Tag Archives: 1970

Rocks In The Attic #800: Black Sabbath – ‘Paranoid’ (1970)

RITA#800Post number 800 of this humble blog finds us with one of the greatest albums in rock and metal, Black Sabbath’s Paranoid.

It’s one of those cornerstone records, like AC/DC’s Highway To Hell or Led Zeppelin IV, which just feels bigger than the sum of its parts. If the Beatles’ 1969 swansong Abbey Road served as the blueprint for rock albums for the 1970s, then Black Sabbath’s celebrated second album surely served as the heavy metal equivalent. The musical leap from Come Together to War Pigs feels like light years, but the two album openers were released only 12 months apart.

Released in the same year as their doom-laden debut album, Paranoid arrived in September 1970 on the Vertigo label in the UK (and Warner Bros. in the US market). The record company, satisfied with the band’s debut, asked for more of the same. Black Sabbath was recorded in one day, a marathon sprint of twelve hours, but for Paranoid the band were afforded the luxury of a whole six days to record.

Black Sabbath File Photos
Much has been written about hit-single Paranoid being written in five minutes, tossed off to make up one last song for the album. Bassist Geezer Butler claims it was done and dusted in two hours, from the moment Tony Iommi came up with the monster guitar riff, to the band laying down the track to finish off the album. But as good as the song is, its oversaturation on rock radio makes it one of the least interesting things about the record.

Things start off with War Pigs, the quintessential long-form metal song. A languorous opening and ominous sirens announce something big is on the horizon, before the song stops dead. Bill Ward’s hi-hat counts in Iommi’s stabbing power chords, as Ozzy Osbourne sings the opening verse. This leads to the main riff, before it breaks down again. Clocking in at almost eight minutes, the song doesn’t ever get boring.

Black Sabbath File Photos

After the comparatively throwaway title track, the band slips into neutral on the stoner favourite Planet Caravan, before picking up speed again on the album’s other big guitar centrepiece, Iron Man. Across those first four songs, Iommi provides some of the genre’s greatest guitar riffs – War Pigs alone has half a dozen different sections – and it makes for the best ‘side’ of metal until perhaps the second-side of AC/DC’s Back In Black or the first side of Def Leppard’s Hysteria (both of which would have been categorised as metal before history downgraded them to heavy rock).

RITA#800cSilverchair’s debut Frogstomp from 1995 is a good example of a Sabbath-influenced metal album that matches the riffs-per-song ratio of Paranoid. But for the rest of the band’s career, Iommi would be a little less generous with his riffs. Paranoid’s less celebrated second side is therefore more representative of the albums that followed: moderate-tempo doom-based rockers with screaming banshee vocals, usually based around one or two killer riffs per song.

Paranoid was the first Sabbath album I heard, and so it was my gateway into the band. After digesting everything I could from Aerosmith and AC/DC, I skipped the Allman Brothers and shifted to the ‘B’ section of the record shop. But like AC/DC’s albums, I was always a little let down by Sabbath’s mid-90s CD remasters. Aerosmith’s CD remasters had great little fold-out booklets with photos and artwork from the albums’ promotional campaigns. In comparison, AC/DC, Sabbath and Motörhead had nothing in their reissues – usually just a tracklisting. I’d have loved an essay, or some retrospective liner notes, but maybe record companies don’t think heavy metal fans can read?

Hit: Paranoid

Hidden Gem: Planet Caravan

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Rocks In The Attic #798: The Grateful Dead – ‘American Beauty’ (1970)

RITA#798One of New Zealand’s better radio stations is The Sound, broadcasting on 93.8FM in Auckland. The station was originally called Solid Gold, catering for ‘60s and 70’s music, until their core audience presumably died off and stopped listening. In 2012, it rebranded as The Sound, concentrating on classic rock (i.e. Dad rock) from the ‘70s and ‘80s. Their tagline is “We’ve got your record collection”, which sounds more like the beginnings of a ransom demand than a reason to tune in.

Earlier this year, I saw a competition posted to their Facebook page: “Here’s your chance to earn the ultimate ‘trainspotting’ title! If you can name all 20 albums correctly in this photo, we’re sending you some epic vinyl to add to your collection.” [I’ve included the photo here you can play along at home!]

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I looked at the image and could identify at least half of them at first glance. Most record collectors can identify the top two inches of an album cover with ease, from years of flicking though the racks of record shops, but trying to identify them from the LEFT two inches of the sleeve was much more difficult.

I spent the train home from work trying to figure out the ones I was missing. By the time I got home, I had all but 3 or 4. I asked a couple of friends for help, as I suspected that the ones I hadn’t got were alien to me. Moo helped me on one of them (#2), but I was stuck on the rest. By the end of the night, I had just two left to get – #6 and #11.

My cunning wife managed to find out #6 – an album more famous in my current corner of the world than anywhere else, and so I was left with #11. At first, I thought this was the Beach Boy’s Endless Summer, one of those great hand-drawn covers of the 1970s. Eventually, I thought of a solo artist famous for having hand-drawn covers, and traced it back to the band he was originally in. Phew, after six or so stressful hours, I submitted my entry and went to sleep.

