Tag Archives: 1969

Rocks In The Attic #761: John Barry – ‘On Her Majesty’s Secret Service’ (1969)

RITA#761I’m currently counting down the months until the release of Bond 25 by watching all of the previous 24 films, in order of release. I have a fellow Bond nut and Facebook friend to thank for the idea; it’s given me a good excuse to watch two Bond films a month. Watching the films in order is also pretty rewarding as you get to see the character and the franchise progress over the decades.

Having recently watched On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, it’s amazing to see how well it stands up to its neighbouring films in the canon. 1967’s You Only Live Twice found Sean Connery tired of playing James Bond; the culmination of a run of films more and more reliant on gadgets and special effects. Connery’s return to the character, in 1971’s Diamonds Are Forever, found him again sleepwalking through the role in a film that was very hard to take seriously.

OHMSS is undoubtedly a stronger film than both. It tries to ground the action, without the reliance on gadgets and special effects. This is something the franchise would repeatedly do every time the films started to cross into the realms of implausibility – the serious tone of For Your Eyes Only followed the space-farce of Moonraker, the overtly-political backdrop of The Living Daylights tried to get back to basics after Roger Moore’s aged swansong in A View To A Kill, and Casino Royale successfully rebooted the franchise after the invisible car and messy CGI of Die Another Day. Shudder.

Up to this point, only three directors had helmed Bond films – Terence Young, Guy Hamilton and Lewis Gilbert. For OHMSS, the producers turned to a member of the production team who had made an indelible contribution to the series since its inception: editor Peter Hunt.

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Hunt had effectively invented the pace of modern action film editing, particularly with a technique he called crash-cutting. Realising that audiences didn’t need to see slow, irrelevant shots of scenes that added nothing and slowed the pace of the film – the protagonist walking down a set of stairs, for example – Hunt cut them, relying on the audience to fill in the blanks, thereby keeping the action flowing. He deployed the form first in 1962’s Dr. No – although that film does feature its fair share of shoe-leather, particularly in the travelog scenes of Connery walking through the airport in Jamaica – before perfecting the technique in From Russia With Love the following year.

Hunt had proved himself as second-unit director in ‘67’s You Only Live Twice, and so the producers took a chance on him to call the shots as director on the next film in the series. Luckily for Hunt, he wasn’t the producer’s riskiest proposition. After five films, Connery had departed, leaving the role in the untested hands of Australian male model George Lazenby.

RITA#761a.pgLazenby had never acted before, aside from TV commercials, but secured the role through sheer charm and charisma. He sought out, and made the use of, Connery’s tailor and barber, and presented himself to the producers, Cubby Broccoli and Harry Saltzman, fully dressed as Bond. Originally offered a contract for seven films, he decided during the filming of OHMSS – on the strength of bad advice from his agent – to only film one. Bond films were too square and represented The Man, he thought. The emerging New Hollywood of Easy Rider, The Graduate and Bonnie And Clyde was surely the way forward.

It’s definitely strange to see another actor play 007. All of the other Bond actors played the character over at least two films, and without a follow-up film it’s hard to imagine what Lazenby might have added to the franchise. His overly-chiselled features might have seemed less stark in the neon lighting of Diamonds Are Forever, and maybe his campy charm and strange accent would have suited that film better.

RITA#761bDespite Lazenby’s inexperience, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service remains a cinematic masterpiece. It’s the first film in the series to go out of its way to look truly beautiful, mainly due to the cinematography of Michael Reed (something that hasn’t escaped the recent attention of fellow director Steven Soderbergh). Reed’s framing of shots raises the film above its predecessors, and we wouldn’t see another artistic-looking Bond film until director Marc Forster and cinematographer Roberto Schaefer’s work on 2008’s Quantum Of Solace.

Of course, the one element of the film that raises it above its contemporaries is the wonderful score by John Barry. This might just be the peak of Barry’s Bond work; a score so strong, he decided on using an instrumental over the now-familiar opening credits. It’s a score that screams cinema.

Hit: We Have All The Time In The World

Hidden Gem: Ski Chase

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Rocks In The Attic #749: Alice Cooper – ‘Live At The Whiskey A-Go-Go 1969’ (1969)

RITA#749This live set, recorded in 1969 at Los Angeles’ famed Whiskey-A-Go-Go, represents one of Alice Cooper’s earliest live recordings. Compared to the classic rock of 1970s Alice Cooper, it sounds terrible, but still makes for an interesting listen.

