Tag Archives: 1968

Rocks In The Attic #586: Walter Carlos – ‘Switched On Bach’ (1968)

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I’ve been hearing a lot about this record recently, as I make my way through the Beatles Anthology Revisited – a sublime 28-hour ‘unofficial’ podcast I managed to hunt down online (despite it being continually taken down at the behest of Apple).

An influence on the Beatles’ swansong Abbey Road – if only a technical inspiration – Switched On Bach pointed to the way that a Moog synthesiser could be employed on record. I’m sure the Beatles would have been paying close attention to this album before they utilised George’s Moog on Maxwell’s Silver Hammer, Here Comes The Sun, Because and I Want You (She’s So Heavy).

Thankfully, the Beatles’ use of the synthesiser was relatively subtle and not as plinky-plonky as Walter – now Wendy – Carlos’ homage to Bach. It really sounds like music conceived inside a computer – which of course, it is – and it’s not hard to imagine this sounding so futuristic back in the late ‘60s. It still sounds futuristic!

Carlos would repeat the formula in 1971 on the soundtrack to Stanley Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange, this time playing the Moog to reproduce a couple of Ludwig Van’s big hits.

Hit: Air On A G String

Hidden Gem: Sinfonia To Cantata No. 29

Rocks In The Attic #553: Al Martino – ‘Love Is Blue’ (1968)

RITA#553.jpgAl Martino is probably best known for his portrayal of Johnny Fontane in the Godfather films. He plays the Godson of Marlon Brando’s Vito Corleone, and appears at Connie’s wedding at the start of the film to rapturous screams from the girls present. Johnny’s career has gone onto bigger and better things since they last saw him, with more than a little help from his Godfather early on in his career.

I often wonder, with his character being based on unsavoury rumours concerning Frank Sinatra’s early career, what repercussions Martino felt in his day job as a singer.  The horse head scene in the Godfather, designed to intimidate producer Jack Woltz into giving Fontane a part in a war film, is supposedly influenced by Sinatra’s casting in From Here To Eternity. It would have made for one interesting atmosphere if Martino ever ran into Sinatra backstage somewhere in Vegas. I fear that the Rat Pack would have driven him out of the business – his recording output slowed down considerably following the release of The Godfather in 1972.

Love Is Blue is a collection of quite syrupy ballads from 1968. Martino has a great voice, but the overblown orchestral instrumentation on the record stands him apart from the likes of Sinatra and his like. As a result the record strays too near to the likes of easy listening to be taken serious. It isn’t surprising then that Martino was chosen to sing such a syrupy ballad to Connie Corleone (If Have But One Heart) at her wedding…

Hit: Call Me

Hidden Gem: Goin’ Out Of My Head

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Rocks In The Attic #469: José Feliciano – ‘Feliciano!’ (1968)

RITA#469Feliciano!, José’s 1968 collection of rock and pop covers, in great condition, for the princely sum of fifty cents? Yes please!

There’s not much I can say about this record other than how good it is. But you probably already know that. It’s one of those records that could very easily stray into the nursing home stratosphere of easy listening, but there’s an element of cool that you just can’t argue with.

Even if you just take his instrumental cuts – the Beatles’ And I Love Her and Here, There And Everywhere for example – it’s just marvellous. His voice on the other tracks is just the cherry on the top.

Feliciano! is actually his fourth English album in as many years, but that didn’t stop the Grammys giving him the Best New Artist award in 1969. He was also nominated for Album Of The Year, but lost out to Glen Campbell for By The Time I Get To Phoenix.

Hit: Light My Fire

Hidden Gem: And I Love Her

Rocks In The Attic #413: Cilla Black – ‘The Best Of Cilla Black’ (1968)

RITA#413Dear old Cilla died last week – a week that also cost us my favourite wrestler Rowdy Roddy Piper, as well as George ‘Arthur Daley’ Cole from the TV show Minder. They say that things like this always come in threes.

As I get older, it seems to affect me more when celebrities die. It’s like something from my childhood dying. I can’t say I was ever a big fan of Cilla when I was growing up though. She seemed to embody trash television – either on Surprise Surprise or hosting the ever-woeful Blind Date. Her days as a number one solo artist from Brian Epstein’s stable, rubbing shoulders with the likes of Lennon and McCartney were a thing of the past by then. Her lot in life really was entertaining prime time audiences on Saturday and Sunday nights.