I didn’t hear anything else about the competition for a number of weeks. Then, one day I spotted a new comment addressed to me on the original Facebook post: “Congratulations! You will be taking home a few of the albums that feature in this competition. Thank you for all of your entries. Watch this space to see if you’ll be the next Acoustic Sunrise Trainspotter.”

Great! I still don’t know whether I was just the first person to get them all correct, or if it was just a random hat-pull of the correct entries. And there was no mention of what I had won. The wording of the competition was quite vague; it didn’t say whether there’d be one winner, or many, or indeed what the winner/s would receive.

When I finally heard from the radio station, they declared me the ‘ultimate vinyl trainspotter’ (their words, not mine) and said I had won a 5 x LP package. They sent the first four in one package: Bob Dylan’s Street Legal and the Grateful Dead’s American Beauty, neither of which I had in my collection, together with Talking Head’s Talking Heads: 77 and Boz Scagg’s Silk Degrees, both of which I did have. All four were brand new sealed reissues. I put the Talking Heads and Boz Scaggs records to one side, to re-gift at a later date.

The fifth and final LP they were to send me was Led Zeppelin’s debut. The radio station then emailed and said there was a delay, and asked would I prefer a copy of Led Zeppelin II instead, as they had that one in stock. I didn’t mind, I have all the studio albums anyway, but I was just hoping that whatever they sent me would be one of the latest reissues with the bonus material. The parcel arrived this morning; it was a copy of Led Zeppelin IV, not II – I guess the people who work at radio stations don’t necessarily need to know anything about the artists they play – but thankfully it was the recent reissue with the bonus disc of alternate mixes. Brilliant!

In terms of the Grateful Dead, I’ve probably eaten more Cherry Garcia ice cream in my life than I have listened to Jerry and his band. I couldn’t even hum one of their songs. I don’t hold anything against them personally, but I think the barrier for me is their fans. I think I may have an allergy to tie-dye, as the very sight of it turns my stomach. When I think of the Grateful Dead, I just think of old, skeletal hippies with long grey hair, grooving on down to some indeterminable sludgy rock;  waves of fans, appearing at baseball stadiums in beat-up old winnebagos to watch the band do their thing above a small fleet of microphones, each recording the concert for bootleg releases that nobody will ever listen to.

Turns out I needn’t be afraid. Listening to American Beauty, their fifth studio album, they sound a lot like Crosby, Stills & Nash crossed with the Band. I don’t know what I was expecting, but it wasn’t anything this tuneful and melodic. I think I was expecting LSD-fuelled 17-minute guitar solos that go nowhere. Maybe they came later in their careers?

Hit: Truckin’

Hidden Gem: Candyman

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Rocks In The Attic #758: James Brown – ‘Sex Machine (1970)

RITA#758From the man who invented one genre, comes a record that started another. Arguably the most important record in the genesis of Hip Hop, DJ Kool Herc used two copies of this to ignite a revolution on the streets.

Presented as a live double LP, the first disc is mostly studio recordings with added reverb and applause between tracks. The second disc was recorded in Augusta, Georgia in October 1969, but still suffers from added reverb and cheering crowds.

In 1972, DJ Kool Herc started incorporating it into his sets at parties n his Bronx apartment. Using two copies of the record across two turntables, Herc was able to isolate the mid-song break of Give It Up Or Turnit A Loose – ‘Clap your hands! Stomp you feet!’ – and play it continuously, back and forth. These ‘Merry-Go-Rounds’, as they became to be known, served as the basis for Herc and fellow emcees to rap over, ultimately becoming the blueprint for Hip Hop.

RITA#758aTo put the timeline in context, it wasn’t until 1979 when The Sugarhill Gang’s Rapper’s Delight was released and the genre started its journey into the mainstream. Herc lit the flame seven year earlier, and James Brown supplied the matches, becoming the hardest working sample in showbusiness over the next decade.

In terms of Brown’s career, the album sits squarely at the halfway point between his ‘60s soul output, and his heavier ’70s funk material. The setlists feature a good mixture of both genres – Please, Please, Please and It’s A Man’s Man’s Man’s World sits happily alongside Get Up (I Feel Like Being A) Sex Machine, for example – but it’s that killer break on Give It Up Or Turnit A Loose that stands out the most.

“….Clyde….”

“…Bootsy…”

Hit: Get Up (I Feel Like Being A) Sex Machine

Hidden Gem: I Don’t Want Nobody to Give Me Nothing (Open Up the Door I’ll Get It Myself)

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Rocks In The Attic #666: Black Sabbath – ‘Black Sabbath’ (1970)

RITA#666Six hundred and sixty six – the number of the beast. Not to be confused with six hundred and sixty eight – the neighbour of the beast.

Back in 2012, I missed out on a Black Sabbath vinyl box set – the first eight studio albums housed in a lovely black and purple sleeve. I couldn’t afford it at the time – what with buying a house and having children to feed. It quickly went out of print, and now changes hands for silly money online. Another box set collection will be released eventually, I thought. I avoided buying the individual albums – both brand new and second hand – like the black death.

