Rocks In The Attic #607: The George Baker Selection – ‘Love In The World’ (1971)

RITA#607K-BILLY’s “super sounds of the seventies” weekend just keeps on coming with this little ditty. They reached up to twenty one in May of 1970. The George Baker Selection: Little Green Bag.

How Quentin Tarantino found this song and picked it out of obscurity to be one of the coolest, era-defining songs of the 1990s is beyond me. Listening to the rest of this record – the second release by the George Baker Selection – there isn’t a great deal else to point to such a gem of a song.

If anything, the Dutch band seems to be a curiosity, lost between decades and difficult to classify. They’re half-late’60s pop rock (late-era Byrds, late-‘60s Kinks) and half-early ‘70s singer-songwriter rock, all jumbled up with a touch of pysch and a sprinkling of jazz. They make for an interesting listen, that’s for sure.

Little Green Bag was the first track of their 1970 debut (also titled Little Green Bag), and given that Wikipedia doesn’t even have pages for their albums beyond this, it looks like they peaked commercially right at the start of their career.

Even Little Green Bag is difficult to classify. After an extremely cool intro, the song devolves into a crooning cabaret song. The change in tone is startling – like a smoking Miles Davis groove taken over by a bravado Tom Jones vocal.

Hit: Little Green Bag

Hidden Gem: Suicide Daisy

Rocks In The Attic #606: The Ink Spots – ‘The Ink Spots In Hi-Fi’ (1957)

RITA#606I’d never heard of these fellas until my kids gave me this record for my birthday a few weeks ago. I’m glad they did, as it’s a pearler.

Finding fame as a vocal group in the late ‘30s and throughout the ‘40s, the group produced the kind of smooth ballads that Hollywood leans on every now and again to portray rural quaintness. It’s the sort of music that Martha Kent listens to while she washes the dishes in her Kansas farmhouse.

Their music is seen as a stepping–stone in the progression of rhythm and blues and doo-wop into rock and roll, and as a result the group were inducted into the rock and roll hall of fame in 1989 – a great accomplishment considering the ever-growing list of artists who haven’t been inducted.

Since the Ink Spots officially disbanded in 1954, more than 100 vocal groups have performed under the name – claiming to be first or second generation Ink Spots. I guess the legalities around intellectual copyright have come a long way in the last fifty years – I can’t image that sort of thing happening these days aside from a couple of ‘60s bands doing the circuits with only one or two original members.

The Ink Spots definitely found their formula and stuck with it. Nearly every song starts with a ascending chromatic riff on the guitar, before the vocal kicks in. The other thing to look out for is a piano part in When My Dreamboat Comes Home that was undoubtedly lifted for the main riff in the BusBoy’s Cleaning Up The Town from the Ghostbusters soundtrack.

Hit: Blueberry Hill

Hidden Gem: To Each His Own

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 #604: Yes – ‘90125’ (1983)

RITA#604Is it wrong to feel a certain amount of shame for preferring this to the more celebrated Yes albums? Probably, but just listen to those awesome samples on Owner Of A Lonely Heart. It reminds me of the kind of thing John Barry was doing on the soundtracks to A View To A Kill and The Living Daylights – sampling in its infancy using a Fairlight synthesiser, already well-established from its use by Peter Gabriel, Kate Bush and Thomas Dolby.

Of course, diehard Yes fans will argue that this isn’t really a Yes album, but nobody’s really arguing. It’s a Yes album in name alone. Ex-Yes members Chris Squire (bass) and Alan White (drums) joined forces with founding Yes member Tony Kaye (keyboards) and a non-Yes player in Trevor Rabin (guitars / vocals). Even with three ex-Yes members, together with the production duties of ex-Yes vocalist Trevor Horn, they still didn’t feel confident to label the project under the Yes banner. They chose the name Cinema, not the greatest band name ever, but then again there’s been a lot worse.