When I was growing up I remember that whenever he saw her on TV my Dad used to say that Cilla got to where she is with a mattress strapped to her back. I’m not entirely sure I agree with that. I mean, it’s clear to see that she’s talented, with a soaring singing voice, so she had no reason to sleep her way to the top. And if you’re talking about the first person to give her a break, I’m not sure Brian Epstein would even know what to do with her vagina.

There are four Lennon and McCartney songs on this album, three of which were never recorded by the Beatles. That makes this essential listening for any fan of the fab four.

Hit: Alfie

Hidden Gem: Sing A Rainbow

Rocks In The Attic #399: Bill Cosby – ‘To Russell, My Brother, Whom I Slept With’ (1968)

RITA#399I bought this simply for the title, which I find greatly amusing, but ended up enjoying the record – especially the long second-side where Cosby talks about sharing his childhood bed with his brother.

I’ve always been a fan of Bill Cosby, ever since The Cosby Show was part of the fabric of 1980s after-school television. In the 1990s, that baton was passed in spirit to The Fresh Prince Of Bel-Air, which had a similar mix of family friendly comedy filmed in front of a live studio audience.

At the time of writing, Cosby’s in a spot of bother with numerous historic rape allegations by women – yet to see the light of day in a courtroom. Who knows what’s going to happen with that, but it doesn’t look very good for him given the number of accusations.

Will the shadow of a conviction – which looks likely at this point – mean this album won’t be funny anymore?

Hit: To Russell, My Brother, Whom I Slept With

Hidden Gem: Conflict

Rocks In The Attic #352: Van Morrison – ‘Astral Weeks’ (1968)

RITA#352I was driving around once, looked in my rear view mirror and saw Van Morrison sat on my back seat. I then remembered that mirrors reverse everything, and it was just a Morrisons Van following me.

I’m starting to appreciate this album as I get older. It’s the same with things like Miles Davis’ Kind Of Blue – when you listen to albums like these as a young man, they don’t resonate as much. Maybe you just have to listen to a certain quantity of music – maybe a certain quantity of inferior or mediocre music – for your brain to reach a valid comparison.

One of my heroes is the late comedian Bill Hicks, and I read once that Astral Weeks was the album he would listen to, over and over again, in the final stages of his battle against pancreatic cancer. It’s an album that’s designed to be played repeatedly – a cycle of songs that makes more and more sense together the more you listen to it.

Aside from his tenure in Them (and their superlative version of Baby Please Don’t Go – with a little help from Jimmy Page), this is my favourite era of Van Morrison. I’m not really a fan of the forced jazz of Moondance, and I think I might tear my own eyeballs out if I ever hear Brown Eyed Girl one more time. Most importantly though, I’m not a fan of what Van Morrison has become.

Whenever I see him these days, such as in the Red, White & Blues episode of Martin Scorsese: The Blues, he’s almost unrecognisable. He’s a big bear of a man, usually dressed in clothes that wouldn’t go amiss on a 1970s black pimp called Big Daddy, with a face so bloated that you can’t actually make out any of his features anymore. He looks like somebody’s driver.

Van Morrison, Joe Cocker and Rod Stewart should form a vocal supergroup called ‘WTF Happened?’

But which musicians should join them?

Hit: The Way Young Lovers Do

Hidden Gem: Beside You

Rocks In The Attic #324: Creedence Clearwater Revival – ‘Creedence Clearwater Revival’ (1968)

RITA#324Three hundred and twenty four records in, and this is the first Creedence record I’m writing about. Disgraceful! There’s a reason for it though.

Back in Manchester, I made do with a best of compilation – Creedence Gold – and just never got around to buying any of the studio records. I had to stop buying vinyl for a while – as I moved over to New Zealand, got a haircut and a real job – and during that time I listened to a lot of music through my iPod. It was during this time that I listened to lot of Creedence – probably an unhealthy amount.  A lot of 85 and 86 bus trips into Manchester, and back to Chorlton, were soundtracked by Creedence.

For me, they’re comparable to the Beach Boys. I can put them on the turntable, and it feels like slipping into a warm bath – great American music of an effortlessly high calibre. They’re the alternative Beach Boys even – the dirtier, scruffier version, with a focus on groove instead of harmony, and songs about levees and bayous instead of T-Birds and surfboards.

I had to avoid listing Suzie-Q as the hidden gem of this album – it’s a little too well-known from its appearance in Apocalypse Now to be considered ‘hidden’ – but that’s the real groove of the album; its centrepiece. Ninety-Nine And A Half (Won’t Do) is another favourite – written by Steve Cropper, Eddie Floyd and Wilson Pickett.

Hit: I Put A Spell On You

Hidden Gem: Ninety-Nine And A Half (Won’t Do)