Six years later, and a new Black Sabbath vinyl box set has finally landed. It’s called The Ten Year War box set, presumably named after their militancy against Birmingham barber shops in the 1970s. The set is essentially the same as the 2012 release, featuring the first eight studio records plus a couple of 7” records and some associated stuff (posters, tour programmes, a brochure and a hardback book).

RITA#666bThe strangest thing about this new release though is the addition of a USB stick featuring digital high-definition audio copies of each of the records. The USB drive is shaped as – you guessed it – a black crucifix. This is presumably handy at a midnight black mass, when the ominous sound of chanting gets a bit repetitive. Just halt the proceedings – spare the sacrificial virgin for a couple of extra minutes – while you plug in the USB, tell everybody to wait until you download the correct codec for your media player, and resume to the tune of Vol. 4’s Snowblind.

I’m not sure if it justifies the NZ$400 price tag though. Even in the recent 20%-off sale at JB HiFi, that brings it down to NZ$320. Eight records at forty bucks a pop – that’s the price of a standard new release. Aren’t bulk purchases supposed to offer a discount to the buyer?

RITA#666cThe box set’s unique selling point, as far as I’m concerned, is that the eight LPs are all pressed onto splatter vinyl. These look fantastic, but not worth that additional cost. I figured out I can buy 2015 reissues of each of the eight records individually – on boring, standard black vinyl – at twenty bucks a pop in the same sale.

So I did. The Sabbath drought is over!

Black Sabbath is about as strong a debut rock record as you could hope for. It’s the most interesting of the Ozzy Osbourne records, if only for the fact that it includes some ‘lighter’ material that would never see the light of day on later records. Due to this, it’s a lot more fun than the band’s output in the latter half of the decade. There’s a touch of blues on this record – a harmonica even makes an appearance! – something they would avoid on subsequent releases to focus more of the heavy metal dirge of doom that made them a household name.

Hit: Black Sabbath

Hidden Gem: The Wizard

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Rocks In The Attic #621: Monty Python’s Flying Circus – ‘Monty Python’s Flying Circus (O.S.T.)’ (1970)

RITA#621I recently watched Holy Flying Circus, the BBC’s dramatisation of the events surrounding the release of Monty Python’s Life Of Brian in 1979. Portrayed by a bunch of lookalikes and soundalikes, including an uncannily accurate impression of Eric Idle by the comedian Steve Punt, Holy Flying Circus is overloaded with Pythonesque references and absurdist humour. The film finds the Python team and their management in the middle of a backlash from Christian groups and local councils against Brian, culminating in the now infamous television debate between Michael Palin and John Cleese versus Malcolm Muggeridge and the Bishop of Southwark.

RITA#621aAs much as I love Python, their television sketches have lost a lot of their edge over the years; what was once irreverent now seems fairly quaint. More interesting to me is the behind the scenes story of the Python team themselves, and their journey from television sketch comedians to ‘blasphemous’ film stars and beyond. Holy Flying Circus doesn’t really add anything new if one is already familiar with the team’s 2003 autobiography or Michael Palin’s diary concerning The Python Years (2006).

Still, I could watch an Eric Idle sketch like Nudge Nudge over and over without ever getting bored. Or the sight of Michael Palin having the courage to repair bicycles in a world full of Supermen. Or Terry Jones dealing out religious justice as The Bishop. Or The Meaning Of Life’s impending doom from glorious slow-motion topless pursuers.

Hit: Pet Shop

Hidden Gem: Nudge Nudge

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Rocks In The Attic #570: Steptoe & Son – ‘Steptoe & Son Ride Again’ (1970)

rita570Alan Simpson died recently – one half of the songwriting duo, Galton & Simpson, behind Tony Hancock and Steptoe & Son. It’s a sad loss for British comedy.

Galton and Simpson met in an unexpected place – a sanatorium in Surrey where they were recuperating from tuberculosis.

There’s a great joke on this LP which probably dates back to this time. When Harold takes Albert to get his chest x-rayed in The Joys Of Smoking, the following exchange takes place immediately after the young nurse leaves the room:

Harold: Tasty piece, isn’t she? She’s got T.B.

Albert: Has she?

Harold: Two beauties!

Hit: A Pregnant Situation

Rocks In The Attic #552: Genesis – ‘Trespass’ (1970)

rita552I keep buying Genesis records, almost by accident, at record fairs. They’re always cheap – around the five dollar mark and so I reason that it can’t hurt to take them home. As a result, without any discernible effort I’ve managed to pick up most of their back catalogue – nine of their fifteen studio albums, plus 1973’s Genesis Live.

I wish original Pink Floyd records were as easy – and as cheap – to come across. This is a 1974 ABC Records re-pressing, and at five bucks was significantly cheaper than a Floyd record from around the same time would be.

I don’t think I’ll ever become a big Genesis fan no matter how many of their records I own. The Peter Gabriel years are all a bit too twee for me; a little bit too steeped in English folk. And while I prefer the Phil Collins era, there’s not a great deal of fresh air between those albums and a Collins solo record. I’m sure a diehard Genesis fan would disagree, but I’m too disinterested to spot the difference. Ah, ennui…

Hit: The Knife

Hidden Gem: White Mountain