However, when former Yes vocalist Jon Anderson joined the recording late in the process, there was too much history involved. And of course, the record company (Atco, a division of Atlantic Records) would have been chomping at the bit to get a new Yes album in the can, with a ready-made fan base.

The material couldn’t sound any different to the folky prog that Yes were known for. It’s very much a record of its time, sounding like the kind of BIG SOUNDING, generic American AOR that would be used on soundtracks to big Hollywood films. The finger pointing probably lands on Trevor Horn’s production more than anything else, as you could imagine a lot of the material played on analogue equipment in the previous decade. The use of the Fairlight, alongside Horn’s slick production turns it into something else.

Hit: Owner Of A Lonely Heart

Hidden Gem: Hold O

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 #602: Richard Einhorn – ‘Shock Waves (O.S.T.)’ (1977)

tp0004c_Double_Gate_Cover_onlyI don’t often buy soundtracks for films I’ve never seen – actually, that’s a lie, I do it all the time – but what I don’t seem to do is buy soundtracks for films I’ve never heard of. I saw this LP listed on Waxworks Records’ website when I was purchasing the newly re-released Evil Dead 2 soundtrack and was just blown away by the cover. It’s such a great image – I love it.

I tracked down the film and watched the film on Friday night. It manages to be both the best film I’ve ever seen about underwater Nazi zombies, and also one of the worst films I’ve ever seen.

We open on a spot of narration over a sepia shot of SS Officers:

“Shortly before the start of World War II, the German High Command began the secret investigation into the powers of the supernatural.

Ancient legend told of a race of warriors who used neither weapons nor shields and whose superhuman power came from within the earth itself.

As Germany prepared for war, the SS secretly enlisted a group of scientists to create an invincible soldier.

It is known that the bodies of soldiers killed in battle were returned to a secret laboratory near Koblenz where they were used in a variety of scientific experiments.

It was rumoured that toward the end of the war, Allied forces met German squads that fought without weapons, killing only with their bare hands.

No-one knows who they were or what became of them, but one thing is certain: of all the SS units, there was only one that the Allies never captured a single member of.”

(Of course, Nigel Tufnel’s stage-introduction to Stonehenge almost ruins that last sentence – “No-one knows who they were… or…what they were doing…”).

After some brief opening credits, introducing Richard Einhorn’s ominous synth score, we then open on a fisherman and his young son bringing in their nets. The son spots a small rowboat drifting on the horizon. They motor over to it and find a young woman, visibly distressed and cowering under the seat (shades of another future film here, of a similar scene in Jaws 2).

Her story is then told in flashback. A group of tourists have charted a boat around the Bahamas. The boat and its crew are not entirely in the best condition. A strange astrological phenomenon occurs – the sun turns everything a peculiar shade of orange – but is never explained; the first hint at a truly terrible screenplay.

Both the crew and the tourists are concerned at this occurrence and the strange noises they keep hearing. At night, one of the crew members piloting the boat crashes alongside a huge ship he claims appeared out of nowhere and without any lights. They send up a flare, and see an old shipwreck in the distance.

RITA#602a.jpgWaking the next morning to realise that the boat is taking on water, the group decamp to a nearby island. They find a deserted hotel, and meet the island’s only inhabitant – Peter Cushing.

Cushing appears alarmed at the news of the shipwreck and runs out to see for himself. After spying the approaching zombies for himself, he returns to the group to give them the exposition we’ve all been waiting for.

Towards the end of the war, Cushing, an SS Commander in charge of the death squad prefaced in the film’s opening, escaped Europe by sea, eventually ending up in the Carribean. He sank the ship, with the zombie soldiers still aboard, and took up residence on the island. The boat hitting the wreck has woken up the soldiers, who are now emerging from the water and making their way to the island.

It’s great to see a ­New Hope­-era Peter Cushing in a small, but pivotal role.  He looks so wiry and inhuman that he makes the Rogue One CGI version of himself look positively believable; I couldn’t get over the ‘uncanny valley’-ness of that in the cinema.