At this point, the band were very much protégés of Frank Zappa, who co-produced their first album Pretties For You (1969). As a result, the style of music on this live album sits somewhere in the middle of Zappa-esque avant-gard rock and roll and Syd Barrett-era Pink Floyd. Side one closer Levity Ball even includes a descending passage, with howling vocals, lifted directly from Interstellar Overdrive.

RITA#749aThere isn’t a great deal of promise on this record. I expect every acid-influenced band on the Sunset Strip sounded this bad.

Hit: No Longer Umpire

Hidden Gem: Levity Ball

Rocks In The Attic #625: Fairport Convention – ‘Liege & Lief’ (1969)

RITA#625I’ve been looking for a nice, clean, affordable, original copy of this record for what feels like forever. I recently gave up and bought a minty Back To Black reissue, and I can report that it sounds glorious.

To folk, or not to folk; that is the question. In this case, the answer is very much in the affirmative. This was the band’s fourth studio album, and their third to be released in the year of 1969. Now, that’s what I call prolific!

Hit: Come All Ye

Hidden Gem: Matty Groves

Rocks In The Attic #591: The Jimi Hendrix Experience – ‘Live At Woodstock’ (1969)

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A couple of weekends ago, I saw a screening of Woodstock: The Director’s Cut at Auckland’s majestic Civic theatre as part of the New Zealand International Film Festival’s Autumn Classics programme. I have seen Michael Wadleigh‘s film many times, having owned it on DVD for half my life, but I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to see it on the Civic’s supersized screen.

Of course, the biggest draw-card is the appearance at the end of the film by Gypsy Sun & Rainbows, the de-facto name for Hendrix’s temporary band on the day (despite Chip Monck’s stage announcement introducing them as the Jimi Hendrix Experience).

Hendrix was billed to headline the festival, the last act on the third and final day of music (Sunday). However, the storm that ripped through the festival over the weekend, coupled with several technical delays, caused the event to over-run. Hendrix was offered to play at midnight on the Sunday night, but his manager declined, wanting him to perform as the festival’s closing act, as he was billed and contracted to do so.

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The result is good and bad. Unfortunately, half of the audience had gone home by the time Hendrix walked on stage at 9am on the Monday morning, presumably back to their jobs working for ‘the man’ as the week started. On the film of Hendrix’s full performance, it’s clear to see the disappointment on his face on numerous occasions as he looks out at the grounds – half-full of rubbish, and half-full of tired hippies.

It’s also worth considering whether Hendrix’s meandering set-list was influenced by the time of day he played, and the massive reduction in audience numbers compared to the rest of the weekend. It’s far more improvisational than usual, particularly when you compare it to his set at the Isle Of Wight festival a fortnight later.

The one positive aspect of Hendrix playing early in the morning, is that the resulting film of his performance looks fantastic. The stage-lighting at the festival over the previous three evenings was basic, to say the least, and it’s nice to see a rare instance of Hendrix playing in daylight.

While the original cut of Woodstock only featured three songs by Hendrix (The Star Spangled Banner, Purple Haze and Villanova Junction), the expanded director’s cut also adds in a jam (the almost schizophrenic Woodstock Improvisation) and a jaw-dropping rendition of Voodoo Chile (Slight Return).

For the longest time, I was bored by Hendrix’s set at Woodstock – too few actual songs, and too much improvisational material. Over the years, the jams have grown on me and now the performance is one of my first go-to’s when I put a record on the turntable. I’ve gradually become obsessed with the performance, going so far as buying the film of his set on blu-ray.

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The lucky thing about the filming of the festival is that they had enough actual film to capture all of Hendrix’s set. Due to the delays over the weekend, the film crews used up far more film than planned, and by the time Hendrix walked on stage on the Monday morning, they had almost run out. The Hendrix performance was also captured by a pair of enterprising young men who smuggled their movie camera into the festival and snuck on stage just before the band’s performance started. This film, a grainy black and white image, is interesting given the different perspective it provides. Presumably so that they wouldn’t run into the festival’s official camera crew, they set up their tripod behind Hendrix and so it’s great to see a moment like Hendrix throwing the peace sign at the start of The Star Spangled Banner, from a reverse angle.

This 3xLP version of Live At Woodstock is the most complete version of Hendrix’s performance available. The two songs sung by rhythm guitarist Larry Lee (Master Mind and Gypsy Woman) are excised completely, while his guitar contributions across the rest of the set are very low, almost inaudible, in the mix.

