering through. I still remember the day when my local newsagent started stocking the official WWF magazine – the July 1990 edition featuring Macho King Randy Savage. A short while later, Toys R Us started stocking the official line of WWF figures, including the to-scale wrestling ring. This is where my obsessive collecting streak started – I had to have it all, anything I could find with that official silver and gold logo.

I wasn’t waiting for UK shops to catch on to the WWF buzz either. By this time, I had already joined the WWF Fan Club in America and was ordering merchandise directly from them. T-shirts, posters,  videos, whatever. And that’s where I first came into contact with The Wrestling Album.

The thought of a record performed by the superstars of the WWF was too much to bear, so I saved up and sent off for it alongside a bunch of other stuff. And this was in the pre-internet days when ordering anything from the USA would take at least six weeks to arrive. I still remember my Dad arriving home from work with a box the size of a child’s coffin, full of official WWF merch.

One thing was wrong though. The album I’d ordered as a record had turned up in a different format. It was still packaged in the 12” LP cover, but instead of a shiny black disc inside it had a white plastic cassette tape stuck to the front. I remember being disappointed about this, but what the hell (my 38 year old self secretly rues this switcheroo as I’d now kill for an original pressing).

As an album, it’s pretty forgetful except for the inclusion of Rick Derringer’s Real American, which from this point forward would become Hulk Hogan’s theme tune (his cartoon show theme tune by the WWF All-Stars is also included on the record). Rick Derringer deserves a lot of credit, not only for Real American – a bloody brilliant song – but for producing much of the record, and making it sound reasonably good. I’d hate to think what it would have sounded like, without his input.

The rest of the record is an embarrassing karaoke sing-through of covers and originals by wrestlers from the WWF rosta at the time of recording. My eleven-year old self didn’t bother listening to the album too much, preferring instead to listen to the free tapes that would be sent to me as a member of the fan club. These tapes featured the entrance music to the current members of the WWF at the time and were far more interesting – the futuristic synth drone of Jake ‘The Snake’ Roberts, the guttural growl of The Legion Of Doom, the Communication Breakdown borrowing theme of the Ultimate Warrior.

RITA#588aI wasn’t aware that there was a second edition of The Wrestling Album – subtitled Piledriver – until it was released retrospectively in this RSD edition. That record leans more towards the entrance music for the wrestlers, with Koko B. Ware, Honky Tonk Man, Slick and the tag-team of Demolition all contributing music that would accompany them to the ring in the years following. Again, Rick Derringer is in the producer’s chair, and again this gives the record an air of legitimacy that would otherwise be lacking.

Hit: Real American – Rick Derringer

Hidden Gem: Demolition – Rick Derringer with Ax & Smash

Rocks In The Attic #572: Various Artists – ‘Fletch (O.S.T.)’ (1985)

rita572Record collecting can be a rollercoaster of emotions. On the two vinyl collecting groups on Facebook that I hang around in, I regularly see posts from members who have bought something amazing, for next to nothing, from a charity shop / thrift store / op-shop (depending on where they are in the world).

These minor hauls are usually a random bunch of records, in perfect condition, that somebody has just donated to the store for reasons unknown. The accompanying photograph shows the records in all their pristine glory – first pressings of Beatles records, or a bunch of early Pink Floyd albums, or something unattainable like a plum Atlantic pressing of Led Zeppelin’s debut with turquoise lettering.

You want to be happy for the person posting their good news, but an overwhelming pang of jealousy kicks in and you want to kill the bastard instead. Why does this never happen to me, you ask yourself, as you recall the countless times you’ve sifted through the records at op-shops across New Zealand and found nothing better than the ingredients for a Nana Mouskouri / Harry Secombe  / James Last mash-up.

Recently my fortunes changed. I visited a new op-shop in my home town; a store that used to be a guitar shop until it closed down last year. I ventured into the shop cautiously and saw a bunch of records displayed on the racks that the previous shop used to display sheet music. There they were, the usual suspects; records that won’t sell in a million years. I picked up a Carly Simon compilation, and quickly put it down when I noticed the $12 price tag. Ouch! A cursory look told me that the pricing was wildly inconsistent – some were a dollar or two, some were over ten bucks.

Then I saw it, the soundtrack to one of my favourite ‘80s comedies – Fletch, starring Chevy Chase. And for the princely sum of two hundred New Zealand cents. It might not be a turquoise Led Zeppelin, but it was something I’d been looking for in the racks ever since I started purposefully collecting records in the late ‘90s.

Of course I could have easily found the record on Discogs, the global repository for record collecting, but there’s something about the thrill of finding a record in the wild. I really couldn’t believe my luck, although I’m sure nobody will share my enthusiasm for such a record.