Terrible dialogue and acting aside, the one aspect where the film really works is in the shots of the zombies rising up from the sea. These sections look fantastic, and the rest of the film is hung around these moments like cheap wrapping paper around an expensive gift.

Characters are killed off one by one, and those who remain seem strangely unaffected by the deaths. In one scene, one of the tourists discovers the dead body of her husband, and doesn’t seem to be too upset. Yeah, don’t bother with naturalistic dialogue, just stick another scene of a Nazi emerging from the sea in his jackboots.

As with all horror films, the cast is whittled down to the Final Girl, who escapes the island in the rowboat in which we find her at the start of the film. Strangely the zombies are not defeated and are left roaming the island, awaiting the next 18 to 30 cruise liner to get beached there.

In the final shocking twist, we find the girl sitting up in a hospital bed writing up her account of the film’s events. Again foreshadowing a future film – Kubrick’s The Shining – we hear that she is repeating the same sentence over and over, and as the camera pans around we see that she isn’t writing at all, just scribbling indeterminately. SHE HAS LOST HER FREAKING MIND!

The film’s score is easily the best thing about the whole affair. I’m a sucker for a good synth score – and it’s great to see the soundtrack to Stranger Things welcoming this back into the zeitgeist – so I could have easily appreciated it without ever seeing the film. Give me that music, and Marc Schoenbach’s truly awesome artwork on the front cover, and I’m a very happy man.

Hit: Shock Waves (Opening Titles)

Hidden Gem: Zombie Chase

Rocks In The Attic #601: John Barry – ‘The Great Movie Sounds Of John Barry’ (1966)

RITA#601I recently watched a double-bill of The Spy Who Loved Me and For Your Eyes Only at the cinema. The two films – scored by Marvin Hamlish and Bill Conti respectively – are both missing something, a key vital ingredient that makes them feel in some way that they’re lesser Bonds. Even The Spy Who Loved Me, undoubtedly one of the stronger films in the Bond canon, feels a touch unfinished. That missing ingredient, of course, is the work of the great John Barry.

Drafted in to re-arrange and record Monty Norman’s James Bond Theme for Dr. No, Barry went onto become the de facto in-house composer of the Bond films, eventually scoring eleven of the next fourteen films.

Those non-Barry films are always interesting for their non-Barry-ness, but his absence is always to the film’s detriment. I don’t know what Live And Let Die would sound like without George Martin’s score. Would Barry’s brassy sludge have evoked the same calypso feel as Martin’s orchestration of the wind section? In The Spy Who Loved Me, what would Bond have sounded like skiing down the mountain in the pre-credits sequence soundtracked by Barry instead of the disco beats of Hamlisch’s Bond’77?

In working with other composers instead of Barry – unavailable due to his falling out with producer Harry Saltzman (Live And Let Die) or for tax reasons (The Spy Who Loved Me, For Your Eyes Only) – it seems the Bond producers used the opportunity to do something different. They worked with the Academy Award-winning fifth Beatle (Martin), the Academy Award-winning composer/adapter of The Sting (Hamlisch), and the Academy Award-nominated composer of the Rocky films (Conti), with varying degrees of success.

John Barry, like a lot of composers, regularly re-uses his own work. Like John Williams, it’s easy to hear snippets of minor sections of his scores re-used as more major themes in later films. Sometimes, just the feel of a score can lend itself to re-appropriation. I recently heard Barry’s score to 1985’s Out Of Africa and couldn’t help but spot the likeness to his earlier score for the Moonraker soundtrack.

This LP from 1966, is a nice little taster of Barry’s Bond scores up to that point – From Russia With Love, Goldfinger, Thunderball and of course, the ever-ubiquitous James Bond Theme. The second side features some lesser-known works, themes from films I’m very unlikely to ever see – The Chase, King Rat, The Knack, and Seance On A Wet Afternoon. However, the final two tracks – themes from The Ipcress File and Born Free – really show that Barry was untouchable around 1965-1966.

Hit: The James Bond Theme

Hidden Gem: The Knack