The record’s greatest mistake however, is in the sequencing of songs between sides. The segue of feedback between Voodoo Chile (Slight Return) and The Star Spangled Banner – mere seconds before one of the defining moments of the 1960s – is split across sides four and five. Sacrilege!

Hit: The Star Spangled Banner

Hidden Gem: Message To Love

Rocks In The Attic #476 Donovan – ‘Donovan’s Greatest Hits’ (1969)

RITA#476Who doesn’t like a bit of Donovan? Well, quite a few people actually. Listening to his music – which should be what people judge him on – he sounds harmless. But I hear his autobiography paints him as something else.

I have that book too. It’s sat on my bookshelf, in my ever-growing ‘to read’ pile. There’s a part of me that doesn’t want to read it though. I like these songs. They paint nice memories. I remember being at an all-night house party in London in the late ‘90s, and this record got put on in the early hours just as dawn was breaking. I don’t want memories like this to be ruined if he turns out to be a tit.

Donovan also seems to be a bit of a source of ridicule for Bob Dylan in D.A. Pennebaker’s Don’t Look Back. Dylan’s amusement of Donovan’s coverage in the English press is one of the funniest moments in the documentary. That sort of makes sense, I suppose. Donovan’s music isn’t exactly challenging; a mile away from the cerebral workouts of Dylan’s brand of folk. Donovan’s work in comparison is almost ‘folk music for elevators’.

My favourite tune on this collection is Hurdy Gurdy Man, used to soundtrack the opening scene of David Fincher’s Zodiac. I love that film and the song is used perfectly. I couldn’t imagine a more ominous song, although Donovan’s own Season Of The Witch is pretty haunting too.

Hit: Mellow Yellow

Hidden Gem: Hurdy Gurdy Man

Rocks In The Attic #472: Creedence Clearwater Revival – ‘Willy And The Poor Boys’ (1969)

RITA#472.jpgProbably my favourite Creedence record, this is album number four for John Fogerty and company, and their third to be released in an extremely productive 1969. Their first five albums are untouchable in my eyes – Americana at its finest – and for me, the band hits a peak with this record that they continue with 1970’s Cosmo’s Factory.

Just take the only single from the record –  Down On The Corner b/w Fortunate Son. That’s a double-A side single in anyone else’s book. A week after it was released, the Billboard charts changed the way they measured sales for singles with hits on both sides. Too right; Fortunate Son is a great song.

Great songs always get overused by pop culture though, and in the last couple of decades, Fortunate Son has become Hollywood short-hand to portray the inequality of the Vietnam War (Forrest Gump comes to mind). I still love it, regardless.

The one thing that never gets mentioned about Creedence is their absolute groove. They get pigeon-holed into the dusty swamp rock genre, and nobody ever mentions that they’re one of the grooviest bands to come out of the late ‘60s. Suzy Q from the band’s first record showed that they can groove, and their albums are just one great groove after another. I could listen to the groove from Feelin’ Blue for hours and never get bored.

Hit: Down On The Corner

Hidden Gem: Feelin’ Blue

Rocks In The Attic #443: Johnny Cash – ‘At San Quentin’ (1969)

RITA#443Good old Granada Television. When I was growing up, ITV and its regional satellite broadcaters like Granada TV, were always viewed as the poor cousin of the BBC. The Beeb was high-brow where ITV was very much low-brow; all adverts and poor-quality viewing.

Since living in New Zealand for the last seven years, I’ve really changed my opinion of ITV and especially Granada. You think you’ve seen bad television? Come and watch New Zealand programming for an evening or two. I always say that this country only gets its culture from the dairy industry; they definitely don’t get it from the television networks.

No ITV, no Seven Up. No Granada, no Sex Pistols performing Anarchy In The UK on Tony Wilson’s So It Goes.

Cash’s San Quentin concert was filmed by Granada too. So, no Granada, no infamous image of Johnny Cash flipping the bird to the camera.

RITA#443aI’d give my right arm to sit for an evening and watch the ITV news, followed by the local news presented by Gordon Burns. Then, while I’m thinking of Gordon Burns, maybe an episode of The Krypton Factor, followed by Coronation Street, and then who knows what.

It’s funny the things you miss.

Hit: I Walk The Line

Hidden Gem: Wanted Man