Released a year after Beverly Hills Cop, the score to Fletch was also composed by Harold Faltermeyer – a very hot property around that mid-‘80s period. The soundtrack collects four songs performed by him, alongside a batch of typically nondescript ‘80s pop songs (a couple of which are produced by Faltermeyer). I even like these songs, by the likes of Stephanie Mills, Kim Wilde and John Farnham, as they’re just so linked to the film in my brain. Whenever I listen to Dan Hartman’s Fletch, Get Outta Town, I immediately think of Chevy Chase commandeering a sports car. Harold Faltermeyer’s Diggin’ In reminds me of Chase snooping around an office looking for clues just before being chased out of the property by a Doberman (if there were two dogs, would they be Dobermen?).

As a comedy of the 1980s, Fletch wasn’t by any means a commercial success. It isn’t Ghostbusters or The Blues Brothers or Beverly Hills Cop, but I love it. For me, it symbolises the time when I would record films off the television, to re-watch endlessly, using the VCR in my bedroom. On a four hour tape, I would record Fletch and then wait for months for the 1989 sequel, Fletch Lives, to be aired so I could record it straight after.

Hit: Bit By Bit (Theme From Fletch) – Stephanie Mills

Hidden Gem: Fletch Theme – Harold Faltermeyer

Rocks In The Attic #562: Various Artists – ‘Less Than Zero (O.S.T.)’ (1987)

rita562I watched this film for the first time recently. I’d always been aware of it because it’s one of a handful of notable soundtrack appearances by Aerosmith from around this time. The Aerosmith completist in me searched this record out long before I had a chance to watch the movie.

The soundtrack opens strongly with a Permanent Vacation-era Aerosmith rocking out to a cover of Huey “Piano” Smith’s Rockin’ Pneumonia And The Boogie Woogie Flu. Drummer Joey Kramer is on fine powerhouse form, and the band really sound as young and energetic as anybody else, enjoying their second lease of life in post-rehab sobriety. The record was released by Def Jam, and many of the songs were produced by Rick Rubin, so I can only presume Aerosmith are included as a result of the Run-DMC connection.

The rest of the record – mostly cover songs – is a patchy affair. Poison’s weak attempt at Kiss’ Rock And Roll All Nite belies the whole glam rock movement’s claim to artistic merit, Slayer’s version of Iron Butterfly’s In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida is fun, while the Bangles’ version of Simon and Garfunkel’s Hazy Shade Of Winter sounds like they’re on autopilot.

So I sat down to finally watch the film I knew the music of so well. I really wish I hadn’t. If anything, Less Than Zero resembles the awful St. Elmo’s Fire in terms of its shallow posturing, although it is slightly harder-edged coming a couple of years after that earlier film. As an adaptation of Bret Easton Ellis’s debut novel, I have trouble seeing any of his satire on the screen as it seems to have been overwhelmed by big gloop of late-‘80s Hollywood sheen that engulfs the film.

Something terrible happened as I watched the final act of the film. I got a slap in the face from déjà vu when Andrew McCarthy’s character narrowly prevented Robert Downey, Jr.’s character from taking part in a gay tryst. Then, in the final shot of the film where McCarthy, Downey, Jr. and Jami Gertz are driving off into the sunset, and McCarthy realises that Downey, Jr. has died from a drug overdose, I had a realisation myself. I had seen this film before. I just hadn’t remembered it because it was so forgettable.

Hit: A Hazy Shade Of Winter – The Bangles

Hidden Gem: Rockin’ Pneumonia And The Boogie Woogie Flu – Aerosmith

Rocks In The Attic #554: Various Artists – ‘Weird Science (O.S.T.)’ (1985)

rita554“She’s alive…!”

It’s not surprising how madcap a Danny Elfman film score can sound when you consider the output of his former band, Oingo Boingo. Their title track to this film is insane, and really sets the scene for such an off-the-wall comedy. I’m not really a fan of key changes in songs – or modulations, to use the correct term – but the one in Oingo Boingo’s Weird Science really amps up the song, and creates an excitement in those opening credits that sets up the tone of the film really well.

The rest of the record is the sort of passable ‘80s fluff that tends to dominate film soundtracks from this era. Cheyne’s Private Joy sounds like a poorly sung demo recording, Max Carl’s The Circle tries its hardest to be a Bryan Adams song, and the record just goes on and on like this. One wonders how much money they had to spend on the soundtrack, when it’s populated by such mediocrity.

Of course, this is still 1985 and the power of the 1980s pop soundtrack hadn’t really hit until that same year, with The Power Of Love from Back To The Future. Even a hit like 1984’s Ghostbusters soundtrack was populated by a couple of naff songs. I wonder whether the soundtrack to Weird Science would have been a little stronger had the film been released a year later?

Hit: Weird Science – Oingo Boingo

Hidden Gem: Eighties – Killing Joke